Affordable Sustainability 7 of 12-How to Use Appliances Efficiently

Did you know that appliances account for approximately 13% of your home’s energy use? Your larger kitchen appliances, combined with your smaller entertainment machines, means your home can have upward of 10 appliances running at any given moment. The good news is, you don’t have to completely pull the plug to save on your energy costs. Here’s how to use your appliances more efficiently to reduce your energy use and do one for the environment.

Choose energy-efficient appliances

When purchasing new appliances, choose models with high energy efficiency ratings. Look for the ENERGY STAR label, which indicates that the appliance meets strict energy efficiency standards. Energy-efficient appliances consume less electricity while providing the same functionality as standard models. The initial cost may be higher, but the money you save in the long run will make it an investment that ultimately pays for itself. 

Follow the user manuals

User manuals provide valuable information about the optimal usage and maintenance of appliances. Take the time to read the manuals thoroughly, as they offer specific instructions on how to maximize efficiency and extend the lifespan of each appliance. Familiarize yourself with recommended settings, maintenance procedures and safety guidelines to ensure you’re using the appliances as efficiently as possible.

Use appliances smartly

Take full advantage of any automatic settings on your appliances to use them more efficiently. For example, you can set your HVAC system to adjust its temperature when no one’s home or everyone in the household is asleep. Many newer appliances come with Wi-Fi connectivity, which further increases the controllability of the appliance. It’s a lot easier to swipe a phone screen to shut off the light you mistakenly left burning in the basement than to actually haul yourself out of bed and downstairs to turn it off. 

Saving on energy around the house

Follow these tips to use appliances more efficiently around the house:


  • Choose “sleep” over “screen save” to use less energy when away from your computer.
  • Set up your computer to go into standby mode after 10 or 15 minutes of non-use and to hibernate, or sleep, after a bit longer. This will significantly decrease your computer’s energy use.
  • Trim down and downsize. Consider switching from a desktop PC to a laptop, as these use 10% of the electricity.
  • Turn off your monitor when it’s not in use.
  • Think three times before you print. Use print preview to reduce the number of copies you need to run. 


  • Match up your pots to your burner size. Using a small pot on a large burner is a waste of energy and adds extra heat to your kitchen. 
  • Keep the oven door closed. The oven loses up to 50°F each time you open the door.
  • Choose the right-shaped pans. Pans with straight sides and flat bottoms reduce cooking time and heat loss. 
  • Cook with aluminum pans for even heat conduction.
  • Keep range-top burners clean for better reflection of heat and saved energy.


  • Keep your thermostats at the recommended settings: 37°F for refrigerators and -6°F for freezers.
  • Position your refrigerator away from a heat source to reduce energy use. 
  • For optimal performance that uses less energy, keep your freezer full and wrap all foods well. Avoid putting hot foods directly into your refrigerator or freezer.
  • Clean the condenser coils of refrigerators and freezers regularly to improve cooling efficiency.


  • Only run full loads.
  • Avoid pre-rinsing dirty dishes unless absolutely necessary. 
  • During warmer times of the year, run the dishwasher in the early morning or evenings, when it’s cooler out, for decreased energy usage. 


  • Wash with cold water as much as possible. Approximately 90% of the energy used by washing machines goes toward heating the water. 
  • Keep the lint filter clean for quicker dry times. 
  • Make sure your dryer is vented properly. 

Air conditioner

  • Cook less when it’s hot out. Consider using smaller appliances instead of your oven to keep the house cool, or take it outdoors and grill your dinner. 
  • Plant bushes or small trees outside your home near windows that let in lots of sunshine.
  • Set your thermostat to adjust automatically. 
  • Clean or replace your filters regularly to maintain proper airflow. 

Our household appliances keep our food cold, cook and bake our meals, allow us to get work done, clean our clothes, keep us cool and so much more. Use these tips to use your appliances more efficiently and save on energy usage and total costs. 

Affordable Sustainability 6 of 12: Five Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Water Bottle Waste

Plastic water bottles have become a ubiquitous part of modern-day life. They’re convenient, portable and readily available. Unfortunately, though, their convenience comes at a cost. 

According to a report published by the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, more than one million bottles of water are sold every minute around the world. Approximately 85% of these bottles, which can take up to 1,000 years to degrade, will end up as waste, the report claims. This leads to an average of 25 million tons of plastic waste each year. To put that into context, this waste pile is big enough to fill a line of 40-ton trucks stretching from New York to Bangkok every year.

