Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Green Living Part I

Leave it how you found it.
Whenever you go camping or visit a protected wildlife area you are asked to do just that, leave it the way you found it. “Take only pictures and leave only footprints.” For those unfamiliar with this edict, it is in reference to disturbing the wildlife environment as little as possible. Don’t leave any garbage around, don’t kill or destroy animals or vegetation, don’t contaminate or pollute lakes; streams; or ground water, etc.

I try to apply the same principals to my daily life wherever possible. In the grand scheme of things, after all, we are only here for a very brief period in terms of the age of Earth itself. So we are really just on a big camping trip, so to speak, while we are here and all of Earth truly is a wildlife area. So why shouldn’t the same respect apply? Further, we are here on Earth for such a short period of time, how can we truly claim ownership to any part of this planet? (Study Emerson’s essay on Nature.) It belongs, in actuality, to the future generations. In that mode of thinking, we should treat it as if it doesn’t belong to us. The way we would treat someone else’s property on loan to us. We should use it as gently as possible and return it in the same condition we received it. Let’s take a look at the major issues involved in doing this.

How to live lightly.
What are the areas of focus? Through which actions can the most change be effected? We want to do a couple of things here. First we want to identify those areas where the most changes can be made. That is, the bang for your buck situations. Those situations where the biggest difference can be made for your efforts. Second, we want to identify those areas in which you can make the changes and keep those changes and make them habit. In other words it’s a question of logistics. What changes can you make now and what changes are you willing to make in the near future with some planning and preparation?

This is largely an individual process. Different people can make more changes than others in certain areas. However, as a society there are certain areas in which we can all improve. So let’s identify some of those. The two biggest areas that North Americans can improve in are energy consumption and waste production. Other areas include natural resource consumption, air pollution, water pollution, and wildlife and land preservation.

Solutions for an Earth friendly lifestyle.
Let’s begin with energy consumption. The reason I suggest this is three fold. One, it’s one of the most prolific areas of waste. Meaning almost everyone can make vast improvements in this area immediately. Two, it offers a large amount of possible change for your efforts. Three, it offers you personal gain through money saved for the absence of the extra energy expenditure.

There are a number of ways to reduce energy consumption. Three of the big ones are electricity, natural gas, and gasoline. Natural gas and gasoline (made from crude oil) also fit into the Natural Resources category but I will discuss them here because they are two of the largest energy consumption categories. Now it’s time to talk numbers.

An overwhelming majority of consumers, 92 percent, agree that business, government, and consumers have an equal responsibility to reduce energy use. -- Alliance to Save Energy, 2003 Consumer Market Research.
According to estimates from the Energy Information Administration, in just two decades U.S. energy consumption will increase by almost 40 percent, an amount equivalent to the energy used today in California, Texas, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois
--Alliance to Save Energy.

Natural Gas and Electricity Use/Cost Reduction
The average household spends about $1,800 each year on energy bills. By choosing Energy Star-qualified products, consumers can cut this by 30 percent, saving about $540 each year
--Energy Star.

American households typically spend more than $200 annually on air conditioning. Households in some regions of the South can easily spend twice that much
-- Alliance to Save Energy.

Replacing old model air conditioners with Energy Star units can cut cooling bills by 20 percent or more

“Sleep” features that power down home office equipment and other electronic devices that are turned on but not in use can save households up to $70 annually
--Alliance to Save Energy Power Smart Booklet.

Between 80 and 85 percent of the energy used to wash clothes comes from heating the water. Using warm or cool water instead of hot will save money and energy and get clothes just as clean
--U.S. Department of Energy.

In 2005, the average household spent $1,861 on home energy bills. You can save 10-50% on your home energy bills by making some energy smart improvements to your home. The key to achieving these savings is a whole-house energy-efficiency plan which requires viewing your home as one system with individual parts. Each part affects the other parts. For example, if you install ENERGY STAR® windows and good insulation, when it's time to replace your heating or cooling system, you may be able to get a smaller one, because the windows and walls will retain the heated and cooled air inside better than a home without efficient windows and good insulation. And since heating and cooling make up the majority of your bill, you'll save the most money on your energy bill by reducing your heating and cooling needs. Thinking of your house as a whole system ensures that the dollars you invest in energy efficiency are wisely spent.

Energy-efficiency improvements not only make your home more comfortable, they can also yield long-term financial rewards. Reduced energy bills more than make up for the higher price of energy-efficient appliances and improvements. In addition, your home may have a higher resale value. The first step to taking a whole-house energy-efficiency approach is to find out which parts of your house need the most help. A home energy survey can help suggest the most effective ways for you to reduce your energy costs. You can conduct a simple home energy audit yourself. When making energy home improvements, you may be eligible for a tax credit. President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act in August of 2005, which offers consumer tax credits for energy efficient home improvements and energy efficient vehicles. The Act includes a home tax credit with an overall cap of $500 to reimburse homeowners for specific home improvements. More info:
With energy costs skyrocketing, these tax incentives will help homeowners and builders make improvements to new and existing homes and buildings, which account for more than 40% of all energy used in the US.

Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audits
You can easily conduct a home energy audit yourself. With a simple but diligent walk-through, you can spot many problems in any type of house. Since heating and cooling make up the single largest portion of your home energy bill, reducing your heating and cooling needs should be your top priority for reducing energy bills. For more information, visit:

If your home is as little as 5 to 10 years old, you likely have one of the 46 million under-insulated homes in the US, according to the Harvard University School of Public Health.

Adding more insulation is easy. Plus, insulation is one of the lowest cost options for improving the energy efficiency of your home. It pays off fast and keeps paying off with better comfort and energy savings for as long as you own your home.

Inadequate insulation and air leakage are the leading causes of energy waste in most homes. Insulation stops this waste by stopping the transfer of heat. In the winter, it helps keep the heat inside, and in the summer, it helps keep the heat outside. This reduces the number of times your heating or cooling systems need to cycle on, saving energy and saving you money. For more information, visit these websites:

Air Sealing
Warm air leaking into your home during the summer and out of your home during the winter can waste a lot of energy and increase your energy bill. One of the quickest ways to reduce the waste is to caulk and seal all seams, cracks, and openings to the outside of your home. These can be hard to find and you may need the help of a professional. You probably know (and may be able to feel) if air is sneaking into your home around your windows and doors. (For more info on windows and doors, visit these websites:
But lots of air infiltrates through openings in the ceilings, walls, and floors. The biggest holes are most often found in the attic and the basement. Caulk, spray foam, and weather stripping are the most common materials used for sealing up these holes. These materials are very affordable and can be purchased at your local Home Depot or other stores, and for the price, have a big payback. You can save 10% or more on your energy bill by reducing the air leaks in your home. For more information, visit these websites:

When creating an energy-efficient, airtight home through air sealing techniques, it's very important to consider ventilation. Unless properly ventilated, an airtight home can seal in indoor air pollutants. Ventilation also helps control moisture, another important consideration for a healthy, energy-efficient home.

Moisture Control
Properly controlling moisture in your home will improve the effectiveness of your air sealing and insulation efforts, and vice versa. Thus, moisture control contributes to a home's overall energy efficiency.

Landscaping is a natural and beautiful way to keep your home cool in summer and reduce your energy bills. In addition to adding aesthetic value and environmental quality to your home, a well-placed tree, shrub, or vine can deliver effective shade, act as a windbreak, and reduce overall energy bills.

Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of a typical household's energy used for heating and cooling. Computer models from DOE predict that just three trees, properly placed around the house, can save an average household between $100 and $250 in heating and cooling energy costs annually.

Studies conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found summer daytime air temperatures to be 3° to 6°F cooler in tree-shaded neighborhoods than in treeless areas. The energy-conserving landscape strategies you should use for your home depend on the type of climate in which you live. For more information, visti this sites:

Heating and Cooling Your Home
Heating and cooling account for the biggest portion of your total energy bill, almost fifty percent. So when it’s time to replace your system, get the most efficient equipment possible or one that at least has the ENERGY STAR® label. If you’ve insulated your home, installed new windows, or made other energy improvements, you may be able to select a smaller sized heating or cooling unit, and smaller units use less energy, and cost less to operate. For more information, visit this site:

Here’s a list of further steps you can take to reduce natural gas and cooling energy use/cost:
• Find out if your utility company offers free energy audits, where they inspect your home for energy effectiveness and recommend inexpensive ways to cut energy costs, such as insulating hot water heaters, weather-stripping, etc. Just insulating your hot water heater could save you $25 a year. Potential Money Savings: $50/yr.
• Set thermostats between 65 and 70 degrees during the winter, and at 60 degrees when away from home or sleeping. Consider adding an extra blanket for warmth while sleeping. In the summer use fans to create a “wind chill” effect, allowing you to use your air conditioner less, while still feeling comfortable. Set thermostats to between 75 and 78, and 85 when away from home. Each extra degree in winter can increase heating costs by 3%. In summer, each degree can raise cooling costs by 6%. Potential Money Savings: $325 to $500/yr. More info:
• Warm air rises, so use registers to direct warm air-flow across the floor. In the summer direct cold air vents toward, or across, the ceiling alowing it to settle toward the floor.
• On sunny days, open draperies and blinds to let the sun’s warmth in. Close them at night to insulate against cold air outside. In the summer you can reverse this idea; open the windows at night to let in the cool air and close them and the draperies during the day to keep the sun’s heat out.
• Don't heat areas of your house you don't use regularly, such as guest rooms. Close vents and doors in unused rooms and close dampers on unused fireplaces.
• Minimize your use of ventilation fans such as bathroom fans and kitchen hood fans in winter. A bathroom fan can suck all the heated air out of the average house in little more than an hour. Over the course of the winter, ventilation fans can increase your heating costs by a surprising amount.
• Lower the temperature on your hot water heater to between 110 and 120 degrees. It's not necessary to have it any hotter and it wastes energy. A family of four, each showering for five minutes a day, uses 700 gallons of water each week. Potential Money Savings: $20-40/yr.
• It's tempting to stand under a hot shower on a cold morning for as long as possible, but cutting your shower time in half can save up to 33% on your hot water heating costs.
• If radiators are located near cold outside walls, place a sheet of aluminum foil, or other reflective metal, between the radiator and the wall to reflect heat back into the room.
• Use your microwave instead of your oven whenever possible and save up to 50% in energy costs for cooking.
• Shopping for lower-priced gas may reduce your natural gas bill. To find out if your state participates in customer choice programs, visit the Energy Information Adminstration at

