The YES! No Impact Diary: Day 5

You've laid off the lights and turned down the heat. How are you staying warm?
Thursday Energy

Replace kilowatts with ingenuity.

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Ashe Jaafaru

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Follow Minnesota high-school poet Ashe Jaafaru's video diary as she takes on No Impact Week.Ryan Eisenberg

Ryan Eisenman

Houston, Texas

With the support of his family, Texas teenager Ryan Eisenman is figuring out how to go No Impact in high school.

Kelsea MacIlroy and Muck Kilpatrick
Kelsea MacIlroy and Muck Kilpatrick

Alamosa, Colorado

Follow Colorado couple Kelsea MacIlroy and Muck Kilpatrick as they promote low-impact living in their rural community.

Kathy Kottaras

Kathy Kottaras

Los Angeles, California

Mother, teacher, and eco-pilgrim Kathy Kottaras' lyrical take on the inner adventure of going No Impact.

Grace Porter 2
Grace Porter

Bainbridge Island, Washington

Grace Porter is going it alone as the sole student at Bainbridge High School to take on the No Impact Week challenge.

Bunmi Ishola
Olubunmi Ishola

Dallas, Texas

Olubunmi Ishola is a No Impact skeptic, but she's willing to see if the experiment can prove her wrong.

Aran Seaman
Aran Seaman

British Columbia, Canada

Sustainability blogger Aran Seaman has done No Impact Week before—and he's back for round two.

Molly Eagen

Molly Eagen

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Deb Seymour
Deb Seymour

Seattle, Washington

No Impact Week is showing aspiring environmentalist Deb Seymour that going green isn't always easy.

Don't forget to check out our No Impact Week featured blogroll for more great stories, and post your photos on our Flickr page for a chance to win a subscription to YES!

More Day 5 experiences from our readers!

-Sonya Harvey

Energy! Ah, I thought, I got this one wired! Literally, as I have both solar photovoltaic (electric) and solar hot water systems on my house. So I woke up and had my usual shower, knowing that the water was hot from the sunny day before. Then I read today’s guide and they are talking about listing every item in your house that uses energy and deciding which ones you must have (mitigate) and which ones you can do without (eliminate).

I have gone the route of mitigation with the renewable energy systems I have put on my house. That said, even with Green Electricity, when you turn on a large load, somewhere on the grid, a gas-fired power plant is probably making up the difference.

I was glad to head out to work on my bike later in the day. Exercise is a good way to warm up.

Before I read the guide I was going to turn on the heat (gas) for a bit as all my housemates were home and everyone would benefit. It was a “balmy” 51 degrees; I did not want to torture my housemates with my experiment. After reading the guide, I turned off the heater figuring they could turn it on if they wanted to. I also turn off my space heater as well and put on, yet another layer of clothes. Since we have electricity for “free” we use space heaters in each room instead of the forced air heater. This is OK but not very social as everyone is in their rooms with the door closed.

Our house does not heat up on its own in the wintertime, so I was glad to head out to work on my bike later in the day when I could actually take a layer off before I headed out. Exercise is a good way to warm up.

I was home for lunch and had a cold cheese sandwich and sat outside in the sun to be warmer. Besides the solar energy systems, we have tried to make the house more efficient with insulation, sealing up air leaks, line drying our clothes and we recently got a front-loading washer. I missed out on getting a new refrigerator; first the cash for appliances program ended and then the year end sales ended before I could get motivated to replace our 20-year-old fridge. Sometimes the lack of the shopping gene works against me. I would have saved money and about 1/3 of the energy if I could have brought myself to head out shopping.

I did get out for a bike ride today as I retuned the hammer drill. Nice ride out there but a little chilly coming home. I did buy an extra ¼ bit for the drill owner, as he did not have one, so I considered this “rent” and good will for letting me use the drill. I got this job done without buying a drill, but doing this without energy would have been very hard. There is a small solar PV system at work so I will just imagine that all the electrons from that system just happened to flow to the drill I was using.

Tonight’s dinner was local rice and lentils with some broccoli on top. Low impact foods but longer cooking time. I made enough for a few meals so as to make good use of the gas used to cook this dish. My housemate was also cooking at the same time so we closed the kitchen doors and had cozy 60-degree kitchen as we talked about energy use.

These postings have been written using green electrons harvested from free-range locally collected photons.

At 5 a.m. I awoke to discover my 12-year-old son had been up all night "working." Now, I was certain that he was lying, but he was certain that he was not. At midnight I confirmed that he needed to finish putting his portfolio together so he really needed to go to sleep. He said he was wide awake and would get the assignments together right then for me to review early in the a.m.—a 45 minute job, tops. My son is a student in a home-based charter school and each quarter, they must submit examples of their work.

