Back to Basics: Reduce

woman in river drinking water from a glass

Cutting back on the things you use and the amount you consume is perhaps one of the most effective way to reduce your footprint. It’s more than just turning off the water while brushing your teeth of switching off the light when you leave the house.

While we love the small steps, turning it up a notch makes a monumental difference. Reducing your impact involves a completely different way of thinking. It is about changing daily wasteful habits and seeing opportunities for savings in even the smallest of places. Here are our top 15 tips for reducing your consumption of energy, water, and products.

Energy You Consume

1. Check for air leaks in your home.
Studies show that homeowners received dramatically reduced electricity bills after their homes were weatherized. On average, electricity usage was reduced by 12-18 percent each month. Basic measures include weatherstripping, window caulking, attic insulation and switching to energy-efficient light bulbs.

2. Turn down the heat.
According to, you can save as much as 10 percent a year on your heating bill simply by turning down your thermostat 7 to 10 degrees lower than its normal setting for eight hours a day. They suggest keeping it at 68 degrees during the daytime and at home, and turning it down when you’re sleeping or away from home. Programmable thermostats, which are available in a wide range of prices to fit all budgets, are a great money-saving gadget. Set it up, and it remembers to turn down the heat for you.

3. Make the switch to LED.
According to a 2017 survey from SaveOnEnergy, close to 50 percent of all Americans haven’t yet switched to energy-efficient LED light bulbs. The Electric Power Research Institute estimates potential national annual electricity cost savings would exceed $250 million if all seasonal mini-lights were switched to LEDs. LEDs also typically have a longer lifespan than traditional incandescents. Typical incandescent bulbs last only 1,000 to 2,000 hours, while LED bulbs last up to 50,000 hours, way longer than halogen, fluorescent, and incandescent bulbs.

4. Unplug or pay up.
Vampire power is the power that your electrical devices use even when they are turned off or in standby mode. Keeping your electronics in standby mode, could add as much as 10 percent to your monthly power bill. So, unplug electronics when they’re not in use. Use power strips, and turn them off when your TV, computer, printer, and other electronics are not in use.

5. Hop on the bus.
Utilize your local public transit system. Light rails, buses, subways, and the like are easy ways to avoid crowded parking lots and reduce your carbon footprint. According to a 2010 U.S. Department of Transportation report, transportation accounts for 47 percent of a typical two-car American family’s carbon footprint. If just one driver per U.S. household switched from driving to using public transit for their daily two-way 10 mile commute, it “would save 4,627 pounds of carbon dioxide per household per year—equivalent to an 8.1% reduction in the annual carbon footprint of a typical American household.”

Water You Drink

1. When in doubt, go low-flow.
The average faucet flows at a rate of 2 gallons per minute, and a five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons of water. Consider installing a low-flow showerhead or aerator on your sink. You don’t need a complete bathroom remodel to start saving.

2. Take it outside.
According to the EPA, the typical single-family suburban household uses at least 30 percent of its water outdoors for irrigation. Try watering your lawn in the morning or the evening when it’s cool outside. This will cut down on evaporation due to sunlight and heat. You might also consider sustainable alternative lawns that require less water than a traditional turf lawn.

3. Stop and think before you drink.
Americans consume an estimated 1,500 water bottles per second. However, our tap water systems are regulated for drinking purposes, so fill up your reusable bottle for on-the-go refreshment. You can fill up to five, one-gallon jugs with water from your tap for about one cent.

4. Fix that leak.
Yes, leaky faucets really make a difference. If you have just one faucet that leaks at the rate of one drip per second (60 drips a minute), you may be wasting 3,082 gallons a year, according to the USGS Drip Calculator. To check for a leak, read your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. If the meter does not read exactly the same, you probably have a leak. To tell if your toilet has a leak, place a drop of food coloring in the tank. If the color shows in the bowl without flushing, it’s time to call a plumber!

5. Load it up.
A large percentage of our water is wasted in the laundry room. The average washing machine uses about 41 gallons per load, so always make sure you get the most bang for your buck and fill your clothes to the brim. For extra points, install an ENERGY STAR-certified high-efficiency washer.

Products You Buy

1. Start with your cart.
When choosing a product, considerations such as organic ingredients and fair trade materials play an important role, but packaging is also an important component of a product’s eco-friendliness. Precycle before you make a purchase by considering the end life of the product you buy and its packaging. When you can, opt for products and packaging that that are reusable, recyclable, or made from post-consumer materials.

2. Combine online purchases.
Order multiple items that can be shipped together in one package to decrease packaging material and transportation costs. To have 10 pounds of packages shipped by overnight air uses 40 percent less fuel than driving yourself round-trip to the mall, according to the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions. And using group shipping uses just one-tenth the energy as driving yourself.

3. Reassess what you need inside the store.
We’re all for toting our reusable bags to the grocery store. But let’s take it one step further and be aware of the disposable items we consume while shopping. Do you really need that plastic produce bag for your bananas? Is the small polystyrene cup worth just a sip-size sample of coffee? Opportunities for reduction are everywhere.

4. Go loco for local.
Most produce in the U.S. is picked four to seven days before being placed on supermarket shelves and is shipped for an average of 1,500 miles before being sold. Buying locally grown food means you’re getting the most fresh product, rather than something that was picked almost a week prior. It also cuts down on energy use and supports local farmers.

5. Look for the chasing arrows.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable labels, the universal recycling symbol is used to designate recyclable materials in a product or a product’s packaging. The three chasing arrows symbolize “closing the loop” by recycling and buying recycled products. This makes it important to understand your curbside program or local recycling facilities. Once you have a handle on what is accepted, you can make better purchasing decisions.

Feature image by silviarita from Pixabay

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  1. Something we have been considering for our home is a Dual Flush retrofitting kit for our toilets. I’ve been doing a lot of research, and while it seems like they don’t work for all toilet models, I think that most of the standard models should be compatible with them. Has anyone on these forums tried them yet? We’re considering one from MJSI. I’ve read good reviews, but I’d love to hear someone’s opinion on the difference they’ve seen in their water usage.

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