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Save the planet – and save some money, too

Want to celebrate Earth Day and actually save a little green? The following steps could help you make a nice dent in your gasoline and energy bills.

Earth Day has been observed on April 22 for 39 years now. Do you still feel a bit helpless when it comes to making a real difference for the health of the planet we call home?

If so, consider this: Individually, all alone, as a single human being, you can decrease production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by thousands of pounds each year.

What’s more, you also stand to save some serious cash while you’re saving the planet. The following steps could help you make a nice dent in your gasoline and energy bills.

1. Adjust your water heater. If you lower the thermostat on your hot-water heater from about 145 degrees to 120 degrees, the change isn’t likely to be noticeable. This step could save you more than $20 a year if you heat water with gas and more than $50 if your water heater is electric.

2. Upgrade old cooling systems. If you invest in a central air-conditioning unit with a seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) of 14 or higher, you could reduce your carbon-dioxide emissions by more than 1,500 pounds a year. If you use a window air-conditioning unit in your home, consider replacing it with a new unit that meets Energy Star qualifications. That step could reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by more than 100 pounds a year. Also, remember to clean the filters in your cooling and heating systems regularly and to seal any leaks in central air-conditioning ducts.

3. Buy a programmable thermostat for your home. They cost between $30 and $100, but that’s money you’re sure to make back over the course of a year because your energy bills will drop. A programmable thermostat allows you to adjust your home’s temperature on a predetermined schedule, so you don’t unnecessarily waste energy when you’re not home or when you’re sleeping.

4. Don’t drive so fast. Driving your vehicle 55 mph instead of 65 mph can improve your mileage by about 15 percent and reduce emissions considerably. You’ll also get better mileage if you avoid quick starts and sudden braking whenever you can, and if you keep your tires properly inflated to the maximum recommended pressure.

5. Watch that idle time. Letting your engine idle for more than 30 seconds will burn more gasoline than restarting the engine, so turn the engine off if you expect a lengthy wait. Instead of idling at a drive-through for several minutes, park the car and go inside.

6. Map out your errands. Do multiple errands on the same morning or afternoon and plan out your trip ahead of time. Consolidate drives to locations that are close to each other. If possible, park your car in one spot and walk when you get there.

7. Take a break from driving. Consider walking, biking, taking a bus or carpooling whenever feasible. And if you have more than one vehicle, drive the one with the best gas mileage whenever you can.

8. Mow your lawn with care. Lawn mower engines don’t use a tremendous amount of gasoline, but they create more than their fair share of NOx, a main ingredient in smog. You can avoid emissions altogether by opting for a low-cost manual reel mower.

9. Do laundry efficiently. Horizontal-axis (front-loader) washing machines use far less water and 60 percent less energy than top-loaders. Regardless of the type of machine you own, save energy and money by using cold water instead of warm or hot. Run only full loads when drying clothes, and dry two or more loads in a row to make use of the heat already in the dryer.

10. Think about your refrigerator. Don’t locate this particular appliance in direct sunlight or next to the stove or dishwasher. Also, unplug that extra fridge, especially if it’s just keeping a six-pack cold.