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No matter the location, type, or size of your home, the energy you consume by using electricity as well as heating and cooling your space impacts your personal carbon footprint. Your carbon footprint represents the amount of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide) that are emitted into the environment through how you live and what you spend money on (like food, clothes, personal belongings, fuel for your car, and electricity).
If you use electricity and gas to turn on lights, charge your phone, watch TV, use appliances, wash and dry your clothes, heat your home, or air condition your space, you’re burning fossil fuels, emitting greenhouse gases, and contributing to climate change. You can lower your impact and make your home more sustainable by conserving energy and increasing energy efficiency. This also helps the economy, benefits biodiversity, decreases pollution, increases air quality, and lowers your utility bills.
Small changes like setting your thermostat properly, washing your clothes in cold water, and using LED lighting can make a big difference in your effort to make your home more sustainable.
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How to make your home more sustainable
To understand your options for lowering your energy use, it can be helpful to know how it is being used currently. Heating and air conditioning your space is typically about half of your energy use, and heating uses more than cooling. Using hot water can be over a quarter of your energy use. Lighting accounts for about 5%, and if you have a refrigerator, it is typically 3% of the total energy used in a home. All other energy use remaining adds up to about 20%; this could be consumed through watching TV, washing and drying clothes, running a dishwasher, plugging in electronics, subscribing to internet services, or using appliances in the kitchen. These percentages vary depending on your living situation.
Turn down the heat
Curb’s article on 101 ways to live more sustainably suggests turning the heat down 7-10 degrees before bed as it will reduce energy use by 1% per degree each night. You can also use a programmable thermostat (60% of homes have them) and set the temperature to 10 degrees less at night and when you aren’t home. If you don’t have one, it can be installed yourself or by an HVAC professional. If you live in an apartment where you don’t have control over your heat, items like this smart radiator cover exist. It uses a fan to circulate air when a room needs heat and turns off the fan when a room is overheated, resulting in a more comfortable space, and a reduced carbon footprint. To keep the heat in, make sure doors and windows are sealed, and add rugs for layers of insulation.
Did you know?
In an apartment building, if you ever open windows in the winter because it’s too hot, the stack effect causes the warm air to rise and exit the building, and cold air will fill the space from the first floor. People living on the first floor will need more heat, and crank their heat up, which is why it is best to turn the radiator off all the way before opening windows.
Use less hot water
If you’re using warm or hot water to wash your clothes, it’s not necessary. Newer washing machine models and detergents make it perfectly fine to wash your clothes in cold water. As an added benefit, using cold water helps your clothes last longer.
Using less water, in general, is more sustainable. You can do this by not letting the water run when you’re brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. One way to save water when you’re showering is to invest in a low flow showerhead. The best low flow showerheads have flow rates of 1.5 – 1.85 gallons per minute and still feel the same with less water.
Light your space with LEDs
One of the easiest things you can do for sustainable lighting in your living space is to use LED bulbs. They last 25 times as long as regular bulbs and use 75% less energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, extensive use of LEDs could save as much energy as the annual electricity production of 44 power plants. Also, $40 billion dollars is spent per year in the U.S. on wasting electricity on things like leaving lights on when you aren’t home or aren’t in the room. Turn lights off when you leave a room!
Light up your outdoor space with solar lights whenever possible. Here are 2019’s best solar lights. Solar lights use LED bulbs, charge in the sun during the day, and automatically turn on at night with no wired electricity needed. You can also use solar to charge your phone; here are Amazon’s top-selling solar chargers.
Look for the Energy Star label
From appliances like air purifiers, clothes washer and dryers, air conditioners, and refrigerators, to electronics like TVs and sound systems, it’s more efficient and sustainable to buy one with the Energy Star label. Products with the Energy Star label are certified to save energy, money, and cause less harm to the environment. Of course, it’s always better to buy pre-owned items at outdoor sales, or through sites like OfferUp. You could also see if a neighbor is selling anything you need on NextDoor.
Another easy way to make your home more sustainable and save energy is by using a smart power strip. These can identify when a TV, printer, or other devices are on standby mode and cut off the power to that specific device, which will reduce your energy usage. This smart power strip has a scheduled timer and can be controlled through an app. You don’t need your WiFi on when you’re sleeping, so having the router and charger plugged into a power strip makes it easier to turn off, whether it’s on a regular power strip or a smart one with a timer.
Adjust your thermostat
Adjust your thermostat so it’s only heating your apartment when you are home and lower the temperature at night when you’re sleeping.
Do a little research
Read 101 Ways to Live More Sustainably because there are many other things you can do. The article suggests “ideas [that] not only provide a roadmap to a healthier, more environmentally sound lifestyle, they’ll also reduce your carbon footprint, connect you with your neighbors, and probably save you a ton of money, too.”
Watch a Ted Talk
Watch this 8-minute Ted Talk about How Behavioral Science Can Lower Your Energy Bill, where “Alex Laskey shows how a quirk of human behavior can make us all better, wiser energy users, with lower bills to prove it.”
About the Author
Charlotte Scott is a Los Angeles based Sustainability Consultant. She started her career in Louisiana, managing waste generated from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Charlotte went on to spend eight years in NYC consulting with companies on environmental best practices, regulatory compliance, waste management, and sustainability programs.
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