5 Easy Ways to Save the Planet

Although caring for the environment is a year-round venture, Earth Day is always an important reminder that we’ve only got one planet. The good news is that you don’t have to surrender your car and move to an emu farm in order to make an impact. In fact, you can dramatically reduce your carbon footprint just by making a few small changes to your everyday life.  Let’s take a look at 5 easy ways to save the planet.

1. Cut the plastic

It’s no secret that plastic is a problem for the environment — and our health. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to start reducing your plastic use: switch to reusable, BPA-free water bottles and food containers. It not only gives our air and oceans a break, but it also ends up saving you money (those single water bottle purchases add up!). You can also buy a water-filter pitcher for at-home use. Contrary to popular belief, store-bought bottled water isn’t much different from what comes out of the tap unfiltered.

2. Carpool!

Let’s do some math on carbon emissions. What’s better for the air: 5 cars on the road or 1? Though the answer is simple, the solution isn’t. Carpooling, however, is one easy way to cut the exhaust and spare the air.

Here’s another math problem you might like: take your monthly gas expense and divide it by five: that’s essentially what happens when you split a ride with four other people. 5. Yep, carpooling saves big-time money that could add up to hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars a year. Plus, interacting with friends and coworkers in the morning has been shown to reduce stress levels. Less gas, more money, and you’re saving the planet? How can you say no?

3. Buy local

You know that apple in your lunch bag? If you bought it at your nearby mega market, chances are, it came all the way from New Zealand just to be part of your midday snack. That’s an 8,000-mile journey! But why do that when you could buy an apple that’s travelled a fraction of the distance? Buying locally helps cut down on emissions, and you’ll most likely end up with a higher-quality piece of produce in the end. Conventional farming is great for producing large yields at low costs. But for flavor and nutritional density, nothing beats local.

4. Go paperless

Nobody likes getting bills and bank statements in the mail. They stack up, they get lost — and all that paper just might increase your carbon footprint. But by going paperless, you could make a big impact: cutting the paper saves 23 pounds of wood and reduces 29 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions every year.

5. Reduce your red meat intake

It’s hard not to love a good burger. Unfortunately, conventional cattle raising comes with some unsavory drawbacks. It takes a tremendous amount of resources, including water, to raise beef and get it onto our plates — 11 times more water than pork or chicken, to be precise. Eating less beef could even have a bigger impact on our air and water supply than reducing your car travel! At the end of the day, if it’s as easy as opting for the chicken patty a little more often, then why not save the planet, one bite at a time?

It’s true: little changes can add up to big-time dividends over time — not just in terms of environmental impact, but also for your health and your pocketbook. Together, we can make planet Earth as great as we know it can be. Check out how you can work together with Esurance to create a cleaner planet.

Defensive Driving: 5 Tips Everyone Should Know

When you drive defensively, you’re prepared for the unexpected. You’re cautious, yet assertive, and ready to take action.

And while you may try to see the good in all people, defensive driving also means not putting fate in the hands of other drivers. After all, over 90 percent of all crashes stem from driver error, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. So while good intentions are one thing, driving focus is quite another. (For proof of this, check out the startling results from a recent Esurance survey on distracted driving and tech.)

Defensive driving 101

Self-discipline is the cornerstone to driving safety, and shirking any of these basic tips means you’re putting yourself and those around you at risk — not to mention adding needless wear and tear on your car. Check out these 5 tips to see if you’ve been driving defensively.

1. Look far, far down the road

Knowing what awaits you down the road is not only a life philosophy — it’s an essential defensive driving precept.

People hurtling more than 15 mph is a relatively new occurrence in human history. And, really, anything faster than that speed isn’t natural for us. But behind the wheel of a car, it’s easy to forget just how fast you’re traveling, and many drivers fall into the habit of only watching the vehicle in front of theirs.

So, just how far down the road should you look? As far as the eye can see — and think miles, not feet. Knowing what’s down the road can help you prepare for the worst and effectively respond to the unexpected, especially at higher speeds.