Lighting Your Home
Don’t forget to turn off lights when you aren’t using them! Energy for lighting accounts for about 10% of your electric bill. Examine the wattage size of the light bulbs in your house. You may have 100-watt (or larger) bulbs where 60 or 75 watts would do. You should also consider compact fluorescent lamps for areas where lights are on for hours at a time. Your electric utility may offer rebates or other incentives for purchasing energy-efficient lamps.

Of all the energy it takes to light up one old-fashioned (incandescent) light bulb, 95% is lost as heat, while only 5% of the energy creates light. In the summer, this not only wastes energy and money, it also creates heat inside your home, causing you to use more air conditioning, and increasing your energy bill even more. The good news is that it’s easy to fix. New compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) use much less energy to create up to four times more light.

CFLs cost more up front, but they last for about 7 years and save you money throughout those years. The EPA ENERGY STAR® program estimates that by changing the five most-used lights in your home, you’ll save more than $60 every year in energy costs.

Use of appliances such as your refrigerator, dishwasher, stove, clothes washer, and dryer comprise about 18% of a typical home’s total energy bill. Appliances have two costs that you should consider when purchasing:

1. The initial purchase price
2. The cost of running the appliance for the next 8-20 years

When it’s time to replace an old appliance, make sure it has earned the ENERGY STAR® label. Only appliances and products that meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy earn the ENERGY STAR®. It means that these products are significantly more efficient than the average product. If the price for an ENERGY STAR® product is higher, remember that you’ll be making that incrementally higher cost back for the higher efficiency product each month in lower energy bills. Your utility bill usually shows what you are charged for the kilowatt-hours you use. The average residential rate is 8.3 cents per kWh. A typical U.S. household consumes about 10,000 kWh per year, costing an average of $830 annually.

How Much Electricity Do Appliances Use?
Many idle electronics; TVs, VCRs, DVD and CD players, cordless phones, microwaves, etc.; use energy even when switched off to keep display clocks lit and memory chips and remote controls working. Nationally, these energy “vampires” use 5 percent of our domestic energy and cost consumers more than $3 billion annually
--Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and quoted in Alliance’s Power smart booklet.
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This chart shows how much energy a typical appliance uses per year and its corresponding cost based on national averages. For example, a refrigerator uses almost five times the electricity the average television uses.

Here’s a list of further steps you can take to reduce electrical energy use/cost:
• Install the new type of fluorescent bulbs in lights you leave on for long periods. They provide four times as much light and last ten times longer than incandescent bulbs. Potential Money Savings: $10-$50/yr.
• Cut back on the use of your clothes dryer. Not only is it a big energy drain, it can also suck heated air out of your house very quickly in winter. Hang clothes on a clothes rack to dry and use the dryer for towels and other heavy items. Potential Money Savings: $25-50/yr.

I would be negligent if I didn’t at least mention water conservation while discussing home energy concerns. Here are a few pointers for reducing water use/cost:
• Always do full loads of laundry. A typical full load uses about 21 gallons of water. A small load uses 14 gallons. Several small loads use considerably more water than one or two large loads. Over the course of a year, this adds up. Potential Money Savings: $25-$125/yr.
• Run your dishwasher only when you have a full load. Let the dishes air-dry instead of using the heat cycle. An average dishwasher costs $60 to $100 per year to run. Potential Money Savings: $35-55/yr.
• Fix running toilets or leaking faucets promptly. A continuously running toilet can use more than 8,000 gallons of water a year. Potential Money Savings: $25-125/yr.
• Install flow restricting shower heads. A family of four can save 8,000 to 12,000 gallons of water a year. You not only save on the cost of the water, but also the cost of heating it. Potential Money Savings: $100-$300/yr.
• Add fabric softener to your laundry at the appropriate point in the cycle instead of adding it at the end and running another rinse cycle, which can use up to 10 extra gallons of water. Figure out how much time it takes your washer to reach the rinse cycle, and set a timer so you can add softener at the right time, or simply use a fabric softener ball. Potential Savings: $25-100/yr.
• Use warm or cold water for washing clothes, and always rinse in cold water. Potential Savings: $50/yr.

That pretty well covers electricity and natural gas, as well as water. In Part two of this series, I’ll discuss gasoline.

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