Tag Archives: saving energy

Insulate Your Water Heater – Green Step By Step

Your water heater can be a big part of your energy bill, 14-25% according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Making it more efficient can be a big help.

There are several ways you can save money on heating water for your home, such as turning down the thermostat on your water heater to no more than 120 degrees F. But insulating it is another great step.

You can buy a water heater blanket for under $20 on Amazon, although they can run more as well. Home Depot and other home improvement stores often carry them as well. You have to be sure not to cover the thermostat when you cover it. They are made of fiberglass in many cases, so you will need gloves to protect your hands as you install it.

The water heater blanket will help to cut down on the heat loss on your water heater. This is particularly nice first thing in the morning if your water isn’t always hot right away.

11 Tips for Saving Energy in the Kitchen

When you’re an at home parent, you probably make a lot of meals in the kitchen. At least, I hope you’re not eating out too much.

It’s easy to be a little inefficient with your energy use in the kitchen, however. Here are some tips to help you be just a little more efficient.

1. Check that refrigerator seal.

Is it clean? If not, wipe it down.

You can test how effective your refrigerator door seal is with a piece of paper. Close the door on the paper and try to slide it out. If it moves easily, your seal isn’t tight.

2. Full loads in the dishwasher.

Handwashing is necessary for many things in the kitchen, but wash what you can in the dishwasher. Most use less water than handwashing does. That’s less water and less energy from the hot water heater.

If you have kids, full loads are probably pretty easy to come by. The fewer people in the house, the harder this one can be.

3. Put a lid on it.

Your pots and pans come with lids for a reason. Putting a lid on as you cook makes foods cook faster and reduces the amount of energy lost. While this won’t work for all recipes, especially if you have to stir a lot, try to remember to use lids when you can.

4. Size matters.

Using the right size pot or pan can be a help in heating food faster. But that’s not the only time to think about size, at least if you have a toaster oven.

A toaster oven can be more efficient than heating up your full size oven for smaller meals. It’s not so great that I would necessarily say run out and get one, but if you have one anyhow, use it. And if you’re really going to use it enough, it may not be a bad purchase at all.

5. Consider the microwave.

I know some people aren’t fans of microwaved foods, but when you have one and it’s appropriate, you aren’t going to beat the microwave for energy efficiency in heating up food or liquids.

6. Pile on the pressure.

Pressure cookers aren’t exactly the same as they were in our grandparents’ time. Modern ones are pretty safe so long as you follow the directions. And they’re pretty fast at cooking up food.

7. Take it slow.

Microwaves are great for heating things up fast, but slow can pay off too. As in a slow cooker or crockpot.

I’ve long been a fan of my crockpot, especially when dealing with a baby. I can start dinner at almost any time of the day. First thing in the morning if I know things are going to get crazy or I just want to get dinner going. Middle of the day if morning didn’t work out or I think of it later. Just a matter of picking the right temperature.

It’s also great for getting meats soft enough to grind up for baby food.

8. Cut the cord.

Or at least stop using so many little electric gadgets for things that can be done by hand. It doesn’t take that much effort for most people to open a can with a regular can opener. Do you really need that food processor to do the slicing for you? What about a mandoline?

9. Keep it clean.

Clean ovens and stove tops can be much more efficient. They’re designed to reflect energy while you cook, and dirt changes where it goes and can cut the efficiency.

10. Shut it down.

Just because you turned off the heat doesn’t mean your food stops cooking. Whether it’s on the stove or in the oven, it takes time for things to cool down enough to stop the cooking process completely… especially if you use lids on the stove and keep that oven shut until you’re ready to take the food out.

11. Don’t cook everything.

Lots of fruits and vegetables are great raw. Why not take advantage and just not cook them?

Do you have any tips to share?

8 Tips to Prepare for a Greener Summer

Summer is getting close. While some places are still getting tons of rain, I’m dealing with temperatures in the 80-90s. Yeah, you can be jealous, but droughts suck and that’s what we have.

It does bring to mind, though, that it’s time to get ready for summer. And so I’m presenting some tips today.

1. Use the air conditioner less.

Yeah, this one goes on all the going green lists, doesn’t it?

Use fans rather than the air conditioner when you can. They use a lot less energy and really can help cool you. They don’t actually cool the house, but they do make it feel better. You can also fill 2 liter bottles with water, freeze them, then place in front of the fan to make a cool breeze.

Figure out how warm you are willing to tolerate your home, and set your air conditioner’s thermostat to that. Your home does not need to be 75 degrees F all summer long. You may not even need to keep it as cool as 80. Figure out your personal limits and try to adapt to warmer temperatures.

Our air conditioner is generally not turned on during the day even if it’s 85 degrees in the house. We may use it to cool the house for sleeping, but it takes a really hot day to get it turned on during the day. It’s not as bad as you may think to adapt to warmer temperatures, even when it’s humid. Humans have been doing that for millennia.

2. Block the heat from getting into the house.

I’m not just going to say “use the air conditioner less” and not tell you how. I’m saying flat out do what you can to keep the heat from coming into your home in the first place.

There are a few strategies you can use.

If you have the inclination, make quilted covers for your windows. These have the advantage of keeping the warm in during winter as well as blocking sunlight. Just remember that the sun’s rays will steadily fade the colors in the fabric and don’t be disappointed when that happens.

Cardboard boxes are an unattractive but good option too, especially if you have some empty ones already around the house. Such a simple thing to repurpose.

Mylar also works well in windows, and has the advantage that it can be put in carefully enough that you can still open the windows without removing it when the day cools sufficiently. If you want to go cheap stores that carry camping supplies may have Mylar emergency blankets for as little as $1 each.