2. Get rid of distractions

Remember when cars didn’t have built-in computers, satellite radios, subwoofers, and GPS systems? Neither do I. But there was a simpler time when cars were just, well, cars. Now drivers have a multitude of entertainment features to alleviate those grueling commutes. And, of course, there’s eating while driving, and the all-too-dangerous — and all-too-prevalent — texting while driving.

The sad truth is that distracted driving is one of the greatest dangers to driver safety. And using your cellphone, listening to music, or enjoying your Thai fusion cuisine are all examples of driving distractions. In 2011, 1.3 million accidents involved cell phones alone. That amounted to nearly a quarter of all auto collisions!

Some of these activities may seem inconsequential, like peeking at your screen to read Grandma’s “LOL” text. But taking 5 seconds to read a text while driving 55 mph is equal to driving the length of an entire football field without watching the road.

Driving always requires your full and undivided attention. That means not only seeing the road, but having your cognition and attention available to discern potential hazards around you.

3. Have an escape plan

You often hear this about home fires, but rarely when it comes to driving. In every driving situation, the most effective way to avoid traffic perils is to position your vehicle so you have a greater chance of being visible to others. Anticipating where you might have to swerve is also vital, so factor in the position of other vehicles around you when gauging alternative paths of travel. With that in mind, try to avoid driving in another person’s blind spot.

Considering these common scenarios every time you drive will help you be more prepared:

  • The driver in front of you suddenly slams on the brakes (or an animal runs onto the highway, a tire’s blown, etc.)
  • Another vehicle starts to drift into your lane
  • Someone runs the stop sign or red light ahead

It’s, therefore, important to ask yourself a few questions while you drive. Is the lane next to me available? Is the shoulder a viable option? If not, should I increase my following distance? These questions and considerations aren’t meant to drive you crazy (sorry, couldn’t resist) — they’re meant to make you a safer driver. And over time, they’ll become second nature.

4. Maintain a safe following distance

The greatest chance of collision is usually right in front of you, and maintaining a safe following distance is easily one of the most effective rules of defensive driving. It’s also a rule that’s often broken. Even if you staunchly adhere to every other defensive driving virtue, there’s no way you’re truly a safe driver unless you follow this rule every time you’re behind the wheel. Keeping your distance from other vehicles will almost always mean you have sufficient reaction time — or, at the very least, the aforesaid escape route.

A general rule of thumb is using the 3-second rule that you probably learned in drivers ed. In case you don’t remember, you do this by finding a fixed object on the road, such as a sign, bridge, or even a shadow. Once the rear bumper of the car in front of you clears that object, start counting (1,001 … 1,002 … 1,003). If you don’t make it to 3 seconds by the time your front bumper starts to clear that object, then slow down and increase your following distance until you do.

It’s important to note that this rule only applies to dry, sunny weather conditions. When driving in harsh weather or at night, be sure to increase your following distance by as much as 10 seconds.

5. Always be aware of your surroundings

As you drive, have your head on a swivel like a middle linebacker. Frequently check your mirrors and scan the road as far down as you can see (remember that one?). Your eyes should always be alert. If you see a driver is being aggressive, increase your distance or pull over. If the driver is very erratic and reckless, you may want to get off the road by taking the next right or exit.

Additionally, be aware of bicyclists or pedestrians. And while most parents teach their children to look both ways before crossing the street, kids who’re playing outside are prone to get lost in the moment and dart into the street to retrieve a stray ball. Exercise extra precaution during the weekends, outside school hours, or during the spring and summer months when children are more apt to be out.

Now that you’ve sufficiently whet your driving skills, make sure you have the right auto insurance so your driving experience is protected on all fronts.

How to Collect and Repurpose Rainwater in Your Yard

After months of being, ahem, graced by El Niño, it may be surprising that some areas are still in the midst of a drought. But no matter where you live, a great way to conserve water (and save money on your water bill) is to collect and repurpose rainwater in your yard.

While it may not replace your water usage entirely, recycled rainwater can meet some of your basic water demands — from agricultural and landscape irrigation to toilet flushing and ground water basin replenishment.

