Saturday, April 05, 2014

eco-lent: week 5, using less energy

The eco-challenge I'm focusing on for this week of Lent is to use less energy. "A World of Health: Connecting People, Place & Planet" from Northwest Earth Institute suggests unplugging some appliances that draw the most power even when they're off, and I have to admit that although I knew this was an issue from way back in the early 2000s when my friend had a house party at her tiny Portland apartment and some guy from an environmental organization told us about all sorts of environmental fixes we could do in our homes (including buying little switches to switch off outlets when you're not using things plugged into them, such as this), I hadn't done anything about it. So, this week's eco-challenge requires a bit of research.

Today I'm going to tell you about three things: 1. successfully clearing out mostly-clogged drains with baking soda and white distilled vinegar, 2. using less energy by line drying our clothes, and 3. what appliances draw the most energy when not in use. Then I'll share with you my eco-Lent goals for this week.

1. Naturally unclogging drains with vinegar and baking soda
I finally got around to doing this chore recently! I have really long hair now, and we've got 4 adults and 2 kids using one shower and bathroom sink at our house, so the drains were pretty gross. I pitched it as a science experiment to my 7-year-old and he helped me make volcanoes in our bathroom drains until they cleared out. Yay for functional drains! Even bigger YAY for not putting nasty chemicals into the water supply!

2. Line drying clothes
Living in Western Oregon, it's difficult to find a day this time of year where it's safe to line dry clothes outside, so usually I'm pretty lazy about this unless it's summer and hot all day. I've heard that dryers are one of the biggest energy users in most American households, although I couldn't find anything really reputable in a quick Internet search to confirm this. Nevertheless, this week I'm working on not drying my clothes in the dryer.

This is really hard because I have to change some of my habits and also be OK with clothes and other laundry that doesn't have that soft just-out-of the dryer feel. My family doesn't really like towels that have been line dried, for example.

Also, I too-often wait until we're running dangerously low on essential items before doing laundry, and then do several loads in a row. Unless I want wet laundry hanging all over my house, this approach doesn't work so well when line drying. I have to do a load each day, probably. It's also difficult in that we're in the habit of having clothes ready within a couple hours, so if something is in the dirty clothes there's a quick turnaround. With line drying, we have to think ahead if we're going to need a specific thing clean in a couple days. This isn't as convenient, but then again, neither is a warmer planet with rising ocean levels, etc.

3. Appliances that draw phantom power
Here's a list I found of the 12 household appliances that use the most energy when turned off.
  • Desktop computers
  • Laptop computers
  • Televisions
  • DVD players and VCRs
  • Modems
  • Cable TV boxes
  • Cordless phones
  • Stereos and radios
  • Coffeemakers
  • Lamps
  • Toasters
  • iPods and electronic gadgets sapping energy from a plug-in transformer
I don't know if this list is well-researched or not, but these seem to be themes on various similar pages. At any rate, we can't very well turn off things that run all the time like the refrigerator, but we CAN unplug all the above gadgets, or attach them to something that has an on/off switch such as a power strip. This same article says you can save 5-10% on your electricity bill (translating, presumably, to 5-10% of your total energy use) by unplugging all these small devices.

Here's where convenience comes in again. Several websites estimate that the average American home has about 40 appliances or electronics plugged in at any given time, all of which may be idle. But how annoying is it to have to plug in your lamp before you switch it on? And how many times have I pushed down the toast button and it pops back up and I realize someone randomly forgot to plug it in for some reason? I roll my eyes and plug it in.

At the same time, we have a number of small appliances and electronics that we rarely use but that sit, plugged in, drawing phantom power at all times. This article's estimate was that a VCR costs you $12.53/year when it sits around, plugged in. And who ever uses their VCR anymore??? You couldn't even get you someone to buy it for $12.53, most likely.

Goals for the week:
  • Not use the dryer.
  • Unplug all our appliances and electronics (that aren't programmed) when not in use.
  • Turn off my computer when not in use, and unplug it when the charging light turns from orange to green.
  • Take these opportunities of annoyance as moments to be grateful for the ease and convenience of modern life, and reflect on and repent for my sense of entitlement.

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