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Living a Low Energy Lifestyle

It just makes sense to try to live a low energy lifestyle.

I think it is crucial, for many reasons, to try to live a low energy lifestyle. I wanted to share a few of the things our family has done and would like to know what you are doing. 

First, we downsized twice (to a three bedroom, two and a half bath). After framing the house, we spent weeks and weeks caulking everywhere two pieces of wood met, inside and out, including the foundation. We super-insulated the walls and ceiling (R-90 in the attic). The basement and storage room over the garage (always a problem) we chose not to heat. The entrance to the attic is a huge heat loss, so even though it has a Styrofoam cover, it is in an unheated area. The windows are double paned and tightly fit.

I have seen huge homes in Brookfield with 2 by 4 outerwall construction! In this climate! All our homes are 2 by 6, making them stronger and much better insulated. I wish we had done 2 by 8.

We installed a superefficient, forced air wood/oil furnace (www.yukon-eagle.com) in the basement that also heats our hot water, and pays for itself every winter. We burn four cords of wood a winter (only needed mid November to mid March). We keep eight cords of wood in the basement that we have cut and split (for free, other than the cost of gas) and dried outside for a year... so we dont have to go outside all winter to get wood. The wood ash (NPK of 0-1-7 with many trace minerals) goes on the organic, French Biointensive gardens in place of lime.

The house is so tight (check out the German Passivhaus ideas) that my wife leaves the bedroom window open all winter.

My oil company estimates that my home should use between 1,800-2,200 gallons of heating oil per year for usually three people. We used 515 gal., 423 gal. and are trying for 200-250 gal. this year. We use two quarts a day during the summer for hot water (laundry, showers, kitchen). It is only possible to turn down my oil heater to 100 degrees so I put an on/off switch and turn it off as much as possible. This simple, inexpensive step saves hundreds of gallons of oil a year.

Four years ago, we turned in the Explorer SUV (about 13 mpg) for a Volks diesel (about 45 mpg and mid 50s on the highway). We try to drive 55 mph, which gives huge savings (going from 50-80 mph increases fuel usage about 40 percent due to wind resistance). In an emergency, we could use the heating oil in the diesel if we had to.

The third other main use of energy is in food. It takes about 400 gallons (fuel equivalent) to feed an American in our industrial food system. The average food comes from about 1,500 miles away and uses massive energy to grow, process and transport, using 7-10 calories for every calorie of food provided. We have put in gardens, fruit trees and "soft fruits" and are learning to root cellar, dry and freeze the harvest (learning canning comes next... with some trepidation... while in med school, an old couple died from eating their canned peas). So our food, fresh, healthy and organic, travels 1,500 inches, instead of miles, to our plates.

So whether you are trying to save money, keep the money in our community instead of sending it abroad, keep your carbon footprint small, keep your home toasty warm (for almost free)... it just makes sense to try to live a low energy lifestyle.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy holiday season, Robin

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Dr. Robin Appleby December 06, 2011 at 01:25 PM
We need to live a low energy lifestyle. America is sending over $ 1 billion dollars a day to other countries to import oil. This money could have stayed in our community to build roads, schools, hospitals, power grids (& trim the trees along the power lines), help the elderly and poor. It is estimated that almost 2 and a half million jobs have flowed out of the country with the money.
Dr. Robin Appleby December 06, 2011 at 01:39 PM
We have no leadership from Democrats or Republicans on this issue. In the 1970s, Pres. Carter set an example of turning down the thermostat and wearing a sweater. We tried to drive 55 miles an hour (which saves a huge amount of gas), drive smaller/lighter cars, car pool, burn wood to save oil, insulate our homes, turn off lights, grow some of our own food, etc. I see folks buying huge, 2-3 ton SUVs and driving 75-80 on the highways. Most people never think to turn off the engine when talking or even just sitting in the car. I see outside lights left on all day.. I see people using huge amounts of very hot water to wash a fork or take long showers/baths. People are using huge amounts of oil to heat huge, poorly insulated homes, especially rooms over the garage. Most people dont even give it a thought. If we could use less energy it would save us a lot of money, keep the money in Brookfield, build a lot of infrastructure, create jobs, and even keep the environment cleaner.
Dr. Robin Appleby January 03, 2013 at 02:39 PM
496.4 gallons of heating oil for 2012. That is with 4-6 adults, depending on college, and 2 children living here.....heat, (massive amounts of) laundry, showers, cooking, washing dishes. 365 gallons of heating oil in 2011 for 2-3 adults. I think we will see the necessities of life: food, heating oil, gasoline, insurance, medical/dental care, (college tuition),etc. getting more and more expensive. Taxes going up EVERYWHERE. Incomes stagnant or going down....if one even has a job. There is tremendous economic and social stress on the average American family. We need to consider living as frugally as possible as our standard of living keeps going down. Growing some of our food helps. Smaller more fuel efficient cars (Volks diesel) and driving slower and less (see how many massive SUVs pass you at 75-80 mph). Better insulating our homes. Cutting and burning renewable biomass...wood (carbon neutral).
Ken January 03, 2013 at 04:34 PM
Pellet Stoves are also really nice. The heat from the stove is like a forced air system and the heat really disperses well. Since pellet stoves have a glass window the glow of the fire also adds a nice feel to the room. We knew we had to get a pellet stove a few years back because we have an electric heat house. Two or three monthly electic bills that were each higher than the cost of 3 tons of pellets, about what we use over 4-5 months, convinced us we needed an alternative. There is much less ash with pellets but what we do have I carry out and dump onto our leaf pile. The ash dissolves into the composting leaves. I knew about using wood ash in gardens. We do have a fire place and that ash I do dump into our veggie garden. Even if the ash sits on the surface when you first dump it, snow and rain quickly disolve it into the soil and in spring you can rake it all in anyway.
Steven DeVaux January 04, 2013 at 11:03 AM
Take the ash and have it tested for heavy metals. You'll be surprised at the test results and give second thoughts to putting it in the gardent that you grow your vegatables to eat.

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