Happy Earth Day!

Probably a total cliche to talk about environmental stuff on Earth Day but so be it. If you told me 10 years ago that I would be "environmentalist" I would have laughed in your face. We didn't even recycle back then - at least not regularly. But, somehow 10 years of life and 2 kids, and watching video of polar bears swimming between ice flows (thanks Al Gore) has brought me around. Although I am not a crazy tree-hugger by any means (although my brother would probably disagree), I am really happy we've made some important but relatively simple changes in our lives which will hopefully help decrease our impact on the Earth. Here are a few changes we've made which I think are relatively simple for anyone to do.

1) Recycle. Recycling is super easy especially now that most municipalities offer recycling services. Admittedly, it's soooo much easier when your recycling is picked up at the curb like it is in Arlington. As a sign of the times, the County recently upgraded everyone to a much larger recycling container which is almost the same size as the regular trash can. We previously had a small bin which barely held a week's worth of newspapers. We recycle all plastics, metals (including tin foil), glass, and as much paper as possible.We have a small recycling container behind our pull-out trash can and a paper recycling basket in our kitchen closet. Keeping the recycling containers handy makes all the difference. I am considering putting a recycling container upstairs so I can easily sort before they go in the regular trash cans.

2) Lights. As I am writing this, I am noticing how many lights are on around here. Earth Day Fail! I have been making an effort to turn lights off at night so only the rooms we are using have lights on. In addition, we are using table lamps instead of the overhead can lights more and more.

Sylvania 29490 23-Watt CFL Mini Twist 6 pack, Soft WhiteI have also been working on changing out our incandescent light bulbs for CFLs. Generally, the only bulbs we haven't changed out are the dimmable lights - chandeliers and flood lights for the most part. I still haven't changed all of the guest room lights but those rooms are rarely used so the impact would be minimal compared to the cost to change them out. I also need to change out the bulbs in a few overhead fixtures upstairs - maybe this afternoon! I generally use the Sylvania bulbs that I buy at BJs Warehouse. The Sylvania CFL instant-on bulbs are really great for bathrooms or anywhere you need immediate bright light. They cost about $10 for four 60 watt equivalent bulbs, compared to $11 for eight of the regular CFLs.

3) Compost. We started composting earlier this year which we hope will have the dual benefit of helping reduce waste that goes to a trash incinerator while also providing some great mulch for our plants. (Read about our composting efforts here and here.)

4) Appliances. Our most recent appliance purchases have been Energy Star Certified or more environmentally friendly. We bought our new washer and dryer earlier this year to replace our energy-hogging 8 year old models. During our whole house renovation we bought an Energy Star rated refrigerator and Bosch dishwasher. We also installed a second tank-less hot water heater, and a second high-efficiency furnace.

5) Insulation. When we redid the house we added foam insulation in the attic and a lot of insulation in the walls in the basement, first and second stories. I think this has made a huge difference in our energy consumption. In fact, our gas and electric bills are only a few dollars more per month than they were before our renovation - and that includes the extra 1800 square feet!

6) Reduce waste. Overall, we try to reduce the amount of waste we create. We use our fridge filter instead of bottled water whenever possible. I use a permanent coffee filter. We rarely use paper cups and plates except for very large parties. We don't use paper towels in the bathrooms. We still use paper napkins and paper towels, but hopefully when the kids are a little older (and maybe less messy?), we'll be able to reduce our paper napkin use. We sell, give away, or donate things that we are no longer using instead of putting them out with the trash.

What are you doing to reduce your environmental impact on the Earth? Any easy tips to share with others?
p.s. The HOUSEography Room-by-Room House Tour continues Monday with your Home Office, Craft Room, Sewing Room, "Mom Cave", or other special nook in your home!