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March, 2010:

Eight Easy and Inexpensive Ways to Save Energy

There are plenty of expensive ways to save energy — installing a new, energy-efficient furnace, for example, or sealing and insulating all duct work — but the eight tips below were selected because they’re easy and cost next to nothing. Heating and cooling account for over 50 percent of energy costs, so winterizing your home can save you hundreds each year while helping to save the planet, too.

1. Sweat It Out

One of the greenest inventions ever is a warm sweater. Match it with a comfortable pair of sweatpants, and though you won’t set the fashion world on fire, you’ll feel toasty and warm while setting your thermostat down in the 60-something degree range. Reducing your thermostat setting from 75 down to 65 for 8 hours — like when you’re all tucked into bed — can lower your heating bill by 10 to 20 percent. And speaking of thermostats, have you looked into the energy savings (and possible rebates) that come from installing a programmable thermostat?

2. Reverse Your Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fans aren’t just for summer anymore. By flipping the little black switch that makes the fan rotate clockwise — and keeping the fan speed set to low — you can circulate the warm air that has risen to the ceiling all around the room. This can be a boon to folks with space heaters, wood stoves or other heating devices that don’t produce a lot of air circulation.

3. Snake Charmers

Doors, no matter how well-sealed they may be, always seem to leak a bit of cold air, especially around the base of the door. Since you’re not using that beach towel in winter, roll it up and use it as a “snake” to block the draft coming in from the door’s base. Some folks have even found that a necktie filled with sand or kitty litter works just as well. Or, if you’re feeling flush, buy a decorative new draft snake at your local hardware or home furnishings center.

4. Hearth and Home

Fireplaces may look warm and inviting, but they’re notorious for wasting energy. Remember to always close the damper when the fireplace is not in use — consider a rubber damper for a tighter seal, or install glass fireplace doors. Chimney balloons also seal up the flue, keeping warm air inside.

5. Blowing Smoke

Put a sheet of paper in a door jamb, then close the door — if you can pull the paper out without tearing it, you’ve got an air leak. (The same trick works for windows.) Another good way to check for air leaks involves a burning incense stick or other smoking item on a windy day. Hold the item near doors, windows, vents, electrical outlets, attic hatches, baseboards, pipes, dryer vents, utility lines (like TV cables) and other openings. If the smoke blows, you’ve got drafts. You can seal these money-sucking drafts quickly and inexpensively with weather stripping, caulk, electric outlet gaskets, or plastic window film.

6. Furnaces and Filters

Most furnace filters need to be changed monthly during the winter. Fiberglass filters are meant to be thrown away, but since they only trap a fraction of airborne debris, consider replacing them with electronic filters or HEPA filters, which are far more effective and create less waste because they can be cleaned instead of thrown out. And if it’s been a while since your furnace had a professional tune-up, you can easily save enough money through lower energy use to pay for that bit of maintenance.

7. Let the Sun Shine

There’s a truism in sustainable design: Passive solar requires active residents, meaning you have to get a little more involved than just flipping a switch. But even a few simple steps can make a big difference, like opening the drapes when the sun is shining in your windows, then closing the drapes when it’s not. This is an especially good idea when your drapes are heavy or insulated. Energy experts also encourage folks to consider pruning trees or shrubs that may be blocking the sun.

8. Home Energy Audits

Getting a home energy audit is perhaps the best way to start making your home greener and more energy efficient. Contact your local utility; many offer free in-home audits. Some big-box home centers also offer free energy audits, but remember that they’re in the business of selling you products, so you should probably take their suggestions with a grain of salt. Before you decide on any home improvement, find out what the payback period is for that particular item or upgrade.

This tip is brought to you by Karen Diehm.  Thanks Karen!

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCP’s) in Drinking Water

The issue:  Pharmaceuticals and personal care products, known in the water industry as PPCPs, are a group of compounds consisting of human and veterinary drugs (prescription or over the counter) and consumer products, such as fragrance, lotions, sun-screens, house cleaning products, and others. These compounds have been detected in trace amounts in surface water, drinking water and wastewater effluent sampling conducted in the U.S.

Where do they come from:  PPCPs can be introduced into the environment in several ways, including:

  • Flushing unused medications down the toilet or sink.
  • Rinsing personal hygiene and household cleaning products down the drain.
  • Excreting unabsorbed medications into the sewage system.
  • Farm animals excreting veterinary drugs, including hormones and antibiotics, into fields where they run off into lakes and streams as non-point source pollution.
  • Commercial improper disposal methods.

Are they a health concern:  The fact that a substance is detectable in drinking water does not mean the substance is harmful to humans. Research throughout the world has not demonstrated an impact on human health from the trace amounts of PPCPs found in drinking water. While these trace substances may be detected at very low levels in source waters, people regularly consume or expose themselves to products containing these substances in much higher concentrations through medicines, food and beverage and other sources. Research on health effects for humans from PPCPs has focused on two areas:

  1. While PPCPs are found in very low levels in drinking water, there is a concern of possible cumulative effects of long-term exposure.
  2. While most PPCPs are known compounds, they may react in ways that are different from their intended purpose once they are introduced into the environment.

 While no adverse effects have been found on humans; changes in fish, amphibians and other organisms have been noted in cases around the world. These range from premature spawning in shellfish to the inability of fish to repair damaged fins. In all cases, low levels of these chemicals are a prime suspect.  

What you can do:  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains an active program called the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) to identify contaminants in public drinking water that warrant detailed study. The most recent Contaminant Candidate List, finalized on Sept. 22, 2009, for the first time includes 10 pharmaceutical compounds: one antibiotic called erythromycin, and nine hormones.

The best and most cost-effective way to ensure safe drinking water is to keep our source waters clean. As a community, we should encourage policies that protect source water from contaminants introduced by human activity. Never flush unused medications down toilet or sink. Instead, check to see if the pharmacy accepts medications for disposal, or contact our local health department for information about proper disposal of medications and other materials that could potentially harm the environment, such as cleaning products, pesticides, and automotive products. As always, people who are concerned about their tap water should check their local water provider’s consumer confidence report and contact their water provider with any questions or concerns. The good news is that the concentrations currently being detected are very low, and there is time to develop new treatments and modify our current practices to protect our waters.  All these actions to keep drugs and care products from finding their way into your water will ultimately protect you and your family. 

Resources for more information: from the American Water Works Association (

-Utah State University Cooperative Extension(

-Clean Water Action (

This tip is brought to you by Janel Spaudling the Watershed Facilitator for the Chehalis Basin Partnership and Grays Harbor College.  Thanks Janel!