MY SUSTAINABLE LIVING JOURNEY SO FAR

Last year, my partner and I sat down and wrote out goals we each had. Every so often we do this, so that we can continue to dream together. (I totally recommend everyone doing this – you never know what amazing ideas will come up, or what dreams you didn’t know your partner had) We love talking about big ideas! One of the things that came up last time was moving toward being a lower-waste household. We’ve always cared about our planet, our environment, and genuinely try to be good stewards of the things we have and things we affect.

I started getting curious about the steps we’ve taken, and thought it may be nice to recap our journey so far. These are listed in no particular order (other than the order that they came to my brain in). Maybe you can be inspired by something on the list!

“A little progress every day adds up to big results.”

Satya

1.I stopped buying yogurt. I know, I know, how in the living hell does this create a more low-waste life? I started making my own chia pudding, and use this any place I would have used yogurt. Even though I was purchasing it in the largest containers I could find before, I would still go through one 24-oz plastic container every 2-3 weeks. Now, I make one mason jar of chia pudding, and simply re-make as needed. Bonus: chia seeds are packed with so much nutrition, and I can customize it to be flavorful or simple, depending on my mood!

2. I also make my own granola, granola bars, trail mix, bread. Buying in bulk helps me get all the ingredients I need for less money and less plastic so that I can make my own recipes. (A recipe section on my blog is coming soon so you can try out some of the winners!)

3. We built and installed a rain barrel. This will be our second year with our lovely little barrel of rain joy. We’ll see what this season brings, but last year, our barrel supplied enough water for our garden without having to supplement it once with our garden hose. We would get so excited every time it rained, knowing our barrel would be full!

4. We continue to grow our little garden homestead. In a long-term goal to be able to produce all of the produce that we eat, we continue to add little by little every year. This year, we added blueberries, apples, and pepperocinis to our happy little garden. I also received a lemon tree that I set up indoors!! (I’ve wanted a lemon tree for YEARS people. The dream has become reality)

(Last year, I learned how to can vegetables, and will can my own pickles, apple butter, applesauce, jam, kimchi, sauerkraut,, and other produce.)

This is my first go at apple butter. OMG. I want it everyday. Apple butter is like home to me.

5. Along the same lines as gardening, we built a compost bin. This honestly may be the single greatest thing we’ve done to lower our waste. There is so much that can be composted that in the past would have just gone to the landfill. Food scraps, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, and garden scraps all become nutrition for our growing plants instead of filling up our trash bin. Talk about a win! We repurposed a sealable container that we now store under the sink, and when its full with food scraps, we just take it out and add it to the compost bin. Easy-peasy!

6. Speaking of toilet paper, Who Gives a Crap ships their rolls in completely compostable paper. Recycle the box, and everything else goes in the compost! They also donated 50% of their profits to help build toilets, use all recycled paper, and do their part to limit carbon emissions,

7. This is a big one, but we’re going solar! This is definitely a long-term investment, but I am so excited to generate our own power and be able to reduce our energy footprint. I’ll be posting a full post soon about this process, so stay tuned 🙂 It’s a fun one!

8. I have become pro-Diva Cup. To be honest, getting in the hang of using the Diva Cup took some time, but just like I’m amazed at how many diapers a single baby goes through, it is jaw-dropping to think about how many pads/tampons one woman goes through over the course of her lifetime. This is my second year without buying a single tampon! I also use Thinx period underwear, and you can totally use this link to receive $10 off yours if you’re into that sort of thing!

9. We purchase a real Christmas tree every year, and once the season is over, let it dry out, using it for starter wood over the course of the summer. The branches are perfect for kindling, and any pine needles add some needed nutrients to our compost bin.

10. I have committed to only buying secondhand clothing. This was one of my yearly formations in 2020, and it is amazing to understand how little we do actually need. I don’t miss shopping, and my wallet doesn’t either. I used ThreadUp for the first time, when I needed a blazer for an event, and it was so simple, inexpensive, and quick. Color me a believer!

11. We scheduled an home energy audit. I stumbled across this program through our gas company, and for $75 we received a top-to-bottom examination of every part of our home and how it affects energy usage/conservation/waste. Next, we were given a comprehensive recommendation list of things that would make a positive impact. From this, we have made a couple of changes and they have made a world of difference in our energy usage. The three biggest things we have done as a result of the audit are adding insulation to our home, replacing inefficient doors, and sealing doors, windows, and our basement.