Did you know, for example, that a single inch of rainfall on a 2,000-square-foot roof yields roughly 1,250 gallons of water? In a region that gets 30 inches of rain a year, that same roof would yield 41,000 gallons of reusable water!

So if you’re looking to make things easier on your wallet (and the planet), here are a few ways to get started.

Ways to collect rainwater

1. Employ rain barrels

For an affordable and easy way to collect and store your rainwater, rain barrels or cisterns are the way to go and they can be placed right beneath your downspout. If you have a large roof or live in a region that experiences heavy rainfall, consider affixing multiple rain barrels to your downspout to maximize rainwater usage.

In addition to water recycling benefits, rain cisterns help reduce the amount of storm water runoff and the pollutants that tend to come with it.

Be sure to keep those gutters clean and clear of debris, and cover the barrels once they’re full. Since there might be contaminants in the water, avoid using it for drinking purposes. And when you’re watering your plants, pour the water closer to the soil and away from edible portions.

If you’re wondering where to buy a rain barrel, you can first check to see if your city sells them or gives them away as a water recycling incentive. You can also peruse the internet for one, or even make a cistern out of a home receptacle or an old whiskey barrel (just be sure to give it a thorough cleaning).

Once you’ve got your rain barrel set up, consider looking into any rebates that might be awarded in your area.

2. Install rain chains

Rain chains look cool, plain and simple. And while they’re an elegant embellishment to your downspout, they also offer a pragmatic way to handle rainwater runoff from your gutters.

Rain chain installation is fairly straightforward — it simply hangs from the hole where the downspout used to be. The chain itself is composed of a series of cups that have little slots to collect the rainwater and slowly guide it down the chain toward the ground. The diversion of water is an effective way to mitigate water impact on the ground and protect the foundation of your home. It’s also a lovely sight to behold.

By placing your rain chain strategically, you can direct the water to your gardens, cisterns, or vegetated areas around the house so that the water runoff isn’t squandered.

Rain chains can typically be found at your local home improvement or hardware store, and of course, online.

3. Utilize vegetation

These days, with increasing urbanization, much of our rainwater doesn’t get absorbed. As water is forced to run rampant through our yards, streets, and sewers, it carries with it harmful chemicals that can potentially contaminate ecosystems and make water supplies undrinkable. Additionally, water runoff is a big culprit of flooding.

One practical way to maximize rainwater usage — and reduce environmental strain — is to ensure your yard has a lot of foliage. Grass, especially, tends to absorb water slowly, so if you’ve got a lawn, you’re off to a decent start.

If you live in a rainy region, consider planting water-retaining plant life and trees. Those with deep roots systems generally retain large volumes of water more effectively and supply water to adjacent plants. Everyone wins!

Using greywater for your yard

Greywater is essentially defined as reusable wastewater that comes from shower drains, washing machine drains, and bathroom sinks, and is typically used onsite for agricultural or landscaping purposes.

Therefore, using non-toxic, eco-friendly cleaning agents and personal products is critical in order to protect your vegetation. And it should go without saying that greywater isn’t drinkable.

Although greywater isn’t rainwater, per se, you can use it to help reduce your home’s water bills, save on fresh water usage, and mitigate the amount of wastewater flowing into the sewer system. (Besides, it was rainwater at one point, right?).

How to use greywater

The easiest way to employ greywater is to pipe it directly to your yard from the intended source (like the shower, sink, laundry) and use it to water your trees or any ornamental plants.

You can use greywater to irrigate vegetable crops too, but be sure that it’s applied directly into the soil (and not with a sprinkler system) so that it doesn’t touch the aboveground area of vegetables or plants.

Greywater tips

1. Avoid storing greywater for longer than 24 hours

Its nutrients will start breaking down fairly quickly, and before you know it, your home may reek.

2. Make sure it gets into the ground sufficiently

You may have seen water percolate in your soil, and when there’s enough, it can create a little pool. This is something you want to avoid with greywater, as pooling may provide a nesting area for mosquitoes.

