Introduction: Not Your Average Save Energy Advice

About: I am an ordinary guy. Except that I live in an RV, drive a 250cc motorcycle, have a truck that runs on bio-diesel, am vegetarian, and have had almost 30 jobs in 10 years, including armored truck driver, bicycl…
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Everyone has a reason to use less energy.
-For the environmentalist, obviously, all forms of energy have some ecological impact, and the ones we use the most (oil and coal) happen to be the ones which are most destructive.
-For the patriotic, using less energy means less dependence on foreign oil (and natural gas).
-For the selfish (I don't mean that in a bad way), it means lower bills, and therefor more money in your bank account (or cash under your mattress) that you can spend on other things.

Using less energy is definitely a win all around.
And yet, as much talk as the idea gets lately, few seem to be very serious about it.

There are probably dozens, if not hundreds, of articles consisting of tips and tricks to conserve energy and be a little more ecological.
While they have plenty of valid ideas, a great many of the most common suggestions are things which either:
1) cost a whole lot of money upfront (with a promise of saving money in the long run), making them impractical for most people - things like "buy a hybrid" or "replace older appliances with Energy Star models; or
2) are tiny steps which will save an insignificant amount of energy.  You may as well do these things, but you aren't going to see reflected on your next bill, and they aren't going to change the world - things like "clean your air filter" or "turn up the thermostat a few degrees" or "keep your car washed for less wind resistance".

These suggestions seem to be geared towards a very specific demographic, implying that being "green" is limited to middle class families who can afford to be.
In reality, the change to be more environmentally friendly means spending much LESS money than the typical American consumer; not only in the long run, but upfront as well.

I will not suggest that you buy a new hybrid or turn down the heat a few degrees.
If you take some of the steps to follow you will reduce your "carbon footprint" and have more cash in your wallet as well.

Step 1: Buy Less Stuff

It seems that the "green" craze has finally caught on in America.
But first and foremost, this is the land of consumerism, so of course just about every company is jumping on the bandwagon, and marketing their product as "green"

This leads people to think that being environmentally conscious means paying a premium.

Nothing could be further from the truth. 
Because, no matter how much better a "green" item is than whatever it is replacing, not buying either one is always the most environmentally benign choice of all.

The truth is that, due to technology, Americans today have access to more stuff for less money than any point in our 500 million year history.  Even the poorest among us can afford cars and TVs.  And we have long past the point where getting more stuff actually leads to any tangible long-term increase in happiness.  We basically buy stuff for no other reason than that we can.

The really great thing about it is, by doing right by nature (by not buying lots of crap, which necessitates stuff being mined, manufactured, and shipped - frequently from the other side of the world - only to eventually end up in landfill a few years later) you also end up saving a truly shocking amount of money.

Personally, I was turned on to this concept less than a year ago, by Jacob of Early Retirement Extreme

All of my life I have made a fairly low amount of money.  Due to various life events outside my control, combined with my low income, I had varying levels of debt all my life (or so I thought!). 
Well, I finally paid down the last of my debt about a year ago, and started saving a little bit, just before I stumbled across Jacob, who was promoting the idea of early retirement via spending less money.
Not that I was ever an ultra-consumer to begin with: outside of the occasional broken down auto, cross country move, new motorcycle, or going back to school, I generally lived within my means.

But once I discovered this new idea of becoming rich simply by not buying stuff, I started to pay much more attention to what I spent my money on.
So far its only been 8 months. During that time I made about $26,000.
In that time I have saved $17,000 dollars.
And in all honesty, going from spending 100% of my income to spending less than 50%, I haven't really felt any change in my lifestyle.

The trick is really simple.

Literally anytime you are about to reach into your wallet, stop for a second and ask yourself a few questions:
  1. Is this purchase going to last at least the next 10 years?
  2. Will this purchase continue to make me significantly happier for the next 10 years?
  3. Is there an alternate way I can accomplish the goal that buying this will serve, without spending money?
  4. Can I borrow this item from someone?
  5. Can I buy this item used?
  6. If this is a replacement item, have I tried to fix the old one?

If the answer is "no" to questions 1, 2 or 6, put your money away.
If the answer is "yes" to questions 3, 4, or 5, put your money away.

If the answer is "yes" to 1 2 and 6, and "no" 3 4 and 5, put your money away anyway! 
Wait for a month or two.  Then ask yourself the same questions again.  If after two months you still want whatever it is, go ahead and buy it.

Obviously this does not apply to food - although you can save both money and environmental damage by buying less pre-prepared food and by eating more plants and less animals.  As with all shopping, food fits into this general rule for acquiring things: 
"If you want it: grow it, raise it, build it, or fix it yourself." (that was taken verbatim from PS118 in the comments)
This concept should seem like a given to readers of Instructables.

For some of the most accessible and fun elaboration on the topic of getting rich by buying less stuff that I have found, try the Mr Money Mustache blog. (When you feel confident enough to call yourself Mustachian - or at least understand the idea - go on to the more advanced and sometimes esoteric ERE blog)

Step 2: The Hybrid Alternative

Buying a Prius will cost you around 23 thousand dollars.

