catherineldf: (Default)
 Happy Earth Day! Happy Science March or river cleanup or whatever project you are doing today!

A couple of years ago, I started an annual Earth Day post on things we were doing to make our household greener. In looking back, I may have skipped a year or two there, but now seems like a very good time to revive the tradition. Some of these things may be useful to you and yours if you're looking to get greener. I also do it for me since it's a way to remind myself of what we've done so far and what I'd like us to tackle next.

It is worth noting that we've spent years on this, making a few changes every year. My goal has been to add something new every year, which we are on track for. I will also note that most things on my list have had a direct cost savings in the longer term, particularly the ones with start up costs. But there are also things we can't do because of finances or the state of our yard and so forth, such as growing our own veggies (our trees shade much of the yard) and there are things that stay in the planning stages for years at a time while I figure out budgeting and so forth. We also own our own home in a very urban environment in a city which supports a lot of green programs and I've done quite a bit of research and planning on all of this to approach greening wholistically.

What we've done so far:
  • Switched light bulbs to compact fluorescents and LEDs as they burn out.
  • Had extra insulation blown into some of the walls.
  • Replaced the interior windows throughout the house.
  • Committed to buying the bulk of our groceries at the local coops and farmer's markets.
  • As each appliance died in our 100 year old house, we upgraded to a more energy efficient version. In the course of 20 years, that's the washer and dryer, the stove, the AC, the fridge and the water heater. We're eyeing the ancient octopus furnace for the future.
  • Installed a solar-powered fan in the attic which keeps the house at a more even temperature so we use less AC in the summer.
  • Replaced old electric and plumbing setups with more efficient ones. Last year's much needed new bathroom sink and shower cut our water and gas bills, for example.
  • Organized our reusable bags, put a set in each car and committed to using them for nearly all shopping.
  • Recycling and composting. Minneapolis has really ramped up their recycling program and added a new citywide composting program. We already did some at home composting and are continuing to do that while participating in the city-wide programs. In addition, we look for reuse and donation opportunities for everything we want to get rid of that's usable: clothes go to clothing swaps as well as donation bins, books go to libraries and benefit auctions, jewelry to benefit auctions, reusable computing equipment to organizations that refurb and donate it, etc. At this point, we compost and recycle much more than we throw out.
  • Replaced our collapsing front retaining wall with medium-sized rocks and bee-friendly organic plants (see below). We hired a local woman-owned green landscaping firm for this and they did a terrific job.
  • Committed to not using pesticides or herbicides on our yard.
  • Switched to green de-icer and grit in the winter to melt ice.
  • Committed to not driving anywhere a few days out of the month, carpooling more and taking public transportation when we can. We also have meat-free days once a week or so. Biking is not a option for us physically and scheduling-wise, we still need two cars for the moment, but I hope to go down to one car and car sharing in the future and we walk a fair amount.
  • Carbon offsetting, particularly for plane flights and longer road trips. We started including this in our trip budgets - when we went to New Zealand last year, for example, New Zealand Air and one of the B&Bs we stayed at offered some options for local organizations doing tree planting and environmental restoration so we kicked in some money toward those. When we take road trips, I donate a few bucks to the Nature Conservancy or Minnesota Tree Trust to offset the gas that our relatively-efficient roadtrip car burns off.
  • Installed a rain barrel for the nonwinter months (yes, we have one). Also multiple bird feeders and a bird bath.
What we've done new for this year, so far:
  • Switched our electric bill to 100% wind power (check out utility programs and solar garden shares in your area if you're not in MN or Colorado).
  •  Had our yard dedicated as a "Pollinator Friendly Patch" by the City of Minneapolis - we'll be planting more bee and butterfly-friendly plants this year.
Next up:
  • Replacing our ancient toilet with a water-efficient one and replacing it.
  • Starting work on refurbishing our attic to make it into an office space and make it more energy efficient.
  • Replacing our driveway to improve rain run off and drainage.
And that's it for now. Feel free to share the things that you're trying!
catherineldf: (Default)
This is an annual post that I try to remember to do in honor of Earth Day. It's an update on whatever changes we've tried to implement in the last year to reduce our ecological footprint. The ones that saved money in the long run are noted as such.