Plastic water bottles do a job on the wallet, too, with the average American spending $266 a year, or $17,290 over an 80-year lifespan, on these ill-packaged beverages. The good news is that reducing your plastic water bottle usage is easy and can have a significant impact on both your wallet and our environment. Here are five ways to reduce your plastic water bottle usage.

1: Invest in a reusable water bottle

One of the easiest ways to reduce your plastic water bottle usage is to invest in a reusable water bottle. Reusable water bottles are durable and easy to carry around.  You can find one in a wide variety of tastes and styles. Best of all, a reusable water bottle is environmentally friendly and easy on the wallet, too. 

When shopping for a reusable water bottle, look for one made from food-grade stainless steel or glass. These materials are non-toxic, highly durable and easy to clean. 

2: Use water filters

Another way to reduce your plastic water bottle usage is to invest in a water filter. Water filters are an excellent way to ensure that your tap water is clean and safe to drink. There are different types of filters available, such as pitcher filters, faucet filters and under-sink filters. Shop around until you find one that fits your needs and budget. Investing in a water filter will reduce your bottled water waste, and lower your exposure to the harmful contaminants that are often found in tap water, such as chlorine, lead and bacteria. 

With clean water available at home, you won’t have to depend on bottled water to stay hydrated. Just refill your reusable water bottle at home, and you’re all set!  

3: Carry your water bottle with you

It’s a good idea to get into the habit of carrying your water bottle around with you. This way, you’ll have clean water to drink wherever you are. Most workplaces provide filtered water for their employees, so you can always refill your bottle during the workday. Plus, leaving home while prepared with a drink means you’re less likely to waste money and plastic on a purchased beverage. That’s a win for the environment, and your budget, too.

4: Say no to plastic water bottles

It isn’t easy to break the plastic water bottle habit, but you can do it! Aside from ensuring you always have your own clean water to drink, be prepared to turn down offers for bottled water at various venues and events. When asked if you’d like a bottle of water, politely decline and explain that you’ve brought your own water. If you’re the one hosting an event, stay true to your values and serve water from pitchers or dispensers instead of distributing plastic bottles to all your guests. 

5: Support businesses that reduce plastic water bottle usage

Supporting businesses that reduce plastic water bottle usage is another way to make a difference. When choosing a restaurant, café or hotel, look for those that offer tap water or water in reusable glasses or bottles. Additionally, you can support businesses that offer incentives for using reusable water bottles, such as discounts or free refills. Supporting businesses that reduce plastic water bottle usage is a great way to create a demand for sustainable practices. 

Use the tips outlined here to change your drinking habits and do one for the environment.

Affordable Sustainability 2 of 12-Going Organic on a Budget

Going organic is a great way to improve your personal health and the health of the environment. By choosing organic products, you can help reduce the amount of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that are used in the farming and harvesting of food products, which can have devastating effects on the soil, water and air. 

Fortunately, going organic does not have to mean spending big. Here’s how to go organic on a budget.

Prioritize your purchases 

If you’re on a strict budget, you likely won’t be able to go completely organic all at once. Choose what’s most important to you, and start there. For example, you can choose to buy organic produce, but opt to continue using non-organic cleaning products. Eventually, when you’ve found ways to work new expenses into your budget, you can move on to another area until you’ve completely embraced the organic lifestyle.

Buy in bulk

Purchasing products in bulk can often save money, and this is especially true for organic products. Look for bulk bins at your local natural grocery store for steep savings on all things organic. You can also consider joining a club store to get discounted prices on organic products in large quantities. If you can’t finish all your bulk organic purchases before they go bad, you can always partner with a friend and split the costs.                                                             

Shop the seasons

In-season produce generally tastes better than off-season fruits and vegetables, and it’s cheaper, too. Choosing organic produce that grows locally while it’s in season locally can significantly bring down your grocery bill, even after going organic. A quick Google search can tell you what’s currently in season in your area of the country.

Grow your own

If you have the time and space, consider growing your own organic greens and herbs. You’ll enjoy the unique satisfaction that comes from growing, harvesting and eating your own foods, and you’ll have access to inexpensive organic produce that’s fresh and ready to eat. 

Shop the farmers market

Your local farmers market is a great place to find fresh, locally grown organic produce at affordable prices. You’ll find organic meat, dairy and other products at the farmers markets while supporting local farms.

Stalk your favorite organic brands on social media

Brands will often alert their followers to fantastic deals and discounts that may otherwise be missed. As soon as you find an organic food brand you love, follow it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If it has a newsletter, sign up for it. Ask to be included in promotional emails and text message alerts, too. This way, you’ll never miss a sale.

