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How I Keep My 100 Year Old House "Green"

If you think your car is an environmental monster, then be afraid, very afraid, of your house. I was covering a major home building conference last February when I heard an incredible factoid: your house leaves a bigger carbon footprint than your car. Why? Because, unlike your car, it is ALWAYS running.

So I went home to my hundred-year-old wood and stucco house in DC and started to re-evaluate. Green building is one thing, but the bulk of houses in America are old, so the best we can do is what those in the enviro-industry call "retro-fit" our homes.

Now I'll admit, I'm not a rabid recycler. I've got the bin, but lets face it, with everything else I've got to sort out in my life (husband, two kids, full-time job), sorting the trash just isn't always in the program. But suddenly I'm juiced; I've spent two days at a conference hearing about how I can make my home more environmentally friendly, and I even visited a model "retro-fit" home. This can't be that hard.

I'm good on the leaky windows. We had them all replaced with Andersen Renewal windows, not because of the heat that we were losing but because of the wind that was coming in. So much for the motivation there. But I have to say, it was pricey! Close to $10,000 for the whole house!!! Now I'm looking at my appliances. I'm cooking with gas, which I think is good, but I've got two dishwashers that run for two hours each.

Thank goodness one of them recently broke, so I went online to look at the energy saver models. Unfortunately, the better the energy savings, the less the cost savings. I'm waiting for a sale at Sears, but I guess I'm saving energy because the dishwasher sits there, broken, and so I'm not using it, right?

There's a lot of talk about water, saving it, cleaning it, recycling it. I recently finished an addition to my home, adding a master bathroom...with a dousing rain-head shower head. I'm sorry, I love it. Sue me. I do use Brita water filters, so as to save on buying bottled water, and all the plastic involved in that. Ok, lighting. I went to the hardware store and bought compact fluorescent bulbs, but I've yet to actually put one in because I don't want to waste the mega-box of regular bulbs I had already bought at Costco. Waste not!

Heating and air. We have a two-zone heating and air-conditioning system, which is a check in the plus column, right? And I've programmed both zones so that they don't run during the day when nobody's at home, and the downstairs is off while we're all sleeping upstairs.

Of course, this can be a problem when you forget, like when my daughter was home sick from school last week. She didn't have a fever, but was sweating profusely. As a matter of fact, so was I. Did I catch her bug?? I started to panic, until I finally realized that it was 90 degrees outside, and the AC wasn't on, thanks to all my enviro-friendly programming.

Now I should be thinking about insulation, solar, low-flow toilets and composting in the back yard. But DC doesn't get that cold, solar panels cost a fortune, low-flow toilets sound somehow unsanitary to me (I have absolutely no basis for that comment other than emotional) and I can't even get my husband to cut the grass himself, so composting is about as likely as world peace. The best I can do right now is yell at my kids to shut off the lights.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com

  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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