Category Archives: conservation

Gallon Challenge: All Used Up

That’s a wrap, folks! Last night I drove the babysitter home and used the final few drops of gas in the gallon I gave myself for the month. Now I have 3 full weeks to not drive, otherwise I’ve failed the challenge!

Here are the final results:

Date Purpose Miles Gallons
8/2/2012 Dad’s birthday 16 0.8
8/9/2012 Drive babysitter home 4 0.2
Totals: 20 1

I’ve picked up some car-free tips in the past 10 days. For the days I don’t ride my bike to work, I can take a city bus (though it takes almost twice as long). Also, Venessa and I went on a bike date last night (hence the babysitter). The weather was perfect, and riding to and from our destination made the date seem longer.

It’s strange to visualize a gallon milk jug filled with gasoline, and know that I used it up in just 10 days of trying not to drive. Multiply that times everyone in the world and you can see why we’re headed towards a fossil-fuel driven catastrophe! I’m still optimistic about infrastructure and technology improvements saving us before it’s too late. Let’s all do what we can!

Give Away 100 Things: Challenge Update

The month is half over, so let’s see how I’m doing on the July Challenge to give away 100 things. I have to admit that I stretched the definition of “give away” and recycled or threw away a few things that weren’t fit for donation. I thought of it as giving them away to the the earth (hopefully) or landfill (unfortunately).

You can see a photo of the Goodwill run I just made over the weekend. I lost track of the number of items, after packing up two boxes of books, two bags of clothing, two bags of housewares and some other assorted items. I’m going to estimate that this was about 100 things, but this is stuff from both Venessa and me, so we’re only half way done. And this was the easy stuff. The low-hanging fruit, if you will. So we have the second half of the month to dig deep into the corners of our house and find the next 100 things each.

Wish us luck!

The cost of keeping chickens

Have I mentioned we have 6 chickens? I searched through my blog archives and realize that perhaps it slipped my mind to mention it. Chickens are great pets for many reasons: they’re low-maintenance, hearty, fun to watch, and they don’t require much space to peck around*. It’s like having a petting zoo in our own backyard!

But best of all, they lay delicious, healthy eggs every day. You literally won’t go back to commercial eggs once you have an egg from a backyard chicken. I stopped ordering meals that contain egg in restaurants because they always disappoint me with their relatively lackluster flavor and texture. I’m not a foodie by any stretch, but if this makes me elitist or snooty, I don’t care.

Every morning, I drink a tonic containing a raw egg. It’s full of protein and immune-system boosters, and beats the pants off any commercial recovery drink for a post-workout lift. I feel safe doing this because I harvest the eggs personally and can see that the chickens are healthy with my own eyes.

Today I figured out just how much we pay for all the benefits I mentioned above (but mostly the amazing eggs). Thanks to Mint (and carefully tracking our spending) I know we spent $355 on the chickens over the past year. Let’s round it up to $400, since there’s probably some expenses that are unaccounted for.

A chicken lays about 270 eggs a year** and we have 6 of them, so we get about 1600 eggs a year. It blows my mind just typing that. I’d love to say that means we pay about $3 a dozen, give the finger to the guy selling $6-8 cartons of eggs at the farmers market, and end my blog post here. But we also have to factor in the time spent caring for the chickens.

On a typical day, we probably spend about 3 minutes of “work” on the chickens: two minutes in the morning letting them out, feeding them, and collecting eggs, and a minute in the evening closing their gate.*** Then there’s cleaning the coop, maintaining their enclosure, and the yard around them. Let’s say it’s 3 hours a month, between the daily stuff and the periodic maintenance. This isn’t to say that chickens are all work. I enjoy spending time sitting and watching them peck around, bathe in the dirt, and chase bugs. And they’re a constant source of entertainment for Lillia.

It’s somewhat tricky to put a price on your time, but for the purposes of this article let’s say I’d pay an experienced petsitter $20 an hour to care for the chickens. So we need to add $720 to the yearly cost. That means we spent $1120 on our 133 dozen eggs per year, or $8 a dozen.

