Thursday, January 6, 2011

No Impact Week: Day 5 - Energy

This week I'm experimenting with No Impact Week, exploring some of my past successes at decreasing my carbon footprint and generating even better ideas for the future. My goal is to challenge myself to redo the week later this year when it will have the greatest impact on my day-to-day life. Click here for a review of Day 1 - Consumption, Day 2 - Trash, Day 3 - Transportation, and Day 4 - Food.


Day 5 - Energy

It's cold and snowy outside, the perfect context in which to discuss energy use for those of us who live in climates with chilly winters.

Five years ago, I was sharing a basement apartment with a friend in a two-storey house. Our landlord indicated that we were in control of the heat for the whole house and should make attempts at keeping the six students above us relatively comfortable. This was no small feat, as the same amount of heat was being pumped into all three floors. While the main floor tenants were happy with this arrangement, the top floor tenants' bedrooms had walls exposed to the windy outdoors, and subsequently the kids always complained of the cold. As a result, my friend and I walked around barefoot and in shorts all winter long, having turned the heat up to keep our neighbours quiet.

Three years ago I no longer had any control over the temperature in my apartment, having moved into a 20-storey, 500-unit high rise with furnaces that ran full-blast for the duration of the colder months. My windows remained open to prevent me from baking to death. Along with the excessively hot air, my cold tolerance also disappeared, and worst of all, my mother's house didn't seem so cozy anymore. Fast forward to the present day in a new place, where an extra sweater is all I need to get by in 18C, and other people's homes are uncomfortably warm. And to think, I used to worry about how I would make do with the thermostat turned down! Thankfully, my mother's house has once again become a cozy place to be.

Let's talk about appliances. My new home came well-equipped with a stacked washer/dryer set, the standard fridge and electric stove duo, as well as a dishwasher. They're all relatively new, which is great, but possibly also the most energy inefficient machines on the market today, which is not so great - I believe my landlord was trying to save as much money as possible, and I can't blame him... but I will! Being way more cash-strapped than he is, I can't afford to replace these appliances with my own high-efficiency ones, and I'm stuck with a nasty electricity bill at the end of the month. So here's what I do:
  • Loads of laundry are washed in cold water, and only when I can fill the machine to capacity.
  • The drier is used half as often, and preferably only for items I don't have enough space to hang up, such as bed linens. This is where a clothesline in a basement would come in handy!
  • The fridge is tricky to deal with. I don't keep it stuffed full or place excessively hot items into it, and I never just stand there staring into it with the door open, daydreaming. What else can I do?
  • I try to cook things in sequence, where possible, using the same stove top element twice in a row rather than two simultaneously, and the oven stays off when I can easily use the toaster oven instead.
  • The dishwasher is not my friend (please refer to three. previous. posts.). I only run it when it's completely full, I keep using the same drinking glass for water and mug for tea all day long, and leave the buttons that boost the temperature, extend the wash cycle, and heat the air during the drying cycle firmly in the off position.
The only energy used here is for lighting.

Let's not forget the devices we use more for entertainment than chores! Having declined to subscribe to a cable package in my new home, the TV tends to stay off most of the time. It's used for video gaming and the viewing of DVDs, activities which have declined in popularity now that I've freed myself from my idiot box addiction (quit one, quit them all?). Best of all, I plug the tangled mess of home theatre system cables into a power bar that I shut down when not needed, avoiding the dreaded phantom power affliction, which can account for 10% of household electricity consumption. Unfortunately, my web use has gone up, and I try to compensate by going cold turkey on weekends and keeping myself entertained outdoors, with friends, or with a good book... under the glow of my CFL bulbs, of course, which replaced every last incandescent light I could find about a week after I moved in!

When I challenge myself to participate in No Impact Week again later this year, it may be summertime, in which case I will try to go A/C free, avoid the drier completely, and spend time outside every evening to avoid the lure of my computer!

Stay tuned tomorrow for my thoughts on Day 6 - Water.

Photo credits: snowy landscape; tropical beach; 1940s living room.

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