I am so proud of each and every one of these steps. No matter how small, everything we do really does make a difference. Looking forward, I know that we should continue to make baby steps. So dream with me, y’all. Here are a few things that I hope to do in the *near* future:

1.If there is something that we need or want, I would like to keep asking “Can I make this?” or “Do we already have something that can work for this?” It’s amazing what a little creativity can do.

2. It’s a battle for me, but learning to sew has been on my list for awhile. I understand (a couple of) the basics, but I struggle so much on this! It would be so helpful to be able to make my own items, fix/patch things, and so much more to cut down on purchasing new things if something wears out first. Currently, I get frustrated 98% of the time and only sometimes finish the project.

3. I desperately want to become a year-round cyclist. This has so many variables to become a reality, but my next step would be some cold-weather gear. I’m starting to scour REI garage sales and other places to see if I can get some used gear/clothing because cold toes suck. Currently, I cycle outdoors from April-October (ish). This means that I lose about 50% of my outdoor cycling time. If I could extend that by just 2 months (March + November), this would be a fantastically huge step forward. We’ll see if we can’t make that a reality.

Get fired up! What projects or ideas have you done or are working on to lower your waste and/or your carbon footprint? What is one thing you can do today to begin working towards it?

WE’RE GOING SOLAR!

OMG OMG OMG. I just got an email saying that it’s almost time. I can hardly contain my excitement because WE ARE GOING SOLAR! My personal project coordinator just reached out to let me know we are in the final stage before installation! Hip hip hooray!!! Can you feel the enthusiasm? I’m about to burst. I mean, I train hard to generate power, and now our home can do the same thing!

We didn’t set out to put solar panels on our home at first. Honestly, I thought that because we don’t live in sunny San Diego, CA, that we don’t receive enough daily sunlight for it to be “worth it.” I also thought that they would be way too expensive, and that we could never afford it. There are a lot of things that I thought, and I was so wrong! Isn’t it great to be wrong sometimes? So how did this even happen? Sometimes I wonder…

We love road trips. We love to just slow down, put away our phones, pull out the atlas, and follow the scenic routes (we call them “pink roads” and I’m convinced it is the only way to road trip) to wherever our destination is. Its amazing how many times we’ve been on the road and seen solar panels: on houses, in fields, on buildings. I’ve always thought they looked pretty, like how optimism is more attractive than pessimism. They look inspirational. We talk about them whenever we see them, and I think they’ve always been included in that fantasy list of dreams in the back of our minds.

Back out of our dream fantasy, and back at home, our local R.E.I. hosts classes about a huge range of topics. They’re usually free (I love free), and I love to go if they fall at a time that works with my schedule. If they are something my partner is also interested in, she comes along, too. This winter went to a class about living more sustainably, and they had a lot of the usual tips and topics, but they also had a leader from a solar co-op present who talked about solar panels, and the co-op they run. This led us to a second meeting, sponsored by the co-op, where we learned so much more about solar panels. Here were the biggest takeaways for me:

  • They’re actually affordable. I don’t know if I had ever actually thought about how much solar panels would cost. I just immediately viewed them as expensive without a second thought. It is true that the price has significantly dropped over time, and if we were considering going solar even five years ago, it almost certainly would have been out of our price range.

    Even over the past three years, the average cost of solar has gone down from $2.83/watt to somewhere around $2.52/watt (Chin). Wattage didn’t mean much to me when I first started learning about all of this, but does now. I’ve come to understand that although the average household uses 10,000 kilowatt hours/year, we only use on average 3,866. One kilowatt hour is the amount of energy that it takes to produce 1 kW and sustain that for one hour. As an example, a 100 watt light bulb that is on for one hour uses 1 kwh (1 x 100watt x 1hour).

