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13 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint at Home

Show your green side by taking small steps to reduce your carbon footprint at home. It's rewarding to do what you can to save energy and reduce pollution.

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Electricity surge protectorFamily Handyman

Unplug when not in use

Even when they’re turned off, electronic items that are plugged into a wall socket are still drawing a small amount of energy. These energy vampires, as they are called, use power needlessly and add to your carbon footprint. While it might be a pain to unplug items individually, it’s simple to use a power surge protector because there’s only one on/off switch for multiple outlets. Check out these easy to implement, money-saving energy tips and cut your heating bills starting today!

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Grow a vegetable garden

There are so many things to be said for growing your own vegetables, from avoiding chemicals to eluding the food-borne illnesses that are regularly in the news. It’s also one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Instead of produce being trucked thousands of miles, it’s only a short stroll from your back door. You can grow a vegetable garden in a space as small as 4×4 feet. Garden centers and big box stores sell small raised bed kits that are simple to assemble or build your own. Fill them with a soilless potting mix and your choice of vegetable plants and you’re on your way! How to prep soil for a vegetable garden.

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Dry your clothes on a clothesline

Have you ever slept on freshly laundered sheets that were allowed to dry outdoors on a clothesline? It’s pure joy. And just think how much better you’ll sleep knowing you did something good for the environment by lowering your carbon footprint. Clothes dryers are one of the biggest energy hogs when it comes to appliances. One dryer load uses five times as much electricity as a washer, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. So skip a load when you can. Here are nine ways to dry clothes without a dryer.

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Schedule an energy audit

Many municipal utilities offer free energy audits to let homeowners know where they can save energy and improve efficiency. If your local utility doesn’t offer the service, you can hire a professional to do it or do it yourself. A home energy audit helps you determine how much energy your home uses, where it’s losing energy, and what areas require attention. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Energy.

Learn how to evaluate your home for energy performance, plus tips for saving energy.

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Replace lightbulbs

Some utilities give out free samples of compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or light-emitting diode (LEDs) bulbs when they do a home energy audit. It’s one of the easiest ways to reduce energy consumption and lessen your carbon footprint. Even though the replacement bulbs can be pricey, they quickly pay for themselves. The U.S. Energy Department reports that you can save $45 each year just by replacing your home’s five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with more efficient ones. Here’s everything you need to know about CFLs.

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Buy energy-efficient appliances

If you’ve got old appliances—refrigerator, washer, dryer, dishwasher—you’re using more energy than you need to. Appliances have become much more energy efficient over the years. So the next time an appliance goes haywire, your best bet might be to replace it rather than repair it. And, if you want to make the switch before an appliance wears out, many utilities have a program that pays $50 for old working appliances that are being replaced by energy efficient models. Look for appliances that are Energy Star certified—that means they use less energy than conventional appliances, thus reducing your carbon footprint. Learn the top 10 myths about saving energy.

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Programmable ThermostatOlivier Le Moal/Shutterstock

Install a programmable thermostat

Unlike an old-fashioned dial thermostat, a programmable thermostat can be set so the heat or air conditioning is adjusted while you’re out of the house, say, at work or on vacation. You can also set it so the temperature goes down at bedtime and rises to greet you in the morning.

Learn how to install a programmable thermostat.

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Insulate and seal your house

One of the things an energy audit should uncover is areas of a house where heated or air conditioned air can escape. Sometimes it’s a simple fix, such as adding more insulation in the attic or caulking gaps around window frames. Other times, it may call for replacing outdated and inefficient windows. If that’s not in the budget, consider installing window insulation film, available at hardware and big box stores.

Check out our expert advice on how to insulate a house the right way.

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Conserve water

Water is a precious resource that should be safeguarded. In addition, unless you have your own well, clean, potable water needs to be processed and pumped through water treatment systems that use a lot of energy, thus adding to the carbon footprint. You can save the drain on the environment, so to speak, by doing what you can to conserve water. That means eliminating leaks and installing toilets and showers that use less water. It could also mean turning off the faucet when shaving, fewer baths and shorter showers, and using a soaker hose and drip irrigation in the garden rather than an inefficient sprinkler that shoots the water high into the air.

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Reuse, recycle and repurpose

To further reduce your carbon footprint, maybe it’s time you learned your three Rs (and we’re not talking the old-timey grammar school variety here). By reusing, recycling or repurposing an item, you save on the energy used to manufacture and transport replacement products. Many communities have active recycling programs that make it exceedingly easy with curbside pick-up. You can also donate unneeded items and supplies to thrift stores, charity rummage sales and places like ReStore America. Feeling creative? Find another use for the item in your own home or garden! Recognize these tin cans? Plus: Check out 30 ways to recycle just about anything.

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Drive Less. Drive Efficient.

Is something within walking distance? Take a stroll instead of a drive. It’s better for your health and you’ll be leaving a smaller carbon footprint. Carpool or bike to work, if possible. Drive close to the speed limit and avoid aggressive starts. Also, consider a hybrid or electric vehicle. Even modern gas-powered vehicles are more efficient than they were 10 or 15 years ago. These gas-saving tips will make a difference in your fuel consumption.

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Plant a windbreak

Although windbreaks were traditionally planted in the country, where there was room for a row of evergreens and another of shrubs, they have their place in urban areas, too. A simple evergreen hedge can diminish the wind and save on winter heating costs. Trees and shrubs can shade the ground and pavement, saving on cooling costs by reducing heat radiation around a home’s windows and walls in summer.

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houseAndrew Zarivny/Shutterstock

Plant a shade tree

The USDA Forest Service notes that properly placed trees can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and the energy used for heating by 20 to 50 percent. The Arbor Day Foundation cites this quote from Dr. E. Greg McPherson of the Center for Urban Forest Research: “If you plant a tree today on the west side of your home, in 5 years your energy bills should be 3 percent less. In 15 years the savings will be nearly 12 percent.” Not to mention trees exchange oxygen for carbon. Talk about reducing your carbon footprint! Check out these tips for making a shade tree thrive.

10 great trees you should consider planting in your yard.

Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.