Click on the links in the interactive house below to learn simple steps you can take at home to help conserve water and energy, keep the air and water clean, reduce waste, and save a little money in the process.
Adjust Your Thermostat
Cut your cooling and heating costs by using a programmable thermostat, or simply adjust your thermostat during overnight hours or when no one is home. Try setting the thermostat at 78 degrees or warmer in the summer and at 68 degrees or cooler in the winter to reduce energy consumption. When used properly, a programmable thermostat with four temperature settings can save the average household up to $180 per year in energy costs. If all Texas households reduced their energy consumption by using a programmable thermostat, Texans could collectively save over $1.6 billion annually while keeping the air clean.
Buy Recycled-Content Products
Buy products, such as office supplies for home and work, made from or packaged in recycled materials. Items made from recycled content are manufactured with fewer virgin materials. You can usually spot products made from recycled paper, plastic, and other materials by reading the labels. One ton of paper manufactured from recycled paper saves up to 17 trees and uses 50 percent less water.
Use Energy-Saving Lightbulbs
The new energy-saving lightbulbs—halogen incandescents, compact fluorescents (CFLs), and light emitting diodes (LEDs)—use 25 to 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs. Replacing your five most frequently used lights with ENERGY STAR bulbs or fixtures could save you $75 each year. Also, an ENERGY STAR CFL bulb will typically last up to 10 times longer and an ENERGY STAR qualified LED bulb will last as much as 25 times longer than an incandescent bulb with the same light output. The energy cost to operate a traditional incandescent bulb for a year is $4.80. By comparison, it costs about $1.00 to operate an ENERGY STAR LED bulb, about $3.50 for a halogen incandescent bulb, and about $1.20 for an ENERGY STAR CFL bulb.
Use Ceiling Fans
Ceiling fans allow you to raise the thermostat setting about four degrees without discomfort. A ceiling fan cools people, not the room, so be sure to turn it off when you leave the room. In the winter, reverse your fan to force warm air near the ceiling down into the room, the blades should be set on a low speed and spin in a clockwise direction.
Recycle Electronics and Batteries
Used electronics account for 1.3 percent of the municipal solid waste stream, and is steadily increasing. The average household has approximately 28 electronic devices. You can help by purchasing refurbished electronics, or reusing or donating used electronics, as well as recycling them. Most rechargeable batteries can be recharged up to 1,000 times, but when they no longer hold a charge—recycle them. If every Texas household recycled five rechargeable batteries a year, we could keep over 46 million batteries out of landfills. Visit Call2Recycle.org to find a battery drop-off site near you.
Turn Off the Lights
Lighting accounts for approximately 12 percent of a household's annual electric bill. By turning off lights when not needed, you can reduce your energy consumption and help keep the air clean. Switch off just one lightbulb that would otherwise burn eight hours a day, and save almost $20 per year. To save electricity, also try timers and photocells that turn lights off when not in use, and dimmers to lower light levels.
Make Your Cooling and Heating System an ENERGY STAR
In Texas, cooling and heating accounts for as much as 40 percent of annual home energy expenses. By using a properly sized ENERGY STAR cooling and heating system, you can save up to 20 percent on energy costs and help keep the air clean. We could reduce energy consumption statewide by over 41.9 billion kilowatt hours if all Texas households replaced their heating and cooling systems with ENERGY STAR HVAC systems.
Reduce Standby Power
Did you know that when your TV, computer, and other appliances are plugged in, they are quietly draining electricity all day, every day, even when they are turned off? This phenomenon is known as standby power—the electric power consumed by products when they are switched off or in a standby mode. It accounts for 5 to 10 percent of residential energy use, costing the average Texas household up to $180 per year. Unplugging or turning electronics off at a power strip allows you to eliminate the energy used for standby power. When you replace electronics, look for the ENERGY STAR products that have lower standby power.