Contrary to what auto ads might have you believe, that is an incredibly enormous amount of money to spend on something whose sole purpose is to transport you from where you are to where you want to be.

A good quality bicycle will cost you between $100 and $1000, and it will serve the exact same purpose!
If you don't already own a good commuter bike, I have some tips on getting a good one used, here:

Unlike a hybrid, or even electric car, it causes zero air pollution during use, and caused only a tiny fraction of the environmental cost of a car during manufacturing.  At the same time, it saves you at least 22 thousand dollars up front, followed by saving you an additional $3000-$7000 per year in gas, insurance, maintenance, repairs, parking, tolls...

Over a decade, choosing to buy a good bike in place of a hybrid saves you almost $75,000!!!

Now I know, I know, you are going to say that for whatever reason, that just isn't an option for you.
But I'm going to say - without knowing anything about you - that unless you use a walker to get around, you can replace at least some of your driving with bike riding. 

Live in a snowy climate?  Ride in the summer! 

Live 25 miles from work?  Ride to get groceries or other errands
(and the next time you move or change jobs, make living within 15 miles of your work one of the top priorities!!) 

Have kids?  Get a childseat or trailer for babies or their own bikes for older kids! 

Don't have time?  Riding 15 miles to work will take about an hour, as opposed to 20 minutes by car.  However, when you consider that your commute has also just become your daily exercise and your daily recreation, it turns out you are actually saving time overall:

Option A) Drive to work and back (40 minutes), workout at the gym (60 minutes, plus 10 minute drive each way), recreation time - because running on a treadmill or picking up weights and putting them back down isn't much fun - (30minutes). 
Total time spent between the three activities: 150 minutes.

Option B) combine all three activities into one, by riding a bike to work (60minutes each way).
Total time spent: 120 minutes.

So you free up half an hour.
Then there is always option

C) don't get any daily exercise at all, spend your life weak and tired and pathetic, and most likely die early of a totally preventable disease. 

I realize that option C is kind of the American Way, but if you are reading this you are most likely a DIYer, and that makes you special.  You have already opted out of the mainstream consumeristic "buy it ready-made" doctrine...

Afraid of traffic?  Statistically, driving is one of the most dangerous activities you can do, (its just so ubiquitous that we take it for granted.)

In fact, according to various studies, you are anywhere from 2 to 6 times as likely to die on a given trip done by car than had you done the same trip by bicycle:

Death rate per million miles traveled...
By Bike - 0.016        By Car - .039

Death rate per million miles traveled...
By Bike - 0.2            By Car - 1.3

(Note that the numbers vary widely depending on the source of the statistics.) 
Other statistics find bicycling to be more dangerous per mile. 
However, none of those studies correct for the fact that you don't need a license to ride a bike and traffic laws are rarely enforced on bikes, both of which lead to cyclists doing things which are obviously unsafe and would never be tolerated by car drivers- things like riding on the wrong side of the road, riding on the sidewalk, and blowing through red lights without even slowing down.
Somewhere between 70 and 90% of cycling accidents are a direct result of the cyclist breaking the law and being unsafe.
As long as you ride properly, you can correct the statistics to find your own risk, and even the studies which conclude bicycles are more dangerous, when corrected this way, will end up showing you are far safer riding a bike then driving a car.
Which should come as no surprise, because the single largest factor in the severity of any crash is speed, and while a car can easily go 80MPH or more, most riders top out at about 25MPH (and that's going downhill)

Please read: for tips on how to stay safe on a bike (and an actual study to back up the claim that most bike accidents occur due to bike riders riding unsafe)

Especially since the majority of households have 2 vehicles, most of the potential excuses don't pan out.  Using a bike instead of a 2nd car still gives all the same benefits, while allowing you to drive those times when you really need it.

Step 3: Turn the Thermostat to "OFF"

This is actually one of those "plugged into the Matrix" things which everyone takes for granted for no other reason than because everyone else takes it for granted, and it is what we have done all our lives.

When I first heard this idea a few months ago (From Jacob of Early Retirement Extreme) it seemed pretty radical to me.

But, by the time I finished reading the blog article, I was ready to try it.
It only took a bit more to convince my girlfriend to go along with it.
I thought it would be difficult, but actually, believe it or not, I went the rest of the winter without missing the heater once.

This is the actual issue: it is winter time, and you feel cold.
The traditional solution: heat up the ENTIRE HOUSE, including about 15 thousand cubic feet of air space, just so that you will be warmer.

The (should have been obvious) alternative: conserve your existing body heat.

Say its winter time, and you want to go to the store.
Do you rig up a portable propane powered radiant furnace that you can carry with you? Of course not! You just put on a jacket and hat, and you go to the store, feeling quite comfortable in even the coldest of weather (assuming you have lived in your climate long enough to own the right clothing).
Come to think of it, there are those radiant propane heaters at fancy-pants hoity-toity type restaurants, so that you can take off your jacket and eat out on the patio in the dead of winter. And you end up paying for such silly luxury when you get a bill 45 times more expensive than the same ingredients would have cost you at the grocery store. As an occasional treat, sure, eat out.
But wasting that much energy everyday, at home?
Now that's just crazy!

