let's go inside, shall we?
Here we are with the fourth part in my series covering Columbia Climate School's 37 Easiest Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint, and getting into the nitty gritty of where we spend a whole lot of our time - home!!
• Use fans instead of air conditioning when possible. We have been fortunate enough both at the farm and now back in the city to have a heat pump, which sustainably keeps the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Where we live now, it's a hybrid system, so the front of the house (living areas) has a mini-split on the wall, and the back of the house (bedrooms) is on a ducted system, so you have the best of both worlds! At my first home, I leaned heavily on the Minka Aire ceiling fan (Energy Star + LED, of course) to keep cool, but liked the design so much I bought it for our farmhouse as well as you can see.
this Minka Aire fan was SO nice...and stylin'...
• Switch off lights, and unplug devices when they are not in use.
I think we've all been doing the first one since we were kids, right? Unplugging is something we do when we go on holiday, where the TV for example is on a power strip so we can simply turn it 'off'. We also try to utilize natural light as much as possible, embracing the bay windows in our living room, with honeycomb blinds from Ikea we pull down to keep the hot summer sun out in the day and cold winter air at night, with linen curtains to embrace the light and offer privacy when the blinds are up.
Just a heads up - Your biggest energy hog is NOT lights. It's not your fridge. It's HVAC. So when you get your bill, remember that how you choose to heat and cool is THE #1 impact on how high or low it is...
• Sign up to get your electricity from clean energy. Strangely enough, when we came back to Seattle as homeowners I had to really investigate to find their green options for electricity not to mention weatherization programs. You'd think they'd be shouting this from the rooftops in a city like ours (like they do in Portland) but, nope. I dug up the info on their renewable energy credits and other programs/rebates, but received no marketing materials to let me know all we were eligible for. So just because your utility company doesn't tell you outright what programs they have? Do some homework! Their websites usually have lots of info.
• Change incandescent light bulbs to LEDs. Ours were already CFLs at move-in, so we elected to keep them in until they run out (fortunately the seller was fairly eco-conscious already, so there were no incandescents), but everything we brought with us was LED, and the porch lights we installed were built-in LED - woo hoo!
• Lower your thermostat in winter, and raise it in summer. Fortunately here in the Pacific Northwest, our springs and falls are quite mild. With a heat pump, we actually usually have it OFF during the shoulder seasons, but yeah in summer and winter we have our heat pump programmed. Because it's in two locations, the bedrooms in back are set at a fairly high temp during the day since we're not back there (for summer) and low in winter, and vice versa at night. The biggest thing we learned from an HVAC contractor though? "Set it and forget it" to be most energy efficient. So once you determine how cool or warm you can agree to, leave it there - don't mess around with it. Heat pumps don't blast out the air like conventional furnaces do either, so it's an adjustment when you're looking for a physical breeze...but it's soooo worth it, y'all.
PS - if you have a fireplace, DO NOT use it unless you've got a power outage or a seriously energy efficient insert, as it will suck the heat right out of the rest of your house when you open up the chimney vent to light a fire. We consider ours merely decorative for just that reason - but keep a few logs in the closet in case we lose power...
• Install a low-flow showerhead to reduce hot water use.
Heck yeah - and they have super sexy ones out there like ours I'm showing you below. And no they aren't weak! This one cost about $30 and gives the whole rain vibe while also being WaterSense certified.
• Take shorter showers. This is a big one for us, as my husband likes to shave *in* the shower. But here's the deal - we only shower 1-2X a week at most, so his one 10 minute shower is still more efficient than most folks! We feel that everything else can get a quick wipedown if we get sweaty, so unless there's some serious biking or gardening that requires a quick jump in & out of the shower, we minimize our shower time.
• Turn your water heater down to 120˚F.
Done. Not difficult. Even 118 still works like a charm, y'all. And when you go on vacation, make sure to set it on "vacation" setting for the number of days you'll be out - why heat water for no one? Most newer water heaters have this setting!
Note: If you have the room for it (garage, laundry room, etc.), next time you replace yours, go for a heat pump water heater. We installed one on the farm and it was badass.
• Do an energy audit to identify ways to be more energy efficient.
A lot of folks who are new to energy efficiency measures (and some who aren't) don't realize that there are often programs through your state, county or city to get free energy audits! When I bought my first home down in Portland, I took advantage of this right away in my new home, which gave me a great 'shopping list' of what I wanted to budget for, from insulation to windows and more...not to mention understanding the state and federal rebates available (not tax credits, but actual rebates that everyone can get!). Here in Seattle, I looked up their programs and found their HomeWise Weatherization program would not only give us a free comprehensive energy audit, but also because of our combined income, we qualified for FREE weatherization! Considering our house had 3 of 4 walls completely uninsulated, and needed some serious sealing and ventilation upgrades? This was a score - we got $11K worth of work done over 2 days for zero cost.
Note: Don't assume you won't qualify for these programs! In Seattle, the income maximum for a family of 4 was around $110K last time I checked - so it's not just for minimum wage earners!