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Painless Energy Efficiency in Your Home for the Casual Environmentalist

According to the US federal government, the average US family spends about $1,300 a year on home utility bills. We also consume roughly 75 percent more energy per family than the developed countries of Europe. Families in Australia and Japan also use less energy than we do.

By some reports a typical family in the U.S. uses more energy than the wealthiest royal families of 17th and 18th Europe did! With these facts, have we ever stopped to consider why we use so much energy and where our money is going each month?

We habitually pay our gas, water, and electricity bills, but do we take the time to look at the effect our energy use has on the environment? Given that most of our energy comes from non-renewable resources, do we really think we can live at this rate of energy consumption forever?

In the States, we often live in large and extremely un-efficient homes. Even if you don't live in a large home, due to a lack of proper insulation or weatherizing, your money can literally "fly out the window." Cool air from air-conditioning units can escape through unsealed doors and windows, and heat in the winter may drift out of our house through an un-insulated attic. We've also become quite lazy about simple things like turning off the lights after we leave a room. Make no mistake, our habits are costing us money and affecting the environment.

You've also probably seen the headlines about obesity in this country. We're a society that has become so used to convenience that it is not only costing us extra money and damaging the environment, but is affecting our health as well. In so-called "developing countries" without the conveniences that we have in the U.S., people tend to get a lot more exercise just going about their daily activities. For example, walking instead of driving, washing clothes by hand, growing some of their own food, etc.

You don't have to go back to washing clothes on a washboard to use less energy and get a little extra exercise, but you can use a push lawnmower or walk the five blocks to the corner store instead of driving. Nor do you have to change your lifestyle radically to save energy and help us move our country to a culture of sustainable use of our natural resources. Something as easy as switching to compact fluorescent lighting can save you money each month and dramatically reduce your energy consumption.

The following is a list of simple things you can do to reduce your impact on the environment and save your family money. Some require more time and investment than others, so you can pick the ones that are most appropriate for your time and budget constraints.

Even if you enact just a few of these changes in your home, you will be making a big difference in changing our patterns of energy consumption. And remember to spread the word! The more people who know the basics of energy conservation, the better!

Heating and Cooling: Use Energy More Efficiently and Prevent Energy Leaks

Did you know this? Heating and cooling can make up to 50 percent of your home energy use!

  • Keep doors and windows closed while using air-conditioning and in the winter to keep the heat indoors.

  • Turn off kitchen, bath, and ventilating fans soon as they've done the job.

  • Insulate! Insulation keeps your house warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. See this website for insulation basics: http://www.ecologicalhomes.com.au/insulation.htm

  • Seal your ducts. This website will help with simple techniques: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=ducts.pr_ducts

  • Weatherize! This means sealing windows and doors to prevent leaks of warm or cool air. See: http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/factsheets/weatherize.html

  • Keep your thermostat at a reasonable temperature. 68 degrees F or lower in the winter, and 78 degrees F or higher in the summer.

  • Use more clothes and blankets in the winter and turn the thermostat way down at night.

  • Install a programmable thermostat to better control the temperature in your home. Hereˇ¦s where to look for more info: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=thermostats.pr_thermostats

  • Use electric space heaters in the rooms that you spend the most time in. Turn down the thermostat for the rest of the house.

  • Adobe blocks are an effective passive solar technology. Abode stays cool in the summer, too. See more here: http://www.adobebuilder.com/

  • Install Ceiling Fans. This will create a "wind chill effect." They are especially nice over your bed on warm summer nights.

  • Buy a new, energy-saving air conditioner or energy-efficient heat pump. Depending on how old your current model is, the payback with energy savings can be as quick as a couple of years.

  • Install a screen to shade your air-conditioning unit. Make sure that it doesn't interfere with operation.

  • Change air conditioning and furnace filters frequently. Dirty filters make them work harder. Regular maintenance in general will make your air conditioner and furnace run smoother and cost you less.

  • Install reflectors between the wall and radiator. These foil-covered cardboard reflectors are easy to find at most hardware stores and help reduce radiator heat loss through exterior walls.

  • Use your fireplace wisely. Converting to a wood-burning stove can help, but learn the facts before you continue to burn wood for heat. This website can help: http://www.cnr.uidaho.edu/extforest/WFS1.pdf

  • Consider carefully your roofing material. Properly installed metal roofs can absorb less heat and save on energy. The Florida Solar Energy Center provides more information here: http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/Bldg/FYH/faq/roofs.htm#question4

  • Windows: Making the Sun and Shade Work For You

  • Replace your single-paned windows with double-pane windows.

  • Attach an UV film in your windows to help your house stay cooler.

  • Think about adding a few south-facing windows for easy passive solar heating.

  • Put up white shades for your windows. White shades will reflect the heat in the summer.

  • Install light-colored awnings. Some studies report that an awning can reduce heat gain in your home by up to 77 percent!

  • Close your shades when it's hot and open them when it's colder to let the sun warm you house.

  • Insulate your windows with cellular shades.

  • Hot Water: Heat More Efficiently and Use Less

  • Adjust the temperature on your hot water heater. 140-degrees F or lower if possible.

  • Put an insulating blanket around your water heater.

  • Insulate your exposed hot and cold water pipes with special insulating foam just for pipes. This foam will reduce heat loss and prevent your pipes from freezing in the winter.

  • Install an electric ignition to your furnace or boiler. This eliminates the need for a pilot light which burns extra energy.

