Clean and Green Series
By: Danny Lipford
Viewers of the CBS Early Show submitted the following ideas on how they have made eco-friendly changes to their lifestyle.
Day 1: Recycling Paper Products
Can recycling paper products really make a difference in the effort to go green? After all, a sheet of paper only costs about ½ cent. Well, let’s look at it this way…the average American office worker uses close to 12,000 sheets of paper every year. That translates to roughly $60 for each worker. Next, multiply that by only one million (and there are millions more office workers out there) and you now have $60 million dollars! Considering how much money can be saved, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that paper recycling is a huge benefit to our environment.
The really good news is that in 2006, we recycled over 53% of the paper we used, which was 53 and a half tons!
Not all paper is created equally, though. Basically, paper products fall into two categories: high grade and low grade. High grade papers include computer and laser printer papers, copy paper, letterheads, notebook paper and colored papers. Low grade would include cardboard, newspapers, phone books, magazines and sticky notes. Pretty much all of the junk mail you receive is low grade paper and should be included in your recycling efforts. Paper products that should NOT be included in your recycling, however, would include carbon paper, paper cups, pizza boxes and used tissue.
Separating your high grade and low grade paper is appreciated by your recycling centers, but it would be advisable to call them up and ask what types of paper products they can not use. Not all companies will recycle some of the low grade papers. High grade papers can be recycled into almost any other paper product while low grade papers are generally used strictly for things like new newspapers, egg cartons and paperboard.
Of course, the real key to recycling is to make it easy, which will encourage you to participate. Newspapers are probably the most common paper product in your home that can be recycled. Stacking the papers isn’t that tough, but bundling them and getting them to the curb for pick-up can be a challenge. An easy solution is to take two pieces of nylon string about 4-feet long each and place them in an “X” pattern on the bottom of a little red wagon. You should have enough room to do twice on the bottom of the wagon. Begin your paper stack with the “cross hairs” in the center of each stack. When you have a tall enough stack, bring up the loose ends and tie up the bundle. When you have two full bundles, you already have them tied and in the wagon for easy transportation to the curb.
Aside from saving a lot of money, a paper recycling effort will also keep tons of waste out of the landfill, conserve natural resources, can actually save energy by using less of it to create paper from virgin resources which will, in turn, help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition to recycling, you can cut down on paper use by using printers that print on both sides of the paper and by taking advantage of electronic forms, whether it’s for ordering items from catalogs or writing a quick thank you note. If you happen to be one of those folks who, like me, has to rely on notes to remember things, most cell phones have a handy “Notepad” function so you can jot down that reminder without using any paper. You can reduce paper usage AND save some frustration by registering to remove your name from national mailing lists. One more tip for saving on paper is to make sure you buy recycled paper products. Simply look for the recycled logo on the package.
Day 2: Solar-Powered Solutions
Part of embracing the Green philosophy means to adopt new ways to power our every day lives. Reducing the consumption of electricity, natural gas or propane means we are also reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. One of the best ways is to incorporate an idea that is as old as civilization itself. Solar powered items have never been more practical as they are today. Innovations in the field have made solar powered items more practical for today’s homeowner.
One of the really cool things I saw at this year’s International Builder’s Show was a water heating system by FAFCO called Hot2O. This is a system that allows you to use solar energy to assist heating the water for your home. In fact, it can save you up to 50% in heating costs. The cool thing about this particular product is that it was made with the homeowner in mind. It comes in a single box and can be easily installed without the need to hire a professional. It works in conjunction with your existing water heater, can be adapted to work with electric or gas heaters and it also qualifies for the Energy Policy Act of 2005 tax credit, which is up to $2000!
But solar energy isn’t confined to household appliances. You know how great it is to plan a day outside for a big family barbecue, and nothing tastes quite like a char-broiled burger. But, even your favorite grill is spewing out pollutants. Trying to cook a burger with solar power has never really been that successful…until now! I found a really amazing sun-powered oven at Sundance Solar that will knock your socks off. The Tulsi-Hybrid Solar Cooking Oven is large enough to cook four different kinds of food at one time, and is as simple as pointing the reflector at the sun, adjusting it to heat the cooking chamber and you’re ready for the tailgate party! The cool thing is that, since it’s a hybrid, on a cloudy day, you can plug it into any receptacle and still cook with it. But, because of the innovations in technology, even the electrical backup system uses about 75% less energy than your standard household oven. This is a great way to go green.
Even for other practical applications, like charging your cell phone, MP3 players, etc., you can harness the sun to do the work and save on electricity. The Solio Universal Hybrid Solar Charger, also from Sundance Solar, is a lightweight, compact tool that can do the job. Even the tool is green as it is constructed from recycled and recyclable mat.
Day 3: Simple Water Saving Tips
Although there are many devices on the market today designed to help you save on your water bill, there are also a few common sense things you can do to make sure you’re not wasting water inside or out.
Did you know that a simple plumbing leak can cost you hundreds of dollars a year in wasted water? A toilet leak can use 50 extra gallons of water a day. Here are a few tips for water saving.
Outside Water Saving Tips
(See Home Irrigation How-To)
- Landscape with plants that need less water.
- Water lawns during the time of day when temperature and wind speeds are lowest to reduce evaporation.
- Use a soaker hose instead of a sprinkler system to better target the water to your plants.
