Tips to Live Lighter

Hello everyone, hope you are well.  My son presented me with a “job” on Saturday and prefaced it with a little speech I thought you might enjoy hearing and possibly save you a bit of money as well.

You have heard me say time and time again that I teach how to live more sustainably through example rather than by lectures so my son’s little speech gave me quite the smile.  This is the best I can remember of his exact words:  “Mom, you know if you tell me to do something I will ignore you. You also know I need to see a reason to do something different.  I want to take a page out of your book, will you help me?”

Now I have always lived pretty unconventionally, by design, so I was a little confused as to what he was planning to copy from my life.  It turns out he wanted my help to reduce his carbon footprint and efficiency of his home while helping to save money.   He asked me to tell him what areas his house could be wasting money and natural resources.

He has a lovely home, it’s not small by my standards at 1,400 sq ft, but is smaller than the average US home.  The house was built in the 1990s with thought put into energy efficiency.  The doors are tight fitting, the windows are top of the line and the insulation in walls and crawl spaces is at the maximum amount for this climate.  He didn’t know what else he could do, but I did. :-)  There are things he and his wife do that I find wasteful and when asked for my opinion I told it as I saw it.

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Much of the US is still experiencing colder than normal temperatures, which led me to consider his homework may have an item or two on it that you may have overlooked so I thought I would share it with you.

  • Turn the hot water heater down and/or schedule showers and dishes for a certain time of the day and turn the water heater off the rest of the day.   Justin turned his water heater down, but is afraid to turn it off each day fearing it may not light one day and would cost him more money.
  • Close the blinds and add heavier curtains on windows that only have sheers as night falls and open them when the sun is shining.  He is doing this but can’t afford to purchase curtains for the main window in the living room that only has sheers currently.
  • Remove extra light bulbs from fixtures.  In his living room he has a ceiling fan with 4 light bulbs which serves as the main source of light. With so many light fixtures in his home he hadn’t converted all the fixtures to CFL or LED bulbs.  He removed the extra bulbs from every fixture in the house to reduce them to one bulb per fixture and in this way was able to eliminate all incandescent bulbs finally.
  • Turn back his thermostat.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but he got in the habit of keeping his thermostat higher when the babies were born.  He thought the rooms needed to be warmer because babies kick off blankets in their sleep.  But the babies are now 5 and very active. They can easily live with a cooler home.   The one having trouble adjusting to this is my son, he noticed the difference right away.
  • Close off rooms not used throughout the day.  My son’s home isn’t the largest home ever but it does have areas he could close off.  His daughter refuses to sleep in her own bedroom still preferring the family bed.  Her room contains her toys but she often brings them out to play with in another room.  So for now that room can be closed off and the heat blocked from entering.  The other room I mentioned was his half bath.  He lives in a tri-level so the half bath on the main floor is only 6 steps from the full bath on the upper floor.  Why heat both when they are able to climb six steps without problems?
  • Cut back on laundry!  This was an area which my son let go because he and his wife were raised differently. He didn’t see this issue as important enough to have a discussion on until now.  The one area that really bugged me (nope I never said anything until I was asked) was the practice his wife brought to their family of using a bath towel only once then laundering it.  I reminded him that we used our towels for a week before washing them.  I offered him an over the door hook if he needed it to air his towels and reminded him that their bodies are clean when drying off after a shower.  Four large bath towels a day for four people washed daily is enough to increase their laundry by a minimum of 3 loads a week to wash and dry.  No, his wife refuses to air dry clothes as they feel rough to her so this option is out.
  • They have a dog, a Golden Retriever, which sheds a great deal. This was the next item to discuss.  With all that shedding it was possible the fur was around the coils under their fridge.  I instructed him on frequent cleaning of the coils for better efficiency and a longer life for the fridge.
  • On the subject of the refrigerator.  An empty fridge or freezer compartment wastes energy.  I showed him how I have been collecting soda and water bottles to fill and replace the food I remove from my chest freezer and suggested he do the same.
  • Finally, on his water bill I suggested he teach the children especially not to flush the toilet every time they go.  The children drink mainly water so when they pee the water is clear.  They already know not to bother flushing here if they simply pee to save on water.  While he has a very efficient toilet tank he can still save a gallon for every time one of the children use it.  That adds up to several gallons a day. Multiply that by a month, add the laundry savings from not washing the towels and you have a huge difference on the water bill.
  • Finally, his wife has always been afraid of the dark. When he worked third shift she kept all the lights on at night.  As a result, their daughter is afraid to sleep without a light.  For now the one light they keep lit for her is a CFL, I have pre-ordered this outlet cover which will reduce their nighttime lighting to a total cost of $0.05 per year.  Yes, I am so happy they want to reduce their footprint while learning to make the adjustment to a smaller income I was happy to help them with this one item.