3. Keep it simple

Instead of an expensive pumping system, try to utilize gravity as much as possible to transport your greywater. Also, using eco-friendly household cleaning products may help to reduce the need for disinfectants and high-maintenance filters. A simple system offers longevity and less maintenance — and it may also save you money and energy.

Safeguard your hard work

Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your conservation. And to protect all your time and effort, make sure you have affordable, reliable homeowners insurance coverage.

5 Car Insurance Hacks That May Help You Save Money

This post contributed by Answer Financial, sister company to Esurance.

Paying for car insurance can be an irritating but unavoidable chore, just like washing dishes and taking out the garbage. But wouldn’t it be a little less annoying if you knew you could pay less, starting with your next bill?

Before shopping around for car insurance, familiarize yourself with these 5 common hacks from our sister company, Answer Financial.

5 money-saving car insurance hacks

1. Invest in security equipment for your car

There’s an assortment of safety-enhancing features out there that could protect you and your passengers, while also helping lower your insurance rates. Some of these add-on devices may even deter thieves from breaking into your vehicle. And you might already have them on your car.

Here are some features that could help you save:

  • Car alarms
  • Driver and passenger side air bags
  • Side impact safety shields
  • Tracking & disabling devices
  • Etched window / glass
  • Anti-lock brakes (ABS)

Next time you get an insurance quote, make sure you know all of your car’s security features. Sites like Edmunds.com let you look up stock security features on your make and model.

2. Increase your deductible

Raising your deductible could significantly lower your car insurance premium. But before you make this adjustment, be aware that the trade-off is assuming more risk on your part. We often need car insurance when we least expect it, so make sure you are financially prepared for any out-of-pocket expenses in the event of a claim. If you can comfortably set aside a chunk of change, increasing your deductible may help you save a substantial amount of money on your premium.

3. Bundle multiple policies

Whether you drive one car or several, own your home or rent, insuring all of your properties with the same insurance company could help you save money with additional discounts on your policies. Many companies are also able to issue a single bill for all the policies you have underwritten by them, making it quick and easy for you to organize and manage your monthly budget. Bundling equals less work for you, less work for your insurer, and the alluring incentive of a lower rate.

4. Keep your car parked in a garage

Statistics show that vehicles parked inside garages are less likely to be stolen or involved in accidents. So while it may not make a remarkable impact on your premium, parking your car in a garage overnight, instead of the street, may lower your rates with certain insurers.

5. Inform your insurer of classes you have completed

Did you know that many auto insurance companies offer discounts for drivers who take classes to improve their driving skills? While this varies from state to state, there are usually 2 categories of classes available.

Drivers education classes

These courses are typically available for people with little to no driving experience.

Defensive driving classes

These classes are often available for more mature drivers (50 years and older) and can be taken every several years to help you save on your insurance.

For more great insurance tips, check out Answer Financial’s Insurance Center blog.

Please note:  The information provided above is general and does not necessarily reflect the policies of Esurance or the discounts available through Esurance.  Esurance’s discount amounts vary and are not available in all states.

From Pollen to Pet Dander: How to Allergy-Proof Your Home

We all have our own rituals to usher in the spring season. For some, it’s an opening-day baseball game. For others, it’s a top-to-bottom house cleaning. For me, it’s sneezing. Acacia trees are my mortal enemy, and for the weeks when they’re in bloom, it’s nonstop gesundheit.

I’m lucky because my allergies only last a short time. For many people, though, allergies are a year-round affair. And pollen isn’t the only culprit — pets, household products, dust, and mold can each cause their own share of misery. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to eliminate allergens from your home and keep the sneezing, wheezing, and other symptoms at bay.

Helpful tips for giving household allergens the heave-ho

General tips

Just about every surface of your home can be a landing pad for allergens — furniture, floors, even walls. The best way to eliminate most types of allergens is with regular, thorough dusting and vacuuming.

