Ah, summer. A time of heat waves, hot dogs and
home energy audits? Here are a few easy ways to lower your footprint and your bills.
1) Kill your lawn. Why break your back and the bank for short-lived greenery when you can have native plants that color your lawn and are already well-suited to the climate?
Naturescaping—landscaping with native plants—conserves water with minimal irrigation and preserves habitats by providing local plants, shrubs and trees for nearby wildlife. This growing landscaping practice cuts weed killer and fertilizer costs and eliminates the need for an expensive, gas-guzzling lawn mower. It also prevents the spread of invasive species, says Steve Adamson, founder of PlantNative.org, a native plant advocacy site.
2) Make your appliances work for you. Programmable thermostats cut down on electricity bills by eliminating unnecessary heating and cooling, all according to your preferences. For the ultimate in climate control, pair your programmable thermostat with the Honeywell Portable Comfort Control, a handheld, battery-operated device that allows you to adjust a room’s temperature without leaving your chair. The devices combined could save you nearly one-third on heating and cooling costs, which account for about half of your energy bill.
You can also bite back at vampire energy suckers with the Smart Strip, a power strip that contains designated “always hot” outlets that receive a constant supply of power while automatically shutting down the remaining outlets, thereby eliminating the need to reprogram your TV every time you hit the off button.
3) Get back to basics. Save money, cut down on waste and protect our precious aquifers by purchasing a reusable water bottle (stainless steel and BPA-free plastic bottles are best). And instead of wasting money on scented laundry detergent for that summer-breeze smell, get the real thing by hanging your duds on a clothesline, which also nixes the need for both energy-hogging dryers and chemical-laden dryer sheets. Finally, make your own cleaning supplies. You”ll be amazed by what cheap items like lemon, baking soda and vinegar can do to a grubby floor. Check out cleaning supply recipes at www.doityourself.com.
4) B-E efficient. Becoming an efficiency expert can be as easy as combining all your errands into one trip, which cuts down on gas and carbon emissions, or upgrading to more efficient appliances and home electronics, which account for about 20% of home energy costs. Figure out which appliances use the most energy with the Kill A Watt, a handheld energy-monitoring device that assesses the efficiency of home appliances. Once you know which appliances really suck (energy, that is), consider upgrading to ENERGY STAR versions, rated top-notch for efficiency.
Water efficiency is important, too, especially since showering uses almost 1.2 trillion gallons of water per year. Boost shower power quickly by replacing that old showerhead, which uses about 4.2 gallons of water per minute, with a low-flow head. Contrary to popular belief, these devices don’t reduce shower pressure, only the amount of money you’re wasting. Look for the EPA’s WaterSense label, which identifies water-efficient products sold in major retail stores.
5) Go on a low-impact diet. This isn’t just about food, though eating lower on the food chain is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint and save money. In fact, switching from meat to foods such as fish or vegetables is like cutting out 1,000 driving miles. Going low impact also means choosing used items over new, with no need for dumpster diving (unless you’re into that sort of thing). Check out used-item lists on Craigslist, Half.com, or Amazon. Join The Freecycle Network, where you can request, find and offer free, previously loved stuff in your community. Or, take a walk around your neighborhood—the almost-new items that people throw away will shock and delight you. Also, consider investing in a wireless reading device like Amazon’s Kindle, which sells hundreds of electronic books, newspapers and magazines that are often cheaper than print. For movies, rent or join Netflix.com instead of buying. It’s less expensive and requires fewer resources than making new materials. After all, there are only so many times you can watch An Inconvenient Truth.