Get The Most Sustainability Out Of Your Stuff

by NeilT, 2008-05-19

A lot of attention is paid in the media to which new items are the most green, whether it's cars, appliances or food. Not a lot of time is spent discussing how to get the most out of what we already have. These small improvements add up to a much more sustainable lifestyle.

Below are 22 tips and ideas that can lessen a persons impact on the environment. None of them will save tons of CO2/year by themselves, but together could reach that goal.

#22. Use curtains to help adjust house temperature

This tip depends on the layout of your home, but it is often possible to let the sun (or lack thereof) help adjust the temperature. On a sunny day in the winter ensure the curtains are open to help raise the temperature. Close the curtains on a sunny day in the summer, especially if no one will be home, to give the A/C a break.

Estimating how much energy this would save is difficult, but it would be significant if the furnace or A/C needs to run 10% or 25% less often during the day.

#21. Flush less frequently

A standard new toilet uses 1.6 gallons (6L) per flush, although 3.5 gallons (13L) are still fairly common. Just think of all that water used every time the handle is pulled. One good tip: don't flush the first time after a pee. This tip could save water use from the toilet by a third in most homes.

There are modern toilets focused on efficiency, which are a great idea, but if this tip works for you there's probably less reason to get one.

#20. Give away items rather than throwing out

Before any item is thrown in the trash, a good question to ask is "could someone else get any use out of this?" If so, consider donating it to a local charity thrift store or giving it away to someone you know. Trash in landfills definitely isn't doing any good, so why not see if someone else could use it?

It's also worthwhile to periodically go through all the old stuff we tend to keep around and consider if it would be useful to someone else. Not only does this free up space in your home, it's helping someone.

#19. Take care of your stuff

I know this sounds obvious, but how often do we accidentally ruin something due to negligence and have to go buy a new one? That is the ultimate in unsustainability since it's unnecessary.

A few examples:

  • Leaving items like gardening tools or barbecues exposed to the winter and rain.
  • Forgetting to turn the stove off and ruining a pot.
  • Not doing scheduled vehicle maintenance.

Accidents, or mistakes, like these happen. However, the less we let them happen the more we help ourselves.

#18. Drive efficiently

The best way to reduce fuel use and emissions from your existing vehicle is to make sure you are driving efficiently. Aggressive driving, defined as hard acceleration and braking, can reduce fuel economy by 33%.

Unnecessary acceleration and deceleration are the main culprits here, which are made worse when following too closely behind a car in front of you. When there's more empty distance ahead you can anticipate changes in speed and adjust more efficiently.

#17. Use your air conditioner only when necessary

Let's face it: air conditioners are energy hogs. A lot of people have gotten into the habit of turning on the central A/C on the first warm day and leaving it there until fall arrives. However, there are several ways to use it less.

For example, when the daytime is warm but the night hours are cool, an open window and possibly a well-placed fan can be your free A/C. Fans can be a big help to delay use of the A/C.

#16. Hang-dry some laundry

Clothes dryers (anything with a heating element) use tons of energy. Hang-drying laundry is a great low-cost alternative, and your clothes may last longer too.

Don't have a clothes line, or not a lot of space? Not a problem. Consider hanging some rope creatively in the house or basement, or even hang clothes on things like chairs on laundry day. Even if you can't hang everything, getting some of the larger items, like jeans, out of the dryer will help it finish a lot faster.

See some savings estimates for hang-drying clothes.

#15. Turn down the water heater

Most of us don't ever use the full-temperature hot water in our house. Showers, baths, dishes, etc, all end up being mixed with cold water to get a temperature acceptable to our skin. So, why are we paying to heat the water to a level we never use?

The standard North American tank water heater magnify this energy use since they constantly keep a large amount of water hot, as opposed to on-demand versions used in other parts of the world. On-demand heaters are beginning to get attention in North America.

See some savings estimates for lowering water-heater temperature.

#14. Borrow something instead of buying

There is a way to actually have zero footprint for that new item you want: don't buy it. Borrow it instead. How many of us have garages and basements full of stuff we hardly ever use? For example, could we have borrowed a power washer to wash the deck that one time rather than buying one?

The point here isn't to borrow items that we use all the time. Items that we use once, or a few, times per year fit well for borrowing. For the average person this might include many home-improvement tools (electric saws, nail guns, etc), power washers, some camping equipment, etc.

There are some great sites to help match people to borrow items, if a friend doesn't happen to have the item you need. One example we like is Loanables.

Take a challenge to try borrowing instead of buying.

#13. Plan ahead and group trips in the car

This is simple, but it's habit for most of us the ability to impulsively jump into the car and drive to a store and back. It only takes a little forethought to group together a few other needed stops. Depending on the situation this could potentially save a lot of gas and CO2 emissions.

Keep in mind that every mile, or 1.6 kilometers, driven emits about half a kilogram of CO2 for the average vehicle (much more from an SUV). If driving separately to 3 stores requires driving 20 miles but doing all 3 in a single outing is only 15 miles, that would save around 2.5 kg CO2. A relatively small amount when done once, but when it's a habit the savings become significant.

#12. Keep vehicle tires inflated

Studies show that for every pound of pressure your tires are inflated below the recommended level you lose 1% in fuel economy. This adds up quickly, especially for long-distance drives.

If you drive 20,000km (12,500 miles) in a year, in the average 20mpg vehicle, and keep your tires inflated 5 pounds below the recommended level, that would add up to a loss of about 31 gallons or almost 120 liters of gas. At $4/gallon ($1.05/L) that's about $125 per year and 275kg of CO2 wasted.

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