More and more people are beginning to take action to combat climate change and reverse the negative impact human activity has had on the ecosystem. Some are changing wasteful habits, others are protesting for change at a higher level, and still more are taking up conservation efforts not to save the environment but to save money!
And many conservation efforts do just that: They save you time, effort, and money while also saving the environment. Terms like “repurposing” and “upcycling” have entered the lexicon, while the number of people practicing an “organic lifestyle” have forced major restaurants to alter their menus to include healthier alternatives.
Sadly, though, recent studies indicate that as many as 600 species of plants have gone extinct over the last 250 years. In that same time, over 200 species of animals have also gone extinct. Some studies place these numbers even higher! These events are related, not only because they are the result of human activity but also because of the interrelation of plants and animals in the ecosystem. A disturbance at any level has a ripple, or knock-on, effect on the others.
Below, we will discuss dozens of ways you can conserve energy, water, soil, and more everyday, just by changing the way you do things like brushing your teeth and washing your clothes. Best of all, most of these ideas also save you time and money! And many of them are actually fun – so much so that they literally provide positive health benefits.
Finally, at the end of this guide, we have included a list of helpful sites with even more information on these subjects.
Conserving Energy Inside & Outside the Home
At the time this is being written, almost no utility companies in the US employ renewable energy sources; they operate solely on fossil fuels like oil and natural gas, which are finite resources. For this reason, it is vital that we start thinking of electricity as a finite resource, as well.
Individual homeowners can purchase solar panels, install windmills, and change the way they use their utilities to generate, and conserve, electricity. Many of the following tips are less life-hacks than common sense, but it is easy to overlook these things because we have grown up with so many bad habits we never knew we needed to change.
A brilliant example is hanging drapes: Drapes help regulate the temperature in your home year round by blocking sunlight in the summer and keeping the heat from escaping during the winter months. That isn’t something we usually think about because we mostly think of curtains as being used for blocking the sunlight and obscuring our indoor activities from neighbors and passersby.
Another is swapping old lightbulbs for more modern, and much brighter, versions. Not only do these use less wattage and last longer than traditional bulbs, they actually provide more light – so you are also saving money, and conserving electricity, by turning on fewer lights!
Keeping your cats indoors preserves birds, squirrels, and other wildlife cats like to eat. Consider pine shavings or pellets for their litter boxes. Not only are they naturally fragrant, they are also healthier for the environment. You can even use it as mulch, or in your compost pile, after separating the used portion. Cat, dog, and human feces are not good for plants or compost, and should not be used as fertilizer.
Be sure your home is insulated, especially the attic. If you cannot afford to insulate your entire home, or do not wish to go to the trouble, experts suggest insulating the attic only, as this will trap rising heat and force cool air back into the lower levels. Use caulk or waterproof sealant around windows, baseboards, and door frames for more insulation.
Finally, wrap your water heater in insulation, as well. Not only does this conserve energy and speed up the time it takes for your water to get hot at the tap, it extends the lifetime of your appliance. Experts suggest insulating all of the hot water pipes in your house as well, but this can become expensive. It can also be a major undertaking.
Dry your laundry outside whenever possible. Use a toaster oven and slow cooker to prepare meals, especially in the summer. Do not forget to flip the switches on your ceiling fans in the spring and fall to save energy. Set your thermostat a few degrees higher than normal. Carpeting and throw rugs also conserve heat.
While it may be a few steps below a smart home, using timers on some appliances and lamps can save energy and also save you money. Timers can be purchased for a small amount at most home and hardware stores, and there is nothing to “install.” Simply plug the timer into the outlet, set it to a schedule or specific time, then plug the appliance into the timer. These are also effective deterrents to would-be criminals, if the light source is visible from outside.
Note that many people use timers for their outdoor sprinklers, but this is not suggested because it wastes water, and can also lead to an overwatered lawn. It can wash away the soil, too. When you walk across your yard, make sure the grass springs back up behind you. If it doesn’t, it needs to be watered.
Here are even more tips for conserving water:
Conservation of water seems like something individuals would be hard-pressed to do, unless maybe we are park rangers or civil servants. But there are actually a lot of measures we can take to protect and even clean the water supply – which is important, because water is another finite resource.
Do not leave the water running when washing dishes, shaving, or brushing your teeth. Use the water in which you cook vegetables and meats as broth for soups, or for a flavorful alternative to tap water when you make rice or noodles. Washing dark clothes in cold water not only saves energy and conserves water, it helps them retain their color. Reuse bath towels at least twice, if not more, and wait to wash clothes until you have a full load.
