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Pssst….The Blog is Moving!

To all readers:

Lifetime Projects is moving to lifetime-projects.blogspot.com

While I’m pretty happy with wordpress, the interface is just too technical for my non-technical brain.

So we hope to see everyone over at the new house – most of the “stuff” was moved already.

Thanks!

When most people think of saving energy, the first thing that comes to mind is turning off the lights, unplugging the appliances, and saving electricity. But most don’t realize that saving water also contributes to saving energy.

 According to WaterSense, a partnership website of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the amount of energy annually used to deliver, heat, and treat water for one household could power a household refrigerator for a year…not to mention the fact that, in some areas of the USA, this estimate actually falls on the low side, as there are areas of the country where it takes six times that amount to do the job. On average, some homes (those with electric water heaters) spend ¼ of their electric bill just to heat the water.

 So…what can be done about it?

 The best thing, first, is to start installing water-efficient products into the house. For example, this past weekend, in keeping with our current family project of energy saving, we installed low-flow showerheads in both full baths. These showerheads keep the water flowing at a constant 2.5 GPM (gallons per minute) and allow us to use the water efficiently while taking a shower. Coupled with the rule about avoiding longer than 10-minute showers, we feel this is an acceptable step in conserving water and, therefore, conserving energy.  The showerheads took less than 10 minutes to install, required only the use of plumbers tape and a pipe wrench, and frankly, are better than what we had. The new showerheads offer massage settings and a stronger, steadier stream of spray.

 In addition to the low-flow showerheads, we also installed a low-flow aerator in the master bathroom, limiting the flow on that sink to 1.0GPM. Because the sink is in use by two people in that bathroom at various times, we felt this was the best place to put it. The reason we did not install bathroom aerators in the other two baths with sinks (one a full bath, one a half-bath) was not for lack of wishing – the aerators we had simply didn’t fit the faucet.

 In the kitchen we also installed an aerator on the sink, a 1.5GPM regulating beauty that attached very easily to the current faucet (thank goodness, after the bathroom ordeal we were really scratching our heads.) The aerator is attached to a swivel, allowing it to rotate around the sink, as well as having what is known as a “pause-action lever” – a little handle that we flip up to reduce the water to a trickle when necessary. Of course, I just prefer turning the water off, but you never know!

 The aerator in the kitchen sink actually saves 30% more water than a standard kitchen sink aerator, which is set at 2.2GPM, not 1.5GPM. According to DTE, the local energy provider, that’s 7,665 gallons of water annually. We predict that we’ll start seeing the savings right away, as when we pulled the old aerator out to change it…well, some things are better left unsaid.

 We’re not as rabid as some about saving water, though the thought is constantly on our minds. We didn’t replace the turn knobs of the shower with a simple chain that will activate the water when pulled and turn it off when released, as we do tend to prefer hot water for showers and not whatever comes out (too many years of camp showers for some in this household!)

 With our new showerheads and aerators installed, we look happily forward to saving water. Next step will be to wrap the pipes coming from the hot water heater in insulating pipe wrap, and see if that helps us to save energy as well.

 Have a good day, everyone! I’m sure more adventures will soon follow.

Oh yes, before I forget…be sure to check out our pages “Home Cooking” and “The Garden Chronicles” (links at the top of this page) for updates.

I just found out that when I read the meter at the start of this family project, I read it wrong. Big surprise, considering as I have never in my 35 years had occasion to read the meter, despite multiple efforts at wondering where our energy was going.

Apparently DTE’s reading on the same day that I did mine, July 19th, was 53707, not 54606.

I think I know the cause, although to be truthful I’ll never be completely sure…the DTE Website tells you that when you read the meter, if the dial is between two numbers, to take the lesser of the two. Well, as I remember it, the needle was almost on top of the four, so I took the four, even though I should have taken the three. Not sure what happened with the seven vs. the six, but hey, I’ll take theirs since it happens to be lower than mine!!

We’ve been doing well this week, despite climbing temperatures. Wednesday night made for a wonderful thunderstorm night, but instead of closing the windows and turning on the A/C we kept the windows open…much to the dismay of the cat, who all but climbed under the covers shaking in his fur. Between trying to keep him calm and the flashes of lightening that came through the open windows, a restful night of sleep was anything but. However, it all evened out in the end when we made it more than 16 hours without having to turn on the A/C!

Side note: I was forced to turn on the A/C the next day, yesterday, by none other than my cat. When I went downstairs around noontime was wearing a desperate expression, and seemed to want to step out of his fur, he was so hot. If a cat could be sweating, he was. As the temperature in the house was nearing 85 degrees, I compromised and told him that I would turn on the air.

