Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How green is our household?

Some time ago I wrote an article called "How Green is Our Household?" It never got published, so I posted it on my website instead.

However since I seldom direct traffic to my website (which is woefully un-updated), I thought I'd bring it to folks' attention here.  I wrote this piece to countermand the common progressive assumption that conservative people never live "green."

So without further ado...

How Green is Our Household?

In the course of our science schoolwork, our daughters and I started a list of things that we do that are considered “green.” Here’s what we came up with (not in any particular order).
• We work at home so we don’t have to commute.
• As writers and homeschoolers, we are constantly using both sides of the paper for drafts and scratch paper.
• Our “lawn” is just mown-down prairie grass. We live on the edge of a prairie, so we just fenced in a portion (to keep the dogs close) and mowed it. We use a push mower because it doesn’t break down. We don’t use fertilizers or weed killers, and we don't water it. It tends to go brownish toward late summer, but that’s okay.
• We own two vehicles but only drive one, a Hyundai Tucson. The other vehicle is an old gas-guzzling farm truck that we seldom take out on the road (it’s more for on-property use).
• Our pets are spayed, of course. No sense contributing to the pet overpopulation problem.
• We very seldom buy packaged foods and make almost everything from scratch. This does not include stuff like crackers which are “packaged.” I guess what I mean is, we don’t buy much pre-prepared foods, i.e. frozen meals or even canned items. Some, but not much.
• We raise a good chunk of our own food, including meat, eggs, and dairy. Our chickens are free-range. Our cattle are grass-fed. We get the grass from our fields or a neighbor’s fields for winter feeding. Since our property is dryland (no irrigation), we can harvest a lot of protein by raising cattle on what would otherwise be unused land.
• We garden, have a berry patch, and an orchard (the orchard is start-up and hasn’t yielded much yet). We can and freeze.
• We make our own bread products, chiefly bread, English muffins, biscuits, muffins, and dinner rolls.
• We make mozzarella, cheddar, butter, yogurt, and ice cream from our own milk, so we don’t have to purchase many dairy products.
• We don’t use a clothes dryer. In the summer, we line-dry our clothes. In the winter, I use a clothes rack in front of the woodstove.
• We heat with wood, so we don’t use propane or electricity or heating oil.
• We keep our electricity usage fairly low. We pay about $50 a month to run a business, a home, a school, and a farm (this is average – a bit higher in winter, lower in summer).
• We recycle everything we can. Since the nearest recycling center doesn't accept glass, we make an effort not to purchase anything in a glass jar. By the way, this recycling center is forty miles away (in the nearest city), so we have to save up our recyclables until such time as we're going into the city anyway, maybe once every two or three months.
• We bring eco-bags to the grocery store for reuse.
• We feed edible food scraps to the chickens or dogs, and compost the inedible food scraps like orange peels, onion skins, etc.
• We buy our staples in bulk – flour, sugar, salt, cornmeal, beans, dried peas, lentils, rice, tea, spices, dog and cat food, etc.
• We drive a fairly energy-efficient car (though not a hybrid – can’t afford one) – gets about 30+ mpg. We drive less than 5000 miles/year, which is about 100 miles/week.
• We avoid disposables. We never use paper plates or plastic utensils. We use cloth napkins and reusable feminine hygiene products. We use a coffee press for my husband’s coffee rather than disposable coffee filters.
• We buy almost everything second-hand, including all shoes, clothes (except socks and underwear), and household goods (furniture, toys, books, pictures, sporting equipment, sheets, towels, etc.). Thrift stores are our favorite places to shop.
• We try to keep our propane usage down. We use propane for heating water and cooking. We have a propane wall heater, but we only use it when it’s 15 degrees below zero outside and 50 degrees inside the house and we’re just getting the woodstove started up in the morning. Then we turn it off.
• We don’t have air conditioning or central heating. We do have ceiling fans. Our house is warm in the summer and cool in the winter. We deal with it.
• We don’t have a dishwasher. I’ve seen “studies” that say hand-washing uses more water than an energy-efficient dishwasher. I challenge that.
• We don’t have a swimming pool. Think of the cost, the expense, the maintenance. In hot weather, we swim in our pond or go to the lake.
• We have a hot-water-on-demand water heater, so we don’t have a tank of water to heat.
• We don’t keep up with the Joneses. We don’t upgrade, we don’t purchase anything to impress anyone, we don’t dress fashionably. One time a friend of my then-ten-year-old daughter asked her, “Are you interested in fashion and makeup?” My daughter looked at her like she was crazy. “No,” she answered, puzzled. Her tone of voice implied, “Why should I be?” Poor kid – she gets her attitude and her shopping genes from her mom (smile).
• We don’t recreationally shop. Ever. We don’t have the money or the interest. To be fair, it helps that we’re an hour’s drive from the nearest source of recreational shopping. I think it’s been three years since we’ve set foot inside a mall.
• We don’t fly. It’s not that we’re necessarily against it, it’s that we can’t afford it. I wouldn’t mind visiting my parents more often, though…
• We reuse our ziplock-style plastic bags. Goodness how I love ziplock-style plastic bags. I use them constantly and wash them between uses. A box of the quart and the gallon sizes lasts us about a year.
• We don’t watch television (no reception) and therefore the kids don’t get the gimmee’s from ads. Since we homeschool (as do most of the rural families around us), the kids aren’t influenced by peer pressure for expensive gadgets and clothes.
• Our leisure activities are low-tech. We are voracious readers. We rarely travel, eat out, go to a movie, or anything like that. Where we live, there are few restaurants, no movie theaters, and it’s so gorgeous that there’s seldom a reason to travel far. We rent DVD’s for home viewing. We take walks, ride bikes, and visit neighbors.
• We keep our garbage output low. We recycle (or burn, in the winter) all waste paper. We recycle all recyclable containers. We compost our organic waste. On average, for our family of four, we fill about half a trash can a week.
Other ideas for greening up? We love hearing suggestions.