Replace your showerhead to save water and filter out harmful chemicals, and install aerators on all of your faucets. Take showers instead of baths. Test your toilets for leaks annually (or more often if they are older models), and also check your showers, faucets, hoses, and appliance connectors regularly. Replace toilet flappers if they do not close properly after flushing.
Raise your lawnmower blades a half-inch. Taller grass retains water more efficiently. Likewise, let leaves and grass clippings stay on the ground to protect the soil and keep the lawn hydrated – or you can move them to your compost pile (see below).
Consider using succulents and cacti for landscaping, as they are hardier and need less water. Aloe vera has been used to treat external cuts, wounds, and burns for millennia, and some cacti are edible. Be absolutely certain you know what you are eating, though; most succulents are poisonous to ingest.
Use containers to catch rainwater you can then use on your lawn and outdoor plants. Be sure to empty them often though, as standing water will attract insects like mosquitoes. Water your lawn and garden at dusk to conserve water – otherwise, it will evaporate in the sun.
Insecticides, industrial fertilizer, antibiotics, and even antidepressants have poisoned many of our water sources. Filtering water in our homes sends clean water back into the system.
Conserving & Replenishing the Soil
Soil is one of the most important elements of the environment. If its nutrients are stripped or washed away, the soil becomes arid and cannot support plant life. Luckily, soil can actually be created through recycling!
Composting is an easy way to save money, grow healthier plants and vegetables, reinvigorate the soil, and recycle organic waste. It can also be fun and educational for kids, and makes a great project for the whole family.
Save organic garbage such as paper, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, teabags, and so on, in a coffee can or small trashcan. Choose a spot away from your home so the smell does not bother you. Be sure it is in a place which gets partial sun. Begin your compost heap with dead leaves, then toss in your organic garbage, and cover that with grass clippings. Finally, water your compost pile well.
Maintain a balance of brown and green materials, and keep your compost heap moist (but not wet). Turn the pile about once a week with a shovel or pitchfork. After three to four months, the compost should be ready for use on plants, herbs, fruits and vegetables, or spread over your lawn.
Composting also conserves water and lessens the amount of garbage sent to landfills.
Conserving the Flora & Purifying Air
Flora is just a fancy name for plant life, and plant life is extremely important to the environment. Although it is easy to forget, plants create Oxygen which we need to breathe! Plants on the ground help to combat erosion, provide food for fauna (another fancy, scientific term for wildlife), and aerate the soil. Trees cut the effects of pollutants and provide fruits for wildlife – and people!
Gardening is a wonderful way to conserve plant life, and medical experts say that gardening is also a great way to relax. In several clinical studies, plants and even the act of gardening itself have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and improve overall mental and physical health.
Plant flowers that attract birds and bees and they will help pollinate other plants and flowers. Rotate your crops to keep the soil healthy and your ensure your harvests are more plentiful. Mulch provides ground cover which retains heat in the winter and repels harsh sunlight in the summer. It also retains water and prevents weed growth.
Of course, gardening fruit trees and vegetables is also a good way to cut your grocery bills while also improving your eating habits. With very little planning or preparation, you can grow everything you need to make delicious salads, dressings, salsas, and hummus fresh from your garden.
Fresh herbs are another great touch for your homemade recipes and taste nothing like the dried, packaged herbs you purchase at the supermarket. Herbs have an abundance of uses aside from seasoning – teas, tinctures, and essential oils being only a few. Perhaps best of all, most can be grown indoors or outdoors at any time of the year.
While citrus and banana plants only grow in certain sections of the United States, fruit-bearing trees of all type grow in a number of regions. Peaches, apples, pears, and plums are only a few of the varieties of fruit trees that can grow in most climes. Walnut and pecan trees not only provide nuts you can eat, but also coveted wood that is used for both homebuilding and furniture. And Strawberries, grapes, and blackberries are vines that can thrive in temperate regions with little maintenance.
All of these fruits, nuts, and berries can be prepared in a number of ways, and are renowned for the vitamins and nutrition they provide. In fact, they are not only considered part of a balanced and healthy diet, some are even considered superfoods!
Most of these trees are quite hardy and require minimal maintenance after the first year or two. Mulch them over the winter, then fertilize them in the spring when they are young. Some saplings may also need to be “bagged” for the winter months, which simply means placing a garbage bag over their limbs in late fall to protect them from freezing temperatures and snowfall.
If you are uncertain of how to care for your trees, check online for more information. We have provided a list of reliable sources at the bottom of the page to get you started.
