Sunday, November 3, 2013

Being Creative in Reducing

I’ve previously discussed recycling & reusing as Where change started. After we got some steam behind those efforts, we set our sights on reducing. We figured that we could save some money if we were more aware of what we consumed. And, again, we could make a difference in our corner of the world.

We started simply by switching to energy efficient bulbs when one burned out. We’ve found that the CFLs are ok, but they tended to burn out almost as quickly as incandescent. Upon further research, you need special “quick on & off” ones that will stand up to turning the lights on & off. Otherwise, they are meant to be left on for minimum 4 hours at a time to last the rated number of hours. Once we found the “quick on & off” ones, we had much better success. We even have a few LEDs in the house, but those are expensive. As the price is coming down, we are buying a few more. We also made strong efforts to turn off the lights in rooms we aren’t currently occupying. I try to avoid turning on a light if I don’t absolutely need to. Natural lighting helps. So does keeping hallways & walking paths clutter free.

There are a lot of little efforts that can add up to big results over time. I grew up saving glass & plastic containers for leftovers & other storage. I don’t save the plastic much anymore but still save glass. I use the jars for all sorts of leftovers, dry goods storage, misc parts in the garage, paint, etc. No need to buy new storage & no need to pitch or recycle what you already have.
I also grew up washing Ziploc & bread bags. We won’t be buying a car with the savings, but we also won’t be buying any new bags but maybe once a year. Buying bags has gone down even further because we buy tortillas that come in a resealable bag. We save those bags & use them in place of Ziploc bags when we need one. I do have a few standards – no reuse after raw meat & no holes. At that point, they gotta go. But I get a lot of use out of them before they get to that point.
We also put out solar yard lights & buy rechargeable batteries – nothing especially hard, but they help make a difference.

Other efforts include switching to a programmable thermostat & making layering an art. We keep the house at 75 (night), 85 (day – not home), and 78 (day – home) during the summer. We keep the house at 62 (night), 60 (day – not home), and 68 (day – home) during the winter. We dress light in the summer & try to keep the shades drawn during the heat of the day. We dress in layers in the winter & keep the shades open to let in the light & heat. Sealing air leaks has helped tremendously. Our electricity & gas bills took a visible drop since we started this. And we stay moderately acclimated to the seasonal temperatures.

We also use timers, though the savings here are debatable. The light isn’t on, but the timer is drawing electricity. Even without the timer, there is the issue of phantom electricity. Small (and large) appliances, chargers, and electronics all pull small levels of electricity at all times. So, we started unplugging most of these. At least 1 tv was unplugged when it wasn’t in use (we have since parted with the tv). The radio, stereo, and all chargers are the same. Some things are plugged into power strips that are turned off when not in use. All extra appliances (toaster, coffee maker, blender) are unplugged when not in use. We even bought special power strips that control all items plugged in when the main item is turned off (computer & components). These are supposed to eliminate phantom energy usage. Results are mixed. Energy is reduced but getting them to work properly is touchy.

We have saved on water too. James built me a 110 gallon rain barrel and bought me another 50 gallon one. About 1 inch of rain fills all 160 gallons. We use the rain barrels for vegetables & potted plants. We refuse to water the lawn, whose only purpose is to hold down dirt – and it does that brown & crispy too. I do let drought tolerant ground cover & flowers grow. If it can’t handle the dry, it doesn’t get to stay. The yard doesn’t look as bad as you might think & we save time, money, & water.
In the winter the barrels have to be drained. I fill up a handful of 5 gallon buckets for watering potted plants indoors. When that runs out, I use water from drained vegetables or pasta. This has the extra benefit of adding nutrients to my plants. I’ve also placed a bucket in the shower while letting the water run to get warm. That water isn’t being used anyway, might as well give it a purpose.

Some of these things involve a commitment to a bit of work or a less than fully convenient lifestyle. Others are fairly easy. But seeing, for example, how much water fills a bucket just by letting it run – resolve & effort are strengthened.

Before you think I am off my rocker, I’ve seen Extreme Cheapskates – no, just no. Let’s be reasonable. We can reduce without being or going crazy. The things we do were added a little at a time & some got scrapped as actual energy savers (timers). Some stuck. We keep looking for new ways to do a little more, here & there. Some things are obvious, others take a little creative thinking.

Is there a small effort you can make today? And then make it a habit? Try walking through the house, or even just down the hallway, without turning on a light. Or have a nickel jar for every time a light gets left on in an unoccupied room. Give it a shot, see where it takes you.

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