Monday, January 19, 2009

Tips for living lightly

Welcome! This list of ideas for living lightly was originally created for new members of the Riot 4 Austerity, a project where the participants are reducing their own carbon emissions by 90% in 7 categories: gasoline, electricity, heating fuel, water, consumer goods, waste, and food. This tip sheet is organized by these Riot categories, although I am not including the "food" section in this tip sheet.

Anyone can use the tip sheet, but be warned: some suggestions may be more extreme than you are used to. Members of Riot 4 Austerity are pushing themselves to create healthy, happy, fulfilling lives - with 90% less carbon emissions.

Depending on your situation and living arrangements, you may find different categories easier than others. Some people have more time, others more skills, and others have money. Some people live in frigid climates, some in wet places, others in drought-prone areas.

These tips will also often SAVE YOU MONEY. Some ideas will only save you a little, but some can save you a lot. With the current financial climate, many people are starting to pay attention to the "little" things that can save you from $50 - 100 dollars a year - and when you add them together, $100 here and there can really start to add up.

Of course, if you are preparing for higher prices, financial turbulence and potential shortages of gasoline, heating energy and electricity that will likely result from peak oil, then reducing your consumption makes a whole lot of sense. Many of the other tips - such as reducing disposable items and buying used instead of new, will also help you adjust your lifestyle into a peak oil world.

There are a wealth of resources available on the web and from books that can help you reduce the carbon emissions, waste, and pollution that you emit in your day to day life. This tip sheet is a good place to start - thanks to everyone who offered tips to make it possible! And please, feel free to comment with more ideas!


Water is a necessity for life, and is becoming more scarce in many countries and regions. Americans use, on average, 100 gallons per day for indoor use and watering the landscape/lawn/garden . 30% of that is used in the landscape - and 50% of that is completely wasted. Indoor use of water is dominated by the toilet (27%), clothes washer (22%), and shower (17%).

Source: EPA

Water Conservation

1. Habits
-Take shorter and less frequent showers. Use an egg timer to help you keep it to 3-4 minutes.

- Let the "yellow mellow" - flush less frequently. Toilets use more than 25% of your indoor water use!

-Fix leaks in toilets, showers, and faucets promptly.

-Only wash clothes, sheets, and towels when they are really dirty.

2. Technology

-Install low-flow showerheads.

-Install newer water-efficient toilets or toilet dams.

-Use a high-efficiency washing machine.

-Install a composting toilet if you want to be super-efficient.

3. Conservation in the landscape

-Transform your thirsty lawn into a productive garden or beautiful, water-efficient xeriscape.

-Use drip irrigation or hand watering instead of inefficient spray watering.

- If you live in a dry area and must have a lawn, use drought tolerant species of grass for your lawn.

- If you must water your lawn, water in the early morning or late evening, and not on windy days.

-Install "ollas" or 5-gallon buckets with drilled holes in your garden and fill them up for easy infrequent watering right to the root system.

-Use deep mulching in the garden and landscape.

-Add organic matter to the garden and landscape plantings to better store water in the soil.

Water Harvesting

-Save the "warm up" shower water in a bucket and use to flush toilets or water your garden.

-Re-use greywater (water from showers or washing machines) to water your landscape. If you plan to do this, be sure to only use non-toxic, non-salty soaps and detergents. Check Art Ludwig's book "Creating an Oasis with Greywater".

-Save water from your roof with rain barrels or rain tanks and use to water your landscape or garden. (This is also good backup water for emergencies, but must be purified before drinking).


Americans are notoriously wasteful. We throw away 4.5 pounds in the garbage per person, per day. Over 60 million plastic water bottles, alone, are thrown away every day. Packaging and products are made of materials that had to be produced and processed and shipped to you, using energy in the process. Additionally, most people don't realize that every pound of trash emits the equivalent of a pound of carbon dioxide (in the form of methane) as it decomposes in the landfill.

Waste reduction

1. Stop junk mail and mail from sources you no longer want (catalogs, newspapers, magazines, etc.) According to Ecocycle, each year the junk mail industry destroys over 100 million trees!

2. Buy in bulk and try to buy items which have less packaging
3. Buy used instead of new goods - they have less packaging

4. Replace disposables with reusables

-Cloth bags instead of plastic or paper. If you always forget your bags, get the nifty fold-up kind for your purse or glove compartment.

-Re-usable drink containers for coffee (mug, thermos) and water (cup, Klean Kanteen)

-Create a Zero-Waste Kit.

-Make your own cloth hankies instead of using tissue paper

-Take your own To-Go boxes to restaurants

-Use a Diva / Keeper cup or cloth pads instead of tampons and throw-away pads

Re-use and Recycling
1. Reuse organic material

-Leave lawn clippings on the lawn, or use them for mulch

-Use leaves in your compost or mulch (they shred down great with a lawn mower)

-Compost kitchen scraps or put them in a worm bin

2. Recycling

-Take advantage of your municipal recycling program

-Use newspaper for mulch or in compost to add carbon, or as a "drop cloth" for projects

-Use cardboard boxes to suppress weeds in garden paths or in landscaping

-Donate useful goods to charities

-Sell useful goods on Ebay or Craigslist

-Donate random items on Freecycle. You never know what people might want!

