The Mom's Guide to Growing your Family Green
Saving the Earth Begins at Home
By Terra Wellington
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2009 Terra Wellington and The Stonesong Press, LLC
All rights reserved.
earth-friendly energy: taking control of your indoor climate
The majority of your family's life happens in your home. It's where you enjoy holidays, visit with extended family and friends, relax, entertain, eat, and sleep. Because you spend so much time in your home, climate control is an important issue. Moms everywhere should use a green touch when it comes to heating and cooling their homes — heating and cooling account for a large portion of the energy your home uses, and thus a large portion of the money you spend on utilities and of the carbon footprint you leave behind. Take the time to evaluate and improve the methods you use to heat and cool your indoor living areas and you will discover new ways to grow your family green.
a changing world
According to the latest scientific research, if we continue on our destructive path of polluting our environment beyond its capability to renew itself, we can expect climate changes such as periods of extreme drought and precipitation. These climate changes can cause severe economic problems and health risks, changes in the distribution and health of ecosystems, extreme storms that put populations in danger, and more air and water pollution. I, for one, don't want to leave that legacy to my children. Do you?
Why do these climate changes happen? In a nutshell, when humans burn coal, oil, and gas (often by way of power plants and transportation, including our cars), create methane gas (through fossil fuel production and raising of livestock), and cut down lots of trees, greenhouse gases are produced. These gases cause global warming when they trap the sun's heat in our atmosphere, which gradually warms our planet's temperature. Because we have produced such a high quantity of these gases over the years, we have caused the earth's overall temperature to rise. This rise in temperature creates climate change. The best known way to reverse this negative impact is to reduce these greenhouse gases (also called emissions) and plant more trees — both of which we can do.
take stock of your energy
what you need to know
When I pay my bills every month, it's an eye-opening experience to realize just how much power my family uses — and how pricey that energy can be! According to Energy Star, a typical family (mine included) spends approximately $1,900 a year on energy bills, with nearly half of that going to heating and cooling. And if you're like me, you want to reduce this amount. A first step is to find where you might be wasting energy inside your home. Energy Star suggests that better sealing and insulation can save you 10 percent on that bill (that's almost $200 per year). Additionally, you can save another 20 percent by having regular maintenance performed on your cooling system. And programmable thermostats and other energy-saving devices and appliances can help further.
The amount of energy you use is not only directly related to your checkbook, but also to how much you contribute to polluting your environment. We're talking about the air you, I, and our children breathe. In fact, according to the EPA, pollution from homes makes up 17 percent of the greenhouse gases released in this country.
>> The United States is a hungry country when it comes to energy. According to the Population Reference Bureau, we are only 5 percent of the world's population but use over a quarter of nearly every resource produced by the entire planet.
By reducing your energy usage and paying attention to how you use energy, you can lower your bills and create a healthier environment.
Perform a Do-It-Yourself Energy Audit on Your Home [??]
Use my checklist to perform a simple, do-it-yourself energy audit. It will take less than an hour.
ENERGY STAR >> (www.energystar.gov) This is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to help you save money and protect the environment. The Energy Star label is given to products and services that have met strict energy-saving guidelines.
Pay a Professional to Perform an Energy Audit [??] $–$$
If the do-it-yourself approach isn't for you or you don't have the time to spare, then I recommend you hire a professional. Professional audits are often more comprehensive and usually come with a lot of tips and recommendations from the auditor. Contact your local utility or gas company to see if they offer professional home-energy audits, which they will usually conduct for a fee. If not, ask for a referral or look in the telephone directory under "energy." Additionally, the Energy Star Web site has a directory of certified home energy raters.
A typical comprehensive analysis and report would include some or all of the following:
* A room-by-room examination of your home
* An evaluation of past utility bills
* A blower test to determine the general location of air leaks
* An infrared inspection to further locate air leaks and moisture problems
* A list of existing problems like condensation, drafts and air leaks, or clogged filters
* A review of the energy used by your water heater, air conditioner, laundry, refrigerator/freezer, and lighting, as well as your natural gas consumption
* A carbon monoxide check
* Solutions on how to increase your home's energy efficiency
LIFESTYLE ACTION capture green heat
what you need to know
While you may have energy-efficient appliances, you can also make your home more energy-efficient. Capturing heat from the sun's rays, for instance, will lower the amount of energy you need to buy and will benefit you and your family. After all, the sun is free!