Plant a tree annually as a family event, perhaps on Arbor Day. Every tree planted cuts 100 pounds of carbon daily! Many communities even sponsor celebrations for just such occasions, and some have communal gardens where each participant is granted his or her own plot to tend. If your community does not celebrate these events or have a community garden, you can start a petition or call-in campaign to establish one!
Planting trees and properly caring for flora cleans the air and provides more Oxygen, but indoor air is notoriously poor. Air filters help clean and deodorize rooms, but they also cost money and consume electricity when in use. Indoor plants like lavender, aloe vera, spider plants, and ferns help purify the air by collecting pollutants given off by furniture, garbage, and pets.
Just having a plant in your room is said to provide numerous health benefits.
Upcycling & Other Household Ideas
Conservation extends beyond the ecological and scientific. Every time you repurpose, reconstitute, or recycle an item instead of throwing it away, you are lessening your impact on the environment. Landfills have reached capacity the world over, so the more we can do to stem the growth of trash, the better.
While the term “upscaling” has become a buzzword on British and American TV, many people are intimidated by the thought of do-it-yourself projects involving the level of skill and time commitment they see on popular programs. High-end television makeovers are done by professionals with teams of skilled laborers, despite what those TV shows lead you to believe.
A little creativity and some elbow grease go a long way. And though upscaling or refurbishing pieces yourself is labor intensive, it is also the cheapest way to furnish your home with antiques and heirlooms that would otherwise rot away in a dump.
Upscaling really just means refurbishing, or modernizing, old household items (especially furniture) to bring them more in-line with today’s trends. In some instances, all a beaten-up, old dresser needs is a few nails, a can of stain, and a good buffing to revitalize it. You do not need any special skills to do that!
Reconstituting, or repurposing household items, is similar to refurbishing them. Repurposing an item simply means using it for an unintended purpose. An old computer desk rolled onto the front porch becomes attractive shelving for an herb garden; an old wardrobe becomes a kitchen corner pantry after a coat of paint; a tired dresser becomes a kitchen island, or a tool chest for the garage, just by adding some wheels; and so on. You do not need much money, nor any special skills, to come up with clever ways to employ furniture and other household objects that have outlived their intended usefulness.
Recycle metals, even if you do not recycle other trash. Some communities do not have the necessary facilities to recycle plastics, paper, and other trash, but metal items can be traded for cash at many places across the country. While the return is hardly enough to live on, it does help the environment.
Learn to cook! Not only do you save money you would otherwise spend on fast food and delivery, you control the ingredients, flavor palettes, and portion sizes. Unless you plan on throwing dinner parties for restaurant critics, you don’t need a lot of special equipment or fancy flatware to feed your family on a modest budget.
A food processor, some good knives, a chopping board, and some reliable pots and pans are all it takes to create restaurant quality meals for your entire household. Many family meals can be inexpensive, especially if made from scratch. Add a microwave, a slow cooker, and an electric mixer, and you cut the time it takes to prepare a large meal in half.
Many cookbooks not only provide recipes, but instructions on techniques, modern takes on traditional dishes, conversion charts, and substitutions for ingredients you might not have on hand. There are also TV shows, websites, and online videos that literally show you how to cook.
Don’t forget the energy and water saving tips about dishwashers and washing dishes by hand that we provided above! Once you learn how to really cook, your dishwasher quickly becomes your favorite kitchen utensil.
A collection of materials regarding energy efficiency, including market characterizations, behavior program studies, and lists of energy efficient appliances.
Gardenista provides a slew of information on every possible gardening topic you can think of. This is their guide to cacti and succulents for use in your garden and landscaping projects.
The DIY Network is a highly trusted source for do it yourself household projects. Use their easy to follow instructions to upcycle and rejuvenate furniture you already have instead of throwing it away.
These are just a few of the tasty dishes you can make with fresh produce picked right from your own garden. Despite its name, Southern Living provides tons of recipes, design ideas, and household tips for homes in any region.
Old Farmer’s Almanac has been providing farmers with gardening guides, accurate weather predictions, recipes, and general household tips for over 200 years! There is also a print edition and several subscription tiers available.
Another great resource for even more tips, ideas, and information regarding conservation, gardening, DIY household projects, and everything else we have covered here, is your local public library. Do not limit yourself to their print selection; most libraries have impressive multimedia collections including audiobooks, movies, and TV shows on all of these topics and more.
Don’t forget that these tips and tricks not only help the environment, they save you money! These healthy practices not only improve your overall well-being; the money you save can be spent on upgrading other areas of your life. You can afford better food harvested through sustainable methods; upgrade your home appliances to more modern, energy efficient models; and so much more!