How Sustainable is Your Lifestyle? Part 1

June 7, 2010


Sustainability Quiz Part 1



When it comes to energy conservation, we all know transportation is the biggy. But all the little things we do, day in and day out, make a difference, too. So much of living sustainably is cultivating healthy habits — some trivial in themselves. Over the years, however, they do make a difference.
But first, let’s get a baseline reading. These are not punitive questions with hard and fast answers,
just a way for you to pause and assess where you’re at amid the possibilities.
Then you can choose which steps you might take toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

Most of the following questions are based on information in You Can Prevent Global Warming (and Save Money!) 51 Easy Ways, by Jeffrey Langholz, PhD and Kelly Turner.
We recommend this book very, very highly!

Keeping your cool with a/c, swamp coolers & ceiling fans
q In warm weather, do you set your thermostat at 78 degrees (or higher) while you’re home, and 85 degrees while you’re gone during the day? (If you’re gone for more than a day during the summer, turn your air conditioner completely off.)
q Do you close the doors and vents to rooms that aren’t being used?
q Does a trained service person check your a/c’s refrigerant and clean the coils every other spring? (Also check the compressor, fan and electrical connections.)
q Does your a/c have a “recirculate” setting? (If so, use it.)
q Do you always set your a/c’s fan to its highest speed? (It saves energy as it blows the cooled air into your house more quickly.)
q Do you use the “automatic” setting as opposed to the “continuous fan/ventilate/on” setting? (If you run the “continuous fan” setting because you like the ventilation, keep your a/c on automatic and run ceiling fans instead.)
q Do you replace your a/c’s filter as needed? (Hold it up to a light; if you can’t see through it, wash or replace it. New ones cost about $1.)
q Do you use ceiling or window fans instead of a/c? Running an Energy Star-rated ceiling fan on high for 24 hours costs only about 35 cents.
q Do you use ceiling fans in conjunction with your a/c to spread cooled air through your house? (Adding ceiling fans allows you to turn up your thermostat by six degrees for equal comfort and dramatic energy savings.)
q Do you use an evaporative cooler (aka swamp cooler) instead of, or in conjunction with, an a/c? (Swamp coolers use 75% less energy.)
q Do you close all windows, drapes and blinds during the day, especially on the east and west-facing sides, and open your windows, blinds and drapes and turn on ceiling fans at night to ventilate your house?
q Do you have a radiant barrier—an inexpensive type of aluminum foil— on the underside of your roof? (See “Staying warm.”) This will stop 95% of the heat from radiating into your attic, and you can easily install it yourself.

Staying warm
q When was your furnace last tuned up? (A furnace using natural gas should be checked every other year. Annual heating cost reduction: up to 10%.)
q When you vacuum the floor, do you vacuum the heating vents or radiators as well?
q If you won’t be using a room for two or more days, do you shut the door and close the heating vents (or turn off the radiators) in that room?
q Do you clean or replace your furnace’s air filters regularly? (Monthly during heavy usage. Furry-pet owners may need to do this more often.) Buy them at any hardware store.
q Do you know where your furnace fan is? (Check that it’s set to turn on at 100-110 degrees—and, if two settings, that it turns off at 80-90 degrees.)
q If you have steam or hot water heat: Do you have radiator reflectors behind any radiators that are next to exterior walls? Also, each winter, do you open the valve to release unwanted pockets of air?
q Do you have a programmable thermostat and know how to use it? (About 44% of Amercan households have them. But 73% of those household don’t use them! It’s a great invention—convenient and good for the environment. Use it.)
q In the cold weather, do you keep your thermostat set at 68 degrees (or lower) when you’re home, and 55-60 degrees while you’re gone during the day or sleeping?
q Do you reverse the direction of your ceiling fans in cool weather and run them on low speed so that they help evenly distribute warm air that collects near your ceiling? (This really does make a difference!)
q Do you have a radiant barrier—an inexpensive type of aluminum foil— on your attic floor? (It will stop heat in your house from seeping up into the attic. A vented, multilayered radiant barrier also acts as insulation.) Reflective insulation with fiberglass is $.42/sq. ft. A solar shield radiant barrier runs about $.12/sq.ft.

