And here it is: the turn of the season. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you've probably already noticed the first hints of autumn: a blush of color in the leaves; earlier sunsets; and cooler evenings. In just a few days, our calendars will catch up with nature, and we'll begin the headlong rush toward winter. Spring and autumn are the "fix-up" seasons, as we make ready for big changes in the weather.
What you do over the next few weeks can make a tremendous difference to the size of your environmental footprint through the winter. So we've put together a few autumn to-do items to get you started. Sharpen your pencil -- and start checking a few off your list!
In the home
- Check your weather stripping. You should do this twice a year. Look for cracks and deterioration, and verify the door seals are tight.
- Review your attic insulation, particularly if your home is over 20 years old. This is the area in which you can make the most dramatic savings in annual heating bills. Take a ruler into the attic. If you have less than a foot of insulation, you probably need more.
- Seal window air conditioners. Once you're past warm weather, unplug and seal your window units. If it's practical, store them. This will also allow you to seal your windows with energy-efficient plastic film.
- Replace incandescent bulbs with CFL or LED lighting. Shorter days and cooler temperatures means more time spent indoors. If you've not already re-lamped with energy efficient bulbs, now is the time.
- Install a programmable thermostat. Smart temperature control can easily save 10 percent of your annual heating and cooling bills - a significant reduction in your household's carbon footprint. Basic programmable thermostats can be purchased for less than $30, so you'll recover you investment very quickly.
- Start a compost pile. Compost heaps need both green and brown matter to get cooking - but there's no shortage of carbon-rich leaves in the fall. Grab then while you can.
- Consider planting trees. Some varieties do well in the gap between summer's heat and the real onset of winter. Consult your local nursery or agricultural agent for advice on what sort of trees might be appropriate for autumn planting.
- Bring your summer herbs indoors. There's no reason not to enjoy fresh basil, mint, and rosemary through the winter months - and having some green indoors will remind you of spring. It takes a few weeks to transition herbs to indoor living, so start before the weather turns.
- Most automobile owner's manuals recommend a switch of engine oil weights between seasons. If you did this last summer, switch to your car's recommended winter weight as soon as the weather cools.
- There's really no such thing as a "safe" antifreeze, but if you're getting your radiator flushed before winter, ask for a propylene glycol (PG) formula. It's less toxic to children, pets, and wildlife than ethylene glycol (EG) coolants.
- Do you have a roof rack for carrying summer recreational equipment? Remove it until next year. Roof racks decrease your vehicle's aerodynamic efficiency and hurts fuel mileage -- particularly at highway speeds. While you're at it, check you car for any unnecessary summer items, such as coolers or picnic gear. No need to burn fuel by carrying unnecessary weight.
- Evaluate your tires. Worn tread and improper tire pressure aren't just bad for fuel economy -- they're not safe, particularly if you live in an area where highway icing is likely. Inspect, rotate, and balance. Whip out your tire pressure gauge at least once a month and check all four corners.
And there's a start. Once you get into autumn "green-up" mode, you'll probably think of other small projects. Get to them before Jack Frost beats you to it. And here's wishing you a rich, warm, and Earth-friendly autumn.