As the leaves are turning color and dropping from the trees, keep the green alive — with this year's fall cleaning, that is. Follow our eco-friendly and energy saving tips to have your home ready for when the cold weather comes upon us while shrinking your carbon footprint at the same time.
Let's start by greening up your utility bill, shall we?
When the weather starts to get cooler, we all tend to reach for the thermostat. Instead reach for a sweater, use draft stoppers in doorways and invest in a programmable thermostat -- just don't turn the heat up.
Not only will you save energy you'll save money. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, heating an "average" house (2,280 square feet) adds up to about 34 percent of a homeowners' utility bill. For each degree you turn down the thermostat, the EPA estimates you'll save about 4 percent in monthly utility expenses.
More ways to stay proactive and save money:
- If your furnace is more than 15 years old, consider replacing it with an energy-efficient model.
- Have your heating system checked annually by a professional.
- Replace furnace filters as recommended by the manufacturer (typically every month or two)
Autumn is the perfect time to start a compost pile or bin in your backyard (or inside, with a special composting bin). Even if you don't have a large garden or yard, you can still benefit from composting — it enriches soil and reduces the need for water, fertilizers and pesticides. And if you keep a small garden or containers, those plants will love the extra nutrients, too.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that 24 percent of U.S. municipal solid waste comes from yard and food waste — all of which could be composted. Basically any organic materials can be tossed into your compost pile, including leaves, grass clippings and any other yard waste that piles up as you rake and prepare your yard for winter. Food scraps can be composted as well but not all of it (keep bones, meat and fatty foods out).
The EPA also has a list on their Web site of what not to include in your composting bins — some of them being harmful to the plants you're trying to help. A few on the list include black walnut tree leaves or twigs, coal or charcoal ash, dairy products, pet waste and any yard trimmings that have been treated with chemical pesticides.
Many water heaters default to 140-degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) when they ship from the manufacturer, but temps that high pose not only high energy costs but scalding risks to your family. Most water heaters operate just as efficiently at 120-degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius), and the lower temperature could help increase the lifespan of the heater.
For every 10 degrees you lower the water temperature, can save between 3 and 5 percent in utility costs. Additionally, wrapping an insulating blanket around your water heater will help save energy this winter, possibly as much as 4 to 9 percent in water heating costs. Find them in your local hardware store.
Before the cold winter season locks you inside, take the time to clean your house from top to bottom. Toss out the conventional cleaners and whip up some of your own, non-toxic eco-friendly versions. For example, a mix of baking soda and warm water can be used as an all-purpose cleaner on everything from countertops to grease spills to laundry.
In fact, keep air pollutants to a minimum all winter long by cleaning with homemade products -- baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and water can keep your home clean, germ-free and free of toxic chemicals.
Did You Know?
Boiling vinegar in the microwave is a good way to get rid of that persistent burned-popcorn smell.
As you clean and organize your house, why not take the opportunity to conduct your own home energy audit (or hire a professional service to do it for you)?
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, sealing leaks around the house could potentially save you anywhere from 5 to 30 percent in energy costs. Check in places both big and small, from electrical outlets to window frames, baseboards to gaps around pipes. Don't avoid inspecting the basement and attic, too. Caulk and seal around plumbing and wiring leaks and gaps, and anywhere you feel a draft coming in around windows and doors.