Making your home more environmentally friendly isn't just good for Earth, it could save you money, even as you and your family live in a healthier setting.
In part three on Wednesday of The Early Show's weeklong series "Going Green," environmental lifestyle expert Danny Seo shared some of the simple, effective ideas from his new DVD, "Simple Steps to a Greener Home."
DRAFTY WINDOWS & DOORS: Keep the blustery cold air outdoors by stopping drafts at windows and doors. Place a draft dodger — a long fabric tube — along the edges where cold seeps inside to stop it in its tracks. You can find some at gaiam.com. You can also make your own dodger: Just fill a large sock, such as an athletic sock, with pebbles, tie a knot at the end, and put in place.
Also, before you leave your house for the day, close the drapes over the windows. As the blustery, chilly air blows outside, the drapes will help minimize the amount of cold air that seeps inside. Tip: The heavier the drapes, the better they'll perform.
Be sure to lower the thermostat, too, if no one will be at home all day, and raise it back up when you come home.
FIREPLACES: Make sure the damper on your fireplace is completely closed. Keeping a damper open all winter is like having a small window open. Burrrr! Not sure if it's open or closed? Place a featherweight plastic bag, such as a grocery store bag, in the fireplace; if it flutters, it's probably open. By keeping the damper closed, you'll keep cold air from seeping in, saving you energy and money.
REFRIGERATORS: Keep in mind that refrigerators run 24-7, and account for about 25 percent of a household's energy use. To ensure your fridge is working efficiently, do the "dollar test." Close the fridge's door onto a dollar bill and check to see how much effort it takes for you to pull it out. If it comes out easily, the seal isn't tight enough: It's leaking cold air and needs to be fixed. Another step: Open the fridge door and let go. If it doesn't shut by itself, it needs to be re-stabilized. Shift the whole fridge until it's level and try it again.
Also, if your fridge is over 10 years old, consider replacing it with an Energy Star-graded one. These appliances are identified for being the most energy efficient in their category; you'll save around 9 percent off your electric bill each month with an Energy Star model. Plus, old refrigerators are easily recyclable; harmful gases and chemicals are safely taken out and all the metal parts are removed by magnets and recycled into new metal products.
DISHWASHERS: Believe it or not, using your dishwasher is a greener choice than washing by hand. The Bosch dishwasher is an example of a leaner, greener washing machine that not only uses the least amount of water to get your dishes clean, but has smart technology to dry everything as efficiently as possible. If you can't replace your dishwasher, here's a tip: Run full loads only (to save water) and let everything air dry after the final rinse. Just open the door and let the steam condense right off.
CLEANING: Germs be gone! When you need to disinfect a kitchen or bathroom countertop of germs and bacteria, don't reach for toxic, chlorine bleach. Instead, consider rubbing alcohol. It kills germs and evaporates quickly. Or, use one of many non-toxic biodegradable all-purpose cleaning products, along with micro-fiber towels. They're a hotel housekeeper's secret weapon; million of microscopic fibers grip onto dirt and bacteria. They're also machine-washable and can be used over and over.
MINIMIZING DIRT: Stop wearing shoes inside your house. It's estimated that up to 80 percent of all household dirt is brought inside by shoes and clothes. You can cut down on allergy-causing dirt by doing what many Asian households do: Leave your shoes at the door. When guests come over, offer them a cozy pair of cashmere socks to make the ritual less demanding, and more inviting.
Another important factor: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, shoes worn in homes are a leading source of harmful lead, brought into the house via contaminated soil. You can drastically reduce this by leaving shoes at the door. Place them on a stack of newspaper so they can absorb excess dirt and moisture, as well.
HOME OFFICES: Your computer is a real energy hog, so be sure to remove the screen saver. When the flying toasters are running across the screen, your machine is still working at full power. Instead, put your PC on sleep mode. Just hit a key to "wake up" the computer. PS: Make sure your co-workers aren't leaving their computers on all night long. Make it a corporate policy to have all computers shut down at the end of the work day.
Also, in the average household, home office equipment such as printers, cell phones and Blackberries are using electricity if they're plugged into an outlet, even when they're turned off. This is called a phantom load. Instead of plugging and unplugging your appliances, plug them all into a surge protector and turn it off on the strip. That way, there'll be no more wasted electricity.
JUNK MAIL: Even after signing up to have your name taken off direct marketer lists, those catalogs and CDs for online services still show up. Simply circle the return address and write "RETURN TO SENDER" on the mailer and pop it in the mailbox. It'll get returned to the sender, at their expense, and they'll get the message loud and clear to take your name off the list. For more information, click here.
ELECTRONIC WASTE: Start a collection of electronic waste in your office today. Collect diskettes, CDs, zip disks, printer cartridges, orphaned cords and cables, and broken small computer accessories (e.g. digital cameras, handheld scanners). Box them up and send them to Green Disk. For a small fee, they'll recycle all the electronic waste in the box. Learn more at greendisk.com.
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