Weatherize Your House
Sealing air leaks around your home and adding insulation can help you maintain a comfortable indoor temperature and save up to 10 percent on your annual energy bills. Simple fixes include installing weather stripping on doors and caulking around windows, while bigger jobs might include sealing leaks and adding insulation in your attic. Use this Do-It-Yourself Guide to Sealing and Insulating to make home improvements, reduce your energy bill, and help keep the air clean.
Cut Back on Your Amount of Mail
Consumers and businesses receive more than 78 billion pieces of junk mail each year; most of this ends up as solid waste.
Each Texan generates about 6.5 pounds of garbage every day. By recycling paper, metal, plastic, and other materials, you can reduce waste, help conserve energy, and preserve our state’s natural resources. In 2014, Americans generated about 258 million tons of trash and recycled and composted almost 89 million tons of this material, a recycling rate of 34.6 percent. Recycling and composting that much municipal solid waste saved the energy equivalent of removing 38 million cars from the road for one year.
Drive a Clean Machine
To help replace older, more polluting vehicles from Texas roadways in counties with high ground-level ozone, and reduce emissions from vehicles that are already on the road, the TCEQ offers help to replace and repair vehicles through the AirCheckTexas Drive a Clean Machine Program. Eligible individuals in 16 Texas counties can receive financial assistance to replace vehicles that are more than 10 years old, or to help repair vehicles that have failed an emissions test. Visit www.driveacleanmachine.org to find out more about how you might qualify.
Buy a "Cleaner" Vehicle
The next time you’re shopping for a vehicle, consider the benefits of one with a high fuel-economy rating. Here’s how much you could save per year if you switch from a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon to a more fuel-efficient car or truck:
In some communities, the TCEQ offers assistance for individuals who need to repair or replace older vehicles.
To reduce air emissions, you can carpool with a coworker, use public transit, or simply combine errands when possible. By ride-sharing every day, commuters can save up to $3,400 a year on gas, reduced maintenance costs, and insurance. Removing one properly maintained passenger car from the road for one year would save an average of 17 pounds of nitrogen oxides from being discharged into the air.
Drive the Speed Limit
Typically for every 5 miles per hour you drive over 50 mph, it’s like paying an additional $0.20 per gallon for gas. Using cruise control on the highway helps maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, will save you gas.
Lighten the Load
Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle, especially heavy ones. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your mpg by up to 1 percent. Hauling cargo on your roof increases wind resistance and lowers fuel economy. A large, blunt roof-top cargo box, for example, can reduce fuel economy by around 2 to 8 percent in city driving, 6 to 17 percent on the highway, and 10 percent to 25 percent at Interstate speeds. If you need to use an external cargo container, removing it when it's not in use will save fuel and money.
Refuel at the Right Time
Refuel in the late afternoon and evening, which reduces the likelihood of ground-level ozone formation. When filling your vehicle’s gas tank, don’t top it off, which can allow fuel to escape as vapor and also increases the chance for spilling gas. After you finish filling up, make sure you properly tighten the gas cap; otherwise, gas will evaporate from your car’s tank.
Idling can use a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour, depending on engine size and air conditioner use. If you expect to idle for more than 30 seconds, park your vehicle, turn it off, and go inside. Whether you’re at a restaurant, at a bank, or anywhere else you might wait in line, avoid unnecessary idling by parking and turning off your vehicle. You’ll dramatically reduce your fuel costs and help keep the air clean.
Take Care of Your Tires
Over 47,588 tons of tires were sent to Texas landfills last year! Reduce the number of tires you use by taking care of the ones you have. Test your tire tread monthly using the ‘penny test’. Insert a penny upside down. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, the tread is too low. When you can no longer use the tires, make sure to dispose of them properly. Visit Earth911.com to find a recycling center near you.
Maintain Your Vehicle
With a properly tuned engine and regular scheduled maintenance, you can reduce your car’s emissions and improve gas mileage up to 9 percent, which can save you up to $0.19 per gallon of fuel used.