So I went off to bed, exhausted from figuring out a local meal and writing what felt like a zillion blog entries. I woke up in a sweat. It is cold in my apartment and I tend to sleep with the oil-filled space heater on. I jumped up when I saw the light on both under his door and his sister's door: he had never left his bedroom to go to bed. This was how I started the day. Lights ablaze in two different rooms with the space heater going right next to my bed.

And I thought today was the water day.

At 6 a.m., I was still awake, partially from my lying son's arguments and partially from the refrigerator humming, okay, pinging and growling for what seemed like interminable intervals. I pounced. I marched into my daughter's room where my son was temporarily set up while we did a deep clean on his room, threw back his covers, and gave him about 25 pieces of my mind. I thought this would relieve the twitching in my left eye, it only exhausted me further.

All lights extinguished, the space heater unplugged, his computer now off, my laptop long ago unplugged and off, I got back in the bed, drifted... then the refrigerator kicked on. It was 6:30. At 7:15 it was still on. Outraged at the power sap, I ran into the kitchen and turned it off. I went back to bed to awaken at 10 a.m. Meeting with the teacher was at 12:30. Now I had a migraine.

Coffee is one of those petroleum-dependent products that a number of us find it hard to live without.

The other part of my trial yesterday was coffee. Coffee comes from very very very far away, unless you are drinking Kona on the West Coast and Blue Mountain on the East. Yet and still, it is one of those petroleum-dependent products that a number of us find it hard to live without. I was pleased that I made it through yesterday on one cup of tea—itself from far away. This morning, my exceptionally low calorie day, the stress of my son pretending to prepare, lack of sleep and the missing pot of french pressed organic shade grown coffee colluded to get their revenge. It must have been sweet.

I was concerned that I might be looking at the hospital.

Just then, my buddy Cooper Bates called—he must have felt it all going wrong—and we talked about how this little experiment has the audacity to call itself "low impact" when it is one of the most arduous things either one of us has ever done. Laughing good and hard while making some sad looking gluten free pancakes from scratch, I felt the throb in my left eye subside. My son finally got up at 11, pleasant, efficient, and capable. WHEW! I was slow moving, pounding back a pot of coffee trying to get the capillaries to open and give me peace.

And that's when I lost track of which day of the experiment I was on. And when I lost track of the fact that I had turned off the refrigerator. It was also the moment when I considered unplugging the microwave, except there were no instructions with it when we moved in here, so I was pretty sure I would run into programming problems. I forgot that last night I had found the plugs for both the dishwasher and the garbage disposal. I also forgot that I was making a pot of black beans for dinner later on as I packed my "no impact" bag with wax paper, reusable coffee mug, and stainless steal lunch pail for leftovers.

I considered unplugging the microwave, except there were no instructions with it when we moved in here, so I was pretty sure I would run into programming problems.

We walked out the door. It was 12:30 p.m.

We returned at 3:55 to a very warm apartment with a weird smell. Sakes alive! I had left the pot of beans on! Thankfully, that eye-based migraine had made my depth perception a tad special and I had put entirely too much water in the pot. The bad smell was simply beans cooking with too little seasoning!

We had spent the time after our meeting getting something to eat at the Counter since I almost passed out from the lack of calories and sleep. It was close to where we were, I was resetting the "low fuel" button on the dashboard a bit too much, and I just wanted to get back my life for a moment. After the humanely raised and grass fed beef on reusable flatware, we had to stop for gas because the light would not go off. Uh Oh. 5 gallons and $17 later (when did it get that costly), we headed back home. Beans on stove, friend coming over in 2 hours, bedrooms a wreck, blogs due; I saw the glass gallon jug for water that we left in our haste. Crud, I have to clean for my friend!

I worked to limit the amount of water use during the big scrub. We are pretty good as it is. The kids don't shower every day, one big wash down a week for the tiny one and wash ups unless she wants to feel "fresh." The big boy just fights the thought of water in general.  I am allergic to chlorine, so I take sailor's showers: get wet; turn off water and soap up; turn on water to rinse; get out. I get sick when I have to wash my hair.

Then I sat down, glanced at the handbook and saw that Energy was the theme today. Go off the grid?! I laughed. At least the migraine had gone and I could smile again without looking like I was in mourning.

Aside from leaving a gas eye on the stove on for 4 hours straight (cause I still had to re-season those bland black beans), all lights were off, the refrigerator was off and the computers were off, two unplugged, one still in the socket. All cell phones were unplugged. The printer was unplugged, its usual state since I see no reason to keep it plugged in when I rarely use it. So I guess I decided to mitigate my use of power today. Or perhaps I got mitigated today by my own impact. -Veluma


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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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