When we hear the word "sustainability," some of us may simply roll our eyes while envisioning tree-huggers and tofu. In fact, however, this term simply calls forth an ancient -- even instinctive -- principle of human survival. Sustainability can just as easily be called "maintain-ability," and affects our travel, household budgets, diets and social interactions. In a nutshell, sustainability involves leaving some for later, conserving resources to maintain a certain quality of life. It is a tradition as old as, and older than, composting waste and pickling vegetables. Practiced today, sustainability employs cutting-edge technology to make our dwellings more efficient in energy usage and less prolific in greenhouse gas emissions.

Waste Not, Want Not

Some energy-saving and eco-friendly technologies, though, are not so cutting-edge, but instead are enjoying something of a renaissance among millennials and sustainability aficionados. One such practice is that of composting waste. Organic waste matter nourishes soil, serving the earth rather than rotting in a landfill. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that Americans throw out 30 percent of this rich nutrient which can help prevent water runoff; fortify soil and limit the need for chemical fertilizer; and stifle plant diseases and destructive insects. Food scraps, grass clippings, fallen leaves, used coffee grounds etc., can be mixed and stored outside or indoors.

Related to compost is the use of biodigesters to heat and even provide electricity to individual homes. These devices can cut compost off from oxygen, allowing for a multi-stage breakdown of the organic matter that results in the production and capture of usable methane. The methane, in turn, is used to generate heat and power, permitting households to enjoy electricity without reliance on a public grid. Alternatively, public utilities are utilizing more of this biogas in recent years to offset their employment of fossil fuels.

More Climate Control, Less Climate Change

21st-century technology is enormously helpful in maximizing conservation in the interest of sustainability. Needless to say, home heating and air conditioning consumes more electricity than is necessary for the personal comfort of the inhabitants. By the time someone notices that it is too hot or cold, precious energy has already been consumed. Fortunately, artificial intelligence answers this problem. How? Like most AI devices, smart thermostats can be trained in as little as seven days to adapt to the occupancy and activity habits of any household. Google's Nest technology, for example, learns these patterns and adjusts temperatures for rooms that are more often vacant; for the most frequently populated zones; and according to time of day -- and day of the week. Conserving power outputs mean fewer inputs to combust at the power plant.

Catching Some Rays and Saving Some Money

Another way to decrease electricity consumption, and lower the utility bill, is the adoption of solar panels. These capture photons from sunlight and transform them into direct current (DC). Once passing through an installed inverter, the DC turns to alternating current and electrifies the home. This can save up to $30,000 over the life of the panels since owners receive less power from the grid. Plus, solar energy emits no carbon into the atmosphere. Best of all, although installing the panels represents a considerable investment -- adds to home value at resale time. Be sure to check for local, state and national rebates or tax credits.

Going with the (Controlled) Flow

If efficient use of resources is the hallmark of sustainability, regulating water usage is central to that effort. Green plumbing fixtures help to save water and target it economically. Pressure reducing valves, for instance, diminish the burden borne by pipes while reducing the probability of leaks and wasted water. Another major water saver is a re-circulating hot water pump that recycles and stores old hot water. Meanwhile, efficiency faucets are said to save 2.2 gallons per minute at sinks and basins.

As houses become greener, various technologies -- old and new -- combine to improve home value. In Pt.2, the next post to our sustainability series, we'll explore landscaping and materials.