30 changes toward sustainability
I'd like to share with you the changes Andrea and I have made gradually during the past several years to use less energy and fewer resources, save money, and live a better life. Every one of these changes has been a positive experience, and not inconvenient in any way. These changes have been very interesting to experience on a daily basis, and several of the changes have also improved our overall health and fitness.
1. Studied our utility bill each month for a year, trying to drive down the total kilowatt hours and therms. We now use about half of what most Americans use, with no inconvenience at all.
2. Installed a programmable thermostat, saving money on our utility bill, reducing the amount of natural gas we're using, and making the house much more comfortable and convenient at the same time.
3. Measured and recorded the actual electrical load of every electrical device in the house, using a measuring device called a Kill-A-Watt, and disconnected nearly all of the devices that were drawing power unnecessarily. This one change saves many kilowatt hours per month, on an ongoing basis.
4. Replaced all windows and two sets of sliding doors with double-paned glass with high insulating properties.
5. Replaced our refrigerator with a much more efficient model.
6. Replaced our air conditioner and furnace with modern, high-efficiency models.
7. Installed insulation in the attic.
8. Changed over to LED's in all the light fixtures throughout the house.
9. Replaced the lights in the kitchen with an LED strip system, which provides wonderful illumination, and requires far less power—less than 10 watts to brightly, evenly and beautifully illuminate the entire kitchen.
10. Bought a high-quality bicycle pump with an accurate pressure gauge, and began using it to make sure our car tires are at optimal pressure, so that the car is more efficient. It only takes about 90 seconds to do this, and it's much more pleasant and convenient to do this at home in the garage than at the gas station.
11. Where possible, began walking or biking instead of using the car. We now use the car only a few miles per week, and we're in better shape.
12. Installed folding baskets on one of the bikes, and began using the bike for some shopping.
13. Bought a portable clothes drying rack, and began drying our clothes either outside or inside, depending on the weather. This makes our clothes last longer, and saves lots of energy. It's also very nice to be outside in the sun for a few minutes, and setting the clothes out to dry has become a kind of meditation, during which I get a lot of thinking done.
14. Switched over to using only canvas bags for grocery shopping. It took a while to build this habit, but once we started leaving a bunch of canvas bags in the car at all times, the habit became easy.
15. Began using thin cloth washable bags for buying vegetables and fruit at the farmers' market. No more weird icky plastic bags touching our produce.
16. Began buying milk at the farmers' market in re-usable glass bottles. We just return the empties to the dairy farmer for credit. Because the bottles are re-used rather than recycled, no energy is wasted.
17. Began using solar cookers to cook some of our meals. This has been great fun, and very educational and inspiring. Handy in a power emergency, too.
18. We've been composting conveniently on our back patio for more than ten years. The compost is great for the plants, and because we put everything organic in the compost, our regular garbage never smells.
19. Developed a system of saving vegetable trimmings in a large bag in the freezer, then using the collected trimmings to brew vegetable broth in one of the solar cookers, and then making big batches of home made soup from the broth. This worked so well that we expanded the system to meat and fish trimmings, which we also keep in bags in the freezer until we use them to make broth, then soup. Best damn soup we've ever hadjust amazing.
20. I began taking occasional solar showers outside, letting the water run off into the soil around the plants. I now own two solar showers, a 1.5 gallon and 2.5 gallon. These are available at camping stores, on Amazon, and other places. They'll be handy for camping, or in an emergency as well.
21. Gave away a lot of stuff we didn't need, and then didn't allow new stuff to accumulate. In other words, we stopped buying stuff we don't need. This was a major change, because of the internal emotional confusion initially; stuff you strongly feel you need at the time is very often stuff you don't actually need at all, but it takes a while to sort this out within yourself. Just wait it out. Nearly everything you think you need desperately will shortly thereafter appear ridiculous to you.
22. Changed over to low-flow toilets.
23. Changed over to low-flow shower heads.
24. I switched to showering in two quick bursts, instead of leaving the water on. I actually like this much better now, and showering with the water on the whole time feels bizarre.
25. Began growing vegetables in containers on the back patio: all organic, no transportation, no packaging, and couldn't be more freshly picked.
26. Began using the water from the kitchen sink to water the garden. It was amazing to see how much water would have been wasted otherwise every single day; the water from the kitchen sink alone was more than enough to water the garden. We now wish for a comprehensive greywater system.
27. Began shopping for clothes at thrift stores. The variety at thrift stores is much greater than in standard retail, and you can often find clothes that are new for less than 25% of the price in standard retail. Plus, you find the quirkiest, fun stuff!
28. I decided to eat about 50% less meat. Andrea did not make this change, but I did. I've actually enjoyed this change, and have been having a great time inventing new meals.
29. Stopped buying bottled water. Instead, we installed a small water filter at home, and use stainless steel canteens. This saves a lot of money, and saves us the trouble of ever having to stop in to stores to buy bottled water, or make the effort to recycle the plastic bottles.
30. Installed solar panels, so that we get 100% of our electricity from the sun. Our system includes net metering, which means that when the panels are producing more power than we need, the excess power is sent into the grid, and our meter runs backward.