All major appliances except for stove, washer & dryer, the chest freezer in the garage and the refrigerator/freezer and dishwasher in the kitchen remain unplugged, except when in use for various hours throughout the day. The dishwasher has not been used since the start of this project, meaning that I have been washing all the dishes, including pots and pans, in the sink with hot, soapy water (with a dash of bleach added).

Thank you to everyone who has been commenting on the blog – it’s great to know that someone out there is reading!

On another happy note, I have added a poll to the blog. Please vote on the poll, as it will decide whether another section will be added to this blog. Future polls may be added to decide what family project we will take on next!

Imagine my surprise when I walked out on the front porch just before the start of this energy-saving family project to discover a package from DTE Energy, our local energy provider of electricity and natural gas.

For once, they were not calling for my head or sending a bill – they had, instead, sent a Free Energy Efficiency Kit.

Had they read my mind? Did they know what we were about to do?

Well, the short answer is no, they did not. Apparently unbeknowst to me, my wonderful husband had gone online to DTE’s Energy Efficiency Analyzer and, in the spirit of the family project, completed a free online home energy audit. The result, just for completing said audit, was this kit that landed on our doorstep.

Contained in the kit was:

  • Two 23Watt Compact Flourescent Light  (CFL) Bulbs (equal to 100 Watts each)
  • One 20Watt Compact Flourescent Light (CFL) Bulb (equal to 75 Watts)
  • Two 16Watt Compact Flourescent Light (CFL) Bulbs (equal to 60 Watts each)
  • One LED Night Light
  • One Kitchen Faucet Aerator (that will use only 1.5 Gallons Per Minute of water)
  • One Bathroom Faucet Aerator (that will use only 1.0 Gallons Per Minute of water)
  • One Energy-Efficient Shower Head
  • 8-10 Child Safety Caps for outlets (even if you don’t have a child in the house, these are said to decrease drafts)
  • 15 feet of Insulating Pipe Wrap, to wrap the pipes from the hot water heater
  • 17 feet of V-Seal Weatherstrip for doors, windows, attic hatches, around air conditioners, etc

Now, whatever your feelings are about DTE Energy (or any other energy provider), I have to tell you, this thing was completely free. The only catch was that my husband had to complete the energy audit online and, in doing so, register our house for online bill payment (which we did before this anyway, but there is an option to continue your paper statement).

All in all, I consider this a good deal. We’ve already put some of the products in this kit to use, and it sure beat going out and getting all of this stuff ourselves, which I doubt we would have been able to do, either logistically or monetarily. Even if our family was not actively trying to save energy with this family project, if half this stuff works out, we’ll have saved money along the way.

Slightly impressive as well, at least for me, was that there were very little tools needed for most of this kit. Some things that you receive in the mail are worse than a put-together piece of furniture, at least for me – I’m the type that always has 10 screws left and spends the next week in terror hoping the thing doesn’t fall apart! Seriously, though, the only thing remotely requiring tools (at least so far that I’ve seen) is the showerhead, and all that the showerhead needs is a pipe wrench and plumbers tape.

For those that read this blog that are not serviced by DTE Energy, check out your local energy provider’s website – similiar deals may exist elsewhere. I think they’re worth looking into, no matter where you live.

Well, week one of the family project ended with a bit of a bang – as I closed the windows despite the lower temperatures outside and turned on the A/C to allow everyone at least 3 hours of sleep. Despite being in the mid-60’s last night, the temperature inside the house stayed at a steady 77 degrees well into the wee morning hours. When I checked it at 2:00AM, it had actually gone up to 78, and showed no signs of going down.

I find it extremely embarrassing when one can almost feel the thermostat sticking its tongue out at you and mocking your efforts to save energy.

So, long story short, all the windows were closed, the A/C was turned on, and then and only then did the uncomfortable sounds of rustling around and searching for a comfortable position cease from the bedrooms. It may be because everyone finally slept in the cooler air. Then again, it might be because I was asleep myself after that, so I didn’t hear anything.

I am, however, extremely proud of the fact that despite not-to-cool temperatures yesterday, the A/C that had been turned off Monday night in an effort to save energy (and since the temperature was going down to 68) was not turned back on until almost 7:00PM, then off again at 10:00PM. The reason for turning it on at 7:00PM was because it was 84 in the house, and while the temperature was bearable and had been bearable all day, bearing it while standing over 3 burners on the stove attempting to cook dinner was just not possible, and I wimped.

