Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day

Celebrating Earth Day is a great time to catalogue what our family has done to become "greener." It seems as if the world is on a "green" kick, and we're part of the process.

Of course, our main reason - perhaps - is to save money as well as the planet. Since we can accomplish both with the same actions we have a wonderful opportunity to double our pleasure.

One thing we do is drive economic cars. My Scion XB gets about 28-30 mpg whether it's city or highway. My husband's Element is in the lower 20s, but still so much better than all the pick-ups and SUVs most painters use for work. We each have convertibles - mine is the Cabrio (32 mpg) and his is an old Honda del Sol (maybe 34 mpg.) Last year I was able to drive the convertible well into October. This year I plan to sell it - interested? - and buy a mini.

I thought I was doing well with my mpg rating as a Realtor. I met an agent a couple weeks ago who complained about his big Chrysler - 14 miles per gallon! We drive about 20,000 miles per year and that's a heavy load. Today I ran into Peter Wynyard now with Keller-Williams. He still loves my "ragtop" as he calls it, but he's driving a Prius that gets 48 miles per gallon.

But we are doing better with fuel in the home. I finally got fed up with our oil bill for the boiler - $390 per month on the budget! And we were cold, keeping the thermostat at 58 degrees and huddling around the fireplace for warmth in the evenings. We had put in a Buderus-type water heater system on the recommendation of a home inspector and eliminated two electric water heaters in the process. We researched costs and decided to use a pellet stove instead. On April 13th, I think, we turned off the boiler for good.

It will remain in the basement in case we ever sell, and may also supply the apartment with heat next year during the holidays. But once the oil is gone, it will be gone.

The beauty of the pellet stove is that the wood it uses is all recycled wood - stuff that is left over at a sawmill and would ordinarily be thrown away. Not any more! We should be able to heat the main part of the house for under $1,000 next year. That's 2400 square feet of living space - that this year cost us almost $4800 to heat (poorly) plus an additional $700 for wood. The cost of the stove we've chosen is around $2,000. It will pay for itself by January.

Our wood for the fireplace will come from our acreage. Bob got a chain saw for his birthday last year and hasn't been the same since. Our woods now have paths and piles of logs. We have enough already for next year's fires - and they will be non-utilitarian.

We also buy locally. Since Essentially Bread closed I have had to either make bread, buy it at Wegman's, or go without. The Big M in Elbridge has a good seeded bread which I discovered a week or so ago. Our yogurt is from Wake Robin Farm in Jordan and is phenomenal. An article in the paper says they have eliminated their transportation costs - they go 700 feet from cow to processor.

Bob grows our veggies for the summer. From July until October we have fresh lettuce. He makes a great cold tomato sauce from his odd tomatoes and freezes it for the winter months. Zucchinis became a staple three years ago when we were overrun with them. And it's all good for you!

Our biggest energy savings came through our lightbulbs. A friend told me that she had dropped her family's energy consumption in a 2000 square foot home to about $35. Lights were bright throughout, it was winter, and there were kids in the home - how? All those fluorescent bulbs! They really did it!

We slowly changed them out and yes, our electric bill dropped. I stopped the budget plan when NYSEG owed us about $800. Now, even with the hot tub bubbling away on the back deck our bills come in around $70. It's hard to tell exactly - NYSEG insists on estimating every other month and they estimate high. We probably save over $100 per month with those bulbs. (We also charge each other $1 when we leave lights on in the hall or basement. Bob's fines usually pay most of the bill!)

So have a very happy Earth Day! On evenings like this it's hard to imagine that the planet could be in trouble, or that it won't always be as lovely as this a century from now unless we all make changes. I know, I sound preachy, but it's worth preaching about!