    In Ohio, 1 kW of installed solar on a South facing 20 degree pitched roof would produce about 1,295 kWh/yr (the “south facing, 20 degree pitched” is the optimal characteristic, but we already know that our roof is pretty similar, so we used this as an estimate; Solar). If we average 3,866 kWh/yr, to estimate our size of system, simply 3,866 (our usage) / 1,295 (estimated production) = 2.98 (kW of system). So, our system, before any tax credits, will cost about $7,000. While, yes, that is a good chunk of money, it is far less than the dream-fantasy-made-up-number of somewhere in the ballpark of one hundred bagillion dollars. $7K is at least something we can work with, something we can save for.
  • They DO work in Ohio. This was the main question I had when we went to our first meeting. Is this even a possibility for us? Northeastern Ohio isn’t exactly known for its sunshine. In fact, we only average 2280 hours of sunlight per year (out of 8760; Average). However, what I didn’t realize is that you don’t need a constant supply of sun 24 hours a day, you really just need a few hours a day (Richardson). Furthermore, you don’t need warm sun, you just need SUN! In fact, the panels work slightly more efficiently in cold sun so even over the winter, we’ll be generating energy (yay Ohio!!).
  • Solar panels are surprisingly quick to install. We went to the solar co-op meeting in February. Installation will begin this month (May), and the entire installation will only take one day. One day! I couldn’t believe that! Granted, in the grand scheme of things, our system will be relatively small compared to a business, but still. We had new doors replaced and that took about a day. We’re also installing a mega energy-generating, money-saving, environmentally-friendly system to our roof and THAT will take about a day, too. Color me impressed.
  • It’s easy. I don’t really have to do anything! The permits, installation, and monitoring is taken care of, and I have access to everything immediately. We already have access to our monitoring software (yep, there’s an app for that) where we’ll be able to see every single detail of our production, usage, and more. Simplicity really is key, and I’m a fan of anything that is simple to use.
  • Tax credits exist to help reduce a portion of the total bill (for now). As of 2020, the federal investment tax credit (ITC) allows home- and business-owners to deduct 26% of solar costs from their taxes. I was a little bummed out to learn that only one year ago, the credit was even higher, at 30%, but then I learned that the credit will drop to 22% next year and may even after the following year. I guess it really is better (a little) late than never! Our system, after tax credits, will cost us just over $5,000.
  • You’re allowed by law to net meter and receive credits on your monthly power bill. When you generate more energy than you use in any month, this extra electricity will flow back through your meter onto the power grid. If your monthly electric bill = amount of electricity used – amount of electricity produced, your monthly bill could be negative! This is truly a step in a great direction if you are looking to reduce your carbon footprint, I’d say! Of course, there is a maximum to this. Legally, you can only net meter up to 110%, meaning you can only receive credit back on up to 10% of your production, after your usage (Solar). That seems pretty fair to me though; no need to get greedy folks. Use what you need. Generate what you will use. More about net metering here.
  • Solar panels can be recycled at the end of their long lives. This may be one of the coolest parts of it all. I wondered if all of my excitement for a more green form of energy would all be wiped out if these huge arrays just ended up in a landfill somewhere. Thankfully, that’s not the case. Here is a list of companies that recycle solar panels.

Now, we aren’t installing a huge system. Our goal is to cover between 90-100% of our total energy usage, and we don’t currently use much energy. In our two-person (and two-dog) household, we average between 11-12 KWH/day. Since it is recommended that solar panels be installed on the south-facing roof, that is what we chose to do, and we are lucky that our roof is pretty new. Here are a few specific details about our system that I thought were pretty cool:

  • 2.8kW grid
  • 9 panels, each panel weighing less than 4lbs/square ft
  • Our energy bill is estimated to drop to around $11/month.
  • Based on these numbers, it will take just 9 years to completely earn back the cost of the installation. Also, when it comes to energy payback, it takes less than 4 years to generate more energy than was used to produce the panels (Solar). Let’s all say it together: carbon-neutral 🙂
  • The panels have a 25-year warranty

The installation should take place within the next month. Right now, we’re just waiting on the permits to be finalized. I’ve created an account with their included monitoring program, so I get updates every step of the way. Every time I get a notification, I get so excited I could just burst! I never thought this would be a reality, but saving and planning really do make a difference! I was too excited not to share. Stay tuned — I will post pictures when they’re finally up!

Get fired up! Is this something you’ve considered? What are your thoughts/questions/concerns? Have you already gone solar? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!

Resources

“Average Annual Sunshine in American Cities.” Average Annual Sunshine in US Cities – Current Results, Current Results Publising, Ltd, 2020, http://www.currentresults.com/Weather/US/average-annual-sunshine-by-city.php.

Chin, Paula. “More Power to You.” Family Circle, Oct. 2017, pp. 136–138.

“Net Metering for Home Solar Panels.” EnergySage, 2020, http://www.energysage.com/solar/101/net-metering-for-home-solar-panels/.

Richardson, Luke. “How Many Peak Sun Hours Do I Need For Solar?: EnergySage.” Solar News, EnergySage, 8 Nov. 2019, news.energysage.com/many-sunlight-hours-need-calculating-peak-sun-hours/.

SEIA. “SEIA National PV Recycling Program.” SEIA, 2020, http://www.seia.org/initiatives/seia-national-pv-recycling-program.

Solar United Neighbors. “Net Metering in Ohio.” Solar United Neighbors, 2020, http://www.solarunitedneighbors.org/ohio/learn-the-issues-in-ohio/net-metering-in-ohio/.