20 do’s and don’t-worry-abouts to help you live lighter on the planet—and your pocketbook
Easy, low-cost changes to make
1. Install a water-saver faucet adapter () to start flow quickly with the back of your hand and shut off flow when you release. Investment: From $17. Savings: 2.2 gallons per minute.
2. Displace water in your toilet tank with a 2-liter plastic soda bottle, weighted with coins or pebbles. Toilets use more water than washing machines or showers. Investment: Free! Savings: 0.5 gallon per flush.
3. Slow flow with the Ladybug shower adapter (). At 95°, the volume slows to prevent warm water waste. Just pull the cord when you’re ready to rinse. Investment: $30. Savings: 2.5+ gallons per minute.
4. Wrap your water heater with insulation to reduce heat loss. Investment: $20 for insulation from your local home improvement store. Savings: Reduce your home energy use by 9%; about $7.20 per month.
5. Install a programmable thermostat (Honeywell 5-2 day thermostat; ) so that your heating/cooling system runs only when you need it. Investment: $36. Savings: Reduce home energy use by up to 33%; about $26.40 per month.
6. Get a removable chimney balloon damper () to keep cold air out when the fireplace isn’t in use. A chimney accounts for at least 14% of home heat loss (just think, it’s like leaving a door open). Investment: $40. Savings: Reduce home energy use by at least 7%, about $5.60 per month.
7. Line-dry your clothes (the dryer is an energy hog). It’s not as easy as when Grandma did it, though: Many homeowners’ associations ban clotheslines. Go to to learn more.
8. Flex your muscles in the garden: Use a broom instead of a blower, a watering can instead of a sprinkler, and a push mower instead of a gas one.
9. Keep a gallon-size bucket showerside and use your warm-up water to nourish your veggie patch.
10. Learn to compost: Kitchen composting is one of the easiest ways to lessen landfill. Try the sinkside compost pail from Williams-Sonoma ($32; ). Get tips at
11. Save money and packaging: Grow herbs at home with Potting Shed Creations’ herb kit ($25; ).
12. Install foam light-switch and outlet sealers ()—they insulate to prevent heating and cooling loss. Investment: 33 cents each ($20 for 60 seals from Ace Hardware). Savings: Reduce home energy use by 2%; about $1.60 per month.
13. Cut down on phantom loads (energy use by electronics that are plugged in but not powered up) with a Belkin Conserve Surge Protector ()—it lets you truly shut off all appliances plugged into it. Investment: $50 each. Savings: Reduce home energy use by 20%; about $16 per month if used throughout the home.
14. If you’re traveling less than a mile, walk or bike instead of driving. This will save you time (think traffic, parking) and the planet from car exhaust.
What to not to worry about
15. If it ain’t broke, don’t replace it. A perfectly good kitchen cabinet shouldn’t be trashed in favor of a new eco-friendlier version. Remember, manufacturing any new material consumes energy.
16. Rest easy knowing your time-saving dishwasher also saves natural resources. Hand-washing can use up to six times the water and twice the energy of an Energy Star dishwasher. Go further: Skip the dry cycle.
17. Don’t worry about buying a hybrid car right now. If your oldie-but-goodie vehicle gets at least 25 miles per gallon on the highway, keep it. More energy and resources are used to produce a new hybrid car than to maintain a conventional one.
18. Skip buying organic for any fruit with a thick peel. Avocados, pineapples, and watermelons are all good bets. Visit for a full shopper’s guide.
19. Don’t plunk down money for solar panels just yet. More-immediate energy savings can come from improving insulation and window and door sealing (see tips 4, 6, and 12).
20. In Green Sense for the Home (Taunton Press; $22), the authors rate the real environmental and monetary payoff of 50 home projects.