Six Quick Changes to Save the Earth (and Probably Save Money)

Earth Day was almost a month ago, but any day is the perfect time to start being more eco-friendly. Environmentally conscious products, legislation, and other initiatives abound. Here are some of the ways, simple or complicated, that I’ve adjusted my mindset, transportation, and other habits to be more ‘green,’ starting right at home.

  1. Reduce water use at home

We’ve all been there, that extra-long shower just feels like a such a treat at the end of the long day. But thanks to a drought in Las Vegas, everyone in our valley needs to cut back or at least be a little more water conscious. Even if you’re not in a drought like me, using less water is a simple way to start being more Earth-conscious. By cutting back on water usage, you’re both saving the energy of having clean water processed and delivered, as well as saving the energy that it would take to heat that water in your own home.

Around our house, there are a few practical solutions you might notice. First, all of our faucets, shower heads, and even toilets are meant to consume less water at every use. These water-smart home features were thanks in part to some local ordinances and are also one of the benefits of building a new, energy-efficient home. I’ve even started the good habit of turning off the water while I lather up in the shower. We’ve saved countless gallons of water over the years! Sometimes I’ve even been known to skip the shower altogether or just wash up in the sink on my less-dirty days. With these regular habits I know my water bills have traditionally been lower compared to my neighbors’ bills $$$

Second, you’ll see that our yard is designed to be water smart with tons of stone and no real grass in sight. The xeriscaping and irrigation system in our yard allow us to deliver water exactly where we need it, with no sprinklers spraying and wasting water. In fact, we don’t even have any grass, and we chose plenty of drought-tolerant plants. And my favorite water-smart feature of my yard: the water clock. Every few months I re-program it to follow our neighborhood’s assigned watering days, and if I do it right (lol I have about a 60% success rate each time I try to re-program it) I can’t possibly end up accidentally killing or over-watering our landscaping. Also I’m terrified Golden Knights’ hockey player Ryan Reaves might ‘reality check’ me if I waste water.

  1. Cut back on energy use at home

Maybe don’t visit my house this summer unless you’re good with the thermostat being set to 78℉?? Ok, it can start to feel quite steamy in here if we’re cooking a big meal in the oven or trying to stream a really intense workout. Humans have lived for years and years and years without air conditioning, so I can cut back a little too. Don’t get me wrong, I love some life-saving air conditioning when we get into our extreme desert temperatures (heat stroke is a real thing for people and animals). But on the days I want to laze around in some tiny summer clothes, we do not need to be blasting super-chilled air inside our house. I love to think of all the electricity and money we’re saving on our NV Energy bills 😍

Aside from running our big appliances such as the air conditioner a little less often, we also have a few other energy-saving features in our home. Our tankless water heater only heats water as we use it, rather than constantly working to keep water in a tank warm. Bonus: two showers can run at the same time, with the occupants NEVER running out of hot water! We also have LED lighting all over our home to save electricity, we have strategically-placed blinds and curtains to insulate rooms from the scorching temps of the sunshine, we rely on natural sunlight to light our rooms as much as possible, and we charge my car during off-peak hours. Yes, I finally got a newish electric car a few months ago! When I program my car to charge overnight during off-peak hours, I help save my electric utility company from expending tons of energy to create massive amounts of electricity while every home and business wants to use it during the waking hours.

  1. Consider going electric

Can I just say, it’s nice to know I won’t be sitting for hours in line to wait for gasoline like we’re seeing in some parts of the country this week? Crisis averted for electric car owners!

Because I bought my Nissan Leaf used, and I somehow learned to haggle like a real grown-up, I got four or FIVE digits off the Kelley Blue Book value for my car. My electrician husband managed to install a pretty good quality charger for me in the garage, so I absolutely saved $$$ on labor costs for installation. I don’t drive a whole lot yet thanks to weird COVID work schedules (I maybe charge 1.5 hours once every 2 or 3 nights) but thankfully we’ve seen no significant spike in our electricity bill since buying the car. In my 2012 Nissan Juke I was getting about 10 miles per dollar of fuel, and now I’m up much closer to 30 driving miles per dollar of electricity. We’ll see how summer temps treat my battery life 🤞

An electric car is NOT for everyone. My husband and I probably spent the first week of ownership second-guessing our decision. When we first drove that thing home on a fast freeway, during super-high winds, and practically up a mountain, my mileage range was not so great. I quickly questioned whether or not I’d be able to drive foster kids around and get myself to work at charter schools all over town. They call it “range anxiety,” and I’m glad to report that I’ve recovered from it. As long as I plan ahead to actually charge my car and spread out my most grueling trips over different days, my car is going to get me through my daily commutes. Heck, I was already a master of grouping errands together to save time and gas money!

