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9 ways to save $$$, improve the air and breathe easier

As we learn more about air pollution’s effects on human health, it makes sense to do everything we can to keep our air clean and our communities healthy. Saving energy cuts air pollution, plus it saves money. Tips 1 to 5 are easy to do. Tips 6 to 9 deal with cars, a big source of pollution.

1. Power down. Start small. Install energy efficient lightbulbs and fixtures, turn out the lights and put in power strips to shut down vampire power – electricity sucked away while gadgets like TVs, computers and stereos are supposedly “off.” Plug entertainment, kitchen and computer equipment into a power strip to stop energy loss during standby. Save up to $200 per year by flipping an off switch on energy-leaking devices. Check out advanced power strips – they flip the switch for you. Think long term. Look at Energy Star products when replacing appliances.

Weird stats: Energy Star lighting produces 75 percent less heat, uses about 75 percent less energy and lasts 10 to 50 times longer than standard lighting. Energy consumed during stand-by mode from all your devices can add up to nearly 10 percent of your energy bill.

Simple steps can improve air quality and help protect the outdoors for those with developing lungs, like kids riding bikes | Iowa DNR2. Compost, landfill or recycle. Although it may seem like the easy, cheap thing to do, burning leaves and trash releases poisons to the air. Firewood and trash contribute to particle pollution. Recycle or compost to cut air pollutants. Try low tech composting in your backyard (tutorial) or read more about community composting. In Iowa, yard wastes cannot be deposited in landfills. 

3. Plant a Tree: Take a load off your cooling bill (up to 56 percent) and improve air quality by planting a shade tree. Pine trees and other conifers planted on the northwest can cut chilly winter winds, save energy and make your home more comfortable. Estimate energy savings and find the best location with http://www.itreetools.org/design.php. Order shade, ornamental and conifer trees ($25 to $30 for a 3- to 8-foot tree) through MidAmerican and Alliant energy programs. Call 811 at least two days before you plant to prevent hitting an underground utility. 

$$$ Stats: A Cedar Rapids study shows for every $1 spent on trees, taxpayers receive $4 in public benefits: $140 per resident.

4. Don’t burn. Wood smoke may smell good, but it’s not good for public health or the environment. If you can’t live without your fireplace, Burn Wise. Burn the right wood, in the right way, in the right wood-burning appliance. The right wood is split, aged at least six months, protected from moisture and hardwood.

Weird Facts: What do two pieces of properly dried wood sound like when knocked together? Hollow. Replace one old inefficient wood stove to reduce small particle pollution (PM 2.5) as much as taking five old diesel trucks off the road. What is small particle pollution (PM2.5)? It’s soot or dust less than 1/30th the diameter of a human hair. So small it can lodge in people’s lungs. People at greatest risk are older adults, children and teens, and people with health conditions like asthma, or heart or lung disease.

5. Make the switch to electric. Replace gas-fired lawn tools with electric lawn mowers, leaf blowers, edgers and hedge trimmers to spare the air. Or, better yet, improve your fitness and do it by hand.

On the road: Vehicles create more than 25 percent of air pollution in the U.S. Try these tips to save yourself money and improve air quality.

6. Drive less. Make one round trip, not five separate excursions. Try trip chaining – combine trips to the store with other errands to reduce emissions. Starting up your car after it’s been sitting for an hour can cause up to five times the pollution caused when starting a warm engine. Walking, biking and carpooling also help.

7. Do away with idling. Whether waiting for a fast food lunch, a prescription or the bank teller, consider turning off the engine. Or, park the car and go inside. Picking up kids from school? Turn the car off to protect children whose lungs are still growing. If you must idle, stick with 30 seconds or less to control pollution, and maintenance and fuel costs.

Weird facts: Idling is fuelish. Ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it. A car wastes 1/5 gallon of gasoline in an hour of idling while sending air pollutants, chemicals, gases and soot (particulate matter) into the air.

8. Keep on maintaining. Get regular tune-ups and oil changes. Check tire pressure. Keep tires properly inflated for the best gas mileage, and reduced wear. When it’s time for a change, consider “low-rolling resistance tires” for the most energy savings.

9. Go easy. When driving, keep your foot from pounding the foot feed and brakes—steady acceleration and braking make for an easier ride, while cutting exhaust and increasing mileage. Use cruise control on the highway. Remove heavy items from your trunk and the top of your vehicle. Slow down.

Fact: Aggressive driving can reduce gas mileage by 10 to 40 percent. Driving 62 mph instead of 70 mph can save up to 15 percent on fuel.

Simple steps you can take to improve and protect air quality (view of Des Moines from state capitol grounds on a clear day) | Iowa DNR

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