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Our Steps Toward Sustainability: Ways to Reduce Electricity

Let's find out what electricity does, by mucus*plug on Flickr


I’ve been writing a lot about gardening and food lately.  So I wanted to touch on some other subjects.  For the last several years, Matt and I have been working toward a sustainable lifestyle in numerous ways – and growing our own food is only one of many things we’ve been doing.

Those of you who have been following our story for a while now, know that back on November 2, 2007, Matt and I joined the Riot For Austerity.  Like many challenges we have taken, this was for us a good motivator to make quite a few lifestyle changes we’d been thinking about.  Sort of a kick in the behind, shall we say?  Basically by joining the Riot For Austerity, we agreed to attempt to reduce our CO2 emissions and natural resource usage to just 10% of what an average American uses.

We achieved our goal of a 90% reduction back on September 24, 2008, and we’re still there! I don’t write about the Riot For Austerity much, because it has become a way of life now, and I don’t think about it much anymore. We have redefined normal.

But not all of us are as far along in our journey toward sustainability.  Some of you may not even be on that trajectory, and that is ok.  The things we’re doing have also decreased our spending considerably.  And not only that, they have made us much healthier, happier people.  Those are two great reasons to make some changes!


So I thought I’d just list some of the things we’ve done, to see if it helps any of you find some changes you haven’t thought of before.  Please share other things you’ve done in the comments!


Ways to Reduce Electricity Use


  1. Give away microwave on Freecycle.
  2. Use very few electric appliances, doing everything we can by hand.
  3. Consolidate oven cooking, so we cook several things while the oven is hot.
  4. Use toaster oven in place of regular oven whenever possible.
  5. Turn fridge to low setting that just keeps things at the right temperature (40F), no colder (when we lived in Geyserville, we were able to use our own tiny energy efficient fridge, but unfortunately this apartment came with a fridge).
  6. Remove window A/C.
  7. Turn off wall heaters from the electric box.  Instead, use energy efficient space heaters on low heat, only in rooms where we need the heat.
  8. Turn off computer monitor whenever we step away from the computer.
  9. Stop watching television except on special nights when we rent a dvd. Turn off at power strip when not using.
  10. When our old tv died, we purchased an energy efficient LCD tv.
  11. Replace all light bulbs with CFLs.
  12. Turn off any lights when not in use.
  13. Shower in warm water, not hot.  And shower fewer minutes, and less often.
  14. Wash dishes in the dishwasher, on cold, using energy saver, and without rinsing dishes first.
  15. Wash clothing in cold water.
  16. Use a light spray water mister to unwrinkle clothing, rather than an iron.
  17. Lower water heater temperature.
  18. Turn off computer at power strip at night.
  19. Use laptop while working at home as much as possible.
  20. Live in a small apartment – making heating, cooling, and lighting more efficient.


This isn’t really that much – it’s mostly simple things that just add up.  I encourage you to try a new way to reduce your energy bill, and begin living more sustainably this week!


Please Share – What Do You Do To Reduce Electricity?

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17 comments to Our Steps Toward Sustainability: Ways to Reduce Electricity

  • monica

    This list is a bit overwhelming. #7 in particular glares: Low energy space heaters, only in the rooms where we need the heat. sigh.
    We live in an area where it frequently gets below 15 degrees for days at a time, and even lower especially with the windchill. For us to heat only when we need to means that to make it a comfortable temp, would mean having a heater blasting just to take a shower. I just don’t get how that would be a sustainable concept. Did I miss something?

    I hear lots of talk about mass transportation, but the politicians all say that the funds come from the local taxes & they keep getting voted down, because they are too expensive. There is a taxi service the next town over, but it is mainly only for the drunks so they don’t drive home.

    Lists like this depress me because I know we don’t have these things. We don’t even have an official bike path to go into the next town to get to the grocery store. I do everything that I can, but I can not walk to get a week worth of food on foot–it is 7 miles–and it would take all day. I do what I can, but I will have to use a vehicle, more than what is allowed. It is difficult to think optimistically when I feel like I am doing good and then I see a post that says I use 60% more than allowed for gasoline. Bummer post. ;(

  • I think what one needs to remember, particularly when not living compact urban environment with a well developed public transportation system, is that you do what you can with the resources available. Obviously, heating only one room is an option on the west coast, but isn’t realistic in places where it get crazy, damage-your-stuff cold. Instead of getting depressed, think if what you could do to reduce your heating bills, like better windows, weather stripping, house insulation, and keeping the house at sweater temperature rather than short sleeves temperature.

    Just remember that doing what you can is always better than doing nothing. :)

  • I’m in the “I do all this stuff and can’t get past 50%” camp, too. I’d like to the the US averages broken down more: by region, by type of heating/hot water fuel, etc. But in the end, that only serve to make me feel better…it doesn’t change the fact that I’m doing everything I feel I can reasonably do and it’s still not cutting enough.

  • Monica, you must read this post: We Do The Best We Can With What We Have.

    I meant to give a list of things that I do, so that it could help spark ideas in you. It’s not a be-all, end-all list by any means – and no one’s list will be the same as we do all have different lives in different places with different needs. I’m sorry to hear you are bummed by it. Maybe take a different approach and look at what you can do, rather than what you can’t.

    Take the steps you can take, one at a time. And remember also, that We Can’t Do This Alone.

    Hope that helps!

  • Emily, 50% is pretty darn good! How are you in other categories?

    I will also say – and maybe should have said above – that reducing our own usage is great. But if we don’t get there, we don’t get there. We keep trying, we keep living, but most importantly, we help others to see our changes and be inspired by them. Emily, if you have inspired 10 people on your blog to reduce your usage, boy – that is ten families – and a lot more reduction than you could ever do on your own.