So now we’re back up to the price we’d spend on a carton of eggs at the farmer’s market. But our chickens are also pets. They’re members of the family, which itself is priceless.

Bottom line: if you want a pet that’s as easy to care for as a cat, as entertaining as a dog, and magically delivers a daily immune-booster into your diet, get chickens!

* We kept 3 chickens when we lived in our tiny, zero-lot-line cottage. They took up about 20 square feet of yard.

** I figured each bird lays an egg a day for the warmer 6 months of the year, and an egg every other day for the colder 6 months.

*** Although in the dead of winter, that minute spent outside in the evening can feel like an hour

Giving up the car – by the numbers

me and my first car

I often dream about giving up our car, and relying on cycling, mass-transit, and car shares. One of the benefits of living in the city is that there are many alternatives to driving that are cheaper, better for your body and also better for the community. This is why my blog is about “urban frugalism.”

While I don’t think it’s practical for us right now (we have 3 children who still need car-seats), I decided to live the car-free life vicariously by running the numbers to see if it’s at least financially feasible.

If I amortize the cost of car ownership, it’s about $350 monthly. Let’s see what we can get for that amount of money, when it comes to car-free alternatives:

Zipcar is a car-sharing service. The closest car is by the grocery store in our neighborhood. Not totally convenient, but at least it’s available.

Cost: $5/month + $7.75/hr. If we booked 2 one-hour trips per week, that would be $67 a month

Here’s a site that lists taxi fares. Taxis get you from point A to point B directly, but they are rather pricy. They’re good for errands where you need to schlep a lot of stuff.

Cost: $2.50 meter drop + $2/mile. If we took 3 four-mile trips per week, that would be $144 a month

Uber is a new towncar service that features quick pickup, online payment, and nicer cars. It would only be used for times when we needed to get somewhere fast.

Cost: $7 meter drop + $3.75/mile. If we took 1 four-mile trip per week, that would be $88 a month

Finally, the lowly metro bus. It’s cheap, but service is constantly being cut back. Pair your bus ride with a bit of a walk or bike ride, and you can get almost anywhere in the city. If you have the time.

Cost: $2.50 fare. If we took 4 trips a week, that would be $40 a month

Total cost: $339 a month, approximately the cost of car ownership.

Free options: Cycling and walking. Not only are they free, but you also get exercise so you can cancel that gym membership (and also save on long-term healthcare costs down the line). Bumming rides from others for the cost of fuel sometimes works, but don’t become a pest to your friends and family.

This is something I’ll periodically check in on, as our children age and the car-free lifestyle becomes more realistic for our family. I think it sends the right message to our children that skills such as creativity, physical exercise, and advance planning are more rewarding than simply getting behind the wheel whenever you have to get somewhere. Best of all, those are skills you can teach children whether you’re car-free or you have an entire fleet of vehicles in your yard!

Finally, a solar power option for renters*

* in Seattle, anyway

One of the few drawbacks of renting is that we’re limited in the modifications we can make to the house. Even though I know it makes long-term financial sense and it’s in line with my values, converting the house to solar power is out of the question!

I almost fell off the couch with excitement when I got this in the mail:

[Seattle] City Light is offering customers the opportunity to participate in Community Solar at Jefferson Park. When you enroll in the program, a portion of the electricity generated by the project will be credited annually to your power bill. Your name will become a permanent part of the ground-breaking Community Solar installation. And you’ll be pioneering a bright, new energy future for Seattle…

Each solar unit is estimated to produce 50 kWh of electricity per year through June 2020 when the program ends. The one-time, up-front cost is $600 per solar unit.

If you read the fine print you’ll find that the solar panels don’t fully pay for themselves in electricity bill credits. Even so, it’s an opportunity to make a local investment in sustainable energy and send a message to the rest of the country that our community is ready for renewable power.

If you live in Seattle, spread the word and consider signing up! My goal is to ensure that all 500 solar units are purchased.