What’s not possible in my electric car? Probably out-of-town driving. Las Vegas is a big, thriving city at times, but there is not a lot out there after you leave our valley. I *might be able to make it to some public charging stations on a long road trip, but the infrastructure of chargers just isn’t very strong in rural areas yet. For now, we’ll keep my husband’s traditional gasoline-powered SUV for road trips. Cheers to more camping trips this summer, woot woot!

  1. Do more of your own cooking

I don’t always love putting this one into practice, but dang we can also save a lot of money by buying groceries instead of restaurant or fast food meals! I’m all for supporting local businesses (hello, I used to live within walking distance to a donut store, a brewery, and a pizza place) but sometimes we need to be a little smarter with how we get our food. On those nights you give in to a craving or are pressed for time, remember how much driving your delivery person has to do in order to bring your food to your home. Absolutely hate preparing your own food at home? You can honestly probably buy pre-made meals at your grocery store and still save money and car emissions by avoiding trips for takeout. Hopefully you can find a pre-made option without excessive amounts of packaging (and wasted single-use material).

My most favorite thing to make at home is my kombucha. There was definitely some expense to buying my brewing equipment and tea, but it has paid me back by leaps and bounds. I was spending probably $3.50 for every bottle of kombucha I bought at the grocery store. Someone also had to haul that kombucha from a warehouse to my local store, and I was contributing to the single-use container problem. Now I’ve gotten my mason jars that I can wash and reuse for each batch of fermented tea that I make. Perhaps tea isn’t your thing, but the same principles apply: simply choose foods and methods that don’t contribute to more pollution.

  1. Recreate responsibly

Here’s my public service announcement about running, walking, rollerblading, and hiking: do it! These are like free exercise programs for me, my husband, and my dog. Every few months we get jealous of all the off-road, recreational vehicles in Las Vegas. Yes we could maybe afford one, yes it would be a blast to tear through the desert in a vehicle, but ultimately it’s not our thing. We’ve owned a big camper before, and we learned that maintaining and storing extra vehicles is kind of a hassle. Ultimately, all these sports that can be done on foot definitely align with my values better. We are saving the wilderness from noise and air pollution, as well as helping prevent soil compaction or habitat destruction. Important note- there are some super-duper wonderful responsible off-road vehicle owners that I can say absolutely nothing bad about. I just choose different recreational options. I mean, why sit in a vehicle when I can get out there and burn some calories?? Perhaps as I explore Nevada more I’ll even expand into other sports like bicycling or paddle boarding, fun! Heck, I might even spend some of my free time this summer walking around to pick up trash and help keep litter in its place. Oh, and I actually pick up my dog’s poop. What’s with everyone bagging it and leaving it along the sidewalk or trail?

  1. Order smarter

I work pretty hard to be conscious of my time on the road, as well as avoiding the greenhouse gas emissions of having other vehicles deliver to my home, but sometimes I just need to order things online. Some of my specialty work supplies and pet supplies just can’t be found in person. Thanks to the pandemic, even my dog’s regular pet food is getting difficult to find in a brick-and-mortar store!

When I do need to have things delivered to my home, there’s one important principle I employ as much as possible; I order in bulk. For therapy supplies, that means I buy a whole year’s worth of squishy pencil grips or adaptive writing utensils. For my dog (who weighs 20 pounds) I buy him the 10-pound bag of food instead of the 2.5-pound bag. And for my favorite face wash that can only be ordered online, I bought not one bottle, not two bottles, but three bottles of face wash. My tactic here is to stock up on the things I know I’ll continue to need and use, and that means the delivery driver will only have to haul that big truck to my driveway just one time instead of three or four. Small but consistent win for the environment!

So, that’s all there is to it. You can make small changes, you can make big changes, but hopefully all of our efforts will add up to make a difference somewhere. Want to discover more? Here a few websites that dive into conservation topics.

Learn more about saving water: https://www.epa.gov/watersense/start-saving

Read a quick explanation of how dog poop affects downstream water quality: https://www.keepitcleanpartnership.org/pollution-prevention/scoop-the-poop/

Learn how the time of day impacts electricity usage and the environment: https://www.energystar.gov/products/ask-the-expert/does-the-time-of-day-i-use-my-appliances-matter%3F

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