Instead of using gas or electricity to heat up the entire house, just put on a jacket, a hat, some warm socks, and maybe a scarf. Problem solved. You end up equally as comfortable, while using zero energy.

The same principal applies to cooling (although, granted, it is easier to stay comfortably warm in cold weather then to stay cool in extremely hot weather). Instead of using the A/C, start by wearing less clothes. There are a few steps you can take to keep your home cooler (which will be in the next step) but by dressing the way you would if you went outside, you reduce how cool you need the air to be in the first place. If 82 degrees (F) outside is considered nice weather, there is no conceivable (legitimate) reason one would ever need to turn an A/C thermostat lower than 82.

At the same time as you are saving the earth, you are also saving hundreds of dollars a year in utility bills ($900 for an average US household, assuming you turn off both the heat and the AC permanently)

CAVEAT: If you live in a place where the indoor temperature will drop below freezing, you should set your thermostat to at least 35-40 degrees (F), as pipes and appliances can be damaged if water freezes inside them. Also, if you have pets, their water bowl could freeze. I've had that happen!
For unheated spaces (under the house, in the attic, etc) its much more efficient to use pipe heaters and plenty of insulation to protect the pipes, rather than to heat the interior of the house so much that the spill over keeps the unheated spaces from freezing.

In the winter time, when you want it to be warmer inside, don't pour heat down the drain!
If you boil water for cooking, instead of pouring the hot water in the sink when its done, pour it in a container and place it in whatever room you would like to warm up. Leave it there until it cools off naturally - all that heat went into the room. When you shower during the winter, close the drain so that the hot water collects in the tub like a bath. Keep the shower door / curtain closed to contain the steam (which will condense back into the tub as it cools). When you are done all that heat from the water will radiate out into the bathroom, and, once the door is open, into the rest of the house. Once the water has cooled off, then drain it.
You already paid to heat up that water, reclaim that heat! No reason to heat up the sewers.

Step 4: Keep the Heat Out (or In)

Running your old inefficient A/C 24/7 all summer is both expensive and bad for the ecosphere we depend on to live.
But buying a brand new energy efficient A/C or heat pump is really expensive, and it requires additional mining, manufacturing, and transportation, so its not exactly benign either.

If you read the last step, you realize how idiotic it is to turn the A/C thermostat down to 65 (or even the frequently recommended 72), and then wear a sweater indoors, in the summer. If you consider 82 to be a nice comfortable day outside, it would be silly to set the thermostat any lower than 82.

Depending on your climate, and with the right steps, that may mean the A/C never needs to go on at all.

Of course, as any energy saving advice list will tell you, you should weatherize doors and windows. This is fairly inexpensive, easy to do, and in many places you can get it done for you for free from the local utility company.
But don't stop there!

Start by figuring out the path of the sun over your house each day. Whichever window it comes in in the early afternoon is the best place to start.
A roll of heat blocking film costs $15 at the local auto parts store. A roll of plastic wrap is about $2.
Squeegee on the heat-block film-tint following the directions on the box. This blocks up to 90% of infrared light (solar heat).
(As an added bonus, you can now walk around naked with the shades open in the day time.)

Next, stretch some plastic wrap across the window frame, leaving as large a gap as possible between the glass and the plastic (you could use any kind of plastic sheeting, but I find plastic wrap to be cheap, readily available, and clearer to see though than most other options). Tape it to the frame around the outside, using as many strips as necessary to cover the entire window.

This will keep heat out in the summer, as well as keep heat inside in the winter.
Will it be as effective as a brand new double-pane? Certainly not! But double panes will cost anywhere from $500 to $1000 - each.
This project costs less than $5 per window. The time it takes to make that back in energy savings is considerably shorter, even if the energy savings isn't quite as high.
And if you already have fancy new double panes, you can still use this trick, to save even more energy!

Once you have finished the window that gets the most afternoon sun (and found how easy it is) you might consider doing other windows in your home as well - but keep in mind, you will want to open some windows at times for breeze and temperature control, so while you can tint every window in the house, the "poor person's double-pane" trick is appropriate for only windows you don't need to open.

Fans have become under appreciated as A/C and electricity have become so (relatively) cheap, but an exit fan in the attic to draw heat out of the building and a small fan in an occupied room to provide a breeze go along way toward cooling the whole building and making any given temperature feel more comfortable - while using under 100 watts (compared to 3000 to 5000 watts for A/C - 30 to 50 times as much power).

If you live somewhere hot and dry, an evaporative cooler can lower temperatures as much as 30 degrees, and uses no more energy than a similarly sized fan.
You don't need to necessarily go out and buy something new. Just hang a thin towel or sheet so that the bottom lies in a container of water. Then set up a fan to blow across the wet cloth into the area you want cooler.
(Do a search on instructables for 10 pages of DIY evap coolers)

If you live in a humid climate where an evaporative cooler won't work, a dehumidifier will make it feel much cooler inside, and uses far less power than A/C

In the night time, when the sun is down, it gets cooler outside - often even cooler than it is inside. Take advantage of that by leaveing your windows open at night
(depending where you live, you may want to install locks that allow the windows to open partially without opening all the way, to avoid accidentally inviting anyone in!)
Put a fan at one end of the home facing the window, to blow hot air out of the house, and another at the opposite end facing in to suck cool air in. (If you have more than one floor, put the exit fan on the top floor and the in fan at the lowest floor, because heat rises)
Then close the windows again in the morning, trapping the "cool" inside. As soon as the outside is cooler than the inside in the evening, open the windows back up.

