Category Archives: Operation One Less

Operation One Less (degree)

Two degrees less, actually. Sometimes more.

I’m talking, of course, about the thermostat. We finally had one of those handy programmable types installed when we replaced our ancient oil furnace with a newfangled gas one.

The previous thermostat (not to mention the furnace itself) was old and unreliable. It was set to 70 degrees most of the time, but the internal temperature always read two degrees lower… and I’m willing to bet that was less of an accurate reading and more of a guesstimate on the part of the thermostat. And since it wasn’t programmable, there were plenty of times I forgot to turn it down when I left the house and before I climbed into bed at night.

Now, with a new furnace, new fuel type, and a new thermostat, we’re set to 68 degrees most of the time; 65 degrees when we’re gone or asleep. I’d love to tell you that the transition has been an easy one, but it hasn’t.

Someone once told me that oil burns hotter than gas, which gives the resulting heat more staying power. I have no idea if there’s any validity whatsoever to that claim, but I’ve lived in three houses with oil heat and they all felt cozier than the houses I’ve lived in with gas heat. This highly unscientific comparison is, I’m sure, due to the differences in the houses themselves, rather than the fuel type: square footage, insulation, etc. would all play a role in the perception of heat’s “staying power.” Having experienced both types of heat in this house, however, I’m prepared to say that the oil heat felt cozier. (Though, in fairness, the GIANT oil furnace resided in our partially/shoddily finished basement and gave off a low – but constant – ambient heat. The much smaller gas furnace does no such thing.)

Regardless of the relative hotness of the heat, it’s been a bit chilly around here. Our single thermostat is upstairs in an internal hallway, shielded from the cold air sneaking past the single-pane windows in every other room in the house. So, while the hallway might be a cozy 68 degrees, it’s doubtful that the rest of the house is – particularly during our mostly sunless Seattle winter. And the basement – location of our family room and my office space – is decidedly cooler. Knee-socks, slippers, hoodies, and a hot mug of tea have become my constant companions. But after several months of practice, I’m finally getting acclimated to the slightly lower temperatures.

Sadly, I don’t have any good data to show the effects of our efforts. Comparing usage to the same period last year is apples to oranges, thanks to the change in fuel sources (plus, they way my oil was delivered and billed makes it impossible to know how much was used in any given month). Comparing monthly usage since September (when the new thermostat went in) is also apples to oranges, since the temperature outside has changed dramatically over those months. But popular wisdom says that for every degree you turn down your thermostat, you’ll save 1% – 3% on your heating bill. I can’t find any popular wisdom discussing how much fuel you’ll save, but then I didn’t try very hard (crying baby – you understand). If anyone has any averages or estimates to share, please leave them in the comments.

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Operation One Less (flush)

Throughout 2011, I am identifying one thing each week that I can do less of. The “thing” need not be huge; in fact, the point is to suggest that even the little things can make a big difference over time. Call it a resolution if you like. I call it Operation One Less.

When I was a kid, my dad owned a small farm out in the middle of nowhere. The house was on well water, and the well occasionally would run dry in the summer months. On a farm, there are a lot of outdoor uses for water – we had a large garden to water and many animals that needed to stay hydrated – so most of our water conservation efforts focused on inside the house, with the toilet being the primary source of hand-wringing and brow furrowing.

It was an old house with an old toilet – the kind that swallows many gallons of water with each flush and then runs until its handle it jiggled furiously. Nearly every flush required a hand thrust into the icy tank waters to fiddle with a this or to yank on a that. We were all – even the children – expert plumbers by the end of our farm days. And we all knew to let it mellow if it was yellow and to flush it down if it was brown. Living with a finite water source was an early (and effective) lesson in conservation.

According to the EPA, the average American family of four can use up to 400 gallons of water per day. Of those 400 gallons, about 70% are used inside the home. Toilets account for about 27% of indoor household water use. So, if I’m doing the math correctly (please correct me if I’m not), that’s about 76 gallons of water every day being literally flushed down the drain. I have no idea how closely my family’s water usage mirrors this average (though it would be a fun little experiment to examine my water bills to find out), but I’m sure it’s more water than I’d like. So this week’s “one less” is flushing.

We sort of unofficially adopted skipping the pee flush when we had some sewer issues a year or so ago (and even more unofficially tried to time our poos to occur during work hours, but maybe that’s over-sharing), so everyone’s already more or less in the habit. The only negative side-effect is that Bug is a little too in the habit and sometimes forgets to flush even when it’s brown.

There are exceptions, of course. We go back to regular flushing when company is over. And we’re allowed to pee flush on asparagus nights. But there I go, over-sharing again.

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Operation One Less (tea bag)

Throughout 2011, I am identifying one thing each week that I can do less of. The “thing” need not be huge; in fact, the point is to suggest that even the little things can make a big difference over time. Call it a resolution if you like. I call it Operation One Less.

I drink a lot of tea. I haven’t always. In the past, I’ve purchased a lot of tea… and then put a lot of tea in the pantry… and then failed to drink much tea. But the tins are always so pretty and the flavors always so exotic and delicious sounding that I just kept buying. But since I lost my job in November, I’ve been spending much more time at home with a pantry full of tea, which calls to me on these chilly winter days. I pretty much drink tea all day long now. Not only does it keep my insides warm, it also ensures that I’m drinking enough water every day to produce plenty of milk for Jupiter. And it’s giving me an excuse to use up some of the 200+ remaining sugar cubes from one of Bug’s school projects.

