Thursday, June 06, 2013

Sustainability - Reduce

This week was a good week in terms of reducing our family carbon and water footprint, accomplishing several reasonable sized projects that had been on my list for quite some time:

  • This past weekend, I installed a new dishwasher.  Our old dishwasher had stopped working and seeing as how newer dishwashers are more energy efficient - our new dishwasher is estimated to only use $20/year in energy - and use less water, it was a win-win for the family.  On top of that, most modern dishwashers actually use less water and heat energy than washing the dishes by hand.  This is likely not true for me as I am very stingy with the water when doing dishes...but in general, installing a modern dishwasher is a good way to reduce your household energy and water consumption. 
  • New (to me) Electric Dryer - Some friends of mine had recently moved into a new place and didn't have a need for their old electric dryer.  By old, I mean almost brand new :).  It was roughly 2 years old and in great shape.  You might be thinking "you dummy, everyone knows that gas dryers are more energy efficient from a total energy standpoint" and I couldn't agree more. It is definitely more cost effective to dry clothes with natural gas vs. electricity however, I cannot create natural gas at home whereas with solar, I can generate free, clean electricity dang near every day of the year which allows me to dry my clothes for free with an electric dryer...assuming I can offset the electricity used by our new dryer.  It did require running a new 30amp/220 circuit and installing a special 30a outlet in our garage which was a bit of a hassle but we made it work and now it's drying clothes like a champ.  Electric dryers use between 2 and 6kwhs/load so it will cost us $.12*5.6kwh = $.67/load until we offset that usage with solar.  
  • New home LED light bulbs - When we moved into our home a little over 2 years ago, one of the first things I did was to install compact flourescent light (CFL) bulbs everywhere.  On average, this provided a home energy usage reduction of over 75%...moving from 60 watt incandescent bulbs to 13 watt CFLs, from 40 watt bulbs to 9 watt CFLs and so on.  I also bought some cheap 1.5 watt LED bulbs and replaced the 8 decorative lights out front of our hose with them.  The previous owner had already swapped them out for CFLs running at 13 watts but it was still almost a 90% reduction in usage.  These improvements already left us in pretty good shape in terms of power usage with our average monthly bill coming in at just over $50/month.  To continue that improvement trend and to move away from CFLs which contain mercury vapor and have to be disposed of as hazardous waste, I have been slowly purchasing LED bulbs, testing newer technologies, better brands and more recently at lower price points.  With this latest order of home supplies, I added in 2 Cree 6 Watt LED bulbs to the mix.  These are 40 watt equivalent bulbs but I was replacing 15 watt CFLs with them, so it was still a reasonable improvement.  These bulbs are the first by a mainstream manufacturer that are under the $10/bulb price point (at $9.97ea) which is a big deal for the industry.  Cree is one of the leading manufacturers of LED modules and make a lot of modules for flashlights, expensive home retrofit kits and similar products. I have been placing the LED bulbs in our areas of highest usage, starting with the living room and now working my way back to the kitchen where I placed these 2 new bulbs.  They are putting out enough light and are instant on vs CFLs which do not come on at full brightness...taking a few minutes to warm up before they get to full strength.  Another energy win for the house :).
  • Electric Lawn Mower - This is actually a net energy increase for our house...when we first moved in, I was a bit too optimistic and bought a push mower without thinking about 2 critical factors - our yard is not fact it is fairly large for this part of california. We have covered some of it with a patio extension and installed some "eco-lawn" but it's still a lot to do with a push mower.  This resulted in the yard not getting mowed which is bad press for any husband.  I finally got around to taking action and ordered a new black n decker electric mower.  This again is not in line with the norm which would be a gas mower...but as with our dryer, I can (and am already doing so) generate electricity for free whereas I have to buy and burn gas.  Win for the environment and win for my husband cred...though that does mean I'll be spending this weekend mowing :)
  • Removed Wine Fridge - This one cost me major relationship cred.  With all of the electrical work needed to setup the new 30 amp / 220 volt circuit for the house, I took the opportunity to pull out the wine fridge that came with our house.  We aren't wine drinkers and were basically using it for storage with a bottle of champagne, some dessert wine and the requisite bottle of chardonnay sitting around on top of which we had tossed 2 cases of Starbucks coffee drink leftovers from a recent family get together.  As it was a built in, I pulled it out leaving a gap in our cabinet facing.  We need to find something to put in there and I know I'll be taking flak until then but it was the right thing to do and reduced our energy footprint further. 
Overall, I'm very happy with the progress we made this week as it was the culmination of lots of work, planning and saving and ready to get on with the next items on the list.  Next up: 5 (or 7) more solar panels for the roof.  I broke our solar purchase and installation up into 3 phases to slowly move us over to solar power while also waiting for the massive cost improvements in the solar industry to kick in (while also riding the last few years of the 30% federal tax credit on solar systems installed that are over 1kw).  These next 5 or 7 panels will more than double our solar generation and crank out more green energy to the grid.  

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