Sustainable Energy: Tips to help the environment and save $$$!

Earth Day is an annual reminder of our precious natural resources — and an annual call to adopt smart measures of sustainable energy. And what better place to begin than at home!

"There are smart, affordable things you can do to be sustainable — things that are practical, affordable, give a reasonable return on investment and improve your quality of life," says Dave Borowski, spokesperson for Direct Energy Protection Plans. Here are some easy tips he recommends to make your home greener and more energy-efficient:

  • Control moisture. Most of the products in your home — wood, leather, cotton and wool — are all biodegradable. That means they could be decomposed by bacteria and other living organisms. But you can halt this process by keeping your home's relative humidity between 30-50%. That way, things won't dry out — and they also won't rot from too much dampness.
  • Make your fridge more efficient. It takes a lot of energy to cool air, but if you have a solid cold "mass" in your freezer, your refrigerator doesn't have to work as hard. Simple trick? Keep a gallon jug or two filled with water in the freezer; once they freeze your refrigerator runs less.
  • Plant shade trees outside. They'll shield your home from heat, so you'll save energy on air conditioning.
  • Keep your air conditioning in peak condition. "Systems that are NOT maintained can lose up to 50% of their efficiency, wasting energy and costing you money," warns Borowski. A professional should check things out seasonally. You may need new air filters or duct cleaning. And have your professional do a "blower door test" to see if you have duct air leaks. "That's shown to be a huge source of energy waste," notes Borowski. Duct tape will dry out and fall off; instead, seal ducts with mastic (a rubberized sealant), so both heated and cooled air stays inside your home.
  • Use energy strips. Phone chargers, laptop chargers, DVD players, etc. all draw power even when they're not being used. An energy strip will shut down power when these devices are not in use.
  • Ventilate your attic. It will help keep your duct work cooler so less heat infiltrates your home.
  • Insulate your home. It shields indoor air from the elements, so you'll save on energy bills right away — plus, insulation requires no maintenance, renewals or moving parts. "It's the best money you'll ever spend!" says Borowski.
  • Install a hot water recirculating kit. It's an easy add-on product that gives you hot water as soon as you turn on the faucet (consult a plumber for details). Borowski states, "You're not only saving water, you're saving all the energy it takes to heat up that water."
  • Don't burn too many candles. Surprised? "We get a lot of complaints from homeowners who think they have dirty ductwork. But their ductwork is clean, and the first thing I say is, 'You use candles, don't you?'" says Borowski. Candles emit carbon; microscopic particles of it then get all over your furniture, into your air vents, and clog your grills. But it's not a duct issue: it's an indoor air quality issue. "So if you like candles, choose the non-smoking ones," advises Borowski.