But, other than that, all remains well – appliances are still unplugged 90% of the time, and I have even begun using the front door instead of the garage door (which used to be our main door) when I need to go outside for something, to avoid using the energy for opening the garage door. The only part of this project that is beginning to drag on people is the fact that it’s either/or for the TV and computer.  Something tells me that this rule won’t see it through until the end of the project.

Side note: updated recently on this blog was The Garden Chronicles, the ongoing saga of the 2011 Family Garden and all its escapades, as well as any bulk deals on produce/farmers market goings-on and what happens with it. Tune in for more later!

As the first week of the current family project comes to a close, it occurs to me that I never quite defined exactly what the “rules” were for it, especially in regards to saving energy in the house. While we usually don’t make a big deal of these things (the ‘rules’), as far as the projects go, because each project is different and because the main factor is personal growth, it does help to define at least some parameters to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

It also helps to state that though there are parameters and rules that define all of the projects, they are flexible, with really no hard-and-fast consequences on ‘breaking’ said rules. For example, if during this family project someone accidentally left the computer on, there wouldn’t be much done about it except to note that the computer had been on all night in our notes and take that into account when the next energy bill came.

The rules that we have come up with are as follows:

  1. All appliances will be turned off when not in active use by someone, except in cases where they are necessary to our health and survival (e.g. the stove – has anyone ever tried to get behind their stove and unplug it? I think not!)
  2. All lightbulbs will be switched over to Compact Flourescent Lightbulbs (CFL’s) wherever possible. In cases where it is cost-prohibitive to do so (there are several inset, flood-type lights throughout the house), these lights will be used for no longer than absolutely necessary.
  3. Either the television OR one desktop computer can be turned on, but not both at the same time.
  4. Laptops and cell phones will be expected to run on their individual battery power, not house energy.
  5. All laundry will be washed only once a week, including hot-water loads, except in cases of emergency (e.g. household illness, etc.). Family members may have input on the day chosen.
  6. Outside spigots may be turned on for no longer than 1 hour per day. It is strongly recommended that, unless necessary, watering the garden and washing the cars be limited to 1/2 hour per day unless garden or other conditions deem otherwise.
  7. For charging devices, such as for cell phones and/or laptops, these devices will only be used to charge said electronics, not run them, and may only be plugged in for active charging when the battery is completely depleted.
  8. The thermostat will be set no lower than 76 degrees during the daytime, and will be allowed to reset to 72 only for nighttime sleeping conditions from 11:00PM-7:00AM.
  9. Showers are limited to 10 minutes per person or less. Taking longer than the allotted time runs the risk of someone shutting off the hot water! (We’re just kidding on this one, but don’t tell the kids that…)
  10. Low-flow aerators will be installed in the house – don’t take all day to wash hands, brush teeth, etc. If possible, turn the water off during the parts where you are not actually using it.
  11. Should the temperature outside be lower than 75 degrees during the daytime and/or 70 degrees at nighttime, the air conditioning will be turned off and the windows opened.
  12. Blinds and window treatments will remain shut during the daytime hours, especially on south and west-facing windows, to allow the cool air to remain in the house.
  13. Most importantly: All family members are to think about what they are doing! Think before turning on a light, the television, a computer, the gaming consoles, etc. Is there something else that needs to be done instead? Could you instead read a book, take a walk, do something else? Make sure all electronics or other things are turned off when done, especially lights when leaving a room. Be aware of your surroundings. We’re not saying do not turn a light on when going down stairs in the dark – we’re saying that when you are done with the light, turn it off, don’t leave it on and go wandering elsewhere.

While these are the guidelines that we’ve set out to follow during the project, there are others that have been kicked around and thought about but not ‘finalized’ yet. Examples include a No-Electricity Night – where we use no electricity or energy, instead playing board games, talking as a family, reading books, having an ‘indoor (or outdoor!) campout’, or just going to bed early. Also discussed has been a  No-Stove Night – in which everything for dinner is cooked on the grill, or we have a cold dinner/picnic in the park, something like that. Since the stove is gas, this might prove to be beneficial!

While we encourage and hope everyone in the family will help us out with this project, we understand that there will be slipups. For example, the other night I forgot to unplug the television, which is also on the same power bar as the DVD system and  surround sound. Fortunatley the gaiming console that we have long suspected of raising our electric/gas bill $10.00-$30.00 per month stays unplugged no matter what unless someone is actively using it.

