Peaceworks encourages sustainable living

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COLUMBIA - When Columbia resident Paul Casart bought a house 10 years ago, he knew he needed to make some changes. To increase his home's efficiency, he replaced all of the old windows and re-did the insulation.

"The goal was to save on my utility bills, and I shudder to think what they'd be had I not taken those steps," he said.

Casart's passion for sustainability led him to attend Peaceworks' Introduction to Sustainable Living class, a free, five-week class that explores ways people can live in a more eco-friendly fashion.

A recent session focused on energy conservation and efficiency.

Peaceworks Director Mark Haim said conservation means using less, while efficiency involves using less energy to perform the same function.

For example, bundling up and turning down the thermostat is conservation, while adding insulation to weatherize your home is efficiency.

"When we look at energy consumption the average American uses more than twice as much energy as the average person in the UK, twice as much as the average person in Japan and about 85 percent more than the average person in Germany," Haim said.

"They have a very high quality of life and a very high standard of living in each of those countries that I've mentioned. They're working to make themselves more efficient and use less. We should be doing the same," he said.

Participants in the class brainstormed different solutions to save energy at different price levels.

Free solutions to conserve energy include unplugging small appliances, turning down thermostats in the winter, taking shorter shower and opening curtains up in the winter to get warmth from the sun. Haim said it's also a good idea to keep your refridgerator and freezer full, even with water bottles, because more cold thermal mass allows the unit to keep items cold using less energy.

Low-to-moderate efficiency upgrades include switching to LED or compact florescent light bulbs, installing low-flow shower heads, using power strips and weatherizing homes by caulking and installing weather-stripping.

Higher-cost efficiency upgrades include adding insulation to attics, replacing older windows with windows that have high heat resistance, installing a whole-house or attic fan and installing systems to re-use water from showers and sinks.

Haim said he encourages people to do a lifestyle audit to determine what changes they can make.

"Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something," he said.

Tess Whithurst, a participant in the class, said getting rid of old habits is a challenge she faces while trying to live more sustainably.

"We're kind of now re-learning how to live in the world that we're in," she said.

Haim said he hopes the class will empower people to live green.

"We urge people to see sustainable living as a positive challenge to live better, not to sacrifice or give up comfort, but to create a new comfortable norm," he said.