You can harness the power of the sun in very simple ways like letting more sun shine into your home during the winter to heat its interior, or by using a solar-powered calculator. A more costly and complex step would be to install a complete solar system, which collects energy for electricity use, heats water for household use, or heats your pool. Don't write off solar systems! Although they were largely introduced in the 1970s, they have come a long way in being more efficient and cost-effective. There is also financing available. And these days they also look better and can be easily hidden — they can be mounted flush against the roof to look like a skylight and they come in different colors to match the color of your roof. Producing solar power doesn't cause climate change nor does it spew carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air like the use of oil, coal, or natural gas does. It is one of the simplest and least risky ways we can produce power.
Capturing heat and the sun's rays can save you money, and because this means purchasing less energy from public utilities, it helps the environment. You can research federal, state, and local tax credits to see if reimbursement is available for the purchase and installation of a solar energy system. Finally, when you sell your home, you can often recoup the entire cost of the system.
Cook Smarter for Heat Retention and Energy Efficiency [??] Ø
Here's a simple tip: Put the lid on your pot when you're cooking on the stove (as long as it does not compromise your dish). Your pot's contents will heat up more quickly because more heat will be captured inside the pan. Otherwise, you're not only heating up your pan and its contents, but also the surrounding air. Additionally, if you are boiling ingredients or water in your pot, reduce the heat to medium or low once you discern a boil, as a roiling boil and a soft boil occur at the exact same temperature. Finally, match pans to burner size; otherwise you will lose heat to the air around the pan.
Wrap Your Water Heater in a Blanket [??] $
This is an easy insulation technique that helps capture heat you've already paid for and produced so that you will spend (and waste) less. You can purchase and install a water heater blanket for under $25 and start conserving energy today. You don't need a professional to do it. (I'm all for that — more ways to save money!) Wrap the blanket around your water heater and make sure the labels, thermostat access panel, and operational specifications are visible — if not, cut out a "window" so you can see them. The blanket should also have cutouts for the heating coil elements and the combustion air duct. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save between 4 and 9 percent in water heating costs by following through on this simple tip.
>> The average household water-heating bill makes up about 25 percent of a home's energy costs according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Plant Deciduous Trees [??] + $–$$
Don't hug a tree, plant one! I have a little deciduous tree (a type of tree that keeps its leaves in the summer but loses them in the winter) in the front of my house. It's brand-new and little more than broomsticksized, but I was so excited to see the leaves come out in the spring after its planting. In a few more years, that tree will bring us terrific shade in the summer and will allow the sun to shine through during the colder months. Trees also beautify your property and improve your mental health by giving you something lovely and green to look at. Additionally, they improve air quality by absorbing and sequestering carbon dioxide in the air and then turning it back into oxygen. Your property's value may also appreciate by planting trees.
Heat Your Home with Natural Light [??] Ø
This is simple. Just open your blinds and curtains during the wintertime to bring the sun's rays indoors. The heat from those rays will warm up your home during daylight hours. The added benefit is your reduced need to turn on lightbulbs — again saving you electricity. Plus, the sun's rays prompt our bodies to produce more serotonin, thus boosting our energy.
>> If you want extra insulation for your windows, add some thermal curtains to your window treatments. Leave them open during the day to let in the natural heat and light, but close them at night to use the special fabric as additional insulation against the colder nighttime temperatures.
Upgrade Your Windows [??] $$–$$$$
When you upgrade your windows to more energy-efficient options, you will trap the heat inside your home more readily (you'll cool your home better, too). One of the cheapest and easiest ways to upgrade your window's insulation is by applying an insulating film directly to the glass — I've done it and found it to be a very cost-effective option. Many of these window-film products come with UV protection, and will shield both your skin and your furniture. You can also upgrade your window treatments to a more insulating type that still gives you light during the day, and/or you can completely replace your windows.
