Saving money and environmental resources through water and electricity conservation is the green way to go in more ways than one. There are a number of simple steps you can take to make a real difference in the amount of greenhouse gases your activities generate. Some, like solar panels and green roofs, require a financial investment. Some, like planting a deciduous tree where it will shade a south-facing window in summer and allow winter sun through its bare branches, require an investment in green thinking. Some are as simple as turning off the spare freezer in the garage and dining al fresco in the long daylight hours of summer. (See References 1)
Insulate the water heater to avoid heat loss in winter. Set the thermostat at 68 degrees Fahrenheit or lower in cool weather; turn the thermostat down when you leave the house or go to sleep. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, turning down the thermostat 10 to 15 degrees lower than usual for eight hours can save you up to 10 percent a year on your heating bills. (See Reference 4)
Turn off lights when you leave a room and switch incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent light bulbs. CFLs use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs while giving off far less heat but the same amount of light. (See References 2)
Buy Energy Star-rated appliances to replace inefficient ones, especially your refrigerator and air-conditioning units. Reset the refrigerator temperatures to 40 degrees Fahrenheit for the lower compartment and 5 degrees Fahrenheit for the freezer. (See References 1)
Heat food in a toaster oven or microwave rather than using the full oven, and try not to use the oven a lot in summer if you rely on air-conditioning to keep your home comfortable. Defrost food before cooking it and match pan size to burner size for efficient stovetop cooking. (See References 1 and 2)
Wash full loads in cold water and line dry the laundry. If you have to use a dryer, dry several consecutive loads to take advantage of the already warm dryer. (See References 1)
Turn the air-conditioner down and run ceiling fans or energy efficient standing fans to help circulate the cool air. The fans create a wind chill that will make the room seem cooler than it is. (See References 1)
Turn off the water while you brush your teeth or shave. Take brief showers, not baths, and turn off the shower while you lather your hair. (See References 3)
Repair any plumbing leaks. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says a single leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water a day. (See References 3)
Wash only full loads of laundry and full dishwashers. Scrape dishes --- don't rinse them --- before putting them in the dishwasher. (See References 3)
Water plants early in the day so more water soaks into the soil; at midday, you'll lose a lot of water to evaporation. Place soaker hoses around trees and large shrubs and set sprinklers to hit the foliage, not the sidewalk. Use mulch to retain moisture around plants so they need less watering. (See References 3)
Replace a lawn with xeriscaping, landscaping that uses native, drought-tolerant plants to save water. Sweep the walks, don't hose them down. (See References 3) Consider planting a green roof to conserve run-off and keep water circulating in the atmosphere, not rushing into a storm drain. Collect run-off in rain barrels and use the water for gardening.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based freelance writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," "The Miami Herald," on CBS, CNN, ABC and in professional journals, trade publications and blogs. Crawford is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, currently studying green nutrition.
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images