Monday, October 26, 2009

Why a Bad Economy is Good for the Planet

I learned an incredible and embarrassing fact recently: the average home in Tennessee consumes more energy than typical homes in any other state. And since most of our energy comes from coal burning plants, we are burning our natural resources faster than anyone else in the country. How sad! We can do better, we must do better, and I think the best people to change that statistic are moms.

Think about the unique opportunity mothers have: we are largely responsible for the items we buy, the energy we consume, and the influence on our children to make good choices. And a bad economy is really the best time to change our energy habits because we all could use more money in our pockets. Often the best ecological and economical choices are the same.

I challenge you—no, I dare you—to try some of the steps I’ve taken to lower our energy consumption—TODAY. Start with the biggest energy hogs in the home--appliances that add or take away heat: furnaces, air conditioners, hot water heaters, fridges & freezers, ovens & stoves, dishwashers, and washers & dryers.

  1. Stay cool without or at least less AC. I know it sounds crazy (Southern summers can be sweltering), but it’s possible. Most summer nights, we open the windows and let nature and fans cool our home and then close them by 9am. You’d be surprised how long you can go without turning on the AC—sometimes all day. If you have a basement, it’s likely cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter than the rest of your house. We spend lots of time in our basement playroom and rarely have to heat or cool it. We also save by staying out of the bedrooms on the top floor for most of the day. A programmable thermostat makes modifying the temperature a no-brainer, and it’s easy to over-ride when desired. And if none of these work for you, at least turn your thermostat up 1 or 2 degrees. According to KUB, you save 1% on your cooling bill for each degree you raise your thermostat; they recommend a setting of 78 in the summer.
  2. Buy Energy Star appliances. If you have a fridge in your garage from the 70’s, get rid of it because it likely costs you more money to run than you think. We recently emptied our garage fridge and we’re doing fine without it. Thankfully the Energy Star ratings have taken the guesswork out of buying the best appliances for the environment by rating each appliance for electricity and water consumption (if applicable). I’d rather spend twice as much for an appliance that should last twice as long and uses half the energy; it’s better on your pocketbook and on landfills.
  3. Use your microwave instead of the oven when possible. I learned from an energy expert that it costs about 2 cents to cook a potato in a microwave but about 2 dollars in an oven. You can always start something in the microwave and crisp it up in the toaster oven; that’s what I do with chicken nuggets. I steam broccoli or peas in the microwave in about a minute. This from the FDA: “Microwave cooking can be more energy efficient than conventional cooking because foods cook faster and the energy heats only the food, not the whole oven compartment. Microwave cooking does not reduce the nutritional value of foods any more than conventional cooking. In fact, foods cooked in a microwave oven may keep more of their vitamins and minerals, because microwave ovens can cook more quickly and without adding water.”
  4. Select the no-heat dry option on your dishwasher: If your dishwasher has the option, select to dry your dishes without heat. I run the dishwasher at night and unload anything still wet onto a drying rack in the morning. By lunch, everything has dried naturally. KUB says air-drying saves 30% of a dishwasher’s energy use.
  5. Cut down on laundry. If you dread doing laundry like I do, then this one saves you time, money, water, energy, and hassle. Only run the washing machine when you have a full load. You can really pack front loader washers and dryers these days (leaving some room for tumbling of course). Shorter cycles with warm or cold water rather than hot save energy too. You have my permission to skip ironing and lose the wrinkles with a few minutes in the dryer instead. I draw the line at hanging clothes on a clothesline, but if your neighbors don’t mind, go for it.
  6. Turn it off and Change those bulbs. Be mindful of lights and electronics left on around the house. I’ve commissioned the boys to become “Light Police” so that they can have just as much fun turning off the lights as turning them on. We’ve replaced at least half our lights with compact fluorescents (a move I initially resisted because I was picturing stark bright lights from elementary school), but the “soft light” bulbs look great. Each one can save $40 or more in electricity costs over its lifetime. They use less energy, produce the same light, and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. If every American home replaced just one bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year!
  7. Unplug: Walk around your house to find anything that’s plugged in that really doesn’t need to be; they’re called phantom loads and draw energy 24/7. We’re guilty of plugging in cell phone chargers, battery chargers, baby monitors, and alarm clocks in rooms we rarely use. I’m making more of an effort to plug them in only when I need them and to shut down the computer at night. We’re looking into installing a GreenSwitch Master Switch, one electrical switch that shuts down whatever you choose when you leave the house.

Remember: every time you save energy, you save money. So whether you’re doing it for the environment or for your bottom line, now is your chance to do something positive for your family. Your small actions here and there may not seem like much, but if every mom in America made an effort to reduce her energy consumption, imagine the impact we could have! And when you not only teach but show your children that we all take responsibility for changing the world, then you truly earn the title of Super Mom!


  1. I see a video was posted below (not by me) about how coal is "a recipe for affordable energy." Using solar panels to turn a free resource into clean energy--now that's a recipe for affordable energy! Go solar!

  2. Now the video is gone...interesting!