Things done prior to April, 2015 (house is gas for heat and dryer, electrical for everything else):
  • Converted most of the light bulbs to compact flourescents or LEDS as they burned out - some upfront cost but definite electrical savings
  • Had additional insulation blown in the walls in some rooms  - reduced heat bills
  • Had external windows replaced - cost a mint but better in the long run for comfort and heating. Definitely reduced our heating bill.
  • Replaced several appliances with Energy Star versions - washer and dryer most successful for reducing electricity and heat bills - upfront costs, long term gains on water, heat and electric
  • Signed up for Xcel's Windsource program - small upfront cost
  • Started composting yard waste  - small up front cost
  • Installed a water barrel in the warmer months - some water savings on bill, small upfront cost
  • Started working from home a few days out of the month to reduce commuting - small savings on gas
  • Recycle items for citywide recycling as well as donating usable items
  • A minimum of one day a month where we don't drive anywhere. More challenging, given the need to run errands, go to the nursing home, etc., but last year I spent an entire week in Denver without a car, and we both spent 5 days in Chicago on separate occasions carless/using public transportation, plus a few extra days here and there so it balanced out. Last year, I think we managed more than 1 day a month of no driving.
  • One day per week meat free. Gets shaky when we're pressed for time but usually manage a couple of days a week with only one serving of meat. Lots of local fruits and veggies and related products, particularly in the summer - we buy organic from the farmer's markets and co-ops, etc.
  • Ongoing support for green businesses, everything from solar-powered and organic to reused and recycled stuff to green cleaning to bike-delivered tacos.
  • Put Esse Reusable Bags CarryAll Totes in each car. Small upfront cost and vastly reduced plastic bag usage.
After April, 2015 -
  • All of the above still in effect
  • Had a solar fan installed in the attic to even out the house temperature and humidity - upfront cost, too new to know how effective it will be but is supposed to reduce electric and heat bills
  • Signed up for Minneapolis' new compost program - between the no sort recycling and the compost program, we've reduced our trash by at least a third
  • Tried to get in the drawing for MN Solar but didn't get the tax rebate. Planning on insulating and redoing the attic instead. Our gas bills are much higher than our electric (though still below average) so this seems like a better move. Upfront costs but should pay off in the long run.
  • Redid back stairwell in marmoleum for less off gassing - prettier stairwell and sealed off ancient, scary linoleum, so a good thing, but with upfront costs and no direct payoff other than adding to house value
  • Put out a bird bath and new bird feeders in the back yard. Makes us very popular - some upfront cost
  • Had the front yard landscaped - less watering and more bee-friendly plants, cost was substantial but adds to house value, plus other benefits
  • Started doing carbon offsets for trips by donating to MN Tree Trust and The Nature Conservancy. I can't do huge amounts at a time, so this tends to be a series of small donations. I'm building it into our trip budgets to make sure we can keep doing it.
  • Switched most of our grocery shopping to the new co-op near us - less driving, supports fair wages in an area that was a food desert. And, despite our initial concerns, proving less expensive than the main co-op in a more affluent neighborhood.
  • Replaced the coffee maker with a more efficient one that uses less power, water and coffee. Upfront cost: about $100, but will pay for itself.
  • Hired Two Bettys Green Cleaning for once a month house cleaning. Local women-owned company that hires artists, writers and musicians for a fair wage and benefits, uses all organic cleaning options. Upfront cost is pretty reasonable, especially given the payoff for my sanity.
  • Also looking into for this year: Roman shades for insulation, water efficient sink and toilet.
Onward and upward! And open to suggestions, apart from going car-free which is not a possibility at this time.
catherineldf: (Default)
Last night, Jana and I were talking about a mutual acquaintance who, along with her husband, is working toward zero waste. They're growing their own food, recycling, buying bulk, etc. and have managed to reach the point where they only have a bag or two of disposable trash every couple of months. Frankly, I'm in awe. Our household of 2 humans/2 cats generates one bag of used cat litter (corn or wheat-based) and 1 bag of regular trash every week, plus several bags of recycling.

Our output is better than a lot of households but I'd love to do better.
Here's what we're doing by way of keeping it green(er) and roughly what it costs/saves us:
Participate in our utility's Windsource program ($2-5 extra per month).
Switched all our bulbs to compact fluorescent or LED - measurable decrease in electrical bills by several dollars a month.
Replaced appliances w/Energy Star ones as they wore out - decreases in electrical and natural gas bills
Use recycled products - saved on things like refilled print cartridges, plus buying bulk on paper products, cost for products in first place. Hard to say. Close to even?
Switch out cloth bags for plastic. Cost of bags: pretty minimal.
Bought into CSA from farm w/ sustainable practices. Costs about $300 for 6 months. We eat out less, we eat better and we're a lot more creative about canning/freezing and drying to preserve food. Some food savings, lots of not eating out savings.
Try not to drive one or both vehicles at least 1 day a week/car pool or pub transit when possible. Could do better on this. I'd love to shed one vehicle but it's not happening with our schedules. And biking is not a realistic option due to various physical ailments.
Recycle or compost maybe 50% or a bit more of our waste. Some savings, mostly just a generally fine idea.
Better insulation and new windows on the house - expensive, but reduced the heating bills and increased creature comfort.

How about you? Got anything that works well and inexpensively for green living?


catherineldf: (Default)

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