Personal habits: clothing, diet, exercise
q Do you dress in layers, so that your first line of action is to adjust your clothing, before fiddling with the thermostat?
q Do you drink warm beverages when you’re cold, and cool drinks when you’re warm?
q Do you swim or take cool showers in summer to make heat more tolerable?
q Do you allow your body to experience the temperatures of each new season, so that it can adjust?
q Do you regulate your diet with the seasons, eating lighter foods that do not overheat the system in warmer weather? According to Ayurveda, India’s 5,000-year-old medical
system, certain foods and flavors suit each season, and eating foods by the seasons makes us more adaptable to nature. See “The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies,” by Vasant Lad, for specifics.
q Do you make use of public places that are already air-conditioned? (On hot afternoons, we think it is definitely ecological to knock off work early and catch a matinee at the Broadway or Brewvie’s.)

Air leaks
q Have you checked your house for air leaks? Contrary to popular belief, insulation doesn’t stop air leakage—only heat leakage. If you added up all the tiny leaks in the average home, they’re equivalent to leaving a three-foot-square window wide open! Common leaky spots to check: wherever a wall meets a floor, celing, doorframe or another wall, around the edges of light switches, electrical outlets and light fixtures, around fireplace flues, dryer vents and range hood vents, wherever pipes go through walls, around windows and doors and in your attic. Caulk, weather stripping and foam work best to seal those leaks.
q Do you have a vented attic or whole house fan? (During the summer, heat can seep into your house from the attic, raising temps as much as 10 degrees. In the winter, warm, moist air rises into your attic, losing heat and causing damage and mold. A tightly sealed barrier between your house and attic combined with a fully ventilated attic can reduce air-conditioning costs by 10%. A whole house fan sucks air from your house up through your attic, reducing temperatures in the summer by 10 degrees. Just make sure to seal the fan vent tightly in the winter.)
q Do you have proper insulation? (The average home loses up to 30% of its heating costs right through ceilings, doors, floors and ducts. Insulation is rated with an R value. For Utah, ceiling insulation should have an R value of 40, walls R-21, floors R-30 and basement walls R-13. Insulation isn’t that difficult to install and can be done yourself. Visit for details.)
q Have you sealed your heating ducts? (From 25-40% of the hot air from your furnace can escape through leaky ducts before ever reaching your living spaces!)

q Do you have adequate window dressings? (White window coverings, such as drapes blinds or awnings, can reduce solar heat gain by as much as 50%. Exterior window shades like awnings or shutters are 50% more effective than interior shades or curtains.)
q Do you have superwindows? (The new Energy Star-labeled superwindows insulate five times better than single-paned windows and can cut your annual energy bill by as much as 15%. These windows have an invisible coating that blocks up to 70% of the sun’s heat while allowing 100% of the light to pass through. Make sure the window frames are insulated well, though. These windows won’t be worth a dime if all your heated or cooled air is escaping through the frame!

Do you need a new furnace or air conditioner?
q How old is your furnace? It’s inefficient and worth replacing if it’s more than 20 years old (in some circumstances, 15 years old, especially if it has a pilot light instead of an electric ignition). A central air conditioner has a lifespan of about 15 years, and a room air conditioner, 10.
q The question of size: If you’re replacing your furnace or a/c, get the right size for best efficiency. Before installing, consider this: Adding insulation and doing your other weatherizing first will allow you to buy a smaller furnace and a/c than you’d otherwise need.
q An improperly installed furnace or a/c can cost you. Hire a qualified, experienced contractor. (For recommendations visit www.servicemagic.)
q Fuel efficiency is rated by AFUE. Today’s best furnaces have an AFUE score of 96% (compared to 50% 20 years ago).
q For central air, the rating system is SEER. Today’s top models rate at 16.0, compared to 8.0 from 1990.
q Choose a furnace and a/c that has a programmable thermostat and lights that go on when filters need changing. Also consider zone heating.
q Buy the most energy-efficient system you can afford, and be sure to check out rebates from utilities and the state. (More about this next month!)

If you drink bottled water, do you know how far those bottles have been transported (in a carbon-dioxide-emitting truck) to reach your store?


