So you're already doing your part to protect the planet by bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, using low-energy light bulbs and looking for ways to reduce, reuse and recycle every day. Here are even more tips and tricks to live so “green” you’d swear it was always St. Patrick’s Day — many of which will even put some green back in your wallet.
Let the light shine bright
Next time you’re dusting, give those light bulbs a good onceover — you can coax 50 percent more light out of your bulbs just by dusting them regularly. Turn off the light, let the bulb cool down and clean with a dust-grabbing dry cloth. (And, of course, when a standard light bulb burns out, replace with an Energy Starrated bulb.)
Here’s another lighting tip: Place your lamps in corners, so that they light up two walls at once. Fewer lamps + fewer light bulbs = greater savings.
Fight global warming in your fridge
Your refrigerator uses about 1/6 of all the energy in your home. Turn off your energy-guzzling ice maker and go back to using ice trays to save 14-20 percent on your fridge’s electric bill. Keep your fridge and freezer full too: Once chilled, food will act as a temperature regulator. Just allow room for air to circulate. (If you’re thinking a bit bigger, get an energy-efficient refrigerator and be careful what you put in it.)
Become a draft dodger
Be sure to close the damper on your fireplace when it’s not in use — or you could literally be sending money up the chimney! An open damper can raise your heating and cooling costs by as much as 15 percent. Check windows and doors for drafts — it’s as simple as holding a lit candle around the edges and seeing where it flickers. Replace old windows with energy-efficient double- or triple-pane products. Look for the Energy Star label. And every time you make a change, sniff around about federal and local tax rebates, financing or other incentives.
Air your dirty laundry
Today’s more efficient detergents mean you can wash all of your clothes in cold water and still get them fresh and clean. Full loads in the dryer will dry more quickly. Toss a dry towel in with your wet clothes to absorb moisture and shorten your drying time.
Become a peanut farmer
The next time you’re faced with a cardboard box filled with Styrofoam packing peanuts, reach for your shovel. Mix potting soil with the peanuts to fillyour big planters. They’ll allow good drainage and make the pot or container much easier to move around. Got more peanuts than plants? Call the Plastic Loose Fill Council’s Peanut Hotline at 800-828-2214 to find out where you can recycle.
Water, Water everywhere
If you’re running the tap to warm up water, put a bucket or pitcher under the faucet. Use the captured water to give your plants a good soak or to wash the kitchen or bathroom floor. Install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators to save resources without sacrificing water pressure. And consider low-flow toilets: They use only 1.6 gallons per flush, compared to 3.5 gallons per flush for pre-1994 models. If you have an older model, adjust your float valve to admit less water into the toilet’s tank. Of course, you don’t need products to save water — behavioral changes also add up quickly. Using a broom instead of the garden hose to clean your driveway, for instance, can save 80 gallons of water. Getting in the habit of showering rather than taking a tub bath can help too; a family of four can save up to 200 gallons of water a week that way. Finally, if you’re going to be away from home for a weekend or longer, turn off your hot water heater (or turn its thermostat down to the lowest setting — it will only take about an hour to reheat when you return).
Join the fan club
Ceiling fans are a Southern staple, perfect for creating gentle breezes on those steamy summer days. But did you know changing the direction of your ceiling fan can help lower heating costs in cooler months? In the summer, flip the switch so that the blades rotate counter-clockwise. When using a ceiling fan in the summer, raise your thermostat a few degrees — it can reduce air-conditioning energy consumption of 40 percent or more. In cooler weather, switch your fan blades’ rotation to clockwise, to push down the warm air that rises to the ceiling. Just be sure to keep the fan speed on low so you don’t create a windchill effect. Remember, the bigger the room, the bigger the fan blades.
Drive a green machine
You don’t need to drive a hybrid or electric car to use less gasoline — just clean the junk out of your trunk! Those golf clubs, beach chairs and/or sporting goods all add weight to your car, making it use more gas. Also, make sure your tires are properly inflated and your air filter is cleaned regularly. Don’t let your car idle for more than a minute, as it takes less gas to restart your car. Keep your windows up when driving on the highway to prevent drag — use the flow-through ventilation to keep cool.
Follow that star
When the A/C or water heater need replacing, buy an Energy Star-rated unit. You may pay a little more up front, but you’ll save in the end. Replace aging appliances with new energy-efficient models. And every time you do so, see if you’re eligible for utilitycompany rebates.
Be careful where you walk
Bamboo is considered an environmentally friendly flooring material due to its high yield and the relatively fast rate at which it replenishes (every 4-6 years, instead of 50-100 for typical hardwoods). Recycled linoleum and laminate are also good green choices. Even better, use granite or other natural stone.
Choose a healthy paint
Conventional paints contain solvents, toxic metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause smog, ozone pollution and indoor air quality problems, and those unhealthy ingredients are constantly released into the air while you’re painting, while the paint dries and even after the paints are completely dry. Opt instead for zero- or low-VOC paint, which is readily available from most major paint manufacturers today.
Green your cleaning
Replace traditional cleaners, detergents and soaps with more environmentally friendly counterparts. Toxic ingredients in products like glass cleaner can be harmful to pets, children and adults. Most supermarkets stock cleaners with only natural ingredients, but if you’re looking to go even further, homemade cleaners are extremely cost-effective, since you probably already have them in your pantry. Baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar are just some of the products that can replace everyday toxic cleaners.
Use solar lighting wherever you can: spotlights, security lights, landscape lights, fountains and more. It’s as simple as it sounds.
Be Smart and Green
There are a great many ways to make your home smarter and greener. Use Internet-connected video to check up on things when you’re not home. Learn how you can adjust the thermostat, heat the hot tub, turn on the oven, start the coffee and turn off the lights all from your smartphone. Program your security system to alert you through e-mail or phone when activity is detected. Organize each and every component of your home entertainment system with a single touch-screen remote. Control the watering of the landscape and outdoor lighting from a single source.
Sure, all of these things may sound futuristic, but they’re all available today, and they’ll put money back in your pocket.