Making Your Home Green
Everywhere you turn these days, there go those buzzwords again: green, eco, organic, sustainable, renewable, alternative, recycled, reused. And it's not just Al Gore and Whole Foods Market and Mother Earth News and a bunch of long-haired, tofu-loving guys wearing Birkenstocks and obsessed with Armageddon doing the talking. The conversation now has entered bastions of Middle America - places like Target, The Home Depot and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., all of which are making a major green push. Add to that an ever-growing buzz over global warming, carbon footprints, China's thirst for oil, a nuclear renaissance and the plight of the polar bear. But what's the average homeowner to do to make any sort of difference?
The idea and the prospect of living in a more environmentally conscious way have, indeed, gone mainstream in the United States. But the reality of actually doing it in your neighborhood, in your home, in your garden and in the very cupboards of your existence is another thing. Where does one begin? What's worth the time and trouble? And does any one person/one family's efforts really count? We dissected a house, looking for easy (but not always obvious) ways that homeowners can conserve energy and water - and money at the same time. And then, where we could, we extrapolated the numbers, showing exactly how many gallons and kilowatt hours and dollars could be saved with these minor lifestyle adjustments.
The question, we discovered, is not whether any one person or one family's behavior makes a difference but how much of a difference that is.
Tips On Making Your Home Green
A leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water a day.
Do: Check for leaks by adding food coloring to the tank. If you have a leak, color will appear in the bowl within 15 minutes. Flush as soon as you're done with this test to avoid staining the tank.
Bigger Picture: Two out of every 10 toilets leak on average in the United States Those two leakers can waste as much as 146,000 gallons of water a year. That's enough water for a family of four to wash clothes in their washing machine for eight years. Consider axing your ol' big-gun toilet, those pre-1994 models that use 3.5 to 7 gallons of water with every flush.
Save: If all those pre-1994 guzzlers were replaced with high-efficiency toilets (federal law now requires toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons a flush), the United States could save as much as 800 billion gallons of water a year. That's the equivalent of 12 days of flow over Niagara Falls.
Making Your Home Green
Do: Use drapes of blinds to reduce heat gain (in warm climates) and/or loss (in cold climates).
Save: In warm climates, closing light-colored shades or blinds during the day can reduce your home's solar gain by up to 50 percent, thus relieving some of the load on your air conditioning system. In cold climates, closing drapes or blinds at night reduces your home's heat loss by about 5 percent.
Do: Generally, it's best to wash dishes in the dishwasher (preferably with full loads) than to do them by hand - and scrape rather than rinse plates before loading.
Save: The average American dishwasher in use today consumes 8.7 gallons a load (the most current models use 4 to 8 gallons). Washing by hand for 10 minutes with the faucet running can use as much as 20 gallons of water. Filling the sink uses about 5 gallons or less - but that's 5 gallons for washing, five for rinsing.
Bigger Picture: Some 42 million U.S. homes do not have a dishwasher. If all of those households used the fill-the-sink method instead of letting the tap run, Americans could save as much as 100 billion gallons of water annually.
Do: Turn up your (A/C) thermostat by a mere 2 degrees in warm weather and turn on a ceiling fan.
Save: A/C costs will be lowered by as much as 14 percent over the cooling season, with no sacrifice in your personal comfort. Turn off the fan when you leave the room, though. Ceiling fans cool people, not rooms.
Do: Enable the power management feature in your desktop computer. (For Windows users, click on your Start button, click "Control panel," then "Power options." For Mac users, click the "System Preferences" icon in the dock, then "Energy Saver") For an initial level of power savings, turn off the monitor after a designated time. For even more power savings, designate a time period for activating "System Standby" (Windows users) or "Sleep" (Mac users). With standby/sleep, your monitor, hard-drive and other internal parts will go into a low-power mode when you are away from your desk.
Do: Get rid of your screen saver. It requires more energy to run those static images of your kids (on a constant basis) than it does to have your computer and monitor go into a low-power mode. Unlike 10 years ago, the screen saver does not extend the life of your monitor. Killing it could save you $50 to $100 on your electric bill over a year, depending on your equipment. And speaking of equipment, an LCD monitor not only saves space, it uses one-third the power of a CRT monitor.
Making Your Home Green
Do: Replace an older refrigerator with a new, efficient one. Refrigerators made pre-1993 use twice as much energy as the new ENERGY STAR-qualified models.
Save: $45 to $65 a year in energy costs.
Save: Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a television or operate a computer for three hours.
Do: Replace five of your most used incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (which use two-thirds less energy, generate 70 percent less heat and last up to10 times longer).
Save: $25 to $65 a year in energy costs, depending on the wattage and how long you leave bulbs on.
Bigger Picture: If every American home did that, U.S. consumers would save as much as $6.5 billion a year in electricity costs and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to that from more than 8 million cars.
Note: A small amount of mercury is sealed within the glass tubing of compact fluorescent light bulbs. Don't throw them out with regular household trash if better options exist. For disposal guidelines: visit www.earth911.org and plug in your zip code; call 877-EARTH911 (877-327-84911); call your local waste management company; or visit www.lamprecycle.org. Some stores take back used CFLs.)
Do: Change the air filters in your furnace regularly.
Save: Up to 5 percent of heating costs.
WASHER AND DRYER
Do: Wash only full loads.
Save: As much as 3,400 gallons of water a year.
Do: Use the "cold" setting (with a cold-water laundry detergent) or "warm" setting whenever possible. Heating water to "hot" accounts for 90 percent of the machine's washing energy; only 10 percent goes to power the motor.
Save: Switching to "cold" can save the average household more than $400 annually with an electric water heater, $300 annually with a gas heater.
Do: If your dryer has a moisture sensor that turns the machine off automatically when clothes are dry, use it.
Don't: Do not over-dry laundry.
Save: An electric dryer operating an extra 15 minutes a load can cost you up to $34 a year in wasted energy; a gas dryer, $21 a year.
Do: Clean the lint trap before every load.
Save: As much as $35 a year.
By Karen Klags. Chicago Tribune