Light bulbs
q How many light bulbs are in your house (and how many are on for over an hour each day?) Do you need all those lightbulbs?
q Do you use compact fluorescents wherever you can? Look for electronic solid-state ballasts so they turn on instantly and won’t flicker and buzz. Some are also dimmable, and some are rated for outdoor use. Yes, they’re expensive. But they last for up to 10 years and use 75% less energy, saving you cash in the long run. Plus you’ll prevent 718 lbs. of carbon dioxide being dumped into the atmosphere each year for every four incandescent bulbs you replace!
q Is it your habit to turn lights off when you leave a room?
q If you have outdoor lighting, do you have motion sensors, daylight sensors or timers?
q Are there dimmer switches on your bedroom and dining room lights? A light dimmed at 50% uses 50% less energy.

q Is your fridge more or less than 10 years old? (Refrigerators use more electricity than any other appliance in the house — up to 13%! The newest fridges use half as much energy as those of just a decade ago.)
q Is your refrigerator’s freezer on the top or bottom? (Side-by-sides use at least 10% more energy.)
q Do you know how to vacuum the coils (and do you do it every six months)?
q Do you have a thermostat to check the temperature of your fridge and freezer, and are they set at 37-40 degrees, and 0-5 degrees? (A plain ol’ outdoor thermometer will do.)
q Does your fridge have an “energy saver” switch, and is it turned up high?
q Are you running an extra fridge (in, say, the basement or garage) that you don’t really, really need?
q Is the rubber seal around the door in good shape? (Test it by closing the door on a piece of paper; you should feel some resistance as you pull the paper out.) Sometimes it just needs washing!
q Are there at least two inches of space around the entire fridge?
q Do you keep your refrigerator fairly full?

q If you have a dishwasher, is it an Energy Star model? (24% more efficient.)
Do you…
q run your dishwasher only with a full load?
q choose the cycle to match the job?
q choose the air-dry option? (On older machines, you would stop the washer before the drying began and allow dishes to air dry.)
q If you wash your dishes by hand, do you wash the dishes and then rinse them, instead of letting the water run continuously as you wash and rinse off each dish?

Sinks & Showering
q Do you have a low-flow showerhead? (The power company in many areas offers them for free. Ours doesn’t. But you can buy them at the hardware store.) Remember, today’s “low-flow” heads are not the same as yesterday’s “flow restrictors.”
q Do your kitchen and bathroom sink faucets have aerators?
q Do you have any leaky faucets?

Water Heater
q How old is your water heater? (If it’s seven years old or older, upgrading now to a new, efficient model would benefit both your wallet and the environment, even taking into account disposal of the old one.)
q Do you know what temperature your water heater is set at? (Most are set at 140 degrees. But 120 degrees is plenty hot. For every 10-degree down turn you’ll save at least 5% of the energy it currently uses.)
q What kind of fuel does your water heater use? (electricity, natural gas, propane, heating oil, solar)
q Do you have a heat trap attachment (installed by a contractor) and a timer (do-it-yourself) on your water heater?
q Does your water heater have a heat jacket? (Saves 5-10% of the energy typically used by the heater.)
q Are the first five to seven feet of exposed hot-water pipes that exit your water heater insulated? (Easily accomplished with slip-on foam sleeves, cheap, from hardware store.)
q Do you know about draining a quart of water from your water heater valve about once every three months? (Makes the heater more efficient by preventing sediment build-up.)

The Toilet
q Do you know the “gallons per flush” (gpf) rating of your toilets? (It’s usually painted somewhere on the toilet itself).
To figure your own household’s usage: Find the gpf rating. Track how many times a day the toilet is flushed. Multiply to find how many gallons of drinkable water your household flushes down the toilet each day.
q If you have an older water-hogging toilet, is it equipped with a water displacer (such as a plastic water-filled jug) or early-closure flapper?
q Leaky toilets (or leaky toilet dams, to be specific) are common. Test yours to see how well they hold water.

