It’s easy enough for most people to admit that finding ways to go green is good for the natural environment. After all, who doesn’t love clean air? Unfortunately, because the negative effects of our energy consumption habits are often very subtle in our day-to-day lives, it’s difficult to feel committed to making positive changes. The convenience of “the way things are” is often all too compelling.
So let’s shift the motivation. If helping to save the planet isn’t enough, consider that you’re literally paying out of pocket every day for wasted energy from a variety of sources, much of which could be prevented. Here are a few strategies for adjusting your energy consumption habits to help reduce your carbon footprint and save money.
In Your Home
Saving money and energy in your home doesn’t have to be complicated. Small adjustments can have major effects. For example, washing your clothes in cold water, rather than warm or hot water, could save about 90 percent of the energy needed to run a washing machine. You can also save around 4 percent of your overall power bill for every 10 degrees you turn down the thermostat on your hot water heater.
There are also many appliances in your home that use electricity, even when they are turned off or on standby mode. These are sometimes known as “energy vampires” and could include any of the following:
Hair dryers, curling irons, and electric shavers
Coffee pots, microwaves, and toaster ovens
Televisions, sounds systems, cable boxes, and DVRs
Laptops, PCs, printers, and phone chargers
Although the amount of electricity these use is less when they’re off, the constant trickle of energy from so many areas of your home can add up quickly. Try plugging your devices into power strips and switching the power strip off when you’re not using them. For areas like entertainment centers and home offices, this is more convenient than unplugging everything individually.
Replacing your refrigerator, dishwasher, or laundry machines with energy-efficient appliances can also cut down on your power bill. Similarly, investing in double-pane windows, LED light bulbs, and solar energy systems can improve the energy efficiency in your home and have a significant impact on your energy costs. By making these eco-friendly upgrades, you might also qualify for tax credits which can help defray the cost of purchasing any of these.
You may not be aware that the rate you pay for electricity can fluctuate throughout the day. Because of this, it’s a good idea to research your power company’s peak hours, which are likely more expensive, and plan to reduce your energy consumption during those times. While peak hours will vary, depending on the season and your utility provider, you can usually take advantage of lower rates at night. Some electricity providers may offer time-of-day plans which designate off-peak hours in order to provide you with lower rates, while also helping the utility provider function more efficiently.
On a larger scale, utilizing smart grid technologies will help utility companies to incorporate renewable energy sources like solar, hydro, and wind power and more efficiently produce and transfer electricity. Because smart grids are data driven, energy providers can better monitor usage patterns and use that information to more accurately predict energy needs in particular areas and times. Smart grids can also empower individual consumers by allowing you to monitor your energy usage in real time, which could help to reduce your overall energy consumption and shift more of your usage to off-peak hours.
On the Road
While gas prices aren’t the highest they’ve ever been, the general trend suggests that the cost per gallon will continue to rise. This financial burden is further complicated by the amount of pollutants released by driving diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles. This creates a number of problems, including environmental concerns, public health issues, and economic impacts due to inefficient driving habits and traffic conditions.
Of course, the best way combat both environmental and financial issues is to seek alternative transportation methods when possible. Depending on your location and time constraints, you might choose to walk, run, or bike instead of driving to work and other locations. These are cost-free options that could have the added benefit of improving your physical and mental health.
While public transportation options and carpooling may still produce carbon emissions, you’ll be reducing the overall amount by keeping your own vehicle off the road as well as reducing the amount of fuel you have to buy. If you need to drive your own vehicle on a regular basis, you might consider investing in a fuel-efficient or alternative fuel vehicle.
Walking, carpooling, or buying a new car simply may not be an option for many reasons, but that doesn’t mean you can’t save fuel and money when you drive. For example, idling your car burns about three cents worth of fuel every minute. While this may seem like a small amount, it can add up to a lot over time. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to shut off your engine if you’re planning to park for longer than 10 seconds.
You can also extend your fuel efficiency by avoiding aggressive driving behaviors like speeding, rapid acceleration, and hard braking. These habits can lower your highway gas mileage by up to 33 percent, which can make a huge difference in fuel costs. Once you pass 50 mph, your gas mileage is significantly reduced, costing about $0.19 per gallon of gas for each additional 5 mph you travel.
Aside from your driving habits, properly maintaining your vehicle can have a major effect on its fuel efficiency. Always use the correct grade of motor oil, and have it changed regularly. Make sure your tires are inflated to the pressure listed in your owner’s manual, which may be different than the number listed on the tire itself. Regular maintenance checks can catch other problems like worn-out belts, low fluids, transmission problems, old spark plugs, and dragging brakes which could affect your fuel economy.
Beyond the Individual
While these strategies can help you save money at home and in your daily travels, there is massive potential for larger shifts in our energy consumption habits as a society. By making small changes today, you can save money and energy and take part in a long history of sustainability practices initiated by governments, social groups, corporations, and dedicated individuals like you.
While you could go so far as to create or join an environmental group, you don’t have to become a full-blown activist to encourage a more widespread adoption of green, money-saving practices. Just by staying informed, being conscious of the efforts you’re making, and sharing what you’ve learned with others in a casual way, you can help open people’s eyes to simple things they could do everyday to save money and help preserve the environment.