A Three Year Energy Diet

Energy shortages may cause severe economic dislocations in coming years. High prices for natural gas and electricity are already causing problems with family budgets. Now is the time to learn the skills and acquire the information that will help you to manage life without fossil fuels. The future safety and security of your family and neighborhood may very well depend on your ability to cut your energy usage dramatically.

You must carefully consider your own situation -- your resources, needs and wants -- in order to use this guide effectively. This is a sample plan, there is no "one size fits all" for our journey. Your area's climate will be a major factor in the choices you make. People who live in Arizona will have some different solutions than those who live in northern Canada. As the saying goes, "Your mileage may vary".

An effective energy diet requires addressing not only the energy you directly use, but also the energy you indirectly consume. As the price of energy rises, the prices of everything you buy will rise too. Cut your household spending and open a savings account r get a second job to pay for capital purchases. Because prices for alternative energy products are likely to rise as the cost of energy increases, start purchasing alternative energy components as the funds become available.

It is easier to start small and grow, rather than to try doing everything at once. People will have different ideas about what is difficult and what is easy, so make your own decisions as to what goes first, what's last, and what's in between. Networking with others is very helpful in this journey -- there are many things that are easier and cheaper to do as a group.

Year one --

1. Make a list of everything in your household that uses energy. Approximate the amount of energy it uses each month. Set a specific energy reduction goal. You have to slash your waste of energy, and you need effective and practical substitutions for existing energy uses. The lower your monthly consumption (in kilowatt hours of electricity, cubic feet of natural gas, gallons of gasoline, diesel, or kerosene, pounds of food bought from the corporate agriculture system, and the amount of trash you throw away), the less money you will need to invest in an alternative energy system. Keep written records of these energy indicators to track your progress.

2. Housing: Decide whether you will move to a more energy efficient dwelling that is smaller and is closer to your work or public transportation, or if you will keep your current dwelling and make it more energy efficient.

Investigate "Co-housing" as an alternative. You could subdivide your existing dwelling, or purchase a larger place with a small group of people. If you are renting, develop a plan that will lead to home ownership or a co-housing arrangement. If you stay in your current dwelling, think about how it could be "retrofitted" to benefit from passive solar heating and cooling. Don't be afraid to explore alternative building technologies such as strawbale or "earth ships".

If you are low income, there are programs and organizations that can help you achieve home ownership, and also to insulate your home. Some of the energy efficiency programs are also available to renters. There is typically a long waiting list for these funds, so if you qualify, get in line as quick as possible.

3. Give careful attention to how you are wasting energy: caulk, weatherize, tuckpoint, and insulate. Plant protective windbreak vegetation around the house. The better insulated your dwelling, the less money and hassle it is to keep your living space at a comfortable temperature year round.

4. Transportation: If you are driving a big gas guzzler, downsize as soon as financially possible. Take the bus to work and shop or carpool at least one day a week. Investigate any other local transit options. Co-ownership of transportation could be an essential and attractive component of a co-housing arrangement.

5. Electricity: Practice disciplines such as turning off lights when they are not in use, use spot/task lighting, and never leave the TV on for background noise. Install compact flourescent bulbs & ceiling fans. Turn the computer off when not in use. Optimize your refrigerator for efficient operation (manual defrost refrigerators use much less energy). Use solar power to recharge batteries for small electronics. Track down and eliminate your hidden electrical loads (such as instant on circuits in appliances). Disconnect your cable television. Use"green plugs" for all electric appliances (available at home supply stores). Replace electric clocks with wind-ups (or batteries powered by solar rechargeables).

6. Food: Cook outside during the summer. Go shopping only one day a week. Start an organic garden. Buy locally grown produce directly from farmers. Start eating with the season. Have one meatless day a week. Start a compost pile. Plant fruit and nut trees.

7. Heating & Air Conditioning: Set the thermostat during the winter to 65 (at night down as low as it goes or turn it off completely), during the summer to 75-80 (at night turn it off and use cool outside air & ceiling fans to stay comfortable). Make and use inside thermal shutters in the winter, and put shades over the outside windows in the summer. If your attic is not ventilated, install vents or wind-driven fans. Learn how to shade and ventilate your house in the summer so that you use less air conditioning.

8. Community involvement. Join at least one community grassroots organization, such as a church, neighborhood association, or fraternal lodge. Weave yourself into a local support network.