Recycle Used Motor Oil
It only takes one gallon of recycled oil, versus 42 gallons of crude oil, to produce 2.5 quarts of motor oil. Whenever you change your oil or other vehicle fluids at home, make sure you recycle them. And never pour used motor oil down storm drains, because the drains will carry the oil directly to Texas waterways. The used oil from one oil change can contaminate 1 million gallons of fresh water. Find a recycling center near you
Check Toilets for Leaks
A leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water per day–that’s 73,000 gallons a year. One way to find out if you have a leak is to place a drop of food coloring in the toilet tank. If the color shows up in the bowl within 15 minutes without flushing, you have a leak. If your toilet is leaking, the cause is often an old, faulty toilet flapper. It's usually best to replace the whole rubber flapper—a relatively easy, inexpensive do-it-yourself project that pays for itself in no time.
Dry Your Clothes Efficiently
Clothes dryers account for 4 percent of residential electricity consumption. If your machine has a moisture sensor, use it to avoid over-drying your clothes. If you don't have this feature, try to match the cycle length and heat setting to the size and weight of the load. Dryers that operate an extra 15 minutes per load can cost you up to $34 each year. Cleaning the lint filter after each cycle improves air circulation and can save you $34 each year. Also consider air-drying clothes on clotheslines or drying racks.
Check your faucets, and fix any leak you find. A faucet leaking at a rate of one drop per second can waste up to 3,000 gallons of water per year. That’s the amount of water needed to take more than 180 showers! Fixing hot-water leaks can save up to $35 per year in utility bills. If every household fixed just one leaky faucet, we could reduce water use in Texas by over 27 billion gallons a year. Tips on how to fix leaks.
Install Water-Efficient Showerheads and Faucet Aerators
Showering is one of the leading ways we use water in the home, accounting for nearly 17 percent of residential indoor water use—for the average family, that adds up to nearly 40 gallons per day. By installing a water efficient showerhead, your family can save 2,900 gallons of water per year. In addition, replacing old, inefficient faucets and aerators can save the average family 700 gallons of water per year, equal to the amount of water needed to take 40 showers. Since these water savings will reduce demands on water heaters, they will also save energy.
Invest in a New Water-Efficient Toilet
Toilets are the main source of water use in the home, accounting for approximately 30 percent of indoor water use. Replacing older toilets with the most water-efficient ones can save 13,000 gallons of water a year and more than $110 per year. If 25 percent of all Texas households reduced their water consumption by replacing one older toilet with a 1.28-gallon-per-flush toilet, it would reduce water consumption throughout Texas by more than 30 billion gallons annually.
Use Less Toxic Cleaning Products
Using less toxic cleaning products can reduce pollutants in both the air and water, and may help improve the air quality in your house. The EPA’s Safer Choice program labels products that can help protect the environment and are safer for families. Cleaning products certified with the Safer Choice label means each ingredient has been screened for potential human health and environmental effects and that the product contains only those ingredients that pose the least concern among chemicals in their class.
Lower the Thermostat on Your Water Heater
The average household spends more than $250 per year on water heating, which is commonly the second-largest household energy expense behind home heating and cooling. For maximum efficiency, use an ENERGY STAR water heater, set your water heater’s thermostat to 120 degrees, and wrap it with an insulating jacket to reduce heat loss. To save even more, turn off electric heaters and turn down gas heaters when you’re away on vacation. Set too high, your water heater can waste anywhere from $36 to $61 annually in standby heat losses and more than $400 in demand losses.
Run Your Bathroom Ventilation Fans
Run your ventilation fan for up to 15 minutes after showering or bathing to control moisture, reducing your use of heating and cooling energy. When replacing exhaust fans, install a properly sized ENERGY STAR fan; these are much quieter than standard models and use 50 percent less energy than standard models.
Use Less Water
One easy step is to take shorter showers. With a new, low-flow showerhead, a 7-minute shower uses less water than a full bath. Also, instead of letting the water run while shaving or brushing your teeth, run it just to wet and rinse your razor or toothbrush. Turning off the tap can save up to 2,400 gallons of water a year.
