7 Green Home Trends: From Baby Steps to Extreme Updates

By Erika Riggs

Recycling is one thing, but a composting toilet? That's when you know you're taking the going-green trend to its, um, "natural" conclusion.

While many homeowners and builders are beginning to make changes to homes to incorporate eco-friendly products and materials, these are just the bud of the going-green trend. To really get the lowdown on what the seriously green-minded homeowners can do to help the cause, we've rounded up a list of fixes that can be done to a house, whether it was built in 1912 or 2012.

1. Update your bulbs.

You're going to have to change out your standard incandescent bulbs eventually. This year marked the first stage of phasing out 100-watt incandescent bulbs under the CLEAN Energy Act, but 70-, 60- and 40-watt bulbs are next on the chopping block. Switching to compact fluorescent lights (CFL) or LEDs not only conserves significant electricity, but significant savings as well -- more than $57 over the life of the CFL, one report found.

2. Upgrade to Energy Star appliances

One of the simplest ways to upgrade your home in a green way is to purchase an energy-saving appliance. The best bet is to find one that earns the government's "Energy Star" rating. The appliances are designed to reduce greenhouse emissions as well as your energy usage over time. Many products can mean tax rebates for your green efforts.

3. Reuse rainwater.

The simplest place to reuse rainwater? In your garden. By installing an affordable rain barrel that catches runoff from your roof or gutters, you can save enough rain to water your lawn or growing spring garden.

4. Get geothermal

Even if your home state is plagued by cold winters or blistering hot summers, did you know that below the frost line the ground stays about the same temperature year-round? By tapping into this, you can cool or heat your home in a very eco-friendly way. This isn't a way to create electricity, but rather reduce the amount of energy you use to maintain your home's temperature. Installing a geothermal system isn't cheap (estimates range from $11,000 to $30,000 for a 2,000-square-foot home), but with tax incentives and significant energy bill reductions, the savings are incredible. If you plan on being in your home for a long time, it could be worth it and perhaps add to your home's re-sale value.

Energy Saving Tips For Your Home

5. Solar panels

Solar energy has been powering calculators for years, but it's only recently become more common in homes due to a drop in costs of installing a solar energy system. While powering your home using solar energy still isn't cheap, it's one of the few ways that a homeowner can "live off the grid" by storing extra energy in batteries. The other option is to continue a connection to the utility grid, buying the power you need and selling the power back when you produce enough on your own.

6. Reuse 'gray' water

The EPA estimates that an average family of four uses 400 gallons of water every day. While not all that water can be reused, 'gray' water, which is water from your sink, laundry, but not contaminated by waste (i.e., not toilet water) can be recycled. While not as common as some other green home features, gray water recycling systems take the water from your morning shower or from yesterday's washing machine cycle and filters it for reuse in your toilet or your garden.

7. Composting toilet

There's green. Then there's really green. Even a home completely "off-the-grid" won't necessarily have a composting toilet, but when installed properly, a composting toilet is the final nod to going green. A composting toilet will break down the waste through natural decomposition -- the only thing needed is the right temperature (about 65 degrees) and enough oxygen. However to keep this environment, some key things need to be monitored, which may be more effort than most people are interested in.

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7 Green Home Trends: From Baby Steps to Extreme Updates

In honor of Earth Day, AOL Real Estate is revisiting some of the most eye-popping green homes around the globe. Just because you want to save the planet doesn't mean you have to live in a mud shack. (But how 'bout a coke bottle cottage?) From dazzling modern prefab homes, to sprawling eco-mansions, we explore the whole gamut of green living. Click through to see some of the world's most intriguing green homes.

Known as La Casa de Botellas, this home in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina is comprised of thousands of recyclable plastic bottles. Sure, HVAC might be a pain if the home were built in, say, Minneapolis, but given the weather in Argentina, we think the owners are just fine.

Wake up feeling effervescent and refreshed in this soda pop bottle bedroom.

The designer of the home actually created a child-sized replica for his daughter to play with in the back yard.

Constructed in 1975 by architect William Morgan, the “Dune House” is so named because it was actually built into the Atlantic beach sand dunes. And while it may look more like a grassy submarine from this perspective, the interior is something to be seen.

Descend the curving staircase to find the heart of the home – the kitchen, living and dining rooms. Much of the furniture is built into the home, creating the feel of a cabin suite on a large cruise liner.

A shot of the living room from the top of the spiral staircase. Despite its grassy facade, each room offers sweeping views of the ocean.

Living on the cutting edge of sustainable design doesn't have to mean sterile, futuristic decor. As this sumptuous cabin estate in Canton, TX aptly demonstrates, green living is what you make of it.

The Kirkland Kastle, a 40-acre gated estate approximately 50 minutes from Dallas, was built almost entirely from natural resources within a 10-mile radius of the home. Nearly 90 percent of the 6,000 hardwood logs used in its construction would have otherwise been destined for burn piles to make space for land clearing.

The 40-acre property includes two bridges, a barn, an on-site lake and a personal gazebo. Add to that your very own bar and lounge area, and this home manages to break every stereotype associated with eco-friendly homeowners.

The home is listed with Coldwell Banker Apex and is selling at $4 million.

This unfinished home in Malibu, Calif. is constructed entirely from the hull of a retired 747 airplane. Francie Rehwald, a Mercedes dealership owner, purchased a 55-plot of land to build her spacey home concept. Whether or not you're a fan of the Jetsons-esque facade, there may be no finer example of upcycling on the entire West coast.

A simulated drawing of what the airplane home will look like once completed. If you're still not sold on the practicality of building your home on the wings of a jumbo jet, consider the price tag: the entire plane cost a paltry $35,000, with 4.5 million reusable parts to choose from.

The notion of a massive green home may seem counterintuitive, even hypocritical to many within the green design community -- but that didn't deter Frank McKinney, a self-fashioned "daredevil real estate artist," from taking a crack at it. Judge for yourself by touring the 15,000-square-foot estate.

The fact that the home includes solar panels, high-efficiency appliances, a reusable water filtration and a bevvy of other sustainable design gimmicks --er, features -- is suddenly washed away at the sight of this aquatic garage. Park your electric car besides this underwater dividing wall, perfect for peeking at poolside divers.

Known as the Acqua Liana -- the Fijian term for "water flower," according to McKinney's site -- is built upon 1.6 acres of pristine coastal shoreline. The interior, however, channels 1960s Bond flicks. The nautical theme runs throughout the expansive mansion.

Other amenities featured in the home include a golf course driveway, two glass elevators, three laundry rooms, "swimmable water gardens," and this deluxe movie screening room.

This Mill Valley, Calif. marvel is the personal home of architect Scott A. Lee, the president of SB Architects. As Marin County's first LEED Platinum home, the highest honor granted by the U.S. Green Building Council, this refined, contemporary home is leading the way in American green design. 

The interior combines elements of Frank Lloyd Wright's modern sensibilities with an earthy, rustic charm. Here is the designer's take on a modern fireplace.

At left, a sun-filled shot of the home's kitchen. At right, a long, candle-lit dining room table -- the yin and yang of a delectable night-in.

Check out these AOL Real Estate Guides on how to live sustainably and save your hard earned greenbacks.

Energy Efficient Home Improvements on Any Budget

Ways to Shrink Your Energy Bill

Green Renting Guide

Find green homes for sale


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