The Energy-Conscious Consumer

clothesline-ryan-avery.jpg Save money and the planet all at once! Being a smart consumer and basing purchasing and lifestyle decisions on energy consumption can save money and energy, and even provide you with a higher quality of life.

The major drawback of buying energy-smart is that it can mean an initially high investment. This can be something of a barrier for very limited budgets and low-income households. Other than that, there are no major drawbacks for being energy-efficient; in fact, consumers can recoup the costs of mid-sized renewable energy investments (such as Energy Star -rated refrigerators and other major household appliances) in less than five years. And some investments, such as programmable thermostats, will save about $100 per year on heating bills – more than three times the initial cost.

Change Your Daily Habits

bike-cart-aaron-wicker.jpg Some ways to save energy won’t cost you a dime. Turn off lights when you’re not in a room, unplug chargers when they’re not in use, plug appliances and electronics into power strips and switch the strip off when it’s not in use, turn down the thermostat at night, keep the thermostat at 68 degrees during the winter and 75 during the summer (if you have central air), turn down your water heater, wash clothes and dishes with cool water (and only with full loads), dry your clothes on a line, put a towel in front of your door in the winter when you’re at home, keep your air conditioning system clean, clean out the lint trap on your dryer, avoid driving whenever possible (walk, bike, or take public transportation), and drive the speed limit. All told, these habits will save you $57-$105 per year.

Change Your Buying Habits

The largest use of fossil fuels is conventional agriculture – from gasoline- and diesel-powered farm machinery and shipping to petrochemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, the commercialized production of food consumes the largest share of the fossil-fuel pie. Buying organic and locally-grown food and other agricultural products (or growing your own) is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint.

You can also buy energy-saving products for your home. As your incandescent light bulbs burn out, replace them with compact fluorescents. Purchase cleaning and personal care products from carbon neutral and petrochemical-free companies. Reduce your consumption of goods that come in plastic containers (unless they’re bio-based, such as the corn-based plastic food containers currently being used at Wild Oats Market). When you buy your next home appliance or electronic equipment, consider investing in products with Energy Star or TCO certification. Consider a hybrid car for your next vehicle purchase.

Change Your Lifestyle

program-thermo-greg-dunahm.jpg Suppose you’ve built all of the above habits into your life, but you feel like you’re able to do more. Consider moving to a neighborhood where your household can walk, bike, or use public transportation for nearly all your commutes (work, school, shopping, and errands.) If you are buying a new home, consider purchasing a green building with passive solar heating and sufficient natural light. Replace old doors, windows, and HVAC systems for newer, more energy-efficient models. Have your home insulation professionally checked and make all the recommended improvements. Replace your light fixtures and ceiling fans for more energy-efficient models. Replace your electric water heater with a gas-heated one. Replace air filters regularly if you have them. Plant deciduous trees on the southern side of your home to block out sunlight in the summer. Install rooftop solar panels and a solar hot water system.

Sources:

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (articles on Energy Star and TCO Certification)
“Green House Effects,” by
Energy Star Home Page
“Corn Plastic to the Rescue,” by Elizabeth Royte, Smithsonian.com
Simple Fixes for Saving Energy, Business Week Online, September 20, 2005

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