According to the latest reports, climate change might be accelerating faster than we once thought.
With predictions of rampant famine and wildfires becoming the norm as early as 2040, we don’t have a second to lose in terms of reducing our greenhouse emissions and practicing conservation. Every little bit counts, and we all need to do our part.
Your efforts at environmentalism can start right where you live: in your home! Creating a more eco-friendly home is a goal we should all have. However, if you are like me — as invested as you are in conservation — you are not dripping with extra funds or endless hours of time. Although I would love more than anything to install solar panels on my home or switch to a hybrid car, that’s just not possible right now.
Thankfully it turns out that there are some simple, low or zero-cost steps we can take to reduce our energy consumption, carbon dioxide emissions, and make our homes more sustainable. They are easier than you might think, and many of them you can do right now.
1. Be More Mindful About Water Usage
Overusing water not only depletes precious resources, but it is wasteful of the energy intensive water filtration process, explained Sarah Hancock, Chief Editor of BestCompany.com’s solar energy blog and a green living and sustainability writer.
Hancock suggested several key steps you can take to conserve water at home:
- Take shorter showers
- Turn off the sink while you brush your teeth and in between washing and soaping your dishes
- Switch to low-flow showerheads
- Reduce the amount of time you water your lawn (don’t leave the sprinklers on forever!).
- Cut back on bottled water purchases
- Only run your dishwasher or laundry machine when you have a full load
- Go “old school” and get a clothesline to hang-dry your wet laundry
2. Weatherize Your Home
Winter is on its way, and if you live in a cold climate, you certainly don’t want to skimp on your heating needs. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take a few steps to reduce your overall heat use. The added bonus here is you will likely see a nice reduction in your heating bill.
Greer Ryan, renewable energy and research specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, shared some of her thoughts about how to accomplish this:
- Seal your home well so that no heat escapes. “[P]utting weatherstrips under your doors and windows and sealing leaks can prevent cold air from getting in,” Ryan said.
- Consider setting your thermostat lower whenever possible (and invest in some warm fuzzy slippers and extra sweaters as a reward). “Even turning it down 10 degrees while you’re at work can save you up to 10 percent on your electricity bills,” Ryan added.
- Install a “smart” or programmable thermostat that can automatically adjust the temperature based on the time of day and whether or not you are home. This device will reduce your heating usage without you giving it a moment’s thought.
You can also take steps to conserve energy in the summer when you cool your house. For example:
- Keep the shades drawn when you are out of your house so that heat does not get locked in.
- Make sure to always turn off the air conditioner when you leave the house, or even the room you’ve left.
- Don’t fall into the trap of using the air conditioner every single day of summer. There are usually days when you can switch to fans, and that strategy can save considerable energy.
You hear a lot about “unplugging” these days, but usually in reference to putting away our phones or taking social media breaks — both noble causes! But perhaps even more urgent is taking care to unplug our devices and appliances from the wall when we are not using them. Even when not in use, your phone charger, microwave, blender, coffee pot, TV, computer, etc. all suck up precious electricity.
Jordana Viuker Brennan, Owner and Senior Consultant at Confident Buildings, had some further suggestions about how to save electricity in your home:
- Consider installing a timer on your outside lights to prevent overuse. If you already have such a timer, update it regularly as winter approaches and the days get longer.
- Install a daylight sensor (photocell) and possibly a motion sensor so your outside lights are only on when you need them to be.
- Use timers and “smart” technology on as many of your devices as possible.
- Switch to LED light bulbs that conserve energy.
- When you will not be home for an extended period of time, turn all your systems as low as possible.
- Remember what your mother always used to say: Turn off the lights when you leave the house!
4. Change Your Cooking Habits
It goes without saying that we all need to eat, and it’s hard to change your cooking habits when they are such an ingrained part of your existence. But it turns out that many of our cooking habits are not environmentally friendly. Who knew?
“An enormous amount of energy is used while cooking,” said Sarah Hancock. Here are some of her suggestions for making your cooking habits more eco-friendly:
- Use a microwave when possible, as microwaves use much less energy than stoves.
- When using the stove, make sure to put lids on pots and pans to ensure that food heats up faster and less energy is wasted.
- Consider the utensils and packaging you rely on. Hancock suggested ditching disposable dishes, utensils and napkins and investing in reusable plates, bowls, cups, silverware and cloth napkins to reduce your trash output.
- Start composting! It’s yet another way to repurpose our resources, and once you get started, it’s easier (and less messy) than you might think.
Of course it goes without saying that there are many more ways you can reduce your carbon footprint and make your home more environmentally sound. We should all be practicing the three “R’s” on a regular basis: Recycling, reducing, and reusing. If you are able to install solar panels or make use of other alternative energy sources, that’s commendable and mother earth will thank you.
As for how to take other steps toward a more sustainable home, I know it can feel daunting at first. I suggest you pick a few things you know you can change with minimal effort, focus on them for a while, and then move on to the rest. It can be tempting to just brush off these things or save them for another time. But we must act now. Our planet — and our lives — could depend on it.
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