Happy new year! If you are looking to impose more discipline in your finances for 2013, remember to include energy savings in your plans, for the double benefit of reducing both your expenses and your carbon emissions.
While some energy conservation measures take an initial investment, in the intermediate to long term your carbon emissions budget and your financial budget largely go hand in hand. Surveying the energy use in your household may pay off handsomely.
Universities are waking up to this in a big way: they are starting to put in place energy conservation measures such as putting independent temperature control units in each office, so that scholars can set their workplace temperature by setting the thermostat instead of by opening a window. I haven't seen any reports on carbon emissions savings, but a university that has seriously tackled energy conservation can save millions of dollars in energy costs.
Many of our homes were constructed to save the builder (not the owner) time and money. For instance, when doing a renovation, I found that our house didn't have insulation in the outside walls. Yikes! It was built in 1948, when gasoline cost $0.25 a gallon, and nobody thought about that kind of stuff. I tracked down a source for the odd-sized insulation (the wall studs are farther apart than the current building standard), and stopped the heat leak wherever I could.
I wanted to put an aluminum roof on our house (after all, what keeps your dishes warm - or cool - better than a sheet of aluminum foil?) But CelloDad has strong objections to the Gehry look.
These are rather drastic things to do for your house. But there are plenty of less intrusive ways to lower your heating and cooling bills, like eliminating drafts, planting deciduous trees or shrubs on the south side of your house, switching off lights and appliances when you don't need them.
One big-impact thing you can do today that doesn't require any tools or work, is simply to set your thermostat closer to the outside temperature.
I used to balk at pushing that thermostat below 72F. But I'm finding that if I move around vigorously early in the day (raking, snow clearing, beating blankets, pumping the tires, taking my bike for grocery shopping), that warms me up and keeps me comfy the rest of the day, even if I turn the thermostat down to 62-65F. I put on an extra layer of clothes, preferrably wool; CelloDad has a little heater for his office, which anyway catches the sun most of the day now that the oak tree has lost its leaves for the winter.
This saves me money on my heating bill. It trims the carbon footprint of my house. And the exercise is good for me. How can I pass that up?
While our homes account for a very large part of our carbon footprint, it is not the largest: that dubious honour goes to our cars. I know: the price of gasoline has eased off a bit and is now well below $4 a gallon again - but there's still a lot of savings to be had just from putting a measure of mellowness in your driving.
If a new car is part of your new year's plans, choose something with the smallest engine they offer: in the United States, that's still more than you need, and it's usually the least expensive option. Don't write off the new crop of "clean" diesel engines: they are now cleaner than ever, very gas-frugal, and give a whopping torque.
Should you trade in your guzzler for a greener car just so you can save money on the gas? NO: gas is still too cheap for that. However, if you can afford it money-wise, it will slash your carbon footprint big time. If that's not in the works for you this year, you might visit your car dealer anyway: ask for the gas sippers that his manufacturer is selling everywhere else on the planet. Maybe by the time you're ready for a new car, your dealer will be ready to sell you a real gas sipper.
In the mean time, there are plenty of ways to conserve gas - and money. I like the friendly guys at my local gas station, but since I hand over a wad of cash every time I see them, I'm pleased to visit them just once a month, thanks.
For more money-saving ideas, check out the 31 Days of Resolutions link-up hosted by Crafty Garden Mama.