By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Apr 21, 2010 at 5:27 AM

You don't have to switch over to solar power or grow all your own food to be a member of the green movement. For the most part, greening your home is more about common sense than it is about competing for the Eco-Warrior Award.

Start with these practical practices and pretty soon, they'll become second nature, just like recycling and turning off the water while you brush your teeth.


Bright idea: If you're going to do just one thing for the planet, make it the switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs. Although they cost more upfront than incandescent light bulbs, they last about 10 times longer. Staggering stat: Swapping out 17 has the equivalent effect of taking one car off the road for a year.

Unplugged in Milwaukee: Even in standby mode, our plugged in appliances (toaster, coffeemaker, hair dryer, PC, printer, cable box, and cell phone charger) consume over 1,000 kilowatt hours a year. Simple solution? Plug nearby equipment into power strips with surge protectors and flip the switch before bed at night. Staggering stat: Americans pay $1 billion a year to power televisions and DVD players while they're turned off.

Rock the star: Purchasing energy-saving Energy Star-rated appliances, electronics, and lighting can slashing a third of your electric bill, help you earn tax credits, and of course, reduce your carbon footprint. Staggering stat: The average home can pump out twice as much greenhouse-gas emissions as the average car.


Reduce wasteful packaging: Remember that you want the product, not the packaging. A few minimizing strategies include: Buying in bulk, opting for reusable or recyclable packages, buying foods whole, rather than pre-cut and shrink-wrapped for "convenience." Staggering stat: One dollar out of every $11 you spend at the store pays for packaging.

Reduce your mileage: Our cars aren't the only reason we should be concerned about getting good mileage. Food travels too and the gas-guzzling, carbon-emitting system wreaks unnecessary havoc on the planet By buying your produce locally, whether it's through the farmers' market or a community supported agriculture program, you can reduce your miles. Staggering stat: North American produce typically travels a minimum of 1,500 miles before it reaches our plates.

Garden of Eatin': Of course, it doesn't get much more local than a bountiful vegetable garden in your own back yard. Staggering stat: The lawns in the United States consume around 270 billion gallons of water a week -- enough to water 81 million acres of organic vegetables, all summer long.


Retro is in: As if vintage shopping weren't hip enough, buying second-hand home furnishings reduces excess clutter in waste systems. If you're buying new, look for items made with reclaimed or recycled materials.

Don't cheap out: Purchase pieces that are durable and fixable -- don't cheap out, it'll cost you and the environment more in the long run.

One man's trash: If you have to get rid of unwanted items, use resources like Craig's List, eBay or Freecycle rather than hauling them off to the dump.

Five spring greening tips:

1. Debunk the junk: We all hate junk mail, but how many of us are doing something about it? The average American received about 41 pounds of junk mail each year, so why recycle it when you can eliminate it all together? Remove yourself from direct-mail mailing lists. Here are a couple sites to help you: has a free option and has a fee-based option.

2. Efficient water heating:

  • Insulate your water heater and water piping. If your water heater is not insulated, wrap an insulating blanket around it. If your water heater is gas, and not insulated, be sure to leave room for the air vent. Do not cover any venting pipes with a blanket.
  • Reduce your water heater thermostat to 120 degrees.
  • Replace your water heater with a tankless water heater --- you get instantaneous hot water, no waste while hot water slowly cools in the tank.

3. Earth-lovin' laundry:

  • Use a front-load washing machine, which use at least 40 percent less water and up to 65 percent less electricity than a top loader.
  • Rather than tumble drying, air dry on a line. (Your clothes will smell better and last longer.) If it's raining or snowing, use clothes airing racks.
  • Buy powered detergents and make sure your detergent is phosphate free.

4. Don't hesitate to insulate:

  • Upgrading your insulation to a higher R-value can lower energy costs dramatically. Start with insulating the attic and unheated crawl spaces.
  • Sealing ducts, caulking and weather stripping reduce energy loss even more.
  • Double up on windows. Replacing old single-pane windows with double pane-windows helps reduce heat loss in winter and heat gain in the summer.

5. Watch your water:

  • Install inexpensive water-saving showerheads or restrictors, which automatically pauses a running shower once it gets warm.
  • All household faucets should be fit with aerators. This great home water conservation method is also cheap (a few bucks at the hardware store).
  • Low-flow faucets reduce water consumption and the cost of heating water by as much as 50 percent.

Now take this quiz to test your energy IQ.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”