Save cash. Be greener.

Remember when your dad would always tell you to turn off the lights when you leave a room? And your inner sassy self would say, “Daaaad, it only costs 6 cents a year to keep a light on all day, every day. Don’t be so cheap.”

Well, it turns out that Dad may have had more on his mind than penny pinching. In these hazy days of going green, we’re learning more and more about how our greedy energy practices are affecting not only our children’s futures, but also the lives of our global neighbors.

The trouble is… we like soft clothes dried in the dryer. We hate doing dishes. We prefer not to feel helpless and the deeper we dig, the more impossible saving the earth seems. But, as Zan Dubin Scott has learned, going green doesn’t have to be black or white.

“The exciting thing about living a greener life is that we can all do something,” she said. “And most of the things we can do are simple and won’t cost anything. In fact, they typically end up saving us all money.”

Here are a few things you can try to lessen your family’s footprint and put some extra cash in your pocket.

  • Connect the dots.

“For every action we take, we must make a connection,” said Zan. “When I go to the gas station, and I buy that gas, I am funding the war in Iraq. I am responsible for the young men who are dying in Iraq. I am contributing to that problem. Do I want to do that? I can shut my mind and decide to be in denial and not make that connection, but that connection still exists.”

Zan said that the best way to make those connections is to stay informed. Read the paper, watch the news, listen to the radio. It’s all there for us, but we have to open our minds to the information.

  • Turn off the lights.

If you’re leaving a room for more than 10 seconds, flip the switch. Zan credits her husband with teaching her this habit when they first got married, and now, to remind her of its importance, she always visualizes a smoke stack when she leaves the room. Not wanting to be responsible for polluting the Earth, she makes this small gesture, which ends up making a big difference.

  • Dry your clothes on a line… most of the way.

No one wants stiff blue jeans, but Zan’s found that if you dry your clothes most of the way on a rack or clothesline outside and then throw them in a dryer for 5-10 minutes to finish the process, you get the same amount of softness as if you dry them entirely in the dryer.

“It’s a great compromise,” she said. “I get softer clothes but that luxury doesn’t cause as much damage to our environment.”

  • Use reusable bags.

Zan said a lot of cities are banning plastic bags, so whether we like it or not, we’re going to have to make the switch to reusable bags. Buy a few canvas bags or organic cotton bags or keep an eye out for sturdier bags from conferences or special events. In many cases you can build quite a collection of bags without spending one penny.

  • Water your plants less.

“I heard from a local utility that you don’t need to water three times a week, that the plants can do just fine on twice a week,” said Zan. “I cut back on my watering, and my plants are doing just fine.”

  • Drive consciously.

It was a bit of a political joke when Barack Obama suggested fighting global warming with inflated tires, but maybe it was only funny because it’s true. Appropriate tire pressure is key for good gas mileage; better gas mileage means using less gas.

Zan also suggests pacing yourself in driving. Don’t accelerate too quickly and don’t brake too hard. Try to coast as much as you can.

  • Buy in bulk.

If you start looking at packaging –cardboard, and then plastic wrapping, and then paper instructions that you’re just going to throw away – it becomes more obvious why there’s a panic over landfills. By buying in bulk, you’ll reduce the amount of packaging headed to the landfills. And if your favorite items don’t come in bulk, you’re not a green failure if you buy them.

“I love string cheese, and I love the individually wrapped string cheese,” she said. “And I’m an environmentalist. To make up for my individually wrapped string cheese, I try to buy in bulk in my other choices at the market.”

Really what is all comes down to, Zan said, is common sense. We all know to reduce, reuse and recycle, but knowing and practicing it as much as we can are two different things.

“It’s amazing how once you start getting into the habit of using less, of reducing your consumption, how easy it is. You start really thinking about what you need,” said Zan. “If I can just make one change in my life, that will make a vast difference. And if each of us just made one change today that we weren’t doing yesterday, you add up all the numbers across the country and we can vastly improve our planet because of the power of numbers. That’s all. Simple.”

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Soul Crushing
See Zan and Paul in action in Who Killed the Electric Car?

Join the club!
Want to find some like minded electric car fans? Take a look at the Electric Auto Association and get info on how to rally for the cause.

A Trusted Advisor
Get the latest news and advisories on green automotives through Edmund’s Green Car Advisor.

Living on Sunshine

You’ve probably heard about the rotating skyscraper cloaked in solar panels that’s being built in Dubai. Basically it’s an unmatched feat of architecture and engineering, a sci-fi modernity that makes the suburbs seem otherworldly.

