By David Krantz
Maybe Kermit was wrong — maybe it actually is easy to be green. Or, at the very least, it is pretty easy to start being green.
There are many projects that you can do that will not just green your home, but will keep the green in your pocket, too.
Plant a Garden
There’s no better summer treat than fresh fruits and vegetables grown in your own backyard. And no plot of land is too small for a garden, even if that garden is only a few potted cherry tomato plants on your windowsill.
As long as you’re planting, plant big! Trees around a home can help cool a house in the summer and keep a house warmer in the winter. Specifically, trees on a house’s southern side only help cool a house if their shade extends over the roof, so it’s best to plant evergreen trees on the northern side of the house to help block cold winter winds, and deciduous trees (the kinds that lose their leaves in the fall) on the house’s eastern and western sides to protect the house from summer sun.
Switch to Energy Efficient Lighting
Compact fluorescent light bulbs use about a quarter of the energy of their traditional incandescent lighting brethren. Compact fluorescents last for years, and although they contain mercury, it’s still less than the amount of mercury released into the atmosphere by producing the extra amount of energy needed to power conventional bulbs. But the best option may be LED bulbs. They don’t use mercury and they only use about a quarter of the energy of compact fluorescents — or about 1/16th of the energy of conventional bulbs.
LEDs also last much longer: One incandescent can last about 1,000 hours, or a few months at normal usage. One fluorescent can last about 8,000 hours, or a few years at normal usage. But one LED can last about 50,000 hours, or about 25 to 30 years at normal usage.
Additionally, LED bulbs produce much less heat than other bulbs, which not only saves energy, but is particularly helpful in summer.
Install Solar Panels
The sun showers the earth’s surface with 180 million gigajoules (50 billion kilowatt hours) of energy every second. That’s the equivalent of about 5.68 quadrillion gigajoules a year. For a basis of comparison, all of the countries in the world consume a total of about 353 billion gigajoules of energy a year. In other words, every day the sun shines enough energy on the Earth’s surface to meet an entire year’s energy needs for about 44 Earths.
Even though current solar energy technology only allows us to capture a fraction of that power, the sun provides basically free energy, and we’d be foolish not to use more of it. Fortunately, the U.S. government offers financial incentives to help the public install energy generating solar panels. To find the incentives for which you qualify, check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and run by North Carolina State University and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council. Then start powering your house with the sun!
Save Water with Every Flush
Why flush away more gallons than you need to do the job? In Israel and other countries, it’s common for toilets to have two settings — one for when less water is needed, and a second for when a more powerful flush is required. But with a $100 kit, your toilet also can have two flush options.
An even simpler way to save water is by placing a sealed half gallon container of water in your tank. The container displaces new water, saving a half gallon per flush. With the average American flushing five times per day, each half gallon adds up to significant water savings.
Even better: Use the water once before it reaches your toilet tank. Another $100 kit can add a simple sink to the top of your toilet, allowing you to wash your hands with clean tap water that then drains into your toilet tank.
Or, if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can install a grey water system to funnel water from the sink and shower drains into the toilet tank and leave plenty left over for the garden. Just remember that you’ll need to switch to all natural, biodegradable soaps and shampoos as well.
Save Water in the Shower
New low-flow shower heads can use 70 percent less water without sacrificing full flow shower sensation. And, of course, one of the best ways to save water in the shower is to turn off the water when lathering and take shorter showers.
A Green Start
These are just a few of the many things that can be done to reduce your environmental impact and lower your energy and water bills this summer. You can find much of what you’ll need through the Green Zionist Alliance, and anything else is readily available elsewhere online. With a little effort, you make your home a bit more green and save some green in the process, too.
David Krantz is the president and chairperson of the Green Zionist Alliance, as well as a leadership fellow at the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. A founding member of Jewcology.com, Krantz is also a journalist whose work has been published around the world by media outlets including The Associated Press, espn.com and the Jerusalem Post. He serves on the cabinet of the board of directors of the American Zionist Movement, and he earned his master’s degrees at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism and at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, where he studied environmental policy.
The Jewish Energy Guide presents a comprehensive Jewish approach to the challenges of energy security and climate change and offers a blueprint for the Jewish community to achieve a 14% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by September of 2014, which is the next Shmittah, or sabbatical, year in the Jewish calendar.
The Jewish Energy Guide is part of COEJL’s Jewish Energy Network, a collaborative effort with Jewcology’s Year of Action to engage Jews in energy action and advocacy. The Guide was created in partnership with the Green Zionist Alliance.