Justin returned to visit the following day and informed me he had completed every task I had suggested to him plus he went online to find the ideal temperature to keep the fridge and freezer compartments for most savings and adjusted his refrigerator accordingly.  I’m really proud of him.

What would you add to this list?

37 thoughts on “Tips to Live Lighter

  1. great advice Lois and you’re a very smart woman – waiting to be asked for advice by your children before giving it – I’ve noted some of your tips as well….really trying to cut down not he laundry – It’s not my laundry- it’s my children – trying to teach them that not everything has to be washed because you wore it once..

    • As you know it’s hard to tell children, especially adult children, what to do. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see both my boys and their wives watching what I do and trying many of the practices out on their own, but it was a joy to be asked to teach my son how to be more sustainable.

      Don’t know if this will help you, but when my boys were teens I gave them each one day out of the week that they could do their laundry. The boys knew if they didn’t have a full load they had to ask another family member to contribute. But the best part of this was that the boys would rather be outside than in doing laundry so they would “evaluate” which clothes “needed” washing on their day. It cut down greatly the amount being washed each week. :-)

  2. Hmmm… well, you’ve covered most of the bases there. I would heartily second the laundry thing. Washing towels after every use seems extreme to me. Even if she’s not willing to switch to once a week, if she could be convinced to launder them after every other use she’d be cutting the problem in half. Washing them in cold water would also help.

    In terms of line drying. I actually vastly prefer the stiff feel of line dried clothes, but if they really dislike it you can still get the softness and lint removal by tossing things in the drier on the air only setting for a few minutes after they’re dry.

    I’ve never been a fan of the “yellow let it mellow” thing, but if they have an old toilet – as opposed to the water saving kind, you can put a few bricks in the tank and it will use vastly less water per flush.

    And I’m betting they won’t go for this one, but breaking the habit of reflexively showering every morning is also a good way to save water. On most days a quick sponge bath will do, and if you bathe at night instead of in the morning you don’t need to launder the sheets quite so frequently. Also, if either of them works out, they probably bathe afterwards, so is it really necessary to bathe twice on those days? As I said… they probably won’t go for that one, but it’s worth mentioning.

    But the best way to save on water usage is to switch to climate appropriate landscaping. Not sure how much rain you get there, but in these parts lawn watering accounts for a HUGE percentage of the total water usage.

    • Cat, I knew you would have some good tips. :-) The landscaping is under control, my son never waters anything outside and I do my best not to use water in the garden. I have a plan to reduce the amount further this year and will share that when I get the beds going.

      The if yellow let it mellow has never been my favorite, but when a 5 year old goes and you can’t see anything because they are so hydrated (and have smaller bladders) it’s not much of a problem. Luckily, even if they don’t adopt that one they have new toilets which are very efficient.

      About the brick in the tank…..I’ve heard the brick can break down and minute pieces can clog up the water lines. I have a large plastic bottle in mine that is weighted down instead. I know plastic isn’t great because of the toxins but didn’t want to have to explain a brick in the tank to my landlord should it break down and cause water damage.

      My daughter-in-law refuses to consider air drying clothes. Her grandparents did, still do, and she hates it. But my son can be quite persuasive so I believe the towels will now only be washed once per week. It’s just a matter of getting her to remember to hang her towel rather than tossing it down the chute but the children are on board. They know to hang up towels here and that the reason is so as not to “waste water” so getting them to do it at home was easy.

      As for showers, the children get their baths every other day, but my son and his wife both believe adults need a daily shower. Instead I suggested Navy showers to conserve. I’m not asking if they are following through as it’s one of those parent things where by asking you are seen as lecturing or controlling. ;-)

      • Good point on the brick. I actually have the same water bottle setup that you do – because I couldn’t find a brick at the time, but given what you’ve told me, perhaps I lucked out and saved myself a big problem down the road.

