Going green doesn't have to mean buying an expensive hybrid car or installing solar paneling on your roof. Homeowners can take several affordable steps to save money through reduced energy use and smart shopping choices that can help the environment.
Some environmentally-sound choices require no work at all, with affordable green options now available when you shop for light bulbs, food, cleaning solutions and home appliances.
Other steps involve only minimal effort -- such as recycling bottles, making sure your home is well insulated and participating in home composting.
Switching light bulbs to compact fluorescent ones, for instance, is one way to decrease energy costs.
"They are available in almost all styles, they last longer than regular incandescent bulbs, and are far cheaper over the long run," says Dr. Christopher Miller, assistant professor of environmental science and biology at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Fla.
When buying new home appliances, consider their environmental impact. Choosing those with the government's Energy Star label will ensure the product is energy efficient and will start to shrink your energy bills.
Other simple suggestions from Miller for a greener home include such cost-saving moves as installing a low-flow shower head to save water (and money on your water bill) and using fewer synthetic chemicals. For example, instead of using a commercial cleanser with bleach to clean your counter-top, break out the vinegar and baking soda. It will do the job just as well.
Outside the house, composting is the ideal way to return organic matter, usually regarded as waste, to the natural soil. A compost in your yard will improve the soil for gardens. It will also reduce the amount of waste added to our overflowing landfills.
"The difference varies by household, but I would estimate that 30 to 50 percent of household waste could be diverted to compost," says Dr. Kenneth Mulder, the director of the campus farm at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt., which composts its dining hall waste into the campus vegetable gardens.
Home composting is becoming increasingly accessible. Several systems are available that require minimal levels of maintenance and do not smell or appear unattractive.
The trick to managing a home compost pile is to layer your more degradable matter, such as food scraps, with layers of straw or leaves. "It won't smell, it won't look bad, and it will do the job," says Mulder.
Traditional recycling of bottles, newspapers and food packaging also will help reduce the waste in landfills and can even put some money in your pocket in the form of bottle deposits. This prevents the waste of potentially useful products and decreases energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Your choice of food and snacks also can help the earth, since the production of processed food is a substantial contributor to our country's carbon footprint. Buy organic or locally grown food as an alternative to your usual restaurant stop or potato chip snack.
By substituting these foods you will also see the benefits of maintaining a healthy diet -- such as fewer yearly illnesses, a longer life and weight loss.
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