A lingering misconception about conservation-minded living is that it is fine for those who can afford it. People point to the higher cost of organic produce at the supermarket, and the premium paid for electric vehicles.
"Celebrities and the coastal elites have the money for that stuff," the reasoning goes, "but regular people can't live that way."
The truth is that green living was regular living for most of human civilization. It used to be that we simply didn't have enough resources to waste them. Everyone reduced, reused, and recycled without thinking of it as a motto.
Here is a collection of quick facts and tips to show how living green saves green.
Home insulation is passive climate control. Pay for it once, and enjoy the benefits for decades. A well-insulated house stays warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Our forbearers used mud, straw, peat moss, and whatever else was plentiful—even dung. Today we have such eco-friendly materials to insulate with as denim, sand, and polyester sourced from recycled plastic bottles. The EPA recommends sealing air leaks with caulk, weather stripping, and spray foam before insulating.
- Homeowners typically save $200 a year in heating and cooling costs by air-sealing and insulating their home, according to Energy Star.
- New attic insulation is the single best return on investment of any home improvement project according to a survey by Remodeling magazine, which Realtor.com wrote about. For every $100 spent on attic insulation, you can expect to recoup $116.90 when you sell the home.
- 41% of your energy usage goes to heating your home. Lowering your thermostat by just 1 degree saves between $44 and $73 a year on your power bill¹.
Stop Leaky Faucets
Water conservation has long been civilization's first priority. Without water, nothing else matters. A leaky faucet may seem like a small waste, but those drips really add up.
- Just one drip per second can amount to more than 1,600 gallons a year, as estimated by Energy Star.
- Running toilets present the same problem. You might also find leaks under sinks or at a garden hose.
Using every part of a food isn't just a money-saving tip but a culinary tip too. Finding creative uses for ingredients that otherwise would be thrown away can improve the taste of the dish. One example is to save the water/brine in which vegetables are canned and use it to cook the rice for the same meal or another meal that week.
To show the lengths to which one ingredient can go, let's talk pumpkin. With Halloween approaching, many of us will be carving jack-o'-lanterns, a craft that unfortunately creates a lot of waste in most households. The blog Pays to Live Green offers these ways to make use of everything.
- Reserve the flesh, and prepare it as you would any other squash. Puree it for pies, breads, muffins, and other treats.
- Eat pumpkin seeds. Roast them and sprinkle on some salt, and you have a healthy crunchy snack food.
- Grow next year's pumpkin yourself, using the seeds.
These tips inspired me to add my own. Pumpkin puree seasoned with cumin, chili powder, and salt is good in enchiladas and burritos. I noticed pumpkin enjoyed this way when I was on a vacation in Mexico.
Manage the Flow
Some water "leaks" are actually on purpose, due to carelessness, like when we let faucets flow while we wash our hands or brush our teeth. Turning off the faucet in the interims can cut water usage for that task to a fraction of what it was.
- During a two-minute teeth brushing you might actually use the flowing water for 10 seconds in total. Managing the flow would save 92% of the water.
- Switching from a standard low-flow showerhead that flows 2.5 gallons per minute (the kind sold since 1992) to a lower-flow head (1.5 gpm) not only saves 40% of your water with every shower but also the energy cost to heat the water. One lengthy analysis worked out the real-dollar savings to be $42 a year if you have a gas water heater and $54 if you have electric.
Be Light Bright
Think of where sunlight streams into your home, and maybe that's where the desk or crafts table should go. Sunlight isn't just free light; it's beneficial for your mood and wellbeing. Frequently taking eye breaks to focus on something more than 20 yards away is healthy for your vision, another benefit of a window. So even though compact fluorescent lightbulbs have reduced the cost of household lighting drastically, you're still better off next to a bright window.
How often do homeowners look at a dim landing at the top of the stairs or a dark corner of an oddly shaped finished basement and say, "I guess this could be the office"? Humans don't belong in dimness and darkness. Get by a window.
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Speaking of compact fluorescent lightbulbs, remember several years ago when some people balked at switching to CFL? That fuss died down quickly. Households that made the switch never thought about it again and enjoyed significant savings. Consumer Reports estimates that replacing a 60-watt incandescent bulb, the most common household variety, with a spiral-shaped CFL can save more than $57 over the life of the CFL. Multiply that savings by all the lightbulbs throughout your house!
Living with ecology and conservation in mind becomes a lifestyle, a mindset. Once you have made a habit of turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth, for instance, seeing someone do it the old way—standing at the sink, staring into the mirror, brushing their teeth as clean water goes directly from tap to drain—looks glaringly wasteful. The foundation of green living is to use what's available and renewable: sunlight instead of lamplight; a breeze instead of A/C; food optimization instead of food waste. The money savings is just icing on the cake.