  1. We do not intentionally try to be "green", but we live in much the same way. We rarely buy anything new and we recycle, compost, garden, have poultry for meat and eggs. We do buy dairy, but in our own containers from the farm. It's amazing how accusitory the "left" can be. I have many friends who do the same as us. It's just a way of life that you don't plan for. Just taking care of what God has given us.

  2. i too have reviewed how green or lives are...there of course are improvements to be made but we are doing pretty good.i think that living "green" could help alot with many of the problems our country has; one being obesity-and another-saving money.

  3. Don't worry about getting hybrids though. The components in them that make them "green" come from far-off mines all over the planet. If you factor in the mining (and all that entails) and the factories that turn them into the engine components, then the travel to get assembled and shipped to you.... if actually works out alot 'greener' if you get a decent car thats been produced in your own country.
    Al Gore is a crook!
    But just because I don't buy his globowarmthinkery rubbish doesn't mean I want to live in a throw-away society.
    Living sustainably is better but we shouldn't be forced to fill fatcats pockets to do it.

  4. You are going green in very practical ways, Patrice. I think that conservatives are naturally savers and recyclers. Afterall, "conserve" is the root word of "conservative." Whenever I point that out to progressives, they get go silent - yippee!!!!

    My little vacation was enlightening (so to speak) in many ways, including the use of CFL bulbs vs. incandescent bulbs. I have been stocking up on incandescent bulbs because I've heard horror stories from greenies who have been using CFL's for years. A couple of these people are acquaintances and they told me they suspect CFL bulbs gave them tumors. Whether this is true or not, I have no idea. I do know that these 2 people are devout greenies and wouldn't make such an accusation about a main component of going green if they didn't believe they were correct in their accusations.

    Anyhow, I have been buying all sizes and shapes of incandescent bulbs because I like the instant-on feature of these bulbs and they produce a light that is more soothing to my eyes. The motels I stayed in for the past 8 days had either all CFL's or all incandenscents. In my opinion, the CFL's didn't produce adequate light for reading or typing and I wonder if this lower output will eventually affect our eyesight?

    My personal preference is leaving it a personal choice, but California is eliminating incandescent bulbs in 2012. The jack-booted lightbulb thugs will have yet another reason to kick in my door.

    Anonymous Twit
    Home safe & sound
    What an absolutely wonderful country! I love the USA!! I love the majority of the people.
    I love the businesses that keep things moving along. I love vacations...and I love my home.
    God bless America and her people!!

  5. Heh. If we were allowed to, we could ride our horses to work. Unfortunately, SwampMan's and my workplaces have parking lots, not hitching posts.