  3. Lois great that Justin is taking your advice.. And you have about covered everything I already do….Air drying towels I do, and reuse bath towels .. right down to energy saving light bulbs too… We have Bill and Ben lol Draft excluder’s the chimney vent which has the Gas real looking fire needs to be vented.. But we hardly ever put on as the central heating keeps the room warm. But the wind has caused drafts so we got a Fire screen which helped stop the wind draft with the high winds we had..
    We also regulate how long our water heating is on.. These do save lots in the long run…
    Thank you Lois for sharing this.. :-) and its good to be here again…. Life seems to be calm then hectic.. at the moment its running faster than I would like.. But I am pacing myself… :-)

    Much love and Good to know you are well Lois… sending my thoughts your way.. Sue xox

    • Sue, the one place I am not doing well is on the use of the clothes dryer. I have yet to get approval for drying clothes outside and have not built a drying rack. I do a maximum of one load a week but still air drying would be better.

      Time is running faster here as well, although spring is still taking its time arriving. Hope your rains and flooding have subsided.

      • I can understand the difficulty within your apartment building Lois… I have never had a tumble drier.. Always put clothes out on the washing line or or clothes dryer in the spare bedroom.. There the hotwater tank stands in a cupboard so I open the door and the heat from the tank helps dry the washing on wet days.. which have been constant this winter… ..
        The waters are subsiding in some areas but the devastation will take months to complete.. Thousands of people are still living in hotels and with relatives ..as their homes need to be stripped back, dried out and rebuilt.. its heartbreaking as this for some has been ongoing since October of 2013.. With floods hitting them in waves with the persistent storms..
        We are very fortunate to live where we do.. I just hope lessons have been learned and rivers will once again be dredged instead of being allowed to clog up over the last 20 yrs..

        • Sue, reading how bad the flooding has been reminds me of the flooding in Louisiana after hurricane Katrina landed. It’s been years yet many areas are still damaged and the ones repaired cost a lot more than insurance would have covered.

  4. Hi Lois and thanks to your son for requesting your help, thus helping us as well :)

    “The one area that really bugged me (nope I never said anything until I was asked) was the practice his wife brought to their family of using a bath towel only once then laundering it.”

    I too only wash my hair once a week which not only saves me cash on shampoo but also a little bit of time.

    Thanks again Lois and nice to see you again :)

    Take care and my best to all.

    Lyle

    • Hi Lyle, I find having to bite my tongue a bit difficult at times when I see resources being wasted, but it’s how I have avoided being the dreaded mother-in-law and get along well with the women who joined the family.

      Another weekly hair washer, :-) It’s hard to believe I ever washed my hair daily when I was younger.

      Good to hear from you Lyle.

  5. I second the washing hair once a week- and if you take the next step and go no ‘poo, after you get over the first bout of oily-ness, your hair adjusts and actually produces less oil since it is not compensating for the shampoo. I only wash my hair once or twice a week.
    Also, showering less- I shower every other day (mostly because I get sweaty a lot..) rather than every day.
    I also don’t wash my clothes unless they are actually dirty- I can wear a sweater or pants for a while before washing- that saves laundry..
    As always, great post. Good luck to your son and his wife!!
    Katie

    • Katie, I switched to “no-poo” about a year ago, but unlike many people I had no oily adjustment period. The opposite as a matter of fact. I couldn’t stop touching my hair because it felt so wonderful.

      I’m with you on the laundry. I do one load of wash a week and that includes bedding, except the weeks which I wash the blankets in the winter. If something isn’t dirty or smelly why wash it.

      In high school I worked weekends at an after hours bar, my grandfather and I would get into these arguments over where my clothes should go if I planned on wearing them again. He wanted them hung up in the closet I left them over a chair. My reasoning was that they were fine to wear again but I didn’t want them in the closet because of the smoke smell from the bar. But it made no sense to wash them until the next night as then I would have 2 sets of clothes that smelled.

  6. thought of one more…
    if anyone baths,
    leave the bath water in until it cools off. Add heat and humidity to the home.

    also, to be really frugal, could use the tub water to
    — flush toilets
    –water plants
    —water garden
    — flood a small backyard skating rink.

