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Quick: Imagine someone's hacked your bank account to steal your hard-earned cash bit by bit. They've got their grimy little hacker fingers all over your great big nest egg. And they're laughing.
If you find that thought disturbing, you might wonder how we can waste money and energy everyday without seemingly an ounce of indignation. Maybe it has something to do with the invisibility of it all; so long as we don't feel the financial pain in one huge slap, it's hard to get worked up about a higher water bill. But many wasteful habits piled up over months and years drag us down. These are seven common pitfalls that expend money and energy daily.
This tip comes courtesy of SaveGreenly.com, which identifies this sin as its top energy waster. The U.S. Department of Energy adds that only 20% of homes built before 1980 are well insulated. Add more insulation to your walls by using blow-in cellulose, which is made from recycled phone books and newspapers, or install this Enerflex 4" x 12" Radiant Barrier Insulation Roll ($23.48 with free shipping, a low by $1) in your roof to reduce heat transfer and keep your attic up to 30 degrees cooler. It's also a wise investment to install weatherstripping under doors and around places where the door contacts the jamb; this Thermwell Slide-on Door Bottom ($9.47 with free shipping, a low by $3) is a good start.
If improper insulation and weatherstripping make your home drafty or sweltering depending on the season, any single-pane windows are probably also at fault. Yet most people resist renovating because buying and installing new windows is a big expense. The U.S. Department of Energy says between 10% and 25% of a home heating bill is a result of single-pane windows, which means the cost of replacing them may eventually pay for itself. Look into low-e windows and/or solar screen applications, the latter of which run about $60 a window.
The next time you're tempted to print out confirmations or emails from computer, make yourself a PDF instead. (Select "Print," but then hit the "Mail PDF" button.) This is an easier way to keep track of important documents and beats searching for scraps of paper. If you've got to print, save paper by adjusting the print margins, select a smaller font, and print on both sides of the paper. It's also advantageous to use recycled ink cartridges, like this remanufactured HP 920XL-Compatible Ink Cartridge 10-Pack ($50.90 via coupon code "35DEAL" with free shipping, a low by $35).
Sometimes, we make bad choices trying to do good things. Such is the case with rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries (NiCd). They not only drain easily, they're also banned in Europe because cadmium is so hazardous. Instead, stick with the newfangled Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries (NiMH), which have a similar shelf life to alkaline batteries. This Duracell AA NiMH Rechargeable Batteries 4-Pack ($7.02 with clipped coupon and Subscribe & Save with free shipping, a low by $3) will get you started.
It's true that paper towels make for an easy reach when your kid spills something. But paper towels can be a total waste. Planetgreen.com claims paper towels create 3,000 tons of landfill waste a day. The obvious alternatives to paper towels include cotton hand towels and rags, which, while they'll create more laundry, certainly won't impact the environment the way throwaway towels do.
Most people multi-task in the morning; they turn on the shower, pick out their clothes, check their smartphones for email, make the bed, and run to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Before you know it, the shower has run for 15 minutes, wasting lots of hot water in the process. A a low-flow showerhead, like the Evolve Roadrunner II Water-Saving Showerhead ($24.99 with free shipping, a low by $14) can help conserve water while you use it. It boasts good water pressure and an intelligent water-saving feature: Once the water heats to 95 degrees, water slows to a trickle until you pull a specially designed cord. Since it saves eight gallons of water per five minutes of shower, the Roadrunner will likely pay for itself in a year.
Even in homes with fluorescent lighting, an overwhelming majority of consumers replace their incandescent bulbs one at a time as each burns out. Yet it's much more efficient to replace all of your bulbs at once, as you'll notice a dramatic drop in energy consumption per bulbs changed. LEDs, while more expensive can last up to 50,000 hours, which means you'll actually save money over fluorescents. This chart shows that through 60,000 hours and 30 bulbs, LEDs will save you about $3,000 over fluorescents. This EcoSmart 8.5-Watt Daylight A19 LED Light Bulb ($18.87 with free shipping, a low by $1) is the equivalent of a 40-watt incandescent and should last 25,000 hours.
There's no time like the present to be more aware of and take control over your home energy costs. Your wallet and the planet will thank you.
Photo credit: Tony.L.Wong via FlickrNote that this feature has been updated since it was originally published last summer.