Idle No More

We all have to do it- wait in the car. At school or sports. Picking up friends and family. In line at the bank or for fast food.

If your engine is running while you’re waiting, it’s generating harmful emissions- and everyone around you is breathing them in. (FYI- children are more at risk because their lungs are developing). Turn the engine off instead, even if just for a minute or two. Idling for 10 seconds wastes more gas than restarting the engine.

Idling adds up. According to an EDF report, in New York City idling cars and trucks (going nowhere) crank out 130,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year.

So next time you’re idling, make sure your engine isn’t!

For more info:


The bottom line: the less you drive, the less you pollute. So do a little planning and combine your car trips to save time and gas. Swing by the grocery on the way back from the gym (my personal favorite), or stop at the bank after work. See how many errands you can get into one outing. Sound simple? Because it is.

According to the US Department of Transportation, the average driver is out on the road about 1,000 miles a month That’s a lot of time in the car!

For more information:

Does Driving Matter?

Image by Daniel Truta

What is the most polluting activity that many of us do every day? Driving.

Cars, trucks, and other transportation are the biggest contributor to air pollution in the US. When vehicles burn gasoline they create nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and other pollution. This dirty air is harmful to people and the environment, both locally and globally.

According to the US EPA, new cars are 75-90% less polluting per mile than cars from 1970. But today more people drive than ever before. And air pollution from cars is even higher in urban areas– and the highest near major highways.

Over the next couple of posts, explore how to drive- and pollute- less. I wish my kids could telecommute for their after school activities, but apparently it doesn’t work that way!

For more information:;


Photo by Justin Helmick

Computers. Vending machines. Refrigerators. Washer/dryers. Ceiling fans. Pool pumps. What do these things have in common? Bingo- they all use energy. And you have most of them in your home. Different brands use different amounts of energy, so look at energy efficiency when you’re buying. You can find information on the bright yellow Energy Guide label or look for products that display the blue Energy Star logo.  It’s an easy peasy way to save energy without lifting a finger, or even having to think about it. And as energy prices go up, you’ll still be saving money & power!

Do your buying choices really matter? Remember, it’s not just you out there- it’s me and your neighbors and people all over the country. The ENERGY website says that,  “if all computers sold in the United States were ENERGY STAR certified, the savings would grow to:

  • More than $1 billion in annual energy costs per year
  • …the equivalent to the emissions from more than 1.4 million vehicles.”

And that’s just from computers! Every step you take helps you save money and reduce your impact on the environment.

In full disclosure, I worked with the Energy Star Buildings program from 1999-2004.


Cozy Quiz

 Have you turned down your thermostat yet? Remember, any step you take to turn down the heat is making the world a cleaner place (and saving you money)! See where you fall in this not-so-official rating system:

Novice: You turned down the heat from 75 to 72 and put on socks and long pants.

Intermediate: You set the thermostat at 68 during the day and put on a cute sweater or fleece. The heat goes even lower at night when you’re asleep, thanks to a programmable thermostat.

Pro: You crank down the heat and tell the family, “55, stay alive, people!”

During a recent polar vortex, an energy company had technical difficulties and couldn’t keep up with the extra power that was needed. They asked their customers to turn the heat down as low as possible. I wonder if more people have joined in if the power company asked everyone to lower their thermostats by 5 degrees instead? What would you have done?

If you’re asking, why save electricity?

Curtains- Winter

Is the sun shining today? Open your blinds and curtains in the morning. The sun’s rays will help heat the room (our pets already know this). When the sun goes down, close your blinds and curtains, kind of like you’re tucking your house or apartment in for the night. Repeat the next day.

 Some friends tell me opening blinds is a pain because it takes time…and then there’s the nakedness factor. Just a suggestion, but wait until you’re dressed! If you’re really pressed for time, only open the curtains in the rooms that get direct sunlight. Take a break on cloudy days.  If you live with others, get them involved too. No excuses!

Why save electricity?

Go Cozy

Instantly lessen your power use by lowering your heat a degree or two. Heating and cooling add up to about half the energy you use in your house. So unearth that plush robe in the back of your closet. If you’re “not the robe type,” slip on your favorite sweatshirt- or some people prefer a warm pet in their lap. Give your local power plant a break and reduce the emissions it produces.

Photo by Rosie Kerr

TIP: Do others in your home complain when you turn the thermostat down? I can instantly tell when my husband tries to sneak the temperature even one degree lower than what we agreed. If it’s really making people uncomfortable, turn the heat down at bedtime instead and see if anyone notices. You will, on your heating bill.

Ok, what are you waiting for?

A BIGGER STEP: With a little cash and effort you can install a programmable thermostat. It regulates the temperature according to your wishes. In our house, the temperature goes down when we’re at work & school during the day, and  is back to normal by the time we get home. Same thing at night. The heat automatically turns on every morning, and it’s nice and toasty by the time we get up.


Turn off a light, and instantly start saving energy. Many of us usually have at least one light on in an empty room. Right now, every bedroom upstairs is lit up, but my family is all downstairs. Be right back.

Now that you’ve started reducing your environmental impact, take it one step further. Plan on changing your hot, inefficient incandescent light bulbs to LEDs (light emitting diodes). LED lights (straight or round bulbs) can use 80% less energy and last 20 times longer than old-fashioned incandescent bulbs.

Use LEDs outside too!

Relax, you don’t have to do a complete conversion overnight! As your old bulbs burn out, replace them with energy efficient versions. Start with the lights you have on for long periods of time, indoors and out, for maximum impact.

My energy company tells me that if each home in North Carolina replaced one standard light bulb with a more efficient version, the energy saved would light over 86,000 homes for a year. That’s a big savings for a little change!

TIP: A watt is the amount of energy used. A 10 Watt LED is equivalent to a 60 Watt incandescent bulb.

Why Save Electricity?

Most air pollution is caused by the burning of fossil fuels, which include coal, oil, natural gas, and gasoline. Power plants burn these fuels to make electricity. Not only do fossil fuel power plants create air pollution, they also use lots of water (for cooling off), and remember, the coal and oil natural resources come from mining, which destroys animal and plant habitats.

Some of the gases produced from making electricity, like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and heavy metals, get in the environment and are harmful to human health, as well as plants and animals. Other gases, like carbon dioxide, contribute to the climate change. In fact, making electricity accounts for one-third of the total carbon dioxide emissions in the US, and continues to increase.

Sometimes I imagine I have my personal little pollution stream rising from my local power plant. As I click off a light in an empty room, or turn down the thermostat, I can see that stream getting smaller in my mind. Then I imagine other people doing the same thing to their little streams!