You don’t need to buy anything to go greener. Small, simple steps can add up to save energy, money, and the planet.
On Earth Day—or any day—adopting just one of these easy habits around your house will help to protect the environment and could even save you money. The more you incorporate into your routine, the bigger the difference you can make.
Seal Air Leaks
Sealing up gaps around windows, door frames, and other areas throughout your home can reduce heating and cooling costs by 10 to 30 percent. If you shut a door or window on a dollar bill and you’re able to pull the bill out without resistance, conditioned air can escape and outside air can get in. Bottom line: You’re paying for more energy than you need to.
To help detect leaks around other common sites (including electrical outlets, switch plates, baseboards, air conditioners, and cable lines):
• Shut all windows, exterior doors, and fireplace flues and turn on all exhaust fans that blow air outside (such as your clothes dryer, bathroom fans, or stove hood).
• Light an incense stick and pass it around the edges of potential leak sites. The smoke will waver or get sucked out of or blown into the room where leaks are present.
• Use caulk, expandable sealant, foam gaskets, or weather stripping to seal these areas. (Duct tape will work, too.)
Consider hiring a professional energy auditor to do a full assessment of your home’s energy use. Some utilities provide this service free.
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Close the Curtains
Solar heat can raise the temperature inside your home significantly. Keeping curtains drawn can reduce heat gain by up to 77 percent on hot, sunny days and still let in plenty of light, depending on the material. Do just the opposite during cold winter days to warm up your rooms (but close them at night to minimize heat loss).MORE ON GREEN LIVING10 Ways to Save Energy Doing LaundrySmart Ways to Save on Your Hot Water Bill5 Reasons to Choose Battery-Powered Lawn ToolsYes, You Need to Recycle Your Old BatteriesHow to Extend Food Expiration Dates
Pull Some Plugs
Many appliances and electronic devices continue to consume electricity even when powered down. These “energy vampires” can account for up to 10 percent of your electricity bill (or more than $100 a year). Unplug your video game consoles, computers, scanners, printers, countertop appliances, chargers, and other gadgets when you’re not using them.
Do Laundry in Cold Water
Using the cold-wash cycle on your washing machine saves energy, and making this setting the norm could knock about $60 a year off your energy bill. Extra credit: Because 4 percent of the electricity used in the average home goes to drying laundry, line-dry your clothes outside if you have that option and weather permits. (Find the best and worst laundry detergents from Consumer Reports’ tests.)
Use Countertop Cookers
Slow cookers, multi-cookers, and toaster ovens use a lot less energy than cooking a meal across several burners or in the oven. Check out the best small kitchen appliances of 2021.
Turn Off the Tap
Shutting off the water while brushing your teeth will save about 2,000 gallons a year. Turning off the shower when lathering up or shampooing will save even more: The typical showerhead gushes up to 5 gallons per minute. Find out how to cut your water use in half.
Do Dishes the Right Way
Follow these tips for hand-washing your dishes. Or use a dishwasher but don’t prerinse the dishes. It’s unnecessary and wastes up to 6,500 gallons of water per year. Check out these energy-efficient dishwashers.
Cell phones, laptops, tablets, and other electronics contain toxic materials including lead, mercury, and cadmium, which can leach into the environment if not disposed of properly. Go to Earth911 or Call2Recycle for locations near you that collect old electronics to be refurbished, resold, or recycled. Also, see other ways to get rid of your electronics, including selling or trading them in if they’re in good condition.
Opt Out of Unwanted Mail
Yes, you can recycle that pile of unwanted mail, but it’s even better to eliminate paper waste in the first place. Each year more than 100 million trees’ worth of bulk mail arrives in American mailboxes. Register with Catalog Choice (free) or the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service ($2 for 10 years) to opt out of getting junk mail. Prefer using an app? Try PaperKarma ($24.99 for one year). Extra credit: Ask your utilities and financial service providers for paper-free billing and statements.
Expand Your Recipe Repertory
The average American wastes about 1 pound of food a day, and food waste is the largest category of material in our landfills, where it emits methane, a greenhouse gas. Find a recipe that incorporates food scraps, such as vegetable stock or carrot top pesto. (Remember, we wouldn’t have banana bread without overripe bananas no one wants to eat.)
For everything else, return those nutrients to the earth by composting or find a community garden or farmers market that will be happy to take your vegetable peels, fruit cores, egg shells, and coffee grinds.
(Read more about food waste in Spoiler Alert: You’re Wasting 1 in 4 Bags of Groceries from our archives.)