    Don’t sweat it, you guys. Do the best you can!

  • monica

    I was ready to give up there for a minute.

  • I don’t have electric heating, but for reducing heating-related power use generally we’ve found having a thermometer in the living area helps. We’ve chosen a temp we can live with in our circumstances (17-18 degrees C) and the thermometer helps us stick to it, rather than having the heater creeping up and up.

    If you don’t have mass transportation in your area it’s worth lobbying for, start by talking to your neighbours about why you think it’s a good idea. In some circumstances cycling can also help you avoid a second car (but it’s not much good over 7 miles with a week’s shopping).

    Personally, I find treating the whole thing as a problem solving game, makes it easier. My partner and I get a bit competitive.

  • Hang in there Monica, it will get easier and you’ll find ways. I made the same pledge about the same time and I’ve never been able to get my water usage down as low as I’d like. I’ve come to accept that I won’t be able to until it’s not a choice or I get a dishwasher (which I don’t own) and replace my top loading washing machine with a front loader.

    I might try hand washing clothes again this summer. It would save on electricity and water. I’m also doing more hand sewing, rather than using the sewing machine.

  • You’ve got a great list there that covers a lot of what can be done.

    I’m using a chest freezer converted into a chest fridge as a highly-efficient second fridge:

    It works great!

    I’m also looking at installing some solatubes ( in some dark corners of our house to reduce daytime use of lights.

    If rebates etc in your area make it affordable (or you’re just rich!), a grid-connected solar power system can greatly reduce the amount of coal-generated electricity you use:

    It’s also a good idea to sign up for green power, if you have it available.

  • monica, I was about to give up blogging for a minute after I saw your comment!

    Kate, I love it! A problem solving game. : ) I agree – we try one thing, and it often doesn’t work so we try another. Matt and I push each other to do better, too.

    Deb G, I agree completely. We ebb and flow in each of the categories a bit over each month. But on average, we’ve been able to reduce by 90%. Sometimes we have too much garbage (it’s a lot tougher in the city), sometimes a lot less gas or electricity. So they even out. ; ) And I think getting too stuck on the numbers is bad for our health – we do have to be happy, healthy people in order to do the other good things we do!

    Darren, Indeed – you have some great additional suggestions! I think whenever we do live in a house with a basement – or at least an apartment/condo with enough room – we may be looking into the chest conversion. I’ve been admiring them for a while now. And drool, drool, your passive solatubes and your solar panels – I want them. Also, I don’t know why I didn’t remember to add signing up for green power – what an important part of the equation!! Thanks for reminding me.

  • Lauren


    I am not sure what you could have said to make Monica feel better. Nothing I read was discouraging, but it is a matter of perspective perhaps. You are doing a great job fostering discussion and encouragement. Keep up the great work!

  • Lauren, thank you. Monica and I have exchanged emails. And while I still don’t understand why she reacted so strongly, it is clear to me that she has entered a new phase in her life.

    Thank you so much for your kind words!

  • I guess one of the things that wasn’t clear was that this was perhaps a list specifically of what you have done, and that one might have to extrapolate a bit to arrive at appropriate techniques for oneself. For example, the heating entries are not relevant to me (right now); I live in the mild San Francisco area, have gas heat, and use it when necessary on the morning when I host a weekly homeschool choir in my living room.

    It’s important for the consumption reduction to do an analysis of your own personal situation!! I am trying to get my daughters to go along with me in reducing our bedroom lighting (we have a family bedroom). Instead of the three of us relaxing in bed with books at night, each with an individual light, I want to experiment with pillows and blankets on the living room floor, clustered around a single light that’s enough for all of us.

    Re distance to groceries, one can still make adjustments! I decided I wanted to keep shopping at Whole Foods for what I need; I have tracked down regional producers that I can access there. I’m about 12 miles from the nearest one. The CSA, garden and farmers’ market provide the weekly fresh foods. So in order to minimize the shopping, I go once a month with a thorough list, and store extra dairy in my chest freezer (keeps it fuller too for energy efficiency). I go on the day when my daughters have their violin and piano lessons, which are halfway to the store already.

    Will these things have a huge impact on my energy use? I’m sure not! But I’m of the “every little bit helps” school of thought :-)

    Melinda, maybe in a two-person household this one isn’t as significant as your other items, but CLOTHESLINE jumped out at me as missing. We are making other adjustments in our laundry routine as well, for example, having “at home” clothes that are worn much longer; I wear my house pants for a week and a couple of house shirts during that time as well. Then I have my “going out” clothes, and as those are worn for only a couple of clean hours at a time, I can hang them back up for repeated use as well.

    Thanks so much for all you do – I find this blog terrifically inspirational and practical; it’s one of only three sustainability blogs that I read daily.

  • sarah

    i think what some people should do is walk,ride ther bikes,take the bus insted of geting a drive because it wont do any poloution as much as car wouled

  • Lisa

    I recently moved into a house a few months ago and decided to not purchase a tv. I don’t have a hard phone. I don’t miss tv at all. I use the internet on my phone instead of my laptop. I do all bill paying on the phone which saves stamps and envelopes. Life is much more simplified without remote controls.

  • Haley

    Talking with my hubby about turning off the computer at the power strip at night and he mentioned that doing so is really hard on the computer’s components. Turning it back on jolts it awake, sending a blast of power through to the computer which can fry it ending in a dead computer soon. For those who use the computer once or twice a week, turning it off is a good idea. So it really depends on your own usage.
    Just my 2 cents =)

  • denise

    i turn my hot water of throught the day as power is expensive and heat water at night cheaper rates my bill halved

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