Photos: Getting your green on for Earth Day
To be a bit friendlier to the Earth, CNET Green Tech reporter Martin LaMonica lists some Earth Day ideas for an eco-conscious lifestyle, from your home to your gadgets.
Go Solar. When people wonder how they can have a more environmentally friendly home, the first thought often is solar power. Any why not? The sun's energy is free and panels generate no pollution when they operate.
Solar power--either photovoltaic panels to make electricity or solar hot water--can indeed make a lot of sense, but here are a few things you should consider.
First is your sun resource. If your roof is in the shade for most of the day, don't bother. Some companies like Sungevity let you get a quick idea of whether it's even worth considering. Next is cost. In general, solar electric panels are expensive and can take 10 to 15 years to pay back. Solar hot water has a quicker payback and a lower up-front cost.
However, the cost equation is changing fast. Companies like SolarCity, SunRun, Clean Power Finance, and even some municipal programs offer different financing options that cut the upfront costs. Your installer should be able to tell you what sort of state and federal incentives there are. The price of the actual products is also going down as well, making a decision to go solar easier for both financial and environmental reasons.
So rather than getting bids for solar panels, the first thing you should do it is arrange a home energy audit. Most are free services or you can pay for a more extensive offering where people will actually do some air-sealing or insulating on the spot. I recently paid about $600 for an audit and it was worth it for both the work they did and the advice.
A good resource for many home-related decisions is Sierra Club's recently launched Green Home Web site.
The next big technology change in cars is electric vehicles, which studies have shown are less polluting than all-gasoline engines, particularly if cars are charged at night. In the next two years, a number of cars will be coming out from the big incumbents to start-ups that will offer a big leap in efficiency. Depending on your driving habits, you may never need to go to gas stations.
Of course, the best way to green your ride is to leave your car at home and use an alternate mode of transportation, such as biking or mass transit.
See CNET Car Tech's green and hybrid car buying guide.
Old PCs, cell phones, monitors, iPods and the like contain heavy metals, plastics, and other materials that are toxic so don't just toss them in the trash. Retailers are starting to offer recycling and there are growing number of take-back services where you can get some money for that unused gear cluttering your life. See this handy list.
One solution is connecting your devices to a power strip and turn them off when you're not around. The high-tech approach is "smart power strips" like this Bits Smart Surge Strip. You connect a device like a TV, stereo or PC to the main plug colored blue. The beauty of the strip is it turns off stand-by power to all peripheral items, like speakers, game machines, and DVD players. The red plugs let you keep certain items on all the time.
EnergyCircle does a good explainer video on smart power strips here.
See this sampling of twelve home energy-monitoring gadgets.
This kitchen composter from NatureMill is a more high-tech approach. You put all sorts of scraps in there, even meats, and it uses heat and air to break the material down into compost. Waste is a terrible thing to waste.