Over the past year, I have done a lot of soul searching regarding the impact of my lifestyle on the planet. I’ve learned a lot about government and politics, the environment, who does good and who does bad, and the shifts that are taking place in the energy sector around the world. I’m also a SAHM (“stay at home mom”) to two pre-school toddlers, a gardener and a wannabe minimalist so I don’t have a lot of time to engage in a great deal of environmental action. I’ve found that the most satisfying way for me to make a difference is to take what I’ve learned about the big environmental issues, trace my tiny actions in everyday life towards their source, and determine if what I’m doing is right according to my core values. I’ve made many changes and the most exciting has been to reduce my power bill by more than 30% just by changing my habits. I hope you’ll join me in a “Bring Down the Average Challenge.”
-The NB Power/ Efficiency NB Program: When we were designing our house, an energy efficiency evaluation revealed that insulating the sunroom would add another 10% R-value to that side of the house even if it wasn’t heated. We did that many years ago and that’s what kind of got me started on this whole thing. We also found that our design was 32% passive solar. After construction, a doorway airtight test found gaps around a couple windows and verified that our HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system was installed correctly and well balanced.
-NB Power energy report cards: These can be accessed online to save paper (login at www.nbpower.com). You can access even more data about your last consumption, charts about the temperature in relation to your consumption and lots more. I like looking at the raw data under these charts because the numbers don’t lie!
-The NB Power website also has many suggestions on how to save energy. Some ways cost a lot (like system upgrades) and others cost nothing (like habitual daily habits).
-Kill-a-Watt: I borrowed this little device from the Hillsborough Library. I plugged it into various appliances and wrote down the average monthly consumption of everything in my home. I was surprised by some things and that helped me set my goals. Our new stand-up freezer used less energy than our tiny LED TV! That helps me to focus on switching off the TV (on a wall switch). I cannot evaluate things that are wired directly like the hot water heater, well pump, stove and dryer so it was a process of elimination and estimation.
-Facebook groups: I’ve found many ideas and interactive support in Facebook groups such as The Non-Consumer Advocate, Zero Waste NB, Frugal Minimalists and Join the Degrowth Revolution.
-I shade the house in the summer with blinds and blankets. I also planted deciduous vines outside so they would provide shade. (It’s better to prevent the sun from touching the windows from the outside than curtains from the inside.)
- I pull the blinds closed at night to keep the heat in. I’d like insulated curtains but those cost money.
- I unscrewed bulbs from our bathroom so now we use only one instead of four. We use task lighting when needed rather than lighting a big room.
- I shut off all the lights, and unplug anything when not in use. The wall switch for the TV is great because with two kids who know how to turn it on, it seems like I flip that switch off all day long! We leave the satellite plugged in because if it’s unplugged too long, you have to call to reactivate. Phone chargers left plugged in draw power when you’re not even using them. It’s called phantom power. I don’t want any ghosts in my house stealing my energy!
- With laundry, we use lower temperature water and don’t use the dryer. To remove the build-up of detergents and minerals from the well water, I soaked clothes in washing soda, borax, calgon salt and very hot water. That took a lot of energy but now that the well water sediment build-up is gone, I no longer rely on the sanitize setting. We invested in a 149’ clothesline a few years ago and it has paid for itself many times. I love hanging clothes! This has made the biggest difference.
-I hand-wash dishes instead of the dishwasher. When I was using the dishwasher, I used to have a sink full of water to wash the plastic lids and wipe counters. Now I use a sink full to wash all the dishes.
- I sweep instead of vacuum most of the time even the carpets and in the shop. This is also easier on the vacuum.
- We dry laundry inside by the wood stove. It adds needed humidity and my kids are getting pretty good at it.
- We cook on the woodstove a lot or use a smaller appliance like a crock pot instead of the big oven.
-Before winter, I need to clean the windows so more light will shine in and provide heat.
-We cover the outside of the sunroom with 6mm poly secured with lathes each winter.
-We didn’t use the electric boiler for our in-floor hydronic heat last winter except for a mishap for one week.
-We all shower consecutively and before bed. This way, we only heat the bathroom upstairs once a day. It’s warm enough afterwards for us to sleep and we go to bed clean, which means I wash the bedding less often. We will try to take more baths in the winter than showers so that the heat from the tub will radiate longer.
- We checked all the wall plates for outlets and light switches to make sure there were no drafts.
-We open windows instead of using the HVAC.
-We installed a bath/outdoor shower on the balcony outside for the summer and used the water that would have gone down the drain to water the garden.
-In the future, we would like to switch to a heat pump water heater to save 50% of the cost of heating water and find a passive, renewable way to heat the slab with the hydronic heat. We may look at using a big hot compost pile (which would later be used on the garden) or somehow hook up to the woodstove in the garage as a boiler. Ideally, we would drill for geothermal.
There are many ways to save electricity and each month I’m rewarded for my efforts as I lower my bill. I’ve learned that nearly all of the things I do to help the environment are also good for my health. For example, using a microwave degrades the quality of food, hanging laundry creates fresher clothes and it’s a great time to pause and enjoy the day outside, and we all know watching too much TV is bad for your health! I don’t know what’s really going on with our power grid and all the outages we’ve been experiencing, but I do know that I am guilty of using more than I need. In the future, when the government follows the NS and PEI leadership initiatives with subsidizing solar panels by rebating 40% of the cost, we might get those, but our first step is to reduce.
As a rule, it’s best to transfer energy rather than create it. Heat pumps to retrofit and geothermal for new construction are excellent ways to save money and resources. It’s exciting to talk to federal leaders as they help provinces work together to sustain the country’s renewable energy needs. It’s also uniting at the community level as co-operatives start up with the goal to help municipalities become energy sustainable. If everyone uses less energy, surely that will help our government with the massive job of supplying us all with renewable energy for generations to come as well as helping us take action in alignment with our core values. I hope you’ll join me in my uniting and exciting “Bring Down the Average Challenge.”
Amy Woodard is a wife and mother who enjoys raising two young children while being involved with church and community groups, environmentalism, research, design, gardening and teaching.