Friday, September 20, 2013

Eco-Friendly Tips For Autumn

Have you noticed the slight chill to the air lately? Autumn is upon us. The days are getting shorter, leaves are beginning to fall and summer produce has all but ended.

Autumn leaves

Before settling in for the season, let's look around our homes and ensure that everything is ready for the colder months ahead.

Here are this year's Eco-friendly tips for Autumn:

Inside Our Homes

  • Clean and test the furnace. Did you know that your furnace needs cleaning? Yep ... it collects all kinds of dust and debris which not only affects it's performance but could cause a fire. Before you really need the heat, get out your owner's manual for instructions on how to clean it or call a furnace maintenance company. If you have a gas furnace, have it professionally inspected once a year.
  • Install a programmable thermostat and set it for 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 Celsius) ... it'll save money and use less fuel/electricity.
  • Move furniture or any obstructions from vents, baseboard heaters, registers on the floor or radiators so that air moves freely. This is also a good time to vacuum these areas to remove any dust or debris. And here's a tip if you have a radiator ... place a reflecting panel behind it ... you can purchase one at a home center or make one yourself with a plywood panel and aluminum foil.
  • Remove window air conditioners for the winter. If they can't be removed, seal them with caulking or tape and cover them with an airtight, insulated jacket.
  • Open blinds during the day to attract warmth. Close them at night to retain the warmth. If you're making a change, opt for honeycomb blinds which are especially insulating.
  • If you have a ceiling fan, reverse the direction ... the fan should be run in a clockwise direction (stand under the fan and if you feel a breeze, reverse the direction so that air is being drawn upwards). This pushes the air up against the ceiling and down the walls, to gently re-circulate the warm air without creating a cooling "wind chill effect."
  • Do you have a fireplace? This is a good time to have the chimney cleaned and get vent systems checked.
  • Check windows for proper caulking. If you have single-pane windows, add storm windows. Even a plastic film over windows will reduce heat loss.
  • Consider installing new, efficient windows.
  • Check doors for weather stripping and replace as necessary. If drafts sneak in under exterior doors, replace the threshold or block the drafts with a rolled-up towel or blanket.
  • Hang a thick curtain in front of the door to block cold air from entering the house. Use a shower curtain rod and loop hangers so that the curtain can be easily pushed to the side to open the door.
  • Electrical outlets, especially on outside walls, and light fixtures are prime places for cold air to leak into your home. Add foam gaskets behind covers and switch plates, and use safety plugs in unused outlets. Be sure to shut off the power at the fuse box or circuit panel before doing this.
  • If your home has no sidewall insulation, place heavy furniture like bookshelves, armoires and sofas along exterior walls, and use decorative quilts as wall hangings. This will help block cold air.
  • Perhaps it's time to get new insulation ... if so, consider getting blown-in recycled cotton/denim insulation.

A cozy room interior

In The Kitchen

  • Vacuum the refrigerator coils to keep the compressor running efficiently. It's also a good time to check that the refrigerator is level ... the door should automatically swing shut instead of staying open.
  • Check the seal on the refrigerator door ... try closing it on a piece of paper. If you can pull the paper out easily, it's time to replace the gaskets. Repeat this process at several spots along the door to ensure that the entire seal is working.
  • Here's another tip for running the refrigerator efficiently ... don't over fill it. Allowing room for cool air to circulate will keep everything at the right temperature.
  • And how about another refrigerator tip ... plan ahead and defrost frozen items in the refrigerator instead of on the counter top ... the frozen items will help keep your refrigerator cool thus making it run less.

Our Laundry Room

  • Clean the ducts and area behind the dryer.
  • Clean the filter after every use and every once in awhile, give it a good wash.

Mmm ... Food

  • Preserve summer produce for use in the winter.
  • Even though fresh, local produce isn't as abundant during this season, there are still many options available. Visit local farms or farmer's markets and find out what's available and then, eat locally and in season.