So, there are the guidelines for this family project. Keep the lights off (we’re not Motel 6), think about what you’re doing, and keep energy costs in mind. The rest we’ll figure out as we go along – just like we always do.

Well, I just recently heard a strange sound by my ear.

It was the weekend, as it went wooshing by.

Seriously, between everything going on in the house, the garden, and trying to actually go grocery shopping and get more food into the house (that the garden will not provide), I don’t know where the weekend went.

However, our energy experiment is going marvelously. We still have the thermostat set at 78 degrees, except for a few hours at night to allow us to get to sleep. It turned out 78 may have been the temperature at the thermostat, but I can tell you that one floor up, it was definately not 78 – it felt more like 108!

All appliances continue to remain unplugged unless in active use, as well as lights turned off if they’re in an area of the house that we are not using. We’ve also been trying to have either the television or the computer on, but not both at the same time. We’ve even stopped using the dishwasher and washing dishes by hand to save on hot water and energy usage.

More details and an update tomorrow…or should that be later today??

All in all, this family project is going rather well. I hardly even notice it’s going on – which is unusual!

 

Since the kickoff of the present project, (energy saving in the house) earlier this week, I’ve found myself reflecting on the past projects that our family has undertaken. While it may seem as though these projects undergo a great deal of skill and thought, the reality of things almost couldn’t be further from the truth.

So how do they start? Ideas. Usually someone will come home and have an idea that they want to try, and by making it into a family project, we’re able to help each other out while all participating in it and seeing if we like it. While some of the projects haven’t been instant hits, we’ve made it through as a family, and in the process discovered that maybe we liked the new way better.

So what were the past projects?

The first one that we undertook was to have a family garden. My husband and I were fortunate to have parents growing up that had various sizes of gardens, both big and small, and we were even more fortunate that they passed along their knowledge to us. However, given the limited amount of space that we have available to us (1/3 of an acre), our garden would turn out to need planning, diligence, and perseverance as we built beds to hold it and cultivated vegetables. For more information about the evolution of our home garden, I have created a page called The Garden Chronicles. While I can’t remember specifics about 2009 (which is when it was first started), I’ll do my best to compile a history alongside the chronicles of the daily harvest.

The second project, borne of a desire to spend more time inside the house (and less in the backyard) was to stop eating processed food. In this day and age, where it seems that markets are stuffing the aisles of canned and boxed goods, alongside quick-mixes and ‘ready-in-minutes’ meals, we set out to stop eating that way and try eating more like grandma used to cook – from scratch. To read more about that past project, go to its brand-new page on this blog, entitled Home Cooking – Out of the Box. In this section you will learn more about our Out of the Box journey, including how we manage to feed ourselves without opening too many cans, and some of the recipes that we have discovered along the way.

Sometimes the most amazing part of these projects for me, aside from seeing how it can bring out both the likes and dislikes of our personalities, is the side projects that have sprung from them. For instance, by having the garden, we learned that shopping locally was often the best measure to supplement things. We also learned about canning, freezing, and preserving a harvest (such as it was) to get us through the winter until the next one. By giving up boxed mixes and boxed foods, we learned how to create not only whole meals but breads, cakes, and other things from scratch. Though I’m sorry to say that some canned goods still find their way into the pantry (tomatoes taste awful when you put too much lemon juice in them), we’ve almost entirely given up any mix whatsoever for a from-scratch version of the same thing.

So, look around, enjoy the pages – I know there isn’t too much on them yet, but stay tuned!

I would like to give a very big thank you to the local power company for the blackouts and fritzes that have been going on with the power lately. For the second time this week, and the fourth (roughly) in two weeks, we lost power for about 4 hours tonight.

While I appreciate that they are willing to help me so mightily in our family project of energy savings, I question their wisdom in doing so when one of the worst heat waves in history is gripping much of the nation.

 

Well, night two went a lot less smoothly than I hoped it would, to put it mildly.

At 3:30AM, finally tired of sweating through numerous pillowcases, sheets, etc., and having exhausted all tricks in my bag to keep cool (some of which will remain personal), I finally had to cave and lower the thermostat to 75 from 79.

Even though the thermostat reads one number, it should be noted that it is located on the bottom floor of the house, not the top, and the old ways of heat still ring true – it rises!

Nevertheless, as soon as all members of the house were up and functioning around 7:30AM, the thermostat was put back to 79. A gutsy move, honestly, considering as today’s temperatures are expected to set a record high, with a heat index peaking at about 110 degrees Farenheit.

Yet I am determined that, unless severe discomfort is arising, that thermostat should not move again!

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