I had a friend come to me yesterday after she watched An Inconvenient Truth and ask me what she could do to make her lifestyle a little bit greener. She wasn't up for anything radical but wanted some small ideas. So, I figured this would be a good time to put together a list of 10 Quick Fixes for nouveau-Green folks out there who don't know where to go or what to do.
Whether your goal is to help stop global warming, lower your energy bills, or help save the environment, energy efficiency is one of the first steps you can take to begin contributing. It is something you can directly impact and helps in multiple ways. I've broken these down into two categories, Around the House and Outside the House.
Around the House
- Lower your Thermostat during the winter and raise it during the summer - Space heating and/or air conditioning accounts for about 50% of the average home's energy usage. You save about 2% per degree that you lower or raise. 68 degrees during the winter months and 78 degrees during the summer months is usually recommended. Use a programmable thermostat to take the remembering thing out of it. Lower the heat another 10 degrees when you go to bed. Also, set it lower/higher when you are away from the house for extended periods like work or vacation. Don't forget to check your air filters either. Doing all of these will save you a significant amount on your bills.
- Keep your hot water heater on a medium or 120degree setting - You don't need it hotter than that. Your water heater accounts for about 22% of your overall energy usage. You may also want to consider low flow shower heads and faucets. There are some very affordable and functional models out there and you don't need a PhD to install them. Don't forget to use cold or warm water for wash loads and keep your showers short.
- Switch to CFL bulbs and get rid of those incandescent - Lighting and other appliances (non-refrigerator/dishwasher) account for about 13% of your energy usage. A CFL bulb will use about 2/3rds less energy than a comparable incandescent bulb and it will last about 10 times longer. Current estimates put the monetary savings at about 12x the cost of the bulb. i.e. over the lifetime of a $3 CFL, you will save $36 over the use of the same lumen producing incandescent bulbs. Be careful because there are some lighting situations that an incandescent bulb performs better. These tend to be short on/off type lights where they are only on for brief periods of time.
- Keep your refrigerator in proper working order - Your refrigerator uses about 15% of the energy in your home. Keep it on the correct temperature, clean the coils, and keep the freezer clean. This should save you about $5 - $10 per month on your utility bill. Also, you may want to keep your freezer and fridge full as an empty refrigerator is just cooling air which quickly escapes every time you open the door. This will also keep you eating in which will keep your food bills lower, keep you from driving as much, and give less encouragement to the highly inefficient restaurant industry.
Outside the House
- Minimize the number of trips you take - When you head out to run some errands, go to the store, get something to eat, head to Starbucks, or whatever, try to pack a few trips into one. This will save on gas and will lower the wear and tear on your car. You'll find that a little pre trip planning will also save you some time.
- Fill Your Tires properly - Your tires typically lose about 1psi per month. So, we would suggest filling them once a month and checking them each time you fill up. You should check the tire pressure when the tires are cold for the most accurate reading as the friction from contact with the road while driving will excite the air molecules inside the tires and cause them to give a higher than actual reading. You should also rotate frequently and check for uneven wear.
- Clean Your Car Air Filter - Most air filters will last about 12k miles. There will be dirt accumulated on the outer edges of the air filter after a couple thousand miles. Don't let the oil change guy sucker you into paying for something you don't need but you should remain vigilant in checking it yourself to ensure that you aren't wasting unnecessary money on gas. This item is especially important on older cars. Newer cars don't see as big of an impact on gas mileage with a dirty filter. They do however see a noticeable decrease in power.
- Eat Out Less - The restaurant industry is one of the most inefficient industries in the world, wasting both energy and food on a monumental scale. Stay at home and learn to cook something new and invite some friends over for dinner. It's more rewarding and unless you are a gourmet chef it is cheaper.
- Buy Less Stuff - Consumer goods are awesome! I love them but I really try to buy only what I need. Think about the amount of energy spent designing, producing, packaging, and transporting the goods you buy. A good trick is to make a pact to not buy anything on impulse and instead take at least a week (in some cases a month) to decide whether you really need what you originally wanted.
- Eat Less Meat - Meat is an incredible contributor to global warming. It's not really in the scope of Efficiency Solutions but you can learn more here. The methane released from livestock is actually a more significant contributor to global warming than CO2 but you wouldn't know that from the news. To do your part, try something radical like eating a vegetarian diet for 1 week or even 1 day a week. We do a one month vegetarian diet each year and love it. I doubt that I will ever fully give up meat because it tastes really good and is a great source of protein but eating a little less is something most of us can definitely do.
Ok, I have detailed some pretty easy things to change that will help you significantly reduce your carbon footprint and begin living a greener and more efficient lifestyle. Good luck!