Watt, Why & How e-Newsletter

Sustainable Living: Going Green on the Cheap

Sustainable living is generally considered more friendly for the environment than to your bank account. For many homeowners, expensive upgrades, such as adding solar panels, require too much green. Going green however, does not have to leave you drowning in red ink. The following low-cost projects—each about $100 or less—will help you cut energy costs and reduce your impact on the environment, without building up a pile of debt.


Maple leaves
Plant Shade Trees

Planting leafy trees around the south and east side of your home can help cut cooling costs while contributing to the fight against global warming. Why leafy trees? Because those big green leaves provide shade in the summer that cools your house and relieves stress on your air-conditioning system. In winter, the bare trees allow the warm sun to shine through, saving on heating costs and making your home more comfortable. Trees also gobble up carbon dioxide, the leading contributor to the greenhouse effect. Select fast-growing trees, such as maples, burr oaks, and river birches. Know the size of the tree at full maturity before planting and plant it in a location that provides maximum shade and allows enough room to grow. The purchase price for shade trees typically ranges from $20 to $50.

Build a Clothesline

Clothes dryers are a big energy user in most homes, costing up to $100 per year or more. Why not air-dry your clothes for free? Clotheslines use no energy, and may help your clothes last longer by freeing them from the intense heat of clothes dryers. Clotheslines are simple to make, just attach a line between two stationary objects. Clothesline kits are available for purchase at many home and garden stores or online. Retractable clothesline and post sets are also available, which can be moved out of the way when not in use. The cost is typically less than $50.

Install a Programmable Thermostat

Few energy-efficiency upgrades pay for themselves as quickly as this one can. A typical seven-day programmable thermostat retails for less than $100, while properly setting and maintaining it can save homeowners up to $180 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. This makes for a very fast return-on-investment. To optimize savings, follow manufacturer's guidelines regarding setting up and using the device.

Rain barrel

Set Up a Rain Barrel


Lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40% of total household water use during the summer. A rain barrel collects water and stores it for watering plants or washing your car. It provides a supply of soft water that is free of chlorine, lime, or calcium. A rain barrel can save homeowners up to 1,300 gallons of water during the summer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Not only is water conservation good for the environment, it can save you money. Rain barrels also divert water from storm drains, which decreases the impact of runoff to streams. A typical 55-gallon rain barrel costs around $100, although prices can vary for larger or decorative models.

Start a Compost Bin

Composting is often thought of as dirty, smelly, and wormy. However, modern composting is easy, odor-free, and friendly to the environment. It creates a rich soil additive that can improve your lawn and garden without adding chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Composting also helps fight climate change by cutting carbon dioxide and methane emissions when organic waste sits neglected in landfills. Composting bins can be purchased for as little as $50, although larger units with more features may cost $300 or more. Better yet, build your own bin. All you need to start is a small amount of lumber and plywood, some hardware, plastic sheets, and a pound of worms. 

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