Going green can save you money

By Craig Clough
Published On: May 16 2011 04:12:28 PM EDT
environment, wind turbines

With gas prices swinging wildly in the past couple of years, people have been looking for alternatives to gas-guzzling SUVs.

But while the sales numbers for the Toyota Prius vouch for the hybrid's popularity, at an average starting price of just under $23,000, the car is more expensive than most of its non-hybrid compact counterparts. The savings one gets from fewer trips to the pump will take years, if ever, to see actual overall savings.

While most of us would like to live the life of an economic crusader, many of us simply can't afford to. At least, we think we can't afford to. We've got bills to pay, and while it sure might feel good to drive around in a Prius, we can still buy a Ford Focus or Honda Civic for about $7,000 less.

However, going green doesn't always have to be an expensive project. According to Jeanie Pyun, former editor of Sprig.com, a now-defunct website dedicated to the green lifestyle, there are many ways to save green by going green.

"A lot of people come across on little things, and they learn more and more and more, and then, before you know it, they are seeing green traits in products," said Pyun. "It could be something that they seek out because it's less toxic, it's better for you, it tastes better or the quality tends to be better."

Trade In Those Old Gadgets

Throwing away old computers, cell phones and other gadgets can be very harmful to the environment because of the chemicals they can deposit in landfills. But there are places you can go where you can turn in your old gadgets and get cash back in return.

One website dedicated to this is CellForCash.com, which will take you old cell phone and give you cash in return. How much money you can get varies depending on the type of phone. Most phones listed on the site are recycled for free, but some earn rewards of more than $60."They will dispose of it for you in an environmentally responsible way, so by being green you are actually making money," said Pyun.

Other large retail stores such as Best Buy will take your old computer and give you a discount on your upgrade.

"You could save, like, $58 on a Mac upgrade. So, you are actually making unexpected money," said Pyun.

Go Florescent

Buying a compact florescent light bulb will be more expensive than a regular bulb, but florescent bulbs tend to last longer and will save you money in the long run. A compact bulb can cost around $5.According to Popular Mechanics, the average US household has 45 light bulbs. A compact florescent bulb can potentially use one-third the electricity of a regular bulb and last up to nine years, so replacing all your bulbs can save up to $180 a year.

"It can decrease your energy usage for light bulbs by nearly 75 percent," said Pyun. "And if you're a little lazy, like I am, you never have to change them. They never die. I have light bulbs in my house that have been going for five years, and I am used to pulling out my step ladder and changing bulbs, but I haven't had to do that for a very long time. So they save you a lot of money over time."

Fluorescent bulbs have a reputation of giving off a depressing, sickly light. But technology has changed over the years, and there are many newer fluorescent bulbs that provide warmer light.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs are available in a variety of styles, including warmer light for living spaces and more traditional fluorescent light for work spaces.

CFLs fit in standard lamps and come in many shapes, ranging from ones that look like traditional bulbs to "squiggly" models that take traditional fluorescent tubes and bend them into spiral shapes.

Unplug If It Isn't In Use

By taking a few minutes to unplug electronics that aren't in use around your house, you can save on your electric bill.

"Home electronics use a vast majority of power when they are turned off. You have to unplug them because they kind of sip off the energy grid the whole time," said Pyun. "And you're paying for that. So if you go around unplugging things, it can have a big impact on your utility bill."

According to environmental activist Laurie David, founder of StopGlobalWarming.org, Americans spend more money on their utility bill paying for electronics when they are turned off than when they are in use, and unplugging them can save hundreds of dollars a year in energy costs.

Low Flow

Switching to low-flow shower heads and toilets can also cut dollars off of your monthly utility bills.

"It's a good idea to go low-flow because -- particularly in the shower -- you are using water that gets heated by your heating system, and you're paying for that twice," said Pyun. "So, that can have a big impact as well."

Say 'No' To The Brawny Man

Many people use paper towels to clean up around the house, weather it's for dusting or wiping down the kitchen counter. But think of how many sheets of towels one goes through in a lifetime. By switching to rags for around-the-house cleaning, you can save trees and dollars at the same time.

"Something that's a lot cheaper in the long run is to buy a reusable cloth, like buy Skoy clothes for $4, and reuse them as you clean the house," said Pyun.

Reuse Your Food

If you have a garden, unused food and leftover food products can be a great resource. You can collect them in a pot indoors and then empty the pot into a compost bin each night.

Composting not only reduces the food waste you have to throw out, it also makes for nutrient-rich soil, which means you will have to buy less soil for your garden.

Tint Those Windows

Tinting the windows on your home can really cut down on the amount of AC you will have to use.

Getting your windows tinted professionally can cost around $5 to $7 per square foot."

The payback for that is about three years, sometimes four years," said Harrison Hung of TintCenter.com. "The life of the window film is around 15 years, so you get 11 years of cost savings."

Get Uncle Sam To Pitch In

Upgrading your house with new doors and windows will help you save on energy costs, and Uncle Sam will even pitch in.

"You can get government tax discounts when you make home improvements that save you energy, like new windows and doors," said Pyun.

The tax breaks and deductions for green home improvements are a result of the 2005 Energy Policy Act. And the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 extended many consumer tax incentives originally introduced in 2005 act.

Consumers can get tax credits for buying or leasing some hybrid or plug-in vehicles, or by installing solar energy systems. But the easiest move is to make sure to buy Energy Star appliances when you're ready to upgrade.

Energy Star is a government program that supports especially energy-efficient appliances. The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy work together to maintain very high standards for the products they endorse.

Everything from clothes washers to dehumidifiers are among the approved products, and using them can save a substantial amount of energy and expense. According to Energystar.gov, Americans saved $12 billion in energy costs in 2005. The certified products also kept enough gases out of the atmosphere to equal elimination of emissions from 23 million cars.

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