The Workbench: Four incredibly easy ways to help the planet

Sometimes there are incredibly simple solutions to the complex environmental dilemmas facing our planet. All we need is a reminder.

That's what Petaluma-based Daily Acts provides with its annual Community Resilience Challenge, which culminates this weekend with two days of activities. Participants get a check list of simple things they can do to reduce their energy and water consumption.

Today we cover four quick, inexpensive home modifications that require little more than a screwdriver, power drill, ladder and your hands. For a $475 outlay, you can save more than $1,000 a year on utility bills while dramatically reducing your energy consumption.

<b>Install a new thermostat:</b> A programmable thermostat helps you control when to heat or cool your home, reducing your heating and cooling costs by more than 20 percent if you manage it well, according to U.S. Department of Energy estimates. Just lowering your thermostat by 10-15 degrees during the workday (or raising it during the summer) can reduce energy use by 5-15 percent.

A simple Ace brand programmable thermostat costs about $25. I chose a $69 Honeywell unit that offers a Monday through Friday workday setting and separate, variable weekend settings.

Here's how to do it: Turn off the switch or circuit breaker controlling the heating, ventilating, air conditioning (HVAC) unit. Remove the existing cover. Unscrew the wall-mounting plate from the old thermostat.

Take a photo of the wires, or write down the number and colors of the wires, and take that with you to the hardware store to ensure correct model selection.

Install the plastic anchors, then attach the new wall-base plate with the screw-anchors provided. Drill a pilot hole for the plastic anchor using a 3/16-inch drill bit.

Before attaching the new unit, install two AA batteries, then attach the unit to the base plate. Now it's time to turn the power on and program your thermostat.

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