As the final leaves drop from the trees and the temperatures continue to plummet, you’ve likely already prepped the woodpile and dug out your winter wear. But before you head inside to hunker down with movies and hot cocoa, also prep your home and yard to act sustainably throughout the months ahead.
Before the first dusting of snow or below-freezing temperatures settle in, be sure to gather every ounce of goodness from your garden. Hang herbs to dry, can fruit from the trees and rely on that new Instant Pot to pressure cook foods for long-term storage.
Related: Celebrate the season with this guide to sustainable fall activities
Maintain the car
When vehicles have to work harder, they are less efficient and consume more gas. Before winter hits, give your car a maintenance check. Test the air pressure in the tires, or swing by the local tire shop for some help. Change the oil and other fluids that are due, change filters, check spark plugs and estimate how much life your battery has left (look for the date of purchase and life expectancy).
Clean and repair the furnace and water heater
Fall is the perfect time to ensure your heating and water systems are working efficiently. Perform cleaning and maintenance by changing filters and cleaning out air ducts.
Prepare for water runoff
Head outside while the weather is still above freezing temperatures to make sure rainwater is draining away from your home. This will help avoid flooding. Clean out the French drains that feed water away from your house and into the storm drains, where it will eventually be filtered for reuse. While you’re at it, make sure your rain barrels are set up and working properly, installing a downspout diverter if necessary.
Skip the yard chemicals
Although the growing season is coming to an end, be aware of any chemicals you are using inside and outside the home. For example, spiders and ants like to transplant themselves this time of year, but if you want to deter them, rely on natural remedies instead of insecticide sprays.
Work the compost
While you are busy cleaning up the yard in preparation of winter and the first buds of spring, use a composter to your advantage. Add grass clippings and leaves in thin layers combined with organic food waste and brown products, such as ink-free brown paper bags, toilet paper rolls and thin branches. You can also add the ashes from the burn pile, as long as they are the result of chemical-free wood products. If you have too many grass clippings or leaves for your compost pile, use them as mulch for plants and trees instead.
Clean furniture and decking
Prevention is key to maintaining your patio furniture and decking. Not only will proper maintenance help them last longer and avoid replacement purchases and landfill waste, but deterring mold and mildew curbs the need for nasty chemicals to treat these problems later on. Clean up your furniture, including lounge sets and dining sets. Cover them and place them on blocks if left on the deck. Sweep the deck’s surface to remove grime, and make sure the wood is sealed to protect against winter moisture. In the spring, your wood surfaces will thank you with easy clean-up and reduced damage.
When the days get shorter and the temperature drops, we tend to rely on electricity for heat and light. Be conscious of your consumption by turning off lights when they are not in use, or set them on a timer for automatic savings. Replace your back-porch light with a motion sensor-activated option, and use energy-saving plugs and lightbulbs. Layer up with sweaters, socks and blankets before cranking up the heat, too.
As the season progresses, you’ll be busy performing home improvements, baking and gift-giving. Like other times of the year, try to avoid plastic as much as possible. Look for companies that promote sustainable packaging when ordering online. Skip the bulk warehouse plastic packaging and beware of foam plastic, also known as Styrofoam. Avoid plastic in your dinnerware during holiday celebrations by using washable plates, utensils and glassware.
The late months of fall through early winter are full of fun holidays to celebrate. Decorate your home inside and out using sustainable materials such as wood or metal rather than plastic. Incorporate fruit, nuts, pinecones, leaves, grapevine, hemp and burlap into your crafts. Skip the lawn ornaments that require a power source in favor of live plants and trees, decorated wood cutouts and luminaries made with paper bags and beeswax candles.
Another way to limit the amount of energy you need is to insulate your home against heat loss. Have a local energy provider complete an energy assessment on your home. Many even offer free materials for energy savings, like blanket insulation for your water heater or outlet insulation inserts. You can also conserve water by installing water restricting heads on your shower and faucets.
Buy local and organic
Your garden and the local farmers market might be shut down for the season, but you can still buy produce and even meats from eco-friendly sources. Focus on organic produce, which avoids the use of pesticides and herbicides.
If you don’t have any garden stands open in your area, hunt down the best organic options in your local grocery stores. For meat, cut back on consumption in favor of plant-based products. Not only are they healthy for you and the planet, but fresh fruits and vegetables often come package-free (again, watch for plastic and bring your own produce bags to the store). Meat production is blamed for high methane emissions as well as other types of pollution and resource consumption. When you do purchase meat, find a provider who raises livestock sustainably, and purchase it as close to home as possible to avoid the travel footprint.
Take your own cups
Cold weather and warm drinks go hand-in-hand. Avoid waste and save money by making your own coffee or tea. If the drive-through is your lifeline, at least take your own refillable travel mug instead of relying on single-use options. Speaking of coffee and tea, do the planet a favor by purchasing fair-trade and organic options.
To stay hydrated, keep your refillable water bottle handy rather than relying on the single-use bottles at the office (and talk to someone about eliminating those in favor of a refill station).
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