If you have a gas furnace, shut off the pilot during summer. Use the microwave instead of the oven. Don't leave computers or electronics on any more than necessary (of course, if you are trying to save energy, you should be doing this anyway, but in addition to wasting electricity directly, they also generate heat)

Slightly more involved, and potentially more expensive (depending how creative you are in acquiring used items) would be make shift awnings above the windows that get the most summer sun. A patio umbrella placed right beside the building would be perfect, if your yard happens to have just the right orientation. When it comes time to redo the roof, use a reflective material for the outer layer. I have a white rubberized coating on the roof of my home, and painted the roof of my truck reflective silver.

Keeping the air inside from getting too hot in the first place makes a lot more sense than trying to get rid of it using A/C once its there. It makes a lot more dollars too.

Here are a lot more great tips for staying cool without using A/C:
I was tempted to steal his ideas and list them here, but Bindlestiff deserves credit for his excellent instructable

Keep the heat out of your fridge too:

Step 5: Cut the Cord

In addition to providing us with 10-14 hours of free light every day, the sun also provides us with heat, at no additional charge.

Can you imagine anything sillier than spending one's hard earned money on generating heat when you can get it for free just by walking outside?
Today I did the laundry.  I walked down to the laundrymat, ran my 2 week's worth of clothes through the super-size washer, and then walked back with them - still wet - to my side yard.  Then I hung a bag of clothes pins in the middle of the clothesline I put up (for all the neighbors to use) and hung up the wet clothes to dry.  That was a few hours ago.  As soon as I stop typing this instructable I'll go and take them down, just as dry as if I had spent $10 worth of quarters in the machine.  Plus, since they were hanging straight down instead of being tumbled around, I won't have to iron anything (who am I kidding, I wouldn't have anyway).

True, it takes a bit more effort.
However, that was time I spent in the sun, getting (a little bit of ) exercise, instead of sitting indoors at the laundrymat, watching terrible daytime television.

In the right climate, the same thing works in the winter, although it will take more hours for the clothes to dry.  If the temperature is below freezing outside or it is raining, you can dry your clothes indoors. 

Wash your dishes by hand.  It takes no electricity, and considering the "pre-rinse", it takes about the same amount of effort.
When some people claim it uses more water to wash by hand, they are assuming you turn on the water and then just leave it running the entire time you are washing!  That's just stupid.  Why would anyone do that? Just wet a sponge, put a little soap on it, use it to wash all of the dishes, and when they are all washed, then turn on the water and rinse them all off.  This will usefar less water then any commercial dishwasher.  Did I mention it also uses zero electricity?

Nearly every "labor saving device" is a way to use electricity to do a task which more than likely was not that hard to begin with.   Power locks, windows, and steering on a car comes to mind.  Nobody minded doing these things by hand before the automatic version was invented, yet now it seems that we think we are physically incapable of opening a window or pushing a lock by hand.
Even the most sedentary of activities, watching TV, feels impossible to many without having a remote control, to avoid the herculean effort it would take to stand up, and walk across the room to change the channel or volume by hand. 
(And we continue looking for genes, hormones, and food additives for answers to why America is becoming so obese...)

Use a wisk instead of a mixer, a broom instead of a vacuum, the sink instead of the gentle wash cycle, a swiss army knife instead of an electric can opener, a razor instead of a trimmer, earplugs instead of a noise machine. Mix it, open it, move it, clean it, yourself.  You save energy, you don't have to buy so much stuff, and you get a little bit of exercise, all at the same time.
Its win/win/win.

Step 6: Go to Bed!

I don't quite understand why I seem to be the only one who has thought of this one.
It is completely free, and can save a very significant amount of energy over time.

Go to bed no later than 8 hours before the sun comes up each morning.  If the sun rises at 6am, go to bed by 10pm at the latest.  If the sun rises at 5am, go to bed by 9pm.  (If you need more than 8 hours of sleep, go to bed an hour earlier, or 9 hours before the sun rises).

Because, you see, if you aren't using lights at night, you don't need to use them at all! In the daytime, there is this great big old ball of burning hydrogen that you get to use for FREE - no strings attached. It turns out there is such a thing as a free lunch after all, and it's called "the sun". All you have to do to enjoy its massive power is open the curtains on your (newly insulated!) windows.
When it gets dark, go to sleep.
When the sun comes back up, wake up, and pick up where you left off. You spend exactly as much time sleeping either way, which means you have the exact same number of waking hours to get stuff done, but you never need to use electricity to see.

As an added bonus, you don't have to spend any upfront money to buy florescent or LED bulbs which would supposedly eventually "pay for themselves". Your old incandescent will use even less power - if you never turn them on.
The average US home will save just shy of $20 a month by cutting light use down to zero.

