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.

Save the oceans. Choose green power.

Far from being watery voids, the earth’s oceans are home to an amazingly rich variety of life, providing food and shelter for some 210,000 known species. The tiniest of all sea life, the phytoplankton, are working hard on our behalf, absorbing most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and returning 70 percent of the oxygen we need to live.

Scientists are discovering, however, that the excess CO2 being emitted by the burning of fossil fuels is not only heating up our atmosphere but also stressing the oceans and threatening marine life. Before people started burning coal and oil, ocean pH had been relatively stable for 20 million years. But over the past 250 years, the oceans have absorbed 530 billion tons of CO2, triggering a 30 percent increase in ocean acidity. Researchers predict that if carbon emissions continue at their current rate, ocean acidity will more than double by 2100. A more acidic ocean is not good; it could wipe out species, disrupt the food web and impact fishing, tourism and any other human endeavor that relies on the sea.

With change happening so rapidly, prompt action to slow or stop ocean acidification is critical. Check today to see whether your utility has a green power option, which would allow you to support energy production from renewable wind, solar or biomass. Start here at the Department of Energy’s Green Power Network Web site to learn more about green power and to get a list of green utilities by state. Green power may cost a few cents more per kilowatt, so be sure to implement other energy-saving measures that will save you money as well.

Save energy and money. Adjust the refrigerator temperature.

Save energy and money by setting your refrigerator temperature at 37° to 40°F and keeping the freezer at 0° to 5°F.

Save energy and money. Find and plug the leaks in your house.

The heating and cooling of homes in the United States generates roughly 150 million tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide each year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Big savings in energy and money can be achieved by making sure your house is well insulated.

The first step is to determine where the holes in your walls, attic and roof are. Hire an energy auditor to conduct a blower door test. A blower door is a powerful fan that mounts into the frame of an exterior door. The fan pulls air out of the house, lowering the air pressure inside and causing outside air to flow in through any unsealed cracks and openings. The auditor may use a smoke pencil to detect air leaks. 

Some municipalities offer free energy audits that include this test. If yours doesn't, information from the EPA can help you find a home performance Energy Star auditor in your area.

Once you’ve learned where the leaks are in your house, you can proceed to fix them. Some may be simple enough to do yourself; others may require professional help. Your auditor can help you decide.

Save energy and money. Make sure your refrigerator door is sealed tight.

Check your refrigerator door seals by closing them over a dollar bill that is half in and half out of the unit. If you can pull the bill out easily, the seal needs replacing. Consult your dealer to learn how.

Save energy. Install a ceiling fan.

Consuming only one-tenth of the energy of air conditioning, a ceiling fan can make a room feel up to 10 degrees cooler. A ceiling fan is no more difficult to install than adding a new light fixture—and, let’s face it, a lot more attractive than an air conditioner stuffed in your window frame. Furthermore, using the reverse-direction setting in the winter, you can pull warm air down from the ceiling to help stay cozy. Be sure to look for an Energy Star–rated model for maximum savings.

Save energy and money. Add low-e film to your windows.

Save energy and money by adding low-e (low-emissivity) film to your windows. The film reduces solar gain, the heating of an area due to the sun's radiation. The key is to use films with a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.55 or less (the lower the better). Many films can be removed in the winter, and their installation is far simpler than replacing all your windows.

Save energy. Use exterior shading.

Keeping cool isn’t just about comfort; in the worst of recent heat waves, whether Chicago's in 1995 or New York's in 2006, hundreds have died. And climate change will only make this worse. But every time you crank up the AC, power plants pump out more heat-trapping gases, intensifying the problem. Is there a way out of this lose-lose cycle? Actually, yes. Recall the wise ways of your parents or grandparents, and try out some passive cooling techniques. They will cut your AC use—and your energy bills and carbon footprint, too.

For starters, try some inventive gardening and decoration. Use plantings to filter the light that reaches your house. Full summer canopies of deciduous trees and shrubs will cool your home when you need it but let in warm light when the leaves have fallen. You can reduce the light entering west- and east-facing windows with vertical shading from screens or trellises. And paint your house's exterior in a lighter, more reflective color to reduce solar gain.

Safeguard your family’s health. Remove mold and mildew from your home.

Damp places in your house or apartment are an open invitation to mold and mildew. These fungi can grow anywhere moisture lingers, such as on damp basement walls, around leaky pipes or in poorly caulked areas around the shower. Several studies have linked mold to the onset of allergy and asthma attacks, and some scientific evidence suggests that mold can put children at risk of developing asthma.

Be vigilant when you see mold developing in a basement or other living space. Promptly remove it using soap and water or, if necessary, chlorine bleach. If using chlorine bleach, mix 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. Wear gloves and eye protection. Open windows and doors for ventilation. Never mix ammonia and chlorine bleach—they react chemically to create chlorine, a highly toxic gas.

For large tracts of mold, call a mold-removal professional. Be sure to fix the source of the water (such as a leaky pipe, or rainwater slipping down along an outer foundation wall). Otherwise the mold will be back.

To prevent mold and mildew, use the exhaust fans in your bathrooms and kitchen. Make sure they vent to the outdoors and not to the attic. Keep attic and crawl spaces properly vented and indoor humidity at 40 to 60 percent. If you have a dehumidifier, clean the water pan regularly to keep it free of bacteria and other pathogens.

Get rid of ants without harmful pesticides.

Although it may be tempting to think the world would be a better place without ants, keep in mind that these pesky critters play an important part in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Ants help control numerous insect populations. They have been called "the foremost predators" and are superb scavengers. Because many ants build their nests in soil, they have a key role in keeping outdoor soils healthy. Ants, along with termites, turn more soil than earthworms.

Despite the beneficial role ants play outdoors, they become pests when they enter homes in search of food, water and shelter. If ants invade your house, don't turn to toxic sprays and dusts. Their use can actually make ant problems worse by causing a colony to split up into multiple colonies. Moreover, most pesticide applications are not directed at the nest but at the workers that are out foraging. In some species, this may be just 5 percent of a colony's total members.

Instead of using pesticides, keep kitchens and other rooms as free of food scraps as possible. Wipe all kitchen surfaces with soap and water to remove grease and spills. If there are particular spots where ants always return, try this simple remedy: In a bowl, mix one cup borax, one cup sugar, and three cups water. Place a loose wad of toilet paper into each of four screw-top jars, the shallower the better (baby-food jars are fine). Pour the mixture into the jars until it is about one inch from the top. Screw the lids on the jars, and with a hammer and nail make four to eight holes in each lid. Place the jars in areas where you have ants, and watch them line up to march in. Keep away from children; the mixture is not safe to ingest.

The price of all these ant traps? Virtually nothing, since you probably have everything you need already.