Our Plan and Progress

Below you see our plan for energy independence. This plan is absolutely a work in progress and will be updated as we research and evolve our thinking, try different ideas out, and learn from what we’ve done.

Education and Awareness: The first step for us has been to understand our usage patterns.  As we posted in The Basics and  First Steps, our first order of business is to measure how much energy we use.

Steps we’ve taken so far:

  1. Become familiar with our home energy usage, both electricity and natural gas, by actually reading our utility bills.
  2. Reading information online and in print publications such as Home Power Magazine and Mother Earth News.

Future steps:

  1. Have a home energy audit (we’ve had a home-energy assessment done by Revolution Green Power which resulted in the increase in insulation listed below).

Electricity Usage

Steps taken so far:

  1. Reviewed our day-by-day electricity usage chart on the Puget Sound Energy site to understand and track our usage patterns.
  2. Become more diligent about turning things off.  Working with our little kids to teach them the same (always a work-in-progress).
  3. Replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. We easily replaced over 40 bulbs in our house, costing around $200 since we required a number of expensive, special bulbs for dimmers.  As technology has allowed, we’ve started installing LED light bulbs as well.  We’ve found that while the technology is still a bit dodgy for normal light-bulb replacement (with regard to light output), LED can lights work extremely well.  We’ve replaced three R30 bulbs in the front hall, three R38 bulbs in the family room (over Sandy’s desk and the kids’ desk/craft area) and four thirteen R20 bulbs in the basement (four over the sewing table and Derek’s desk, eight in the TV area and one in the guest bathroom). The only problem we’ve ran into is that the R20 bulbs don’t work properly with the dimmer switch we have in the TV area as it doesn’t see sufficient current draw to operate (it assumes there are no bulbs installed). For now we had to pull one LED bulb out of the series and re-insert the halogen so the light switch would work! Hopefully Lutron will build an LED-compatible version of their RF-dimmer light switch soon so we can go 100% LED in the basement. On the positive side, the light output is superior to either incandescent/halogen or compact fluorescent, the lights last almost forever (since they are solid-state devices) and the energy consumption is miniscule.  The cost, however, is expensive – ranging from $24 for R11 bulbs to $40+ for R38 (these are Philips brand, which we prefer – it may be slightly cheaper for other manufacturers.
  4. Joined the Puget Sound Energy Green Power Program, buying in for 100% of our electricity usage.
  5. Installed a clothes line.  We’ve planted raised beds in the path of the clothesline, so we’ll need to move it this spring.
  6. Keep the greenhouse mostly off the grid by employing passive convection via temperature-controlled vents in the eaves (and occasional heating via oil radiator in the winter).
  7. Use power strips and/or outlet timers to power off ‘vampire’ appliances (televisions, seedling grow shelf, HiFi) at power strip instead of using ‘standby’ mode.
  8. Insulated the basement crawlspace under the main (non-slab) part of the house with R30 insulation and increased the insulation in the attic to > R49.  Added insulation around all hot water pipes as well as heating ducts.
  9. Installed an 8.89kW Silicon Energy 45-panel photovoltaic system (writeup coming soon!), which should offset between 55 and 70% of our electrical usage.

Future steps:

  1. Review the usage of each of our appliances, though we think most are already Energy Star appliances.
  2. Determine if we should install more switched power strips to prevent unintended energy trickles from appliances.

Natural Gas Usage

Steps taken so far:

  1. Reviewed our month by month natural gas usage.  Usage is very low in the summer months because we only have a natural gas cook-top and natural gas furnace using natural gas energy.  Gas usage has dropped off post-insulation install.
  2. Acknowledged bad habits that need to be improved when the cold weather sets in.
  3. Set maximum thermostat level to 67 degrees (Sandy’s not happy about this).
  4. Occasionally build a fire in the fireplace (we have lots of well seasoned hardwood from sickly non-native trees as well as the broad leaf maple that gave it’s life for the solar array that have been cut down over the years).
  5. Replaced extremely inefficient (and leaky) gas water heater with a high-efficiency (90% efficient) Marathon lifetime electric heater.

Future steps:

  1. Add blinds in the kitchen / family room areas to reduce heat loss through windows.
  2. Investigating geothermal heat pumps as a possible future replacement option.