There is an extremely common myth that some people are "naturally" night owls.
But there is nothing "natural" about using electric lights to see all night, and then blocking out the sunlight with curtains until late in the morning.  That's just using energy to artificially turn night into day and day into night.

I challenge anyone who claims to be a "natural" night owl to go the next month using no electricity - nor any other form of artificial light - after the sun goes down.  That means not only no lamps or ceiling lights, but no flashlights, lanterns, or candles either.  It also means no TV or computer after dark, as these things also produce light.
In addition, you must not use any form of light blocking curtain or sleep mask after dawn in the morning.

I bet, outside of  few rare individuals with actual neurological conditions, everyone would begin to adapt to the real day night cycle that the universe and our biology set up for us.  If we were really meant to be nocturnal, we would be able to see in the dark as well as a cat, and hear as well as a bat.   What self professed "night owls" really are, is people who never out grew that toddler age feeling that if they go to bed they might miss something.  Its just that once they grow up, they don't have anyone telling them its bedtime, so they stay up all night.  I bet I'm going to offend a few people with that last comment!   

,My real point is just that' in addition to the extra energy and health you may get from not fighting your biology, you also end up using less electricity, which is better for both the planets health and the health of your pocketbook.

Step 7: Turn It Down

Not the heat thermostat, we already established that should be set to 35 degrees max, if it isn't just turned off altogether.

The water heater thermostat.
Water heating is generally the single largest use of energy in a home after heating and cooling (which we know better than to do now)

Here is another situation, much like the heater issue from step 3, where I feel like I have been in the matrix all my life, and only recently unplugged.

Part 1) I noticed about a year or so ago that when I washed my hands, I would turn on both the hot and cold taps, and then start washing my hands.  Since it takes a while for the hot water to travel through the pipes, I would end up finishing before the water ever got warm.
So all I was really doing was pulling hot water into the pipes, and then letting it radiate out of the pipes while the water heater worked to heat up fresh cold water.  It was serving no purpose.  And I realized that I actually didn't mind washing my hands in cold water one bit.
So I went around the house and removed part of the handle of all the hot water faucets at sinks (only part of the handle, so that it would remind me not to mindlessly turn on the hot if I didn't really need it, but still allow me to turn it on when I really did want to).  For the past year all of my hand and dish washing has been with cold water only, and I haven't missed the warm one bit, not even in winter.

Part 2) When you get into the shower (or fill a bath), what do you do?  You turn on the hot water, wait until the water heats up - and then turn on the cold tap to balance it out and adjust it to be comfortable.  Tell me this is not insane!
Imagine doing the same thing with the heat and AC: you turn the furnace up to its maximum setting, and then you make it comfortable by turning on the AC at the same time.  Or the same analogy in a car:  you floor the accelerator at all times, and then to regulate your speed you step on the brake at the same time.
Why not just heat the water to the temperature that you want it in the first place?

A nice hot shower is between 100 and 105 degrees.  Turn the water heater down to 110 degrees - just barely high enough so that with the temperature lost in the pipes, you get between 100 and 105 out at the shower head.
In addition to using less energy, you also spend less time fiddling with the handles every time you take a shower.  You just turn the hot tap on, and the temperature is perfect!

Before anyone brings it up in the comments: yes, you increase your risk of incubating Legionella bacteria in your water tank if you turn it below 120 degrees. 
This concern is pretty much akin to the hysteria over bird flu - and then swine flu - and next monkey flu, or whatever, who knows...
Legeionellosis affects 0.006% of the US population annually - almost all of whom are elderly or have otherwise compromised immune systems and many of whom are smokers as well.  It kills 0.001%
There will always be innumerable places where water is stored at less than 120 degrees (pools, lakes, rain barrels, fountains, dehumidifiers, windshield wiper fluid tanks...).  Considering the amount of stored water we come into contact with every day, and how rare the disease is, increasing the chances of incubating it still means the chance of contracting it are very remote.
Most water systems are not contaminated with it in the first place (and in order to grow in your water tank, it has to get in there from somewhere).  Most people who do come into contact with it aren't affected.  Most people who do contract it, recover.

If you live with elders, or anyone with a condition that leads to a compromised immune system, or you are just concerned and want to be extra careful, all you have to do is turn your water heater up to 150 for a few hours once a month, thereby sterilizing the inside of the tank.  This is enough to kill any growing population of bacteria that may be there.
Then turn it back down so you aren't wasting enormous amounts of energy the rest of the time. 
When it comes time to replace your water heater, go with a tankless (instant) water heater, and you don't have to worry about the (extremely unlikely) possibility of incubating bacteria in the tank.

And remember, there is a much higher risk (especially to young children and people with restricted mobility) of serious injury due to scalding from having the temperature too high than there is of contracting legionellosis.


Turning it down to 110, instead of the industry standard 140, will save you 15% of the energy (and therefor the cost) of heating that water.  Using less of it (by only using hot water to shower) will save you 60% of your water heating energy.
Together, an increase in efficiency of 75% is far more than upgrading to the latest Energy Star model would save, and it cost you nothing!
For an average household, that 75% translates to somewhere around $400 a year.

Step 8: Take the Bus

Flying from one place to another is one of the most inefficient ways you can get from one place to another. 
Even driving in a Hummer is more efficient (as long as you take along a couple of passengers).

