Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Home Depot Fall Energy Review

We bought our house ten years ago. It was built in 1960 and not much had been updated since then, so over the years we've been gradually making changes. We had guys come and spray that shredded newspaper stuff all over the attic. When the roof needed to be reshingled, we also had roof vents put in. When my dad put in a second bathroom for us, he replaced the old drafty window with a modern energy-efficient one. When our electric water heater needed replacing, we replaced with a gas model. When we remodeled the bathroom, we chose a more water-efficient toilet than our old 1960s aqua one. (I would have been sorrier to see that pretty vintage aqua go if it hadn't been heavily stained with nicotine.) (I HOPE it was nicotine.)

You get the idea: it would have been incredibly overwhelming and expensive to swoop into our new house and convert it all at once, but by doing it gradually over ten years (mostly at points when a change needed to be made anyway, such as when there was a big puddle in the basement and we suddenly had no hot water), we've managed to make a lot of changes without too much stress or extra expense. Not to mention the money the changes have saved us on utility bills.

We also make a lot of smaller changes. I dithered over switching to fluorescent bulbs for AGES before realizing it didn't have to be all-or-nothing: if I didn't want fluorescent lighting when I was looking in the mirror, we could still switch to fluorescent in the basement and kitchen where I didn't care. And even though it would have been extremely expensive to replace every bulb in the house at once, it wasn't bad at all if I just bought a bulb or two at a time and replaced each incandescent bulb as it burned out.

Paul got some rain barrels on Freecycle and used them to water the garden this year, and we've been experimenting on a small scale with composting. We mess with the thermostat to try to find the point where we're not uncomfortable but also not wasting heat and air conditioning we aren't even appreciating (this is another area where it doesn't have to be all or nothing to make a difference: every single individual degree helps).

I put furnace filter replacement on the calendar so I won't forget to do it: it's not very efficient if all the air for the furnace has to be sucked in through a filter full of cat hair. We're trying to nag teach the kids to turn off lights when they leave a room (Elizabeth has over-learned this lesson, so that if I get up to get a snack, I'll find my reading light switched off when I return).

We try to concentrate on making the changes that are more appealing to us, to make it more likely we'll actually follow through. Paul LIKED the idea of rain barrels and composting, so those were easy changes and we didn't feel like we were martyrs for the environmental cause. I HATE calling repair guys, so it appeals to me to make each change as we go, when I have to call anyway for a malfunction.

And I get overwhelmed if I start thinking all changes have to be "perfect or nothing" (don't bother to compost unless you compost EVERYTHING!! don't bother to convert to gas unless you also LIVE IN FREEZING MISERY!! don't bother to compost and convert to gas unless you have $200,000 to do a complete environmental home remodel!!) so it's really helped me to work in small increments: one near-painless degree lower now inspires a second or third or fourth degree (and perhaps a pair of wool socks) later on; one almost unnoticeable $5 fluorescent bulb now inspires more extensive fluorescent bulb use later (but, really, not in the bathroom, thank you, no).

The Home Depot gave me $50 to spend on some of the small-environmental-change devices they carry: caulk and organic potting soil, environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies and fluorescent bulbs, composting bins and seeds for our garden. (They carry tons of large-environmental-change devices as well, but we were on a $50 mission this time so we tried not to get distracted by all the solar panel stuff that is our next big interest.)

Paul was keen on composters, but the ones he was drawn to exceeded the $50 allowance. Besides, it was MY post to write, so I chose a fluorescent lighting fixture---the shop-light kind.

Half of our downstairs area is unfinished basement, divided into Paul's workshop area and a storage/pantry area. Paul had put up fluorescent shop-lights over his workbench, but there was still an incandescent fixture in the storage area. Now we're fluorescent there, too---which is especially good at our house, where I'm likely to send a child downstairs to get a new box of cereal, and then go down hours later to find the light still on. (This'll be a two-part change: continue to nag and lecture the children, and in the meantime reduce the waste when they forget.) And it's made such a difference down there: the incandescent light got lost in all the shadows and beams and pipes, but now I can see every last can of tomato paste hiding behind the soups.

