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Contact information
For more information, contact:
Lindsay Haas
Air quality educator

Winter: Do a little, save a lot!

Whether you are staying indoors around the fireplace or enjoying the outdoor activities that the winter season brings, air quality and energy remain important parts of your everyday life.

Our daily use of electricity and fuel contributes to air pollution. That means the choices we make every day can directly affect air quality and our health.

Just because the outside temperatures are dropping, it does not mean that your energy bills have to skyrocket. Each year the average family spends $1,900 on energy bills. By making either a few energy saving home improvements or eco-friendly, everyday decisions, the average American can stay warm, reduce emissions and save money at the same time this winter.

In your backyard

In your backyard

You don't have to look far to find ways to improve air quality. Look no further than your own backyard. Consider these air pollution preventing tips...

  • Use a shovel instead of a snow blower. Snow blowers use gasoline and/or electricity, both of which add pollutants into our air. Shoveling snow is also great exercise!
  • Use LED Holiday lights to decorate your yard. Many businesses and hardware stores are offering discounts on LED's. These lights last 10 times as long and use 93 percent less energy as standard incandecent mini-lights. With less energy used, you'll also be improving air quality.
  • Consider planting shrubs or evergreen trees to serve as a windbreak for your home. Keeping the wind from blowing through your house will save energy and keep the heat where it should be... in your home.

In your home

In your home

Holiday wreath

As autumn arrives and we start thinking about winter, now may be a good time to think about conserving energy at home. Efficient home energy use reduces air pollution caused by energy production. Reducing your use of air polluting products can also help repair the air.

  • During the heating season, keep the shades on your south facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home and closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.
  • Keep your fireplace damper closed when you are not using it or your heat (and money) will be lost out the chimney.
  • Not using your fireplace this winter, use a chimney pillow! A fireplace acts like a straw in your house, sucking out the heat and replacing it with cold air and sometimes smokey smells. Chimney pillows provide insulation to fireplaces, keeps the heat in and the cold drafts out. You may save up to 30 percent of your heating costs as well.
  • Minimize the use of space heaters, including gas fireplaces. They are more inefficient and expensive to operate than furnaces if you are trying to heat the majority of your home.
  • house with window shades open
    Keep shades on south-facing windows open during winter days to let in the sun.

    Use LED holiday lights this year to save on your energy bill. When decorating for the holidays, use these lights that last 10 times longer and use up to 93 percent less energy then standard incandecent mini-lights.
  • Conserve energy by turning off lights when you leave a room and turning off computers and televisions when not in use.On that note: unplug gadgets, phone chargers, coffee pots and other electronics. They draw electricity even if they're turned off.
  • Now that the weather is getting colder, you may want to turn on the heat. Remember to have your furnace inspected and serviced annually. Replace the filter on furnace regularly. A dirty filter slows down air flow and makes the system work harder. And a clean filter keeps dirt from building up and can save costly repairs.
  • It is obvious but easy to forget when you are chilled. The lower you set your home thermostat, the more heating dollars you'll save. In fact, for every degree you lower the dial, you'll save between 1 and 3 percent of your heating bill, reports the Department of Energy. What to do instead? Put on a sweater! A light long-sleeved sweater is generally worth about 2 degrees in added warmth, while a heavy sweater adds about 4 degrees. Don't forget wool socks, slippers, fleece (preferably recycled!) and flannel.
  • Check your water heater's thermostat. If it is set above 120 degrees F the water will cause third degree burns in less than ten minutes. Turn down the thermostat to save energy.
  • Seal up those leaks! Seal holes and cracks in your basement with expandable foam or silicon caulking. Insulate hot water pipes and heating ducts in the basement.

This video shows you some ways to save energy around the house.

Travel and commute

Travel and the daily commute

City bus on a snowy day
Winter is a great time to take public transportation.