This should come as no surprise, since in addition to the energy it takes to transport your body and luggage, there is also the energy to transport a 47 ton vehicle, as well as the energy needed to make a 47 ton vehicle fly through the air!!
If that were not enough, it does so at speeds of over 500MPH.  Just like highway mileage for a car, air resistance increases with the square of the speed, so going 500mph, even in something as aerodynamic as a plane, comes with a huge added energy cost.

A plane requires 4 to 7 times as much energy (per passenger) to transport people than a bus going the exact same distance
(depending on how full each is, and how long the trip is)

And not only does the ecosphere pay the cost of the luxury of getting from CA to NY in 6 hours, you pay a pretty penny premium for it as well.

The most environmentally friendly way to travel long distances is also often the cheapest (notice a pattern?)

For example, a one way trip from NY to Chicago by plane, booked 2 weeks in advance, costs anywhere from $130 to over $500 (depending on the airline).  That trip on Greyhound is $80.
A plane trip from SF to LA will set you back $90.  On the Chinatown Busline, its only 20 bucks.

(Unfortunately, for long trips, such as coast-to-coast, bus lines can't compete with the highly subsidized airline industry for cost.  They are still the better option for ecological impact.  If you want to be greener than flying, but not pay more money for it, consider looking for a rideshare by googling "rideshare")

Step 9: The Hybrid Alternative (version 2)

I realize that as a country, we have gotten so spoiled by cars that expecting people to give them up is just not realistic.
Heck, even I have both a truck (that runs on biodiesel) and a motorcycle (that gets over 70mpg).  Sooner or later most of us are going to buy a car.

Many times the question has been asked, "does the amount of gas a hybrid saves make up for the higher price?"

The answer is no. 

A hybrid is not worth it.
The reason this seems like a reasonable question is because it is always posed as a false dichotomy:  a  new high-efficiency hybrid vs. a new moderate efficiency non-hybrid.

What if I told you you could have a car that gets about the same mileage as the Prius, and only cost about $2000?
The purchase of which, unlike the first two options, caused zero additional ecological damage in the form of mining materials, manufacturing energy, and transporting the final product.

Buy a used sub-compact car from the local paper or Craigslist.  The Geo Metro got around 50mpg.  The Chevy Sprint, Ford Festiva, and Suzuki Swift all got around 40.  These numbers are EPA ratings, but if you put even a minimum of thought into how you drive, you can easily get much better than the EPA rating in any given vehicle

(The first step to efficient driving is watching your speed.  Much more detail on that:
A very good primer on efficient driving:
You can see how I get 100% better mileage out of my truck here:   )

You should easily be able to beat the Prius for mileage in any one of these cars.


1)"Small cars are unsafe".  This extremely pervasive myth comes from the fact that in crash tests which simulate a head-on collision, a vehicle with more mass fairs better (all other things being equal).
This is due to physics, and can only partially be mitigated by the design of safety restraints and crumple zones.

However, how a vehicle fairs in a head-on collision is only a small part of overall safety.

For one thing, head-on collisions are the not the most common type of collision.  In a rear or side impact collision, a roll-over, or a single-vehicle collision with an inanimate object, vehicle mass has little or no impact on passenger safety.  I won't get into the details, but, again, this relates to physics more than car design.
If you live in a rural area with high-speed undivided roads, you may have reason to worry about head-on crashes.  Most of us live in a city or suburb where freeways have dividers down the middle, and city street speed limits are too low to worry about fatal crashes.

The other reason crash tests are misleading is that not all vehicles are equally likely to get into a crash.
Think about it - which would you rather:  get into a crash and survive; or avoid the crash altogether!?!?
A vehicle with twice the mass takes twice as long to stop (physics again!)

You don't believe me do you?

This is from a 2000 NHTSA study of actual fatality rates by different vehicle classes.
If being heavy really made a vehicle safer, then fatality rates would drop in proportion to weight.  That isn't at all what happens:

Class                          avg weight in lbs    fatalities per bil. miles

Mid-size 4-door cars           3,061                9.46
Small 4-door SUVs             3,147                10.47
Compact pickup trucks       3,339               11.74
Mid-size 4-door SUVs         4,022                13.68
Large 4-door SUVs              5,141               10.03

The reality doesn't exactly match up with conventional wisdom.  A 3,000lb mid-size car turns out to be safer than a 5000lb SUV when you look at fatalities per mile instead of just crash test ratings (and these results include all situations, including the undivided highways that most of us don't travel on very often)
Mid-size cars are safer than any size SUV.

Assuming you aren't at high risk for head on collisions, the things to look for are braking distance, maneuverability, and lack of blind spots, and a small car beats out a large SUV on all three points.

2)"The car is too small for my needs".  Considering most American households have between 2 and 5 people and one car per driver, and the majority of US car trips have one passenger or less, it's hard to understand why anyone would think 5 seats and a trunk wouldn't be enough.
Instead of sizing for a trip that comes up a few times a year, consider your day-to-day use.  On those rare occasions you actually need something bigger, rent it.

