If you didn't know already, when it comes to keeping the earth healthy, green is good.
But in the effort to save the planet, sometimes going green can cost a lot of green. It can be expensive if you start investing in high-end green technology to make your home more efficient and you and your family less wasteful.
Most of us want to be environmentally-conscious, but what are the chances you'll put a wind turbine or even install solar panels or a geo-thermal heating system in your house?
But part of the message from those environmentalists, politicians and rock stars is this: You can live the green life in your own home and you can start going green right now.
"It doesn't take very much effort at all. We can all do one more thing. Look at the habits you've already created and just add one more," says Vanessa Levingston with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
According to the MPCA, 'Living Green' means making choices in day-to-day life that enhance our impact on the environment and moves us in the direction of a more sustainable lifestyle.
The goal is low-impact living - a lifestyle that has a low impact on the natural environment.
Thom Johnson is a self-described Minnesota suburbanite. He's 51-years-old, has a wife, one child, lives in Minnetonka and commutes to his business in Eden Prairie.
"This house has really been quite an extension of us," Johnson says. "We've poured a lot of time and energy into this house making it our home. It has a lot of unique characteristics to it that reflect the way we live and the way we want to live."
We introduced Thom Johnson to Vanessa Levingston. She is a member of the MPCA's Living Green Team.
"Living green means looking at what you do in your life on a daily basis and figuring out one more thing that you can do to consider the environment," Levingston says.
Johnson, who says he has a green attitude, wants to do his part. He already tries to conserve energy by keeping the heat low and turning off lights. Johnson and his family already do some recycling, but they want to do more.
"We want to do whatever we can. We realize that we're just caretakers here and there are future generations," Johnson says. "You have to save and conserve for them."
Levingston walked through Johnson's home, pointing out several quick and easy changes they can make to go green now; the light at the end of the tunnel so-to-speak.
"I noticed that in your home you have quite a bit of lighting," Levingston points out.
Going Green Tip #1: Fluorescent Lights
She suggests replacing traditional, incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents. She says CFLs are ten times more efficient than a standard incandescent bulb. They use less energy and last longer.
And while the CFL bulb costs a little more, replacing five incandescent bulbs with CFLs can save about $65 a year in energy costs.
"As a business person, I know it's not what you pay, it's what you get. That's how value is created," says Johnson.
And by the way, if you replace one bulb with a CFL, you can potentially eliminate 450 pounds of air pollution created by coal-burning power plants.
Also, be sure to dispose of CFL bulbs properly due to their mercury content. CLICK HERE to learn more about the correct disposal procedure.
Tackling Johnson's kitchen is next.
"This is probably a typical weeks' worth of stuff that I get in," says Johnson as he takes a pile of plastic bags out of his cupboard.
Americans toss out 100 billion plastic bags a year. Since they don't break down quickly, those bags are preserved in the nation's landfills.
Going Green Tip #2: Reduce Plastic Bag Use
Reduce your pile of plastic bags by bringing your own bag to the store. And the plastic bags you keep? Use them again.
"Use them again for small trash bags in the house. Use them to carry things back and forth with, carry lunch to school or to work in," Levingston says.
From plastic to wasted paper, the average adult gets 41 pounds of junk mail yearly.
"This is what came yesterday," says Thom as he puts a large pile of junk mail down on his kitchen counter.
Going Green Tip #3: Stop Junk Mail
Levingston says it's easy to get off mailing lists. Call the company and uncheck those pre-checked boxes when you order on-line.
"The cost of getting off a mailing list is just basically a little bit of time, so that's something that's very easy to do," says Levingston.
Going Green Tip #4: Use the Dishwasher
Also easy to do is using the dishwasher. Contrary to popular belief, running the dishwasher instead of hand washing dishes actually conserves water if you run a full load. The average dishwasher uses eight gallons of water in a cycle.
Run the sink for just ten minutes and watch 20 gallons of water go down the drain.
Going Green Tip #5: Fix Leaks
Which brings Johnson and Levingston to the next tip - fix leaks. "Every little drip counts," says Levingston.
A leaky faucet can waste 300 gallons of water a month. A leaky toilet can use an extra 200 gallons a day. Fix the leak to save water and money on your water bill.
And don't forget to turn off the tap when you brush your teeth or shave.
Going Green Tip #6: Wash Full Loads
Water conservation also applies to the laundry room. Wash full loads and save 3,400 gallons of water a year. Use cold water to save more than $300 in annual energy costs and eliminate 3,000 pounds of air pollution.
