Blair Stephens  @  ChelseaGreen

View All of Blair Stephens's Posts

My Adventure in Renewable Energy: Part 1, Where We Started

Posted on Tuesday, November 18th, 2008 at 2:50 pm by Blair Stephens

Our HomeI’ll be honest, I’m cheap. I’m also a Yankee, so I guess it comes pretty naturally. Cheapness is not even really a trait that has been forced upon me – I love bargains, I love things that pay for themselves – I love Return on Investment (ROI). What’s nice is that being conscious about energy usage and being an alternative energy enthusiast actually works beautifully with being cheap.

I love our planet – I went to a small liberal arts school so I was well exposed to environmentalists and their movement long ago. I recycled, I didn’t use aerosol, but I’ll admit I never really associated myself with the movement. And then I saw “An Inconvenient Truth” and I looked down at my small daughter. I knew I really wanted to make some changes just to do the right thing. And hey – by doing the right thing, I support my cheapness. Sweet!

Some things were already done – mostly out of frugality – but I felt good that we were already on our way. My husband and I are a one car family, and our one car is a Toyota that gets fabulous gas mileage. I work primarily out of my home – so I’ve reduced my car emissions significantly. We keep our heat low, we buy local produce and we have a part in an organic farm share. We have replaced old incandescent bulbs with CFL as they go out, we carry the reusable grocery bags and we recycle. But the bills were still rising with the cost of oil and electricity so we knew we needed to and wanted to do more.

Sadly, we have old and inefficient home heating and water heating. When our oil costs crested at $500 for a tank, I started to get really worried. I knew that we didn’t have the income to cover a winter of $500 tanks of oil – and also, I just didn’t want to pay that much on principle.

I was pumping so much money into oil that I couldn’t even save up for a more efficient boiler or an alternate heating system. I live in the boonies, so natural gas wasn’t an option (and really, I’d just be trading one fossil fuel for another) and our fireplace is tiny and inefficient. My feeling was and is that the cost of oil isn’t going to go down in the future – sure it will ebb and flow but I felt like it was really time to start long term planning and implementation now.

Jalousie WindowsWe live in a small, split level house that was built in 1964. In 1966, the square footage of the house was roughly doubled with the addition of a “sun room.” Roughly 600 square feet, this room is really where we “live” and it is comprised of three walls of five foot high jalousie windows. This made the room three seasons ready – with a chilly fourth tacked on for those of us who were really determined.

Every winter we put the storm windows up – and last year we even duct taped the seams. We hung curtains made from fleece, kept the heat down to 62 degrees and wore a lot of cozy clothing and layers. The rest of the house is quite snug but since the sunroom is critical to our sanity, I knew I couldn’t spend another winter watching the curtains move with the cold air seeping through.

I determined that I would change my situation. I’ll admit it, part of me wanted to jump in the deep end; solar electricity, grants, wind turbines! But I learned that the first step had to be in upgrading the efficiency of my home. The truth is that even if you get grants and help and tax write-offs, you still need cash flow. And how can you design a renewable energy power system without really knowing your optimal (most efficient) power needs? I needed to slow down and get informed.

Becoming an Energy Ace isn’t as fun or cool as buying and installing some cool and massive renewable energy system – mostly I knew it was just changing some habits. Turning off lights, using power strips to get rid of ghost loads, faster showers…you know the drill. We did that stuff

As I became more informed, I realized we needed to invest in some larger changes and that ultimately I could incorporate alternative energy technology in my home – technology that wouldn’t break the bank - and so began my adventure in renewable energy.

Digg!
Share

Leave a Reply