  • If you can't bike or walk to work this winter, take public transportation, if available.
  • Idling can consume as much as a gallon of gas per hour and is not an effective way to warm up your vehicle, even in chilly weather. The best way to do this is to drive the vehicle. With today’s modern engines, you need no more than 30 seconds of idling before driving away. Waiting to pick up your student from school? Turn off the engine to save fuel and reduce nasty fumes in the school yard.
  • When driving, anticipate stops and slow down gradually. It takes 20 percent less gas to accelerate from 5 miles per hour than from a full stop.
  • Slow down when driving and use cruise control to minimize fuel use.
  • Get rid of the junk in your trunk! The weight of that extra cargo makes engines work harder, burning more gas, releasing more emissions. You get 4 percent less gas mileage for every 100 pounds of excess weight carried in your car. That can cost you about a dollar every time you fill up your gas tank.

Learn some eco-driving tips in the video below.

At work

At work

Save energy & improve air quality at work.

There are many ways to improve air quality while you're at work. Here are a few tips...

  • Turn off your computer, printers, fax machines and lights at night to save energy. Consider putting all electronics on a power strip so they can all be turned off at once when you leave for the day.
  • Rather than traveling to the meeting, hold meetings by telephone or videoconference, especially during an air quality watch.
  • Bring your lunch to work instead of driving to get it, you will save gas too. If you buy your lunch, walk to the restaurant; it's good for you and the environment.
  • Consider a compressed work week. If you worked four 10-hour days, you would eliminate one round trip every week and traffic may be less congested.
  • Take mass transit, share a ride or carpool. Doing so reduces pollution.

Green gift giving

Green gift giving

gifts under a tree

  • Avoid excessive gift giving and focus on sharing time with your family and loved ones. That may be the best green gift of all and it's easy to deliver.
  • Look for gifts with little or no packaging, or packaging that can be easily reused or recycled.
  • Make your own gifts out of materials you already have instead of going out and buying them. Family and friends appreiate homemade gifts, you'll save money and the air will be cleaner as a result from not traveling.
  • Make Your Own Paper [exit DNR] for gift wrapping or holiday cards. For additional paper making activities see Project Leaning Tree.
  • Give gifts that help your friends and family live greener. Possibilities include bus tickets, state park passes, compost bins, reusable grocery bags, rechargeable batteries and chargers, live plants and seeds or coupons for spring gardening.
  • Reduce waste by wrapping gifts in comics, reusable cloth, old maps or your own artwork drawn on the back of scrap paper. Or, make wrapping part of the gift. For example, wrap a kitchen gift in a hand towel or put jewelry in a pair of gloves.
  • Show your support for recycling by purchasing gifts made of recycled material.
  • Give a gift to yourself and buy a real tree instead of an artificial one. Most Wisconsin trees are locally grown and sold, while at least 95 percent of artificial trees come from far, far away. Real trees are easily composted or mulched after the season. Or buy a potted tree and add it to your landscape in the spring.

What would Santa do?

person making a list
Make a list of your errands before you go.

  • Do a little research, make a list, check it twice. Before you head out to find that perfect gift, do a little research to save you from driving all over town. Santa gets lots of help researching the perfect gift for each girl and boy so he doesn’t have to waste fuel returning gifts either.
  • Trip Chain. Does Santa go to Billy's house then back to the North Pole then back to Alisha's then to the North Pole then to Kou's house? He does NOT. Santa combines his errands and makes them all in one, well-planned trip.
  • Buy Local. Santa gives away toys and clothes made right there at the North Pole by local crafts-elves! By buying local stuff, his gifts have not already traveled all around the world, using up fuel, before he delivers them.
  • Use less fossil fuel as you travel around. Ok, it may be hard to get a reindeer-drawn sleigh in your neighborhood. But how about walking, biking, taking the bus, getting out the XC skis, carpooling… or eco-driving when you get in your car?
  • Bring your own sack. You ever see Santa pulling those toys out of a store-provided, disposable paper or plastic bag. NOT. Santa reuses his earth-friendly cloth bag year after year after year!
Last revised: Monday April 03 2017