Greening it up for $26 or less

Greening it up for $26 or less

By on 03/16/2006

Creating a more energy-efficient and sustainable living space may seem daunting at first. That’s particularly true if constructing that dream home–complete with a photovoltaic array, geothermal heat, and least-toxic materials–is still a bit of a stretch financially. But before taking out a loan to retrofit your space according to those green ideals, it’s important to realize that sustainable living can start with a few small, inexpensive steps. “There are many things a homeowner can do to save money and natural resources, all for little or no money,” says Cory Lowe, outreach coordinator at Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a Colorado-based nonprofit.

The following advice from RMI and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) addresses cutting carbon dioxide emissions, consuming less water and electricity, and saving — rather than spending — the kind of green that doesn’t grow on trees.

Things you can do for free.

The following tips, from a checklist on the RMI Web site (, include the average amount of carbon dioxide conserved in a year for each measure taken. RMI estimates total savings of $400 a year with these free measures:

  • Adjust your home’s water heater to 120 degrees from the usual 145 degrees.  (163 pounds of carbon dioxide)
  • Increase the air-conditioning thermostat by three degrees in the summer. (470 pounds of carbon dioxide)
  • Lower the heating thermostat in winter by two degrees. (353 pounds of carbon dioxide)
  • Turn off lights when you leave a room. (376 pounds of carbon dioxide)
  • Wash clothes in cold water. (500 pounds of carbon dioxide)
  • Hang your laundry outside to dry instead of using a dryer. (1,386 pounds of carbon dioxide)
  • Turn off home-office equipment when not in use. (137 pounds of carbon dioxide)

    Steps that will pay for themselves in less than a year.

    • Install a water-saving 2 1/2-gallon-a-minute showerhead ($15).
    • Install water-efficient faucet heads for kitchen and bathroom sinks ($2 each).
    • Install a programmable thermostat ($26).
    • In the attic and basement, plug the air leaks a cat could crawl through. Replace and re-putty broken window panes (about $20).
    • Clean or change the air filter on your warm-air heating system during winter and on air-conditioning units in the summer ($2).
    • Install an R-7 or R-11 water heater wrap ($12).
    • Insulate the first three feet of hot and inlet cold water pipes ($6).
    • Install a compact fluorescent lightbulb in the fixture you use the most ($15).

    The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy ( offers energy-saving advice that ranges from the simplistic to the complete overhaul. Little things that go a long way include cleaning the coils under the refrigerator once a year, closing the heating vents in unused rooms, and closing drapes during sunny summer days and after sunset in the winter. The council suggests reviewing utility bills to assess annual household energy consumption or calling a local utility company or state energy office to schedule a home energy audit.  Once a target amount has been set for annual energy savings, more long-term projects can be launched, such as revamping heating and cooling systems or trading in old appliances for more energy-efficient models.

    Whether the goal is to put money aside for green renovation or just to cut costs in the age of rising fuel prices, these checklists can help you conserve. Putting in the effort today means saving more than just cash — it’s a contribution to preserving the environment that will be shared by future generations.

    [Rebecca Bowe is the Mountain Xpress coordinator for the Green Building Directory. Contact her at]