The Low Down On Green Living
October 30th, 2007
As the temperature drops and the days grow shorter, many of us are thinking about the holidays or hoping for that first sparkling morning after a nighttime snowfall. Here at Low Impact Living, we have other things in mind as well - winter is the time when we have the greatest opportunity to reduce our contribution to global warming. All that energy consumed to keep our houses warm and power lights through the long night takes its toll on the environment.
In a typical house, heating alone can produce 7-10 tons of carbon dioxide during the heating season, or as much as driving an average car nearly 20,000 miles. And, this doesn’t even count the additional amounts produced by hot water heating and electricity use.
It’s not too late to take steps that will reduce your global warming contribution and save money this winter. For less than $200, you can make changes that cut over one ton of carbon dioxide and reduce your winter utility bills by 10%. And, it’s also a good time to take stock of what major projects you might consider in time for next winter. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
(For more detail on the environmental impacts of a typical house in your part of the country, and for additional project ideas, try exploring LIL’s Impact Calculator at http://www.lowimpactliving.com/projects).
Actions You Can Take Today
1. Turn down your thermostat when away or at night. You could save up to 1% off your heating bill for every degree you lower your thermostat. And, contrary to urban legend, it does NOT use significantly more energy to warm your house back up again.
2. Reduce the temperature of your hot water heater. Reducing your hot water temp from 130 to 120 degrees can save $50-$100 per year and up to 2% of your total household fuel use and carbon dioxide production. If your setting is higher, so are the savings.
3. Open blinds and drapes on the south side of your house to let in sunlight during the day and close them tight each night. Even in the dead of winter, south-facing sunlight can warm your house an extra few degrees. Close the blinds at night , and it will trap the warmth and reduce your heating needs for a few hours.
4. Clean or replace your air filters. This not only cleans out the creepy-crawlies before they get recirculated through your house, but improves the efficiency of your heating system. Find a filter for your furnace here.
Projects You Can Do This Week
1. Install a programmable thermostat. Even though it is easy, many of us will decide that re-setting the thermostat by hand every day is a pain. So, let your thermostat do it for you with one of these programmable Energy Star options. Save up to 5% of your energy bill, and avoid emitting 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide.
2. Put weatherstripping around leaky windows and doors. Do your windows and doors puff at you on a blustery winter day? If so, then you are losing tens or hundreds of dollars each heating season. Find weather stripping and other sealing products here.
3. Insulate your hot water heater and hot water pipes. Taken together, poorly insulated hot water heaters and pipes cost you up to 3% of your energy bill each year. At a minimum, wrap your water heater in an insulating blanket and insulate the first 5-10 feet of hot water piping with these products. These changes are some of the most cost-effective you can make - they cost less than $60 and pay for themselves in less than a year.
4. Replace high-use light bulbs and outdoor floodlights with compact fluorescent light bulbs, and install motion- or light-sensing light switches. Collectively, these changes could save up to 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and pay for themselves in a year. Click here for a variety of options.
5. Buy offsets for the balance of your typical household consumption. If it’s too late to make a big dent in your greenhouse gas production this year, offsets are an inexpensive way to reduce your emissions. Offsetting 100% of your total emissions can cost less than $200 / year, including your house and cars. Click here to find out more.
Projects You Can Do This Month
1. Seal your heating ducts. Leaks in ductwork are some of the most costly and easiest to fix heating / cooling problems, often wasting 10% or more of your heating fuel. Find do-it-yourself duct sealing products here, or find a local professional here.
2. Upgrade the insulation of one or more key parts of your house. Out of sight out of mind, right? Not if you care about global warming – poor insulation is a major source of household emissions (via wasted heat). Decide on one high-impact insulation project, and find a contractor to do it here. Most local utilities offer significant rebates for insulation projects, and there is also a substantial federal tax credit.
Your Long Term Plan To Become Carbon Neutral
Even with today’s technology, all homes can be carbon neutral, meaning that they produce no net carbon dioxide emissions. This is because you can do projects that reduce or eliminate your carbon dioxide at home and purchase a product called a carbon offset for the balance. Here are things to think about as you plan your way towards this goal.
1. Make sure energy efficiency is a component of any significant remodeling job (windows, etc). Many of us spend thousands installing that special kitchen or bathroom, but don’t think about energy efficiency. A few hundred incremental dollars will often get paid off in months with the right choices in windows, insulation, and sustainable products. Click here to see some suggestions for different rooms in your house.
2. Replace old appliances, heating equipment and hot water heaters with Energy Star or better versions. Today’s appliances and heating equipment can be several times more efficient than those of ten years ago. If you’re thinking about new appliances, check LIL’s selection of Energy Star versions in our product section.
3. Begin to understand whether solar electric, solar hot water heating, or wind energy make sense in your area. Using renewable energy is the ultimate solution to our global warming and energy independence challenges. The economics of renewable energy improve every year between technology upgrades and improved government incentives. Begin the learning process on LIL’s solar power and wind power pages.
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