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How to Lower Your Carbon Footprint

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Living a more eco-friendly life doesn't have to be expensive or radical. Small changes can have a big impact.

You might be stuck at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help make the Earth a better place. There are many ways you can lower your carbon footprint, saving money, energy and valuable resources. You might even feel pretty good about making some new habits, too!

Your “carbon footprint” is the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted as a part of your actions. This doesn’t mean you literally burn, but instead it means that your choices determine how much carbon is emitted on your behalf. For example, choosing to walk to an apple tree in your yard and pick an apple and eat it produces far less carbon emissions than driving to the store, picking out an apple that was flown 3,000 miles away after it was picked and loaded onto a diesel-burning truck after it was picked by someone who drove another truck to the orchard.

If you’re not sure what your annual carbon footprint looks like, it’s easy to get started with this simple carbon footprint calculator.

 

Bright Ideas

The days might be getting brighter and longer, but you should be aware of conserving energy all year round.

  • Turn the lights off when you’re not using a room. This goes for attics, basements and outbuildings, too!
  • Instead of a fixed light outside your home, use motion-sensor lights to come on when needed.
  • Replace traditional incandescent bulbs with energy-saving LEDs (they last longer and use less energy, saving you money in the long run). Unlike CFL bulbs, LEDs are nearly indistinguishable from incandescent bulbs when you use them. Older style incandescent bulbs are wildly inefficient, losing 90% of their energy in the form of heat, not light. Compare types of bulbs.
  • Store energy by installing solar panels to capture sunlight (even on cloudy days). Solar panel kits are becoming easier to install every year, and can turn any outbuilding or home roof into an energy producer, instead of an energy user. Calculate your average yearly and daily electrical usage to figure out how many solar panels you need. Learn more about planning and using residential solar energy.

 

Keep Your Cool

  • Set thermostats for different temperatures depending on your needs morning, noon and night.
  • Use curtains to keep heat inside during the winter, and out during the summer.
  • Don’t switch over to using an A/C until necessary with high temperatures. Open windows early in the morning, or overnight, to save money on electricity and cool your home naturally. Close them early in the day to lock cooler air inside.
  • Speaking of air conditioners, if your heating and cooling system is older, you should look at replacing them with newer, energy-efficient models. It will save you money on bills in the long run, and cool and heat your home more economically, too. Look and compare Energy Star ratings.
  • A whole house fan might be the perfect tool to cool your home without using any A/C at all.

 

Be Mindful of What You Buy (And Eat)

  • It’s not too late to make a decision to buy more local food. Local food doesn’t have to travel by boat, plane or even a long truck ride – cutting down on gasoline and other carbon emissions. Plus, fresh food tastes great, and you’ll know you’re helping out a farmer or rancher who lives and works in your community.
  • Want to get super local? Plant a garden and grow some of your own herbs, vegetables and even fruit. You can grow seeds or from plants you buy locally (again, ones started locally have a lower footprint than those trucked from 100s or 1,000s of miles away). Or buy plants from local growers like neighbors who have a greener thumb and an abundance of plants to share.
  • When buying goods like clothing, toys or even household goods, items made closer to where you live have a lower carbon footprint. This might mean looking for items made in your city, state or country before items manufactured further away.
  • Buying second-hand goods also lowers your carbon footprint. Make a goal to repurpose or “upcycle” items this year. Check out online instructions or even family knowledge on “making do” or even DIYing a project, instead of buying a brand new resource.

 

Wash (Rinse, Repeat) With Care

  • Fix leaks around your home to avoid wasting water (and creating water problems in your foundation or basement).
  • When you use your washing machine, choose the lowest possible temperature setting needed to wash your clothes, opting for cooler washes. Because heating water uses more energy than water straight from the tap, the more you can wash on “cool” or “cold” water cycles, the better for the environment.
  • Instead of always using an electric clothes dryer, try hanging items out on a clothesline or indoor drying rack.
  • Simple tasks like brushing teeth or yes, washing hands, don’t have to mean lots of water going down the drain. Turn water off when you’re not using it.
  • Use washable and reusable dishcloths and hand towels instead of paper products to dry, when possible.
  • Try an energy-efficient showerhead for showers, or a timer in the bathroom to limit water use.
  • When watering lawns, water smartly. If your town limits watering to certain days of the week, follow the rules. Watering fewer days a week is actually a smarter strategy for strong root systems. If you use a hose, not a sprinkler system, you can still use a timer on your sprinkler to avoid wasting water (and soaking your grass to death).
  • Even better, replace grass with native plants that fit your climate and require less water and attention to thrive.

 

Lastly, if you are taking on home improvement projects, try to do them in a way that will save energy and money! Check out Energy.gov’s DIY section for ideas on how to save both.

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