Minute, Morning, Month

There are so many simple ways to save money, protect health, preserve the environment and better daily life. Use the filters to the right to find the actions you can take in the time you have.

Start a community garden.
Month

“Community gardening can range from creating a small school garden to adopting an abandoned plot of land and turning it into something useful and beautiful,” according to Green Thumb NYC, the largest urban gardening program in the United States. The American Community Gardening Association defines "community garden" as any piece of land that is tended by people, whether it be a small plot in a dense city center, a larger space in the suburbs or a plot in a more rural setting. Whatever the scale or location of the community garden you have in mind, there are several things to consider if you want to start one up.

The best place to begin is the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) Web site, where you can find a fact sheet, tools, training opportunities and resources to get your project under way. ACGA provides several guidelines, such as forming a planning committee, choosing a site, finding sponsors and organizing and maintaining the garden. ACGA also provides references to books and other resources in its Community Garden Startup resources section.

Interested in urban gardening but don’t wish to start one yourself? Several cities with active urban gardeners have Web sites with information on joining a garden near you. Here are just a few: New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Portland, Oregon.

Help green your town.
Month

Get involved in your town's environmental planning. Attending city council meetings is a good start. Your first step should be to determine if your city has a comprehensive environmental policy that is embedded throughout city departments, as it is in Madison, Wisconsin. You can see an example of such a policy here. Should you find that your city doesn't, contact officials with a draft text, and write to your local newspaper urging that one be implemented. If you have the time, identify stakeholders in your community who might be enlisted for support, particularly if they would feel impacts from such a policy. The more community members you can ally with, the more likely your ideas will be acted upon.

Save energy and reduce stormwater runoff. Start a green roof.
Month

With their blanket of living plants, green roofs provide shade and remove heat from the air through evapotranspiration, reducing the temperature of the roof surface and the surrounding air. On hot summer days, the surface temperature of a green roof can be cooler than the air temperature, whereas the surface of a conventional rooftop can be a stifling 90 degrees warmer, producing what’s known as the heat island effect. Heat islands can affect communities by increasing summertime peak energy demand, air-conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water quality.

Many communities are taking action to reduce urban heat islands, including installing green roofs. Green roofs can be added to a wide range of buildings, from industrial facilities to private residences. They can be as simple as a 2-inch covering of hardy groundcover (known as an extensive green roof) or as complex as a fully accessible park complete with trees (an intensive green roof). Green roofs are becoming popular in the United States, with roughly 8.5 million square feet installed or in progress as of June 2008.

Starting from the top, an extensive green roof has a layer of plants. These are typically low-growing, shallow rooting, drought tolerant plants called sedums. There are many different varieties of sedum, with different coloration and different flowering characteristics so a roof can have a varied appearance. The plants are supported by a shallow layer of growth medium, an engineered mixture of lightweight soils, vermiculite, and other materials that provides a good environment for the sedum. The minimal depth of the soil aids in keeping weeds from establishing themselves on the roof, but there may be some local plants that can survive in that environment, and they may take root on the roof as well.

Underneath the soil are several membrane layers. There is also a drainage layer (to allow excess water to move freely rather than carry the soil off the roof in a mudslide) and a root barrier layer that keeps the roots from penetrating the roof. The roof membrane sits on the roof deck, insulation or structure of the building, much like a conventional roof.

Installing the simpler extensive green roof may cost around $10 per square foot, and annual maintenance costs will run around $0.75 per square foot. Intensive systems are more expensive. Toyota recently introduced green roofing tiles--modular, interlockable grass tiles that are much lighter than other systems and easier to install. They're more expensive than other green roof products, but prices are likely to drop as demand increases. While the initial costs of green roofs are higher than those of conventional materials, building owners can help offset the difference through reduced energy and stormwater management costs, and potentially by the longer life span of green roofs compared with conventional roofing materials.

Click here learn how to install a green roof garden. 

The EPA has excellent resources for those interested in learning more about the heat island effect andgreen roofs.

Click here to find a green roof professional near you.

Increase walkability in your town.
Month

See how walkable your town is using walkscore.com.

