Living Green & Saving Green: 20 Tips

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1. Kill ‘vampire’ electricity:
Many appliances use electricity even when they’re turned off. It’s called phantom load, or vampire electricity, and as much as 75 percent of the electricity used by home electronics and small appliances is used while they are turned off. The Ohio Consumer’s Council estimates that is costs consumers $40 to $100 a year.

Savings / Benefits:
The simple solutions is to unplug small appliances when you aren’t using them. Or, plug them into a power strip and turn the power strip off when you aren’t using those items. Power strips cost $10 to $20 each, and can save you up to $100 a year, depending on how many electronics you have. Simply unplugging  one television, computer monitor and fax machine when you aren’t using it will  save you about $6 a month.  

2. Know when to replace your appliances:
If your furnace, air conditioner or other major appliances are more than 10 years old, it may make sense to replace them with newer, more efficient models. Americans spend an average of $1,900 on energy every year. Buying newer, Energy Star appliances can save you at least $30 a year.

Savings / Benefits:
For instance, replacing a pre-1994 dishwasher with a new Energy Star model will save you about $30 a year in energy costs. Replacing your pre-1994 washing machine with a new Energy Star model would save you about $110 a year.

3. Switch to cold water:
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, almost 90 percent of the energy used to wash clothes is used to heat the water. Save money and energy, wash your clothes in warm or cold water,  using detergent formulated for cold-water.

Savings / Benefits:
Turning the dial from hot to  warm will cut your energy use by 50 percent per load, and save you up to $63 a year, according to he Alliance to Save Energy.  

4. “Green” your laundry:
Detergents, fabric softeners and bleaches can be toxic to your family and to the environment. Some surfactants and fragrances in laundry detergents contain hormone0disrupting chemicals that can’t always be removed by waste-water treatment plants and end up harming local wildlife. Chlorine bleach is not only poisonous for humans, but can create dangerous byproducts, such as dioxin, when flushed down the drain. Get your clothes clean without all of the pollution by switching to eco-friendlier cleaners. The companies Ecover, Sun & Earth, Seventh Generation and OvyPrime make less-toxic alternatives to traditional laundry detergents. Try nonchlorine bleach such as Oxyboost or Ecover’s hydrogen peroxide-based option.

Savings / Benefits:
The eco-friendlier detergents and bleaches cost no more than the standard products.

5. Get picky on phosphates:
Pick laundry detergents without phosphates, which deplete the oxygen in water and as a result kill aquatic life. And while you’re at it, only buy powdered detergent in cardboard packaging as opposed to a liquid in plastic packaging. The liquid contains water, which takes more fuel to ship, not to mention the energy and petroleum used to manufacture the plastic container. The cardboard container also requires energy and resources to produce, but many are now made from post-consumer recycled paper and the trees they originate from are a renewable resource.

Savings / Benefits:
The cost-per-load comes out pretty much the same for powder and liquid, so going with the non-phosphate powders give you the chance to help the planet without any real cost to you.

6. No hint of lint:
Clean your dryer lint screen with every use and don’t over loan the dryer.

Savings / Benefits:
You’ll save up to 5 percent on your electricity bill — which could mean an energy-equivalent savings of 350 million gallons of gasoline per year if everyone did this. Also, run your dryer during off-peak hours. Check with your utility company to see if they offer discounted rates during off-peak hours and verify when those hours are. Better yet, use a clothesline.  

7. Adjusting your thermostat:
About 47 percent of the average household’s annual energy bills stem from heating and cooling the home. Every degree you raise your thermostat in the summer will reduce your electricity bill by about 2%. Lowering the temperature  by one degree in winter will save you a total of 3% on your energy bill. Regular maintenance and a tune up every two or three years will keep your  HVAC system operating efficiently, saving both energy and money. A programmable thermostat is a great idea for a family that spends a good part of their day at work or school and can shave 10 percent off your energy bill.

Savings / Benefits:
Adjusting your thermostat is free, easy and can yield big savings. A programmable thermostat will cost anywhere from $30 to $130 and produces an annual savings of $100 on an average size home (significantly more for larger homes).

8. Clean air filters:
Check air conditioning filters monthly to either clean or replace them. This will help the unit run more efficiently. Better yet: buy a permanent filter that can be washed and re-used. This will save you money over the long run and keep all those disposable filters out of landfills. If your unit is outdoors, check to make sure the coils are not obstructed by debris, plants or shrubs.

Savings / Benefits:
Clogged filters can make electric bills skyrocket and eventually cause extensive, expensive damage to your air handler.

9. Switch to CFLs:
Compact  fluorescent bulbs use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer. They’e more expensive than traditional bulbs, but it only takes about 3 months to make up for the higher sticker price in energy savings.

Savings / Benefits:
You will save $85 over the life of the bulbs for each 60-watt light bulb you replace with a 15-watt CFL. You’ll also save 543 kWh of electricity and reduce   CO2 emissions by 833 pounds.  

10. Microwave your meals:
Microwaves are between 3.5 and 4.8 times more energy efficient than traditional electric ovens. Cooking and reheating with a microwave is faster and more efficient than the stovetop or oven.

Savings / Benefits:
Cooking with microwaves can reduce up to 70 percent of energy use for cooking. What’s more, using microwaves extends the life of your oven significantly. And one more thing: Cleaning a microwave oven is a snap and saves even more of the cash you would spend on energy with a self-cleaning oven or on toxic-chemical oven cleaners.

11. Don’t preheat:
Don’t bother if you are broiling, roasting or baking a dish that will cook for an hour or more. Don’t preheat for more than 10 minutes for breads and cakes. And when roasting meats or baking casseroles, turn off the oven 10 minutes to 15 minutes before cooking time runs out; food will continue to cook without using the extra electricity.

