How we save energy

global warmingI thought I’d list thethings we do as a matter of course to save energy. You can use this list as a resource, an inspiration, or ignore it completely; just please don’t use it as a springboard for guilt, unless guilt actually motivates you to change.And especially don’t guilt-trip if you’re un/underemployed and just trying to get food on the table.

But if you can put aside a few extra bucks, a lot of this stuff gets at 30% tax rebate until 2010, so now’s a great time to make some of these changes. I’d dearly love it if you would find one or more things on this list that make you think, “Hey, I could do that” and then take 3-6 months to work it into your daily life. If you really commit to doing just one or two at a time, five years from now, you’ll be doing all this and more and it won’t even seem like a drudge.

I do recommend writing out all you do to save energy, though. It sure surprised me to write all this out…it’s become so natural that I don’t even think about it any more.

And please, won’t someone write the “Energy Savings 102” book? It seems like lots of people say “change your lightbulbs” or “throw away your fridge and furnace” but there’s not a lot out there describing realistic steps to take in between. Well, maybe this is the beginning of that list, and y’all can add your own comments of additional steps to take.

Details, details…

Household portrait

  • Two adults, both employed outside the home.
  • Work (and town in general, including groceries) is 11 miles away from home.
  • Closest public transport is 8 miles away – by the time you get to the bus stop, you might as well keep walking to your destination.
  • No kids, no pets.
  • Husband attends capoeira class twice a week.
  • 1800 sf ranch house w/partial unfinished basement, breezeway, and garage
  • 1300 sf of garden, plus 8×12 greenhouse
  • All electric appliances (hot water, dryer, range/oven)
  • Propane and wood (fireplace insert) heat
  • Car 1: 2003 Prius, 45mpg, ~25,000 miles/year
  • Car 2: older Ford Explorer, 18mpg, ~1200 miles/year
  • We live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, zone 5b. Winters are very cold compared to the rest of southern Michigan and moderately snowy – it can get down to -20 at night for several days straight, though more usual low nighttime temps are around 10 degrees.

Gasoline savings

  • When my 18 year-old Honda Accord died, we replaced it with a used 2003 Prius.
  • We drive to work together every day, with a few rare exceptions.
  • We generally shop for groceries on the way home from work and “combine trips.”
  • We loaned our 30mpg car to my brother indefinitely so he doesn’t have to drive the 18mpg SUV 40 miles to/from work each day.  That also makes us much more restrained about driving the second car anywhere at all.

Electricity savings

  • Four of the 5 of our most commonly-used lightbulbs are CFLs. The fifth one is in an enclosed fixture, and the only bulbs we can find small enough buzz so much they drive me nuts.
  • We swapped out every 100 watt bulb in the rest of the house for 1 or 2 40 watt bulbs. (When we moved in, the ceiling fixtures each had two or three 100-watt bulbs – yikes, you could *tan* in there…).
  • We’ve scouted the house with a Kill-o-watt and eliminated virtually all “phantom power draw.” So, for example, we unplug the TV, DVD player, and converter box when we’re not actually watching.
  • We now turn off the furnace in the basement during the summer – it appears to have a significant phantom draw.
  • The TVs are on about 5 hours a week total; half of that is for playing exercise videos.
  • We air-dry all shirts, pants, and skirts on plastic hangers on a clothes pole in the laundry room.
  • The water heater is set at the temp where it is comfortable when the shower is on 100% hot.
  • No one in the house uses hair dryers, curling irons, clothes irons, or other small energy-sucking devices.
  • We try to “stack” baking tasks, so we only have to heat the oven once to make, say, pizza and granola.
  • We avoid A/C as much as possible – thermostat is set around 78 during the summer. We open windows at night whenever it’s cool and not-humid (which was almost all of last summer).
  • We installed a pergola over the front picture windows. The screen across the top blocks the sun and heat in the summer, but we put the screen away in the winter so we do get some solar gain when it’s cold.
  • All appliances are Energy Star (slowly replaced over the years). Front-loading washer, normal-sized fridge, very small chest freezer.
  • Water softener calculates the number of gallons used, rather than cycling every day. This saves water, too, and since we’re on a well, water usage = electric usage.
  • We’re playing with solar cooking, fireplace cooking, and cooking with retained heat (“haybox cooking”), but those aren’t part of our daily life at this point.

Heat savings

  • R-65 cellulose insulation in the attic
  • Attic hatch sealed with Velcro (kit)
  • Switches and outlets have those foam thermal seals.
  • The drafts between/behind our kitchen cupboards have been sealed with spray foam. (No idea why that’s so drafty, but freezing cold air used to come out from between the bottom of the cupboards.)
  • At first, we sealed our unusable fireplace with an inflatable draft stopper, but after 5 years we were able to fix the fireplace and really seal the air leaks by installing a fireplace insert. And, of course, now we can heat with wood. I have some qualms about pollution, but the insert is EPA rated, reburns essentially all particulate matter, and is fueled with locally-renewable resources. It also lets us truly heat only the living room.
  • Seal the windows each winter with that plastic that tapes on and shrinks tight.
  • Thermostat is 63 in the winter when we’re home and awake, 55 when we’re gone, and 57 overnight. We do not feel cold, and we do not wear hats in the house (though we do wear slippers and are generally under a blanket when sitting around reading or watching a movie in the evening). Fixing the fireplace let us drop the thermostat 5 full degrees, and we feel WARMER now than we did before. (Seriously – cap your fireplace or put in an insert. Fireplaces are evil.)
  • Thermal curtain between the house and the breezeway. This keeps the breezeway around 45 all winter, which is actually a good “root cellar” temp.

Food miles

  • The vast majority of the food we eat at home was grown within 100 miles of home. The major exceptions include rice, sandwich bread, raisins, raisin toast, carrots, avocadoes, and ice cream ~2pt/mo.
  • I grow enough veggies to keep us in greens from June to October. Hopefully the greenhouse will extend that some, too. Contrary to popular belief, I do not grow the majority of our food, nor is that really a goal of mine.
  • A recent change we’ve made that has had a really good impact on our food miles and waste production is making our own yogurt. Now, instead of shipping 6oz refrigerated cups of yogurt from California, we make yogurt twice a month from local cream-top milk bought in a glass bottle. We stir in homemade jam. The only plastic to throw away is the bottle cap, we’re almost never out of yogurt, and the furthest anything had to travel was the sugar (~ 100 miles).  And did I mention we’re saving nearly $20/month just in yogurt?
  • We eat out too much to really be sustainable. :/

Ok, that’s all I can think of right now. Man, some of this stuff happened so long ago I forget we did it. Which means you can do it once and forget it, too, and it’ll keep saving you energy as long as you’re in that house.

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3 Comments

  1. ilex said,

    June 7, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Emily, I want to put a Yes We Can link to your Cafe Press page on my blog- I need a picture of the art and your Cafe Press URL.

  2. ilex said,

    June 7, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Done. Check it out! You’re above the fold.

  3. Jennifer said,

    June 8, 2009 at 8:00 am

    And it would be great if someone would write “energy-saving for apartment dwellers,” so those of us who can’t toss the appliances can get some ideas beyond turning off the AC and changing light bulbs.


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