3)"Used cars are unreliable".  Fair enough. 
Say, after a year or two, you need to do a major repair - say, it needs a new engine or transmission.  It costs you a couple grand, at the most - as much as you spent on the car.  On the other hand, you are not paying for full-coverage insurance - which would have cost you a couple grand within a few years.   You are also not paying interest on a car loan.  Or making any payments, for that matter, because what you would have spent on just the down payment of a new car was the total purchase price of the used car.

Simply put: for the cost of one new car, you can buy five to ten 20-year-old used cars.
It doesn't matter how much you sink into a used car in repairs, you will NEVER come close to breaking even with the cost of a new car with a warranty. 

Worse case scenario, the car is totaled, and you don't have full coverage insurance.
Now you have to buy a new car.
But again, the new (used) car costs about as much as 2 years of full coverage insurance would have cost you.
Unless you total a car every two years, you come out ahead. 
(And if you do total a car every two years, you really should have your license revoked)

This stands to reason, since (like with all insurance) the insurance company is in business to make a profit, and they set the price to insure that 90% of people pay them more than they will ever get back in claims.  You can beat them by buying a car that doesn't warrant full coverage.


"kretzlord" pointed out in the comments "it might not be the coolest thing to ride, but at around 100 mpg, it's a good midpoint between bike and car..."
I don't know how I missed that myself!  I actually own a 250cc motorbike.  Mine is a motorcycle, not a scooter, but it has a scooter sized engine, (as well as a scooter sized pricetag).  My Kawasaki EX250R gets between 60 and 80MPG (depending on how fast I drive, whether I have a passenger, and the amount of hills). 

One of my earliest blog posts was on this very topic:

I won't write any more on the topic, as that link addresses all of objections you have against commuting by motorbike.

Step 10: Small Change

As I mentioned in the introduction, there are many other lists online (including on instuctables) of ways to save energy.  They do give valid advice, but most of it consists of small changes (and/or expensive changes).  I do recommend looking up a few, and following the suggestions you find.  Small changes do add up.

Here is one example:
It is very thorough (although some items are listed more than once).  It also has some pretty screwy suggestions which you should ignore: turn the AC to 78 degrees when nobody is home!?!?!?!?!  Really?  That's way lower than it needs to be when people are home.  When nobodies home it should be off!  And, "hang up your clothes after running them through the drier"?  Is that a joke?  If you are going to take the time and effort to put your clothes on a clothesline anyway, why not justput them directly from the washer to the clothesline, and use zero energy (or money)? Despite these shortcomings, I put the link here because I don't feel like typing out their 200 or so good suggestions.

The following are smaller changes than the previous pages, but they are left off of other lists altogether, and every little bit helps.
I'll most likely add to this list as I think of things (and/or people make good suggestions in the comments)

-Plug everything with a plug into a power strip. Plug that power strip into a timer that shuts off automatically - but has to be turned on by hand.  The simple cheap dial ones you can get at the grocery store or pharmacy work perfect for this.  They have a tiny red tab and a tiny green tab.  Take the tiny green tab out and throw it away.  Set the red tab for about an hour after you normally go to bed (9 or 10, maybe earlier, if you are following step 5).  This way, if you forget to manually turn off the power to anything, it will not stay on all night (and all the next day when you forget to turn it off again before going to work).  It also serves as a reminder of how late its getting when you stay up working or watching TV.

-If you cook, get a pressure cooker. It will cut cooking time dramatically, saving you both energy and time.  Dry beans, for example, cook in 5 to 10 minutes in a pressure cooker, as opposed to an hour or more in a pot.   ok, I admit it, this means spending more money upfront, so that you can save money in the long run, but a good quality pressure cooker should last forever, and it has a concrete benefit, so it passes the tests in step one.  If you don't cook, use the microwave.  It only heats the food, not the air, so it is more efficient than a stove.  Either way, preparing your own food is both more ecological and cost effective than buying prepared food or eating out.

-Rechargeable batteries; again, this requires an initial investment in a charger as well as the batteries, but price per amp hour has dropped dramatically over the past decade, to the point where it doesn't really make any sense to keep buying use-once-and-throw-away batteries anymore.  Plus, you can find them anywhere alkaline are sold these days, so its not even any additional trouble to get them.  There is basically no excuse for not using rechargeables.

-Use the battery powered version over the plug in version.  When things come in both battery and plug-in form, the battery version usually uses much less total power (even considering the loss in the charger).  The most common example is the bedside alarm clock.  A plug in alarm clock uses around 2-5 watts.  A battery power alarm clock uses about 0.01 watts.  (Of course, a wind up alarm clock uses 0 watts, making it the best option of all).

-When you go to the store for a few things, and realize you forgot to bring your cloth bag, just carry things loose in your hands.  You avoid another plastic bag, and you can usually talk the cashier into giving you the "bring your own bag credit" that most large chains offer these days (saving you a few cents each time)

Step 11: Some Big Changes

These are not things which anyone is going to go out and do right after they finish reading this webpage, but they are things to keep in mind the next time a major life transition comes up anyway.

