Tetra Images/Getty Images
Switch lights. Of course, you know youre supposed to turn them off when youre not using them. But you can also help by going with compact fluorescents. A 23-watt compact fluorescent will give you as much light as a 100-watt incandescentand last ten times as long and use a quarter of the energy. (The downside: They contain about 5 mg of mercury, so they need to be recycled properly. Check with your municipality for drop-off sites for items containing mercury. Different states have different regulations; you can get more info on your states recycling laws by checking www.lamprecycle.org.)
Save water. In the best of all possible worlds, everyone would collect shower or sink water to nourish their plants. Barring this, you can still help the environment by not running your shower when youre not in it (what are you doing anyway?) and by turning off the sink water when you brush your teeth, shave, or wash your hands. Running hot water for five minutes uses as much energy as it takes to light a 400-foot room for a year. Install low-flow showerheads that will save two and a half gallons of water each minute (with air infusion, it feels as if you are getting the full amount of water and water pressure) and use those low-flush toiletspower flush makes them more efficient. Seventy percent of office water use can be saved by this alone. Other water-saving opportunities: do only full loads of laundry, and water your lawn once every three days at the most. If you install a sub-surface irrigation system, you can save 80 percent of your water use and have a perfect-looking lawn.
Insulate, insulate, insulate. And then insulate. Reduce heat loss in your walls and attic. Consider installing R-49 fiberglass insulation in the attic. This will save money and oil. Use R-15 fiberglass insulation in walls or R-21 if your walls are deeper than 2X6.
Take your hangers back to the cleaners. Dont throw them out. When you take your shirts in to be cleaned, take back your old hangers. Your cleaner will save 8 cents a hanger, and youll prevent them from winding up in the landfill. Creative cleaners should put a nickel deposit on the hangers. Or they can switch to the new recycled paper hangers.
Recycle. Not just glass, paper, and plastic but batteries, fluorescent ightbulbs, and electronic devices. More than 60 million tons of materials are now recycled, which is about a third of our waste. A good start, but this percentage needs to double.
Remember the broom. You really dont have to plug in the vacuum cleaner (one of the most wasteful uses of energy) for every dog hair on the floor. For smooth surfaces, consider rubber-bristle brooms and a dustpan or a Swiffer, which works with electrostatic energy to attract dust. After you use them, youll wonder why you traded in brooms for vacuums in the first place. (If you really want to save time and energy, a dog with a long tongue will keep your kitchen floor clean.)
Skip the wood fire. Though heating your home with a wood fire seems more romantic than a Shakespearean poem, wood smoke is much more carcinogenic than cigarette smoke and a contributor to particle pollution in neighborhoods.
Turn down the heat. On your water heater, that is. A setting of 120 degrees is comfortable for most, even though factory settings may be higher. Wash your clothes in cold water to help save on electricity. And turn down the heat at night and when youre out during the day.