You don’t have to block all your windows if you don’t want to. Definitely get the ones that the sunlight pours directly into in the morning. These generally add the most heat to your home.

3. Prepare your propane grill.

You may love charcoal more than propane (my husband certainly does!) but propane burns much more cleanly when you barbecue. If you really need to use charcoal consider some of the natural charcoal brands out there.

4. Try a solar oven.

I really, really want to do this one this year, as does my husband. We just haven’t agreed on which type to make. I’m all for a simple one, he keeps looking at more difficult ones. He’s afraid the cardboard boxes used in many models won’t hold up to the heat – no matter how many instructions say they’re what to use.

You don’t have to make your own if that’s not your style. You can buy solar ovens online fairly easily.

5. Keep that garden going.

If you have the space, I hope you garden. It’s one of the best and most affordable ways to combine exercise and organic produce.

If you’re in a drought area, try to think of ways to use less water in your garden. You can install drip irrigation, for example. We’re currently using gallon apple juice jugs for watering, as I posted yesterday. It’s rather like using those Aqua Globes you see on television, except we’re reusing things we already had, and they’re really ugly.

If the garden isn’t working out, this is the time of year to really enjoy that local farmer’s market.

And in general, whether or not you’re in a drought area, try to use less water.

6. Plan your travel carefully.

Flying is a great way to travel long distances quickly, but it’s not green by a long shot. Drive or take the train when you can.

Consider taking vacations that really let you enjoy nature too. Camping is a wonderful family activity that can help even the youngest of children really appreciate nature. Just be sure to respect the campgrounds, stay on the paths and if you bring it in, take it out.

7. Line dry your laundry.

Yeah, sure, it doesn’t look that good. It saves a lot of energy, though.

You may have to battle your homeowner’s association if you live in some areas. Check the rules you have to deal with first. Then remember that you can still line dry indoors if you choose.

Clothesline don’t have to be expensive. My husband just put up a rope for me to use. It’s thick enough to support the weight but thin enough for the clothespins to clip on to.

You might even consider joining the Clothesline Challenge.

8. Green your sunscreen.

A lot of sunscreens rely on some chemicals that aren’t good for you or the environment. Check out the sunscreens listed at the Skin Deep database to figure out which brands you would like to try. Soleo appears to be a good brand.

What tips do you have for a greener summer?

The Disadvantage to Line Drying Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapering my daughter is going really well right now. She still has the occasional leak if she naps too long and I only have the infant insert in the diaper, but so long as I pay attention all goes well. She can even make it through the night with the full size insert in her bumGenius 3.0 cloth diapers.

Caring for them is going really well too. I’m pretty used to the clothesline routine for drying them. But there’s one little disadvantage we have to deal with…

There’s a pepper tree next door. It’s dropping those tiny little flowers all over the place.

I keep finding them in the diapers when I bring them in. I’ve not had this problem with other laundry, although I will admit I’m pickier about the condition of diapers when then come in than other clothes. Selene’s smaller, after all, and diapers have a rather important function.

Aside from that, I’m loving the clothesline, at least on warm, sunny days. The sun nicely bleaches out the color that the washing machine doesn’t quite manage.

Cutting Your Computer’s Carbon Footprint

I love my computer. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without it. But computers don’t necessarily have the best of carbon footprints, particularly if they’re left on more than necessary.

Some of this is pretty easy to handle. Shutting down the computer AND remembering to turn off all accessories at night is a good idea. If this is a challenge, try getting a Smart Strip for your computer. This will shut down accessories whenever you shut your computer down.

For times when you may be more off and on the computer, you can adjust your power settings on Windows computers through the control panel. You can tell it when to go on standby or hibernate, depending on your preferences.

I would also note that it’s a good plan to just not turn on speakers, printers and so forth until you’re actually going to use them. For me this is obvious, as I print very rarely and prefer my computer to be quiet, but less obvious to others.

What About Replacements?

The real challenge can come when you aren’t sure whether or not to replace a computer or its parts. Many people get a new computer every couple years or less.

I don’t replace mine lightly. It’s 3 years old and going strong. My husband’s is (I think) a bit older yet. It’s a handmedown from my older sister, so I’m not quite certain of its age. It has enough power for what he needs a computer for, and that’s quite enough for us.

Sometimes all an older machine needs is some more RAM or a better hard drive. I’ve switched RAM out myself on a computer, and it’s not that hard, but it’s been a while and I can’t explain it. If in doubt, just have a professional do it.

Another way to help an ailing system is to do a virus scan, an antispyware scan, and remove all unnecessary programs, especially things you don’t use that run in the background. It’s amazing how much stuff can clutter up a good system and slow it down. I like Avast antivirus and SuperAntiSpyware… both free. But I would also note that my preferences change as the programs get changed, so do some research as you pick how you protect your computer. You should always have antivirus and antispyware protection on your computer.

Monitors can be a separate matter. A flat screen monitor is much more energy efficient than a CRT. It comes down to when is it right to replace it in consideration of the energy used to create each, as well as what happens to the old monitor after.

Disposal is a Challenge

This is one problem with computers that just hasn’t been properly solved yet. There are recycling programs out there, but you have to be careful. Some programs just ship the problem off to some other country, where the toxic materials aren’t properly handled. It’s a mess for the environment and for the people living in that toxic mess.

If the computer is still usable other ways, you may be able to donate it to a program that will refurbish it. Goodwill has a program at many locations, for example, and also offers instructions on how to get your personal data off the hard drive first. Contact your local Goodwill to be sure. Earth911 is another good resource.