Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Conserve energy, Cut carbon, Cash in

Before you look to carbon offsets and renewable energy, shrink your carbon footprint the old-fashioned way: turn off the lights! Energy conservation at home by switching off lights, unplugging electronics, and choosing energy efficient appliances is the simplest way to be a carbon conscious consumer. Click on the sections of the house below to go to the corresponding section.

Home energy efficiency is a triple-win scenario. You can save up to 20% on heating and cooling costs (or up to 10% on their total annual energy bill) by correctly sealing and insulating your home. And insulation is just one way to save. Examine your home's heating, cooling, and ducts; your appliances; water use; and indoor-outdoor lighting options. Whether your own or rent, it is easy to reduce how much energy you use—and pay for.

How much do you use?

The ENERGY STAR website has great tools to get you started on a home energy audit. Use the Home Energy Yardstick to compare your usage with that of similar homes around the country. Get an even more direct reading of your energy consumption by purchasing a home energy use monitor. These little devices display your home's energy use in dollars and cents, showing you the savings that come from your efforts to conserve. Better yet, share this device friends and neighbors and start a friendly energy conservation competition.


Some of the energy you use doesn't go to appliances or lighting or anything at all. It simply seeps out of your poorly-sealed home. The amount of insulation your home needs varies from region to region--see ENERGY STAR's recommendations or the Department of Energy's Insulation Fact Sheet. When looking for insulation, consider these green alternatives made without formaldehyde, a carcinogenic chemical.

  • Cotton-based insulation Available as a cotton-poly blend, a combination of cotton, boric acid and co-polyolefin, or with a foil facing.
  • Cocoon insulation Contains 80% recycled newsprint plus about 20% ammonium sulfate and/or borate flame retardants.
  • Glass fiber with acrylic binder This lightweight insulation is made of long, resilient glass fibers bonded with an acrylic rather than formaldehyde-based binder.

Heating, cooling, and ducts

Remember when your parents used to scold you by saying, “Close the door! You think we’re heating the whole neighborhood?” Turns out they were conscious consumers too.
  • Don’t heat or cool and empty house. A programmable thermostat and proper temperature settings can help you save about $180 per year.
    Calculate your savings from using a new thermostat.

Appliances and power strips


Water heating can account for 14%–25% of the energy consumed in your home. There are some easy ways to keep your money from going down the drain.

  • Keep your water tank cozy. Most hot water heaters, both gas and electric, can run more efficiently if they are wrapped in an insulating blanket. Follow the steps in this Department of Energy guide for an inexpensive do-it-yourself project that can save you 4-9% a year on your hot water bill.
  • Wash your laundry in cold water. You could save $60 or more on your annual energy spending by washing at least four out of every five loads on the cold setting. Learn more from the C3 campaign.
  • Lower the temperature on your water heater thermostat to 120°. Often manufacturers will set the temperature higher than that.
  • Go with the low-flow. You could save 25-60% on your water usage with an inexpensive, easy to install low-flow shower head, and you may not even be able to tell the difference in flow compared to your old, water-wasting model. New "smart" shower heads even allow the water to heat up to a certain temperature and then shut off until you're ready to get in.
  • Purchase energy efficient clothes dryers and dishwashers. The next time you're on the market for one of these appliances, look for the ENERGY STAR label. These appliances use less water than other models, meaning that they require less work for your water heater as well.


Compact fluorescent lightbulbs or CFLs are the smart choice for lighting your home: ENERGY STAR-rated CFLs will save you about $30 or more in electricity costs over each bulb's lifetime. If you've already switched to CFLs, here’s even more you can do to improve your lighting's efficiency:

  • Motion sensor-lights give you light when you need it. Instead of leaving the porch light on for hours, install motion sensor lights that only flick on for the few seconds you need them. Spaces inside the house where lights are often left on, like hallways or basements, can also benefit from motion-sensor lighting. In most cases these are do-it-yourself installations that don't require an electrician.
  • Solar outdoor lights are a great idea for long driveways and dark yards. They soak up energy from the sun during the day and provide the illumination you need at night--off the grid and off your energy bill. Even shady areas can be lit if the sunlight-collecting cell is placed in a bright spot. Both the LED bulbs and the solar-powered batteries last for years.
  • Innovative flashlights can provide emergency lighting without the use of batteries. In areas with frequent blackouts or storms, backup lighting is a must. Both the crank-powered flashlight and the shake flashlights produce light when you need it, without needing to be charged first.

Learn more...

Home energy calculator estimates the energy needed to power common appliances

Interactive Home Energy Checkup from the Alliance to Save Energy

Anatomy of a Home Energy Bill and How to Save from Consumer Reports

Plugging the Drain with Green Power Supplies

Responsible Purchasing Guide for Green Power from RPN

Economy Survival Guide: Give your life a make-under

Financially strapped by overspending? Nervous about over-the-top prices? Try these tips to bring your budget--and your stress level--back under the threshold of what's manageable.

If you have to make a few financial adjustments with the times it doesn't mean you have to give up all the luxury in your life. In fact, re-evaluating what really matters can actually get you back in touch with some of the fun that tends to get lost in our daily routines. Shake things up a little by spending less but doing more--at home, with the kids, and while having fun.


Go for less

Get more

Do it yourself

Natural products that are better for your skin and overall health


  • Energy with the right lightbulbs
  • Water with easy-to-use devices for faucets and shower
Money saved on utility bills and peace of mind that you're using natural resources responsibly

Buy different

Freedom from waste, excess packaging, and unnecessary purchases, plus the personal satisfaction derived from restoring or repairing items you love


Cash in exchange for stuff you don't neeed anymore and comfort from a more spacious, orderly home environment


Go for less

Get more

Simplify school

  • Cut back on or make your own school supplies.
  • Pack zero-waste lunches, which tend to be cheaper and more nutritious than fast-food or indvidually-wrapped convenience foods
  • Encourage your child's school to stage fundraising drives based on recycling rather than selling stuff.
Savings on supplies, a chance to be creative, better food for your kids, and participation in socially responsible activities

Have fun differently

Fun - and meaningful activities


Go for less

Get more

Do it yourself

Meaningful holidays by emphasizing the people rather than the gifts

Vacation differently

  • Look for fun activities closer to home that don't require expensive gas or air fares
  • Consider a volunteer holiday: see the sights, work for justice, or go on a yoga retreat with some of your expenses paid for in return for service
Relaxation and unique experiences for less money

Learn more about the Conscious Consumer Marketplace.