Category Archives: green

The Ups and Downs of a Gallon Challenge

[Sorry for the light posting recently. By the time you read this I’ll be in Israel for my sister’s wedding. Mazel Tov, Mindy! Oh and don’t think about robbing my house. We have a house-sitter and she’s a rugby player.]

August is over so let’s take a look at how I did on the Gallon Challenge. Here were the car trips I made in the month*

Date Purpose Miles Gallons
8/02/2012 Dad’s birthday 16 0.8
8/09/2012 Drive babysitter home 4 0.2
8/16/2012 Drive to concert 17 0.85
Totals: 37 1.85

The bad news is that I used almost 2 gallons of gas, twice as much as I wanted to use.

The good news is that I only made 3 car trips for the entire month! Instead of driving, I did a lot of walking and biking (which is better than free, since it’s free + I got exercise). I also rediscovered the joy of reading a good book on the bus (which is free for me since my employer provides a bus pass), and prevented over 100 pounds of CO2 from polluting the atmosphere.

Instead of all that driving, I biked or walked about 100 miles. This included running errands, commuting, and exercise. By not needing to refuel the car, I spent a whopping $0.00 on gas this month, as opposed to an average fuel spend of $97 per month. If I got rid of the car and permanently invested that $97 every month, it would add up to over $17,000 in ten years (including compound interest). Imagine how much more that would be if I also didn’t need to buy auto insurance, oil changes, parking, etc.

As a side note, I also got my blog idol Mr Money Mustache to join in the challenge. He upped the ante by having his wife join in, and the two of them pledged to only use a gallon of gas combined!

All in all, I’d say the positive aspects of this month far outweigh the negative. Oh, and you should see what biking the boys to camp did to my leg muscles. I’m ripped!

* remember, family vacations are excluded. I also excluded times I kept Venessa company in the car while she was delivering food for her catering business.

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Hang Dry Your Laundry: Just Do It!

Speaking of laundry… Hang-drying your laundry is so easy, it’s something everyone should do! The sun is just sitting out there waiting for some laundry to dry for free. Even in Seattle, we keep the clothesline up year-round (though it doesn’t get much use from October – May).

We hung some rope from the house to a spare bamboo pole, and then back again, to provide two lengths of clothesline from which to hang clothes. And we added a drying rack for increased capacity. You can also see stuff hanging from chairs and even toys.

We’re blessed with a large deck that has Southern exposure, but there’s no reason you couldn’t do this inside, or on a small scale if you have a smaller yard.

There are plenty of other tips to increase the space on the clothesline: hang clothes from hangers or even an old umbrella frame.

And the proof is in the financial pudding. Dryers are one of the biggest energy consumers in the house. We just got our electricity bill for June/July (when we’ve been able to hang-dry almost exclusively). We used 387kWh per month.

According to the Government, “In 2010, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 11,496 kWh, an average of 958 kilowatthours (kWh) per month. Tennessee had the highest annual consumption at 16,716 kWh and Maine the lowest at 6,252 kWh.”

So we’re at about 1/3rd the national average. Granted, energy costs are lower for us in the summer, so let’s look at our family’s yearly average (the Seattle City Light bill gives you a nice graph of your yearly consumption), 811kWh per month. Lower than average, but we still have some ways to go before we can beat Maine! In February, our most electricity-consuming month, we use over 4x the amount of electricity we use over the summer!

Not only are you saving money, by hanging your clothes to dry you’re also helping save the earth. I love when those two things go together!

PS: Washington state enjoys the 2nd lowest energy costs in the nation (probably due to all our hydroelectric). But that doesn’t mean you can waste it!

A Supposedly-Frugal Thing I Actually Did Try Again

I previously tried a powdered laundry soap recipe, and concluded that it was too much effort and not worth the trouble for the minor cost-savings. As a footnote to that post, I mentioned a different, liquid recipe that looked promising.

When the homemade powder ran out, I decided to try that liquid recipe. Now that we’ve been using it at home for a few weeks, I’ve concluded that it’s great!

The recipe is from The Duggar Family, and is as follows:

  • 4 c water (heated in saucepan)
  • 1 bar of soap (I recommend Trader Joe’s oatmeal soap, it’s $1 and mostly free of weird ingredients)
  • 1 c washing soda*
  • ½ c Borax
  • 5 gallon bucket
  • Empty liquid detergent container (or any large-ish container with top)
  1. Grate bar of soap and add to saucepan with water. Stir continually over medium-low heat until soap dissolves.
  2. Fill 5 gallon bucket half full of hot tap water. Add melted soap, washing soda and Borax. Stir well until all powder is dissolved.
  3. Fill bucket to top with more hot water. Stir, cover and let sit overnight to thicken. (You’ll either need a very-long-handled ladle or a brave, clean arm)
  4. Next morning, stir well.  Fill a laundry soap dispenser half full with soap and then fill rest of way with water.

Shake before each use, as the mixture will gel. Use ¼ c per load in a front-load/HE washer or ½ c in a top-load/conventional washer.

Cost Savings:

The recipe yields 320 washes for top-load and 640 washes for front-load, so you might want to half (or even quarter) it as a trial run the first time. The ingredients cost about $6 total, so that’s less than $0.02 per load.

We used to use Trader Joe’s powder detergent which is $0.16 per load. We do about 200 loads of laundry a year and I estimate the recipe took about 30 minutes of my time, so I’m saving about $28 for a half-hour’s worth of work, or $56 an hour (more than I make at work). Plus, I know exactly what’s in the detergent and that all ingredients are safe, which is a plus.

In conclusion: totally worth it!

* To make washing soda out of baking soda, bake it for an hour at 400 degrees.

Update: This batch of laundry detergent lasted exactly one year for our family of 5.

Step Up To The August Challenge: Gallon Challenge

It’s August, and that means it’s time for another monthly challenge. This one is really going to stir the pot: the Gallon Challenge. I’m not talking about the fraternity hazing ritual, where you have to drink a gallon of milk in an hour (don’t ask). This challenge is about limiting yourself to a gallon of gas for the month!

You’ll quickly realize that this challenge seriously penalizes those with less fuel-efficient cars. Good! It’s time to feel the pain for making an inefficient car choice. Don’t feel too bad, I’m in this group (our car only gets 20 MPG), so I’m making some pretty major lifestyle changes to make sure I only drive 20 miles this month.

The biggest change is getting the boys to summer camp. The round trip is 7 miles, and there’s 10 days of camp. That obviously won’t work. My first thought was to take the bus, but that would take 40 minutes, with a transfer. So I decided to take matters into my own hands, or shall I say “feet.” I contacted Bike Works, a local non-profit dedicated to getting more people biking. They have a loaner program where they’ll loan out all sorts of bikes. For a small donation, I got this Sun Atlas cargo bike for the two weeks that the boys are in camp.

Riding it is a blast, for me and for the boys. I find that our commute is much more social, not to mention the amazing workout that I’m getting! Isaac looked pretty proud rolling into camp the first day on the back of a cargo bike.

So that’s the challenge. Who’s up for it?

Fine print: Use your car’s average MPG to figure out how many miles you’re allowed to drive (e.g. 20 MPG = 20 miles). Family vacations don’t count (you can consider that fuel consumption to be in the “vacation” category). Decide for yourself if you count being a passenger towards your miles. Maybe you can count that for half miles? Let me know what you decide.

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.