Tag Archives: winter

The Energy Efficiency Project: Month 3

energy efficiency project month 3

February 12th – March 11th, 28 days

This month we continued to paint and started building some bookshelves.  We also hosted a first birthday party and started getting ready for our upcoming outdoor projects. We were splitting our time between the house and our apartment in the city during this month, so the house was using minimal maintenance energy while we weren’t in it. For example, the furnace was set just high enough to keep our pipes from freezing while out of the house, and really only the fridge was using electricity most of the time. So this month won’t be the best representation of our energy use, but will hopefully serve as a good reminder to put your house into low-energy-use mode when you’re gone for extended periods of time. As far as energy efficiency initiatives went we:

  • Replaced a frequently used lamp’s CFL light bulb with an LED bulb. (The CFL bulb was still good, so it will be used to replace a bulb down the line when I run out of LED bulbs.)
  • Turned the thermostat down to about 55° while we were out of the house.
  • Made sure that all lights and other electricity users aside from the refrigerator were off while we were away.

This month’s upgrade cost: $8.82

Total upgrade cost to date: $17.64

Over 28 days we used 301 KWH. Which comes out to an average of 10.75 KWH/day. Which is an expected decrease from the last billing period average of 14.2 KWH/day since we spent so much time out of the house.

We are part of the Alliant Energy Second Nature renewable energy program, at the 100% level. (In this program you can choose the amount of your energy use that you want to be matched in renewables, and we chose 100%.) So the cost of our electricity is $0.13 per KWH, for a total of $39.41.

We also used 73 Therms of natural gas heat energy. Which averages out to 2.6 Therms/day. That’s only 0.1 Therm less per day than the previous month! Even though much of the month the furnace was only heating the house to 55°, this month was much colder than the first two months of the year. Looking at this, I’m very glad that we made sure to turn down the thermostat every time we left the house, or we would have had a much higher gas bill. Also, looking at degree days this month compared to last month: 1383 vs. 1286. Our furnace was working hard this month!

The natural gas market fluctuates in Wisconsin, so there is not an easy dollar per Therm number to give you, but during this billing period we paid $60.09 for our gas use.

Our energy bill also provides these numbers for helpful comparison:

Electricity used this month last year: 714 KWH

Gas used this month last year: 73 Therms. Average temperature this month: 16° F. This month last year: 19° F. I’m going to assume that the previous owners lived in the house for the full month last year – rather than just part time like we did – and kept it at a typical 68-72°. So it’s interesting to see how just a few degree change in average temperature really makes the furnace work a lot harder to heat the house.

Degree Days this month: 1383 vs this month last year: 1342. Degree days are the number of degrees below 65° F in one day, all added together for the total 28 days of the billing period.

Want to previous months of the Energy Efficiency Project? Here is Month 1 and Month 2

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The Energy Efficiency Project: Month 2

January 13th – February 12th, 30 days

This month we mostly spent our time picking paint colors, getting started with the painting, figuring out where our stuff should go, and getting our compost started. As far as energy efficiency initiatives went we:

  • Replaced a dead CFL light bulb with an LED bulb
  • Turned the thermostat down from 68° F to 66° F
  • Checked the air filter on our furnace to make sure it was new/didn’t need to be replaced. It was still clean, so we didn’t replace it.

This month’s upgrade cost: $8.82

Total upgrade cost to date: $8.82

So, we didn’t expect too much of a difference in our energy usage this month. Now let’s look at the numbers!

Over 30 days we used 427 KWH. Which comes out to an average of 14.2 KWH/day. This is actually slightly higher than the 14.0 KWH/day we used during our last billing period. Womp womp.

I’m guessing this is due to putting up some post-Christmas holiday lights which are not LEDs. I know, I know, but here’s the thing. We still have these strings of working fine holiday lights, and I can’t bring myself to replace them until they no longer work. Use what you have, right? We also started some citrus tree seedlings, and had them germinating on a heating pad 24/7.

We are part of the Alliant Energy Second Nature renewable energy program, at the 100% level. (In this program you can choose the amount of your energy use that you want to be matched in renewables, and we chose 100%.) So the cost of our electricity is $0.13 per KWH, for a total of $55.90.

