For 2014, make a New Year's resolution that will save you and the planet some green. Here are four projects you can complete for about $500 or less. Each will make the coming year better for you, either by paying for itself over time, or by making you feel good for making a positive impact on the earth.
• Kill energy vampires. Appliances that are plugged in but switched off suck up electricity. Most of the culprits are the newest members of the modern household -- idle chargers for battery-powered gadgets or power tools; computers and their accessories; home entertainment equipment, including cable boxes, TVs, DVD players; and sound systems. Each one sucks a little bit of energy continually even when turned off or on standby. A few well-placed smart strips can eliminate wasted energy and cut your utility bill.
Smart power strips monitor and control their outlets. When a device hits standby mode, the power for its plug-in shuts off but all other sockets stay on. At less than $50 each, a few strategic smart strips can reduce power consumption by staking vampire loads.
• Kiss incandescent bulbs goodbye. Installing CFL and LED bulbs can save you money in the long term. CFLs use about 75 percent less energy and can last about five to eight times longer than incandescent bulbs. Over each bulb's life, you save about $30, according to the EPA.
LEDs last as long as 50,000 hours. They operate well outside in the cold and wet. They run cooler than incandescent and can offset summer cooling costs.
LEDs are still more expensive. So consider a mix of both. Use CFLs for general lighting and reading areas. Put LEDs outside, in recessed light fixtures, dimmer switches, ceiling fans and any place where you want instant-on lighting, such as for security.
• Clean up the crawlspace. Covering crawlspace dirt with visqueen plastic and insulating water pipes under your house is a dirty job with a nice payoff, because it helps keep excessive moisture out of your home. Insulating water pipes lessens excessive water usage to get that hot morning shower. Check that crawlspace vents are clear and covered with screen to keep critters out.
With rain all winter long, it's important to have proper roof drainage to avoid damp crawlspaces. Check that no water seeps into your crawlspace and that your gutters are all attached properly. Keep your gutters and downspouts clear. Point all downspouts away from the house or use diverters to direct water away.
• Improve home ventilation. Too much moisture in a home can lead to mold and mildew growing on windowsills, as well as on or behind walls and ceilings. Cleaning up your crawlspace and improving exhaust fan effectiveness are the best ways to reduce in-home moisture. Mold can cause health issues, especially for those with allergies or respiratory problems. Dripping windows can eventually damage windowsills, create dry rot or cause structural damage.
Fans should push moist air outside at 100 cubic feet per minute. If they don't, replace them. Undersized bath and kitchen fans can increase your home's humidity, while effective fans help keep humidity at a healthy 40-50 percent level that slows down mold growth. Adding an additional fan to the laundry room can also help lower in-home humidity.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to email@example.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.