There are countless ways for families to save money and the environment at the same time. Following is a variety of household tips to get you started.
If you're on a water meter, you'll be especially interested in the following advice. Even if your home isn't metered at present, read and heed it anyway. After all, everyone needs to do their part to help save natural resources, and we'll all benefit in the long run.
- Install a low flow aerator on your kitchen faucet. This can reduce water flow by up to 50 percent.
- Take showers instead of baths. Install a low flow showerhead, and turn off the water when lathering. Don't linger in the shower. If you take a bath, reduce your usual water level.
- Don't water your grass every day. Only about an inch of water is required each week. (Put an empty tuna can on your lawn while watering, and stop when the water level reaches the top. Time how long this takes for future reference; then you can set a timer.) Water in the early morning or at dusk to avoid evaporation by the sun. Don't cut your lawn too short (no less than 2 1/3 inches high). When it's longer, the roots are shaded and they hold water better.
- Don't use a sprinkler to water the garden. Instead, use a watering can or, if your garden is large, a soaker hose. Consider getting a rain barrel to collect water.
- For cooling off the kids in hot weather, use a small pool rather than a sprinkler. Keep it covered when not in use. Check for leaks and repair holes promptly. When you're ready to empty the pool, fill a watering can and water your garden before you pull the plug.
- Wash your car using a partially filled bucket of soapy water. Rinse using a hose with a spray nozzle.
Home Heating and Cooling
- Close drapes, curtains and blinds on hot, sunny days. Do the opposite on cold, sunny days to help warm your home.
- Install ceiling fans to circulate air in the rooms you use most.
- Set your furnace thermostat at 68 degrees or lower, and your air-conditioner thermostat at 78 degrees or higher.
- Keep room vents free of obstructions to maximize air flow.
- Regularly check air filters and replace them as needed. Better yet, get the reusable kind that you can wash in the laundry tub.
- Keep the area around your furnace free of clutter, and in the case of an air conditioning unit, free of plant overgrowth and debris.
- Have your system regularly inspected by professionals to ensure it's running at peak efficiency.
- Remind family members to turn off lights when not in use. Post small signs beside switches if they regularly forget.
- Use the lowest wattage required for typical tasks performed in any given area of the house.
- Gradually replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which save money in the long run (they not only use less energy but last ten times longer than a standard bulb).
- If you have a child who's afraid of the dark, get a night light (preferably the new, electroluminescent kind that are cool to the touch and don't require bulbs) rather than leave a bedroom lamp or hallway light on.
- Dishwasher: Wait until you have a full load to run it. (If you have only a few dishes to clean, do them by hand in the sink.) Choose the shortest cycle that will get the job done. Use the "air dry/heat off" feature to significantly cut operating costs. If your dishwasher breaks down, try going without it for a few weeks and see if you can adjust to hand washing instead. Set up a schedule for family members so everyone helps out. (My sister-in-law, who has a family of four, did this a few years ago and decided not to replace her ailing dishwasher.)
- Washing machine: Run it only when you have a full load. Wash with cold water as much as possible and always use it for rinsing. Use the shortest cycle that will get everything clean.
- Dryer: Do consecutive loads whenever possible. Clean the lint screen after every load. Set up a clothesline in your yard for drying clothes in good weather.
- Save envelopes that come in the mail and use the backs for making grocery lists and to-do lists.
- Save one-sided flyers and other paper you no longer need for scrap. You can also use letter-size sheets in your computer printer.
- Wrap gifts in the comics or other newspaper sections. Save large sheets of wrapping paper and reuse them. If you do buy wrapping supplies, choose gift bags that can be reused by recipients. Save and reuse the tissue paper that sometimes comes with new clothing. Good tissue paper substitutes for gift bags include the packing paper that comes in parcels and solid colored, plastic shopping bags.
Before purchasing anything, ask yourself "Do I really need it?" If after careful consideration you decide that you need it, see if you can borrow it from someone you know, rent it, buy it second-hand, or share the cost of a brand-new one with someone you know.
Remember that reducing consumption is the most effective way of saving money as well as being environmentally friendly. If something in our home breaks down, find out if it can be repaired before you consider replacing it. (Exception: If it's an old appliance that's not very energy-efficient, it's better to replace it.) If you own a lot of stuff that you don't need or use, hold a yard sale to sell it off, or donate it to a charity that provides a tax receipt.
Lisa M. Petsche is a mother of three, veteran dollar stretcher and freelance writer.