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In honor of the weeklong DKGreenRoots event, I am reposting a diary from last year with tips on how to save money and help the environment at the same time.  I've tried to update it with some new tips and hints, so even if you saw this the first time around, there maybe something new for you down there.

Too often, we think that it costs money to be environmentally friendly.  While that can be true, the fact of the matter is that there are plenty of things you can do every day that take little effort and often no upfront costs.  There are lots of ways you can change your home or your lifestyle to reduce the amount of energy and other natural resources you consume, but in this diary I want to focus on some of the easiest (and cheapest) changes you can make that will still make a significant difference.

The most important thing to keep in mind if you are looking for places to save resources is to first look to where your biggest usage is and try to trim that.  If you can save just 2% of the power on something you use 40% of the time, that is going to be a much bigger savings than if you save 50% of the power on something you use 5% of the time.  Your goal should be to stop the hemorrhaging before you start worrying about the skinned elbows.

Also, you should be aware that not all of the tips below will necessarily save you either money or energy.  Results will vary based on individual usage patterns.  For example, if you have a rarely used light, it doesn't make any sense at all to throw out the perfectly good incandescent bulb and replace it with a CFL bulb.  The amount of energy you save may never compensate for the amount of resources it took to manufacture that new CFL bulb.

Home Heating, Cooling and Electricity
A home with lots of windows can be very appealing visually, but these same windows are probably the source of most of your wasted energy.  While replacing your windows with double paned glass can provide you a great amount of savings and adding insulation to your roof (and even your walls) can also make a huge difference in your utility costs, here are some ideas that are a little easier and cheaper to implement.

  • It's curtains for you!:  Thick heavy curtains can help keep your house cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  In the winter, be sure to draw them at night to keep the warmth in and in the summer, draw them during the day to keep the heat out.  If you don't like the feeling of living in a cave that you can get from having your curtains drawn all day, leave them open, but try adding a UV filter film to your windows to stop the sunlight from heating up your place.
  • Shut off unused rooms:  If you have rooms in your house that are not used daily, shut them off and close off vents or registers.  If you don't have doors to shut out the unused spaces, heavy curtains as room dividers can do a pretty good job too.
  • Weatherstripping: Be sure that all joints and cracks around your windows and doors are sealed with weatherstripping.  If you can feel a draft near your windows on cold days, you probably have a gap that needs to be filled.
  • Keep exhaust fans off when not necessary:  Be sure to turn off your stove and bathroom exhaust fans when you are done using them.  Not only do they waste electricity if they continue to run, but they are sucking your nice cool (or warm) air out of your house and venting it to the outdoors.  While you are at it, be sure to close off fireplace and your chimney flue when they are not being used as well.  That is another direct exhaust line to the outdoors you don't want to leave open.
  • Adjust your thermostat:  Being the hedonist that I am, I am not advocating that you keep your home at an uncomfortable temperature, but you may want to adjust your thermostat just one degree and see if you really notice any difference.  If not, try adjusting it one more.  Also, be sure to turn off your heating and cooling system when you are out of the house and turn it down while you are sleeping.  You can install a programmable thermostat to automatically restore your home to a comfortable temperature shortly before you return or wakeup and you'll never notice the difference, until you see how low your utility bill has dropped.
  • Ceiling fans:  These can be very helpful in both summer and winter.  Reverse the rotation in winter to push the warm air at the ceiling back down into the room.  In summer, be sure to turn off the fan when you leave the room.  The fan doesn't make the room cooler, it just makes you feel cooler when you are standing in the moving air.  If you aren't there, the fan is just wasting energy.
  • Attic exhaust fan:  I hesitate to mention this here, because this is not exactly an "easy" modification to make, but if you don't already have one, you may want to consider installing a whole house exhaust fan that can suck all the hot air out of your house and replace it with the cooler night air in a very short period of time.  
  • Here's a bright idea:  I'm sure you've all heard this before, but replacing your incandescent bulbs with compact fourescent ones really can make a measurable difference.
  • Don't make your appliances fight:  Avoid cooking or drying clothes or doing anything else that generates a lot of heat (such as using halogen lights) in the middle of hot days when your AC is trying to cool your house down.  Save heat producing tasks for after sunset when at all possible.  For even more savings, don't use your clothes dryer at all and just hang them on a line.  On really hot days, try cooking outdoors rather than heating up your kitchen.
  • Stake the vampires:  Many appliances continue to draw power even when they are "off" or just not in use.  Computer monitors can be among the worst offenders, but you probably have many appliances drawing smaller amounts of power at all times.  Look for devices that are operated by remote control (the sensor to detect that signal is always on) or devices that have a clock or illuminated display.  You can try plugging these into a power strip with an off switch if you really want to shut them off completely and conveniently.
  • Dust is your nemesis:  Replace your furnace and AC air filters regularly.  Keep the coils on your AC and refrigerator clean as well and don't forget to check your car air filter, while you are at it.
  • Give your water heater a break:  Turning down your water heater temperature can help.  You may have to experiment a bit to find the optimal setting for your household.  Also, be sure to turn your water heater to low before you leave on vacation.
  • Turn off your furnace:  If you live in a temperate climate where a cool night might cause the furnace to accidentally be triggered on, be sure and turn the power off to your furnace in the summer months.  Of course, those of you in San Francisco, feel free to ignore this advice.  You are going to need your furnace all summer.

