In the 21st century we are regularly reminded of the effects our day-to-day lives have on our planet, and how we need to rethink the choices we’re making. The most notable is to ‘reduce our carbon footprint’, but what exactly is that?
Put simply, your carbon footprint is the amount of impact your lifestyle has on the environment, measured in units of carbon dioxide (CO2).
But why is it a problem? We all know that carbon emissions – commonly referred to as greenhouse gases – are raising our planet’s temperature.
Our day-to-day actions are both directly and indirectly linked to creating these greenhouse gases, therefore linking us to the increased rate of global warming.
It’s fast becoming an issue that we can’t ignore for many reasons. Here in the USA – even though we only make 4% of the world’s population – we contribute a massive 25% to the world’s greenhouse gases. To name a few of the impacts, the creation of carbon emissions contributes to: Change in weather and seasonal patterns, deforestation, loss of habitat and depletion of resources. All of these have a large impact on the way we live our lives, so being more mindful in the choices we make comes back full circle.
If you need a reminder as to how amazing the Earth is, and why we should look after it, I suggest watching Planet Earth II.
So we need to reduce our carbon footprint, but how? One of the biggest ways is to cut our energy consumption in the home, as this is a big contributor to our footprint. This is where my guide comes into play! I’ve broken down the key areas in your home that, with a few simple changes, will easily help reduce your footprint. What’s more, reducing your energy consumption will reduce your bills, so as well as looking after the environment, you’re also looking after your wallet!
Whether you love cooking, or hate it, you probably spend a lot of time in your kitchen. There’s a lot going on in this room, and a lot of easy ways to reduce its carbon footprint.
It’s something we do every day, and although these tips are incredibly simple, it’s surprising how easy it is to overlook them.
- When preparing vegetables, potatoes, pasta or other foods you’d cook in a pan, only use just enough water to cover. Using any more is wasted water and energy to heat the surplus.
- Choose the right size burner for your pan. Too big and you’ll waste heat and energy, too small and it will take longer to cook your food.
- As much as possible, put the lids on your pans! This keeps the heat in and helps shorten cooking times.
- Use a slow cooker. As well as producing tasty meals and being incredibly easy to use, slow cookers use a whole lot less energy than your oven. Put your main ingredients in your slow cooker before work, when you get home you can add any extras. By dinnertime you will have made a delicious meal with minimal effort and much less energy consumption.
Food and Food Waste
Each year, US households trash $640 in food. How many weekly food shops is that for you? What’s more, food waste makes up more than 20% of what’s in landfills and is a massive source of methane gas. This is a potent greenhouse gas that makes your carbon footprint that much bigger.
- Find out ways to prolong the life of the foods that you eat. For bananas, cover the stem in plastic wrap – this will prevent the banana from releasing its natural ripening gases and prolong its shelf life. To stop leafy greens from wilting, remove any condensation from its container and add 1 or 2 paper towels. This will absorb any further moisture and keep them fresher for longer.
- There are many gadgets that can help prolong the life of your food. My favourite is ‘food huggers’, these are great for keeping that spare half a lemon or avocado fresher for longer. I love this video on more tips to keep your food fresh for longer.
- Consider at home composting. This is a great way to recycle your food waste and give your backyard extra nutrients! Not so keen on the idea? Find out if your state provides food waste collections, or if there is a food waste drop-off program local to you. Either option will drastically cut the amount of your food that ends up in landfill.
Our kitchen appliances use a lot of energy, and if we’re not being economic in the way we use them, we run the risk of a bigger carbon footprint. These tips will help reduce the energy consumption of your appliances and reduce that footprint!
- Only run the dishwasher when it’s full. If you’re not doing this, you are probably wasting a lot of energy. Remember: a by-product of energy creation is greenhouse gas! I suggest filling the dishwasher up during the day, then running a cycle over night ready for the morning. An overnight cycle also allows drip-dry time instead of using an energy draining heated dry cycle.
- Hand wash dishes with the plug in the sink. If you need a few items before running your dishwasher, or you don’t have one, this tip is a must! Washing dishes under running water is a massive waste, especially if you’re using hot water.
- Adjust the thermostat in your refrigerator. The ideal temperature is between 37 to 40 degrees F, and for your freezer between 0 and 5 degrees F. Any lower, and you could increase its energy consumption by up to 25%!
- Use an ice tray. Automatic icemakers are massive energy drains, increasing consumption by up to 20%! Using an ice tray is simple, easy, and a lot more economic.
- Purchase Energy Star rated appliances. This one is for the long term, and something to consider when replacing an appliance. Those with the Energy Star logo use up to 25% less power than non-rated models, meaning they can make a big impact in cutting your energy consumption and carbon footprint.
The Living Room
The Living room is another area that we inevitably spend a lot of our time. This means a lot of energy is also used here, and probably in ways we don’t realise! With a few easy changes you can cut that energy use and carbon footprint.
- Don’t leave devices on standby. If you don’t turn them off properly, you could be costing your home $200 per year in energy bills! That’s a lot of wasted energy.
- Use power strips. Safely group appliances into a power strip to easily turn off multiples at a time. This is an easy way to combat those standby energy drains in one easy hit.
