Sunshine & Vanilla

being eclectic while trying to be less electric.

Month: August, 2012

Those Little Things Add Up

I never turn off lights.

Prior to last month, you could walk through my house around any given time and you would probably find the kitchen and dining room lights ablaze. The light in the den would probably be on (as would the television).  If I’d been in there for any reason, at least one light in my bedroom would be on.  If it were nighttime, the hall light would probably be on as well.  There were more times than I’d care to admit that I saw the light in the back yard was on but, by then I was usually settled in bed and, rather than getting up and being responsible, I’d tell myself I would turn it out in the morning. And then would, of course, forget.
My desktop computer was always on – always.  And usually the xbox would run until it shut itself off.  Too many nights I left the porch light or the garage light on.  Terrible with the lights. Absolutely terrible.

And it showed.  Last month my PGE bill came in at a hefty $173.04  That’s for one person in a 1200 square foot house.  To wit, that’s far too much.  Something needed to be done. And thus the great “turn out the lights!” experiment was born.

When it started, that’s all I really intended to do.  Turn out the lights.  When I left a room, I would turn out the lights (or turn off the tv, or turn off the stereo).  I really wanted to see just how much electricity I was wasting every day.   I wanted to see the difference between last month’s bill which clearly demonstrated my usual behavior and a bill reflecting my attempt to conserve energy.

It started out easily enough.  All I had to do was abide by the rule: When you leave a room, shut off the lights.  There were slips here and there.  I’d walk into the kitchen and think, “darn! left it on again!” but the more I got into the habit, the more a habit it became.  The more a habit it became, the more I wondered what else I could do to help conserve energy.

PG&E has an interesting function on their website that will give you energy saving tips.  I decided to utilize some of them.  Some of them I implemented about two weeks into the experiment, skewing my results, but it was okay.  I was still conserving!

I upped my thermostat temperature. While the AC is delightful, I do think I take it too far. There really isn’t a need for my house to be a cool 67 all the time.  I followed the guidelines and raised the temperature (though I will admit, I did not raise it to the recommended 78 degrees – I believe I left it at 74).

I also upped the temperature of both my refrigerator and freezer to the recommended temperatures (35 degrees for the fridge, 0 for the freezer).  I had the freezer at -1 and the fridge somewhere below 35, so I wasn’t sure just how much altering those temperatures would help, but why not, right?

I lowered the temperature of my water heater.  PGE recommends you put it to 120 degrees. I’m not sure what I put mine to (weird dial), but I definitely lowered it.  I have to admit, I was wary of doing this as I love a nice hot shower/bath, but in the end?  Didn’t even notice a difference!  The shower is still hot, the dish water is still hot, all seemed normal as could be.

I turned off my desktop computer.  I rarely use it. The only time I actually need it if I’m not right in front of it is if I want to watch something on the xbox.  Other than that, why is it constantly on?  Constantly running. Constantly sucking up energy?  Off it went!  I also started unplugging things. Not everything. Not the coffee maker or the printer, but things like my chargers. Why leave a battery charger plugged in long after the battery has been recharged?

I adjusted the cycles on my dishwasher and also my laundry machines.  I washed clothes in warm water rather than hot (they recommend cold water, but I’m not there just yet).  I turned off the 3rd rinse and the drying portion of the dishwasher cycle.  I paid more attention to the dryer cycle so I didn’t needlessly run it longer than it needed to run.

Interestingly enough, not only did I stop leaving lights on, I stopped turning lights on Of course I didn’t stop using my lights entirely, but I stopped using them unnecessarily.  My house gets a lot of natural light pouring through the windows – why did I constantly need to flick the switch and fill my home with that artificial stuff?  Now I put off the use of my overhead lights until they actually become a necessity, usually in the later afternoon or on the cloudier days.  I don’t need lights to wash my dishes when the sunlight is streaming through my kitchen window.  I don’t need lights to read when I can sit on my cozy couch in front of the window or, better yet, head outside and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin.

And then I anxiously awaited the new bill to post online.  Would it even make a dent?  Would my efforts to lead a less electrified existence pay off at all?

I finally got the bill yesterday and was actually quite surprised and dumbfounded.  I went from 781kW in July to 611 in August.  Even better than that – I saved $85 dollars!  I went from $173 to $88 a month in charges.  I, effectively, cut my bill in HALF.  I had anticipated a difference, but nothing like that.  Just by implementing all those little things, those little changes to old habits, I was able to cut my bill in half.