Wash Full Loads and Use Cold Water
Washing full loads as opposed to partial loads of laundry can save an average household more than 3,400 gallons of water each year. If all Texas households washed only full loads of laundry, it would reduce water consumption throughout Texas by more than 31 billion gallons each year. Using cold water for laundry instead of hot or warm water can save the average household $30 to $40 annually, depending on the type of water heater.
Adjust the Setting on Your Refrigerator
Of all household appliances, refrigerators consume the most electricity, accounting for 7 percent of an average home’s total energy consumption. To save money and energy, and help keep the air clean, keep your refrigerator’s thermostat set between 35 and 38 degrees. Also make sure your refrigerator door seals are airtight. Test them by closing the door over a piece of paper so it is half in and half out of the refrigerator. If you can pull the paper out easily, the latch may need adjustment or the seal may need replacing.
Buying locally grown food supports the local economy, reduces emissions from refrigeration and transportation, and cuts back on packing materials. Buy Texas organic products that are produced by a farming system that relies on maintaining and replenishing the soil without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Most farmers’ markets and pick-your-own locations offer organic products. You might even discover a few fruits or vegetables you didn't know were Texas grown. For locations in Texas, visit the GO TEXAN website.
Collect Your Food Scraps, Oil, and Grease
Reducing the fats, oils, and grease (FOG) going down your kitchen sink helps avoid expensive sewer backups, plumbing emergencies, and rate increases to cover sewer maintenance and repairs, while helping protect water quality in nearby creeks and streams. By using strainers to catch food scraps and collecting cooking grease in a container for disposal, you can keep FOG from clogging up your home’s drain pipes and can reduce plumbing costs. Learn more about FOG.
Texans can help reduce energy consumption and keep the air clean by matching the pot and pan size to the stove’s burner size. A 6-inch pot on an 8-inch burner wastes over 40 percent of the burner’s heat. Using an appropriately sized pot on stove burners can save about $36 each year for an electric range, or $18 per year for a gas range. Keeping burners clean on gas ranges ensures that the gas is burning efficiently.
Trade up to ENERGY STAR Appliances
Installing more efficient appliances not only reduces the energy consumption in your home, it often conserves water too.
Recycle Paper Products
Paper and paperboard account for over 26 percent of municipal solid waste. Recycling paper products—including newspapers, food packaging, cardboard boxes, junk mail, and office paper—produces big savings. It saves money, because recycling paper fiber is cheaper than growing, harvesting, and processing trees. Every ton of office paper recycled can save the energy equivalent of 322 gallons of gasoline, and making one ton of paper from recycled paper saves up to 17 trees.
Reduce Hazardous Household Waste
Leftover or used household products that contain potentially hazardous ingredients are often referred to as household hazardous waste (HHW). This includes used light bulbs, leftover drain cleaner and other potentially hazardous substances you no longer need or want to keep. You can reduce the HHW in your home by buying only the household products you need, and using up the products you buy for their intended purpose. Learn more about HHW in Texas.
Safely Manage Household Hazardous Waste
Take special precautions to manage your HHW safely. A safe and environmentally responsible way to collect, share, and dispose of HHW is to take it to a local community collection program. Find HHW collection centers or events in your area. If you do not have access to an HHW collection program, then you can safely and legally dispose of most HHW in landfills that accept regular trash.
Use the Dishwasher Wisely
Washing dishes by hand consumes nearly 5,000 more gallons of water a year than using a dishwasher. Operating automatic dishwashers with a full load can help you save water. Scrape dirty dishes, don’t rinse them. Also, you can use your dishwasher’s air-dry option or prop the door open after the final rinse to air-dry dishes naturally. Using the heat-dry, rinse-hold, and pre-rinse features sparingly helps you save money. Using a “light wash” feature conserves water.
