Wednesday, November 19, 2008

2009 eco-goals

Hubby and I discussed it and if we are serious about getting solar and getting the most for our money, we need to seriously make the ranch much more energy efficient.

When we get our next bill, I will post our annual KWH usage. I know it's high. Our new geothermal furnace, while efficient, uses electricity. And, until last month, we hosted a back-up data system with multiple servers in our basement.

The goal is to reduce our electricity use by 10 percent by June and 20 percent overall by December. The long-term goal is to cut use by 30 percent.

We will go room by room making efficiency improvements. We may switch from compact fluorescent to LED lights where practical. This may mean a new refrigerator and a new washing machine. We'll see.

We will ask the solar installer to come out, do an energy audit, and assess our lot for solar appropriateness. I will call in January. I wouldn't want to get my hopes up only to be told solar wouldn't work for us. Plus, this may yield some handy tips on efficiency.

Our kitchen is not well insulated. We plan to replace the window over the sink with a double-paned Energy Star window, replace the door between the kitchen and the garage with a solid, insulated door. And, insulate the garage door itself to solve this problem. Replace both bathroom windows with Energy Star windows.

Garden Goals:
Produce 150 pounds of veggies and fruit. Plant dwarf sweet cherry or apple trees for future fruit production. Build planter boxes for the front porch, which will be used for a kitchen herb garden. My goals is also to preserve or freeze everything we grow this year. No waste. This will mean I have to learn some new skills, but it should be interesting.

Plant a row for the hungry. I will plant extra veggies and donate it to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. I also hope to get my neighbors involved, by asking everyone in my neighborhood to drop off excess produce at my house twice a week, and I will then drive it to the food bank. I don't know if they will be willing, but it can't hurt to ask.

Add three more rain barrels. If I can find food-grade barrels at low cost, I will attempt to make these myself. If not, I will buy them. Water rates are rising 10 percent next year, which is added incentive.

Make a second composter. One composter isn't enough. We have had to throw away compostable material while we have waited for our current batch to finish. I'm not sure if we did something wrong, but hey, it was our first try.

Foster habitats for native species. The only way I know to do this is a butterfly garden, and making a bat box. I will search the OSU extension office Web site for more tips.

Build a cold-frame greenhouse from salvaged materials. I'm not sure I have the skills to pull this off, but I plan to try anyway.

Other goals:

Further reduce plastic bag use. We need to be super vigilant and remember to take reusable bags with us everywhere. This may mean acquiring many more reusable bags and stashing them everywhere, so no matter where we are, we have a bag. My favorite so far are the DIMPA bags from IKEA. They are strong, cheap, pretty and hold TONS of stuff.

Reduce the amount of garbage we produce. Can we do better? Probably. This means thinking more about packaging, about reusing before we recycle, buying in bulk, etc.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The earth friendly(er) laundry room

I am planning a significant cleaning and makeover of our laundry room. Nothing hard core, just cleaning out all the junk (it's a catch all), moving the washer-dryer, building a folding table out of a vintage 1950s vanity I got for free, and throwing some paint on the walls and some fabric to hide the storage racks. Hubby decided to throw his two cents in.

"I want more drying racks" he said.

Currently we use two large wooden drying racks. They take up A LOT of room. So much that we don't have room for anymore, and I really don't want the precious space I am making by cleaning the room out to be used for more racks.

So, after a little research, I found a solution. A handy wall mount retractable line. Good for the earth, out of the way.

If the budget allows, I may also trade in my current washer for a front-loading model, as I understand they are more energy and water efficient.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Setting Eco-goals for 2009

Thanks to Gene, I got a neat link to an urban farm, where the inhabitants are attempting to be self sufficient food and energy-wise on their urban 1/10th of an acre lot. They are doing amazing things, but what really struck me that we could all do is set eco goals. I set financial goals regularly, and it really helps me meet them. I haven't even thought of setting firm eco goals.

The folks at Urban Homestead's goal is to cut their monthly electricity use in half. They also set a food production goal for their garden. I am going to follow suit. I will post my goals and progress on the sidebar on this blog. It should be an interesting experiment.

