90 Percent Project - First month
Friday, 7:21 pm
We’ve come to the end of the 90 Percent Project’s first month. I didn’t post values for last week, so this end of the month posting includes weeks 3 and 4 in bold, with the first two weeks added to give a better idea of what progress I made for the entire month.
Week 1: June 1-7
Week 2: June 8-14
Week 3: June 15-21
Week 4: June 22-28
Week 1: 56 kWh
Week 2: 44 kWh
Week3: 41 kWh
Week4: 44 kWh
US Average: 11,000 kWh per household per year (avg. of 900 kWh per month, 211 kWh per week)
90 Percent reduction goal: 1100 kWh per household per year or about 90 kWh per month.
Week 4 was going along so well, with a projected total of 39 kWh. Then the hot weather hit and the fans came out. Still, a couple of 75-96 watt fans running all day and night is a heck of a lot better than a 2200 watt air conditioner that would add about 17 kWh (9 hours of use) to one day’s tab.
Gasoline purchased (for 2 people)
Week 1: 16.5 gallons
Week 2: 6 gallons
Week3: 0 gallons
Week4: 9 gallons
US Average: 500 gallons per person per year.
90 Percent reduction goal: 50 gallons per person per year.
Water (for 2 people)
Week 1: 263.36 gallons
Week 2: 221.43 gallons
Week3: 543.86 gallons
Week4: 211.71 gallons
US Average: 100 gallons per person per day, 700 gallons per week.
90 Percent reduction goal: 10 gallons per person per day, 70 gallons per week.
The problem with week 3—I watered the stinking lawn. As much as I rail against it, the alternative is a dead lawn and the costs of replacing it with either more grass or gardening material, mulch, and...water. This is an on-going area of much irritation. I hate lawns. I hate grass.
I have discovered that washing my hair in the sink rather than in the shower saves several minutes in shower time, thus saving a fair stream of water. Washing it in the sink probably uses about 3-4 gallons of water. The water stream from the sink faucet does a better and faster job of washing shampoo and conditioner out.
Week3: 5 cu. ft./5.35 therms
Week4: 5 cu. ft./5.35 therms
US Average: 1000 therms per household per year.
90 Percent Reduction Goal: 100 therms per household per year.
I finally hacked my way through shrubbery to the gas meter. It looks as if 5 cu ft of gas is the normal weekly flow. This is mostly hot water heating and pilot lights. This is probably not going to change much unless I knock the hot water heater back another click or install a tankless hot water heater. Since I also heat with wood—about 3 cords per year—which, for the purposes of this project, is counted as 20 therms of natural gas per cord, it looks like I’m going to go well over the 90 Percent reduction goal for the year, but still significantly less than the US Average.
Trash (for 2 people)
Week 1: 12 lbs.
Week 2: 5 lbs
Week3: 3 lbs
Week4: 12 lbs (kitty litter included)
US Average: 4.5 lbs per person per day, 31.5 lbs per week.
90 Percent Reduction Goal: .45 lbs per person per day, 3.15 lbs per person per week.
I’ve been using the scoopable and flushable kitty litter which helps reduce some of our trash volume, but I still need to empty, clean, and refresh the litter box once every two weeks. Kitty litter is, unfortunately, heavy. Those are not my rules...Abbie has decided this is how it must be and one doesn’t argue with a cat in these matters. I am still looking for other options that she’ll tolerate.
Week 1: $29.95 - Kill A Watt meter, $16.17 - Book
Week 2: $11.98 - dish rack and draining tray
Week4:$9.99 - big bag of rawhide dog chews
US Average: $10K per household per year.
90 Percent Reduction Goal: $1000 per household per year.
Rawhide dog chews are a non-negotiable item for Terry and are, usually, a more than a once a month purchase. She does not care in the least if we’re trying to reduce anything. She wants her dog chews. Otherwise, so far so good. But the year is young and there is a refrigerator and a freezer on the horizon. It’ll be interesting to see what I spend money on and just how much less I drag home when I have to list and add up every bit of it. There has been quite a significant reduction over the norm, so far.