When I look back to the start of this “unplugging” adventure, I realize I never actually looked at it from a money saving perspective.  Sure, I knew my phone bill would go down if I got rid of the smartphone and the associated data plan, but I didn’t expect something of this nature.  I didn’t expect these little things to add up the way they have.

Total savings on dropping smartphone:   $37/month
Total savings from dropping cable, switching to different carrier: $45/month
Total savings from becoming a more energy conscious person:  $85/month.

Total savings?  $167/month.  And still decreasing!  Wow!!!!

Over 30 Days Without a SmartPhone – How’s it Been, REALLY?

The reaction people have when I tell them I don’t have a smart phone continues to amuse me. On more than one occasion my little flip phone has been referred to as a dumb phone.  My good friend J. was there once and responded, “No, it’s not a dumb phone, it’s a phone.”

I like that.  It’s not dumb, it’s just a phone. It does what it’s supposed to do with very few additions. It can still take photos, though they’re pretty bad. It still receives and sends text messages. I can even update my FaceBook status if I really want to.

Okay, that’s all fine and good, but how has it been going really?  Have I been suffering withdrawl? Have I plummeted into a deep dark depression without the ability to look into the lives of my friends and favorite celebrities every nanosecond of every single day?  Have my fingers grown stiff and paralyzed without their constant flicking across endless apps and time sucking games?

No.  No.   Oh, and no.

Have I missed my smartphone?  Sometimes, but very rarely.  In fact, the first time I genuinely missed it was this past weekend at the Outside Lands Festival.  I was surrounded by people staring at their phones.  They were checking in, they were looking at the schedules on the nifty Outside Lands schedule, they were looking at the map, they were snapping photos on Instagram, they were tweeting about the bands.  They were doing the things I used to love to do on my smartphone all while filling those empty spaces between bands.

And then, of all people, Tom Morello, said something early on Sunday morning that really resonated with me.  In fact, it was something that was very similar to something I’d recently said to another friend in regard to my habit of lugging my camera around with me everywhere.  He said, “Be in the moment.  Put that shit (cameras, etc) down, and be in the moment.”  Another artist said it later in the day, it seemed to become a theme – the way you start thinking about something and then suddenly it’s everywhere.

Be In The Moment.

Isn’t that really what the point of my “unplugging” and living a less wired life is all about at the root of it?  I wanted to stop giving only some of my attention to things all the time. I wanted to stop devoting only part of myself to things.  I wanted to give things all of my focus. I wanted to Be In The Moment.

I wanted to go out to dinner with my friend without the urge to  pull out my phone every two minutes.  I wanted to relax at the beach without the need to check out FaceBook and see what everyone else was doing.  I didn’t really need to read all my celebrity tweets while enjoying a weekend BBQ with friends.

As an aside, at what point did it ever become acceptable to have your phone on the table during a social occasion?  At what point did society say, “Yes, it’s totally okay for you to be interacting with someone or ten other someones during this dinner date we made last week?”  When did it become okay for someone to start typing away on their telephone while their companion was mid-sentence?

Oh, that’s right. Never. And yet, apparently, everyone seems to think it’s okay.

Don’t get me wrong here, I haven’t forgotten. I, too, was one of the worst offenders.  I have never claimed to be anything other than one of the worst offenders.  It was a driving force behind giving up my smartphone.  Because I became so disgusted with myself and this poor behavior.  What’s strange is, now that I’ve made the change in my own life, I’m much more tolerant and forgiving of everyone else. Tap away, society.  Do as you will. I can wait for you to finish whatever is so important on your phone for us to finish our real life interaction.  It’s all good.

I am happy to be free.

I can’t lie to you, however, because I said I would be honest.  There are things I miss.  Giving up my smartphone has all but destroyed my twitter account. I’m not sure I’ve logged in more than twice this month.  Instagram is gone now, too.  I miss seeing my friends’ photos more than I miss posting my own, for I can always bring an actual camera places with me, but many of the people I followed there are people who wouldn’t normally take photos.  I miss checking in places, odd as that may be. It was fun looking for the place and checking in with excitement, “Old 97s! — at the Fillmore, San Francisco” and I’m certain next week when I’m sitting at the airport I’ll miss having the phone to waste away the time with, for it was an excellent time waster.  But really?  That’s about it as far as the negatives go.

I have to say, I’m pretty surprised.  I truly believed after a month, I’d be running back with my tail between my legs just begging for an iPhone 4.

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