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empAthos Nation Enterprises Experimental Environmental Design Initiative

Simple Things That You Can Do Now

If you live in an urban setting you have an advantage in the accessibility of things that you can use. As you find ways to save energy, and make your home more environmentally friendly, you can add one little step at a time until you begin to see real results.

Below is a list of things that can save you some money in the long run and provide opportunity for a "greener" future.

  • Replace incandescent bulbs with compact florescents. To see the difference it will make, look at the package. There you will find ratings for the wattage, the expected life of the bulb and the amount of light compared to a regular incandescent bulb. Compact florescent bulbs are more expensive in the short run, but you will save in lower electric bills and in having to purchase more replacement incandescent bulbs than you would have to purchase compact florescent bulbs. As your old incandescents burn out simply replace them, one by one, and defray the extra initial cost over a period of time.

    This is from the Union of Concerned Scientists:

    • A provision in the 2007 energy bill requires lightbulbs to be 30 percent more energy-efficient starting in 2012--a standard that will effectively phase out traditional incandescent bulbs. But why wait? Today's compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) already use 50 to 80 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. If every U.S. household replaced just one incandescent bulb with a CFL, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates we would reduce global warming pollution by an amount equivalent to taking more than 800,000 cars off the road.

      Most CFLs on the market today offer the same performance, versatility, and light output as incandescent bulbs. Look for the following product information to ensure you find the right bulb for your needs:

      • Whiteness: Like incandescent bulbs, CFLs can produce light in many shades of white. Color temperature (or the perceived "warmth" of the light) is measured in kelvins (K); the lower the color temperature, the warmer the color. These temperatures range from about 2700 K (a "warm" yellow-white) to 5000 K (a "cool" blue-white). If the temperature is not listed, look for the terms "warm white" and "cool white" (or "daylight").

      • Brightness: Because CFLs use less energy (as measured in watts) to produce the same amount of light as an incandescent bulb, look for lumens (a measure of light output) on the product label to find CFLs that will match or exceed the brightness of the incandescent bulbs you have been using. For example, a 60-watt incandescent bulb and a 15-watt CFL each produce about 800 lumens. The Energy Star website (see the related links) lists the lumens produced by common incandescent wattages, and CFL packages often mention the equivalent incandescent wattage as well.

      • Compatibility: CFLs are available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, for both standard and smaller (candelabra) sockets. There are even CFLs designed to accommodate three-way, dimmable, motion-sensor, and outdoor fixtures.

      • CFLs last up to 10 times as long as incandescent bulbs, but because frequent on/off cycles can reduce their useful life, target high-usage areas of your home first (that is, where lights stay on for long periods of time). This will ensure you get the most energy savings right away.

    • CFLs and Mercury

      CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury, so they cannot be thrown out in the trash (see the related links for disposal information). However, the mercury in CFLs represents a much less significant environmental hazard than incandescent bulbs because CFLs require much less electricity, and more than half of our nation's electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants--the largest U.S. source of mercury emissions.

      In other words, the average coal-fired power plant emits only 3.2 milligrams of mercury for each CFL running six hours per day for five years, but emits nearly 15 milligrams of mercury for an incandescent bulb running the same amount of time, according to UCS research. The difference far exceeds the approximately five milligrams present inside a CFL. Properly disposing of CFLs ensures the mercury in them remains contained.

    • Related Links

      Energy Star--CFLs


      National Electrical Manufacturers Association--CFL Disposal

  • Drafty windows and doors can be closed up with weather stripping. Ask your hardware store assistant what will work best and what's right for you. If you have single pane windows in your house and can't afford to replace them with more up-to-date double pane windows you can help insulate them with heavy weight fabric draperies. This is a return to the same technology used in European castles where they would hang tapistries on the cold stone walls to provide an insulating layer of air between the cold of the stone and the warmth of the air in the room. The intent isn't just for decoration, but has a specific environmental purpose. The thickness of the fabric that you use is the important factor. If you have the money to buy expensive draperies, this is fine, just make sure that they will provide the insulative barrier that you need. If you can't afford draperies, consider using blankets. If they are pleated to increase thermal mass, hung to cover the window, lightly touching the floor (cold air sinks, warm air rises), and made to open and close as needed, they should give you thermal control over your windows.

  • Maintain your home's infrastructure:

    1. Clean or replace furnace filters as indicated in the owner's manual of your furnace or air conditioner. (Don't have the manual? Once a month should do.) Dirty filters make the furnace or air conditioner work harder, and increase you energy bills, along with making your house colder in the winter and hotter in the summer.

    2. Set your thermostat to the lowest comfortable setting (65F to 70F) in Winter and the highest comfortable setting (75F to 80F) in Summer to save in extra energy costs and fuel usage.

    3. Fix the drips and leaks in your faucets and toilet. Usually it only requires a part costing a dollar or two, and can save a lot of money on your water bill. If you are lucky enough to own a digital camera or a Polaroid instant camera, take a picture of the offending fixture (or better, the offending part) and show it to the hardware assistant. They may be able to identify the replacement that you need. It would also help to make measurements of the part that needs to be replaced so you can get the right fit.

    4. Check your shower head to see how much water it uses. If you can fill a two gallon bucket from your shower head in less than two minutes, it should be replaced with a "low flow" shower head. There are even shower heads that have a button that you can push to turn the water on or off without having to adjust the faucets so you can save water while you use the soap or shave in the shower.

  • Public transportation is inconvenient in many areas, but it can get you from one place to another as long as you schedule your day to meet the bus on time. Save your car for trips when you have to get something that you can't take on the bus. You will save energy by pooling your trip with other people, you'll save money because you won't need to buy petrol as often, and the emissions from your vehicle won't be added to the emissions of every other vehicle on the road. You shouldn't have to fuel your car more than once a month. If you are buying petrol more frequently than that, you may be wasting more money than you need to spend.

  • If there is no public transportation near your home, take a walk and see what resources are near you that you can use for shopping and services within walking distance. Buy or build a garden cart to take to the store. Most garden carts have the capacity of a small automobile trunk and you can take it on shopping trips to save carrying flimsy bags of groceries in your circulation starved fingers all the way home. An insulated light weight foam ice chest can be included in your cart for frozen foods. Paint your cart green and advertise a cleaner ecology on the side of it: "Saving Fuel, Saving the Planet, Saving Money, and Saving Myself!" You'll get healthier from the walk, and you might start a trend in your neighborhood.

  • Don't let things pile up. When it comes in the house, make plans for the time it will leave the house. For most things, such as junk mail and grocery packaging, they will be gone in a week or so. Even if you own your home and expect to live there for the rest of your life, living as though you expect to move soon will help keep you from accumulating too many things. It's sort of a settling in like you're traveling light.

  • The average urban home has the potential to recycle 90 percent of the material that comes in the front door. Anything made of paper, plastic, metal, or glass is recyclable. Most recyclers are no longer restricting plastic to just type 1 or type 2, but are accepting all types of plastic. Other things that can and should be recycled are old light bulbs, especially compact florescents; old technology such as cell phones, computers and televisions; and household oils and chemicals. Even table scraps can be recycled along with yard waste in most municipalities. Some things are necessarily disposible, but the amount of such items is negligable when compaired with the massive amounts of material that can be reused.

  • Do you have to have that latest gadget? Really? Can you repair the old one that previously served the purpose? The old mantra of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" can have added to it "Repair." Save your money. Wealthy people don't just become wealthy by getting money, they also get wealthy by saving money, and not spending it on the next "big" thing.

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This page was last modified on 12/15/08.
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