Category Archives: carbon footprint

Transit w/ Kids

I find that the best choices for the planet and your wallet are made on a daily basis. True green decisions become so routine that you don’t even think about how much you’re saving or reducing your carbon footprint.

Taking the bus together is our daily testament to trying to be a  sustainable family Whether rain, snow or sweat, we head out the door to catch the bus together. For us that means a three block walk with 2 parents, 1 preschooler, 1 toddler (still in a front carrier), 2 work bags, 1 cloth diaper bag, clean/dirty sheets on Mondays and Fridays. It is a decent schlepp, and we get quite a few double takes en route. It’s truly worth the effort though, and we experience social, economic and environmental benefits every day.

Taking the bus does save us money too. We save on a monthly parking pass, which would run around $150. We also save on gas, wear/tear, tickets, etc. It’s hard to put a real price on the savings. But since we both have employer subsidized bus passes, paying $60 together, it’s certainly a bargain.

By taking the bus, we save at least 1500 miles per year. This save roughly 1,275 pounds of carbon annually, which is the equivalent of planting 25 trees. Occasionally we also ride the lightrail MAX, which gives us a 15 minute walk.

Typically in the morning we’re all still a little sleepy, so we mostly people watch. This involves Girly flirting with other passengers. When BigGuy was a baby we called the women on the bus his harem and now Girly has her court. We also have our fare share of “transit friends,” who we chat with when we wait or ride together. I find that people are much more outgoing when I have kids in tow, and I truly enjoy the social interactions and friendly atmosphere. The bus drivers are usually very friendly too, and last week one had me laughing to tears with a flashback of a Cheech and Chong impersonation. 
After school/work is a different mood, as we are all a bit tired and ready to be home. As a veteran transit family, we are usually come prepared:
  • Hand puppets, board books
  • Lots of healthy snacks and water (not bottled!)
  • Lots of smiles, songs, and smooches
The real long term social benefit is among our family, as riding the bus together we have plenty of adventures, memories, and life lessons. Beyond humor and entertainment value, riding the bus as a family also shows us the full spectrum of humanity and humility.

Does your family ride the transit, daily or occasionally?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Carbon Footprint Estimate #1

Now that we’ve doubled our household members, I want to calculate my family’s carbon footprint . As promised, I’m planning to test out several calculators to make sure that I’m getting an accurate baseline to track our progress.

The first is the EPA’s Household Emissions Calculator , here are the results:

As described on the page, it was pretty quick and only took me about 15 minutes once my energy bill averages were on hand. It was really intuitive and seemed to cover all the household basics. It included our house size, number of family members, gas/electricity bills, car miles and mpg, and recycling habits. According to the calculator our household emits an average of 1,021 pounds of CO2 per person, while the average American emits 20,750.  Yet, it seemed too good to be true, and based on the info I provided it just doesn’t compute.

The calculator automatically identifies that ways for you to reduce your footprint and estimates how much money and emissions you would save per green action. In fact, when I promised to do every action suggested, it calculated that we would have negative annual carbon emissions. We may try to live green, but that’s ludicrous. Talk about bursting my green bubble! My family is a long way from living a net-zero lifestyle, certainly a trek from the off-the-grid cabin where I first grew up.

However each energy savings step was pretty interesting. It calculated that if we replaced our energy hog of a refrigerator we could save $51 annually, 479 pounds of CO2, and reduce our total emissions by 47%. If I were to manage hang drying half of our laundry we could save $40 a year, 375 pounds of CO2 and reduce our total emissions by 37%. I couldn’t think of hang drying our clothes until our Girly is potty trained from her cloth diapers (I’m barely managing to get the ironing done as it is!) But it is very helpful to see specific steps and the expected results from each actions, it makes them as simple to take as they really can be.

So, while not entirely discouraging, I’m glad that I set out with the plan to test various online calculators, hopefully we’ll find the best of all calculators. 