Consumer Goods

New things such as televisions, clothes, toys, home furnishings, and cars require an enormous amount of energy (See The Story of Stuff) to extract the materials, create the item, and ship it to your local store or direct to your house. Every dollar spent on a new item puts half a pound of carbon into the atmosphere - and American households spend approximately $10,000 per year on consumer goods.

Don't Buy It!

-Avoid temptation by not watching television and not going shopping.

-Shop with a list.

-Instead of buying, borrow or rent what you need.

- Check out books, movies, books on tape, and CD's from your local library.

-Before buying something, look around - do you have one hidden in the garage, attic or back closet?

Buy Used

-Ask for hand-me-downs for kid's clothes, toys, and furniture from relatives.

-Buy used items online from Craigslist, Freecycle, and

-Buy used locally from thrift stores, used book stores, and consignment sales.

- Buy items made of recycled goods.

Make it last

-Take care of your home and the things you have - clean them, repair them, and keep them in good condition.

-Buy things that are quality and don't have plastic parts - these will usually last much longer than poor-quality items.

- Use smaller portions of items like shampoo, makeup, etc. Some people go through $25 worth of shampoo and conditioner a month - others use $10 a year.


Many places in America were built for cars, not people. This may be why we use 500 gallons of gas per person per year. Reducing your gasoline use will pay you back enormously after peak oil!

Alternatives to traditional cars

-Use public transport, such as buses, trains, and light rail. (This does not include planes, which use an outrageous amount of energy. Avoid planes!)

-Consider moving close to work, family, amenities, or a handy public transport stop that can take you to all of these.

- Biking. Bikes are extremely efficient, and there are many options, including e-bikes. Biking is also good exercise, and you can get some fresh air, enjoy the scenery, avoid road rage, and soak up some Vitamin D from the sun. You can even use a little carrier if you want to haul kids or groceries.

-Walking. Need I say more?

- Scooters. These handy critters can get up to 90 miles per gallon!!! But remember, safety first.

- A hybrid or other high-mpg car might be a good choice for your next vehicle. Get it used, if possible.

- Ditching your car entirely can be a great strategy for saving money, but may not be possible for people who live in places without good public transport.

Use your car more wisely

-Carpool (Check out

-Plan to combine errands into one trip. Make lists, do research online, and call ahead before you go to save gas.

-Keep your car tuned up and tires properly inflated, and replace spark plugs and air filters when needed.

-Track your personal miles per gallon.

- Drive conservatively - don't accelerate or brake too fast, stay at or below the speed limit and don't idle your car more than 20 seconds.

- Work from home or telecommute.

In the yard
- Ditch your gas-powered lawn toys like the lawn mower, leafblower and trimmer. (According to the EPA, a lawn mower emits 80 pounds of CO2 per year!)

- Use a reel mower and broom instead! (Note: I have a reel mower - it works GREAT on some types of grass but takes a bit more pushing power on Bermuda grass).

- Replace "recreation" vehicles like ATV's, snowmobiles, and waverunners with snow-shoeing, hiking, and swimming.


The vast majority of our electricity still comes from coal and natural gas. The average American uses 11,000 kWh per household per year. Most residential electricity is used for fridges (14%), air conditioning (16%), space heating (10%), water heating (9%), lighting (9%), cooking (6%)and clothes dryers (6%).

Use Efficient Technology

-Use a Kill-A-Watt meter to check the energy usage of your appliances. You can pass it on to friends, family, or your blogging friends when you are done with it.....

- Convert your chest freezer to a chest fridge or use the smallest Energy Star fridge that will meet your needs. And don't turn on the icemaker!

- Place your fridge far from your oven, heating source, and not in direct sunlight.

- Plug electronics such as TV, DVD, computer onto a power strip and switch it off when you are not using them - this will prevent the silent vampire energy draw.

- Evaluate your appliances to see if you could benefit from buying more efficient new kinds - especially your fridge (newer fridges can use up to 50% less energy), clothes washer, and air conditioner.

- Always remember to evaluate the energy efficiency of an appliance before buying it. Even computers and televisions vary widely in the energy that they consume.

-Install CFL light bulbs. (According to Family Handyman, save up to $35 per bulb replaced).

- Consider heating water and cooking with a microwave oven whenever possible. The microwave uses only 1/3 the energy of conventional cooking.

Air Conditioning

- Use ceiling fans, cool drinks, and lower your activity level instead of using the air conditioner (when possible).

- Avoid using the A/C by keeping shades closed or windows shaded by outdoor shades during the day, and then opening windows at night to let the cool air in.

- Consider a "whole-house fan" instead of using A/C.

