"Even simple changes around your home can reap green benefits," says Louis Smith, AIA, with Commercial Builders and Architects in Charlotte, North Carolina.
1. Switch-controlled electrical outlets
Benefit: many electronic devices, such as televisions, computers, and cell phone chargers, use electricity even when they appear to be turned off or in standby mode. This is called phantom power, and it may make up 10 percent of a typical power bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
How to use: By having an electrician link outlets to wall switches, you can turn off the phantom power to an electric device with the flick of a finger, "You can accomplish the same goal by plugging devices into a power strip and turning it off when devices are not in use," Snyder says.
2. Programmable thermostat
Benefit: These thermostats save energy by reducing heat and cooling output when you're not at home. They cost around $50 and can save about $150 per year in energy costs.
How to use: Installing a programmable thermostat is a relatively simple DIY project for those who have experience working with wiring, but if you don't, an electrician can suppluy and install a thermostat that matches your home's heating and cooling unit.
3. Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs)
Benefit: CFLs use about 75 percent less energy, generate 75 less heat, and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. You'll save about $30 in electricity costs over each CFL's life.
How to use: CFLs contain a small amount of mercury (about the amount that would cover the tip of a ballpoint pen), so handle with care. If a bulb breaks, go to www.epa.gov for cleanup recommendations. When CFLs burn out, visit www.earth911.org for local recycling options.
4. Opt for green power:
Benefit: Comes from emission-free resources, such as solar, wind, geothermal, and low-impact hydroelectric energy, or from renewable fuel sources, such as biomass or methane gas captures from landfills or large farms.
How to use: More than 20 percent of utilities nationwide now offer customers the option of buying part or all of their electricity from a green power source. Call your utility company or visit www.epa.gov/greenpower to find local options. You'll typically pay a premium of about two cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) used, adding an average monthly premium of about $18.