When looking for complete window replacements, one of the most important things to look for are products that carry the Energy Star rating; this will ensure that the product has passed high enough standards to be worth your upgrade money. Energy Star-rated windows will likely be either dual or triple paned for added insulation, have acceptable window ratings for your climate, be built in certain types of frames, and have a Low-E coating to give you more heat or to cool down, depending on your climate. Additionally, Energy Star's Web site lets you search by zip code for manufacturers in your area and tells you the best window options for your climate. I tested this search feature, and since I live in Southern California, I learned that I am in Energy Star's South/Central Climate Zone. This means that certain kinds of coatings and frames will be more energy efficient for my area; in my case, Low-E glass with either wood, vinyl, fiberglass, or composite frames. To recoup some of the initial costs, look for federal or state tax credits offered for installing energy-efficient windows. Your local utility company may also have a credit program that may offer you incentives and rebates.
>> The U.S. Department of Energy says you can save as much as 50 percent on your heating bills by installing energy-efficient windows in your home. Having adequate insulation in your attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors, and crawl spaces can knock 30 percent of your home energy bill.
the lowdown on low-e
Low-E (or low-emissivity) glass has been coated with a virtually invisible, superthin metallic glaze for purposes of energy-efficiency. This coating is either already encased in the window's glass panes by the manufacturer, or included in window film that either you or a professional add to the window. Low-E glass also cuts down on UV light, which can fade carpets, fabric, and furniture — and reducing UV light also helps to protect your skin and eyes. Brand-new Low-E windows cost 10 to 15 percent more than regular new windows, but according to the Department of Energy, they will reduce your energy costs by as much as 30 to 50 percent — a real money saver!
There are also other quality window films available that are not labeled Low-E but offer tremendous energy-efficiency, protect from harmful UV rays, and come with energy rebates. They typically last ten to fifteen years (or longer) without peeling and can recoup their costs within a year, allowing you to save for the day when you can purchase new windows. Some of these films are remarkably clear, with virtually no reflectivity, and allow a fabulous clear view of the outdoors. You want to avoid reflective film; in my opinion, it's not attractive. Plus, it can be deceptive and harmful to birds, which could fly into your windows because they see the sky's reflection.
3M >> (www.3m.com) Clear-window, energy-saving window film — dealer-installed only
GILA FILMS >> (www.gilafilms.com) Do-it-yourself Low-E window film that offers excellent, immediate heat reduction
SOLAR GARD >> (www.solargard.com) Window films with Low-E and heat control — dealer-installed only
Fill In Cracks [??] $–$$
Sealing up air leaks is relatively easy to do. You can use caulk, weather-stripping, spray foam, or duct sealant for ducts (also called duct mastic). If your sealant will remain visible, make sure it is aesthetically pleasing or can be painted over. Most air drafts are easy to find around windows because you can feel the cool or warm air seeping into your home, but there are other places to look for air leaks and drafts, including:
Outdoor electrical outlets
Recessed lighting fixtures
Bathroom fan vents
Plumbing stack vents
Kitchen fan vents
Exposed ducts in attics, basements, crawl spaces, and garages
how to caulk your windows
If you have drafts coming in through the sides of your windows, you should look for cracks in the seals between the outside wall and the window frame. You can purchase caulk from your local hardware store for under $10 and fill in these cracks for more energy-efficiency and insulation. Some caulk requires a caulking gun, which acts as leverage to push the caulk through the tip. Caulk has the consistency of glue, so you can smooth it out with your finger and easily clean up mistakes, but once it dries it can be difficult to remove. Make sure you've applied it only where you want to fill in the cracks, and consider paintable caulk if you want to perform some paint touch-ups after your crack is repaired. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Mom's Guide to Growing your Family Green by Terra Wellington. Copyright © 2009 Terra Wellington and The Stonesong Press, LLC. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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