With Earth Day just a week away, there is no better time to be thinking about steps you and your family can take to protect the environment and our climate. And the most impactful steps are often the ones that cut your carbon emissions and save you money.
In Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living, my colleagues and I analyzed and measured the most effective actions each of us can personally take to address the global warming emissions from our decisions as consumers.
We identified a broad menu of options that fit any lifestyle and help keep you focused on the decisions that matter the most, which, our research found, are how we get around, the energy we use in our homes, the food we eat, and the stuff we buy.
Fortunately, there are lots of measures you can take that will save money right away, while also lowering your carbon footprint. Here are 10 money-saving, low-carbon living tips for you to consider as we celebrate Earth Day:
- Make your house more airtight. Even in reasonably tight homes, air leaks may account for 15 to 25 percent of the heat our furnaces generate in winter or that our homes gain in summer. If you pay $1,100 a year to heat and cool your home, tackling those leaks could save you as much as $275 annually.
- Buy and USE a programmable thermostat for a 15 percent reduction in your heating and cooling emissions and potentially save $180 a year. During the summer, a setting of 78 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal during the hours you’re home, and 85 degrees when you’re away during the day.
- Use smart power strips in your home office and home entertainment center to curb “phantom loads” and save a surprising amount on your electric bill. Shutting off your laser printer when you’re not using it, for example, could save you as much as $130 annually.
- Upgrade your refrigerator and air conditioner, especially if they are more than five years old. New ones are twice as efficient or more. With older fridges, an upgrade can pay for itself in as little as three years in energy savings alone.
- Get an electricity monitor from your local hardware store or even borrow one from many local libraries to see where the energy hogs are in your home. This can help you save hundreds of dollars annually.
- Change those light bulbs. New LED light bulbs can give the same light for less than one-quarter the electricity and can last for 20 years. That can add up to more than $100 in savings for most families each year.
- Wash clothes in cold water. They get just as clean with today’s detergents. Hot water washes use five times the energy — and create five times the emissions. Cold-water washing could save you nearly $100 a year.
- Go car shopping for a car with better fuel economy. Upgrading from a 20-mpg car to a 40-mpg car can save you 4,500 gallons of gasoline over the car’s lifespan. At today’s gas prices, that’s a total savings of almost $18,000. And whether you are not in the market to buy a car now or not, consider ways to drive smarter. By taking simple steps — like keeping your car tuned up, maintaining proper tire air pressure, driving 65 instead of 75, avoiding unnecessary idling and jack rabbit starts at traffic lights — you could save more than $500 a year, and cut your annual carbon emissions by 5 to 7 percent.
- Eat less meat, especially beef. Cattle turn out to be a major contributor to climate change, so cutting down on meat can be a smart — and probably healthy — way to cut your carbon. An average family of four that cuts its meat intake in half will avoid roughly three tons of emissions annually.
- Buy less stuff. Reduce, re-use, and recycle. In addition to having more money to focus on the really important things, this strategy will lower your emissions to and help combat global warming.
Over the next few days, a colleague and I will dive into a few of these areas to help you think more about how to be cooler and smarter, and how to make this Earth Day the greenest ever for you. Stay tuned!