Look for store brands

Lots of grocery stores, like Target and Trader Joe’s, now offer their own line of organic products. These tend to be a lot cheaper than companies that are not affiliated with a specific store. Just remember to read all ingredients carefully when shopping store brands to ensure you’re actually getting what you believe you’re buying.

Buy frozen or canned food products

Frozen and canned organic products can be a more budget-friendly option than their fresh counterparts. These have an almost infinite shelf life as well, so it’s a good idea to stock up and save these goodies in your freezer and pantry.

Shop smart

Finally, follow the basic rules for smart shopping to save on your organic purchases. Plan your menu around the sales, and always shop with a list. Take a smaller cart, or even a basket if you can swing it, and if you always find yourself blowing your budget at the grocery, shop with cash. 

By following these tips, you can make the switch to an organic lifestyle without breaking the bank. While it may require some planning, the benefits for both your personal health and the environment make it well worth it.

Your Turn: Have you gone organic and done so on a budget? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Affordable Sustainability 1 of 12-All You Need to Know About Going Solar

Since 2008, hundreds of thousands of homeowners have chosen to install solar panels on their rooftops to use the sun’s energy for powering their homes. Solar panels can benefit the environment and can save the homeowner boatloads of money in energy costs over the years. Thanks to the ever-evolving solar industry and generous government incentives, solar panels are more popular than ever. Here’s what you need to know about going solar.

How do solar panels work?

Residential solar panels use technology known as photovoltaics, or PV. When the sun shines on these solar panels, photons from the sun are absorbed by the cells in the panel, which creates an electric field across the layers and causes electricity to flow. 

Can every roof support solar panels?

Unfortunately, not every roof, or every home, is suitable for solar panels. A roof may be too weak to hold the panels, due to age and wear. There may be trees blocking the sunlight from reaching a roof, making it unsuitable for solar panels. Or, the shape and slope of the roof may make it difficult to hold or house the panels. 

In general, the best candidates for solar panels are south-facing roofs with a slope of 15 to 40 degrees that are in decent condition and won’t need to be replaced within a few years. If your roof doesn’t match these exact criteria, though, it can still be suitable for solar energy. It’s best to have a professional evaluate your roof to determine whether solar panels can work for your home.

The dollars and sense of going solar

Most homeowners interested in going solar want to know how much money they’ll save on energy costs before purchasing. However, it can be difficult to put a dollar amount on the savings incurred from installing solar panels. The exact amount of money saved depends on the buyer’s monthly energy consumption, the rates set by their utility company, the direction, size and slope of their roof, the size of the solar energy system they purchase and whether they choose to buy or lease their panels. Government incentives that pay for part of the purchase make a difference in savings incurred, as well. 

The cost of going solar has dropped significantly since 2009, as competition in the industry increases and the price of panels and installation keeps falling. While costs will vary tremendously by roof, location and other factors, according to the Center for Sustainable Energy, installing a solar panel system will cost homeowners an average of $20,000, or $14,000 after the federal tax credit. Depending on your home state, there can be additional government incentives for lowering the cost. Before making the choice to go solar, though, speak to a professional in the industry about any possible kickback from your state and a realistic idea of actual cost. 

Solar financing

If you’ve decided to go ahead and install solar panels on your roof, you have several options for financing the purchase:

  • Cash. If you can afford to fund the entire purchase in one go, you’ll enjoy the most significant savings. Solar panels can reduce your electric bill by 70-100%. This means most systems will pay for themselves in five to seven years. 
  • Lease agreement. Solar leasing is not available in every state, but it is an option in approximately half of the country. You’ll pay a monthly rent for the panels, but forego any upfront fees. The leasing company will install the panels and collect the federal tax credit on your behalf. The downside to this choice is that the leasing company will remove the panels after the lease agreement is over, or charge you full price to keep them.
  • Solar loan. A secured solar loan will use your home as collateral and offer tax-deductible interest, while an unsecured solar loan will likely have higher interest rates. 
  • Home Equity Loan or Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). One of the most  financially flexible ways to finance your solar panel purchase is through a loan or a line of credit taken out against your home’s value.

Solar panels and the environment

One of the biggest incentives for going solar is to help the environment. As a renewable source of energy, solar power reduces greenhouse gas emissions like carbon monoxide into the environment. This translates into less pollution and cleaner air and water. 

Going solar can be a favorable choice for the environment–and your budget. Use this guide to make an informed decision about changing your home’s energy source. 

Your Turn: Is your home solar-powered? Tell us about it in the comments.