This month is all about conserving energy and reducing our carbon footprint. Of course, the other changes we've made - paying attention to how our clothing or food was produced, reducing use of plastic, etc. - have the potential to reduce carbon emissions significantly. But this month, we'll focus on another big culprit: the household.

As was the case with some of our other challenges, you'll be reminiscent of your Earth Day study units from elementary school. ("Turn off the light when you leave a room!" is right up there with "Reduce, reuse, recycle!"). And yet...I don't know about you, but I could use an elementary-level lesson once in a while, when I find myself leaving lights on mindlessly, standing in front of an open fridge trying to decide what to get, and more. And beyond the basics, things have come a long way in recent decades in terms of efficiency as well. In other words, there are so many opportunities to make changes in this area - so let's get to it!


According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2016 the average American household used over 10,000 kWh of energy in the year. 

The U.S. contains only about 4% of the world's population, but generates 15% of the world's CO2 emissions.

Now, I understand that these numbers don't feel very tangible, but hopefully it's no surprise that our energy consumption is leading to unclean air and climate change. Between this and the potential of saving money, our path toward wise energy usage is clear.


Take some time to think about what this month's challenge will mean for you and your family. Maybe there are new habits to enact; maybe there are one-time house projects to complete; maybe there is a big purchase, such as solar panels or a hybrid vehicle, to consider. What can you do this month to create change, Kind Consumer? Below are some ideas. Except where otherwise noted, these are from Madison Environmental Group's 2008 publication Enact: Steps to Greener Living (Sonya Newenhouse, PhD). Another great resource is MG&E. And if you have kids, think about how to involve them too!

Are you curious about how much energy certain appliances in your home are eating up? You may be able to borrow a portable energy meter from your local library (I currently have one from the Verona Public Library; the librarian said some other MPL branches have them too). These can measure energy use, including phantom load (see below).

  • Across the board, any time you're shopping for a new appliance, look for Energy Star ratings to buy for efficiency!
  • Water heater: Set the temperature of your water heater at 120 degrees. A reduction from 130 to 120 reduces CO2 emissions by 400 pounds annually.
  • Home heating and cooling:
    • Pay attention to your windows. In the winter, close blinds and drapes at night to keep heat in, and apply plastic thermal film to drafty windows. Repair leaks on windows and doors. In the summer, open shades at night and close out the sunshine during the day.
    • Install a programmable thermostat to conserve energy while you're away.
    • Have your furnace and A/C tuned up regularly, and replace filters regularly.
    • Of course, try to get by with an in-home temperature a degree or two warmer in the summer, cooler in the winter. Pile on the blankets and slippers, especially at night, in the winter; use fans and lightweight clothing in the summer. Install ceiling fans in bedrooms if you don't already have them.
    • If you have a room or two you don't use much, close the vent and close the door, so your heated or cooled air circulates only in areas where it's needed.
  • Lighting:
    • Turn off lights when leaving a room.
    • Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFLs), which can save you $40 over their lifetime. (But, be sure to recycle responsibly as these contain mercury.)
    • Keep ambient lighting modest when possible, and supplement with task lighting where needed.
  • Laundry
    • Think before throwing something into the laundry basket. Can it get another wear?
      • Tip: my friend Tara Dahlberg, a Norwex consultant, said their Odour Eliminator is excellent for freshening up clothes (and shoes, wastebaskets...the list goes on). Shop here!
    • Water heating eats up 90% of the energy used for washing! Wash and rinse clothes in cold water whenever possible.
    • Clean the lint trap before every dryer load - or better yet, let clothes air dry.
    • Launder full loads only.
  • In the Kitchen
    • Run the dishwasher only when it's full.
    • Let hot foods cool down before putting them in the fridge.
    • A refrigerator can consume around 20% of a household's electricity. Having a high-efficiency model can have a big impact. Also, don't keep it open longer than needed. Check the door seals on the refrigerator and freezer by putting a flashlight inside, closing the door, and looking for the light. Replace if needed.
    • Turn off your ice maker and use trays instead. According to a NIST study reported by Time, ice machines can increase a refrigerator's energy consumption by up to 20%. (I've used these OXO trays with lids for years and love them! In fact, once we removed the ice maker bin, there remained two metal strips that made a great shelf for the trays, which stack on each other.)
    • Reconsider electric appliances that you may not need! You can sharpen knives, grind coffee, open cans, and chop food using hand tools.
    • Use your oven efficiently. Cook multiple dishes in it at the same time; use the heat during preheat and cooldown stages to cook food when possible; don't preheat longer than needed.
  • Choose renewable energy if your electric company provides this option.
  • Consider installing solar panels on your home.
  • Unplug appliances when not in use, as they can waste electricity even when turned off. This is called "phantom load," "ghost energy," . Common culprits include DVRs, TVs, phone chargers, computers, printers, video game consoles, and any appliance with a clock (such as a digital coffee maker) or that can be operated by a remote. You can take a quick quiz here to see how much "vampire power" (yes, really) is costing you. (My answer: $58. Not huge compared to total energy costs, but it's a simple thing to change! There's no need to leave phone and laptop chargers plugged in all over my house.)
  • Use a push rotary lawnmower.
  • Driving
    • Always think of how you can drive less by carpooling, biking, walking, using public transportation, shopping close to home, or combining errands into one trip.
    • Look for good fuel economy. I was thrilled in May to see a decent supply of gently-used Priuses, which get up to 51 miles per gallon, and I'm loving her so far! Buy a car no larger than what you need on a regular basis. When you need more space, try adding a cargo carrier or trailer, or borrowing or renting a larger vehicle.
    • Increase your car's efficiency by keeping your car well-maintained and removing heavy loads.
    • Drive green: accelerate and decelerate gently, avoiding quick stops and starts. Staying alert with ample space between you and the car in front of you will assist in this. Keep a steady speed. Coast toward stops rather than using more gas to get there and then braking. (Source: Toyota)
    • Don't idle. If you'll be stopped for more than 10 seconds, turn the car off. Skip the drive-thru at the bank, pharmacy, Starbucks, etc. if possible.


As always, I hope you'll take time to equip yourself for change. Maybe it's scheduling an afternoon of miscellaneous home and car maintenance. Maybe it's making an appointment with a solar panel company for a consultation and quote. Maybe it's buying a nice drying rack for clothing, some CFLs, or some good ice trays. Maybe you'll borrow an energy meter to gauge how your appliances stack up. Think through how to set yourself up for success, and come over to our Facebook group for help!