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Just because you live in a homeowner association (HOA) governed community doesn't mean you always need permission to go green at home.

Granted, a condo, townhome, loft or other home in an HOA community isn't always your castle when it comes to certain home improvements, but there are many other approaches you can take to help save the planet.

Community Associations Institute (CAI) has launched an interactive, Net-based initiative, Community Green to help HOA communities turn global thinking into local action through environmental awareness and activism by community association leaders and the 60 million people who live in HOA communities.

The principles are simple:

  • Collaborate with neighbors to develop sustainable, consensus-driven decisions.
  • Respect property rights and honor private agreements that are compatible with sustainable environmental practices.
  • Be vigilant in actions that minimize the environmental footprint.

    And developing green habits in a condo home is easy. Here are some ideas:

  • Buy Energy Star. Appliances account for 20 percent of a household's energy consumption. Upgrading your kitchen with a new refrigerator will save the most. Don't forget the dishwasher, stove, oven and clothes washer and dryer.
  • Tighten up. Close the fireplace damper when not in use. Insulate. Plug holes. Check air ducts for leaks. Patch the roof.
  • Be cool with heating and cooling. Heating and cooling account for more than 40 percent of a home's utility bills. Keep your system well maintained, clean filters regularly and consider upgrading to the latest energy efficient models as soon as possible. Keep the thermostat as low as is comfortable in the winter and as high as is comfortable in the summer. Turn kitchen, bath and other ventilation or exhaust fans off as soon as possible or they'll suck out warmed or cooled air.
  • Landscape smart. Choose indigenous plants with deciduous trees planted on the south and on the west sides to keep your house cool in the summer and allow sun to shine in the windows in the winter. Vines also provide shading and cooling. Growing on trellises, vines can shade windows or the whole side of a house. Winter winds can be deflected by planting evergreen trees and shrubs on the north and west sides of the house.
  • Lighten up. Replace 25 percent of your lights in high-use areas with fluorescents and you'll save about 50 percent of your lighting energy bill. Why not replace them all? Fluorescent lamps also last six to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Whenever possible, use solar powered outdoor lighting. Otherwise use photocells or a timer on outdoor lights so they will turn off during the day.
  • Make windows winners. Windows account for 10 to 25 percent of heating and cooling bills. Replace old single-pane windows with new double-pane glazing and high-performance glass. In cold climates select windows that are gas filled with low-emissivity (low-e) coatings to reduce heat loss. In warmer climates, select windows with spectrally-selective coatings to reduce heat gain. New solar control spectrally-selective windows can cut the cooling load in half. If you can't replace your windows or decide not to, install white window shades, drapes or blinds to reflect heat away from the house; close curtains on south- and west-facing windows during the day; Install awnings on south- and west- facing windows; Apply sun-control or other reflective films on south-facing windows to reduce solar gain.

"Best Practices: Energy Efficiency" by the Foundation For Community Association Research contains more greening information for HOA dwellers including remodeling tips and case studies of HOAs that successfully made it a priority to reduce their energy consumption and costs.

The report is available on the new website Community Green, along with a host of related information for HOA members.

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