    The funny thing is, we live "greener" than most of the yahoos telling us how to live. The whole "green" word gives me a giant pain in the you-know-where and whenever I hear it, I have the urge to climb in a 4-wheel-drive monster truck and drive over somebody's solar panels.

  6. I had to chuckle at the mention of second-hand shoes. In our JONES household :) we also pass down usable shoes. One year, my 5 yr daughter gave her 3yr old brother a pair of sandals for his birthday. He was so excited! And to top it off, my daughter proudly exclaimed, "And they're not even new!!! I mean, who would want to wear shoes that nobody's worn before???" Needless to say, I shared that little gem with all of my other (conservative) and thrifty relatives and friends.
    (One Jones no one needs to worry about!)

  7. A.T! Welcome home!

    I appreciated your thoughts on light bulbs.
    I really dislike CFLs for the same reasons you do, and I too am stashing 'the real ones.' Another very bad point about CFLs is their mercury content. Breaking one is a nasty and unhealthy thing. I've read it's so bad it technically qualifies for a haz-mat cleanup that would run about a thousand dollars. I wish I could remember where I read this so I could give a proper citation. The article also raised the issue of their short shelf life, which is only about two years, max. The story said G.E. had been given a huge amount of federal funding to make them, and the amount spent on them added to their short life/replacement cycle dwarfs any alleged savings attributable to them. In other words, they're just another giant, expensive, feel-good-rip-off scam by....those..um...'other' people.

    Patrice, your post supports my theory that the greenest among us may very well be we who live in the reddest states. I say this in full awareness that on paper, at least, Washington state is bluer than Wisk detergent, but that's primarily due to the political sleight of hand that the Dems have used to disenfranchise everyone who isn't one of them. Out here in the real world conservatives far outnumber the libs.

    I'm guessing most of us who are 'regulars' here on your site would have no problem coming to each others' homes and fitting in pretty comfortably. It's a nice feeling.

    A. McSp

  8. A.McSp - I know the report to which you referred regarding the mercury in the CFL bulbs. You're right, they could require hazmat cleanup - if a large one breaks in a sensitive area (near a water source, on a playground, etc.). The mercury in them requires some special handling when they burn out, too.

    I refuse to buy G.E. because of its political connections. Instead, I buy incandescent bulbs made by Sylvania. They are not easy to find, but they are worth the effort. Sylvania incandescent bulbs are guaranteed, which is an added bonus. (No, I am not being compensated by Sylvania for my recommendation!)

    Anonymous Twit

  9. Good info, A.T.

    I tend to avoid G.E. products, too, and will strengthen my resolve by double checking the light-bulbs' manufacturer before I purchase them. I'll stick with Sylvania from now on.

    We try to buy American made products whenever possible. This has proven wise where our business is concerned: drywall. We only buy regionally made materials. No poisonous Chinese-made stuff allowed around our operation. Jeeperz...if it's that toxic to live with imagine what it would do to my husband if he had to work with it every day. No way. We have enough trouble competing against illegals and unlicensed operators. We love our clients....We don't poison them.

    Here's to good light!

    A. McSp

  10. One thought, Patrice:

    We have 'composting toilets' at our Doomstead. They are standalone, and not hooked up to our small, required (for kitchen waste) septic system.

    We bought 'fancy' Canadian composting toilets that cost $1500 each, but I like the $50 solution -- two five gallon buckets, one for business, one for cover material -- housed in a wooden box and topped with a toilet seat.

    A great book on the subject is 'The Humanure Handbook'. I look forward to using the composted waste on our vegetable garden.

    Keep up the good 'green' work, Patrice!

  11. • We don’t watch television (no reception) and therefore the kids don’t get the gimmee’s from ads. Since we homeschool (as do most of the rural families around us), the kids aren’t influenced by peer pressure for expensive gadgets and clothes.
    • Our leisure activities are low-tech. We are voracious readers. We rarely travel, eat out, go to a movie, or anything like that. Where we live, there are few restaurants, no movie theaters, and it’s so gorgeous that there’s seldom a reason to travel far. We rent DVD’s for home viewing. We take walks, ride bikes, and visit neighbors.

    AWESOME! Both of those bullet sound so ideal and dreamy.

    http://swimtaxi234.blogspot.com/ - our homeschool world.

  12. Loved reading all these messages. I think most people who live in rural America live a lot "greener" than any city folk. Don't know what those "green-be'ans" are so uppity about. It is a way of life, and a mighty good one.