How About Clothing

  • Before packing away those summer clothes, go through them and determine which items to keep, which items to repurpose into something else (cleaning rags, craft projects, etc.) and which to donate.
  • Bring out all those warm sweaters, socks, slippers and blankets so that when the temperature falls you'll be ready to bundle up instead of raising the thermostat.

Back to School

It's Back To School

  • Are your kids returning to school? Consider buying clothes, backpacks, etc. from second hand stores and/or thrift shops. If you're buying new items at a store, opt for earth-friendly products and don't forget to pay attention to packaging.
  • Invest in reusable lunch items (lunch boxes, beverage bottles, utensils, napkins, etc.).
  • Prepare lunches made from whole foods and avoid any processed items, especially items which come in single-use packages.
  • Have a "Swap" party ... invite guests to bring children's clothing and useable school supplies to trade.
  • Do your kids ride the bus to school? Often buses sit in front of a school, idling while they wait for kids to climb aboard. Suggest, to your school or the bus company, that bus drivers turn off the engine when waiting for their passengers. And, of course, if it's possible for your kids to walk to school ... all the better (for them and the earth).
  • Speaking of school buses, as the weather gets cooler, there's a tendency to drive kids to the bus stop. To save that fuel, bundle up and walk your kids to the bus stop instead.

Entertaining Is Fun

  • In the fall, entertaining moves indoors. There are football parties, cozy dinner parties and later events like Halloween and Thanksgiving. When planning your fall event, consider reusable plates, napkins and utensils, decorations from nature, clean burning soy candles and plenty of plant-based foods on your menu.

Home exterior in the autumn

Let's Head Outdoors

  • Check your roof for any missing or damaged tiles or shingles.
  • If you make any roof repairs, consider painting your roof white or installing light colored roofing.
  • Clean the roof gutters and make sure downspouts are pointed away from the house. Now would also be a good time to install a rain barrel ... rather than allow water to drain into one spot, a rain barrel would allow you to direct the water to where it's most needed. One tip, a 50 gal barrel fills with just 1/2" of rain from the roof, so drain the overflow from the barrel far away from the house so that it won't flood the basement (if you have one).
  • Keep weeds and shrubs trimmed. Keep them away from outside heating/cooling units for best airflow.
  • Install foam covers over outside water spigots to prevent freezing.
  • Check for water leaks both inside and outside.
  • Bring in any houseplants that have spent the summer outdoors. They'll help clean the air. Hint ... for about a week, bring them in at night and then put them out during the day. This will ensure that they aren't "shocked".
  • Do a little outdoor landscaping. Trees and bushes, planted in the fall, have ample time to develop strong, deep root systems before the heat of the next summer. This increases their chances of surviving and typically means less watering during hot months.
  • As the autumn leaves begin to fall, consider raking them up rather than using a "blower" (it's great exercise). Once raked up, use them as mulch to protect plants throughout the winter or add them to a compost pile.

Don't Forget The Car

  • Check the air pressure in your tires. Cooler temperatures lower tire pressure and that, in turn, lowers fuel efficiency. So check your tires and make sure that they are properly inflated.
  • If you have a garage, park the car in it. As the weather gets colder, using a garage will alleviate the need to warm up the car before driving ... and will save fuel.

Sharing and Caring"

  • Now is a great time to help others with their Eco-friendly Autumn chores. Check with elderly neighbors to see if they could use help cleaning up their gardens, caulking windows, etc
  • Donate your time at a community garden ... there's a lot of clean-up to be done at this time of year.
  • Support environmental programs and education. In Canada consider helping via environmental donations

A little action now will ensure that your winter is warm, safe and Eco-friendly.

A cozy kitten

What are your favorite tips for an Eco-friendly autumn?

If you're moving into spring instead of autumn, check out our post entitled "17 Eco-Friendly Tips For Spring."

Image courtesy of Aduldej, porbital, graur razvan ionut, Witthaya Phonsawat and Willem Siers /