OC Green Clean Blog

Living a Green Lifestyle – Part 2: Our Carbon Footprint

Posted on August 28th, 2014 and filed under Green Living

carbon-footprint-green

Our carbon footprint is not literally a footprint made of carbon.

Our carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide that we produce by consuming other natural resources such as water, electricity, natural gas, and gasoline.  Each time we burn a resource such as coal, natural gas, or petroleum,  we are producing carbon dioxide.  For example, when you drive your car, your car burns gasoline, which is derived from petroleum.  The byproducts of burning gasoline include carbon dioxide and other gases, which are emitted into the air in the car’s exhaust.  Even using water has a carbon footprint.  When you turn on your faucet at home, there are hydroelectric plants and dams that are working hundreds of miles upstream to bring the water to your home.  Those plants and dams require electricity to run, and electricity requires the burning of resources such as coal.

Water

As of Summer 2014, California is in its worst drought in history. Gov. Brown has called for everyone in California to reduce their water usage by 20%, and has recruited celebrities such as Conan O’Brien and Lady Gaga to help in the awareness effort.

Some easy ways to save water are:

  • Only run the dishwasher and washing machine when they are full
  • Soak pots and pans in water and let them sit overnight, rather than using a lot of water to scrape off burned food
  • If your appliances or fixtures are old, consider upgrading to new, more efficient models. For example, new toilets are designed to consume only 1.28 gallons of water per flush versus old toilets which can use up to 7 gallons per flush! New washing machines are also much more efficient than older ones.
  • As Conan O’Brien says, fix any toilet leaks or dripping faucets. Don’t know how to check for a toilet leak? Click here!
  • Water your lawn early in the morning, just as the sun comes up. That way, the water will not evaporate too soon, nor will it sit and grow mildew.
  • Try to shorten your showers by just a minute. The savings will add up over time.
  • Learn more about water conservation at Conserveh2o.org.

Electricity

save-electricity-light-bulb2_small

Electricity is one of the great modern wonders.  Electricity powers all of the lights and appliances in our home — our computers, refrigerators, cell phones, air conditioners, and for some of us, heats up our stoves, ovens, and hot water. In recent years, many companies have been offering to install solar panels for little or no money down that will guarantee energy savings.  Everyone should be trying to do their part to reduce electricity consumption.

Here are some interesting facts about electricity from the US Energy Information Administration :

Estimated US Residential Electricity Consumption

As you can see from the chart, most of our energy is used for air conditioning, lighting, water heating, and refrigeration.  If we can better utilize these four components, we can significantly reduce our electricity usage.

Air conditioning

  • Installing a programmable thermostat will help you in the times that you forget to shut off the air conditioning when you leave the house for a long weekend.
  • Adjusting the cooling temperature warmer by just one degree will result in significant savings.
  • Using fans instead of air conditioning, or installing a whole house fan to draw in cool air from the outside will drastically reduce your need to run air conditioning.
  • A properly insulated house will reduce the load on your A/C system.  Have a professional check out your attic to see if your insulation meet’s today’s standards.
  • If your air conditioning system is old, consider replacing it with a new, more energy efficient model.

Lighting

Part of limiting our carbon footprint involves reducing our consumption of electricity.  Turning the lights off when you’re not using them is a simple but useful way to cut your energy costs.  Converting your light bulbs from incandescent to LED light bulbs will cost more up front but will save you money in the long run.  LED light bulbs consume much less energy.  In fact, new houses being built now all require the use of efficient lighting such as LED or fluorescent lights.  Here is a chart comparing the different types of light bulbs.

light bulbs

But to go a step further, why not try to reduce the amount of lights you need?  Consider opening the curtains or blinds to let more light in, or install a skylight (or a tubular skylight, if space is limited) to increase the amount of natural light coming into your home.

Water Heating

water heaterEveryone loves a long hot shower or bath.  We all need hot water, so how can we save electricity?  Here are some tips from the US Department of Energy:

  • Keep your water heater set at 120 degrees Fahrenheit to get comfortable hot water for most uses.
  • Insulate the first 6 feet of the hot and cold water pipes
  • Consider upgrading to an energy efficient water heater or a tankless water heater.  A standard water heater should last 10-15 years, but it’s best to start shopping for a new one if yours is over 7 years old.
  • Insulate the hot water storage tank to keep the water inside hot for a longer time.
  • New technologies are evolving that will allow you to use solar energy to efficiently heat up the water heater in your home.

 

Refrigeration

Your refrigerator runs almost 24 hours a day to keep your food cold and fresh.  If you have an old refrigerator, here are some tips that might help cut down your electric bill:refrigerator

  • Move your refrigerator to a cooler location, if possible.
  • Keep the temperature adjusted correctly.  The refrigerator should be between 36 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit, and the freezer should be between 0 and 5 degrees.
  • Check to make sure the door seals on the fridge are good.  Put a bright flashlight inside the refrigerator and close the door in a dark room.  Make sure the light inside the fridge does not escape through the cracks.

If you are in the market for a new refrigerator, here are several considerations to take into account:

  • Smaller refrigerators (under 25 cubic feet) run more efficiently than large ones.  If you don’t need a huge refrigerator, don’t buy one.
  • Buy a refrigerator that is Energy Star compliant – they use at least 30% less energy than required by federal law.
  • Consider a refrigerator with a freezer on top, versus a side-to-side model.  The government’s standards for energy efficiency are stricter on the top-freezer models.

Natural Gas

natural gas usageWhy is natural gas important to us? For regular folks like us, when we think of natural gas, we just think about our stoves, water heaters, and furnaces.  If your stove has fire, then it is a gas stove.  If it has heated coils or a heated surface, then it’s an electric stove.

According to the American Gas Association, natural gas supplies nearly 1/4 of all the energy used in the United States.  Meaning, that it is used to generate electricity that powers our homes.  Energy usage is one the rise because it is cleaner and more efficient than other fuels such as coal.  We receive most of our gas (88%) from within the United States, and receive 10.5% from Canada.

As with all other appliances in the home, make sure to shut them off when you are not using them, and upgrade larger appliances like furnaces to more efficient models as they age.  Since many of us use gas to heat our homes, having a properly insulated house can drastically reduce our heating bills.

Summary

There are so many things we can do to reduce our consumption of natural resources, and therefore reduce our carbon footprint and live a green lifestyle.  But don’t think that you have to do all of these things in order to make a difference.  Just start with one – the easiest one for you – and you can feel good about making a small difference.  After a while, you can make another change!

 

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