We also used 80 Therms of natural gas heat energy. Which averages out to 2.7 Therms/day. Definitely less than the 3.1 Therms/day we used during the previous month! Dropping the temperature on our thermostat made a difference, and really the only way it affected our lifestyle is we that we wore slippers around the house more often. Also, looking at degree days this month compared to last month: 1286 vs. 1211. Even though this months number is a bit larger than last month’s, this month’s bill was for 30 day and last month’s was for 27 days. This means that our furnace didn’t have to work quite so hard to heat our house this month, which also helped out with reducing our gas use.

The natural gas market fluctuates in Wisconsin, so there is not an easy dollar per Therm number to give you, but during this billing period we paid $65.99 for our gas use.

Our energy bill also provides these numbers for helpful comparison:

Electricity used this month last year: 744 KWH

Gas used this month last year: 97 Therms. Average temperature this month: 22° F. This month last year: 10° F. So last year was quite a bit colder than this year.

Degree Days this month: 1286 vs this month last year: 1652. Degree days are the number of degrees below 65° F in one day, all added together for the total 30 days of the billing period.

Want to previous months of the Energy Efficiency Project? Here is Month 1.

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for helping to support building earth!

Melting Ice

As another wave of sub-zero temperatures weaves its way through the northern parts of the country, I thought it might be a good time to write about ice. And in particular how we deal with melting ice on roads and sidewalks.

melting ice

Salting the Roads

If you live in an area that experiences cold winter months, you probably are familiar with the go to method of dealing with ice on the roads and sidewalks: salt. Salt is an effective method of dealing with the ice for a number of reasons. It’s cheap, it provides traction on the ice, and it helps the ice melt.

Salt lowers the freezing temperature of water to about 15° F. So for us here in Wisconsin, where the average winter temperatures are in the teens and twenties, salting the ice on the roads and sidewalks gets them to melt, providing safe walking, running, biking, and driving surfaces for many months of the year.

However, salt is quite harsh on the environment, both man made and natural. It contributes to car rust and damages footwear (my poor boots!) and has a habit of getting everywhere. As the ice and snow melt and the water runs into the street drains, that salt is carried into our waterways. Increased salt levels in lakes, rivers and streams affect fish and aquatic plant life. Increased salt levels in the watershed affect drinking water quality, having both taste and health effects.

As you’ve probably experienced, too much salt makes you dehydrated. Well, it’s the same for plants. The salt that doesn’t wash down the drain after melting ice (or get tracked into your house) stays on the soil and dehydrates the grass, trees and shrubs living there. In addition to making the plants thirstier, salt can also cause root growth damage, making it more difficult for plants to get the water they need in the first place.

You can learn more about the environmental effects of salting the roads here.

Use Salt Smarter

Based on the amount of salt my apartment management uses to salt our sidewalks, one would think that you need enough salt on the ground to completely cover the ice. However, a little bit goes a long way. A handful of salt is enough to melt a square meter of ice coverage. And using more than that doesn’t speed up the melting process.

Sprinkling salt on your walkway before the snow falls can help the ice melt faster (or not form) while using less salt in the process.

Mixing the salt with water and spreading the slurry on the ice will help keep the salt where you want it, and also allow you to use less salt to melt the ice.

Alternative Options for Melting Ice

So what can be used instead of salt that will have less negative effects on the environment?

Sand  is good for traction on the roads, and sidewalks. It also absorbs sunlight, which can aid in faster ice melting.

Clay granule kitty litter can also be good for adding traction to icy surfaces. Be aware that clay is frequently strip mined, and that carries a whole other set of environmental consequences.

There is also a product called EcoTraction made from volcanic material that is supposed to be extremely effective at providing traction on the ice and is eco-friendly enough that it can be swept right into your lawn after the ice has melted.

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Starting a Compost Pile in the Winter

At the start of the winter I wrote about how you can keep adding to your compost pile during the winter. The important factor in maintaining a winter compost pile is to keep it covered so that all your hungry neighborhood critters didn’t make a mess of it while foraging for food.

While we have a covered compost pile to add to at our apartment complex, I couldn’t wait to start our own compost pile now that we have a yard and our own soil to start enriching. But a snow covered yard and below freezing temperatures don’t lend themselves well to building a multi-pile compost system out of pallets or what have you. And building a loose pile is just inviting the rabbits and deer to move into our backyard. So I needed a contained solution. A few quick searches on craigslist led me to some very cheap 55 gallon steel drums for sale at a neighborhood farm. There was actually a range of drums to be had on craigslist– from shiny and painted, to food grade plastic, to older and slightly rusty. I went for steel as opposed to plastic, unpainted, and slightly rusty, but with no holes, and with the top removed.