  • Periodically drain a little water from your water heater to remove the sediment-laden water that can build up and reduce efficiency.

  • Put a bucket under your faucets and catch the water that comes out until the hot water arrives. Use this water on your houseplants.

  • Install tank-less water heaters. For more info, see this website. http://www.tankless-water-heater.com/

  • Lighting: Update Your Technology and Turn Off Those lights!

  • Turn off the lights when you plan on leaving a room for more than a few minutes.

  • Turn off all but necessarily lights in your home.

  • Switch to compact fluorescent lighting on the lights you use most frequently. This site describes why: http://www.consumerenergycenter.org/homeandwork/homes/inside/lighting/bulbs.html

  • Use low-wattage bulbs in places such as closets.

  • Switch your outdoor bulbs to more efficient ones as well.

  • Use a motion sensor for outdoor security lighting.

  • Make use of natural light by opening up your shades when it's not too hot.

  • Put in a couple sky lights in the rooms where you spend most of your time for added light in the mornings and afternoons.

  • Install dimmers where appropriate.

  • In the Bathroom: Reduce Your Use and Reuse Your Water

  • Take more showers than baths. They use MUCH less water and energy to heat up the hot water.

  • Fix defective plumbing or dripping faucets.

  • Install energy-saving showerheads and faucet aerators. Here is a great site with helpful information: http://www.fypower.org/res/tools/products_results.html?id=100160

  • Save water from your shower in buckets for use in the garden or for cleaning.

  • Fill a small milk jug with water and place it in your toilet's tank if you don't have a low flow toilet. This is will greatly reduce water use.

  • Install Low-Flush Toilets. Here's a site that has lots of information on reducing water use. http://www.awwa.org/waterwiser/

  • In the Kitchen: Update Your Technology and Change Your Habits

  • Cook outdoors or with a microwave in the summer to avoid heating up your kitchen. You can eat more cold foods, too.

  • Cook with smaller more efficient appliances instead of your oven. A toaster oven, crock pot, microwave or electric grill can help increase efficiency and reduce heat in the summer.

  • Use a pressure cooker. They cook food much faster than other stove-top methods.

  • Buy a modern, more efficient refrigerator. Modern refrigerators can be up to twice as efficient as ones made 10 years ago. See here for more info: http://www.aceee.org/consumerguide/fridge.htm

  • Place your refrigerator in an appropriate place. The heat from a water heater, clothes dryer or stove make your fridge work harder.

  • Keep the refrigerator door closed as much as possible.

  • Check the thermostat on your refrigerator or freezer. Use the energy efficient settings. 38 degrees F for your fridge and 5 degrees F for the freezer.

  • Maintain your appliances. For example, occasionally vacuuming your refrigerator condenser coils will help it run smoother.

  • Use tankless water heaters in your kitchen. They only heat up water when you use it (instantly!), so you don't waste energy keeping a giant tank of water hot all the time. (See Hot Water)

  • Fix defective plumbing or dripping faucets.

  • If you have a dishwasher, avoid using the drying feature and let your dishes air dry.

  • In the Laundry Room: Use the Power of the Sun and Wash More Effectively

  • Take advantage of sunny days to hang your clothes out to dry.

  • Wash full loads.

  • When using your dryer, dry full loads, but don't overload your dryer.

  • Separate light and heavy fabrics so you don't over dry your lighter clothes in the dryer.

  • Clean the filter in your dryer so it doesn't work too hard or become a fire hazard.

  • Convert to a high-efficiency front-loading washing machine.

  • Use warm or cold instead of hot water. Modern detergents work just as well in cold as hot water.

  • Save the grey water from your wash in buckets for watering your plants or for cleaning your house. http://www.greywater.com/ is a good place to learn more.

  • In the Garden: Spend More Time in the Garden and Use Appropriate Technology

  • Plant natives! They are adapted to your area, require less water and maintenance, and look great!

  • Grow a small kitchen garden to provide your household fresh fruits and vegetables. You'll get some exercise, fresh air, and save money!

  • Plant deciduous shade tress to shade your house in the summer and allow the sun to warm your house in the winter.

  • Use quiet, non-polluting push mowers. You'll also spend less time at the gym! Here is a great article by the Christian Science Monitor: http://csmonitor.com/cgi-bin/durableRedirect.pl?/durable/1997/10/23/home/home.1.html

  • Use Rain barrels. See this website for details: www.rainbarrelguide.com

  • Use the grey water that youˇ¦ve collected from the laundry and bathroom for irrigating.

  • Use small solar powered lamps for landscape lighting. These are easy to find online or in garden stores.

  • Plant lots of shrubs around the perimeter of your house. They'll absorb heat in the summer, and block the wind in the winter.

  • Plant evergreen trees to block the wind.

  • Planting vines can help cool your house in the summer as well.

  • Reuse kitchen and garden waste as organic compost. Here's how at CompostInstructions.com

  • Water in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid evaporation. Never water on windy days.

  • Convert to drip irrigation systems that water specific plants and avoid water waste. Here are some tips: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/04702.html

  • Other tips for Energy Efficiency:

  • Disconnect electrical appliances that you don't often use as they drain small amounts of power even when turned off. Example: the TV, DVD player, computer, etc.

  • Have a professional inspect your home to see just where you may have problems with energy loss.

  • Install photovoltaic cells on your roof. Look here for more info. http://www.nrel.gov/buildings/pv/

  • Consider using some kind of solar or wind energy. This government site is a great resource to explore: http://www.eere.energy.gov/

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