Avoid Over-Watering Your Lawn
Watering too heavily or too often weakens your lawn and causes erosion and runoff pollution. A general rule is to water up to one inch, once a week, when needed, but always comply with your water system’s restrictions. Shrubs, trees, and other perennials generally need less because of their deeper root structure.
Avoid watering in the middle of the day. Watering in the morning allows for the water to be absorbed before evaporating in midday heat. If using sprinklers, use larger drops close to the ground. The water in misters can evaporate quickly. When watering, always comply with your water system’s restrictions.
Update Your Sprinkler System’s Controller
Billions of gallons of water are wasted every day from inefficient landscape watering. Replacing a standard clock timer with newer irrigation-control technology can save an average home nearly 8,800 gallons of water annually. New, more efficient controllers act like a thermostat for your sprinkler system telling it when to turn on and off. They use local weather and landscape conditions to tailor watering schedules to actual conditions on the site, better matching your yard’s water needs.
Collect and Use Rainwater
Lawn and garden watering makes up 30 to 50 percent of total household water use. Collecting rainwater for landscape use not only is great for the plants, but can save you water and money. By collecting rainwater from just 10 percent of the residential roof area in Texas, we could conserve over 31 billion gallons of water annually. Check out the video Building a Rain Barrel. Download Rainwater Harvesting with Rain Barrels or the Rainwater Harvesting Manual.
Leave Grass Clippings on the Lawn
Allow grass clippings to remain on the yard after mowing. They can act as a slow-release fertilizer to your lawn by recycling nutrients back into the grass and improving the top soil. This reduces the need for fertilizer—good for your wallet and the environment.
Mow Your Grass Higher
How you cut your lawn matters. Set your lawn-mower blades one notch higher. That keeps the grass blade longer which provides shade to the roots, prevents greater evaporation, and inhibits weed growth. Also keep your mower blades sharp. Lawns cut with dull blades lose moisture faster and are more subject to disease.
Plant Shade Trees
Plant deciduous trees on the south and west sides of your house and around your air conditioner. Because deciduous trees lose their leaves in the winter they allow the sun to shine through windows to warm your home. They also keep your home shady and cool in the summer. Summer air temperatures in tree-shaded neighborhoods can be up to six degrees cooler than in treeless areas. Carefully positioned trees can save a household up to 25 percent in heating and cooling costs. Get helpful information from Texas A&M Forest Service's online Tree Planting Guide.
Leaves, grass clippings, and other yard debris make up 13 percent of the trash sent to landfills each year, and it costs Texans over $250 million a year to collect and dispose of that waste. Instead of throwing them out with the garbage, try recycling yard materials by composting them. Compost can serve as a soil conditioner that nourishes your yard and reduces the need for watering up to 60 percent. Check out the video How to Start Composting in Your Own Backyard. Download the Take Care of Texas Mulching and Composting Guide.
Use What Nature Gave You
To save money and reduce harmful chemicals, use natural alternatives to help grow your plants. Mulch is a chemical-free protective ground covering that includes straw, leaves, bark, wood chips, and pine needles. It reduces evaporation, prevents erosion, controls weeds, and enriches soil.
Use Less Pesticides and Fertilizers
More is not always better when fertilizing your yard. Excessive watering or a rainstorm can wash away the chemical excess—wasting your money and endangering nearby waterways. Misapplication of fertilizer poses a significant threat to surface and groundwaters. To minimize environmental impact, apply pesticides and fertilizers according to the label’s directions, and only use the recommended amount. Download our Managing 10 Common Texas Yard Pests Guide.
Use Native Texas Plants
Plants that are native to Texas help conserve water and protect the soil, and require less pesticide, fertilizer, and maintenance—all saving you time and money. The deep root systems of many native plants also increase the soil’s capacity to store water and reduce runoff. In addition, native plants attract a variety of birds and butterflies by providing habitat and food. Explore the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Native Plant Database to see which plants are best for your region.