Mindful Energy Savings

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new-suburban-stockade-introWe’ll cover lifestyle choices first as they cost the least and can be implemented immediately.

At the head of the pack is turning off things you aren’t using. Are the lights and ceiling fan on in an empty room? Is your porch light on at high noon? Get into the habit of turning them off when you leave the room. For maximum energy efficiency and conservation, train yourself and your family to walk over to the switch and turn it off with your hand rather than installing devices that do it for you, devices that will cost you money to buy, install, use, maintain and then require an energy source of their own to operate 24/7.

mindful energy savings

This is why the insulation value of a window is measured in U values rather than R values. If they did it with R values, the window industry would have to reveal how terrible the insulative qualities of their products really are.

Close your drapes at night in the winter. Any window treatments, even mini-blinds or plantation shutters, will slow down heat loss better than that hole in the wall (window) is doing alone. Glass alone won’t do it. Even the finest of triple-pane glass isn’t much better than a hole in the wall. This is why the insulation value of a window is measured in U values rather than R values. If they did it with R values, the window industry would have to reveal how terrible the insulative qualities of their products really are.

Turn down (or up!) the thermostat: Do you have to heat and cool your house to 75 degrees year-round? We set our winter thermostat to 64 degrees during the day and let it drop to 55 degrees overnight. Our summer air conditioner is set to 81 degrees during the day and at night, when the AC doesn’t have to fight the sun, I drop it to 76 degrees.

If the weather outside is good, open the windows! Let in warm sunshine and air during spring and fall. Let out the heat overnight during the summer and cool off naturally. Does this always work? No, those July nights don’t cool off enough to make it possible to cool off the entire house without added work.

However, I regularly see while walking my dog houses shut up tight, the AC roaring away, when the outside temperature is 70 degrees. I also see houses with the furnace roaring away on a sunny fall day when the outside temperature is 70 degrees and all the blinds tightly closed to keep out that warming sun.

A previous blog post on the subject of windows goes into detail about opening and closing windows and using window treatments to manipulate the temperature of your house.

Dress for the weather: In the winter, I wear a sweater over a turtleneck, with long pants, knee socks, fingerless gloves and possibly a hat or a jacket. I am the person in my household who suffers the most from the cold and the heat and if I can do it, so can you. In the summer, I wear lightweight cotton shirts, shorts, and walk about in bare feet. I drink plenty of cold water in the summer and in the winter (hot tea is very warming). At the change of seasons, I may change my clothes, adding or removing a layer to accommodate what the weather wants. When a family member whines to me that they’re cold, standing in front of me in a tank top and shorts in January, my response (and yours should be too) is to put on a sweater. Don’t turn up the heat.

Job together your cooking: If you’re making the main course in the oven, what else can you cook with it? A potato side dish? Cake or bread? You’ve already heated up the oven so don’t waste that heat. Cook ahead for tomorrow if you can, doing a lot of cooking on one day so you can then eat off of it for several more.

Plan your trips: I combine as many of my errands on the same day as I can to minimize the time and gas spent driving around. I plan, in advance, the most efficient circuit I can make so I spend less time as well as less gas driving back and forth. This isn’t hard; it just means being thoughtful.

When you have many errands, can you park at a central location and walk from one to another? This may take more time, maybe, as you can’t discount the time you spend getting in the car and moving it from parking space to parking space. This time spent is more than compensated by the additional exercise (which I always need), the reduced gas and wear and tear on the car, and the opportunity to see where you are rather than driving by. You don’t know who you’ll meet, or what you’ll see when you’re on foot. I find change on the street this way, along with mongo and obtainium.

Be thoughtful: Ask why you are doing something. Are you stopping at the gym on your way home from work so you can walk on a treadmill? If so, maybe you could come home, saving the time and gas and money, and walk around your block at a brisk pace. If you have a more complex routine, are there things you could do at home with exercise tapes from the library or the Royal Canadian Air Force fitness program? This may not just save you time, money, and gas. Every gym has huge amounts of energy invested in it. Do you receive enough of a benefit to make it worthwhile?

Be thoughtful: Are you taking advantage of services already available? Many kids, I know mine are, are routinely picked up and returned every day by a school bus. I don’t drive my kids to school and I don’t pick them up unless I have to because of an appointment. I have a friend who drives her kids to the school bus stop that’s down the street in their quiet housing development. Let me say now that their legs are not broken.

If you have to pick up your kids after school, then park and walk to the building. I never fail to see people sitting in the pick-up lane, sometimes half an hour early, with the engine running. Don’t waste that time and gas. Park in the lot, walk up, get the offspring, then walk back to your car, start it up and drive away. It doesn’t take long and it uses much less gas than sitting and steaming in the pick-up lane waiting on everyone else.

Be thoughtful: Do you routinely let your electronic equipment entertain empty rooms? If you aren’t watching or listening, turn it off.

Be thoughtful: Is the dishwasher always full when you run a load? Do you routinely wash partial loads of clothes rather than save up to a full load? Why are you washing a load of towels several times a week anyway? Give each family member a towel and have them hang it up to dry on the towel rack. Towels aren’t dirty after you use them (if they are, you’re doing something wrong in the shower) but they are wet. Hang them up to dry and use them again the next day.

Be thoughtful: Do you run the water at the tap until it gets cold enough? Put a pitcher of water in the fridge and use that.

Be thoughtful: Do you take showers long enough to empty out the hot water heater? It doesn’t take that long to lather, rinse, repeat, and condition your hair, even long hair. Unless you work in the bilges of a ship, you aren’t that dirty. It may feel terrific to stand for twenty minutes in a hot steamy shower but that’s a lot of water you’re paying for to buy and heat, going down the drain.

Be thoughtful: Everything you do should be evaluated. Do you need to do this? Are there alternatives that use less energy? The savings are there and they are real. The problem is that the results aren’t as apparent as thinking about every bite of food you put in your mouth is (if you’re dieting) or the money you spend on a shopping trip. It’s easy to cut your spending by 5 percent, even 10 percent just by paying attention to what you’re doing and deciding if you really want that item. Planning your car trips may result in needing to buy gas every 12 days instead of every 10. The savings in energy and dollars are there, but they don’t show up unless you’re paying attention. Plenty of lifestyle energy savings are small, but they add up over time.

None of these things are hard to do, but they do require that you pay attention. If you want more, the internet and save money books such as the The Complete Tightwad Gazette are full of helpful tips on reducing your energy usage on a personal basis. What we’re trying to do here, besides not wasting energy, is cultivating awareness. The more aware you are of what you’re doing day to day, the less you tend to waste, whether it is time, money, calories or energy. Going through the days without paying attention to what you’re doing is a guarantee that you won’t achieve your goals.

Next week: Energy efficiency, heterodyning your success, and why you shouldn’t be giving money to terrorists.