Have you used this carbon calculator and get accurate results?
Did it help your household habits?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Clean Energy Works – Part 2

As described in yesterday’s Clean Energy Works – Part I , we are very excited about participating in Clean Energy Works  pilot program to help finance energy efficiency for old leaky houses like ours. The combined CO2 emissions saved would roughly equal our family driving from Portland to Washington D.C. and back each year. While we loved our cross-country road trip camping at national parks along the Lewis & Clark trail, I certainly wouldn’t want to emit that much pollution simply by living in our house each year.

With 5,900 cubic feet of air escaping per minute our house needs some serious retrofits. Here is a complete list of all the efficiency measures we will be taking, and the projected energy/CO2 saving:
Air Sealing – actually the most cost/carbon effective of the measures we will be taking.

  • Air Sealing Cost – $585
  • Projected Energy Savings – 168 Therms a year
  • Projected CO2 Reduction – 2,260 pounds a year

Wall Insulation – Green Fiber insulation blown into walls from small holes in the exterior. This also helps reduce outside noise. Cost also includes a recommended kitchen range hood to vent heat (Cavaliere-Euro Z 30 Wall Mounted Range Hood.)

  • Wall Insulation Cost – $2,850
  • Projected Energy Savings – 127 Therms a year
  • Projected CO2 Reduction – 1,710 pounds a year

Attic Insulation – includes Green Fiber insulation to R-value of R-50, and new bathroom fan (a Panasonic Whisper Green Fan for $250)

  • Attic Insulation Cost – $1,840
  • Projected Energy Savings – 100 Therms a year
  • Projected CO2 Reduction – 1,327 pounds a year

Floor Insulation – our master bedroom is partly above the front porch and freezing!

  • Floor Insulation Cost – $1,000
  • Projected Energy Savings – 26 Therms a year
  • Project CO2 Reduction – 350 pounds a year

Rim Joist Insulation – installing rigid foam insulation in the short wall between the first floor and basement, which is currently exposed.

  • Rim Joist Insulation Cost – $500
  • Projected Energy Savings – 12 Therms a year
  • Projected CO2 Reduction – 161 pounds a year

Grand Total Cost – $7,675.00
Projected Energy Savings – 433 Therms a year
Projected CO2 Reduction – 5,828 per year

Thanks to our contractor, Marshall at EcoTech for helping convert the projected CO2 reductions! Energy Trust of Oregon is also doing all the grunt…I mean…paperwork for this project, so they deserve our kudos too.

Do you know if your home is sealed?
Do you think it would pay off to make the investment?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Clean Energy Works – Part 1

We love our 1904 dream home, but we knew the moment we bought that we would need to invest in significant efficiency work. We’ve done home energy audits before. With our first starter home, we diligently insulated everything and made energy-related improvements. Yet, after putting every nickel into buying our house, plus having a new baby, we knew that the home efficiency improvements would have to be put on hold.
Through a stroke of political genius we are now going to be able to afford our green dream home improvements!  We’ve been accepted into a new pilot program to help finance our efficiency improvements, called Clean Energy Works. The program is unique, because it’s the first “on-bill loan” with the payment of the loan added to our monthly utility bill. We will pay nothing up front, for $7,675 worth of insulation and home sealing work. We will repay at a rate of $50 a month (3% fixed over 20 years) on our utility bill.
A big reason why we were accepted into the pilot phase of the program is because our house is so darn drafty. We have a new efficient boiler with old-fashioned radiant heating (which apparently is really efficient, but just went out of style). When we had our home energy audit it clocked our house at loosing 5,900 cubic feet per minute (CFM), and we were told that an efficient home would test at 1,700 CFM. Obviously, we were good candidates.
Here’s a little video about how the pilot program will create 10,000 green jobs, and how the program could be replicated nationwide to help more families reduce their energy bills without having to put money up front.

Green For All – Clean Energy Work Portland video from YouTube:

Would you take advantage of the Clean Energy Works program if you could?
More tomorrow on the project’s carbon impact reductions…
Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Drive Less. Save More.

