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This article is the second in a three-part series that details steps individuals and businesses can take to reduce their carbon footprint and help Evanston achieve its greenhouse gas emissions-reduction goal: 13 percent by 2012. Part one of the series listed the first three steps; this part deals with steps 4-7.
4. Caulk and Seal.
Tightening the home’s envelope – the outer walls, roof, windows and doors – is the most cost-effective way to cut energy waste. It will make the home more comfortable, too. Sealing air leaks will stop drafts, and adding insulation will block heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer.
Common air leak locations include door and window frames, mail chutes, air ducts, electric outlets, plumbing and dryer vents, recessed lights, attic hatches and areas where different materials meet – such as between walls and the foundation.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, roughly 80 percent of older homes are under-insulated. The attic is usually the easiest and most cost-effective place to start adding insulation. Proper ventilation and moisture control also contribute to the home’s energy efficiency.
A do-it-yourself guide to air sealing and insulation is available in the Home Improvement section of the ENERGY STAR website (www.energystar.gov/). Or a qualified home energy auditor can conduct a thorough assessment and evaluate measures to make the home more energy efficient.
5. Check out ComEd’s ‘Smart Ideas.’
Ordinarily, consumers pay a fixed price for their electricity, no matter what time of day they use it. But electricity prices fluctuate widely throughout the day. Participants in ComEd’s Residential Real-Time Pricing program (RRTP) pay the hourly wholesale market price for electricity. By changing how they use energy during high-price periods – on steamy weekday afternoons, for example – RRTP customers can keep their electric bills low. (More information is available at www.thewattspot.com/.)
Participants in the Central Air Conditioning Cycling program allow ComEd to turn their AC compressor off and on during the hottest days of summer. With the “50% option” the compressor unit can cycle off a maximum of 15 minutes every half hour during weekdays, earning a guaranteed credit of $5/month from June 1 to Sept. 30. With the “100% option” the unit can cycle off for one continuous three-hour period during any weekday, earning a guaranteed credit of $10/month for four months. ComEd will also pick up and recycle older, working refrigerators, freezers and room air conditioners – for free. These three programs help lower the demand for electricity and reduce the need to operate or build additional power plants. Details about these and other ComEd energy-saving programs are available at comed.com/smartideas/.
6. Drive Less, Drive Smart.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, driving accounts for over half of the carbon dioxide emissions for a typical household. Choosing the most fuel-efficient car that fits one’s budget is an important first step to reducing those emissions. Driving less will also help. Strategies to consider: Combine trips; car pool; use public transportation; telecommute; and walk, ride a bike or take the train when a car is not needed.
Drivers can improve their car’s fuel economy by going easy on the brakes and the gas pedal, avoiding rapid acceleration, reducing time spent idling and unloading unnecessary items from the trunk to reduce the car’s weight. Keeping the car in shape – engine properly tuned, tires properly inflated – can also improve gas mileage. (For more driving tips and information about fuel-efficient cars, visit the “drive smarter” section of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Fight Global Warming webpage: www.fightglobalwarming.com/.)
One more strategy to consider: Join a car-share program such as I-GO (www.igocars.org/).
7. Fly Less and Offset Air Trips
For some Evanstonians, air travel is the biggest source of personal carbon emissions. To make matters worse, the climate impact of aircraft emissions at high altitudes is considerably greater than that of the emissions alone at ground level.
Alternatives to flying include choosing other modes of transportation where possible, taking vacations closer to home and using video-conferencing for meetings and webcams to keep in touch with family and friends.
Air travelers can reduce the carbon footprint of their trips by flying economy – since business and first-class seats take up more room, thereby reducing the number of people the flight can carry. Flying non-stop can also help. Take-off, landing and taxiing use a lot of fuel and thus increase the carbon intensity of multi-leg trips.
To compensate for emissions that cannot otherwise be avoided, Evanstonians can contribute to the Evanston Climate Action Fund. The Fund invests in greenhouse gas reduction projects here in Evanston, with a special emphasis on projects benefiting nonprofit organizations and lower-income households.
Current contributions will help support a first set of grants to local childcare centers for energy-efficient lighting upgrades. Tax-deductible contributions to the Fund may be sent to the Evanston Community Foundation (www.evcommfdn.org/community/climateaction.html).