Still not impressed? Consider this: it’s the first skyscraper that’s also a power plant.

The Rotating Tower is what happens when possibility gets more attention than practicality… and what happens when what’s most practical gets incorporated into the what’s possible daydream.

Although Zan Dubin Scott’s house is less than 1% what the Rotating Tower will be, her passion for alternative energy is just as big.

Zan and her husband Paul have added solar panels to the rooftop of their Southern California home and started literally living off sunshine.

“My husband survived bladder cancer, and we decided we didn’t want to put off our life’s dreams anymore,” said Zan. “Having solar panels was on the top of the list, so on his 50th birthday, we had them installed.”

The completely hidden solar panels on the roof of their modest home give Paul and Zan all the electricity they need to run their washer, power their computers, light their rooms and even charge their electric car.

And, as an extra bonus, they’re actually making money of their investment.

“I took a look at the numbers and they actually made sense,” said Paul. “You actually make money with these. It’s an investment. If you put money into the stock market, you expect to get a return. We put money into solar panels, and we’re getting a really high return on our investment.”

Paul and Zan financed their solar panels and expect to have them paid off in less than 10 years (assuming 100+ mph winds don’t blow by and steal them). At that point, they’ll never have to pay for electricity again. They won’t have to worry about Enron scandals or blackouts because they’ll have their own energy source stored neatly on their roof, soaking up rays and turning it into power.

So what’s the biggest burden that comes with solar panels? Hosing off the bird poop once a year.

With companies like Solar City stepping up to the plate to provide leasing options for solar panels and cloudy countries like Germany proving that it doesn’t require year-round sunshine for solar panels to get the job done, electric companies are starting to offer energy alternatives to keep people from skipping off the grid. All you have to do is call and ask for it and agree to pay a couple cents more per kilowatt hour. Or, if they don’t offer clean energy options, demand that they start.

“The whole idea is to break down the barriers to widespread solar adoption,” said Zan. “You know, we’re sitting on this tremendous asset — our own roofs, which can be producing our solar energy.”

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Soul Crushing
See Zan and Paul in action in Who Killed the Electric Car?

Join the club!
Want to find some like minded electric car fans? Take a look at the Electric Auto Association and get info on how to rally for the cause.

A Trusted Advisor
Get the latest news and advisories on green automotives through Edmund’s Green Car Advisor.

Public Relating
Find out more about Zan through her business website.

Turning a house into my home

It may have been a creepy old house stuck in a time warp, but Amber and her mom decided that this would be the one for them. Amber and her boyfriend Michael were ready to move in together, but the young couple were entrepreneurs living in L.A., where real estate is hard to come by and expensive to purchase.

So Sandy, Amber’s mom, decided to step in.

“It was a way for me to help Amber get started in her adult life,” she said.

Amber and Sandy were initially very focused on the business aspect of buying the house, but then the nervousness of being a first time home owner set-in, along with the all the responsibilities of buying a fixer-upper.

“It all hit me at once, all the work we had to do, the fact that it was the first house that Amber was ever going to pay a mortgage on and the fact that Michael was moving in with her,” Sandy said. “There were a number of different issues going on all at one time. I was also apprehensive because it was obviously going to take a lot of money and a lot of work. There were times when the project seemed larger than us.”

Amber really appreciated doing this project with her mom because, “I got to see the strong woman I came from.”

They planted trees and dug holes together; it was a great bonding time for them as mother and daughter.

“There were a lot of style details involved, and that was probably the hardest part,” Amber said. “There were the colors, the tiles, the furniture, how we should design the kitchen.”

When it was all over, Amber and Sandy sat down on the new brown and gold shag carpet and had a glass of wine. It was time to celebrate. They were in love with the simple, zen-like feeling that pervaded their new home. The style will certainly evolve over time, but now it’s starting to feel like a home—like Amber’s home.

If you’ve got a do-it-herself mentality, try these handy resources for inspiration and tips:

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Just Do It Yourself
Earth-friendly and wallet-conscious, ReadyMade helps you claim your corner of the world and decorate it just the way you want it.

Keep it Thrifty
A journalist/suburban mom dishes on cheap and easy ways to brighten up that place you call home.

Listen to the Tube
Visit HGTV’s remodeling hub for information and advice on how to do almost anything yourself.

Neat or Not?
HGTV organizing guide will help you control your clutter, once and for all.

So Cute-able!
An eclectic collection of modern daily finds for your home or office, including kitchenware, home accents and the most interesting stationary around.