Create an Eco-Friendly Home
Saving the earth might sound like a Herculean task, yet the little efforts you make at home each day can really add up — both in saved dollars and saved energy. Still stalling on going green? Follow these quick and simple strategies for making your home an environmentally friendlier and healthier place.
Lighten up. Compact fluorescent bulbs use 75 percent less energy than regular bulbs, which means if every U.S. household switched just one bulb, the emissions savings would be comparable to taking 3 million cars off the road for a year. Fluorescents cost more, but they last 10 times longer and can save you up to $60 in electricity per light over their lifetime. Because they contain small amounts of mercury, check with your local hazardous waste agency about proper disposal.
To save even more on lighting, install dimmer switches and timers; use solar-powered lighting in your yard or patio; and of course, turn off the lights when leaving a room.
Vanquish energy vampires. Approximately 40 percent of the total energy used to run home electronics is consumed when the appliances aren’t even powered up. Energy courses through the cords of plugged-in, but unused, cell phone chargers, curling irons, coffee makers, computers and other electric items. Unplug items when not in use and put both your computer and monitor in sleep mode; they’ll use about 95 percent less electricity than those running on full power.
Become “star” struck. A joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy, Energy Star helps you save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices. Thanks to Energy Star, Americans saved $16 billion on their utility bills in 2007 while avoiding greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 27 million cars. Shop for appliances bearing the Energy Star label; they exceed government efficiency standards by using less water or electricity.
Fill the fridge. Refrigerators eat up the most electricity in the household, but a filled-to-capacity refrigerator saves you money because it stays colder and runs more efficiently. For maximum efficiency, set the fridge thermostat at 37 degrees and the freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn down (or up) the heat. By lowering your thermostat 2 degrees in winter and raising it 3 degrees in summer, you’ll prevent the annual emission of nearly 700 pounds of carbon dioxide. Plus, every degree dropped during the winter saves you 5 percent on your heating bill.
Other energy and cost cutters: programmable thermostats; regular servicing of your furnace (this can net a 10 percent heat-bill savings and a 1,250 pound reduction of carbon dioxide); sealing leaks around windows and doors; and installing proper insulation.
Don’t be a drip. One drop per second from a leaky faucet can waste 165 gallons of water per month. Save money in the bathroom by installing water-efficient showerheads. A family of four can cut water usage by nearly 280 gallons a month with a simple switch to low-flow models.
Watch your water temperature. Electric water heaters made after 2004 have plenty of insulation. Wrap earlier models in insulating blankets and save 10 percent on your bill each year. Washing your clothes in cold water saves nearly half of the energy needed when washing in hot. And setting your dryer on the moisture sensor, not the timer, will further cut energy use by 15 percent.
Recycle. This is one of the simplest steps you can take to help the environment, yet sadly, 25 percent of households don’t recycle. If your neighborhood doesn’t offer curbside pickup of recyclables, contact your local waste management company to find a nearby drop-off place. When shopping, look for labels indicating the product was made from recyclable materials. Reuse paper grocery bags by filling them with newspapers to be recycled, and use plastic bags to clean up after Fido or for trash.
Make your own fertilizer. Yard waste and food scraps comprise up to 30 percent of household garbage. Compost bins, available at most garden stores, can turn that into fertilizer for your garden and houseplants, which are great at removing indoor air pollutants.
Stop junk mail. Within three months of registering with the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service, www.dmachoice.org, the amount of junk mail cluttering up your mailbox will substantially decrease. Another option: Contact the sending company directly and ask to be taken off its mailing list.
Dispose of batteries properly. Those rechargeable batteries that keep your cell phones, cordless phones, power tools, camcorders, kids’ toys, digital cameras and laptop computers humming contain metals that will leak toxins into the ground if you throw them out in the trash. Instead, drop them off at a Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation site. To locate one, visit www.rbrc.org.
Take paint precautions. Indoor air is three times more polluted than outdoor air and is considered to be one of the top five hazards to human health, according to the EPA. Paints and finishes are among the leading causes because they emit volatile organic compounds (VOC), the same type of chemicals found in gasoline and nail polish. Look for low-VOC, zero-VOC and natural paints at your local home improvement store and use water-based latex paint, not oil-based paints, indoors.
Earth Day may only be recognized one day out of the year, but respecting the earth and protecting it for the enjoyment of future generations is an everyday commitment that requires everyone’s participation. By implementing these action items, you’ll not only reduce your ecological footprint on planet Earth, you’ll also save money and lead a happier, healthier life. And your great-great-grandchildren will thank you for making their world a safe and healthy one.
Jeannette Moninger is a freelance writer who specializes in family and health issues.