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Easy eco-friendly home projects

Home improvement projects have taken an environmentally-friendly turn in recent years, as homeowners look to reduce their carbon footprints en route to improving their homes' interior and exterior spaces. Such projects can range from large scale undertakings best left to professional contractors to smaller alterations that do-it-yourselfers can handle in a typical weekend.

Larger projects might make the most impact, but even small efforts to make a home more eco-friendly can benefit the planet significantly over time. The following are a handful of simple DIY home improvement projects that can benefit the planet.

* Install low-flow water fixtures. According to the National Resources Defense Council, installing low-flow water fixtures in a home saves both water and money. Low-flow water fixtures include toilets, shower heads and faucets, and the NRDC notes that such additions typically repay a homeowner's initial investment in less than a year thanks to lower utility bills. A low-flow toilet is one that uses 1.6 gallons of water per flush or less, while low-flow faucets and showers are those that use 2.5 gallons of water per minute or less.

* Install weather stripping. Weather stripping is a great way to reduce energy consumption while getting the most bang for your energy buck. Weather stripping is installed around windows and doors to seal any cracks or holes that develop over time. Such holes and cracks are more common in older homes, which is one reason that heating and cooling costs in such homes tend to be so much more expensive than those in newer homes. To determine if you need weather stripping, simply feel for drafts near doors and windows. If there is no wind or cold air outside, then place a fan or ask someone to hold a hair dryer near suspect doors and windows while you stand on the other side, feeling areas where you think there may be drafts.

* Paint with a purpose. Fall is a great time of year to paint around the house, as the weather outside is pleasant enough to open windows in the home so it can air out during and after the painting. When choosing paints for your home, opt for low-VOC, or volatile organic compound, paints. VOCs are a principal ingredient of ground-level ozone, which contributes to urban smog. VOCs also pose a considerable health risk, as studies have linked them to cancer, eye and throat irritation, headaches, and damage to the liver and nervous system.

* Replace old light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights. Thought replacing traditional incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents lights, or CFLs, is an easy task, that does not mean it's ineffective. According to the NRDC, CFLs use just one-quarter the energy of incandescent alternatives. In addition, CFLs last longer, saving homeowners the inconvenience of replacing bulbs.

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