Advocate to make your town more pedestrian-friendly. Petition the town to install sidewalks, crosswalks and bike lanes.

Learn how residents working together are making Fayetteville, Arkansas, more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

Save energy. Install a cool roof.
Minute

Many communities are taking action to reduce urban heat islands, and cool roofs are among the strategies they are using. Cool roofs can lower cooling energy use, peak electricity demand, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and solid-waste generation due to less frequent re-roofing.

Building owners and roofing contractors have used cool roofing products for more than 20 years. They may be installed on the flat or gently sloping roofs typically found on commercial, industrial and office buildings, and they may also be used on the steep-sloped roofs used in many residences and retail buildings.

Through the Energy Star program, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) help consumers and other purchasers identify the most energy-efficient roofing products. Roofing materials with the Energy Star label have met the minimum solar reflectance and reliability criteria. A high solar reflectance is the most important characteristic of a cool roof, because as it reflects sunlight away from a building, it also reduces roof temperatures. A high thermal emittance also plays a role, particularly in climates that are warm and sunny. Together these properties help roofs to absorb less heat and remain as much as 50 to 60 degrees cooler than conventional roofing materials during peak summer weather.

The cost premium for cool roofs versus conventional roofing materials ranges from zero to 5 or 10 cents per square foot for most products. In the case of a built-up roof with a cool coating used in place of smooth asphalt or an aluminum coating, the differential may be 10 to 20 cents per square foot. However, a California study found that cool roofs provide an average yearly net savings of almost 50 cents per square foot. This number takes into account the price premium for cool roofing products, increased heating costs in the winter, summertime energy savings, savings from downsizing cooling equipment, and reduced labor and material costs over time due to the longer life of cool roofs compared with conventional roofs.

The EPA maintains an Urban Heat Island Community Actions Database, which provides information on more than 75 local and statewide initiatives to reduce heat islands and achieve related benefits. Click to find out which communities have cool roof initiatives under way.

Reduce peak energy demand and stormwater runoff. Install cool pavement in your community.
Month

The term "heat island" describes built-up, urban areas that are warmer than nearby rural environs. Heat islands can affect communities by increasing summertime peak energy demand, air-conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water quality.

To reduce the heat island effect, communities are exploring the established and emerging technologies of cool pavements. The term currently refers to paving materials that reflect more solar energy, enhance water evaporation or have been otherwise modified to remain cooler than conventional pavements.

Conventional paving materials can reach peak summertime temperatures of 120 to 150°F (48 to 67°C), transferring excess heat to the air above them and heating stormwater as it runs off the pavement into local waterways. According to an analysis of four geographically diverse cities, pavements account for nearly 30 to 45 percent of all land cover in urban areas. This makes them an important element to consider in heat island mitigation.

Cool pavements can be created with existing paving materials (such as asphalt and concrete); newer approaches include the use of coatings or grass paving. Cool pavement technologies are not as advanced as other heat island mitigation strategies, and there is no official standard or labeling program to designate cool paving materials. To address the growing demand for guidance on pavement choices, the Transportation Research Board has formed a subcommittee on Paving Materials and the Urban Climate.

The EPA maintains an Urban Heat Island Community Actions Database, which provides information on more than 75 local and statewide initiatives to reduce heat islands and achieve related benefits. Click to find out which communities have cool pavement initiatives under way.

Save energy. Wrap your water heater.
Morning

The hot-water heater is a home energy hog. A lot of the energy consumed by water heaters is used to keep the water hot and ready for a user who wants to take a shower. Unless your water heater's storage tank already has a high R-value of insulation (at least R-24), adding insulation to it can reduce standby heat losses by 25 to 45 percent. This will save you around 4 to 9 percent in water-heating costs. If you don't know your water heater tank's R-value, touch it. A tank that's warm to the touch needs additional insulation.

Insulating your storage tank is fairly simple and inexpensive, and it will pay for itself in about a year. You can find precut jackets or blankets available from around $10 to $20. Choose one with an insulating value of at least R-8. Some utilities sell them at low prices and may offer rebates and free installation. But you can probably install it yourself, following these instructions provided by the EPA.

