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Sierrans Step Up to the Energy Conservation Challenge
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See How Creative Maryland Sierrans Are Reducing Their Energy Use

In the last issue of Chesapeake, Betsy Johnson, Chair of the Sierra Club’s Maryland Chapter, challenged readers to share and inspire with how they’ve reduced consumption of fossil fuels.  Following are tips from the honor roll of energy conservationists:


The Unusual

“I am a global warming activist and have made myself a polar bear costume, complete with two small stuffed animal polar bear “children,” to use as street theater to bring home the message of how important it is to save energy, support clean renewable energy, and save all the creatures on the planet.  It takes education and action, in our homes and in our communities.”


The Extreme

In winter, keep the hot water in the bathtub from showers and baths to humidify and warm the air.  Then use it to flush the toilet.


Limit showers to once a week in the winter, and wash in a basin in between.  When the weather is hot, this just doesn’t work, but then the shower isn’t using much hot water, anyway.


Save used teabags for compost and put the teabag paper tags into the paper recycling.


Around the House

Have short showers.


Turn off the water while you lather up in the shower.


Use only the amount of water you need, such as make soft or hard boiled eggs with steam from a small amount of water.


Use an automatic dishwasher instead of washing by hand.  Run it only when full.


Have heated our water using solar since 1986.


Pre-circulate hot water instead of running the tap to get hot water.


Wrapped the hot water heater and the pipes leading to it with extra insulation.


Hang up clothes to dry rather than in the dryer – In summer outside on the line where the sun does a splendid job and leaves the clothes smelling sweet.  In winter in the basement on racks or lines or in the halls and bedrooms on hangers to contribute to needed humidity in the air.


Rarely iron clothes.


Use a programmable thermostat so the house isn’t heated and cooled unnecessarily.


Turn the temperature down a couple degrees in the winter and up a couple degrees in the summer.


In winter, bake food in the oven to provide heat.

In summer, don’t install an air conditioner and instead use fans, close windows in the morning to keep the cool air in during the day, and abandon the hot upstairs.


Cut down on air conditioning.  Shade the house from hot sun from the south and west.


Have special shades that act like shutters to keep out winter cold and summer heat.


Checked the house for insulation failures and fixed them.


Put extra insulation in the attic.  Blew cellulosic insulation into the house’s wall cavity.


Hired a company to do an energy audit of the house for what else we could do to save energy.


Inventoried all of our energy usage in our house using a watt-hour meter, and discovered ways of lowering our electrical energy usage to below 400 kWh/month of wind-generated electricity.


Hired a company to use a “door blower’ to find air leaks using an infra-red camera.


Plug up the leaks and provide windows with good coverings.


Employ highly efficient windows and doors.


Unplug whatever you can when not in use, including the power strip – computer, stereo, TV, microwave. 

They use energy even when turned off.


Turn off lights when you leave a room or leave home.


Use natural light instead of flicking the switch.


For tenants, are installing solar water heating, only use florescent lighting, give them an ample supply of compact florescent bulbs, install energy-efficient appliances, and encourage them to conserve by having their utilities separately metered and billed.


In the Yard and on the Property

Recycle water with a rain garden and 3 rain barrels.


Have allowed moss to replace much of our front lawn, which means less mowing and no fertilizer (made from oil).


Let my farm revert to forest to offset some of the carbon emissions from driving.


Built a greenhouse perpendicular to our cattle barn.  Ran an air duct from the barn’s exhaust fan into the greenhouse to heat the greenhouse with 50 degree air and push carbon dioxide into the greenhouse, which our plants love.


Out and About

Drive no more than the speed limit.


Plan car trips to minimize mileage and combine destinations.


Shop with a friend, and combine errands in one trip.


Bought a hybrid car for work, longer trips, and hauling.  Use a bicycle or walk for all short trips.


Get around by walking, bicycling, or public transit.


Walk to the bus then take the bus to the metro to get to work.


For light grocery shopping, walk a mile or so each way to the grocery store and put groceries in a backpack. 


What doesn’t fit, goes in both hands and serves as hand weights for exercise.


Live downtown, so walk for as many errands as possible.


Changed jobs 10 years ago to be within bicycling distance.


Travel by Amtrak, which is more efficient than driving or flying.


Never take a long trip unless other people go with me.


