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The YES! No Impact Diary: Day 5

You've laid off the lights and turned down the heat. How are you staying warm?
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So... here I am on my computer talking about reducing my energy impact. Hahaha! After I stopped laughing, I looked around and started tallying the number of electronics we have plugged in that are constantly leeching power. The microwave, the refrigerator/freezer, the coffee pot, two digital alarm clocks, two VCRs, two DVD players, the CD player, and the chargers for our cell phones (we don't have a landline). Other energy users—water heater, two TVs, satellite receiver, stereo (including a separate tuner and a tape deck), two desktop computers (they're on a block that gets fully turned off at night), my 7-yr-old laptop (which is positively ancient in computer years—but is rarely plugged in), washer and dryer, furnace, and various floor lamps throughout the house (to combat the lack of overhead lighting in most of the rooms), and two vacuum cleaners.

The 3-level house we rent was not designed to be energy friendly, and over the 30-some years since its construction, it's become even less so. The front and back doors have gaps where the house settled, and left slight gaps around the door. The upper floor has a swamp cooler installed on the roof, dropping the nighttime temperatures into the upper 50s—which we don't mind, but it still signifies an energy leak. The thermostat on the forced-air heating is old (regulating temperature is an approximation), as is the whole system, but at least the registers are on the floor.

Down in the basement (one section of which is fully finished, the other half only partially finished) is where our computers and entertainment system reside, as does my work area for papercrafting and the laundry area/lego-building area. The fully finished portion has two canister lights on a dimmer switch, and a torchiere I added to my workspace for more light, as well as my Ott-light desklamp. The torchiere and desklamp are only on when I'm working. In the laundry room/lego room there are two overhead light fixtures with daylight CFLs and one Ott floorlamp. Most of the light fixtures in our house don't currently have CFLs in them, some because they won't fit, some because we don't use the lights for that long. We're going to look at what light options are available, and what will fit our needs. We might even switch over to some of the LED bulbs, since they'll be even more cost-effective than the CFLs and are sturdier, without the worry of mercury.

Little things, each one by itself, but when added up they become a larger whole in creating a smaller impact.

Our coffee-pot, which gets used every morning can be unplugged right after the brewing cycle is finished—it brews into a carafe that keeps it warm without any extra power being used. Our computers, which are newer models, and thus take virtually no time to start up can be powered down during the day when I'm doing stuff in the kitchen or outside. We've been trying to keep the lights down in the basement, or turning on the torchiere next to my desk, since it's one light and not two (like the ones on the dimmer). We can plug in our cellphone chargers only when we've actually got the phones on them. We can make sure that our electronics that are always on (like the ones in perpetual stand-by mode) are plugged into power strips with an on/off switch so that we can actually shut them off. We're trying to figure out how to cover the swamp cooler vent in the ceiling, so that during the winter months we don't lose heat through it. One of the alarm clocks needs to be on always, but the other clock can be switched to battery operated and used with rechargeable batteries... or perhaps find a different type altogether. Little things, each one by itself, but when added up they become a larger whole in creating a smaller impact. -Laura W. in Colorado

Yesterday, I somehow couldn't motivate myself about Day 5. So I looked up some statistics. “Nearly ninety percent of Hawaii's energy comes from petroleum, the highest rate of oil dependency in the nation. Hawaii has the highest overall energy prices in the nation, ranking first in motor gasoline price, natural gas price, and retail electricity price. (EIA, 2008)" Okay okay. We live on an island. I know.

I still shrugged off No Impact Day 5 at first because what could I do besides go to bed at sunset? Lights (CFLs, naturally!) and laptop (3 years old and counting) are my primary electricity uses. But the fleeting thought of “ha, like I’m gonna sit in the dark” recalled a time when I did sit in the dusk rather than flick on the lights. When I took energy conservation as a matter of human rights because my involvement in the ills of the oil industry became too apparent.

By using electricity, I was doing harm, no matter how diffused this responsibility was between the 49 million other users on South Korea's power grid.

Back in 2008, I copy edited corporate annual reports as a way to scratch out the rent to my swinging bachelorette pad. After my first draft of the national oil corp's paean to itself, I turned off the lights and unplugged my computer. Korea, you see, is effectively an island too. So the petroleum that runs the miracle on the Han River comes from places like the Yadana offshore gas field in Burma, Nigeria (see activists like Ken Saro-Wiwa), and Canada's tar sands. Do no harm? By using electricity, I was doing harm, no matter how diffused this responsibility was between the 49 million other users on South Korea's power grid.

So my Day 5 pledge to (be fulfilled) is to work toward energy conservation beyond the individual level. Like UK’s “Close the Door” campaign that thwacks retailers for blasting the heat while keeping their doors open. Or bringing a car share option to Oahu (I counted one rush hour and 80% of drivers had no one else in the car). Or getting apartment buildings (er, mine perhaps?) to install solar water heaters. Or working with Kanu Hawaii on the 2011 sustainable energy push… -Annie Koh

I have just received my quarterly electricity and gas bill (combined) for $50. This would be in part due to solar panels (electricity produced exceeding usage).

But also due to our ventilation system. When the house is cool and we want it warmer, once the temperature in our roof space is greater than the temperature in our house a fan sends warm air down. This can happen during the day in both summer and winter here. When the house is too hot and we want it cooler, once the roof space is cooler than the house a fan once again sends the air down to cool. This is usually at night, when it is more pleasant to sleep in the cooler air. This ventilation system has made a difference to the amount of gas and electricity we have used, as the natural heating and cooling of air in the roof space is used rather than lots of gas or electricity.

Last winter the temperature in the house was ten degrees Celsius warmer than in previous winters. This will be our first full summer with the system installed, and so far the temperature in the house has not risen above 25 degrees Celsius. In southern Australia our warmest month is February, so the biggest test is still to come. I still think it will prove better than air conditioning, in that it will result in far less energy usage for a similar result. -Eileen



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