- Choose the right TV. Plasma TVs are well known for their energy use, so instead opt for LCD screens – these tend to be more economic. Make sure you set your TV to power-saver mode, as normally they default to demo mode, which is much brighter. This helps cut back on energy consumed.
- Don’t forget Energy Star rated products. As with the kitchen, a TV, DVD player, Stereo or other such product with this logo will all contribute to a lower carbon footprint.
Your bedroom might not use as much energy as your kitchen or living room, but there are still a few things to keep in mind. Simple changes will contribute to the bigger picture and cut that carbon footprint!
- Charge your phone before bed. Mobiles only take a few hours to charge, but continue to draw power even when they’re at 100%. Overnight, this is incredibly wasteful and can shorten your phone’s battery life. So make sure to unplug before you sleep.
- Turn off all devices at night. For the same reason as mobiles, and just like the living room, any device with a standby setting will continually drain energy. The TV, DVD player and stereo can all be switched off.
The standby light emitted can also effect your sleep, so even more reason to turn them off!
More than 75% of U.S homes use air conditioning and heating systems, of which they make up around 48% of your home’s energy consumption. That’s a lot of energy for one appliance! Here are some ways to make your HVAC system more energy efficient, while keeping you comfortable all year round.
- Regularly clean and replace your filters. This is the quickest way to make a difference to your energy usage, as it can cut consumption by up to 15%. Every month, hoover your filters with a brush-ended nozzle to eliminate dust and debris. For older filters, it’s probably best to get them replaced.
- Use a digital programmable thermostat. With these, you can adjust the times your heating or air-con turn on and off according to a schedule. This means your systems won’t be wasting energy on an empty house, or using as much energy when you sleep.
- Where possible, insulate your attic, walls, and seal any windows and cracks. This helps maintain your home’s temperature throughout the year, and prevents any air leaking in or out.
- Draw your curtains and blinds. In the summer, they help keep cold air in and stop the sunlight heating up the room. In the winter, they keep warm air in and can help block drafts. Using slatted blinds means you can adjust how much light is let into the room.
- Keep doors closed. The larger the room, the harder your heating or air-con system has to work. Leaving doors open effectively increases the room’s size, so keep them closed to give your system a break. This also includes closet doors!
- Switch to a high-efficiency system. As well as using our other tips, doing this can reduce your home’s energy consumption between 20 to 50%. As always, Energy Star rated systems are the most efficient way to go.
- When you leave a room, turn off your fans. They cool people, not rooms, so leaving them on is only wasting energy.
- Use a ceiling fan. These can let you raise your thermostat setting up to 4 degrees without affecting your comfort. It also means your AC system doesn’t need to work as hard, meaning less energy used.
- Try to avoid appliances that heat your home. For example, on hot days, consider cooking outside on a grill instead of using the oven. The latter will raise the internal temperature and make your AC work harder.
- Use extractor fans. When taking a shower/bath, or cooking, use an extractor fan to help remove the heat and humidity from your home.
- During colder months, allow sunlight into your home to help warm it up, then close curtains and blinds once it gets dark to keep the heat in.
- Weather strip around your windows and doors to prevent warm air from escaping.
- Set your ceiling fan to spin clockwise. This will blow the rising hot air back down.
From ceiling lights, to lamps, lighting is another big aspect of your home. It’s also another common way to waste energy! You can change this really easily with these tips.
- Turn off lights when you leave the room. This is the easiest method, but many people ignore it! There is no point lighting a room that you’re not in, it’s just a waste of energy.
- Switch to LED or long life bulbs. Both have a much longer life than standard bulbs, and are much more energy efficient. They will also help cut your electric bills!
- Turn off all lights when you go to bed. If sleeping in pitch black is not ideal, switch to dimmable switches or use energy efficient night-lights.
- Cut back at Christmas. If you’re someone who loves to decorate the whole house – inside and out – in Christmas lights, it may be time to cut back. Seriously consider the amount of lights you use, and whether they’re really all necessary.
Finally, here are a few general tips you can use around the house, or in rooms not mentioned, to reduce your home’s carbon footprint.
- Bring plants into your home. Having a few potted plants around the house is really beneficial; the process of photosynthesis uses sunlight and CO2 to create sugar (food for the plant) and oxygen. This cleans up the air in our homes, is good for the environment, and helps reduce stress! Don’t forget to also add plants to your backyard too.
- Wash your clothes on a cold water cycle. For every laundry load, 90% of the energy used by the washer is for heating the water. Your average family does 300 loads a year, so that’s a lot of energy on heating water!
- Cut the drying cycle and air dry instead. Where possible, hang your clothes to dry on lines or clotheshorses. If you’re clever with how you hang your clothes, you can even avoid ironing them!
Now Over To You!
Those are all of my simple tips on how to reduce your home’s carbon footprint, room by room. It’s now your turn to put these easy methods into action – some you can do right now!
What were your favourites? Do you have any tips of your own? I would love to hear them! Putting them into action will help reduce CO2 emissions, and cut your energy bills. Remember, we Americans make up 25% of the Earth’s greenhouse gases, so the more of us that make changes, the bigger the overall impact.
The planet – and your wallet – will thank you for it!