Drinking Water
q If you drink bottled water, do you know how far those bottles have been transported (in a carbon-dioxide-emitting truck) to reach your store? (See back of label for water’s source.)
q Did you know that bottled water is often less pure than if you filtered your own tap water?
q Do you have a hot-water dispenser? (Its 20-80% more efficient than boiling water on a stove).
q Does your watercooler have an Energy Star label?
q If you buy small bottles of bottled water, do you refill them as many times as possible before disposing?
Cooking (the oven, toaster, microwave, toaster oven)
q Does your electric oven have a convection setting? (They use 30% less electricity to operate, and cook the food faster.)
q Does your oven use natural gas, with an electric ignition (not a pilot light)? Natural gas is almost twice as efficient as electric.
q If you have a gas stove with a pilot light: Does the flame burn blue? (A yellowish flame means your pilot light needs adjusting.)
q Do you use glass/ceramic pans? (You can turn the heat down by 25%, as they hold heat better.)
q Is your oven self-cleaning? (Self-cleaning ovens are better insulated, which means it will take less time to cook your food.)
q Do you make use of a pressure cooker, crock pot or microwave? If you’re making smaller meals, these are all more energy-efficient (in the order listed) than a stove. (Pressure cookers are available at many local hardware stores or online.)
q Do you match the size of the pan you’re cooking with to the size of the burner?
q Do you know that cutting your food into smaller pieces speeds cooking time?
q Do you plan ahead and thaw your frozen food in the fridge?
q Do you turn off your stove’s exhaust fan when it’s no longer necessary? (In the winter, an exhaust fan left on high can empty an entire roomful of heated air in just four minutes.)
“Phantom” loads (appliances that suck electricity even when “off”)

Do you know that, for most appliances, “off” isn’t really off? (For instance, one-fourth of the energy your television uses is consumed when the TV is turned off. Some compact stereos use 27 watts of electricity when they’re on and 25 watts when they’re off.)

q When you leave the house for more than three days, do you unplug your audio and video equipment?
q If you buy new electronic appliances, do you look for the Energy Star logo?
q If you buy battery-operated equipment, do you insist on models with rechargeable batteries? (Manufac­turing one disposable battery takes 50 times the amount of energy that battery will produce.)

q If your fireplace is just for decoration, is the damper properly sealed with heat-resistant caulking?
q When you use your fireplace, do you turn your furnace thermostat down to 55 degrees?
q Do you keep your damper closed when a fire isn’t burning?

q Do you have a solar water heater, pool heater, attic fan, solar-powered outdoor lighting? We didn’t think so. But if you do, congratulations! The hardware may be pricey, but after that, it’s absolutely free! Sunlight won’t run out for another quadrillion years or so, and it doesn’t pollute— at all. The energy of the future truly is solar.

Computers, Printers, Copiers, Faxes
q Do you turn your desktop computer, printer, copier, fax, scanner and CD burner off when you’re not using them? (A computer is built to withstand 20,000 on-off cycles before the hard drive begins to wear down— that’s equivalent to turning your computer on and off seven times a day for eight years. Small printers should be turned off if they’re not going to be used for another 15 minutes; for larger models with a longer warm-up time, two hours.)
q Is your computer equipment plugged into power strips which you turn off during nonworking hours?
q Have you ditched your screen saver? (Sleep mode saves more energy.)
q Do you make efforts to reuse paper, print out only those documents that are necessary, use recycled paper, and send emails and electronic faxes instead of paper mail and faxes?
q Do you go for multifunction devices (for instance, a copier that also prints, faxes and scans)?
q Do you have an inkjet printer or a laser printer? (Inkjets are 90% more energy efficient. A typical laser printer uses a third of its full power when it’s simply on standby. Inkjets also print better on scrap paper, when printing drafts, whereas laser printers tend to jam.)
q Do you have a laptop or desktop computer? (Laptops are 90% more energy efficient.)
q Do you have an inkjet fax machine? (Better than direct thermal, thermal transfer, LED and laser). Better yet: Do you have an internal fax modem in your computer? (This way you can choose which faxes you wish to print, saving paper and the energy needed to run a fax machine).
q Do you donate or recycle your old equipment? (A cathode ray tube computer monitor crushed in a landfill releases four to eight pounds of poisonous lead into the environment.)


q Is your washing machine Energy Star rated? (Such a machine uses 50% less water and 70% less energy than a typical washer.)
Do you…
q have a frontload, horizontal axis washer? (This design requires much less water than a standard washer.)
q wash your clothes in hot water, warm water or cold? (Most detergents work well in cold water, which saves energy too.)
q always rinse in cold water?
q pretreat stains?
q use environmentally friendly laundry products, in the amount specified? (Careful, less is more!)
q wash large loads?
q line-dry clothes, even occasionally? (People with hairy pets are absolved from this one.)
q clean the dryer lint trap before each load?
q select the Perma-Press setting on your dryer?
q avoid over-drying?
q dry consecutive loads, so the dryer doesn’t cool off inbetween?

All these practices save you energy.Manufac­turing one disposable battery takes 50 times the amount of energy that battery will produce.