Nancy H. Taylor, author of Go Green: How to Build an Earth-Friendly Communitysays, "We use a lot of energy in our daily lives, for heating, cooling, lighting, appliances and transportation. There are many ways to save energy and money by making a few simple changes."
To keep from feeling overwhelmed with green initiatives, read the following 10 tips and commit to incorporating an eco-friendly change each week. In less than three months, you will greatly reduce your impact on the environment, save money and feel good about your eco-friendly contributions to your community and the Earth.
Change your non-dimmable light bulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescent lightbulbs(CFLs). CFLs come in all shapes and sizes and even many shades of the color spectrum. You do not have to have a white glare or even use the curly bulbs. Incandescent bulbs are going to be obsolete soon, so educate your kids about how much energy CFLs can save. Because CFLs have a trace of mercury in the bulb, they must be disposed of at a recycling center.
Turn down the temperature of your water heater to 120 degrees F. or 50 degrees C. If your water heater is not insulated, wrap an insulating blanket around it. If your water heater is gas, and not insulated, be sure to leave room for the air vent. Do not cover any venting pipes with a blanket.
Arrange to have an energy audit for your home or apartment, which can be done through most utility companies or through an independent contractor. This audit will tell you where and how you are wasting energy, or areas that are lacking insulation. If you follow some of the suggestions, it is possible you can even get a rebate from the utility and possibly a federal or state tax credit.
Get a programmable thermostat for your furnace or home heating system. If your home or apartment is vacant all day, setting the heat to turn down while you are gone will save you money and energy. Also, turn the heat down at night. Adjust your air conditioner, so that it cools to a warmer temperature in the summer. Use shades to keep heat in during the winter and out during the summer. In the summer, open windows at night to let the cool night air in, then close windows and curtains to keep the house cool all day.
Teach your kids about turning off lights and the TV when they leave a room. The same goes for all the appliances in your house. Taylor says, "We are used to leaving appliances running even when we don't need them. We forget that they are drawing energy, costing us money and creating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through their energy use." She also suggests, "When you buy an appliance, be sure it is Energy Star rated." Most appliances from air conditioners to Xerox machines have energy ratings.
Involve everyone in the family in using power strips. Any gadget that has a digital readout or transformer box on its power cord needs to be plugged into a power strip and then turned off when not in use. Computers, printers, DVD players, TVs, ipods, phone chargers, adding machines, coffee makers microwaves and just about any modern device all draw power even when they are turned off. If you plug the devices into a power strip and turn it off when not in use, you can save up to 10% on your energy bill.
Note: This is important at home but especially important at work – doing a hard shut off of computers and office equipment can substantially cut down environmental impact. Go green at the officeas well as home.
Try to minimize the carbon-producing transportation patterns of your family. Instead of every person in the family making several trips or taking a vehicle to their respective destinations every day, make use of public transportation or carpooling. Taylor also suggests riding your bicycle to work as well as for recreation. In addition, plan ahead to minimize air travel and when you do have to fly, offset the carbon footprint of your trip by buying green tags.
Your grocery shopping and eating habits use energy, too. Taylor says, "Most food travels 1500 miles from farm to fork. See if you can find food that was not transported from far away." Many stores carry local produce from neighboring farms. Read the labels on fruits and vegetables to see where they were grown. Buy in bulk and avoid foods that use large amounts of packaging. Buy from the farmers market, co-ops or community supported agriculture when you can. Always take your own cloth bag to the market – plastic is a petroleum product.
Water is another source of energy use, particularly when it needs to be heated for showers and washing dishes or laundry. Take shorter showers or put a shut-off valve on the shower to turn it off while soaping, shampooing or shaving. Put a water-saver nozzle on your showerhead and all faucets. Turn the water off when brushing your teeth (a great way to teach kids about not wasting water) or while shaving. Use cold water to wash your clothes (and further reduce your energy use by drying your clothes on a rack or a clothesline).
Using potable water from the hose to water lawns and plants can deplete your water supply, especially if you are in a drought region of the country. If you live in a place where you can collect rainwater, catch it in a barrel and use it for watering plants and landscaping. If you are landscaping, plant drought-resistant plants using a method called xeriscaping.
Now that you have begun to think about the amount of energy you use in your home or apartment, you can calculate your carbon footprint. This is a way to figure out how much carbon dioxide you or your household put in to the atmosphere on a yearly basis. It can be calculated just for your home, or it can include driving and flying as well.
Each carbon calculator is a bit different. Calculating our carbon dioxide emissions is still a rough science in the process of being refined. There are several sites that you can try to see which carbon calculator you like the best. Some of Taylor's favorites are: Native Energy, Terrapass, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, My Footprint and Environmental Protection Agency.
After calculating your carbon footprint, you can choose to offset the amount of energy your home uses by purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs) or green tags. Depending on the organization you choose, you could be funding a wind farm, solar panelsfor schools or methane generated from dairy cow waste. Your dollars contribute to developing and purchasing renewable energy. Using your money in this way makes us all less dependent on a fossil fuel economy.
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