En español | From washing clothes to washing cars to shopping wisely, living green has become part of our lives. As scientists zero in on new ways to save resources and industry develops innovative energy-efficient technology, yesterday's advice can seem ... well, a bit old hat. Here are seven recommendations for living green that have been brought up to date.
Old advice: Wash your car by hand to save more water
1. Better bet: Use a commercial car wash
Commercial car wash facilities typically use 60 percent less water for the complete wash than a typical owner uses just to rinse the car. Car wash services also channel the water they use to wastewater treatment plants. When you wash your car in your driveway or the street, the dirty runoff flows directly into storm drains. From there it makes its way to streams, rivers and lakes — carrying with it the soap you used as well as brake fluid, rust, gasoline, motor oil and other pollutants.
If you do opt for DIY, park your car on grass or gravel, which will absorb and filter any soap, and pour the leftover soapy water down a sink drain or toilet.
Old advice: To use less gas, let your car idle instead of turning it off and then back on
2. Better bet: Turn off the engine if your car has been idling for more than 10 seconds
Both your wallet and the environment will thank you for switching off the ignition while you wait in line at a drive-up teller's window or pull over to talk on your cellphone. Based on your engine size, over the course of a year you'll waste between $56 and $215 — while going nowhere — if you let your car idle as little as 10 minutes a day, according to the U.S. Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory. An important exception: For safety reasons, keep your car running when you're stuck in a traffic jam.
Old advice: Switch all the lightbulbs in your house to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)
3. Better bet: Look at the options and choose the best bulb for the job
Those familiar twisty CFLs are up to 80 percent more efficient than old-fashioned incandescent lights and can last six times longer or more. But CFLs work best if they're left on for at least 15 minutes at a time. Turning them on and off for less than 15 minutes shortens their life, so they're not a good choice for pantries, closets or other areas where you need light for just a minute or two several times a day. For those locations, check out LED bulbs and halogens, a more efficient form of incandescent light.
Old advice: Use warm water instead of hot when you wash clothes to save energy and still get clothes clean
4. Better bet: Switch to cold water for all your wash
A whopping 90 percent of the energy consumed during use of a washing machine goes to heat the water. Swapping warm water for hot can cut energy use in half — but using cold water will save even more and get clothes just as clean. Most detergents work in cold water, but many newer ones have been reformulated to pull dirt and grease from clothes washed in cold water. Look on the label for "cold-water detergent," "works in cold water" or some similar phrase.
Old advice: Wash your hands with soap and warm or hot water to avoid getting sick
5. Better bet: Use soap and cool or cold water
Frequent handwashing helps protect against colds, the flu, food poisoning and other nasty illnesses. Much advice recommends using soap and hot or warm water, yet no research shows that water temperature makes a difference in ridding hands of germs. Soap and cool or cold water work just as well. Still, nearly 70 percent of people surveyed said they believed that hot water was most effective, according to a report published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies.
Heating water is typically the third-largest energy expense in a home, so use cool or tepid water when you wash your hands — both to save money and to help the planet.
Old advice: Wash your dishes by hand to save water
6. Better bet: Use your dishwasher if you have a full load
Using a dishwasher is certainly easier than doing dishes by hand — and it's easier on your wallet as well. Dishwashers today use less than half as much energy and water as those made 20 years ago, according to the California Energy Commission.
Machines that display the Energy Star label use only 3 to 5 gallons of water per load. (Manufacturers advise simply scraping dishes and not rinsing them before loading.) Older machines, by comparison, guzzle between 8 and 15 gallons. And if you use running water to do dishes by hand, you'll send 27 gallons down the drain.
Old advice: Turn off TV sets, electronic devices and computers when you're not using them
7. Better bet: Hook up certain devices to a power strip and turn off the strip each night
Electronics and appliances can suck energy through their plugs all night long, even when they seem "off" or asleep. This vampire energy, also called standby power or phantom load, represents roughly 10 percent of a home's annual electricity use, according to Noah Horowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. To tame the runaway monster, hook up your computer, monitor, printer and speakers to a power strip and switch off the strip at night. Ditto your TV, surround-sound speakers, DVD player and game console. You won't lose your settings.
The TV set-top boxes provided by your cable, satellite or telephone company have been among the worst energy offenders, guzzling electricity all day and night. A recent voluntary agreement will cut their energy use substantially. Until these new boxes become widely available, call your provider and ask if you currently have a box that meets Energy Star version 3.0. If not, ask for one.
Also, almost all homes with high-speed Internet service have a modem and router, two other energy hogs. If you're in the market to replace either, look for one with an Energy Star label to cut energy use by roughly 30 percent.
Nissa Simon is a freelance health and science writer.
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