- Use mulch generously to help retain moisture.
- Set your lawnmower blades to 3 inches to encourage your lawn to grow deeper roots and hold moisture better.
Inside Water Saving Tips
- Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period when water hasn’t been run in your home. If the reading isn’t exactly the same, you’ve got a leak.
- Place a few drops of food coloring into the toilet tank. If the color leaks into the bowl, replace the flapper.
- Get those dripping faucets repaired. Usually it’s a simple matter of replacing worn washers.
- Don’t use the toilet as an ashtray or wastebasket.
- Install faucet aerators to slow the flow of water in sinks and low-flow shower heads in the tub.
As far as devices go, Watts Premier has designed a recirculating pump that is fairly easy to install, so it’s do-it-yourself friendly, and they say it can save you up to 11,000 gallons of water each year. The way it works is the pump periodically cycles the water that is dormant in the pipes of your house. In other words, at any given time there will always be hot water in the pipes. This means you have hot water the minute you turn on the tap. When you don’t have to run the water until it gets warm, that means you save! Since you hook it up directly at the water heater, that means you don’t have to have a pump under the sink or any additional electrical outlets. This will run you about $225, but you’ll make that up easily in lower water bills.
Day 4: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
Cutting back on energy and water usage is a major hurdle when it comes to being clean and green. Certainly, solar power has been an option for several years, but only recently have there been improvements that make solar power a viable option for the average homeowner. Skylights and tubular lights are a great way to reduce energy costs by eliminating the need to turn on your lights in hallways, closets or windowless bathrooms during the day.
A programmable thermostat can save both money and energy in the right situation. If your home is empty at least eight hours of the day, using a programmable thermostat to adjust the temperature during those away hours can whittle two hundred dollars or more off your yearly utility expenses.
Additional insulation is an often overlooked savings. Take a look in your attic and, if you can see the top of the ceiling joists, you need more insulation. Additionally, make sure your doors and windows are properly sealed using adequate caulking and/or weatherstripping. By keeping the heated or cooled air inside where it belongs, you save on your power bill and keep your HVAC system in good working order.
Taking advantage of Mother Nature to water your lawn and garden is a great way to save on water. Of course, the trick is having that kind of “free” water on demand, right? Installing a rain water cistern is definitely eco-friendly, but not always that cheap. One of the simplest ways to take advantage of rainwater is to use a rain barrel to collect water that flows from the roof of the house and into the gutters.
A diverter is placed on the down spout to direct the water right into the barrel. In the past, though, there was a safety issue with rain barrels. They seldom had a top, and could be considered a hazard when placed at a home with small children. The open water also was a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
The second drawback was once the water was in the barrel, what do you do with it? Commonly, a small watering can could be dipped into the barrel for distribution around the garden, but that often meant several trips and, once you got near the bottom of the barrel, it was difficult getting any water into the can. But that was yesterday. Welcome to the 21st century!
I found a great rain barrel from Spruce Creek Rainsaver that tackles all the problems of the traditional rain barrel and makes it one of the simplest solutions to water saving. The barrel is constructed from a durable plastic that even has UV protection to keep it from fading. It’s all one piece, so there’s no danger of any children getting inside and no mosquitoes either! You can attach a hose to a brass spigot on the barrel, or you can attach the hose directly to the barrel and keep the spigot open for other use. It holds 54 gallons and you can even connect barrels together to hold more water! No assembly. Just attach it to your gutters and you’re ready to go. The barrel costs $154.99 and can be shipped anywhere in the contiguous United States.
Day 5: Other Suggestions
There are several things you can do right now that, while they don’t cost any money, will save you on energy and water bills.
- Turn down your thermostat by 3 or 4 degrees during the winter months. You’ll still stay comfortable and you can cut your heating bill by up to
- Don’t set the thermostat too high on your water heater. The setting shouldn’t be any higher than 140° F.
- Open your curtains during the day to take advantage of the warming sun, but close them at dusk to help retain the heat inside your home.
- Plug your computer, printer and other hardware into a power strip, then power off the strip when you aren’t using your computer for long lengths of time. The PC will last longer and it keeps your home cooler since it isn’t radiating heat. Also, use the Sleep Mode function on your computer. It will use on the average 70% less energy.
- Only use the washing machine and dishwasher with full loads.
- Wash clothes in cold water.
- On sunny days, use a clothesline to dry clothes. You’ll get more life out of your clothes, too!
- Don’t pre-rinse your dishes. That can waste up to 20 gallons of heated water. Use an enzyme-based detergent to insure clean, spotless dishes.
- On a mild day, open the windows to bring in fresh air and keep the house comfortable without your HVAC system doing all the work.
- Nuke your food. Heating food in a microwave uses only 20% of the energy required by a standard kitchen oven.
- Make sure your pan matches the size of your burner. Mismatched pans and burners waste energy.
- Steam foods instead of boiling them.
- Use a crock pot instead of slow simmering on the stove. A crock pot uses far less energy.
- Clean the coils on your refrigerator once a month. It keeps the motor running more efficiently.
- Do an energy audit! Find out where there may be any potential leaks around doors, windows, baseboards, attic access, fireplace dampers and window unit air conditioners. You can use a piece of stick incense to locate any leaks, then use caulk, weatherstripping or expandable foam to seal the gaps!