Turning over a green leaf
It's a new year and time to take stock of our lifestyle, bad habits and sagging bodies. It's also a time to take a good look at our finances and ways to save money, and one way to save in a tight economy is by going green.
If you're worried about your carbon footprint, the amount of greenhouse gas you produce, there are a lot of simple ways to reduce that footprint as well as more aggressive ones. Start by analyzing your energy bill by comparing your usage to some on-line calculators, the Berkeley Lab at the University of California has one of these, which gives you a really broad feel for what your home's average should be.
If you think you have a problem, you can hire a pro energy auditor recommended by state, local or electric utility agencies. Energy audits are frequently conducted free of charge by utility companies. You can also find nationally certified raters of home energy at the Residential Energy Service Network (natRESNET.org). However, before taking these steps, the obvious place to start are looking for energy leaks is walls, doors, duct seams, windows and fireplaces. Adding weather stripping and insulation, especially in older homes, will keep your home sealed. Also in the winter, setting the thermostat 10 degrees lower at night can cut the hearting bill by as much as 20 percent, and during the summer raising the temperature five degrees higher at night and 10 degrees higher during the day when no one is home will also save 20 percent.
Kitchens are the most popular room in a home to remodel, and they are also the place where you can achieve a large amount of green bang for your buck. Appliances with Energy Star Labels are the most efficient, since they have minimum levels of efficiency established by the federal government. Kitchen cabinets are available using recycled materials and the use of energy saving compact florescent light bulbs can shave substantial money off your annual electric bill.
The ultimate green energy and the one most talked about, especially in Florida, is converting all or part of your home's energy to solar. Many homeowners who install solar energy systems do so to generate hot water for domestic use and for heating pools, but will it work in your home? According to the U. S. Department of Energy, most residential systems require a minimum of 50 square feet depending on how much energy you plan on generating. It is also possible to install solar panels on the ground or on structures that double as window awnings.
The question always is will converting to solar energy be a true savings? While the cost of solar systems continues to fall and tax incentives continue to rise, all systems still require a relatively large upfront investment. According to the U.S. Department of Energy the cost can range from about $16,000 to $40,000 and can be calculated at the American Solar Energy Society's website. On average if you install a solar water heater, your water heating bills should drop up to 50 percent. This could be higher in Florida where sunshine is in abundance for most of the year.
Finally, in Florida water is not inexpensive and saving a little here and a little there can add up. Run the dishwasher and washing machines when they're full and not pre-rinsing dishes are two ways. Turn off faucets when brushing your teeth, take short showers and fix leaky faucets inside and outside. Use a law sprinkler timer, don't overwater and obey the local water restrictions.
Turning over a new green leaf could go a long way in not only helping to improve the environment, but improving your checkbook balance. Give it a try. Going green isn't as hard as you think, and the rewards could last for centuries.