Category Archives: green home

Home Wish List

Our family is very fortunate, since we live in what I consider to be our dream-come-true house. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s our home and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But as any homeowner knows, there are always desired improvements no matter your satisfaction level.

When we moved in almost two years ago, my mind went racing with all kinds of ideas and creative household project possibilities. Yet, there’s only so much time, money and energy to go around. In order to prioritize our precious resources, I developed a long-term wish list on Google Docs . My Twin Sis also turned me on to a fun way to save idea articles and product research using Clipmarks, like everything else these days, you can share with your friends. 

My wish list is both qualitative and quantitative with things like “year-round organic harvest” and “energy-efficient refrigerator.” There are practical items, like repairing our old windows and covering bare CFL light bulbs in our entryway. There are also items for pure fun, like building a play fort and adding more garden art.

This wish list is a touchstone in several ways. I now have items that we’ve already created, designed or bought highlighted in green. This helps to show me how much we’ve accomplished in two short years, which makes all of the dangling “to-dos” a little less urgent. If I can live without something for two years, how critical can it really be to our daily lifestyle? They are really icing on the cake.

As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve always been very thoughtful about our household purchases. Our list helps us keep our eyes on the prize by only wishing for things that truly increase our quality of life without causing environmental harm. By being patient about when we may (or may not) get something, it makes it more likely that we’ll be able to find it used or from an eco-friendly local business.

When I occasionally revisit my wish list, it makes me smile within to reflect on how we are reaching our goals. Envisioning my ideal home relieves any angst about the imperfections that exist at the moment.

Do you have your own wish list?
How has it influenced your perspective?

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

Clean Energy Works – Part 3

We are elated to have accomplished our biggest household goal; fully insulating our leaky 1904 home. It was made possible through a new program in Portland called Clean Energy Works, which I’ve talked about in detail in Part 1 and Part 2.

EcoTech did a blow test before insulating, which measured that our old house leaked 5901 CFM (Cubic Feet Per Minute). After all the work was done, the house measured 3823 CFM, a difference of 2078 CFM! Increasing our home efficiency by a third feels like a good investment!

Only time will tell how much of a difference it will make for our utility bill and carbon footprint, but I will be to give seasonal updates and report out after the first year. Our efforts were further validated when I read how “energy efficiency is the best and cheapest way to cover the next generation’s electricity needs.” 

Even though winter is past us (thank God!), we can already feel the difference in our home with the breezy spring. We’ve been talking with our BigGuy about the work being done and have explained that we’ve put a big blanket around our home. It truly feels cozy and snug, and it’s not just me feeling warm and mushy about the money saved and pollution curbed.

Beyond heating and cooling benefits, a benefit most people don’t think about is how much outside sound is reduced when your home is insulated. Our residential neighborhood is on the edge of the urban acitivity and we are totally used to hearing the “sounds of the city” (in quotations because we have a cute book with the same title 🙂 Yet, the general noise reduction has been calming.

What types of home efficiency has you invested in for your family?

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

Green Gifts

A co-worker and friend is having a housing warming party, which gets me thinking about green gifts.
  • House plants  – Is there a better way to bring a little bit of nature inside than house plants? I love house plants and they are one of my favorite gifts to give (and receive). Many are very easy to propagate, and I often will snap off a piece (or my kids do it for me) and put in a vase until it roots. Yet, I also realize that not everyone is has a green thumb, so I try to only give ones that are easy to grow. Here some more favorites: prayer plant, Christmas cactus, philodendron, spider plant, wandering jew, asparagus ferns and jade plant (a symbol of prosperity). Aloe is perfect for kitchens in case of burns. House plants shared by friends can also become like family, my Mom has an angel-wing begonia from a friend since before I was born, and I have a plant from the same cutting.
  • Candles – Nothing warms a room like candles, but you want to make sure you give (and use) “green” ones. Many candles are petroleum based and some are made with a thin wire of lead in the wick (to help with dripping) obviously not good for your own environment. Pacifica  is my favorite candle-maker (and soap, lotion…)
  • Herbs – It’s very cost-effective to grow your own herbs for your pantry . Yet, you’ll find that come harvest time there’s almost always a surplus. Everyone could stand to refresh their herbs (I know I’m in need!), and moving is a great time to do it.
  • Seeds – After the blossoms fade it’s easy to collect seeds from your favorite flowers (or even in a friend’s yard), and they make perfect gifts.

Sharing things like seeds and herbs can be a great way to earn some social capital. Enjoy sharing the wealth!

What gifts do you give for a house warming?
Do you bring hostess gifts?

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

Solar Savings

I’ve always been hopeful for the day when solar energy would be affordable for my family and no longer be considered an “alternative” to coal generated power. I was totally psyched when I found out about an effort to purchase solar panels in “bulk” through my neighborhood organization dubbed  Solarize NE  (Portland that is…here’s the Oregonian article ). It’s very much a DIY effort and there are a series of workshops to inform residents about net metering and other solar lingo.

Through a bulk purchase, residents can expect a 25% discount and when you tack on tax incentives, a 3-kilowatt system would cost you about $3500. Depending on the system you install, you could have a return on your investment in just a couple years. Tax incentives can vary by state , but you can save up to 80%! Interestingly, I just happened across an article about how solar energy has become so widespread in California that there is a legislative bill trying to put a cap on net metering (solar energy sold back to the utility.) This would be a big disincentive for families looking to save money and live green. Alas, most parts of the country don’t have this problem yet.

I met for my home consultation with the Energy Trust rep this past Friday (on my Flex Day ) Our meeting turned out to be pretty brief, because it turns out that roof simply doesn’t work with current solar panels (the Victorian style is a hipped gambrel roof with multiple steep angles). I was told that you need at least 200 square feet minimum for a cost-effective solar system. It’s really too bad. She calculated that after state/federal tax incentives, a 2.5 kw system would cost us only $1,788. 

The silver lining is that she still thinks that a solar water heating system might fit on our small roof angles. There are also incentives water heating systems, since they typically suck 14-25% or your household energy use. An electric system saves 1,800-3,000 kWh/year, and would save you $150-300 in energy costs per year. With current incentives and credits the return on investment would be about 10 years. I’d obviously want to look into the specifics of our household bill to make sure these estimates match, but it could be worth looking into.

Has your family looked into solar savings? 

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.