Note that water heaters powered by electricity can be fitted with a timer to turn off at night and when you are not home.

When it is time to replace your existing unit, chose a water heater with an efficiency (EF) factor of .63 for gas-fired heaters and .93 for electric heaters, recommends the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Consult the yellow-and-black EnergyGuide label for an estimation of energy usage per year. Energy Star-rated water heaters have been available since January 2009.

Save energy and reduce stormwater runoff. Install a green roof.
Month

With their blanket of living plants, green roofs provide shade and remove heat from the air through evapotranspiration, reducing the temperature of the roof surface and the surrounding air. On hot summer days, the surface temperature of a green roof can be cooler than the air temperature, whereas the surface of a conventional rooftop can be a stifling 90 degrees warmer, producing what’s known as the heat island effect. Heat islands can affect communities by increasing summertime peak energy demand, air-conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water quality.

Many communities are taking action to reduce urban heat islands, including installing green roofs. Green roofs can be added to a wide range of buildings, from industrial facilities to private residences. They can be as simple as a 2-inch covering of hardy groundcover (known as an extensive green roof) or as complex as a fully accessible park complete with trees (an intensive green roof). Green roofs are becoming popular in the United States, with roughly 8.5 million square feet installed or in progress as of June 2008.

Starting from the top, an extensive green roof has a layer of plants. These are typically low-growing, shallow rooting, drought tolerant plants called sedums. There are many different varieties of sedum, with different coloration and different flowering characteristics so a roof can have a varied appearance. The plants are supported by a shallow layer of growth medium, an engineered mixture of lightweight soils, vermiculite, and other materials that provides a good environment for the sedum. The minimal depth of the soil aids in keeping weeds from establishing themselves on the roof, but there may be some local plants that can survive in that environment, and they may take root on the roof as well.

Underneath the soil are several membrane layers. There is also a drainage layer (to allow excess water to move freely rather than carry the soil off the roof in a mudslide) and a root barrier layer that keeps the roots from penetrating the roof. The roof membrane sits on the roof deck, insulation or structure of the building, much like a conventional roof.

Installing the simpler extensive green roof may cost around $10 per square foot, and annual maintenance costs will run around $0.75 per square foot. Intensive systems are more expensive. Toyota recently introduced green roofing tiles--modular, interlockable grass tiles that are much lighter than other systems and easier to install. They're more expensive than other green roof products, but prices are likely to drop as demand increases. While the initial costs of green roofs are higher than those of conventional materials, building owners can help offset the difference through reduced energy and stormwater management costs, and potentially by the longer life span of green roofs compared with conventional roofing materials.

Click here learn how to install a green roof garden. 

See NRDC's Greening Advisor for more information on reflective and green roofs.

The EPA has excellent resources for those interested in learning more about the heat island effect and green roofs.

Click here to find a green roof professional near you.

Pest problems? Hire an IPM professional.
Minute

Do you have a pest problem that requires a professional’s attention? Find a company that uses integrated pest management (IPM) solutions to eliminate or reduce the need for toxic pesticides. These three certification services can help you identify such companies: Green Shield CertifiedNPMA Green Pro Certified Eco-Effective and EcoWise Certified. Both provide searchable databases, making it easy to find a certified provider near you.

Save water. Give your car a waterless car wash.
Morning

Whether you live in a drought-prone area or not, dumping buckets of water to clean the car seems a little extravagant. How extravagant, you wonder? With most garden hoses spraying about 10 gallons of water per minute, the average driveway wash uses 80 to 140 gallons of water. That’s a lot, actually—and in places now forced to restrict usage so there will be water to drink at summer’s end, it probably wouldn’t be allowed.

Fortunately, you can give the car a good scrubbing using less water than it takes to brush your teeth. Spray on a waterless car wash, which breaks down grime and can be wiped off without a rinse. Eco Touch's Waterless Car Wash uses just 4 to 6 ounces of water per wash and polishes as it cleans (www.ecotouch.net). Lucky Earth's Waterless Car Wash (www.luckyearth.com) will give you seven to ten washes per bottle.