This is harder category to break down. The ideal is to grow our own and/or purchase foods grown or raised locally (within a 100 mile radius). The rule of thumb offered by the 90 percent project’s co-founders is: If you use 20 food items in a week, you’d use/buy 14 home or locally produced items, 5 bulk dry items, and only 1 processed or out of season thing.
I guess we’re doing pretty well in that regard since almost all of our meals the past couple of weeks have been local produce and locally raised meat and lots of rice and a couple of pasta meals which count as a bulk food. I haven’t opened a can of anything in a while. Except for a jar of spaghetti sauce. And yes, folks, I’ve actually dug some baby dandelion greens out of the yard to eat. They are like spinach only better. Since I use no pesticides or herbicides or chemical fertilizers in the lawn, I feel pretty safe in doing that. My relationship with dandelions has improved tremendously since I’ve decided to eat them.
In all, not a bad first month. The main benefit has been awareness. Having to keep track of everything forces me to be aware of what is legitimate use and what is waste. The easier part is eliminating waste and I’ve still not completely reached that end point yet. It’s a process. The next phase after eliminating waste is making some choices about what’s important and what isn’t (with, probably, some creative substitutions). If I only have so much to spend (energy or dollar), what do I choose to spend it on? That won’t be so easy. But it’s a commitment that I made and there are 11 more months to go. The goal, obviously, is to reach a 90% reduction of US Averages. There are a couple of categories where I probably won’t be able to get that low if for no other reason that it isn’t practical to replace all appliances when I don’t intend to live in this house for more than a couple more years. I’ll beat or come really close in other categories, though. Things should become really interesting long about November. It’s a learning experience, a challenge, and, yes, it’s actually kinda fun. You knew fun had to be in there someplace, right? It’s not all icky sacrifice stuff.
Relearning old tricks
Thursday, 3:55 pm
Since the start of the 90 Percent Project, I’ve been thinking that we really are a culture of people who have become dependent on pushing a button or flicking a switch to make a convenience happen. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, necessarily, though it seems to me that we’ve become overly dependent on buttons and switches. There were many generations before us who didn’t have those buttons and switches and somehow they managed. There’s a lot of knowledge that died with our past generations.
Being a part of this project has made me realize more than ever that every button we push or switch that we flick comes with an energy cost. There is nothing related to those two little gadgets that doesn’t come with an energy cost. My electric meter says so. We so take it for granted. When a power outage occurs (or when one participates in a 90% energy reduction project) we tend to be quite flummoxed.
This project has reminded me that there are ways to make things happen without pushing a button or flicking a switch. Sometimes. I’m as much a resident of the 21st century as anyone else in this country. And I don’t want to live an ascetic existence devoid of creature comforts. But. I’m beginning to realize that there are ways to have some creature comforts that don’t spend as much energy. The trouble is, for many of us, they seem rather odd and primitive and...well...too much trouble when you can push a button or flick a switch. That is, after all, what convenience is all about.
Except...our convenience is costing us the earth.
Yesterday, when it was as hot as blue blazes and I SO wanted to turn on the air conditioner, I recalled that my parents never had an air conditioner. My mother simply refused to have one in the house even when my father suggested it might be a nice thing to have, sometime in the mid-1980s. My mother was a little funny that way.
Both of my parents were raised with the Roaring Twenties excesses and came of age during the Great Depression. It made an impact on both of them. Their experiences were different, however. My father was a townie, an only child, who experienced the luxuries of electricity, a flushing toilet and the local market for food. My mother, the youngest of 9 children, lived on a dairy farm out in the sticks where electricity and an indoor bathroom didn’t arrive until shortly before World War II.
I was raised on stories about my mother’s childhood adventures and experiences. During her growing up years, her weekly chores included trimming the wicks on the kerosene lanterns, cleaning chamber pots (guaranteed to keep you humble), and scrubbing down the stairs with a bucket of water and rags. As far as I know, she wasn’t much involved with food preparation, though food gardening was a huge factor and activity in the household that everyone shared.