Drive Less. Save More.” is more than a bumper sticker on our family rig, it’s a motto that we try to live by daily. I’ll share some of steps we’ve taken to transport ourselves in a frugal and low-impact way.

1) Live close to where you live/work/play
This is truly the biggest factor in our ability to keep our costs and carbon impact low. When choosing your family’s home, make sure to account for the cost associated with transporting yourself for home to work and beyond. We can run 90% of our errands within 5 miles; I can walk in less than fifteen minutes to the bank, pharmacy, post office and grocery store, plus the community center and several family-friendly restaurants. Family’s often don’t take this into account, and end up paying at the pump, not to mention quality of life. 
2) Calculate Your Costs
You’ve probably seen charts showing that the average American spends over $10,000 a year on transportation, driving an average of 12,000 miles. Metro’s “Drive Less. Save More.” campaign has a unique Driving Cost Calculator, which shows you what you spend currently, what you could save if you reduced your driving by 15% and 40%. This potential savings can be a good motivator to reduce your time behind the wheel.
3) Take Transit
Taking the bus or light-rail may not be an option for all families, but if it’s available near your home, don’t be intimidated to try it out. I’ll write more on this topic soon, since we take the bus every week day with two small ones. It can be fun and educational to take transit with your kids. If living in the suburbs is the only way to go for you, try carpooling. Most big areas offer programs or you can make connections at your workplace. Friends I’ve known who have carpooled enjoyed the camaraderie.
4) Mileage Matters
I wish I could say that our family car, a Subaru Forrester, gets great mileage, but it’s OK at best. Sadly, there are no good green family vehicles on the market yet. If you’ve got one you like, I’d like to hear about it! So, in the mean time, before a true eco-friendly family wagon exists, we’re going to have to continue to compensate by reducing our trips altogether.
5) Plan Trips Strategically
Often called “trip chaining,” planning your trips strategically can save you both time and money, which are both valuable to busy families. Make sure to plan your route to only include right hand turns, which the UPS found to be the quickest and thus most cost-effective. Simply taking a moment to plan out your trip will also help you feel more focused than frazzled, another genuine benefit.
6) Reduce your insurance costs
Insurance may be required, but there’s no need to overpay. You can quickly find low cost car insurance rates that will get reduce your monthly transportation costs. There are also some companies that offer pay-as-you-go plans, which gives incentives to driving less.
7) One Car
Owning only one car has always made sense to me. Perhaps it’s because I lived in Europe and biked everywhere before I ever got a driver’s license, but I promised myself long ago that my family would only have one car. Even when my Hubby worked in the burbs and I traveled to Seattle for grad school, we’ve always made our schedules work out. I know that those with older kids say that it gets harder, and I imagine it might. But call us wacky, we like going places as a family. If you really think you need two cars, try a ZipCar membership. Believe me, I looked into ditching our car altogether, but with car seats, camping and Doggy, it just wasn’t feasible.

8) Use Home Delivery Services
In many urban areas there are plenty of home delivery services, like grocery delivery and dry cleaning pick-up which can save you time and money.
9) Bike Places
I once biked 12 miles a day and loved it, but I have to admit that biking has taken a back seat since I became a Mama. I do know plenty of Mamas who take their kids to school and then head to work by bike. I hope to get back in gear this spring…I’ll share more once I’m back on the saddle.
10) Think Twice
More than anything, reducing your family miles relies upon reframing your thought process around what it is possible and what you really need and want. In college friends would ask me how I could afford to travel back to Europe each summer, and the answer was simple: I didn’t have the expense of a car. If it motivates you, think about the payoffs or log the savings and put it towards a vacation fund.
Getting from here to there can seem to be the bane of modern existence sometimes, especially when we feel the twofold guilt of the cost and pollution. But you can make a difference by finding ways to reduce your driving and save your family money. Which ways will you “Drive Less. Save More.”?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.