Monday, February 18, 2008

Some Answers and a Few Questions - Part I

It's about time! Well, better late then never, I always say... Anyway, stay tuned because I have lots of surprises in store.

Part I: Long Time, No Blog

I know there's no excuse for my delinquency, and I had promised myself I would never make this a blog about my personal life, but I'll share with you a little story about why I've been silent for so long, especially since it provides context for the rest of the post:
"Once upon a time, a GreenYogini and her beau moved during the week between Christmas and New Year's. Talk about a busy holiday season! Needless to say, the two were consumed with packing and sorting and apartment-hunting between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In the months since the move they had been doing their best to "green" their new home, and GreenYogini discovered some obstacles to her plan for saving the world for future generations. " To be continued...

The first of my obstacles - and this is the answer to a question I posed in a previous post - is that it turns out that washing dishes in a dishwasher is actually more energy/resource conservative than washing them all by hand. References here, and here, and more recently here. (Yes, the first one is from 2005 - I'm a little behind the times, apparently. ;) But hey, these guys just reported it the other day, though I'd discovered the answer back in November.)

Unfortunately, New Apartment did not come with a dishwasher, and the beau and I do not intend to purchase a full-size dishwasher which a) would not fit in our allotted kitchen space, b) does not fit our budget (which, of course, is why we're renting), and c) we would most likely not need when we moved into another apartment or house. (Oh, and that's another reason why I've slacked in posting - all the extra hours of dish washing! Guess I can't complain - Crunchy seems to manage wearing the hats of SuperMom, SuperWife, SuperBloggerina, AND SuperCrunchy all at once. :) )

Where was I? Ah yes - dish washing. So, although I had just confirmed with my sources that dish washing by machine was the eco-friendlier option, I had to come to terms with the environmental impact of my new digs and figure out a way to reduce my water consumption while getting my plates squeaky-clean. My decision was that I would not fill the sink with water, and instead would rinse dishes briefly before turning off the water to scrub, then quickly rinse them of their suds. If anyone has a better idea, I'm all ears.

First-and-a-half, New Apartment does not have a microwave. I'm actually not missing it much, though I received a microwaveable warming bear for Christmas which now cannot fulfill his purpose in life - to keep me warm while snuggling him. :( (sniff!) On the other hand, I get the impression that we're reducing energy consumption by not using a microwave. We use the stove top or oven to reheat everything, and again, I'd be open to ideas or observations about which is the reheating method with the least impact. It seems obvious that in order to conserve food, leftovers are a necessary evil (and one which I am generally happy to oblige) - but aside from cold leftovers (nothing worse, in my opinion), it seems the trade-off is the requirement of reheating.

Second, the New Apartment is C-O-L-D, and drafty to boot. We'd been keeping the previous apartment at 65 day and night, but this one feels colder at the same temperature. I had already been accustomed to keeping my sweaters and slippers on while at home, using a ton of blankets while in bed or on the couch, drinking warm tea or cocoa, sleeping with a hat and socks (yes, in bed), and using a hot water bottle (more in a bit), so some of this was expected and bearable. However, because our first heating bill was inexplicably high, we turned our already relatively cold (if you're a freeze baby like I am) thermostat down a further 3 degrees to 62 day and night. The beau decided to program it to go up to 67 for about an hour and a half in the evenings while we're home, and then it drops back down. I'm presently working on sewing curtains for the remaining bare windows in hopes that it will further decrease the energy leaks.

Regarding the hot water bottle, I had thought about it for a while and believed it to be an excellent alternative to turning into a popsicle every night. A space heater or heating pad/electric blanket were out of the question (though I swear my electric blanket was the only reason I survived some winters in the past) because of the requirement for electricity all night long (and aren't electric blankets deemed unsafe by anyway? fire hazard and dangerous electro-magnetic rays or something?). A hot water bottle seemed the perfect solution, and a sort of tried-and-true, off-the-grid, nostalgia-inducing remedy. I made sure to find a 100% rubber one instead of plastic (though I had to stop at no fewer than three drugstores to find one), then promptly tried it the night I brought it home. I was even entertaining thoughts of sewing it a recycled sweater cozy. It wasn't until I read the instructions in the box that I realized I couldn't heat its water on the stove - the instructions indicated that the water should come directly from the tap and that water any hotter would degrade the structure of the bottle. So, ok...water from the tap? Fine. But now I'm not sure what to do with the used water, and I feel guilty filling it up with new water every time. I imagine that "rubberized" water isn't safe for cooking, hand washing clothes or dish washing, and our toilet is already low-flow (another point for New Apartment!). Suggestions?

Additionally, I have installed finger caulk (resulting in bruised fingers) on all the windows and I sewed up some draft "snakes", but it's too soon to tell if it will help at all with the energy bill, and therefore overall energy consumption. We've also discussed possibilities for improving insulation with our landlord, who is open to ideas and excellent about responding to our requests/suggestions. (This is SO important, and a huge bonus for us.) I'm threatening to hang medieval tapestries on all the walls...

I purchased two new sets of long/thermal underwear, which I have since realized require hand washing after only a few uses. They help keep me warm and therefore I'm less likely to run a space heater or crank the heat, so overall I think the purchase was pro-green.

We've replaced our bulbs with CFL's where possible, figured out our ridiculously complex (even for us) curbside recycling program (+ that we actually have curbside, but - that it's so strict and doesn't accept certain plastic bottle caps and plastic food containers), put up curtains wherever our existing ones were the appropriate length (to reduce drafts), have our main lamps on timers, and filled our drafty built-ins with as much stuff as they could hold - for a bit of insulation. We've also taken advantage of the local farmer's markets which we didn't readily have access to before.

The third and perhaps most haunting of all my eco-havoc-wreaking is the increased impact of my commute. Instead of traveling at 35 mph about 15 min. to work one-way, I now am commuting about 30 min. at mostly 60-65 mph. I realize that the average commute, at least in the Greater Cleveland area, is about 30 minutes, but I was hoping to do better than average. This is a sad concession, but I've resolved to take extra care in planning my trips and in ensuring that my car is up-to-date in her maintenance schedule. (Yep, she's a she.)

The decision we made to move was not an easy one, but in the end we determined what things were most important for us and took a leap of faith. I view this as an experiment in finding greener options under less-than-ideal circumstances and look forward to discovering new ways to further reduce our impact.

Look for an upcoming post with some product reviews and additional answers in Part II!

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