Savings / Benefits:
By reducing the time your oven is on by one hour per year, you’ll save an average of 2 kWh of energy. If 30 percent of U.S. households did this, 60 million kWh of energy could be saved.

12. Run full dishwasher loads:
You’ll save up to 20 gallons of water per load, or 7,300 gallons a year. That’s as much water as the average person drinks in a lifetime.

Savings / Benefits:
You can save even more money by running your dishwasher during off-peak hours, usually from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Many utility companies offer off-peak energy rates. Also, do not pre-rinse if your dish washer can handle it.

13. Use low-flow water devices:
Wherever you use water, there’s a low-flow device to fit it — from hose nozzles, to showerheads, to faucet aerators. Handy products, such as the WaterMiser, Waterbroom, use water and air pressure to remove dirt from outdoor surfaces, reducing water use by up to 60 percent. Low-flow nozzles save about 5 gallons a minute for a standard garden hose, and a low-flow showerhead uses as little as 2.5 gallons of water or less each minute and would save 25 gallons of water per 10-minute shower. Toilets made after 1996 use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush, while earlier versions can use from 3.5 to 7 gallons.

Savings / Benefits:
Low-flow hose nozzles cost less than $20; showerheads cost about $12 at home-improvement stores. Low-flow items can save you about 750 gallons of water each month per person in showers alone. They also cut your hot-water heating bills by up to 50 percent. New toilets — from as little as $100 — can reduce water use by up to 73 percent per flush. An even cheaper tactic: Put a water displacement bag — about $2 — or even a 2-liter plastic bottle filled with water in the tank away from the mechanism and you’ll save almost a gallon of water per flush. Faucet aerators cost about $2 each and can cut water use from as much as 2.75 gallons per minute to as little as half a gallon a minute. Households using low-flow aerators save an average of 1,700 gallons of water each year.

14. Filter you water:
Buy a water filter for your kitchen faucet and do away with those plastic water bottles that are clogging landfills and burning up energy in recycling plants. About 1.5 million tons of plastic are used on the bottling of 89 billion liters of drinking water each year.

Savings / Benefits:
You can buy a water filter for as little as $29, or about a month’s worth of bottled water.

15. Don’t run while you brush:
Turn off the tap while you brush your teeth. You’ll conserve up to five gallons of water per day — which could add up to 1.5 billion gallons that could be saved across the country each day!

Savings / Benefits:
You could save time and money on water, up to 1,825 gallons of water per person each year. This much water would fill your bathtub more than 35 times. A family of four could save almost 7,500 gallons per year.

16. Stop the junk mail:
Each year, 100 million trees are cut down and  turned into junk mail. American’s receive a total of 400 million tons of the stuff each year.  Cutting out junk mail is one of the most effective things people can do to reduce pollution. There are several ways to stop the flow of junk mail to your house.

Savings / Benefits:
For a $15 one-time fee, a company called Green Dimes  will send you a junk-mail opt-out kit that will remove your name from mailing lists for junk mail and catalogs. They then monitor the lists to make sure your names stay off of them, potentially reducing your junk mail by 90 percent. Green Dimes also plants 10 tress for each kit sold. Alternatively, you can contact the Direct Marketing Association, and pay a $1 fee to be removed from some mailing lists.

17. Plant trees:
Planting deciduous trees — those that lose their leaves in fall — on the south, east or west sides of your house will lower your heating and cooling bills. The trees will shade the house from the sun in summer, and then let in light to warm the house in winter.

Savings / Benefits
Well-placed trees can save you $100 to $250 a year in energy costs, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. The cost to plant trees varies by type and size.

18. Insulate:
Boosting attic insulation gives you the most value for your dollar. Shoot for a rating well above the recommended minimum of R-22. Seven inches of fiberglass or rock wool insulation and 6 inches of cellulose insulation are equal to an R-value of 22. In all but the mildest climates, the agency recommends adding more. While you’re at it, insulate your hot water heater. Precut “blankets” are available at home improvement stores and are easy to install on electric heaters.

Savings / Benefits
Adding insulation can cost up to $1,800, and could reduce your heating and cooling bills by more than $100 a year. Water-tank insulation wraps cost between $10 and $20, reduce heat loss by 25 to 45 percent and will save you about $23 a year. To save even more, turn down the thermostat on your water heater, to between 115 and 120 degrees. This can reduce your water-heating expense by another 3 percent.

19. Mind the lawn:
Americans dump an estimated 70 million pounds of fertilizer and pesticides on approximately 40 million acres of lawn each year, using 10 times more chemicals per acre than farms. Few homeowners are willing to ditch their grass altogether, but you can plant more drought- and disease-tolerant grasses, or simply cut fertilizer and chemical use. You’ll just have to deal with the occasional brown spots that are part of grass’ natural life cycle. To boost the health of your lawn, add clover, as it naturally fertilizes the soil and is drought-tolerant. Let the lawn grow a little longer before cutting it — longer grass chokes out the sunlight weeds need to grow — or switch to a natural lawn-care service such as NaturaLawn.

Savings / Benefits:
Natural fertilizers actually cost less, and using fewer chemicals can save you money and reduce the level of pollution in local waterways and around your home.

20. Use low or no-VOC paints.
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are potentially toxic gases that leach from paint, paint strippers and other household products. They’re a leading cause of indoor air pollution and smog and can cause serious illness in people who are exposed to them for extended periods. Paint can release these chemicals into the air for months after it is applied. Low or no-VOC paints contain significantly lower levels of toxic chemicals and can reduce indoor air pollution. Most major home-improvement stores carry them.

Savings / Benefits:
You’ll likely pay a premium for these products, compared to their traditional counterparts, but will be reducing hazards in your storage closets and in your community.

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