EarthTalk: This winter is shaping up to be
one of the coldest in recent memory where I live. What can
I do to reduce my home heating bill now and in the future?
-- Eric Lenz, Seattle, WA
may be shaping up to be an especially cold winter,
but heating costs can be minimized a number of ways,
including caulking leaky spots around windows and
doors, adding or updating insulation, replacing single
pane windows with sealed double or triple pane windows,
insulating heating ducts and your hot water tank,
and upgrading to a programmable thermostat.
© WoofBC, courtesy Flickr
global warming is somehow to blame or not, much of the United
States is getting walloped this winter. The Seattle area
has suffered its most significant and lingering snowfall—and
lower than average winter temperatures—in decades.
Even Los Angeles is getting a nasty taste of winter, with
several days topping out at the freezing mark on the thermometer.
And other parts of the country more used to challenging
winter weather have been getting an extra dose of wind,
snow and ice this year as well.
the cold, another challenge this wintry weather presents,
especially during such trying economic times, is higher
heating bills. Heating typically accounts for about 28 percent
of the average American home’s energy use, but this
year staying warm might occupy a larger slice of the household
expenditure pie. Homeowners who take a few simple steps
to make their homes more weather-tight, though, just might
be amazed to see their heating bills go down while they
languish inside their toasty and warm homes.
you’re a handy person and your draft issues are minor,
you might want to go around and assess just where cold air
seems to be coming in—and then caulk, putty or insulate
to your heart’s content. According to the Natural
Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC’s) green-living
oriented SimpleSteps.org website, small gaps around windows,
light fixtures and plumbing are easy to cover with caulk.
Large drafty areas that are protected from moisture and
sunlight can be covered with expanding foam sealant, while
a little weather-stripping around door jambs goes a long
way toward keeping the cold out.
these easier fixes, adding or updating insulation can pay
dividends on your utility bills. NRDC says that if you do
it yourself, be careful not to cover or close up attic vents,
as proper air flow is key to keeping indoor air quality
good. Replacing single pane windows with sealed double or
triple pane windows will also improve your home’s
energy efficiency significantly. Other tips include insulating
heating ducts and your hot water tank, and upgrading to
a programmable thermostat which allows you to heat your
home when you’re there and lower the temperature when
you’re sleeping or at work. Switching ceiling fans
to rotate in a clockwise direction will help circulate warm
air throughout your home.
inefficient furnaces can also lead to large heating bills.
New models which qualify for the federal government’s
Energy Star program will use far less gas or oil and reduce
your utility bill handily. The non-profit American Council
for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) rates different
furnaces and boiler options and reports on their findings
for free via the consumer guide section of its website.
those of us less qualified or less interested in doing our
own home repair, bringing in a professional energy auditor
might be just the ticket. Many local and regional utilities
offer free basic energy audits. Meanwhile, the trade group
Residential Energy Services Network, as well as the federal
government’s Home Performance with Energy Star program,
offer free searchable online databases of trustworthy local
contractors with experience keeping homes in your area nice
Energy Services Network; Energy
EarthTalk: My husband and I are expecting a
child and we’re concerned about the environmental
impacts of disposable diapers. I remember the old cloth
diapers with pins that my mom used. Are there any new developments
in the cloth diapering field?
-- Stephanie, via e-mail
Today's reusable cloth diapers come in many different
styles. Most varieties have Velcro-style closures
that eliminate the need for the safety pins of bygone
© Getty Images
A growing number
of green-minded parents are starting to recognize the health
and ecological benefits of reusable cloth diapers over disposables.
Most brands of disposables are made from petroleum-derived
plastic and wood fiber—some 250,000 trees fall each
year to feed America’s disposable diaper addiction.
The Green Guide, 95 percent of U.S. families now use disposable
diapers—to the tune of as many as 8,000 per child.
As a result, 3.5 million tons of them clog landfills each
year. Accompanying these diapers, of course, is untreated
fecal matter and urine that can easily contaminate the groundwater
surrounding landfills. Pathogens in this waste can be spread
far and wide by insects and animals.
the process of bleaching disposable diapers to make sure
they are as white as possible before they get to consumers
leads to the generation of the chemical dioxin, which besides
being potentially harmful to factory workers and the environment
surrounding manufacturing facilities, can show up in trace
amounts in the diapers themselves, potentially exposing
babies’ skin to a dangerous carcinogen.
drawbacks, the convenience factor still wins out for most
of us. Old memories of hard-to-fasten stinky cloth diapers
collecting in a pail are enough to drive anyone to abandon
their best intentions when it comes to diaper-change time.
But heightened eco-awareness in recent years has led to
a profusion of reusable diaper choices, and enlightened
consumers owe it to themselves to take another look.
cloth diapers come in many different styles, but the common
elements are an absorbent liner, ideally made out of organic
cotton or hemp fleece, and a waterproof cover. In some cases
these two elements can be separated and washed separately;
in others they are combined into one washable unit. Most
varieties come with Velcro-style closures that obviate the
need for the safety pins of days gone by.
And diaper laundering
services do still exist—see if there’s one near
you at www.diapernet.org/locate.htm
—but parents interested in minimizing their environmental
impact on the cheap will wash their reusables at home (without
bleach) and dry them on the line. According to Mothering
Magazine, some of the best brands are Under the Nile, FuzBaby,
Oskri, LizsCloth, Cloud9Softies and PeacefulMoon.
For those who
just can’t give up the convenience of disposables,
several brands offer a kinder, gentler alternative to Pampers
and Huggies. Disposables from Nature Boy and Girl, Seventh
Generation, Tushies and TenderCare get high marks for their
use of absorbent, chlorine-free materials and, in some cases,
biodegradability. And gDiapers offers reusable, washable
cotton diaper covers over flushable liners.
Some local health
food stores will carry these brands, or look online for
e-commerce vendors such as Evo, Leslie’s Boutique,
Cotton Babies, Green Mountain Diapers and Nikki’s
Diapers, among many others.