Daehler has replaced all his light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs and has watched his electricity bill drop 12 percent. He said many people often don't realize that electronic devices like VCRs and stereos that stay plugged in all day are also drawing power, even if they are turned off.
These items, which include cell phone and iPod chargers, draw what is known as a phantom load. "They call them vampires," said Daehler, who makes sure to unplug his chargers when he's not using them. "They constantly draw about a watt of energy," he said. "And if you have 10 of those in your house, always plugged in, that's 240 watt hours a day. That's simple. Unplug it."
Experts say another simple step is weatherizing your home. It can save hundreds of dollars and about 1,000 pounds of CO2 annually.
"There's so much you can do to stop bleeding wasted energy," Steelman said. He suggests calling your local utility provider to ask for a free energy audit that can point out where a home may be inefficient. "If a house still has single-pane windows, for example, it's almost like having a hole in the wall," said Steelman.
Stopglobalwarming.org says that installing double-pane windows can save 10,000 pounds of CO2 a year. But the upfront cost to install double-pane windows -- often thousands of dollars -- can be expensive. But some cities and power companies offer ways to offset those costs.
Tony Napolillo, a marketing manager with a green energy company in Texas, makes reducing his carbon footprint a part of everyday life. He credits the city of Austin with providing incentives and rebates on, for example, air conditioners and landscaping -- things that helped him transform his home into a model of energy efficiency.
"The programmable thermostat and the compact fluorescent light bulbs were all provided by the city," he said. "It's made a huge difference on what my house uses and loses."
Kym Trippsmith, a writer for a financial Web site, would like to go a step further and install a solar panel system for her California home. "But it's $40,000," she said, too expensive an upfront cost to install all at once. But if she could make it happen, she said her footprint would shrink and her wallet would grow. "I hope to save $6,000 a year," she said. "Within eight years, that system would completely pay for itself."
Practically everything we buy has a carbon cost associated with it that consists of things like transportation costs and the amount of electricity that goes into manufacturing a product or packaging.
Even natural foods often have a carbon impact.
For example, fruits and vegetables are transported on trucks that drive an average of 1,500 miles from field to supermarket, according to a 2001 U.S. Department of Agriculture study.
So Daehler buys fruits and vegetables only from local farmers' markets.
"The negative side is that you can't buy some things in season," he said. "I can't get strawberries 100 percent of the year. But that's OK. I'd much rather have strawberries that are fresh and locally grown, since that reduces the total transportation cost."
Personal transportation choices can also shrink a carbon footprint. Many people choose to walk, ride a bicycle or a scooter on short trips around town. Some cut their emissions by shopping at stores -- or even by taking jobs -- that are closer to home.