I'm not saying it's pretty. I'm saying it's AWESOME.

What big and small changes have you made at your house, and what big and small changes would you like to make in the future? (And do you want to play with solar panels like we do? Mmmmmm...solar panels.)

Want more tips on how to become eco-conscious?
Visit the Prizes & Promotions Section on BlogHer!


Amanda said...

Paint. There are so many areas (mostly the white ones) in our house that need to be repainted.

Anonymous said...

We just bought this house and are already making small changes. Mainly painting. But we have bought a couple of new appliances. I'm always... suspicious, let's say, of the way that new appliances are supposed to save you money over the long term. That may be true... But are the savings ENOUGH to balance out getting rid of a perfectly-good-if-ancient washer and dryer and replacing with a new, undoubtedly beautiful, set? I don't know. That's why I like your plan of only doing things when necessary. Not pre-emptively throwing out all the perfectly-good-if-not-perfect things.

And I love your something is better than nothing philosophy. I am unwilling to give up my paper towels yet. Maybe someday. But not today. And yet I do not say, "I am making a poor environmental choice by using paper towels, therefore I give up on trying to be environmental AT ALL." No. I am more than happy to recycle cans and paper and cardboard and bottles. And take other measures to help the environment.

Anonymous said...

(This post also raises a lot of questions. Okay, two: 1. In a family of 7, do the kids have any say in temperature? I am purely curious. I did not have a say when I was a kid and I turned out fine. But I imagine it might be tough to find a temperature that SEVEN PEOPLE can live with. My husband and I can barely agree! 2. How are you enjoying composting? It's something I would like to try while my husband would NOT like to try it.)

Jen said...

we keep our heat low (haven't turned it on yet) and don't use AC. I've replaced wth flourescent, but they don't work rig n our kitchen (die too quickly) so I've gone back to regular there.

Swistle said...

lifeofadoctorswife- We don't give them any say. We do the ancient time-honored parental "If you're cold, put on a sweater!"

Swistle said...

I forgot to answer your second question! I think composting is...tricky. But since Paul handles it, and since I am patient about rotting tomatoes in the yard, it works fine. My entire share is (1) putting compostable stuff in a bowl on the counter, and (2) complaining about it.

Carolyn said...

It's less exciting to try to make changes when you RENT instead of own a home, because there's only so much you can do! (We'd LOVE to look into solar power, and I am always upset that most rental homes have crappy old windows instead of well-sealed ones!) We always install a digital thermostat that is easy to program (why should the A/C be on when nobody is home, anyhow?) I've been dying to compost for YEARS, but since we've been moving a lot, it didn't seem wise to start a big pile of garbage that we'd then leave for the next tenant ;) BUT, we move next week into a place we'll stay for 2 years, so compost tumblers and worm trays, I'M COMING YOUR WAY! :)

Stacie said...

In my house of 6 we tend to use space heaters to accommodate the "Freezers" in the house...they have an energy-efficient one near them when they are watching television or playing their Leapsters. I also have been slowly switching out light bulbs as they burn out with the energy-efficient ones. I have noticed they need to "warm up" a bit before they are at their peak brightness, but if they save me money and don't burn out as often, then I can tolerate the inconvenience.

beyond said...

We keep the heat on low (even lower at night, it's better for sleeping) and the AC is rarely on in the summer (unless I'm pregnant because OMG). We wear sweaters in the winter, too. :)
I would love to replace our awful drafty windows. It's just so expensive. One day...

Julie said...

Over the past few years, we have replaced all f our windows. Expensive but worth it (we think!)

Marie Green said...

We have two rooms that still have original windows (our house is almost 100 years old), so that would be the first thing on my list... I'd also like to either add a fan or convert our fireplace to gas so we can enjoy it more, but I'm not entirely sure which option is more green. (Right now, since there's no fan, having a fire is for ambiance only, as it creates a cold draft and provides very little heat.)