"Urban Homestead"

I will post more concrete goals after more consideration, but
For starters, I want to reduce my electricity usage by at least 10-20 percent. I will likely accomplish this by zapping vampire electricity used by all of our appliances and computer gear. Beyond that, I may invest in LED lights where possible, to further reduce usage. I also plan to get an energy audit from the solar installer later this year, so I can seriously reduce usage to make the most out of any solar power system I buy. This may involve something like a ConServ refrigerator.

Also, I would like to triple my usable garden space. The current garden plan will likely accomplish this, but I may tweak it to see if I can get more sunny space to grow veggies. I also plan to build several growing boxes for the front porch, to house herbs and greens. I also purchased several small coldframes for seed starting and may make another out of salvaged wood and windows from the Habitat for Humanity restore.

My food growing goal for 2009 is 150 pounds of fruits and vegetables from the garden. Since I haven't been keeping track, I have no idea if this is easy or hard, but you have to start somewhere, right? I want to keep a garden journal as well, so I know what does and doesn't produce.

To reduce my water consumption, I want to add three more rain barrels to the garden area this spring. I may make these myself to save money. This should also reduce the need to use city water to irrigate my new larger garden beds. I may also investigate purchasing a front-loading washer, as these are supposedly more energy and water friendly.

I would like to add more square yards of laundry line in the backyard. This would help with electricity use.

Those are my initial thoughts.

Solar tax credits

Good news for solar and for us. Looks like the 30 percent tax credit on solar power installations has gotten even better. Now, it's 30 percent of whatever you spend, with no cap, as opposed to the $2,000 cap in place before. And it's good until 2016. I'm thrilled. we are hoping to get solar panels in 2010, and this will really help us out.

"Solar tax credits"

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sustainable living

I have been thinking a lot about sustainability lately. Not just for the earth, but also when it comes to finance. Maybe all the bad news on Wall Street got the ball rolling. I freaked out a bit when I watched my retirement accounts lose more than $75,000.

What does it mean to live sustainably?

It should be no surprise to green folks that what's good for the earth is good for the pocketbook. With the exception of the solar panels I hope to buy some day. That's JUST for the earth. But on all other fronts, living sustainably has the dual benefit of helping the planet and saving money, plus the ethereal benefit of mental well being and the confidence of being self sufficient.

My big question? How self-sufficient and sustainable can I possibly be on such a small piece of land? In the middle of the city? I don't know the answer yet, but in the next couple of years I hope there is a steep learning curve.

Maximizing my garden space I believe is the first step. The more food I can produce on my small semi-suburban plot, the better I will feel. The second part of this is managing to can, preserve, or freeze as much of that as I can. I'm still working on that one.

I also read a story about a new plan in Cincinnati to sell small undevelop-able plots of urban land to people who want to use them as gardens. I hope this catches on and spreads to my town, because hubby and I had discussed finding vacant plots to buy for this very purpose.

Those are my random thoughts for today. If you have any ideas about sustainable everyday living, I'd love to hear them!

Monday, November 3, 2008

No spend month

The hubby and I have declared November a No Spend month. It's technically a spend $400 month, but who's counting? We are allowed only $400 for all of our food, gas, entertainment, etc. this month. Anything that isn't a recurring monthly bill. I wrote a bit about it here:
"One month money crash diet"

We're hoping this will help us be more conscientious about our financial lives, which in turn, affects our impact on the environment. If you aren't buying extra stuff or taking extra car trips, you have put less carbon into the atmosphere AND preserve the contents of your bank account.

Also, we are in good shape with the house projects. My main goals were to finish digging the front flower beds and paint the house before winter, and we accomplished both. It was very hard work, but it's very satisfying to have it finished. (so we can start a new to-do list in spring...). I have made an executive decision. In the spring, I will be renting a sod cutter. I have more beds to dig and I am DONE doing them by hand, so I will spend the $100 or so to rent a sod cutter for the day. It'll make the job go much faster.

I have also found a local mulch supplier who will deliver the massive mountain of mulch I am going to need for the new beds I've dug. It's only marginally cheaper than buying bagged mulch, but it's much easier than running back and forth to the store and why waste all those plastic mulch bags?