During the Depression, my mother’s family never wanted for much. They had instant milk faucets out in the barn (cows) and enough preserved garden produce to feed an army (which they fairly represented with 11 of them in the household along with friends and neighbors and, eventually, daughters and sons-in-law who arrived to dine). They even had cold drinks in the summer because of the ice house down by the barn where the winter’s harvest of ice was stored. They also had the yearly slaughter of a couple of pigs. Along with the Sunday chickens and the occasional wild turkey that roamed the place.
When my father was introduced to the family, they had a great deal of fun with him and his townie ‘ignorance’. He rose to the challenge and fit in well, fortunately. He also learned a lot about frugality in terms of not wasting what you have and re-using and recycling. Or...doing without. This was a lifestyle that they never completely eschewed, even as they added conveniences to their lives. My brother and I were certainly not raised in a household that lacked for creature comforts, but we didn’t get away with wasting anything, either.
Waste didn’t become a regular feature of my lifestyle until I was out on my own. How easy it was to learn the joys of excess and disposables.
Anyway. As I was trying to figure out ways to stay cool(er) yesterday, without turning on the AC, I remembered my mother’s absolute refusal to have an air conditioner. She didn’t need it, she said. It was a waste of electricity, she said. And this wasn’t a woman who liked to sweat...or ‘wear a dew’ as she preferred to call it.
Sometimes she’d grab a bag of ice from the freezer, wrap it in a dish towel, and place it on the back of her neck while she read the paper or watched television. Other times she’d dunk her wrists in a basin of cold water for a quick pick-me-up. (When I’d complain of being hot, she tell me to go soak my wrists.) Other times she’d fill a pan with cold water and let her feet soak in it while she sat doing whatever it was she was doing. Good for her dainty toes and it kept her cool. A quick cool shower before bed was a summer time ritual. These activities didn’t seem odd to her. Or primitive. They were just common sense.
I also recall her saying that drying a rack of wet laundry in front of the fan will make the surrounding air feel cooler.
I don’t know how many of us would consider those measure acceptable in this day and age. Seems like a lot of trouble when you can just push a button or flick a switch. But you know something? I tried those measures yesterday and they worked pretty darned well. In fact, putting a rack of wet towels in front of the fan reduced the room temperature by one degree. It felt noticeably cooler. As my mother used to say, “I was as cool as a cucumber.” I enjoyed employing some of this so-called common sense, too. But it made me consider that my instinct to defend it as ‘not extreme’ or ‘not nuts’ says much about the culture I live in.
Clearly, there are days when air conditioning is preferred or even necessary. Fortunately, I don’t live in a region (yet) where extreme heat is a regular feature. Even so, practicing some of these alternatives to refrigeration-temp air conditioning would significantly reduce the load on the electric grid. I suspect that they would help save some lives in areas where extreme heat and power outages occur. They could be lifesavers for some folks who don’t have the means to have or run air conditioners (thinking of Europe’s current heatwave).
When we’re accustomed to pushing a button or flicking a switch, it’s easy to forget other ways of doing things. That’s sort of built into our culture now. One of the benefits of this 90% Project thing is learning to find alternatives that at least mitigate consumption if not totally replace the buttons and switches. It calls for some creativity, but it feels really good to learn how to do some things that mean I can manage with less harm to the earth and less strain on the grid. While still maintaining a comfortable lifestyle.
It's summer today
Wednesday, 10:36 am
My thermometer, in the shade, says it’s 97.9°F. Given that the hottest part of the day doesn’t typically hit before 2:00 in the afternoon, things look reasonably good for cracking 100° today. According to the local weather report, our heat index is already hovering in the neighborhood of 106°. And this isn’t Texas. It is very difficult to acclimate to this type of weather when it only occurs here and there with long stretches of low to mid-70s on either side. A sea breeze would be plenty welcome, but the wind perversely insists on coming at us from the southwest. Nothing cool that way comes.
Nevertheless, I’m still drinking hot coffee and the air-conditioner isn’t on yet. Call me crazy. Still, the house is *only* 83° inside. Walking outside and then back inside feels as if I’m walking back into air conditioning. That probably won’t last much longer, though.
