Wednesday, March 05, 2008
It All Adds Up
Not too long ago, we started looking over our energy bills for the past year. One year ago, we had a renter in our basement apartment (a 650 sq foot "mother-in-law" unit). This has been our first opportunity to compare our current energy bills from those of the same season when we had the apartment rented. What we discovered was pretty darn interesting. Our utility bill is half of what it was when we had our renter living downstairs. Yep, four people in a 1670 sq foot house upstairs use about the same amount of energy as one person in the apartment downstairs. I've always been a mite suspicious of those carbon footprint calculators on the web (although I think they're a great tool for raising awareness), because they typically make assumptions about our energy use based on our house and number of people living here. This is the first time I've had solid proof that energy-efficient everyday living practices can make a huge difference in how much energy we use.
The things we do are pretty simple - our house gets great natural light during the day, so we don't use interior lighting in daylight hours. At night, we turn off lights as soon as we leave a room. We turn off and/or unplug appliances that we aren't using. We try to use energy wisely (like making an entire pot of tea instead of once cup at a time). We hang clothes out to dry instead of using the clothes dryer, and open the dishwasher before it enters the drying cycle. Our clothes washer is an efficient front-loader that does a ton of laundry in one batch. We conserve water in other ways, like turning the shower on halfway instead of on full, and we set our thermostat to 58 in the winter (using a heat pump) and don't use air conditioning in the summer. Probably our biggest energy drain is our chest freezer, but that gives us the ability to buy local organic pastured meats, and store all of the berries and other fruits and veggies we grow and glean during the summer.
None of these things are particularly difficult or odious. We don't really feel deprived. We aren't living in left-field, or god forbid not showering to save water. Patchouli never enters our house and none of us particularly likes granola. But the little things do add up. Every year we try to add a few more of them to our pile of little sustainability stones. This last year we bought honeycomb blinds for many of the windows, especially the ones that get a lot of sun in the summer. Next year we'll try to add some more to the other windows. We're hoping that a homemade solar hot water heater is in the works for us sometime soon. We implemented the garage clothes-drying racks this winter which drastically reduced the amount we use the clothes dryer in this wet season. We changed out even more bulbs to CFLs. Incidentally, all of the light in the photo at the top of this post comes from two flourescents that are our main indoor lighting. We've changed them only once since we moved in eight years ago, now that's what I call efficient!
I'm excited to learn that all of our little efforts add up. I have friends, both on-line and in real life who are living the ultimate energy efficient lifestyles in off-the-grid or Net Zero homes. Right now, that's not in the cards for us, but it's great to know that making these smaller efforts can have a huge impact on our energy usage, and thus on our carbon footprint and overall environmental impact. I like to think that if regular ol' folks knew what a difference they could make (a family of four using less energy than one person!), they might be inspired to implement a few more changes themselves.