Think globally, act locally. Help others to reduce their energy usage. Start submitting energy saving ideas to your employer, or if you own a business, develop a three year energy diet plan for that business. Nurture strong relationships with your neighbors.

9. Pay attention to details. Start learning to sew or develop a relationship with a local tailor/seamstress. Develop a plan to get out of debt & stop incurring new debt.

If you have a dishwasher, don't use it two days a week. Investigate non-electric appliances and tools and develop a replacement plan. Stop using the dryer, hang your clothes to dry in the sun.

Stop using disposable plates and dinnerware, use cloth rags instead of paper towells, and start abandoning the plastic economy. Recycle paper, plastic, metals. Measure the amount of trash you throw away each week, by whatever method is convenient -- bags, containers, whatever you use, and however many times you empty it each week. The amount of trash you throw away is an indicator of your progress in this journey.

Get in better physical shape. If you're using less energy, you will probably be doing more labor and being more active. Don't jump into this overnight! But don't wait until year 3 either. Gardening is a good way to start.

Year Two

1. Continue whatever is left from the year one agenda. Keep tracking your progress indicators; they should be on a steady downward trend. Tell your friends and family not to bring any plastic or paper trash into your house. If they bring something in, they have to take it with them when they go.

2. Housing: Continue to insulate, weatherize, and cultivate protective windbreak vegetation. Install a solar hot water system.

3. Transportation: Carpool or take public transit to work 3 days a week. Buy a bicycle and start to use it.

4. Electricity: Get rid of electrical gadgets such as kitchen stoves, blankets, can openers. Don't use a microwave to defrost foods, and if you buy a microwave, don't buy a new one. Get a smaller TV (preferably black and white), keep it turned off completely for two days each week, and recycle, sell, or give away any extra TVs you have. If you have a water bed, drain it and replace with another type of bed. Replace your refrigerator/freezer with more efficient model, preferably an ultra low power/highly insulated model. Consider sharing ownership of a full-size freezer with a neighbor.

5. Food: Double the size of your organic garden. Continue learning to eat with the season -- during the winter, use no fresh produce unless it is locally grown. Have three meatless days a week. Start a worm box for a source of high quality fertilizer. Build a wood burning outdoor oven, solar hot plate, and a solar oven. Don't buy any beverages in plastic containers. Start making your own beer, wine, soda pop, herbal teas, whatever your preferred recreational beverages. If you buy imported coffees or teas, purchase them only from "Fair Trade" sources.

6. Heating and air conditioning: In the summer, delay turning on your air conditioning until July 15th. If you are switching to wood, you can scavange wood that would otherwise be wasted, but you must also develop a renewable wood supply. If you have a large lot, learn to continuously harvest fuel wood from a tree ("coppicing") and plant appropriate varieties. If you have a small lot, consider purchasing a small rural woodlot or start a wood cooperative with others who are also heating with wood. Here again, co-housing and cooperative ownership of woodlots is an advantage.

7. Community: Learn to play a non-electrical musical instrument and/or practice your singing. Start an energy saving project with a local organization.

8. Miscellaneous: Go shopping only once every two weeks. Cut back on purchases of "new stuff" -- patronize thrift stores and other parts of the "after market". Stop giving gifts of "new stuff" -- start making your own gifts for others.

Year Three

1. Continue whatever projects are left from year 2. By now you should have just about broken your trash addiction, and your other progress indicators should be nearing your household goals.

2. Housing: Install rainwater catchment system. Dig a root cellar. Your insulating/weatherizing project should be complete by this time.

3. Transportation. Ride public transit, carpool, or bike to work every day.

4. Food. Use gas or propane only for cooking, not heating or cooling. Don't cook anything with electricity. Stop buying corporate agriculture food products. Get as much of your food as possible from local sources -- grow it yourself, or purchase it from local growers/processors. Double the size of your organic garden or join a community garden if you are out of space. Eat meat only one day a week, or go all the way to a vegetarian diet.

5. Heating/air conditioning. Abandon air conditioning in the summer, use no electricity or gas for heating in the winter.

6. Electricity. Install alternative power system and disconnect from the utility grid (wind or PV or hybrid). The lower you get your monthly kilowatt hours, the less money you will spend on an alternative power system. You could go with solar cells only, wind power only, or a hybrid system using both.

7. Miscellaneous. Kill your TV, or replace it with a small used black & white set. Go shopping at "corporation" stores as little as possible. Stop buying new stuff.

This document is Share-right (S) 2001 by Robert Waldrop, it may be copied as long as it is distributed free of charge.

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