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Do Your Part to Go Green

Handle Household Chemicals Properly

In every household kitchen you can find a multitude of toxic chemicals.

They hide beneath kitchen sinks and in bathrooms cabinets disguised as everyday household cleaners, grease, oils, plastics, even some food and paper products. But before resorting to Saturday morning cleanings with only Ivory soap and water, take note of these alternative solutions.

Never dispose of household chemicals via the kitchen sink or the bathroom toilet: pouring such chemicals down the drain can corrode pipes and disrupt septic systems. Many cities have hazardous waste collection centers for such reasons. Also never empty chemicals onto lawns; the soil cannot purify most chemicals and they can contaminate runoff.

Try less-or non-toxic alternatives - preferably water-based products. Available at most local supermarkets, these products can be just as effective as their harsher alternatives, plus they're safer for your family and better for the environment. Make sure any household chemicals you do have are secured in a locked cabinet to prevent leaks or access by children.

Conserving Water- and Your Pocketbook

The average American household uses 127,400 gallons of water each year. Much of that is wasted through things such as leaky faucets (2,000 gallons a year), running a dishwasher that's not full (10-20 gallons a day), and hosing down sidewalks rather than sweeping them (50 gallons every five minutes). A few behavioral changes in your water usage can make a big difference to the environment, and to your pocketbook.

Don't over water your lawn. Once every three to five days during the summer and once every 10 to 14 days in the winter generally is all that's needed. Make sure not to water during the hottest part of the day or on an extremely windy day; this will prevent unnecessary evaporation. Use slow-watering techniques such as trickle irrigation or soaker hoses which reduce runoff and are 20 percent more effective than sprinklers.

Make sure dishwasher sand clothes waashers are full and set with the appropriate water settings before running them. Take short showers instead of baths and turn off the water when soaping. Low-flow showerheads can be installed to increase water savings even further. An estimated 5.4 billions gallons of water would be saved per day if all U.S. household installed such water-saving features. That's a savings of more than $4 billion per year.

Purchase Low-Energy Features for Your Home

When the time comes, replace appliances with low-energy models. Most major manufacturers are making washer/dryers, water heaters, even furnaces that have remarkably high energy efficiency.

This is one of the easiest, and best, ways to save on water and power consumption. Another easy green option is to replace your old thermostat with an automated one which can be set to lower the heat when homeowners are at work, and raise it when they come home.

Let the Sun Shine In

Solar energy is a rapidly growing way that homeowners can help out Planet Earth. "Homeowners should consider whether or not a solar water heater will work for them," said John Wesley Miller, chairman of the board, John Wesley Miller Companies in Tucson, AZ. "Utilizing solar energy betters the quality of life on our planet. But it can also have a positive effect on cash flow. The federal government has tax credits for those who use solar energy, as well as an increasing number of state governments." But solar heating isn't just reserved for water heaters. Solar technology can also be used for space heating and swimming pool heating, as well as many other household applications.

Another solar option is net metering, a simplified method of metering the energy consumed and produced at a home or business that has its own renewable energy generator. Under net metering, any excess electricity produced will turn the electricity meter backwards, effectively allowing the customers to "bank" their energy and use it a different time than it is produced. While it is not available everywhere, according to the Department of Energy of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, net metering is available in more than 35 states.

Use Your "Green Thumb"

When landscaping and gardening the yard, there are several things homeowners can do to decrease waste and water usage and increase their home's energy efficiency. Select plants and trees that require less water, fertilizers and pesticides. The practice of developing such a water-wise landscape is called Xeriscape, and contrary to thoughts of cacti and rock beds, following the principles of Xeriscape can produce a landscape that is hard to differentiate from a traditional one. The main difference is that it will be less reliant on water and fertilizer and need less regular maintenance.

Think about environmental factors when planning and designing a landscape. Using native plants that are well-suited to the region's climate and pests will reduce the need for irrigation and chemical applications. Cluster plants and trees with similar water needs in the same area so as to not waste water on plants that don't need it. Leave lawn clippings in the yard after mowing to nourish your lawn and prevent more landfill waste. Strategically placed trees and shrubbery can add to a home's energy efficiency. Research such options when planting. An average lawn, in fact, has a cooling effect equal to more than eight tons of air conditioning, while the average home central air-unit produces only three to four tons.

Planting flowering shrubs and trees for color, rather than annuals and perennials, conserves water and requires less maintenance. And do your research to determine about timing and amount of fertilizer to apply before getting started - it can greatly reduce the likelihood of runoff and contamination.