If you don’t have children in your house, like me, your fridge might look a bit bare at times. An near empty fridge will run more frequently, sucking up more energy and costing you more money. Your refrigerator runs most efficiently when it’s full, or at least fuller. What do I do? Dedicate an entire shelf for my boyfriend’s beloved beer. If there’s still some extra space after that, try this: Fill pitchers with water, iced tea, or whatever you like to drink, and remember to refill your Brita pitcher every time you use it; if you’re a white wine drinker, keep a few unopened bottles in the fridge, this is also helpful if you need a last minute bottle for a dinner party; and you can always load up those empty spaces with those blue ice packs.
Your freezer runs by the same rules as your fridge, meaning it runs best when it’s at least two-thirds full. I enjoy ice cream as much as the next gal, but keeping gallons of ice cream in the freezer for too long is not a good idea. So instead, when I finish one container of ice cream, I fill it with water and put it right back in the freezer. Of course, I label them so someone doesn’t open my freezer and think I have a problem. If you have an ice maker, make sure the tray is always full and stock up on meat when it’s buy one, get one.
The most important thing to remember about dishwashers is to only run them when they are absolutely full; otherwise you are wasting water, energy and money. Next, if you have a six-hour delay button on your model, use it. Start it at 6pm (you can always go back in and add more dishes after dinner), this way it will go off at midnight, during off-peak energy hours. What are the pluses to using this magical little button? You’ll save money on your bill since off-peak electricity costs less; the power plant will run more efficiently, causing less pollution; and you won’t have to listen to the dishwasher running while you’re trying to watch TV at night. And don’t forget to use environmentally friendly dish detergent. Seventh Generation and Method make good ones. They cost a buck or two more, but to me, it’s worth it if it keeps our rivers and streams free of toxins.
Which is best, when? Your oven uses the most energy of all of these, and unless it’s convection, it’s really not very energy efficient. So when you can, use your toaster oven before your conventional oven. If you want a slice of toast, use your toaster before your toaster oven. Your stove top is more efficient than your conventional oven as well, so if you can start something there then transfer it to the oven to cut the cooking time, do so. And when you need to reheat left-overs or boil water, use your microwave. If you don’t have a microwave but you do have an electric tea kettle, use that to boil water instead of your stove, then pour the water over the item you’re cooking and cover it. See more cooking tips below.
Cut down on the amount of time you actively use your stove or cook top. Remember that a covered pot will boil faster than an uncovered one. If you’re boiling potatoes, dice them to roughly one-half-inch in size so they cook faster, start them in the cold water, and bring to boil. Once the water has come to a rolling boil, turn off the heat. Leave the pot on the burner, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, until fork tender. Do the same for spaghetti-like pasta, except add the pasta after the water is boiling and boil it for two minutes before turning off the heat. Let it sit, covered, for the amount of time remaining according to the directions on the box. If you have more than one vegetable to boil, consider boiling everything in one pot, or placing one pot on top of the other to share the heat. This method works surprisingly well. You can also cook other vegetables using the potato method. When sautéing, you can usually turn off the heat a few minutes before the food is done, but use your best judgment.
For starters, avoid using your conventional oven in the summer to save on cooling costs. Instead, use your toaster oven whenever possible. When it comes to baked goods, like cakes or cookies, you can’t make any major changes, but you can make a difference when roasting. To save energy, try cooking multiple things at once when the oven is on. If two dishes only have a 25-50 degree difference in temperature, you can go ahead and cook at the lower or middle temperature and it won’t make much difference. You can also turn off the heat 5 minutes before the dish is done. The food will continue to cook in the oven’s residual heat.
Conserving water is one of the key ingredients to being green. Only about 1% of all water on Earth is usable for humans. This may not seem like a problem to you now, but think about the people who live in drought conditions almost all year round; this could soon happen everywhere if we’re not careful. So why not try acting like you’re in that situation and really appreciate that water running from your faucet. It’s actually easier than you think and you will save on your water bill, too.
Start with rinsing your fruits and veggies. Catch the water in a basin, bowl or jar, whatever you have handy, and then use that water to water your plants. Same with unsalted water you’ve used to boil potatoes, pasta, etc. If you leave out the salt you can use this water (cooled, of course) for your plants as well. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to use a slotted spoon or spider, or if you cooked using a strainer insert, great. Scoop out the food, and leave the water in the pot to cool. When you have a dish you need to wash by hand, turn off the water between pre-rinsing and rinsing or use a basin for the pre-rinsing.
To save money on your electric bill use cold water, not hot or even warm, when you wash your hands, rinse fruits and veggies and any other time that doesn’t involve you doing dishes. Water heaters use gobs of energy, not to mention all that water you’re wasting while you wait for it to get hot.
If you’d like to learn more about going green in the kitchen, I suggest reading Cooking Green by Kate Heyhoe. It’s full of interesting facts, helpful ideas and recipes, too.