Water & Landscaping
If your house is typical, the greatest amount of water you use is probably due to irrigating your landscaping.  If you can reduce this by even a small percentage, you can really cut back on your water consumption

  • Time your watering:  You want to make sure you don't water your lawn in the heat of the day when you will lose the most to evaporation.  Water in the early morning or after sunset for the best effect.  Also, use a timer to automatically turn off your sprinklers to maximize their efficiency.
  • Don't water the concrete:  Make sure your sprinklers are adjusted so that they are actually watering your lawn and plants, and not the sidewalk or driveway.
  • Stop mowing:  Only mow the portion of the lawn you actually use for recreation.  Let the rest grow wild.  The honey bees will thank you.  Also, when you do mow, leave the clippings on the ground.  They will return nutrients to the soil and will save space in your local landfill.
  • Tear out your plants:  If you live in an area that is prone to seasonal droughts, consider replacing some of your more sensitive plants with native species that are drought resistant.  Also consider adding some shade trees near your house.  They will really help keep you cool in the summer.
  • Low flow shower heads:  These are easy to install and can make a big difference in your water consumption without diminishing your shower experience.
  • Cheap approximate of a low flow toilet:  If you aren't in a position where you can replace your current toilet with a low flow model, you can still reduce the water used per flush by placing a filled plastic water bottle in the toilet tank.  DO NOT USE A BRICK for this purpose.  Bricks will slowly dissolve and the resulting grit will do nasty things to your plumbing.
  • Dishwashing:  It may seem counterintuitive, but you can use less water to wash dishes by running a full load through the dishwasher than by doing them by hand.  However, turn off the heated drying cycle on your dishwasher and just open it up and let the dishes air dry when it is done.
  • Fill 'er up:  Make sure you only run your dishwasher, washer and dryer with full loads.  A small load takes almost as much water and energy as a large one.  Speaking of laundry, wash your clothes is cold water and you'll not only save energy, but your clothes will last longer and look better as well.
  • Little changes can add up:  In general, try not to let water run unless you are really using it.  Fix that drippy faucet, turn off the faucet while you are brushing your teeth and never use the toilet as a trashcan to flush a tissue or the like.

Cars and Gas

  • Don't Drive:  This one is kind of obvious, and yet it requires a real conscious effort for most people, at least at first.  Take a good look at how you use your car each day and think whether there is some way you can reduce the miles you drive.  You may find that you are driving places you could easily walk or bike.  You may find that with a bit of advance planning you can combine your errands to make fewer trips.   Or you may even discover that public transportation isn't as difficult to use as you thought in your area.  Check with your coworkers or your friends and see if you can form a carpool if you are all going to the same place at the same time.
  • Slow down:  The 55 mph speed limit did really help change the gas usage in this country.  Slow down and you will see an improvement in your mileage performance.
  • Tune up:  Make sure your car is properly tuned up.  This can also noticeably affect your performance.
  • Feel the Pressure:  I can't believe that anyone hanging out on this site and doesn't already know that you can improve your gas mileage by making sure that your tires are inflated to the manufacturer's standards, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention it here.
  • Lighten your load:  Remove any extra items you have in your car that you don't need to carry with you always.  Don't take out things that are really important, like your spare tire, or your spouse, but you can leave that spare anvil in the garage.

If you are interested in environmental issues, please join DK GreenRoots, a new environmental advocacy group created by Meteor Blades and Patriot Daily. DK GreenRoots comprises bloggers at Daily Kos and eco-advocates from other sites. We focus on a broad range of issues and are always open to new ones.

Over the coming weeks and months, DK Greenroots will initiate a variety of environmental projects, some political and some having nothing directly to do with politics at all.

Some projects may involve the creation of eco working groups that can be used for a variety of actions, including implementing political action or drafting proposed legislation. We are in exciting times now because for the first time in decades, significant environmental legislation will be passed by Congress. It is far easier to achieve real change if our proposal is on the table rather than fighting rearguard actions.

We alert each other to important eco-stories in the mainstream media and on the Internet, promote bloggers at one site to readers at other sites, connect bloggers of similar interests to each other and discuss crucial eco-issues.

Come help us put these projects together. Bring ideas of your own. There is no limit on what we can accomplish together.

Originally posted to sarahnity on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 12:04 PM PDT.

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