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Being Green: Increase Efficiency and Save Money

By Emma Johnson

  • Save money this summer — and lessen your environmental impact — with a few simple changes.

    For many of us, summer is a time to shift gears. Why not try shifting to a more energy-efficient lifestyle in your household? Here are some basic tips to save money this season.

    Keep It Green
    When the temperature rises, it's tempting to crank up the air conditioning — but Jodi Helmer, author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference, has a few ideas that won't raise your energy bills:
    • Install a programmable thermostat. "You don't need to run the A/C on high when no one is home," Helmer says. Consider installing a programmable thermostat, available for about $50 at home-improvement stores. It keeps the A/C running at peak times, but shuts off at night or when you're at work. A programmable thermostat can cut roughly $180 a year from your energy bills. New intelligent thermostats further reduce energy consumption by detecting when you're in a room and then adjusting temperatures.
    • Change furnace filters. If you have a combined HVAC unit that runs the furnace and the air conditioner, change the filters in the summer. Clogged furnace filters reduce airflow, forcing the furnace unit to work harder.
    • Change A/C filters. For window or single-room A/C units, it's the same story: Dirty filters block airflow, forcing the machine to work harder. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that a clean air conditioner filter can lower energy use an estimated 5 to 15 percent.
    Embrace Low-Tech Tweaks for the House
    Before you throw open the curtains to let in more sunlight, consider how this seemingly small activity affects your energy bill. Here are some low-tech energy solutions that won't cost a fortune to implement:
    • Change your window coverings. The U.S. Department of Energy says blinds, horizontal and vertical, reduce summer heat gain by up to 45 percent. Drapery color can also have a big effect — "medium-colored draperies with white plastic backing can reduce heat gain by 33 percent."
    • Close your blinds. Closing your blinds against the midday sun will keep your home's interior cool and your A/C bills down.
    • Use a clothesline. Sun and wind can dry clothes for a fraction of the cost of running a dryer. An indoor drying rack works too.
    Don't Overlook the Small Stuff
    Small changes in your routine can mean big savings over the long run.
    • Unplug. Your seldom-used appliances, gadgets and chargers, when not in use, are still draining power. Unplug them and save.
    • Try "smart" outlets. New programmable outlets and power strips can shut off power at designated times, cutting your energy consumption.
    • Use appliances wisely. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) advises you to clean the lint trap in your dryer after each load; avoid opening the oven door to "peek" when you're cooking; use cold water for the clothes washer; and only wash full loads in the dishwasher (using short cycles unless the load is particularly dirty). If you have time, the NRDC says, air-dry dishes on a rack.