The Savings Game: Six ways to save by going green
By Anya Kamenetz
Tribune Media Services
If you read glossy magazines, you might think that living a more environmentally conscious lifestyle means spending more: on organic produce, designer hemp and bamboo clothing, a Tesla electric sports car or a custom-built, geothermally heated home. But many of the most important small steps you can take to benefit the planet are also good for your wallet.
Here are six of them, in order of potential savings.
--Weatherproof your home.
We’re at the height of air conditioning season, when electric bills spike. At two government websites, energystar.gov and http://hes.lbl.gov/consumer/, you can assess your home’s energy performance compared to similar homes and get a list of recommendations.
At the top of the list are increasing insulation and sealing drafts and ductwork; possible savings range from 25 percent to 40 percent of monthly bills. You can also get information on hiring qualified experts to check, or “audit,” your home energy use; all these modifications carry a 10 percent federal tax credit up to $500 in 2011.
Changes you can make today, for free, include turning off the heating or cooling system when you are out of the house, raising the thermostat temperature to 78 degrees, drawing the blinds against bright sunlight and using fans and open windows to cool off.
Gasoline prices are up 72 percent over a year ago. In May, the average American family spent 9 percent of its budget filling up the tank. We can’t all commute by bike, but any step you take to reduce your driving will help both your wallet and the planet. Put everyday trips into Google Directions or another service to ensure you’re finding the most efficient route. Combine errands and go at odd times of the day to avoid waiting in traffic. Consider taking a vacation jaunt by train or bus. Set up carpools for work or for kids. The website Drive Less Save More (www.drivelesssavemore.com) is focused on the Pacific Northwest, but it has lots of good suggestions for everyone.
--Watch home energy use.
Appliances and electronics now account for 31 percent of home energy use, a growing share. That means computers, televisions, DVD/DVR players, cellphone and laptop chargers. Unplug them, put them on a power strip and switch off when not in use, or use a “smart strip” available at electronics stores to power them on and off automatically.
--Tweak your diet.
Americans spend half their food dollars on restaurant, takeout and prepared meals, which cost more, have more fat and calories, and require more energy to make and transport. Commit to making dinner at home one more night a week for a month and taking lunch to school or work one more day. Bonus points if you build the meals around fresh in-season produce, abundant in stores right now, and cheap staples like pasta and beans.
--Buy less, and buy used.
Easy. Anything you can buy used, rent, share or borrow, from a lawnmower to a tricycle, means less consumer waste and less spending for you. Check out Craigslist, eBay, and newer websites like Neighborgoods (neighborgoods.net) and Freecycle (www.freecycle.org) before you shop for something new. You might be surprised by what you find!
--Consider the sun.
Solar power is not just for California. Tax credits and grants make it economically rewarding in at least a dozen states. New Jersey, surprisingly, has the most installed solar power behind California.
See a detailed list of state incentives at the government website DSIREUSA.org. You can also try leasing solar panels from a company like Sungevity or Solar City. The company installs and maintains the panels on your house. You pay nothing upfront and pay a monthly bill consisting of your new energy bill, plus the lease payment, which the company warrants will be cheaper in most cases than your old energy bill alone.
Anya Kamenetz’ latest book is “DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education.” She welcomes your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org