Belated Turkey Day conservation blogging

True story: My grandmother is on an energy-efficiency crusade. I called her on Thursday to wish her a happy Thanksgiving, only to get an earful of conservation tips.

This is all on her own initiative. Although Ma knows that my work relates to climate change, she’s unacquainted with this blog and fairly fuzzy on the details of what I do. She’s extremely well-informed, but I’ve never detected much of a green streak in her, and I certainly haven’t pushed her to lighten her impact.

Turns out that Ma’s electricity bills had become shockingly high. So she called Florida Power & Light (to what end, I can’t really be sure). The customer service agent quizzed her about her energy use, and suggested she focus on the big ticket items: air conditioning, the refrigerator, hot water, etc.

Not all of these tips were helpful. Ma doesn’t actually use the A/C very often, and she’s in no mood to swap out her fridge. She decided to focus on the boiler and the golf cart.

Her boiler, she knew, was sucking way more power than was necessary for her modest hot water needs. Unfortunately, boilers aren’t that easy to adjust. Ever resourceful, Ma has hit on the solution of simply flipping the circuit breaker that controls power flow to the boiler. She does this on a daily basis, leaving the boiler on just long enough to heat her water.*

Next, the golf cart. Ma puts a few thousand miles at most on her car every year. Otherwise, she gets around the neighborhood in an electric golf cart. She used to leave the cart plugged in all the time. Now she just plugs it in when she needs it.

With these two measures, Ma has knocked 25% of her energy bills, and almost the same amount off her carbon footprint. Pretty good for an 82-year-old. What changes will you make in the new year?

* Someone who knows more about boilers than I do would undoubtedly be able to suggest a more convenient way for Ma to conserve energy. Most likely, she just needs to replace the stupid thing with a smaller, more modern model.

Photo available under Creative Commons license from Flickr user purpleslog.

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  1. Geoffrey - November 28, 2007

    Since it sounds like your grandmother lives in Florida, it should be effective (and fairly inexpensive) to replace the old boiler with a tankless water heater.

    This is not an endorsement as I have never used their products, but check out:

    American Electric Tankless Water Heaters

    for an example.


  2. Ada Krugh - November 28, 2007

    I am close to Ma’s age and while I conserve every where I can especially water. I use a product my grandson is behind ,Ecotouch waterless car cleaner and polish . To see a demonstration go to James is only 25 but has always been dedicated to a greener earth.

  3. Super Aaron - November 28, 2007

    I understand when you speak about your mom being unacquainted with climate change issues. I have not been pushing my family to reduce or balance their carbon footprint. But the issue is so important to me that it is hard to contain myself. So I did buy my mom the road terrapass, in the hopes that it would spark her interest. Pretty soon I will do the same for my dad and brother. I figured a carbon balanced family is a good gift for xmas. I also sent my mom the Al Gore DVD. It is what peak my interest in the first place. I thought it might peak hers as well.

  4. terry haugen - November 28, 2007

    Good for Ma! I’ve been turning off my hot water heater for over a year now, and rarely have to turn it on in the summer, as here in FL the garage heats up enough to heat the water. Ma could also replace all her light bulbs with CFL’s. I’m currently saving 150 kwh just by doing that!

  5. KO - November 30, 2007

    I also turn off my oil heater with a summer/winter hookup during the day in the spring and summer. Although the heat doesn’t actually come on, just firing up several times a day to heat the water would make the basement really hot, and the heat would just rise through the house. I get up about 10 minutes early – run to the basement, flip the switch – then back up stairs to sleep while the water heats up. I then turn it off when I leave for work. During the hottest part of the summer the water in the tank sometimes stays hot enough to wash dishes after dinner. I actually try to keep this up as long as possible, this year until mid-November when it started to stay cold all day long and take a really long time to warm up at night. This really started as a $$ saver and it has helped to reduce the amount of oil I burn.

  6. Joel - November 30, 2007

    The tankless hot water heater is a great way to go but if you are keeping the old water heater add an insulation blanket, and no matter which way you go get a grandson to crawl around under the house and put the black foam insulation around your hot water feed pipes. This will do two things help keep the water in the pipes from cooling saveing you heating cost and help save water when you don’t have to stand around with your finger in the stream waiting for the water to get hot.

  7. Rob - December 22, 2007

    25% electricity reduction != 25% carbon footprint reduction — not even close, unless ‘ma doesn’t fly, buy food, live in a house that has a carbon footprint from construction (albeit potentially one amortized over a long time), etc.