- To cool your house at night, set up a cooling stream by putting putting a box fan in one window and opening another window elsewhere in the house.

- Keep the A/C at 78 degrees F or higher. Consider turning it up even higher or off entirely when you will be out of the house for extended periods.

- Perhaps only use a small window unit to help you sleep at night, instead of a full-house A/C unit that runs throughout the day (check the efficiencies of each unit to see if this is worth doing).

- Sleep in your basement in the summer (We lived in Denver, with no A/C for 4 years and used this trick). If you are concerned about radon, have it checked out. Also make sure there is an egress (direct window exit) from any room you plan to sleep in.

- Sleep on a sleeping porch in the summer.

- Make sure your air conditioner is shaded.

- On southern and/or western walls, install outdoor window shades and/ or grow vines on a trellis to prevent the sun from hitting the walls and windows. Over the long term, you can plant deciduous trees to shade your entire Western wall and roof.

- Avoid heating up the house with cooking heat by eating light meals (like bean salads and sandwiches) or by cooking outdoors, with a grill or Sun Oven.


- Use a drying line instead of a clothes dryer.

- Wash clothes with cold water, not hot. Washing with cold water is sufficient for just about anything except for the filthiest clothes.

- Insulate your hot water heater.

- If you use your hot water only at certain times of the day, consider installing a switch and only turning on the hot water before you want to use it.

- Turn off anything electric (lights...) when not in use.

- Ditch your halogen lights - as the "Hummer" of lighting, they use 300 watts an hour.

- Air dry your hair. A 1500 watt hairdryer uses 375 watthours of energy every 15 minutes of use!

- Turn off the heated dry feature in your dishwasher and air dry your dishes.

- Use a Sun Oven to cook meals - it will cook chicken, fish, lasagna, banana bread, chili, and more! Not only will this save cooking energy, but will save on A/C costs to cool down the house.

- Get rid of that old "spare" fridge or freezer if you can - it uses a lot more energy than you'd think.

Heating Energy

Most Americans use natural gas, electricity, or heating oil to heat their homes. The average American uses 1000 natural gas therms or 750 gallons of heating oil per household per year. Heating the home uses up to 50% of the energy consumption in a house. Some homes use geothermal heating units (aka ground-source heat pumps), which are also powered by electricity but use far less energy than conventional heaters. Many homeowners can also take advantage of passive solar heat gain to help heat their homes.

There are many ways to save money on your heating bills. Evaluate which ones give you the most gain for the least cost (time, effort, and money), and start there.

Insulation and Weatherizing

- Get a home energy audit.

- Blow in or install extra insulation in your attic.

- Blow in or install extra insulation in your outer walls.

- Place specially sized insulators behind light switches and electric outlets.

- Caulk around windows.

- Fill holes / air leaks in the house's "envelope" with Great Stuff or other insulation.

- Seal your HVAC ducts.

- Install weatherstripping around doors.

- Add storm windows (cheaper than replacing windows).

- Put in thermal window coverings / window quilts.

- Put up bubble insulation on windows where you don't need the view.

Here are some extra tips: Off The Beaten Path and Robert Waldrop's Blog.

Here's the Half Project, with their "Top 16 projects" and energy & money savings calculations.


- Open blinds during the day, close them at night.

- Check and clean or replace your furnace filter every month.

- Wear layers of warm clothes, hats, shawls, scarves.

- Use multiple blankets, comforters, down comforters.

- Use a programmable thermostat to turn down the heat at night and while you are gone.

- Or... just freeze yer buns by turning down the thermometer.... as low as you can go.

- Use a mattress heating pad (NOT electric blanket) if it will allow you to turn your furnace down at night. Unlike electric blankets, the power consumption for mattress pad heaters is very low (about 0.15 KWH per night) and will keep you very comfortable in bed.

- Block off parts of the house where you don't spend time.

- Don't use the vent in the kitchen/bathroom except for short periods of time. All the air vented out must be replaced by hot/cold air from the outside which must then be heated/cooled.

Other ways to live lightly

While renewable energy is often promoted as a way out of our climate change and peak oil problems, you can do much more, for less money, through conservation and efficiency. Having said that, you can also:

- Purchase renewable energy from wind or solar through your electricity provider.

- Consider installing solar water heating. It has a much quicker payback period than solar PV.

- Plant trees, yourself, and care for them. If they are fruit or nut trees, all the better!

- Spread the word - help your friends save money by reducing their impact on the planet.


d.a. said...

Very nice - I've google-shared this entry!

MN_homesteader said...

Very nice list.

Chile said...

Thanks for all the work you put into this. It's a useful list for people at any level.

Anonymous said...

Great list! No wonder I am feeling overwhelmed! Little eco step by little eco step I keep on telling myself....Cheers, Tricia

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Thanks, everyone. It definitely took some time to compile. And I didn't even include the food category!

Rathna said...

Excellent Article!! By the read I can understand the pain you have taken to present this blog.I am sure this list will be useful for people at any level.

Anonymous said...

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