Green Family Tips from MSN Money

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The average U.S. household spews 26,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air every year. That’s not just bad for the environment; it’s bad for your pocketbook, too.

Why? The energy you’re using to create all that carbon dioxide is costing you roughly $1,400 a year. By taking some simple steps to cut carbon dioxide, you’re also cutting your energy bills –a win-win if there ever was one.

How to do it? The very first rule, says Judi Greenwald, director of innovative solutions at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, is simply to think about your energy use:

“My father got really angry when we left lights burning,” she says— and he was right. So turn off the lights, turn down your thermostat, get out of the shower a little quicker. Tiny changes, but they all add up.

And there are bigger changes you can make with very little expenditure of either time or money.

1. Use power strips. Nowadays we’ve got more than lights to worry about. At least when you turn a light off, it’s off. Not so with your TV, your computer, your VCR and dozens of other appliances.

Don’t believe me?

Wait until your laptop is shut down and check it out. Light’s still on, right? And check out the power adapter. Maybe it’s warm? That’s because it’s still using electricity. It’s called phantom power, but on your electric bill, it’s definitely real – a few bucks a year per plug. If you have as many electronic gadgets as I do, that adds up fast. To save that money – and the environment – use power strips, and turn them off when you’re not using what’s plugged into them.

2. Buy fluorescent bulbs. If you’ve tried fluorescent bulbs before and hated them, it’s time to try again.

They’re not the huge, clunky, slow-to-turn-on pains in the you-know-what they used to be. The newest ones — twisted like a soft-serve ice cream cone — turn on instantly and cast a warm light. Yes, they’re more expensive (around $4-$5 each), but they use about a quarter of the electricity of a traditional incandescent bulb and last 10 times as long, so they end up saving you a ton of money.

Replacing just six incandescent bulbs will cut your annual carbon dioxide emissions by 600 pounds and trim your electric bill by as much as $35 each year. And if you still don’t like the color, take a tip from high-end decorator Jamie Drake: Buy paper lampshades and paint the inside with nonflammable pink paint.

It’ll warm up the light a lot.

3. Buy ‘green’ energy. Almost every utility company now offers alternative sources of energy – and some of it is green. (Your local utility will continue to bill you for the power. It will also charge you a per-kilowatt-hour fee for delivering the power. So be sure that when you compare prices, you are comparing the cost of the green power with what your utility is charging for supplying conventional power, not for delivering it.) Con Edison, my local power company, offers clean, emission-free electricity from several different providers. Signing up is a breeze. Our electricity now comes from wind and hydroelectric, and it costs us just a penny or two more per kilowatt hour than traditional power.


4. Put plastic on your windows. It can cost a fortune to replace old, leaky windows. But you can save significant amounts of heating oil much less expensively each winter with a simple clear-plastic-and-sticky-tape window insulation kit. If your windows, like mine, are too big for the standard sizes, get a patio door kit. Once up, the insulation is almost invisible. For a small fraction of the cost of new windows, it will save you about half the energy that new windows would. For even greater savings, buy a programmable thermostat – and program it. Amazingly, about three-quarters of the people who buy programmable thermostats never actually use the feature.

5. Buy polyester. Yes, really. A recent study by some Cambridge University scientists found that – over their respective lives – a polyester blouse uses about 45% of the energy of a cotton T-shirt.

True, the study makes some assumptions that may not apply to you: that you drip-dry the blouse and tumble-dry and iron the T-shirt, for instance. But the point is that the obvious environmental choice may not be the best one. Polyester takes a lot more energy than cotton to manufacture, but much less to maintain. When thinking about a product’s environmental footprint, you need to look at its entire life cycle, from manufacture to disposal.

6. Put up a clothesline. To drip-dry all that polyester – and your cotton, too – try taking a page out of your grandmother’s book and hang it on the line. Air-dried fabrics smell wonderful — and those fresh breezes help to discourage wrinkles.

If you don’t have a lot of outdoor space, get an umbrella dryer, which folds up when not in use. You’ll save yourself about $85 a year — and keep more than 1,500 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

7. Start a compost heap. Disposing of garbage – whether by dumping it in landfills or by recycling it – takes energy. You can save that energy, and feed your garden, by using it for compost instead. No room in your garden? Or no garden at all? Get a worm composter; it will turn your kitchen scraps and shredded newspapers into rich, dark soil that your houseplants will love. (And no, they don’t smell.)

8. Wrap your water heater. Americans spend $15 billion a year to heat water, and some simple measures could save about two-thirds of that cost.

You can cut the amount of fuel you use to heat the water (and save about $30 a year) by insulating your water heater with a simple jacket (available at most hardware stores for around $20). To save further, think about ways of using less hot water: fixing leaks, installing efficient showerheads, washing your clothes in cold water.

And don’t forget that old New York City slogan . . . Save water: Shower with a friend.

9. Dam your toilet. If you’re concerned about the environment, you need to worry about cold water, too, since water itself is becoming an increasingly scarce resource.

Americans are water hogs; we use about 100 gallons a day each. And roughly one-third of that goes straight down the toilet. A toilet dam, which stops some of the water from leaving the tank when you flush, can cut that by as much as 20%, but it’s a specialty product.

A more readily available product is called a “tank bank” – a glorified plastic bottle with a valve that keeps some of the water in your tank from going out when you flush. The goal is to save water by preventing the tank from emptying completely each time you flush. You can even use an old plastic bottle from your recycling bin. Cost: $0.

10. Buy antiques. Any time you buy a used product instead of a new one (especially from a local seller), you’re making sure one less product has to be manufactured, packaged and shipped, with all the emissions those processes cause. In most cases, you’ll save money as well.

Most manufacturers sell refurbished appliances that work as well as the new ones and cost a lot less. Some even come with the same warranty as a new one. For furniture, try Craigslist. For clothes, check out your local vintage shops. Chances are you’ll not just save money, and the earth – you’ll get something with more style, too.

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