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Green parenting: Unplug

Going green by conserving energy in the home doesn't mean you have to give up modern conveniences or move to a treehouse.

"You don't have to be a wacko who lives in a tent without electricity and bicycles everywhere,'' said Terri Murru, a mom of two who's passionate about the environment. "You can make a significant impact in your own way.''

Biologists Terri and Frank Murru and their children, Alie, 16, and Chloe,

USE SLEEP MODE

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15, have made energy conservation a priority in their Fort Lauderdale home. The strategy pays off with lower utility bills and their own personal contributions to the climate.

The family has replaced their hot water heater with an Insta-hot water dispenser, which heats water on demand instead of continuously storing heated water. They use buckets in their showers to collect water before it turns hot to use on their herb and vegetable garden. They don't flush the toilet after each use.

In the kitchen, Terri Murru said it's not always feasible to replace all of your appliances with those that are energy-efficient, "but you can do it one by one as things need replacing.''

In the laundry room, the family only washes full loads, and they rarely use their dryer.

"We hang clothes to dry on shower racks,'' Terri Murru said. "It saves energy, and it preserves clothes.''

Terri Murru, a volunteer on Fort Lauderdale's Utilities Advisory Committee, said they also unplug any plug they can get to that's not in use.

"If you're going to have to move furniture to get to a plug, then obviously you're not going to unplug it,'' she said. "But if you have an exposed plug and you're not using it, you can.''

The family uses natural light whenever they can, and they've covered windows with a UV-reduction film that is also impact resistant. Terri Murru said they taught Alie how to drive in their hybrid car, which has a feature that teaches you how to drive to conserve gas.

"You use the most gas when starting from a complete stop, like at a light,'' she said. "You should start slowly, instead of punching into it.''

The family also makes a conscious effort to carpool and to have a minimum of three people in the car when they hit the highway.

"If everyone did a little bit, we'd make this huge impact,'' Terri Murru said. "You can do simple things first, then add one each year, like a tradition. Ask yourself 'What is your gift to the world?' each year.''

Sarah Marmion, a Florida Power & Light spokeswoman, said she tries to bring home messages to her own kids, who are 7, 11, and 13, about energy conservation. They, in turn, help her.

"Kids are great 'little consciences' because they pick up things at school,' '' she said. "When I'm brushing my teeth, my daughter, who's a first-grader, will come in and say, 'Turn off the water.' ''

TIPS FROM FPL

  • Install a programmable thermostat, and turn down the air when you're out. (Air-conditioning accounts for 60 percent of your energy bill.) Every two degrees can save 9 percent. Set the temperature at 78 when you're home, and 82 degrees when you're away four or more hours. Clean your air-conditioner filter monthly.
  • Don't rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, and only run it when it's full. Let them air dry.
  • Run the pool pump six hours during the summer, four hours in the winter.
  • Adjust the water level to clothes level when washing clothes, and use cold water.
  • Clean the dryer filter after every load to help clothes dry faster.
  • Turn off ceiling fans when you leave a room. "It's a myth that it will cool a room when you're not in it,'' Marmion said.
  • Keep blinds closed during the hottest parts of the day.


HOW IT ADDS UP

Here's how much you can save with some small changes: 
  • $50: Replace a 60-watt bulb with a 15-watt compact fluorescent and save $50 in energy costs over its life. A compact fluorescent bulb left on for 11 hours a day (for example, in a porch light) will last 2 1/2 years.
  • $100 a year: Ditch the second refrigerator if it's not kept full.
  • $50 a year: Replace your showerhead with a water-efficient model.
  • $25 or more a year: Repair leaky faucets.
  • $100 a year: Reduce your pool pump's run time to six hours a day in summer and four hours a day in winter.
  • $7 a month: Turn off ceiling fans when you leave a room.
  • 10 to 76 cents per load of laundry: Wash clothes with cold water. About 90 percent of the energy used to wash clothes is from heating the water. For top-loading washers, switching to cold water will save 76 cents a load; 10 cents for a front loader.
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