How you live makes a difference to the air you breathe.
1. Automobile Advice
Let’s start with your vehicle. If you’re driving an SUV, it burns one-half to two-thirds more fuel than a regular car. As for cars, newer models can vary considerably on environmental and energy efficiency, so compare both fuel efficiency and emission controls before buying or leasing.
Technology can only help so much, though. We need to reduce the number of vehicles and the time they spend on the road. This is partly an urban planning issue, since the growth of suburbs has extended commuting times. So we need to halt sprawl and encourage people to live downtown or close to where they work. To get people out of cars, you also need better public transit, as well as more bike lanes.
In the shorter term, what can you do now?
– Carpool, use public transportation, walk or bike (if it’s not a smoggy day). One car commuter uses as much energy as a transit rider uses in 10 years. Viewed another way, if you take public transit instead of a vehicle for a year, you can save nearly a ton of pollutants, including carbon dioxide.
– Avoid idling. Statistics show 3 per cent of fuel is wasted by idling.
– Tune up your car. If we all did it on a regular basis, we could reduce nitrogen oxides by 12 per cent and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a key part of smog, by 30 per cent.
– Keep tires properly inflated. Each 5 per cent of under inflation in a tire translates into a 1 per cent increase in fuel consumption.
– Fill your gas tank in the evening, as this a major source of VOCs. If they combine with other gases in the sun, they create smog.
– Consider fuel efficiency when you buy a car. See www.fueleconomy.gov to check gas consumption and emissions.
– Buy a hybrid. Enjoy the sound of silence as you push the button that starts the electric-powered motor. They’re expensive, but what’s the price for breathable air?
– Retire the clunker. Google to find a local eco-friendly program that takes away energy-guzzling old vehicles. Many provide free towing; some even offer some money for your creaking car.
2. Hot Tips for the Home
Following are some suggestions to cut your energy use and improve the local air.
– Draft-proof your home. About 30 per cent of home heat is lost through cracks and crevices. Close the fireplace damper when not in use.
– Turn down your hot water temperature to 120 degrees F. You’ll cut energy demand by about 3 per cent and save a higher percentage on your energy bill. Also, insulate the pipes on the tank.
– Replace your old furnace. A 10-year-old clunker wastes 45 per cent of its heat. A new natural gas furnace is 98 per cent efficient.
– Wash clothes in cold water; don’t dry them until the dryer is full.
– Get a push mower and a rake. Stop using that gas-powered lawnmower and leaf blower. Those off-road engines – powerboats, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, snowmobiles – are responsible for 20 per cent of pollution from mobile sources.
– Plant a tree near your house. Backyard trees may cut your need for air conditioning by 40 per cent, and your need for heating by 10 per cent.
– Turn down the thermostat. In winter months, the EPA recommends turning down the furnace’s thermostat to 68 degrees F in the day and 60 degrees F at night.
– Reduce your use of oil-based paints, lawn pesticides and cleaning solvents. When they dry, they release VOCs.
– Purchase “green power” for your home’s electrical needs. Green power, generated by water, sun and wind, does not create smog.
– Buy energy efficient appliances.
– Use compact fluorescent lights. They require one-fifth to one-quarter of the energy of the old incandescent bulbs.
Sources: Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Air Fund