Right now, a lot of us are racking our brains to come up with some good New Year's resolutions. After all, after the ball dropped on 2010, we got a clean slate. And we want to make the best of it. If you're having a hard time thinking of ways you'd like to improve yourself in the coming year, why not think bigger? Instead of focusing just on self-improvement, why not resolve to make the world a better place by making your home a bit more green?
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It might sound like a daunting task, but I'm not talking about going off-grid and installing solar panels or a wind turbine (although that would certainly make a huge, positive impact). Rather, I'm talking about the small changes that add up over time to make a big difference. Here are some ideas for how to green your home in 2011.
Resolution #1: Stop Those Catalogs
Every year, 19 billion catalogs are mailed out in the United States. That's the equivalent of 53 million trees. How many of those catalogs come through your door every week? You can make your home greener with just a few clicks. Visit CatalogChoice.org to stop getting unsolicited mail and endless stacks of unwanted catalogs. Same goes for the paper bills that you receive in the mail. Opt out and pay bills online to help the environment.
Resolution #2: Green Your Yard
Your lawn may look great, but it's not good for the environment. Think of all the water you use keeping it green most of the year. Think of the fuel you use (and the emissions you produce) mowing the grass. If you fertilize, this is another eco no-no, since much of that fertilizer ends up in local watersheds. You can make your lawn "greener" by taking a few simple steps. First, invest in a rain barrel. I own two, and I consider them essential for watering my grass, and my home garden, in the summer.
They also save me quite a bit of money, since I don't have to buy water from the city. Second, use a push mower instead of a gas-powered one. You'll get more exercise, emit no pollution, and you (and your neighbors) won't have to listen to the deafening sound of an engine while you mow. I use a push mower myself, and I'd never go back. It's a quick and easy way to save money landscaping your yard. Finally, ditch the lawn fertilizer. Does your yard really need to look like a golf course? If you answered "yes" to that, then use organic fertilizer instead of chemical-based fertilizer. You can get this naturally by building a compost bin or taking up vermicomposting for your leftover food (i.e. worm composting).
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Resolution #3: Lower Your Refrigerator's Temperature
Your fridge runs 24/7, which means it is constantly sucking energy. Your refrigerator accounts for 10 percent to 15 percent of your home's total energy bill. If you have an old refrigerator, replace it with an Energy Star model if you can. This can save you up to $200 per year in energy costs. Next, make sure the refrigerator's temperature is set to 38 to 42 degrees. This will keep your food safe from spoilage but save energy. You can also make a difference by getting rid of other appliances you think you can't live without, such as the clothes dryer.
Resolution #4: Stop Using Paper Towels
Paper towels are made from trees. That should be an obvious point, right? But it seems that many people forget this simple fact when they tear off sheet after sheet to clean up spills, wipe windows, or dust furniture. You can make a difference in the environment by ditching paper towels and using cloth towels and rags (made out of old socks and T-shirts) instead. If you must buy paper towels, make sure they are made out of recycled paper. If every household in America replaced just one roll of paper towels with a roll of recycled paper towels, we could save over 544,000 trees per year.
Resolution #5: Ditch Your A/C This Summer
According the U.S. Department of Energy (USDE), over two-thirds of American homes have air conditioners. Each year, all this air conditioning consumes 5 percent of the electricity produced in the United States, and pumps over 100 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Want to make a dent in that? If you live in a moderate climate, then make it a goal not to use your air conditioning this summer. Or decide that you won't use it unless the temperature climbs above 90 degrees. This can help you save money on electricity during the hot summer months.
If it's time for a new A/C, invest in an energy-efficient model. These can shave 20 percent to 50 percent off your energy bill every summer. What are your New Year's resolutions for 2011? Do any of them include going green with your home and helping the environment?
Heather Levin is the founder of The Greenest Dollar and is active in spreading awareness about environmental issues and "going green" to save the Earth and to save money. Heather also writes for the Money Crashers personal finance blog.