Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Riot 4 Austerity Baseline Numbers

During the inaugural week of our Riot, I am calculating the data for our prior year's consumption. We tracked our food, consumer goods, and gasoline expenditures for the last 2 months of 2008, and I am calculating the electricity, heating, and water from our utility bills.

We have 3 people in our household - 2 adults and 1 child. I also run my part-time business from our home, so other people are also using our water, electricity, and heating. I'm assuming the average American use numbers found on the Riot page are "personal use" - I assume they don't include, for example, water used to grow crops, make iPods and books on our behalf - just water we use to drink, wash dishes and clothes, take showers, water the lawn and garden, etc.


The American average use is 100 gallons per person per day. Our total water usage for the year was 34,000 gallons, so we use 93 gallons per day (for 3 people). This is about 70% less than the American average.

Since we have reduced our water use already by about 70%, I am not going to concentrate on this area for our Riot.

Electricity, Cooking and Heating

We use 9889 kWh per year in our house for both electricity and heating, which is 824 kWh per month, for 3 people. The American average is 10,800 kwh for electricity and 1000 therms for heating & cooking per year - when I translate therms to kWh and combine the two numbers, it equals 40,100 kWh hours. (!!) This seems outrageous, but anyone feel free to check my numbers. I've noticed that our electricity use doubles during summer and winter when the Geo unit (our heating and cooling) is running.

When we compare the combined numbers, our use is currently 75% less than average. To improve this, I would like to install solar heating window panels before the end of winter, and consider looking at solar PV later in the year to see if it makes any kind of monetary sense at all.


I averaged out our gasoline use for November and December. These were pretty typical months - we commuted as usual and took one trip to Tulsa (100 miles away). We also did not take any plane, train, or bus trips last year, so I didn't have to do any accounting for that.

We used 35.75 gallons per month, total for the three of us. The American average is 50 gallons per person per month, so that would compare to 150 gallons per month. (Although my toddler is not driving yet, we do drive on his behalf - babysitting, doctor's appointments, etc.) So we are currently using 76% less than average. I was actually pretty pleasantly surprised by this.

I would like to reduce our gasoline usage more, if possible. This is obviously an area that will be directly affected by Peak Oil. I can only think of two ways to reduce our use more without sacrificing family time: my husband could increase his carpool days, and we could buy a hybrid. The carpooling really depends on his schedule, because he does not have a job with predictable hours. My Geo Prizm is on it's last legs (almost 150K miles, with a few fender benders to boot), and when we replace it I hope we can get a used hybrid car that is more fuel efficient.


Although we did keep our receipts for the last 2 months, I am not going to bother tallying them up. I can tell in general how we did, and honestly, the tallying system is a PITA. Here's what I estimate that we did:

  • Garden produce: Frozen tomatoes, okra, and pesto, dried basil and oregano, fresh parsley and kale.
  • OK Food Co-op: Local eggs, peanut butter, wheat berries, and jam.

  • Organic, grocery store: Soy milk, whole milk, coffee, random occasional items like applesauce.

  • Meat: None for me (except fish once every 1 - 2 weeks), only about 5% of my son's diet, and my husband eats meat for lunch about every day and about 1 dinner per week.

  • Alcohol: Impressive quantities of homebrewed beer.

  • Traditional industrial food: Everything else, although we do buy mostly "healthy" foods and whole foods.

So is this better than the Standard American Diet (SAD)? Marginally - maybe 10-15%. I think this is an area where we can show improvement. Here are my strategies to improve this next year:

  • Expand garden. During the summer, our diet will look somewhat better than in November/December. I plan for our garden to be more productive next year, especially the apple trees, and the year after that, I hope our blackberries and kiwis will start producing.

  • Preserve more from the garden.
  • Visit the Farmer's Market. I was not impressed with our local market the last time I visited, but I was informed today that it is MUCH improved now. So I will try to visit it more often.

Consumer Goods

Wow, Christmas shopping season was a bad time to save consumer goods receipts. Looking at the pile, I am almost too intimidated to add them all up. While some purchases were used, and many could be counted as peak oil preparation / green improvements, many were just traditional stuff - gifts for self, friends, and family. I don't buy many disposables, so at least that's a good thing.

OK, I added the receipts up after all. Our monthly average for the 2 months was $315. The American average is $10,000 per year, so $833 per month. Therefore our expenditure was 62% less than the American average.

I am looking for suggestions to improve myself here. My plan is to try harder to find free stuff and buy used goods. But as I mentioned in my 09 Goals, we are going to do some minor remodeling in our kitchen and replace our carpet with wood floors. Can someone provide any sources for remodeling with used or reclaimed goods? The only place I know about is the Habitat for Humanity ReStores.

My next post will be an invitation to the other Rioters (and anyone else) to help me compile a "starter" kit for new Rioters with the best, proven tips in one handy document. I'm going to kick it off with an outline and call for suggestions and details on each area. It might take a little while of your time - but will be worth it to compile all your great knowledge and experience to help future Rioters! Anyone care to help?


helwen said...

Hi, Just started reading your blog. I was doing the Riot for a while and am now just kind of working away at some bits here and there. When we were actively Rioting we had our own house but now we can't monitor our water where we live. Heat is difficult too (an apartment on the 2nd floor of my in-laws' house). We don't live in a drought area though, and one of our water sources is a spring. They're old New England farming folks though, so they're fairly frugal anyway.

You might find some useful stuff at my blog for sharing with others/putting into your beginner's list:

In particular, click on some of my "tags" in the righthand column, like "insulation". I do a lot on creative insulating, since the easiest way to save energy is to not use it. Hope it's of some use!

- Heather Gray

Lewru said...

Nice job, lady! I'm impressed with your "average" consumption already, but not surprised, knowing you. I'd like more info on how you tracked water in your "how-to" article.

And try this: http://architecture.about.com/cs/salvage/ht/salvage.htm

Anonymous said...

Hello Hausfrau-
I will be putting in my 'two cents' when you post the outline for the 'Starter' kit.


Southern Goddess said...

Hello, just started reading as well. You might try freecycle.org - a localized free swap/barter/etc based on your zip.

BTW, good blog!

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Everyone - thanks for the resources!!

Lewru - water tracking was strictly via water bills. So didn't account for some random things like water drank while at restaurants.

eatclosetohome said...

Where did you find figures for electricity and heating usage? 1000 therms/mo for heat AND cooking is a lot of KWH - but heating is most of that...so you don't get to add that whole total onto your total electric use unless you heat only with electricity.

I'm trying to figure out a) average electricity used by an electric stove and b) average propane used in Michigan (I don't want an average that is skewed by folks in Florida or Nevada).

Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Hi eatclosetohome - we only heat and cook with electric (geothermal heating and cooling, electric range and oven). Figures are all from the Riot 4 Austerity website, and I wonder where some of them came from. I would actually like to see the source. I don't see how people can possibly use as much as they do...gasoline, etc. I was surprised by the heating number myself, but I figure OKC is probably about "average" between colder and warmer states, so I thought it fair to use it.