The drum is about 3 feet tall, and I’m keeping it roughly where our future multi-pile system will go – behind our garage. But it’s pulled out a few feet from the wall of the garage in the hopes that being removed from anything climb-able will deter animals from trying to climb into the bin. The drum is heavy enough that I think it would probably take a few raccoons working together to knock the thing over.

Now that I have a sturdy container, the next step is to build the pile. I don’t expect to build a big enough pile this winter to generate any heat and break anything down in my compost pile this winter, but I want to have a good start for when the temperature start warming up in the spring. I also want to even further prevent my compost from attracting animals by keeping it full of “brown” or carbon-rich materials. These materials will help keep the pile from developing an odor on the days when the temperature gets above freezing and the food scraps thaw out a bit. Good “brown” compost materials for starting a winter pile are shredded or torn newspapers, shredded or torn brown paper bags, and/or torn apart cardboard egg cartons. If you happen to have any dried leaves from the fall still around, those would work well too. Aim for at least 50% brown items in your winter compost pile.

So there you have it: Starting a compost pile in the winter

  1. A container that is difficult for animals to get into
  2. Plenty of “brown” compost materials
  3. Your kitchen scraps

 That’s it. So what are you waiting for? Get to composting!

Want to read more about compost? Check out these previous posts:

On Apartment Composting
Can I Compost That?

Introducing The Energy Efficiency Project

Once upon a time, husby and I thought, what if we bought a house in the small town we’ll be moving to this spring. About a year ago, when I first starting envisioning this whole building earth project, I thought a good progression would be to have a house to demonstrate some of the energy efficiency, green building, and sustainable design ideas that I’ve been writing about. Not to mention we were ready to start investing in our own place inside and out.

One of the projects that I’m super excited about starting in regards to our new house is this series on The Energy Efficiency Project. Each month I’m going to explain what things we’ve done to reduce our houses energy use: upgrades, downgrades, or behavior changes. And then I’ll share the nitty-gritty with you: our monthly energy bill, and the costs, and pros and cons of the changes we’ve implemented. My goal is to be as transparent as possible in how we use energy and how we are attempting to save energy. My hope is to show how small changes can add up to significant energy savings, and maybe you’ll be inspired to adopt some of the same changes yourself.

power lines: the energy efficiency project

So first, let me share some details about our new home to give you the lay of the energy use land.

Size: 1,026 square feet. Single story, with an unfinished basement, rafter attic for insulation.
Energy using appliances: refrigerator, stove, washer, dryer, hot water heater, gas furnace, central air, garage door, coffee grinder, exhaust fan
Electronics: computer, cell phones, alarm clock, seedling starter heating pad
Light fixtures: 21 bulbs worth
Windows: approximately 100 square feet, most of which are fairly new with aluminum sills
Insulation: I’m not sure exactly, since I haven’t looked inside the walls yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s just your basic fiberglass batts. The attic has about 3-4 inches of blown insulation covering the house.
Occupants: 2 adults, one wee tender babe

The Energy Efficiency Project: Month 1

We’ve been living in the new house for about a month now. Long enough to get our first energy bill! So we have a bit of a baseline to start with.

For December 17th through January 13th this is what our energy usage looked like:

Over 27 days we used 379 KWH (kilowatt hours) of electricity. We are part of the Alliant Energy Second Nature renewable energy program, at the 100% level. (In this program you can choose the amount of your energy use that you want to be matched in renewables, and we chose 100%.) So the cost of our electricity is $0.13 per KWH, for a total of $49.62.

We also used 85 Therms of natural gas heat energy. The natural gas market fluctuates in Wisconsin, so there is not an easy dollar per Therm number to give you, but during this billing period we paid $72.90 for our gas use.

Our energy bill also provides these numbers for helpful comparison:

Electricity used this month last year: 834 KWH (!!! what did the former owners have plugged in that sucked more than twice as much electricity as we used?)

Gas used this month last year: 96 Therms. Average temperature this month: 20° F. This month last year: 14° F. So last year was a bit colder than this year which explains the higher gas usage.

Degree Days this month: 1211, vs this month last year: 1698. Degree days are the number of degrees below 65° F in one day, all added together for the total 27 days of the billing period

Now let’s see where we can go from here!

P.S. Interested in seeing a picture tour of our new house? You can check that out over on macnamania.com!