Sunday, July 25, 2010

Greening up my world

I was stunned when I saw my power bill yesterday -- in a good way.  It has to be the lowest bill this house has ever had in a July, just $56.  The KWH used this year was 17 per day compared to 27 last year, even though the average daily temperature was two degrees higher THIS year at 77. 

After the new windows, roof, siding, furnace, and a/c over the past six years, my energy bills had already dropped significantly.  More than one-third after the windows alone.  I set the a/c at 78 when I'm home, and the heat at 68.  I thought I'd maxed out my ability to reduce energy consumption and still live comfortably.  But this summer I've made a concerted effort to utilize open windows and capture cool night air.  Some days the a/c doesn't kick on until 4 p.m.

It's something we've forgotten how to do -- keep the house cool without a/c.  I remember in the 50's I didn't know anyone who had air conditioning in the house.  People used strategically-placed trees, awnings on windows, opening and closing windows at just the right times, with shades and draperies to block out heat from direct sun.  Late afternoons were spent outdoors on the shady side of the house.  We acclimated to the temperatures and found ways to cool down when things were the hottest. 

This year, I decided to use some of those techniques again since I work from home and can easily do simple things like open and close windows and shades.  Sitting at my desk with its north-facing window, many mornings I need a sweater as the breeze is quite cool.  I've thoroughly enjoyed many more hours of fresh air flowing through the house (even though the downside is having to dust more often).  Even this week, with temperatures near 100, I may go to bed with the house closed up, but when I wake up at 2 or 3 a.m., as I often do, I'll walk around and open windows then.  When the temps drop into the 60's at night, you can collect a lot of nice cool air in the house which will last many hours into the day. 

I'm a little nervous to see my July water bill, however.  The yard is fully landscaped for the first time ever, and everything is getting watered with a new sprinkling system.  I have no idea how my water usage compares to the past.  The June bill was so low, I didn't exceed the regular monthly usage which applies year-round.  But June was extra cool.  July has been hot and dry.  Still, most of the yard is in drought-tolerant, low-water plantings with the annuals mostly clustered around the patio where I like to hang out.  I apply the tough love principle on the lawn and drought-tolerant areas.  They get water, but they aren't allowed to become lush.  The landscaper set each watering station to 15 minutes, but I backed them off to 12 each.  I water early in the morning only, but on some particularly hot evenings, I'll manually cycle through all the stations after sunset, giving them each a minute or two of water to cool down the parched plants and earth.  The bonus is that the temperature drops for the entire yard and house at the same time.  I do water every day, which I know is not recommended.  But I live on sand and water is not retained in the soil.  Watering for longer periods does no good as it drains off rapidly.  It's the nature of where I live.  I do give the newer trees some deep watering once or twice a month, however.  The established trees don't seem to need it.  I'll report back on the July water bill when it arrives in August.

I used to feel a little guilty about occupying a rather large house and yard by myself, and yet requiring heating and cooling just the same as if a whole family lived here.  But when I see the results of my efforts at reducing energy consumption, there is no need for guilt.  I realize it's not about the size of the space I occupy, but how I utilize resources to make my life comfortable. 

I didn't do this all overnight.  It has taken about six years for me to get to this point.  But I think this is proof that if people care and if they really want to do it, we could all drastically reduce our need for fossil fuels while we improve our environment.  Of course, the cost savings is a happy bonus. 

(Just as an after note, since I work from home, I consume far less fuel for my car.  I also conscientiously recycle, which has become more convenient with my city's curbside recycling program.  And I carry those reusable grocery bags with me when I shop.  These are just a few other things I'm doing to help green my world).

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