Gasoline Usage

Steps taken so far:

  1. Carpooling more often.  No longer necessary now that Derek is a stay-at-home dad.
  2. Trying to combine trips/take fewer trips.
  3. Raised tire pressure on both vehicles to maximum rating (for vehicles, not for tires).
  4. Derek has ordered a 2012 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI (45+ MPG on the freeway) for Derek to use as a ‘soccer-dad car’ to be delivered on May 21st (evidently nobody buys a manual transmission base-model TDI, which is why it had to be special-ordered).
  5. There will be a future write-up on this.

Future steps:

  1. Start monthly mileage logs.
  2. Investigate future electric car purchase for Sandy to use as a commuter vehicle.  Right now the top contenders are the Ford Focus Electric, the Nissan Leaf and the BMW ActiveE. However, new models are being introduced every day, so consumers’ choices are improving


Steps taken so far:

  1. Planted various fruits (fruit trees, blueberry bushes, strawberries, kiwi, grape).
  2. Built a passive solar green house.
  3. Built multiple raised vegetable beds. Planted tomatoes, cucumber, and red pepper plants in the Topsy Turvy planters.
  4. Built three lettuce boxes.
  5. Set up a food composter.
  6. Built two chicken coops for our flock of five fourteen chickens.
  7. Expand water harvesting system (added 330 gallon system off of greenhouse).
  8. Build more raised beds.
  9. Purchased 17 wine barrels for strategic planting.
  10. Replaced rotten cedar roof with standing seam metal roof (lifetime) – best solution for mounting PV panels as well as for water harvesting.
  11. Set up new seedling grow shelf using LCD grow lights.
  12. Invested in canning equipment and supplies for putting up fruits and vegetables for the winter.

Future steps:

  1. Finish ‘lasagne’ garden for ‘three sisters’ planting (corn, beans, gourds) – ‘lasagne’ is being built from leaves / recycled cardboard / goat droppings & straw
  2. Further expansion of water harvesting (install 220 gallon system off of house roof in the near term, investigate underground cistern and water filtration / purification feasibility in the longer term).
  3. Plant additional / replacement apple and other fruit trees.
  4. Build root cellar (location TBD).
  5. Build new vineyard (Sandy wants grapes, Derek wants hops) between driveway and pasture.
  6. Rebuild antique cider press with the assistance of our brother-in-law Jeff to use for utilizing non-eater apples as cider or cider jack.

Sandy and Derek

14 Responses to Our Plan and Progress

  1. Pingback: Extreme green living and sustainable sustainability « The Zero Fossil Fuel 10 Year Challenge

  2. Roger says:

    One more step to reduce your total enery footprint would be to replace your gas cooktop with an induction one. Gas cooktops are typically about 50% efficient and induction is 90% to 95% efficient. Induction has the control of gas without the waste heat going up the vent. Downside is your pots and pans have to be iron or steel.

  3. Hi Roger,

    I was interested in going with induction last year when we were buying a new stove. Derek nixed the idea because he likes fire. This was before we both started becoming more enlightened about energy consumption, so I think if we were to make that decision today it would likely be different. It’s definitely something I’ll keep in mind for the future.


    • Currently the Jenn-Air has two strikes on it (the control board has failed and been replaced twice at an obscene cost for what it does). The third strike will result in it being replaced with a new range. We may just go induction when (not if) this happens…although I’m not too fond of the need to replace pots & pans as I have some non-induction-compliant pans that I like very much, thank you.

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  6. Did you see that PSE is offering a new Smart Meter to the first 600 customers who sign up? A Seattle-area permaculture friend just told me about it this week. I think it allows you tell tell exactly what appliance is pulling what level of juice out of your meter so you can make adjustments.

  7. Pingback: A day in the slow life | The 10 Year Challenge

  8. willrichjou says:

    Good for you Sandy and Derek. I’m also working to go green here in Orlando Florida. I was inspired after reading a book by Jeremy Rifkin I’d like to recommend: The Third Industrial Revolution. There are some good big picture ideas in there. Would you mind if I linked to your site from my blog?

  9. Pingback: Solar production check-in & great energy consumption progress | The 10 Year Challenge

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