By Loren McDonald, Sustainable Danville Area
As 2014 nears an end, many of us will use the holiday season to reflect on the past year and plan life activities for 2015. As part of these planning efforts, it is important to do an audit or self-assessment to take stock of what we did in the past year and identify where there are opportunities to improve or make changes in the coming year.
With sustainability becoming an area of concern for many people, including reducing water and energy usage and costs, consider conducting a “green” audit along with your financial and budgeting exercises. A simple review of your family’s use of water, energy, transportation and purchasing and practices including food consumption, gardening and recycling can uncover several opportunities to both reduce your impact on the planet, and put dollars back in your pocket.
The following are among several areas to include in your “green audit,” which can provide a foundation for your 2015 personal sustainability plan:
Water Bill/Usage: Start by reviewing your water bills from the past two years. The average single-family home in the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) used 135 gallons of water per person per day in 2013. How does your usage compare? Look for spikes in usage that could signal a leak in your irrigation system.
Toilets: Check the age and gallons used per flush in each of your toilets. Replacing older toilets, that typically use 3.5-5 or more gallons per flush, with new, efficient toilets that use 1.28 or 1.6 gallons per flush can save 10-25 gallons per toilet per day.
Shower Heads: How many of your shower heads are the low-flow type? Have you timed yourself and family members on the duration of showers? What about baths? Are any family members taking baths when a shower would suffice?
Electricity, Gas and Appliances: Review your electricity and gas bills and look for spikes during the cold winter and hot summer months. What temperature is your thermostat and water heater set at? Is it time to upgrade your old clothes washer, dryer or dishwasher? Do you have an old inefficient refrigerator in the garage where you keep beverages?
Light bulbs: Replacing older light bulbs with newer energy-efficient bulbs, such as LEDs, is one of the easiest ways to reduce your household energy usage and save money over the long term. How many of your incandescent and fluorescent bulbs make sense to replace?
Insulation/Leaks: Potential energy savings from eliminating air leaks can range from 5% to 30% according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Consider a professional home energy audit, but at minimum inspect inside and outside your home for all visible air leaks.
Food: Do you buy from local food sources when possible, such as those at the Danville Farmer’s Market? How often are you eating beef and is it grass-fed and locally raised? Are you over buying and then throwing out foods your family doesn’t eat. Are you buying organic foods when possible?
Reuse, Recycling and Bags: Have you switched to using rechargeable batteries in household devices? Do you have a compost bin for food scraps and other organic material? Are you recycling as much as you can? Do you take plastic bags, batteries, printer cartridges and light bulbs to local recycling and collection points – or just toss stuff in the garbage? Assess what percentage of recyclable items your family is actually putting into your bin. Are you using reusable bags for groceries?
Chemicals and Fertilizers: Are you still using harmful chemicals inside and outside your home, whether to clean toilets or kill slugs and weeds? How many of your cleaning products can be replaced with commercial non-toxic products, and homemade cleaners using alternatives like vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice.
Outside the home, are there opportunities to replace chemical-based fertilizers with organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion and compost? What about using alternatives to pesticides including coffee grounds, vinegar and non-toxic commercial solutions.
Transportation/Autos: Assess how often your cars must be used at the same time? How many miles is each car driven and what are your monthly fuels costs? Use this information to analyze whether you can potentially give up one car or switch to an electric or plug-in hybrid car. Make sure your audit includes opportunities to use public transportation such as BART, car sharing services and those bicycles gathering dust in your garage.
Reviewing the areas above will provide you and your family a foundation for understanding what opportunities you have to lessen your impact on the planet and save money through lower water, energy and auto fuel bills. Gather your audit findings and in January’s column, we’ll outline a process to help you prioritize and plan your personal sustainability actions for 2015. Visit us at www.sustainabledanville.com or www.facebook.com/sustainabledanville.com