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15 Ways to Go Green for as Little as ... FREE!
Going green doesn’t have to be costly. Need proof? Check out these inexpensive eco-friendly actions.
1. Schedule a home energy review
An energy advisor will do a room-by-room evaluation of your home to evaluate how much energy you’re using and offer suggestions for becoming more energy efficient. Most utilities offer free or low-cost energy audits to their customers.
“We all know there are things we can be doing to save energy, but it can be hard to know where to start,” explains Kendall Youngblood, residential sector manager for Energy Trust of Oregon. “An energy advisor can help you establish your priorities and figure out what changes make the most sense in your home.”
2. Clean your refrigerator coils
The coils hold liquid that cools the air inside the refrigerator. It takes a lot more energy to cool the refrigerator when the coils are covered with lint and dust. Pull the refrigerator out from the wall, vacuum out the dust and wipe down the coils with a damp cloth. In just a few minutes, you can cut your refrigerator’s energy use by up to 6 percent!
3. Install a programmable thermostat
A programmable thermostat is one of the easiest ways to lower energy use and reduce heating bills — and you never have to think about adjusting the temperature.
“Programming the thermostat prevents the heat from running when it’s not needed,” explains Ronnie Kweller, deputy director of communications for the Alliance to Save Energy. “Set it to lower the temperature several degrees while you’re at work, and it’ll help save up to 10 percent on your heating bill throughout the season.”
Keeping the heat low while you’re away from home will also cut pollution and reduce greenhouse gases, notes Kweller.
Programmable thermostats are sold at home improvement centers and hardware stores. Prices start around $50 for a simple unit with a timer. Most are easy to install for the average DIY-er.
4. Drink tap water
More than 38 billion water bottles end up in landfills every year where, it takes an average of 700 years before they even begin to decompose. It takes over 1.5 million barrels of oil — enough to fuel 10,000 cars — to manufacture the amount of bottled water Americans drink on an annual basis. Switching to tap water will conserve valuable resources and significantly reduce waste.
5. Check the tire pressure on your car
Correct tire inflation will increase gas mileage and extend the life of your tires. Air pressure gauges are available at most gas stations (or buy your own for a few dollars). To find out how many PSI (pounds per square inch) the manufacturer recommends for your car, check the owner’s manual or the inflation sticker found on the driver’s door jam.
6. Buy phosphate-free laundry detergent
Conventional laundry detergents often contain phosphates, one of the biggest causes of ocean pollution. Phosphates can cause algae blooms that kill marine life by depleting the water of oxygen. Although they have been banned in many areas, many cleaning products, including laundry detergents, are still made with phosphates. Shop for detergents that are phosphate-free for the same cleaning power and no environmental impact.
7. Turn your computer off at the end of the day
Over the course of one year, powering down your computer will save one ton of carbon dioxide emissions. To save even more energy, use the “sleep” mode feature on your computer during the day. According to the EPA, a computer’s sleep mode reduces energy use by up to 70 percent — and could save enough electricity to cut annual electric bills by $2 billion and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of 5 million cars.
“Consumers can make a conscious effort to reduce their energy use and minimize their impact on the environment by using their products responsibly,” Jennifer Bemisderfer, spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association, said. “Turning off computers at the end of the day and unplugging [electronics] that are not in use is a great practice to start right away.”
8. Buy eco-friendly paint
Traditional paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOC) that release harmful pollutants into the air. Opt for low- or no-VOC paints instead. They’re available in thousands of different colors, and they are also low odor so there is no lingering new paint smell. Unlike other green products (think organic produce) that tend to be more expensive, eco-friendly paint costs about the same as regular paint.
9. Replace your plastic shower curtain liner
Most shower curtain liners are made from polyvinyl chloride or PVC, a material that emits harmful gases. You might be breathing in toxins every time you take a shower. Choose a nylon shower curtain instead. Nylon is waterproof and contains no PVC. It is also washable so when soap scum builds up, just throw it in the washing machine. Check out more natural bathroom accessories by Gaiam.
It’s one of the first tenants of going green — and it does make a difference. According to the EPA, recycling one aluminum can (instead of sending it to the landfill) has the energy savings equivalent to powering an office PC for 23 hours, running a refrigerator for 17 hours or operating a room air-conditioner for 14 hours. Recycling can also help divert the amount of waste sent to the landfill by up to 75 percent. Place a recycling box in every room in the house to increase your odds of recycling success.
11. Change the margins on your printer
The default margins on the documents you print are 1.25 inches on all sides. Simply changing the margins to .75 inches will reduce the amount of paper you use by almost 5 percent. It might not seem like a lot, but if everyone in the U.S. made the change, it would save 6,156,000 trees every year.
12. Pack a waste-free lunch
Eliminate plastic bags, disposable containers, paper napkins and plastic utensils from your lunch. Consider this: More than 10 billion yogurt cups and 3.6 billion drink pouches end up in the landfill every year. Do your part to minimize trash by packing a waste-free lunch. Seal your sandwich in a reusable container, fill a thermos with soup, use a cloth napkin and pack it all in a reusable lunch bag.
“Think about the amount of waste that’s generated if you pack a lunch every day,” says Rebecca Mebane, director of meetings and conferences for the National Recycling Coalition. “[Packing a waste-free lunch] is just a matter of changing your habits. You’ll save money in the long run and anytime you keep items out of the trash, you’ll have a positive impact on the environment.”
13. Clean the lint screen in your dryer
The lint that collects in the filter prevents air from flowing efficiently through the dryer, forcing it to work harder to dry your clothes. Cleaning the lint screen could reduce your energy use by up to 30 percent. More importantly, it can also prevent a fire from starting in your dryer.
14. Get the junk out of your trunk
Driving around town with ski gear and a 25-pound bag of dog food in the trunk reduces your gas mileage. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk can reduce your car’s fuel efficiency by up to 2 percent so take the time to pack the gear in the garage. You can also boost your fuel mileage by removing the roof rack. The extra weight and the aerodynamic drag on the car both negatively affect your fuel efficiency.
15. Use eco-friendly dryer balls
Try using reusable PVC-free dryer balls to speed up the drying time. They will keep your clothes from sticking to each other and to the sides of the dryer. Your clothes will be wrinkle and static-free without having to use chemical softeners and landfill-clogging dryer sheets.
Jodi Helmer is the author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference. Visit her online at www.green-year.com.