The thoughts that were thunk and the goings on of my life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It's Easy Being Green

Being green takes many forms and flavors. You can reduce pollution in local creeks and lakes by using compost instead of fertilizers. You can save water by choosing a lawn that doesn't require (much) watering. You can forego having pets or children because they require food and fart CO2 and CH4. You can spend 1000s on a solar panel that might maybe if you're lucky one day pay for itself.

One of the main areas though where you can think big on being green is how to reduce the energy you use each day. 

Taking a look at the big picture looks something like this:
Just like when budgeting when trying to save, you should start with the big pieces. And when talking about Energy Use in the United States the big pieces are Electric Power and Transportation.

Electric Power:
When looking at your home you can do things like change the lightbulbs, or get more efficient appliances, or upgrading from a plasma TV, and while they help some the actual benefit is not nearly what the companies that market those products would lead you to believe (those 3 are responsible for only about 25% of home energy usage). 

Q: So where does the majority of power go in your home?
A: Heating and Cooling (cooling's the big one in Texas)

Step 1: Adjust the temperature. 
In the summer one thing that can have a large affect by getting screens, opening windows and using fans. You might well save 30% on your bills.

This winter one thing we used was small space heaters in the rooms we were in (living and bedroom) instead of heating the whole house. The heaters paid for themselves within a month, and by the end of the winter we were not only more comfortable than any year prior, but we had also saved about 30% on our heating bill.

Q2: But even that is just an incremental adjustment. So how can I make a big change?
A2: Get a smaller house. Even the greenest of homes if it's very large will suck way more power than a smaller and less efficient home. 

Step 2: Live in a smaller house
We actively made the choice to live in a smallish 1000 sqft home, and while we have a 20 year old AC, and single-pane windows, and no insulation, I'm continually baffled at hearing about how much some other coworkers who live in ginormous houses spend on electricity. Despite that they have the latest split-unit ACs, double- or tripple-paned windows, and great insulation. The simple fact is if you're trying to heat and cool a 3000 sqft house it is going to take a lot of energy. But if you have a tiny house it will only take a tiny bit of energy to heat and cool.

There are other 'green' benefits too. Such as 60 sqft of tile for your bathroom is way less expensive and greener than having to buy 600 sqft. You're not filling room upon room with new furnishings, and since most small homes are older you're not destroying land to put your house on it.

The US is built for cars, I get that. There's not really an easy way to avoid them, but there are a few things you can do.

Step 1: Live, work, and play in the same area. 
If you have an hour commute you're using a lot of fuel. For comparison person A drives a Prius and lives 40 miles away; person B drives a jacked-up monster-truck wannabe and lives nearby-ish at only 3 miles away. So who's being greener? In this case the monster truck actually produces both less smog and less smug.

Step 2: Use alternative transport when possible
While not possible for everybody I try to bike in a few times a week to improve my health and stretch my gas money. Additionally though, think about not using your car when you're at home. Can you walk to that store instead? Can you bike down to that bar you like instead of drive? (Plus you'll be less likely to worry about cops on the way home) On the weekend can you make a day-long excursion downtown on your bike instead of driving? (Think of how much time you'll save trying to find the elusive free street parking!)

Every time you choose to leave a 3000+ lbs piece of steel at home you're saving that much fuel, and often you're getting to spend more quality time with the people you're traveling with, getting some exercise, and soaking in the city and sights around you.

When it comes to energy usage if you're going to go green you should aim for the big targets. And often it's the choices we make of where and how we live that really have the greatest impact.

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