We hear a lot of talk these days about going green, or saving the environment, and many people are scoffing. Some say it's all a big scam; others mention minor flaws in current products without considering their larger benefits. And many of our friends and relatives are among those scoffers--but you can convert them, simply by asking: "Did you know that making green choices not only saves you money in the long run, it can also save you money today?" I've included the time to recoup your initial investment in savings for each change; this is how long it takes before you'll start saving money each month for your investment. Some of these may take years to start actually saving, but many will take only a few months. However, your bills will be lower in the first month after you make any of these changes, so you will start to see the savings immediately.
Replacing your old thermostat with a programmable thermostat could save you hundreds of dollars a year
Home heating and cooling bills:
- Weatherstripping will prevent heat and air conditioning loss from any dwelling. This translates into lower electricity bills for heating and cooling. Average time to recoup your investment: 5 months
- Covering windows with transparent plastic made for the purpose will reduce heat and air conditioning loss through windows and patio doors. Vision and aesthetics will not be affected if installed properly. Average payback: 6 months
- Covering exposed pipes with insulation will prevent freezing of pipes and heat transfer of air to pipes, thus saving money on heating. Average payback: 8 months, or one prevention of your pipes from freezing.
- Maintaining proper humidity in the home will reduce heat and cooling bills because temperature fluctuations are reduced with proper humidity. It's in the desert where temperatures reach triple digits in the day and fall to freezing at night--but with the 45-55% humidity recommended for good health, temperatures will remain within a stable range, thus reducing the need for heat and air conditioning by one to three degrees. Ultrasonic humidifiers are inexpensive and the most energy-efficient and rarely, if ever, wear out (mine has been running each winter since the 1980s). Each one-degree drop for eight hours reduces your heating bill for that month by one percent. Average payback: less than one year
- Insulating your water heater with a water heater blanket will prevent loss of heat from the air to the water tank in the winter, and the reverse in summer. Average payback: 10 months
- Cooking at home during the winter is not only cheaper than eating out or delivery, but saves gasoline and helps to heat the house. Conversely, grilling outside in summer will reduce the heat load on your air conditioner, and if you use safe grilling techniques and don't use treated charcoal or lighter fluid, you will have no toxins to worry about on your food. If you don't want to grill in summer, consider cooking in a crockpot--they use, on average, 2 cents' worth of electricity per hour, meaning a meal that cooks all day will cost you only sixteen cents! In addition, the heat stays mostly in the food, so very little heat will escape into the house. Average payback: Immediate savings
- A compact fluorescent light bulb or the newer LED light bulbs will use as little as one-quarter or less of the energy of a normal bulb. Ninety per cent of an incandescent's bulb is lost through heat, which in the summer means your air conditioner runs far longer for each incandescent bulb you use. More bulbs changed does not increase the payback time, but does increase your savings per month. Average payback: 10 months
- Add a programmable thermostat. Set your usage back while you're away at work. For households with complicated schedules, a seven-day thermostat is better than a weekend/weekday one. Average payback: 8 months
- Insulating your attic and walls will stop heat transfer from inside to outside and vice versa. Average payback: 10 months
Smart driving habits will pay off immediately, and you'll see the savings with your first tank full.
- Maintaining proper tire pressure will help your gas mileage, increase your safety and reduce emissions, too. Average payback: 4000 miles of driving (about 4 months for most people, but the savings will be immediate)
- Trip chaining (combining all your trips into one) will save gasoline, because warm cars use less gasoline than cold ones, and your time. Average payback: immediate (there is no investment cost)
- Hypermiling will drastically increase your gas mileage and thereby save you money. Average payback: immediate (no investment cost)
Household energy use:
- Putting lamps and appliances on timers will drastically reduce their energy use. Average payback: 3 months
- Putting appliances on smart strips, or even power strips, will reduce your energy bill, if you simply flip the switch every time you leave the room. Average payback: 3 months if you flip the switch yourself, 10 months for smart power strips
Save water and money!
Household water use:
- Efficient shower heads (no longer the old low-flow, but the new, better low-flow with really adequate water pressure!) will reduce your water consumption dramatically if you take showers. They reduce the water used by almost one gallon per minute. Average payback: 11 months
- Water filters mean that you no longer have to buy expensive bottled water, which often is nothing more than filtered city tap water. The average pitcher with a filter costs about $25, and replacement filters about $6 each. If you buy only one bottle of water per week at $1 each, that adds up to $52 per year! Average payback: 6-7 months
Herb lawns are attractive and never need watering or mowing once established
- Plant an herb lawn, which will never need mowing or weeding, and after it is established, will never need watering. Average payback: 2 years, plus the time saved mowing and watering. This is a wonderful solution if you have an elderly parent who is trying to keep up with their own lawn. Biodiversity will also discourage fire ants, who prefer monocultures.
- Use herbs in your foundation plantings (and allow them to have their natural shapes). This will save on trimming and waterings, once established. Average payback: 2 years or less, plus the time spent trimming and watering
- Add attractive natural rock borders to your lawn to save on gas or electric trimming, or use a hand trimmer. Average payback: 1 year, plus your time spent trimming walks
- Composting is free, and means you will not have to pay for potting soil, topsoil or fertilizer for your plants. Average payback: immediate (because you do not have an initial investment, especially if you start with passive composting)
For most of these improvements, you will see a significant savings this year--and more savings in years to come. In addition, if you plan to convert to solar or wind energy, first reducing your energy use will save tremendously on the cost of solar panels or wind generation. You might even be able to use your electricity and water savings to pay for them!
In short, by using these frugal sustainable living techniques, you will not only save money, but reduce your overall load on the environment and help improve living conditions for everyone.
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(price as of Aug 18, 2015)