Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Going green: my quest to become eco-friendly

I have acquired a taste for becoming energy-independent partly as a result of recent surges in the price of oil. Partly because I feel that our country's dependence on foreign oil has become our greatest weakness. Every time I put gasoline into my car I think about how I am basically giving wealth to foreign countries - like Saudi Arabia. It just doesn't feel right.

Part of the problem with becoming energy independent is the cost involved. Solar panels and new energy efficient devices are expensive and from a financial point of view are not necessarily the best way to go. For example, investing $50,000 in solar panels will yield x dollars per month for the life of the panels(20-30 years) - minus any unseen expenses - like damage due to storms, maintenance, replacement etc... Putting $50,000 into an interest bearing account of some sort may make more sense financially though if you live in an area where solar energy is not easy to harness.

My goal therefore is to find the most cost effective and inexpensive ways for me to go green. I'll gladly accept (and post ) any good advice and or insight from fellow readers.

My primary reasons for wanting to go green are:
* to minimize my energy expenses
* to minimize use of foreign oil
* to minimize any pollution that I may cause

This blog shall serve as documentation of my quest. If I am successful, then hopefully others will able to use the information to do the same.

To start, I'll give a brief assessment of my energy usage.

Electrical usage - 16,000kwh per year, 2,000kwh per month during summer, and 1000kwh per month for the rest of the year.

Compressed Gas usage - ( will update when i get next bill )

Oil usage - 1,600 gallons heating oil per month year.

Gasoline usage - 1,500 gallons per year for cars
( I use the train 2hrs per day to commute - diesel powered train )

Day 1

Switched to a home heating oil company that delivers a blend of 90% oil, 10% soybean oil.
* Financial Benefit: There was no difference in cost, and no financial gain.
* Economic Benefit: 10% of what I pay is being taken away from the oil industry and given to hard working farmers in the US. Thats a good start.
* I don't now how significant of an improvement this make regarding pollution.

Decided to remove about a quarter of my incandescent light bulbs. For example, in a four bulb fixture, I now have three - and still have adequate light.
* Financial Benefit: 25% reduction in lighting portion of electric bill, and it cost nothing to implement.
* Environmental Benefit: No new materials were used - so I am actually making my existing bulbs last longer - when they burn out I'll replace them with florescent.

Day 2

Spent some time assessing the cost/benefit to installing solar panels. This would not be beneficial enough to warrant the expense. I have only 3-4 hours of usable daylight in my area (on average) ( I live near 40-45 degrees latitude ) and my roof is not sloped optimally - its sloped at 30 degrees on the east and west sides. My neighbors also have large trees to the east and west that would block some of the light on my roof during morning and evening hours. Too bad because I have about 1,500 square feet of usable space - enough to fit a 24 panel system. Likewise my yard is too shady to set up a tracker. ( tall oak and maple trees ). Guess the trees are good for keeping the the house cool.

Day 3

Decided to start composting leaves and grass clippings and using them as mulch/soil.
* Financial Benefit - very minimal - saved on plastic yard bags.
* Environmental Benefit - bagged leaves are not going to a landfill. the plastic bags take forever to decompose - if ever. I tried using plastic bags that are made with corn starch in the past ( these are supposed to break down faster ) but they were less durable... Dont like them.
* Economic Benefit - I believe plastic bags are made from petroleum - which we get from oil... ok, so its a very small drop in the bucket.

Day 4

Decided to replace my two outdoor flood lights with flourescent flood lights and a screw-in light sensitive switch. The existing floods were 100 watts each, and I estimate that I have them on in the daytime for about 4 hours per day on average ( ie. morning before I leave the house ). I leave them on overnight for safety/security reasons. The light sensitive switch is small grey box that screws into the existing light bulb socket on one side, has a light sensor in the middle, and light bulb socket on the other side.
* Financial Benefit: 4 hours electricity * 200 watts = 0.8KWH. for one year thats 292 KWH, and at 21 cents per kwh thats $61.32. The light switches cost 16.00 each, and the equivalent 25 watt forescent bulbs were a few bucks each. As a result I gain about $20 - $30 in the first year, and $60 per year thereafter.
* Environmental Benefit - 75% reduction in power (219khw/year) for these lights. The only downfall I see is that the florescent lights are made with mercury - dont know how big of a deal this is given the quantity used in the bulb.

** while this is just another small drop in the bucket, the practice of implementing lots of tiny changes like this will eventually pay off. **

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