My wife, Caroline, and I live in a single family home inside the Washington beltway, in a fairly typical suburban area in a North American metropolis of some five million people. We raised our two children and the family Labrador in this home, a block away from the public high school. Now the children are grown up and have homes of their own, and our beloved dog is dead, some of her ashes buried among the roots of a pink dogwood tree planted in her honor outside our front door.
So it’s just the two of us in the 2,600-square-foot house built in the late 1950s. The construction is mostly cinder block and brick with an asphalt roof. When we replaced the windows a few years ago to make the house more energy-efficient, we noticed an immediate reduction in our bills for heating in winter and cooling in summer.
Growing up in Africa, where we did not have central heating/cooling, we prefer to live as much as possible with our windows open, without the support of air forced through ducts. We think we do not use as much energy as some of our neighbors do, to judge from the incessant noise of their heating/cooling units wafting on the evening breeze through our open windows.
The view from space of our house (right, courtesy of Google Maps) shows how our home is surrounded by trees, casting deep shadows on the roof. The trees help keep the house cool in summer and provide habitat to some 22 species of birds that visit or live on our quarter acre. In winter the trees are leafless, so we get the benefit of the sun on the roof. The trees help regulate our home temperature, lowering energy bills while providing natural beauty to our immediate environment.
An Energy Star qualified compact fluorescent light (CFL , such as the one in the photo on the left, courtesy of Energy Star) uses about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and lasts up to 10 times longer, according to the U.S. Government’s Energy Star website. Caroline and I have replaced most of the light bulbs in our home with CFLs.
We use our car to commute to work because we both work at National Geographic and it is convenient to ride together. We avoid peak traffic congestion by leaving home at 7 in the morning and the office at around 5:30 in the afternoon, which halves our commuting time. This obviously saves a lot of gasoline, but it may not be as efficient as using the available public transport. Where we live, the buses operate only at peak commuting hours and services are limited and not always convenient. If the buses ran more frequently and over more extended hours we might consider using them instead of our car.
I have agreed to take part in the energy diet because I believe there is always room for improvement. We are concerned about the impact our lifestyle has on the planet. It’s no good thinking that we cannot make much of a difference as individuals. It’s precisely because most people think like this that we make no real progress in reducing the human impact on the planet.
We have taken steps to reduce our energy consumption by changing windows and light bulbs, but now I want to see what else we can do. I look forward to your encouragement and ideas and I hope that our participation will inspire you to also go on an energy diet.