I’d say I drink, on average, 6-8 cups of tea daily during the week; probably closer to 3 on the weekends. That’s 36-46 cups of tea each week, which translates to 1872 – 2392 over the course of the year. (Wow. That’s a lot, isn’t it? I’ve never counted it up before. Explains why Mr. Legume asked me if drinking tea was one of my New Years resolutions.) Presumably, I’ll cut back once the weather gets warmer, but who knows… there’s always iced tea. But let’s just go ahead and work with these numbers for the sake of this exercise, and let’s just round to 2000 cups of tea each year for a nice even number.

Two-thousand cups of tea is also 2000 tea bags… unless you reuse your tea bags.

I find that I can use the same bag to brew two large cups of tea before losing flavor. You can go for a third, but by then the tea will be weak enough that you might as well be drinking a cup of hot water with sugar or honey. I always make sure I have some sort of receptacle handy to hold my once-used bag while it waits for its second cup, and I usually use the same small “bag holder” for a week to cut down on dirty dishes. And when it’s brewed all that it can brew, remember that tea bags are compostable.

In my case, brewing two cups of tea instead of one with each tea bag will use 1000 (give or take) fewer tea bags each year. And it will save me $250 over the same period of time (based on 36 tea bags in the canisters I usually buy, at $9/canister).

I just shared this delightful news with Mr. Legume. He is not at all impressed. But you and I know that every little bit helps, right?

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One less butt wipe… sort of

When we’re at home, I prefer to use small wash cloths on my baby’s butt for diaper changes. No wasteful disposable wipes laden with chemicals, just cotton and warm water. They work just as well as wipes (better, even, because they’re more absorbent), can be tossed in the laundry for use over and over again, AND they don’t irritate delicate baby butt skin.

But they’re not exactly practical for outings, so some disposable wipes are kept on hand for the diaper bag and other emergencies. And by “emergencies” I mean “those days when I’ve remembered to wash the baby’s load but forgot to throw it in the dryer and am now left with a mildewy-smelling load that needs to be washed again.” Way to conserve water, mama.

Anyway.

We bought an econo-box of disposable wipes at Target because they were on sale. I was hesitant to do so, because I hadn’t used this particular brand on my baby’s delicate bum and I knew there was a chance that he’d have a less than positive reaction. Afterall, these were just regular ol’ wipes: not “all natural,” not organic, not biodegradable, not even chlorine-free. They were regular ol’ Pampers, “sensitive” variety.

I know. What the hell was I thinking?

One diaper change with those things and we were left with one very red-bottomed little boy. Like, baboon’s bottom red. Seriously.

So now what? We bought a couple packages of hippie wipes to tide us over… but what about the HUGE box of unusable Pampers wipes.

Here’s what: turns out you can launder those puppies. I’d discovered this before during Bug’s diaper years. But the discovery was  completely inadvertent (accidentally throwing some wipes into the hamper and running them through the wash with the rest of his clothes) and it never occurred to me to do it on purpose. Mr. Legume had much the same accidental experience with his youngest daughter. When, in a lame attempt to rid the wipes of offending chemicals, I hesitantly suggested we rinse them in warm water before use, Mr. Legume one-upped me and suggested we launder them first.

Brilliant.

They wash up quite well the first time, emerging from the dryer soft and fluffy. The second wash leaves them a little less fluffy, and by the third they emerge from the dryer looking moth-eaten. But we’re getting two to three diaper changes per disposable wipe before needing to throw them away. We haven’t washed our other disposable wipes because they’re compostable, which I presume means they won’t do well up against a washing machine. But any other disposable should work just as well… just be extra careful about cleaning out your dryer’s lint trap.

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Operation One Less (Car Ride)

Being home with the baby has given me ample opportunity to practice the concept on “One Less.” It’s nothing fancy; just the idea that one less fill-in-the-blank makes a difference over time. One less water bottle… one less plastic bag… one less disposable diaper… you get the gist. I already practice plenty of these, but I like to imagine that I can continuously add more “lesses” into my regular habits and make one less turn into thousands less.

I often refer to these endeavors as Operation One Less ______. You know, because I have a son who’s nearly obsessed with army games and I can get him more excited about participating in the one-lesses if I refer to them as “operations.” Also? Because I’m a dork.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve been walking to school in the afternoons to pick up my son. This doesn’t exactly count as one less car trip though, in that he was previously riding the bus to daycare in the afternoons and, presumably, that bus is still making its daily trip despite the absence of my darling boy. But I always drove him to school in the mornings, dropping him off on my way to work, and this is the car ride I’m hoping to make a daily one-less.

That probably doesn’t sound like much of a goal, but you don’t know me in the morning. The ability to get everyone up, dressed, fed, and out the door with enough time to walk the 10-ish blocks to school is not something I generally possess. But it’s silly to drive. Silly, I tell you. Especially when I still have 15 pounds of pregnancy fat to lose. So last night I decided we were going to do it. Today would be the day…

Bleary eyed, I drug myself out of bed a mere 20 minutes behind schedule. I got my son out of bed and threw some food on the table for his breakfast, got my other son up and threw a boob in his mouth for his breakfast, got us all dressed (sort of – the baby was still in his pjs, but those pjs were hiding a freshly changed diaper), and got one kid strapped into a stroller and the other balanced atop a bicycle…

…And we did it! We just barely made it to school before the bell rang, and I had to send my son scurrying to class while I struggled to get his bike locked onto the crowded rack. But we did it: one less car ride for the environment and a nice walk for me and my boys to boot.

And that makes day one of Operation One-Less-Car-Ride a success! We’ll see if we can go two for two tomorrow.

Now… on to Operation One Less Wasted Banana for the bonus round. (I’m cooking up some banana pancakes for dinner, along with a batch of banana muffins for the morning, all in an effort to use these rapidly browning bananas for something other than compost material.) Wish me luck.

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