Monday, December 25, 2006

Our Carbon Emissions Reduction Actions in 2006

As the year draws to a close, it's a good time to review the main things we did to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in 2006. Thanks to these actions, we have become more energy- and carbon-efficient without detrimental effects on our lifestyle or (gasp!) "freezing in the dark":

  1. Telecommuting: One of us is now telecommuting full time, working from home instead of driving to the office four days a week. Convincing an employer to go this route can take a few years and lots of negotiations, but it's definitely worth all the effort. In addition to a major cut in carbon and smog-producing emissions, telecommuting is much less stressful and leaves more time for important things like sleep and being with the family.
  2. Adjusting the Programmable Thermostat: We have a 7-day programmable thermostat. This year, we readjusted the thermostat to 26 Celsius in the summer to reduce air conditioning. Many people spend thousands of dollars on vacations to places with this type of temperature, so we feel no need to pay to keep our house colder. Our finished and well-insulated basement stays a bit cooler than 26 degrees anyway (just a bit of geothermal bonus?), so we can keep our home office is there in the summer. We set it for 19.5 Celsius in the winter to reduce the need for heating. The upstairs part of our house is usually warmer than that anyway. Those temperatures apply when we are at home and awake -- we program even more energy savings for times when we are away or asleep.
  3. Insulation: We insulated the crawl space that is under part of our ground floor to R12 (walls) and R20 (top of joists). That had been the top recommendation from the (now sadly discontinued) Energuide For Houses audit. We used the least expensive option that is also the most chemically inert (no risk of out-gassing into our house): fiberglass insulation. The floor above the crawl-space went from freezing to merely cool in the winter, and we are probably saving money on heating already.
  4. Shopping by Bike: We went grocery-shopping by bicycle instead of driving to the store, weather permitting. We have a bike trailer for the groceries and a child seat (on our other bike) for our daughter -- she loves going to the store by bike and asks for it herself on occasion. Not only did we reduce pollution, we also got some exercise and fresh air. Actually, the store is uphill from our house, so the exercise was mostly going there -- going back with a heavy load of groceries was a breeze, thanks to the free "gravity assist" :-) With the unusually warm weather this winter, we've even been able to do this in December!
  5. Air-Drying Clothes: We started hanging our clothes to dry when possible rather than use the electric clothes drier. This takes a bit more work up-front as you cannot just dump the wet load into the drier, but the clothes are easier to fold when they're dry since they're not all scrunched up. We hung the clothes outside on sunny summer days, and inside in part of the basement at other times.
  6. Efficient Lights: We finished converting most of our light bulbs to Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL). This typically cuts energy use from 60 Watts to 15 Watts per bulb. We even found tiny C40-type CFL bulbs for our wall-lights at IKEA, cutting energy use from 25 Watts to 7 Watts per wall-light. The only non-CFL (i.e. incandescent) lights we have left are on dimmer switches, allowing us to use less energy most of the time, when we do not need maximum brightness. At our daughter's birthday, we gave a free CFL bulb as a "thank you" gift to each guest family, helping to promote the conservation message among friends and relatives. (Note: all of our Holiday Lights already were of the energy-miser LED [Light-Emitting Diode] variety since last year.)
  7. Cutting Stand-By Power: We cut down on stand-by power use from appliances and chargers by putting the TV, stereo, microwave, computers, and high-speed modem/network box on power strips. We shut off the power strips when the appliance is not in use, or unplug the charger when the charging is done.
  8. Carbon Offset: We asked for Carbon Offsets instead of conventional gifts for the Holidays. We got a certificate for a 1-tonne GHG (Greenhouse Gas) Offset from the Vancouver Renewable Energy Co-op.
  9. Coming Soon -- 100% Renewable Electricity: We signed up for Bullfrog Power, which will provide all of our household electricity from 100% renewable sources, i.e. EcoLogo Certified Small-Scale Hydro, as well as Wind Power. Unfortunately, it take a long time to switch electricity providers even after signing all the paperwork. Bullfrog Power will become our supplier on January 12, 2007, helping us to start the new year on a positive note.

Additional ideas that we are testing include using a web cam to allow family members to see us and our daughter without having to drive to visit. We are also researching options for buying the most fuel-efficient replacement car (e.g. a hybrid or subcompact instead of an already-efficient compact), though this is a longer-term proposition.

We are not carbon-neutral yet, but we are working in that direction through a process of continuous improvement, as our finances and circumstances permit.

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