Ever since I saw the Green light, thanks to my friend Laurie David, and traded in my gas-guzzling SUV, I've tried my best to up my eco-awareness.
But after reading Green Goes with Everything, Sloan Barnett's book about greening our homes and our lives, I decided to take a closer look at mine.
Yes, I had a pair of Priuses in the driveway (my girls call them "the Prii"), and the recycling bins are filled and dutifully rolled out the curb once a week -- but I wanted a top to bottom assessment of things.
Because, these days, "green" means a lot more than making your house energy efficient. It means making sure your house is a healthy place for you and your family.
So I arranged to have Deep Green Living, a terrific company founded by Susan Short, come to my house and do what is known as an eco-analysis of my home -- including my home office (aka HuffPost West). Sloan Barnett and a crew from NBC came over to record the process (her news reports for the NBC affiliate in San Francisco are embedded below).
The Deep Green Living team went everywhere and looked at everything -- from the light bulbs in my bedroom to the cleaning products in my kitchen to the logs burning in my fireplace.
They gave me positive marks for some of the things I was already doing (using non-toxic cleaning products) and showed me a number of simple steps I could take right away toward creating a greener home and lifestyle.
And, every step of the way, they helped remind me that going green is a process, not something that has to happen overnight. Every little bit helps, so don't think you have to be the second coming of Ed Begley, Jr. to make a difference.
As President Obama said during his prime time presser last week: "I'm a big believer in persistence."
Among the changes we made:
-- Replaced conventional light bulbs with energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, which use one-third the electricity and can last 10 times as long. As Matthew Morris from Deep Green pointed out, "If everyone in America replaced just one regular bulb with a CFL, it would be the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road." And we replaced the floor lamps next to my desk and on our editors' desks with lamps and CFL bulbs that throw off a cool white light as opposed to yellow, and reduce eye strain caused by prolonged reading and writing. At first, it was really strange, and I was ready to go back to my beloved yellow light. But I persevered -- and now I love them.
-- Installed power strips in the office and kitchen. Many appliances, including TVs, computers, and phone chargers still use electricity even when not turned on. Indeed, 5 percent of the electricity used in America is drawn by appliances that aren't powered up. For instance, the printer in my office uses 55 watts in standby mode, the copy machine uses 46 watts in standby, and the fax machine uses 10 watts in standby. Leaving these machines on overnight and when they are not in regular use can waste over 700 kilowatt hours a year (which is more than the average California household uses in a month). The easiest way to avoid this is to plug these appliances into a power strip that can quickly be turned off at the end of the day and back on in the morning.
-- Installed digital thermostats. Heating and cooling, on average, accounts for half of our homes' energy use. These thermostats allow us to consistently set the temperature at the most efficient levels (According to Deep Green Living: "for every degree you raise or lower the temperature for 8 hours, you'll save one percent on your heating or cooling bill.")
-- Replaced the wood-burning logs in my fireplace with logs made of compressed coffee grounds. You get warmth... and a contact caffeine buzz. (Okay, just kidding about the buzz, but the logs really do work.)
-- Started a composting jar in the kitchen. Making this change brought back many memories of my mother, who never liked to let anything go to waste. The uses she could find for a lemon rind!
-- Made the switch from a conventional dry cleaner using the eco-unfriendly perc process to a green dry cleaning service that uses non-toxic alternatives.
The Deep Green team also reminded me and my family of some of the simple changes we can make in our daily habits that can have a big impact, including:
Being more aware of our water use by not leaving the water running when brushing our teeth or rinsing the dishes, taking shorter showers (that's really a tough one for me), and making sure we only run the dishwasher and washing machines when they have full loads.
Making sure to keep our cars' tires inflated to the right pressure (improves gas mileage by 3 percent) and that the air filters are clean (replacing a clogged air filter can improve mileage by as much as 10 percent).
And something really, really obvious -- turning off the lights when we leave the room -- which I now do much more frequently because I finally understand how significant the cumulative energy savings can be.
Most of these changes were easy to make, and have been easy to maintain (although we still sometimes forget to turn off the power strips!). Positive steps don't have to be painful.
Of course, there is a lot more that can be done to make my house -- and my lifestyle --even greener. But as I said before, going green is a process. And every little bit helps.
Here are Sloan's video reports on Deep Green Living's eco-audit of my house: