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A year of going green at home

Swapping your incandescent light bulbs for fluorescent or LEDs is a great way to help reduce your carbon footprint in 2013.

Published: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 3:30 p.m.

How many of us actually keep our New Year's resolutions? A paltry 8 percent, according to a University of Scranton study. In fact, surveyors found nearly 25 percent of people confess they have never honored a resolution.

So we'll make it easy. A lot of us think about living greener. But old habits die hard and many recommendations are daunting and costly. So we've sifted out 12 ways you can resolve to reduce your footprint at home this year with very little effort or expense, making small incremental changes, one month at a time.

January: Instead of lamenting the winter rain, bank it for a sunny day. Rainwater harvesting doesn't have to involve expensive equipment or installation, says Sonoma County Master Gardener Sandy Metzger. Buy inexpensive connectors that attach to your downspout and direct the water from roof gutters into 30-gallon drums perched on cinder blocks. Collect even more from the same spout by connecting multiple barrels with garden hoses. Save to use on your lawn or garden. Cost: Under $100.

February: This is your month for giving up incandescent lightbulbs for good. Swapping in higher efficiency bulbs like fluorescents or LEDs is one of the best ways to reduce your energy use, said Santa Rosa home energy auditor Rick Cowperthwaite. While fluorescents, which cost an average 70 percent less to use, have been around a long time, Cowperthwaite said 80 percent of his clients still cling to their old bulbs.

March: Spreading a 2-4 inch layer of mulch over your garden beds will keep plants cooler and moister longer, thus saving on your water usage in the warmer months ahead. It will also cut down on weeds.

April: Start cooking your own compost. It's really easy to do. Metzger says you don't need fancy drums or containersl just start a pile. She says she's been able to drop down a trash-can size and save money by diverting potato peels, vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, paper shred, leaves and garden clippings into the pile. Keep a small container by your sink to collect. Doing this turns garbage otherwise bound for the landfill into a rich soil amendment for your garden.

May: Re-set sprinklers. Much water is lost to run-off from overwatering beyond what your soil can absorb. Carrie Pollard, a water efficiency expert for the Sonoma County Water Agency, suggests a test run to see how long you can keep the sprinklers on before the ground saturates and adjust to shut off at that point. If your landscape needs more water but time to recover, set sprinklers to come on at various intervals. The city of Santa Rosa can advise how to set sprinklers. 543-3985 in spring.

June: Check your water lines for leaks. Open up the hatch of your meter box. Pollard says on the face look for a red triangle like a car odometer. Note where it is. Turn off all water in the house and wait at least 10 minutes. If it moves you have a leak. Most city websites have information on how to read your meter.

July: Line-dry your clothes. Free solar power saves watts and leaves clothes fresh and crisp.

August: Cut down on air conditioning by passively cooling your house. Open windows at night and close windows and drapes in the morning.

September: Install low-flow water restricters on faucets and shower heads to reduce both water and energy. These little devices are less than $10 at hardware stores and can save from three quarts a minute in a newer house up to more than 8 gallons in an older house.

October: Go deeper than curbside for your recycling by properly disposing of toxics and electronics. The county has a comprehensive guide for how and where to recycle a host of household stuff, including electronics, oil, fluorescent lamps, mattresses, eyeglasses, paint, syringes, sewing machines, tires and Styrofoam. Recyclenow.org or call 565-3375.

November: Electronics like TVs, video-game boxes, computers, etc., can collectively drain 50-100 watts doing nothing. Replace regular power strips with so-called “smart power strips.” When you turn off your computer, for instance, it will detect that and power down other devices on the strip. Prices start at under $30.

December: Replace regular light switches with sensor switches. These will detect if a human body is in the room and if not it will shut off the lights after a certain period of time. Cowperthwaite said these have come down a lot in price, to about $30, and are good in rooms like bathrooms, kitchens, laundry roooms and garages.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.

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