  • When dusting, use a damp cloth to help pick up allergens so you’re not kicking them back into the air.
  • Vacuum carpets and furniture at least once a week using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to trap small particles.
  • Reduce clutter — stacked boxes, books, and piles of clothing make wonderful hiding places for allergens.
  • Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner to keep humidity levels at around 40 percent. Dry air encourages allergens to go airborne. And too much humidity can stimulate mold growth, creating the perfect environment for dust mites to thrive.
  • Buy houseplants that act as natural air cleaners, such as lady palm, bamboo palm, dracaena, and Chinese evergreen.

Pollen

Pollen is born to travel — many plants reproduce by sending pollen grains into the air, to be transported by wind, insects, and even people. On hot, windy days during pollen season, one cubic foot of air can contain more than 50 airborne pollen grains!

So when the pollen count is high, the key is to keep those pollen grains outside, where they belong.

  • Keep doors and windows shut, especially between the hours of 5 and 10 a.m., when plants produce most of their pollen.
  • Leave shoes outside so you don’t track pollen into the house.
  • Change your clothes when you come in from the outdoors.
  • Don’t air-dry your laundry outside — it may collect pollen or mold.

Dust mites

If you’re allergic to dust, you’re most likely reacting to the presence of dust mites — just like the 20 million other Americans who are also sensitive to these microscopic critters. Dust mites feed on flakes of skin (ew!) shed by people and pets, and they live in mattresses, upholstery, carpets, and other places that collect dust.

Dusting and vacuuming will help, but even if your home looks clean, dust mites might still be present in your bedding. Here are some other solutions:

  • Wash bedding frequently (at least once a week) in water 130° F or hotter to kill dust mites. If your bedding isn’t washable, try putting it in the freezer overnight.
  • Encase your pillows and mattresses in allergen-proof covers.
  • If you’re extremely sensitive, wear a face mask when dusting or vacuuming, and leave the room for 30 minutes or so afterward to allow airborne particles to settle.

Pet dander

Unfortunately for many animal lovers, the proteins in dog or cat saliva and dander (dead skin flakes) can cause allergic reactions in humans. Dander is a large component of dust, so regular dusting and vacuuming helps here too. Here’s what else you can do:

  • Train your pet (ok, your dog) to stay off the furniture. (Can cats really be trained?)
  • Give your pet (ok, your dog) a bath once a week or more to wash away dander.
  • Brush your cat frequently and use grooming wipes to rid its coat of dander and other allergens.
  • Designate your bedroom as a pet-free zone to help keep dander out of your bedding.

Chemical toxins

Many common household items, such as cleaning products, cosmetics, upholstery fabrics, and dry-cleaned clothing contain chemicals known as VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Common VOCs include acetone, benzene, and formaldehyde, to name a few. When released into the air, these chemicals can trigger allergy symptoms or make them worse. Here’s how to keep them out of the air in your home:

  • Find a dry cleaner that uses a nontoxic alternative to perchloroethylene (a very common but hazardous dry-cleaning chemical)
  • Buy houseplants that are known to remove VOCs from the air:
    • Spider plants, aloe, and weeping fig* (to remove benzene and formaldehyde)
    • Snake plants, azaleas, golden pothos, and philodendron (to remove formaldehyde)
    • Chrysanthemums and gerbera daisies (to remove benzene)

*Note: weeping figs are not a good choice for people with latex allergies.

Mold and mildew

Mold and mildew are forms of fungi, which reproduce using spores. Breathing in these spores can cause allergy symptoms like sneezing or nasal congestion and can also bring on an asthma attack. Mold thrives in damp, humid places (especially bathrooms and cellars).  Here’s how to limit your exposure:

  • Keep humidity below mold-friendly levels by using a dehumidifier (inexpensive meters for monitoring humidity levels are available at hardware stores).
  • Run an exhaust fan or crack a window after a shower or bath to remove moisture from the air.
  • Scrub mold from hard surfaces like tile or glass using a mild solution of bleach and water.
  • In your basement, remove stacks of old papers and store clothes and bedding in airtight, waterproof containers.
  • Fix leaky pipes and clean up spills promptly to prevent mold from growing in wet spots on your carpet.

Now that your house is allergy-proofed, you can breathe a lot easier — and get back to more enjoyable spring traditions, like planning your garden or dreaming about your summer vacation.