Tuesday, 4:49 pm
I was thinking about some photographs that have stood out in my mind, with iconic clarity, over the last six years and it occurred to me that they would make a good time capsule. Consider that these images represent the norm for the kids in the lad’s generation. We talked about that last night. He doesn’t remember what *my* version of normal is like. He had just turned 14 when September 11 occurred. He’s about to turn 20. The photographs mostly speak for themselves without much comment needed. I’m certain there are others that could be added, but these are the ones that have stuck in my mind.
Iraqi child screaming afer her parents were blown away at a checkpoint.
Iraq war casualty
Bush humorously looking for WMD in the oval office.
Katrina survivors stuck on a bridge with no rescue in sight
Katrina dead and abandoned
Cheney representing the US at the 60th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Returning home.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center - moldy conditions our soldiers lived in
Walter Reed Army Medical Center - cleaning up previously inhabited room.
Rahm Emanuel’s response to Cheney’s latest claims.
That’s a heck of a legacy for the ole presidential library, isn’t it? And we still have 573 more days to go.
Monday, 8:38 pm
After a day filled with the usual gotta do stuff and some oughta do stuff, I finally sat down to relax and think about the good feeling knowing that I don’t have to face some of the oughta do stuff tomorrow. Laundry for one.
While I suffer an involuntary cringe at the idea of all the electricity the washer uses, I’m really not prepared to go to the extreme of hand washing everything. Just not going to happen any time soon. But I do get a real kick out of shunning the dryer and hanging laundry outside to dry.
I don’t even have a clothesline to speak of. I’ve talked about it, but I just don’t have the room for a permanent sort of arrangement in my back yard. So, I decided to try a folding wooden laundry rack out on the deck and it does just fine. I can get almost an entire load of laundry hanging on one and everything dries within a couple of hours...less if there is a breeze. I’m also thinking of attaching a line between two deck railings that can be put up and taken down as the need dictates.
I suspect that would be an option for some folks who live in neighborhoods that don’t approve of clotheslines. As for the folding ones, I don’t see how anyone could object to that unless they were were looking hard for something to complain about. And those kinds of people do exist. I once had a neighbor who, I am sure, spent the better part of her day with her binoculars trained on my back yard just in case I did something “against the rules” and, if I did, she’d jump in her car and knock on my door three minutes later. Once I figured out what she spent her time doing, I really went out of my way to do things to antagonize her so she’d run over to complain. She never did figure out that I was messing with her head, but I guess it gave her something to do.
Anyway. My laundry is all dry and folded and it smells so fresh. Not perfumey...but outdoorsy. It’s a different kind of clean fresh smell.
Now, I’m just hanging around for the next little while until time to go pick the lad up from his 12 hour workday. I’m listening to the crickets chirp outside and I’ve watched a couple of lightning bugs fly past the back door. They are the first ones I’ve seen this summer. It’s a peaceful evening here.
Sunday, 1:36 pm
Last night, late, I delivered the lad to his Dad’s house for the remainder of the weekend. I was delighted to note that he didn’t take his laptop with him. Oh boy, hot dawg!
When I returned home, I grabbed it and then wondered...hmmm...where shall I use it?
In bed, of course. That’s the height of decadence, luxury, whatever. Didn’t last long, though. I fell asleep and the laptop did, too.
This morning I plugged the lad’s laptop into my brand shiny new Kill-A-Watt gadget. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I figured it had to be better than my desktop computer. My kill-a-watt meter said that my computer, LCD screen, and speakers burn up about 167 watts on average.
Well. The kill-a-watt meter says that the lad’s laptop consumes a modest 44-48 watts. You know, the juice it takes to run a 40 watt light bulb. That’s almost 4 times less juice than my desktop computer draws. This little laptop, a Dell Inspiron M1710 with 2.3 GHz dual processor, 2GB RAM, 17 inch screen, wireless internet, and a screamin’ video card, makes my desktop computer look like a greedy old glutton. I have serious computer envy. I love the compactness. I love the portability. I love that it gets a strong wireless signal from even the front porch. But, mainly, I want a computer that doesn’t eat electricity like it was free candy. I don’t need all the fancy gaming bells and whistles. I’d be happy with one that can manage basic word processing and Firefox surfing (I’d still use the desktop for graphics stuff). Modest needs for a laptop. Guess I’ll start looking around.