-Move! As in, move to a new house. One which is no more than a 10 min walk from groceries and/or public transit, and no more than a 15min bike ride from work. This is a big step, but one which will save you thousands of dollars in the long run (assuming you keep the same rent/mortgage) and perhaps even more importantly, will save you hundreds of hours of time. Hours of your life which are currently wasted sitting in your car in traffic.  Living close to work and food makes following step 2 (hybrid alternative) a realistic option, and for that reason it may be cost effective even if it means paying slightly higher rent.  Even just the maintenance, insurance, gas, and registration on a fully paid for car amounts to thousands of dollars a year (and generally the highest negative environmental impact that each of us makes), so moving out of the suburbs so that you can sell your existing car may be worth considering.  If you already live within walking distance of groceries and/or public transit, you could also consider getting a new job closer to home, or finding a way to telecommute or otherwise work from home.

-Move! (part 2). As in, move to a new house. One which is as small as you can practically live in. Notice I used the word "practically", not "comfortably" - because comfort is subjective based largely on expectations and what everyone else around you is doing. Nobody felt cramped in 1000 square foot homes 40 years ago, but today the average new home is over 2500 square feet... even though the average family size has gotten smaller since then.
As a very rough generality, I'd say you don't really need more than 100 square feet per person to be comfortable (so long as you don't go over to your neighbor Jones' house across the street and see what they have).  A smaller home means every form of energy use and every home related expense drops.

-12v solar, non-grid-intertie-system. This takes an initial investment, but tens of thousands of dollars less than a typical grid-intertie residential system. I will make a detailed instructable about this topic in the near future.Done:

-Live in an RV.  RVs are designed to allow someone to go "off-grid" into the woods for weeks at a time, and still maintain all the comforts of civilization.  In order to facilitate that, they are built to use water, propane, and electricity more efficiently than a normal household.  For example, if you wanted an ammonia-gas-absorption-cycle refrigerator for your house you would have to pay a premium of several hundred dollars over a conventional compressor fridge.  In an RV they come standard.  They also have tankless toilets, 12v low wattage lighting and a small amount of total cubic air space to heat or cool.  Because they already have a 12v electrical system with battery backup, adding in a non-grid-intertie system is very easy.  And in addition to saving energy and water, you also pay a fraction of the rent you would pay in a similarly sized studio apartment by staying in a trailer park.  In some areas trailer spaces (with full hookups) can be had for under $200 a month, while even in the most expensive areas of the country (just outside of San Francisco CA or NYC) spaces are less than $500.
MAJOR CAVEAT:  RV living only saves energy and money if you find a place to put it and leave it there!  RVs are terribly inefficient when it comes to driving around.
See this video tour of my RV home for more:
(There are some errors in this video.  I didn't prepare for this video in advance at all. I also had a faulty electric meter at the time, that was reading low.  My actual electric use is about 1/10th the national average, not 1/30th.  My water use s about 1/4 the national average.  And I have about 250 square feet, not 150.  On the other hand, my girlfriend now lives with me, so our per capita energy/ consumption is only half of those numbers)

-Run your auto (if you still have one) on used vegetable oil.  In keeping with the trend of this instructable, I'm not suggesting you go out and buy a diesel engined vehicle just so you can run it on veggie grease.  But if you are shopping for a new car anyway (or if already own a diesel), get a diesel and find a restaurant that currently has to pay to have their old oil hauled off, and offer to take it for free. I'm sure there are already plenty of instructables that will walk you through the details of the conversion process.

Step 12: Get Rich by Saving the Planet

If you have been following along, and adding up all the numbers, you may have discovered that by following these steps a household could save over 30 thousand dollars a year, while at the same time doing a whole lot less damage to the world around them.
That was not a typo.  $30,000!

For many people (like me!) 30 thousand dollars is more than an entire years income.  I doubt there is any one reading this who would mind waking up a year from now to discover an unexpected 30grand smiling back at them from their bank statement (well, would you?)

This flies directly in the face of the conventional wisdom that says you have to choose between saving money and saving the planet.
Consumer marketers hope to tempt you into believing you can buy forgiveness, much like the medieval Catholic church sold "indulgences" (today they are called "carbon offsets"). 

Too often "green" means "moderately less destructive version of something nobody really needed in the first place".
The true alternative is doing without it all together.
There is a certain freedom that comes with not having mountains of stuff to look after.  (Not to mention a certain freedom that comes with a spare 30Gs!)

In addition to the massive amount of money you are saving, by combining your commute, exercise, and recreation into a single step (by riding your bike to work), spending less time at the mall, never having to fiddle with the shower temperature again, using a pressure cooker, and maybe even moving closer to work, you are saving a couple hours of time every week.  Hours you can spend however you want!  In a country as wealthy as our own, time is probably more valuable than money. Just as the health of the planet goes hand-in-hand with the health of your bank account, so to it goes hand-in-hand with the health of your appointment book.

Some of this may sound like major lifestyle changes.  But most of it comes without any commitment.  Try some!  See how you like it.  Sam ended up enjoying his green eggs and ham.  But he would have never known if he had never tried.
You don't have to sell you car tomorrow.  Just try riding your bike to work one time.  Try washing your dishes by hand, or hanging up clothes to dry, just one time.  Turn down the thermostat for a couple days.  If you don't like it, you can always go back to your old ways.
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