  7. Lots of good ideas from you and in the comments. The only comment I have is that you can have the temperature too low on the hot water heater. When we had our energy audit done our temperature was 118 F and they told us to have it 123-125 to kill most of the common bacteria. Your son can check online to see what is a safe temperature.

    • I agree, Live and Learn. My son shared that he doesn’t have a temperature setting but found his water heater was set at really hot, so he turned it to hot. He says it’s still hot enough to burn so I’m guessing it’s above the 123 needed to kill bacteria. I have a friend who has to keep her water heater lower (120) for her home as a personal care provider and the water never gets hot enough to need cold added to it no matter how long you run it. I worry it’s not hot enough.

  8. I would add, if he hasn’t done so already, plugging everything except the refrigerator into a power bar and then turning off the power bars at night. So many of our electronics use phantom energy. When we did this and turned off our water heater (except for one hour a day), we cut our electricity bill in half.

    • That is a good point and I can say this is something he already does which is why it wasn’t on the list. I tend to unplug everything when not being used, but in his home it’s easier to use the power strips.

      I would like to see Justin turn off the water heater as well, but I understand his concern that it might not come back on and need servicing. Maybe once he and his wife build a savings up he will consider it. Cutting your bill in half is amazing, good job.

  9. oh yes
    vacuum out the dryer vent, besides saving electricity as it is easier for the dryer/lessen chance of fire. have actually heard of a few fires stared by plugged dryer vents.

    get the furnace “maintained”/vacuum/cleaned. makes it run better. our gas company will do this for free once a year.

    they say replacing the furnace filter regularly can save quite a lot, as it takes more energy to push the air through a dirty filter…we always new that

    however
    if you try to put in “too” good of a filter, that too can cost
    we had bought a filter advertised to take MORE particulate out of the air flow as it was pushed through. on our yearly maintenance, the technician said he would not use it, as it created HUGE resistance, and would cost a ton in extra electricity, as well as wearing out the furnace much sooner (extra work for the motor)>

    • Lynn, I didn’t think to mention vacuuming the dryer vent or replacing and servicing the furnace as that is something he does regularly having been taught this as a teen when he would help me with routine maintenance.

      Good point on the filters. If your home is clean and you don’t suffer from allergies there is no reason to pay extra for these higher priced filters.

      • Lois, just realised, maybe I didn’t explain well what I meant re the dryer vent. not the one which is pulled out from the dryer (which also should be vacuumed inside the dryer under the pullout part)
        but, the vent part which goes from the dryer to the outside.

        these longish vents can get nearly completely plugged with lint which escapes past the pullout part in the dryer.

        when we bought our home, long ago, it came with washer / dryer. Thinking it sounded funny when on, hubby pulled it all apart, and the three foot vent which went from dry to outside was completely plugged with lint.

        since then, I have heard of two or three fires which were claimed to start when this sort of thing overheated and caught fire.

        • Lynn, I thought that was what you meant. I raised my boys in a mobile home for many years which are notorious for fires. My boys learned to vacuum both the vent and the inside of the dryer for safety reasons so that is covered.

          You are very lucky you didn’t have a fire, a clogged vent is a very dangerous situation. Good thing you were listening.

  10. share the bath/shower…besides saving water, could be fun

    how often do they wash their hair? I have noticed almost everyone I run into washes it every day. at least every second day. I wash mine when needed. that used to be every week and a half — then once a week / occasionally a bit more often. unless I am working in garden / trees and crawlies get in it/ I get sweaty etc..
    — you might think this sounds dirty, hair will look awful… I have very long hair, and all through my life have had folks stop and tell me how nice it looks. I have often thought (and I did not seldom wash for this), how much water/soap I save by less washing.

    • Lynn, showering is a generational thing. I believe my son and his wife still shower daily but the children get baths every other day. I don’t think it sounds gross that you only wash your hair once a week. I do the same. In the summer months if I get sweaty when it’s really hot and humid I may wet my hair down but I only wash it when my hair needs it, which is roughly only weekly.

      • I think you must be the only other person I have “talked to”, who washes (generally) hair once a week.

        I almost never tell folks,as when I did, I would get awful reactions…big time

        • Lynn, there are many people online who admit to washing hair once or maybe twice a week. I can easily get away with telling people I meet as it’s well known that as you age you produce less oils so I can simply state (if needed) that it’s an age thing. :-)

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