Green Consumer

Ten Ways to Save Energy and Money, Too

  • Gabrielle Redford
  • Jun 01, 2009
You can reduce your utility bills, transportation costs and other household expenses by $1,000 or more a year by taking some simple steps.

SOME OF THE BEST WAYS to reduce your carbon footprint—driving a hybrid car, installing solar panels in your home, upgrading to energy-efficient appliances—cost a lot of money upfront. But in these uncertain economic times, many people cannot afford to invest in those green technologies. There are, however, several inexpensive steps you can take to be more environmentally friendly—including many that don’t cost a dime—and, in fact, have the added benefit of saving you money. Add them all up and you’ll be helping not just the planet but your bank account too. Consider the following ten tips:

Raise (or lower) your home thermostat. 
One of the best ways to save money and energy is to raise your thermostat during the warmer months and lower it during the colder periods. For every degree up or down (depending on the weather), you can cut your energy usage by about 3 percent, says Urvashi Rangan, director of the Greener Choices division of Consumer Reports. Raise or lower the thermostat by 8 degrees for eight hours a day (while you’re at work), and the annual savings could be $300 to $400. You can do this automatically by installing a programmable thermostat in your home.
Brew your own coffee. 
It seems like a fairly innocuous habit—that daily stop at the coffee shop or cafeteria to pick up a $1.35 cup of coffee. But much of the coffee sold in these shops is grown in fields that have been clear-cut and often sprayed with pesticides, producing severe degradation of the land and a loss of habitat for many birds, says Paul McRandle, deputy editor of The Green Guide. By brewing your own fair trade, organic, shade-grown coffee at home and bringing it in to work in a Thermos, you’ll be helping wildlife and the environment—and keeping hundreds of paper cups out of the solid waste stream every year. The best part: You’ll save about $300 annually.
Take the “Change a Light” pledge. 
The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, in conjunction with other agencies, is urging Americans to change at least one light bulb in their homes to a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL). CFLs use 75 percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs, says Chris Kielich, a DOE spokesman. For every five standard bulbs you replace with CFLs, you can reduce your electricity expenses by about $50 yearly while also reducing your contributions to greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent.
Mind your use of paper products. 
If you’re like many people, you grab a paper towel to dry your hands at the kitchen sink. Or you use paper napkins at the dinner table. Switching to hand towels and cloth napkins produces far less waste and can save significant dollars over the course of a year—about $150 annually, even when factoring in the cost of washing the cloth products, according to McRandle.
Make your own cleaning products. 
Baking soda, water and vinegar and maybe a little cream of tartar provide almost all the basic ingredients for good cleaning, “especially if you keep at your cleaning chores so they don’t become monstrous,” says Rangan. Baking soda dissolved in water, for example, is a good all-purpose cleaner for kitchens and bathrooms, while vinegar removes soap residues and can be added to the rinse cycle in your washing machine to brighten and soften clothes. Homemade cleaning products also are far less toxic—better for the environment and for your family’s health. Annual savings: $50 to $100.
Turn off—and unplug—your electronics. 
Gaming consoles may seem like a cost-effective way to enjoy some good family time together, but leaving the devices on around the clock can use up hundreds of kilowatt hours of electricity annually. Unplugging them when they are not in use can cut $100 from your energy bill. Turning off your computer and monitor when you’re not using them can save an additional $46 annually, according to Rangan.
Plant a tree—strategically. 
You’ve no doubt enjoyed a respite from the summer sun under a large shade tree, but did you know that you can reap benefits even from a small tree, as long as it is planted in the right place? A 6- to 8-foot deciduous tree planted on the south side of your home will begin shading windows the very first year, reducing cooling costs. Planting native shrubs around your air conditioner will lower its energy use by 10 percent, says the DOE’s Kielich. Depending on the size of your home, that small step could translate into annual savings of $100 or more.
Let it all hang out. 
Laundry is one of those unavoidable energy hogs—it takes 20 to 40 gallons of water and 5 kilowatt hours of electricity just to wash a single load. (Energy Star appliances use less.) Reduce energy by washing and rinsing in cold water (for a savings of $100 a year) and drying half your clothes in the dryer and half on a clothesline (for additional savings of $50 a year).
Slow down on the highway. 
Driving 65 mph (compared to 75 mph) on the highway can improve your fuel economy by almost 15 percent, no matter what type of vehicle you drive, says Rangan. Keeping your tires properly inflated can improve your gas mileage by about 3 percent a year and getting regular tune-ups can add another 3 percent or more. Total approximate annual savings: $250 to $300.
Cut back on driving. 
Keeping your car off the road to and from work one day a week by teleworking, carpooling, biking or using public transportation can save you about $125 annually (based on a 10-mile commute each way), say NWF researchers. Eliminating one car trip per week by stringing errands together can yield an additional yearly savings of about $60 (based on a 5-mile round-trip to stores). By adopting both tactics, you also can reduce the amount of carbon emissions you generate each year by roughly 1,500 pounds.

Gabrielle Redford is a senior editor at AARP magazine.

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