Going Green Tip #7: Use the Dryer
"We want to make sure that we're drying full loads, cleaning our lint tray so that the dryer is more efficient," Levingston says.
Simply cleaning the lint tray can save $35 a year on your energy bill. "Things are very simple, but they add up," she says.
They can add up, like the cost of heat.
Going Green Tip #8: Programmable Heat
"These are about 30 dollars and up at your local hardware and home improvement stores," Levingston says.
It's an investment that can save energy and about $150 a year on your utility bill.
The same lesson is true for electronics.
Going Green Tip #9: Turn off, Unplug Electronics
It can cost a hundred bucks a year to keep your computer on all the time. The more power used means more carbon emissions and a higher energy bill.
"It's one of those things where we want to reduce our use. So turn it off when possible," Levingston says.
And when it comes to Going Green, if all else fails, you can start even smaller.
"Turn off a light. Plant a tree. Go for a walk," Levingston says. "Recycle more. What we would like for people to do is to find an area within green that's comfortable for them. Living green can start right at home and you can start today."
Thom Johnson will. He says the ideas Vanessa showed him are simple and easy to execute.
He now sees his house in a different light and perhaps, in a darker shade of green.
"It goes against that old idiomatic. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. Well, I think I learned a few new tricks today," Johnson says.
Below are additional simple tips from other experts and useful Websites:
PLANTING AND GARDENING
Pesticides and Fertilizers
Avoid using them in your garden and yard.
Build up healthy soil instead to help prevent disease.
Use barriers such as netting or cutworm collars.
Wash aphids away with spray from the hose.
Encourage beneficial insects that eat harmful ones.
And learn to tolerate a few weeds, spots or insects if it's only an aesthetic problem.
Don't over-fertilize. Plants only can absorb so much; the rest washes away to pollute waterways.
Use less. Look for organic fertilizers.
Use them in your garden. They know how to fend for themselves; they're adapted to the local climate, soils and pests. That means less watering and fewer chemicals.
Watering the Garden
Don't sprinkle more than necessary or in the heat of the day when much of the water will evaporate.
Put drip irrigation and soaker hoses on timers to water at night or in the early morning.
Save the rain. Put a rain barrel under a downspout to collect free water for the garden.
Make yourself a rain garden by making a bed designed to collect rainwater so it can be absorbed by deep-rooted natives and perennials.
Start a compost heap. You can use your compost for a nutrient-rich fertilizer.
They are natural air filters. Plant them. One mature tree takes care of the pollution caused by 13 cars.
KITCHEN & BATHROOM
It's more green to feed the disposal than it is to put food waste in a plastic garbage bag and send it to the landfill.
Use bar soap and eliminate the plastic bottle waste that comes with liquid soaps.
Using the microwave instead of the oven or stove to reheat food or cook small portions can reduce cooking energy by as much as 80 percent.
Keep shower tiles clean without using chemicals. After a shower, use a microfiber cloth or chamois to wipe down tiles and fixtures or for glass use a squeegee.
Recycle more - from recycling the morning paper to the plastic bottle from lunch. One ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water. Recycling just one aluminum can save enough energy to power a television for three hours.
Recycle your printer cartridges. Office Depot, OfficeMax and Staples take back ink and toner cartridges. Some stores will refill your cartridges.
Don't over-dry laundry. An electric dryer operating an extra 15 minutes a load can cost you up to $34 a year in wasted energy; a gas dryer, $21 a year.
It takes more energy to run a moving screen saver or even a static image than it does to have your computer and monitor go into a low-power mode. Getting rid of them could save $50 to $100 a year on your electric bill over a year's time.
Consider alternative kitty litter. There are more earthy-friendly, organic options than the standard clay litters, which pile up in landfills.
Pick up after your pooch, so pet waste doesn't drain into the sewers.
Use non-toxic cleaning products.
Purchase energy efficient lighting, appliances and vehicles.
Use water-based, low-solvent paints.
Buy in bulk to reduce excess packaging.
Before finding itself on your plate, the average meal travels more than 1,200 miles, using up energy and creating CO2. Purchase locally-grown food and other locally-manufactured products to reduce energy consumed by transportation.
Drink tap water. Bottled water produces up to 1.5 million tons of plastic waste each year, which takes about 47 million gallons of oil to produce. Most plastic bottles end up in landfills.
Keep your tire pressure up to manufacturer standards and improve gas mileage.
Always use re-usable mugs, lunch containers, batteries, pens, razors, etc.
Drive less. Combine trips. Walk or bike to work or to run errands.
Look for Energy Star-rated appliances that are more energy efficient when you're in the market for new ones.
(Copyright 2008 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)