There's one big reason why making your home more efficient should be at the top of your spring cleaning list: your home is addicted to coal. Did you know the average home produces twice as many emissions as the average car?
Just because your home doesn't have a tailpipe, doesn't mean that all the electricity you use for lights, TV, phones and computers is carbon-neutral. In fact, nearly 50 percent of our nation's electricity comes from burning coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. If you've heard the word "fracking" then you know the natural gas you use for cooking and home heating also carries an environmental price tag. Likewise the water in our homes has to be treated and pumped -- often hundreds of miles -- and once it goes down the drain it has to be pumped back and treated again -- all of which takes more coal-fired energy.
In fact, the average American home burns nearly three tons of coal a year. However, just by doing the easy stuff, you can improve your home's efficiency by 20 percent or more. If everybody did it, America would save $40 billion a year, while creating jobs, improving health and reducing pollution.
So when you start your spring cleaning this year, do more than just clear out the dust and clutter. Take a few steps to kick out the coal too.
The good news is there are simple, easy, cost-saving ways to make your home more efficient. Focus on these four areas for making your home more efficient:
Lighting: Improved CFL bulbs, and new full-size LED bulbs are giving those 100-year old Edison light bulbs stiff competition. You can now replace a 60watt Edison bulb with a 20watt CFL or a 7watt LED that will screw into the same fixture and provide the same amount of light. Those dramatic energy savings mean cost-savings to you.
Put it this way: if you could buy a $100 bill for 20 bucks you would, right? Well that's what you're doing when you buy an LED light bulb. Even though the price of each bulb is higher, the cost to use them is much lower. Because the newer bulbs are both more efficient, and much longer lasting, they can save you anywhere from 50 to a 100 dollars over the life of the bulb. Which is why McKinsey calls LEDs the most cost-effective technology for fighting climate change. So swap those light bulbs and start saving money!
Electricity: The New York Times reports that the average American home today has about 25 consumer electronic products, compared with just three in 1980. Electronics now represent up to 15 percent of American power bills -- the fastest rising slice of home electricity use. All that demand will require building hundreds of new coal-fired or nuclear power plants in coming years. Unless we can be more efficient with electricity.
Using smart strips to shut down devices you're not using is one effective way to cut down your home's coal habit. Buying EnergyStar appliances and TVs is another. Signing up for Green Power is a great way to get your home off coal, and send a clear signal you want a cleaner economy. Nearly 900 utilities across the country offer optional programs that allow you to pay a little bit extra to support investments in local clean energy. Find a Green Power program near you, and kick the coal habit today!
Water: Taking shorter showers is conservation. Taking your usual shower while using 50 percent less water is efficiency. Simple faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads can cut your water use from 2 to 5 gallons per minute down to 1 or 1.5 gallons per minute. These are dramatic savings that you won't even notice while taking a shower or washing the dishes. And these simple devices will save you thousands of gallons of water, and hundreds of dollars in water bills. Because it takes energy to treat and transport water, every gallon you don't use means less coal burned on your behalf.
Temperature: Half the energy in your home is likely used for heating and cooling, so anything you can do to stop air leaks will save energy. Even if you don't have the money to replace windows or add insulation, there are simple things you can do to weatherize your home. Sealing cracks and drafts around doors and windows with caulking or weatherstripping is a good start. Sealing outlets and light switches with inexpensive foam gaskets is another way to block tiny holes that leak air. Regularly replacing the air filters on your heater and air-conditioner can keep these systems working properly and efficiently. As the weather heats up, opening windows for ventilation instead of using the AC can save energy and cut your home's coal emissions as well.
Take the EnergyStar virtual home tour to find more ways to save in every room of your home.
Making your home more efficient will save you money that you would otherwise be spending on fossil fuels. So if you're pissed off at the Koch Brothers, Halliburton, BP and the rest of the fossil fuel industry, making your home more efficient is the fastest, easiest way to cut into their profits.
This spring I'm creating a program that empowers young people to become Green Energy Agents and help their communities be more efficient. Together, we can all take a big bite out of coal!
Follow Andy Mannle on Twitter: www.twitter.com/andymannle