Try these tips to start making the home front more environmentally friendly. And because most of these are going to result in energy savings, they may even help keep a bit more green in your wallet.
Get Better Lighting
If there's one must-do, here it is: Convert to compact fluorescent lighting. CFLs use about one-third the energy and last up to ten times longer than incandescents. The light quality and selection of styles keep getting better, prices are coming down, and Northwestern Energy offers rebates to its customers (making some of the lower-cost bulbs free!). You can claim rebates on up to 15 bulbs in 2007, and 15 more in 2008.
Use Less Electricity
Computer and entertainment centers use energy even when they’re just sitting there. Attach power strips to each and turn the whole thing off when you're done.
Use Less Water
Turn down the inlet valves under your sinks to achieve a more moderate flow. Completely fill the dishwasher and washing machine before running them. Scrape dishes instead of rinsing them. Install low-flow showerheads and low-flow or dual-flush toilets.
Use Cooler Water
Wash your clothes in cold water. It works. And if your water's too hot to wash your hands, well, it's too hot, and it’s time to turn down the water heater. You pay to keep all that water hot; consider how hot you really need it.
Control the Heat
Seal up door and window leaks with weather stripping and install insulated curtains. Let the sun shine in to help heat the house in winter, then close those insulated curtains at night. Service your furnace annually and keep your baseboard heaters and heating vents clean. Install programmable thermostats so that your house is toasty warm only when you’re there to enjoy it. At under $50 for most thermostats (including a Northwestern Energy rebate), you can recoup your investment quickly.
Green up Your Décor
When it’s time for a change, think "low VOC" (that's low volatile-organic compounds) for paint and carpeting purchases. That way your family can enjoy fresh air instead of those nasty, nasty chemicals that many products emit.
Make Your Appliances Work for You (or Not)
Give your dryer a break, and let your skivvies dry au naturale like Grandma used to do. But if you’ve got to use it, keep the lint trap and ducts clean, and don’t overdry the loads. Make sure your fridge and freezer seals are tight. If you can easily pull a dollar bill from the closed doors, then you’re leaking cold air and money, so replace the seal. Set your fridge temperature at 37-40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer at 0-5 degrees Fahrenheit. Skip the dry cycle on your dishwasher. Instead, open the door to let dishes air dry. Wrap older water heaters in an insulating blanket. And when replacing any appliances, buy only "Energy Star" models.
Learn ‘Em Young and Make It Fun
Who leaves the fridge open, the lights on, and the water running? Make a game of transforming these little energy suckers into conservation kids.
There are more things you can do to make your house greener, healthier, and less energy consumptive. Start with a few, work them into your life, add a few more, and pretty soon you'll find that you're turning green.
Suzy Hall Hoberecht is the owner of Mountain Home Vacation Rentals and mama to two conservation kids.
Want to know more about low-flow toilets, the best appliances, and better insulation? Check out these resources:
•Northwestern Energy. Offers free home-energy audits. Call 888-467-2669 for details.
•Energystar.gov. A comprehensive guide including Energy Star appliance ratings and tips for renters.
•Energizemontana.com. A great energy-savings guide from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
•Greenguide.com. National Geographic’s tips for a greener life.
Green Retailers Worth a Look
•Consumer Reports. Now has “green ratings” for everything you buy. greenerchoices.org.
•Gaiam. A wide selection of green-living goodies. gaiam.com.
•Ideal Bite. An e-newsletter with green purchasing and lifestyle tips. idealbite.com.
•Planet Natural. Earth-friendly products for indoors and out. planetnatural.com.
•Refuge Sustainable Building Center, 714 E. Mendenhall. A great resource for everything from paint to new construction. refugebuilding.com; 585-9958.
•Solatube. Just too cool to not mention. Their solar tubes bring light to dark places, no lightbulb required! Available locally. solatube.com.
Rebates for Your Efforts
•Northwestern Energy offers rebates for everything from light bulbs and thermostats to new construction. northwesternenergy.com.
•State and federal rebates for energy-conservation programs. dsireusa.org.