Ride the bus, train, or plane for longer trips.


In the Stomach

Mostly eat vegetarian, eat “organic” meat, joined a CSA and are reaping the benefits of lovely organic spring salad greens, and shop at a co-op with lots of organic and locally grown food.


Use meat as flavoring rather than as the main course.


Raise organic vegetables.


Buy locally grown or East Coast produce.


Buy organic produce and other organic food when possible.


Composting and Recycling

“Freecycled” a bed, books, and furniture by listing them online for people to come and take what they need and we no longer need.


I recycle everything.  Since the city doesn’t pick up our recycling, I take it to a recycling center.


Compost kitchen waste.


When shopping, re-use containers, bring reusable bags, or get boxes from the store.


Salvage materials from buildings being torn down, and find/buy/sell junk (and occasional antiques).


Rarely buy new things, but usually find what we need at the thrift store.


Use recycled goods when available, and decrease addiction to consumerism.


Take scrap metal that I picked up with my grandsons to the transfer station.


Pick up trash whenever I am walking, and recycle what can be recycled.


Put out as little trash as possible by buying just what we need, giving away usable items we no longer need, and recycling the rest.


For the Children

Raise your children to be very environmentally conscious in their lifestyles and to advocate for their lifestyle choices.


Encourage your children to ride their bikes or to walk to friends’ houses.


Try to keep the kids from asking for new plastic junk all the time.


Instead of concocting birthday “goody bags,” spread out books on the stairs and asked the kids to pick one or two.


“My daughter told me that she picked up trash at school and caught herself.  Acck!  I’m turning into my Dad!!”


Give an annual guest lecture at a school to inform about solar energy, energy efficiency, electric cars, and global warming.


Product Consumption

Use energy-saving light bulbs.  Replaced heavily used incandescent light bulbs with compact

fluorescent light bulbs, and replace rarely used ones as they burn out. 


Replaced each magnetic ballast with a more efficient electronic one in our florescent fixtures.  Replaced the old T12 lamps with more efficient T8 lamps.


Since my apartment fixtures won’t accommodate fluorescent bulbs, I use 10-year guaranteed

light bulbs.


Installed windows with double-pane glass filled with argon gas.


Don’t have a T.V.


Have one medium-sized refrigerator (the U.S. average is a giant size).


Have few appliances, and none that use much electricity.


When you need to replace an appliance, purchase an Energy Star model or other energy efficient model - refrigerator, hot water heater, air conditioner, washing machine, gas furnace.

Use rechargeable batteries.


Use cloth shopping bags instead of paper or plastic.


Drive an all-electric pickup truck.


Bought a moped that gets 85 miles per gallon.


Drive a hybrid car (multiple hits).


Spreading the Word and Getting Help

At work, have a campaign to stop idling engines.


Educate local officials and work with groups and individuals on Green Building and Low Impact Design energy-saving technologies.  Montgomery County has actually adopted some of these practices because they save money.


Purchased wind tags to encourage the wind industry to build more properly-sited wind farms.


Raised money through our PTA and applied for an energy grant to put 1.8 kw of solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of our elementary school to educate the community about solar energy.


Respondents’ Comments

You have to do many, many prosaic little things, and mainly always keep in mind the need to make energy-saving choices at every opportunity.  And if for some reason you don’t make the energy-saving choice about one thing or another, try to make up for it elsewhere.


I have cut my KWH in half since 1998 when I woke up and started paying attention.  All kinds of little things and some big ones have contributed.


I get satisfaction from thinking about saving energy in all aspects of my life without losing joy or being thought of as a cheap skate.


The most effective way I save energy is by not having children.  They would use lots of energy and would likely have children, grandchildren, etc. who would also use lots of energy, except that by the time of my grandchildren or sooner there might be little or no energy to use.


I engage in many conservation activities that may not decrease our use of fossil fuels, but would decrease our negative impact on the environment if many people engaged in them.


We need a government that encourages conservation.


Thanks to the energy heroes: Anne Ambler, Marney Bruce, James Fary, Charlie Garlow, Laurel Imlay, Rich and MaryRuth Reis, Cliff Terry, Sam White, Nancy Williamson, and Schneider Wolfger.  And thanks to all of you for your efforts to cut back on harmful carbon dioxide emissions.

> 2006 Table of Contents


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