Climate change seems so... global.
Yet many climate change solutions are very... local, because they're based on the way each and every one of us uses energy. Here are ten ways you can reduce the climate change impact of your home.
1. Caulk or weatherstrip windows and doors. Heating accounts for the biggest chunk of most utility bills -- and offers the most opportunities for money and energy savings. Did you know that the energy used by the average home generates twice as much pollution as the average car? Materials for the average twelve-window, two-door house could cost about $25, but savings in annual energy costs might amount to more than 10 percent of your yearly heating bill. According to the Department of Energy, if every gas-heated home were properly caulked and weather-stripped, we'd save enough natural gas each year to heat almost 4 million more homes. You can find weatherstripping at most hardware stores. To minimize indoor air pollution from the weatherstripping materials you use, try water-based caulks like Quick Shield VOC-Free Sealant or Polyseamseal.
2. Install storm windows and doors. Combination screen and storm windows and doors are the most convenient and energy efficient because they can be opened easily when there is no need to run heating or cooling equipment. Installing high efficiency ENERGY STAR windows can reduce heating and cooling costs by 15 percent; you can save from $125-$340 a year when you replace single pane windows with their ENERGY STAR equivalents. If you don't want to buy new windows, cover existing windows with a heavy-duty, clear plastic sheet on the frame. You can buy a ready-made kit again at most hardware stores. A third alternative? Thermal draperies, made with a thick, fiber-filled backing to fit snugly against the entire window frame, can reduce heat loss by as much as 50 percent and save you $15 per window each winter. Even simple heavy drapes can save about $10 per window annually.
3. Insulate. You can reduce your energy needs by as much as 20 to 30 percent, and save about four months' worth of household energy, by investing in insulation. Focus on your attic floor or top floor ceiling, crawlspace, exterior walls, basement ceilings and walls, and rooms over unheated spaces, like garages. The "Simply Insulate" website, maintained by the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, will tell you how much insulation you need in the different parts of your house, depending on where you live. Think about using cotton insulation made from recycled cotton or denim scrap that will have no impact on your indoor air quality, unlike the formaldehyde ingredients in fiberglass insulation.
4. Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat allows you to predetermine temperatures for daytime and evening comfort as well as energy savings. It can save you as much as 20 percent if you opt to reduce temperatures by 5 degrees at night and 10 degrees during the day when most people are out of the house.
5. Get an energy audit. At low or no cost, your local utility may provide a specially-trained auditor to examine your home and explain what inexpensive and free energy conservation actions you can take to save money and energy immediately. The auditor may also take an infrared photograph of your home to help you pinpoint exactly where heat is being lost. You can also use this do-it-yourself audit tool developed by the city of Seattle.
6. Set your water heater to 120 degrees. If you currently heat your water to 140 degrees, you may save as much as 10 percent on water-heating costs by dialing the thermostat down a bit.
7. Wrap your water heater in an insulating blanket. This is one of the most cost-effective energy-saving steps you'll ever take. Insulating blankets or "jackets" cost only around $10, but they can reduce the loss of heat through the walls of the tank by 25-40 percent, saving 4-9 percent on heating bills. Do it, and forget about it. The same goes for the hot water pipes that move hot water from the tank to your faucets. And yep, buy it at your local hardware store.
8. Use less hot water. Wash laundry in cold water. Install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators. Fix leaky faucets. Wash full loads of laundry and dishes.
9. Maintain your furnace. If you heat with oil, have your furnace serviced at least once a year to save 10 percent in fuel consumption (if you do this in summer, you'll get cheaper, off-season rates). Clean or replace the filters in your forced-air heating system each month. Dust or vacuum radiator surfaces frequently. If you must replace your furnace, buy the most energy-efficient model you can afford. If you have a fireplace, keep the damper closed to avoid losing as much as 8 percent of your home's heated or cooled air.
10. Upgrade your appliances. When you replace your appliances, choose ENERGY STAR models, which use 10-50 percent less energy and water than the standard alternatives. If just one in 10 homes used ENERGY STAR qualified appliances, the environmental benefit would be like planting 1.7 million new acres of trees.