The Redmonds replaced their second car with more sustainable transportation— an electric bicycle that’s charged by their PV system.
Aidan patiently waits for another delicious treat baked in the family’s solar oven.
Years before we got serious about our mission to live with solar electricity, my wife and I decided that we needed to do our part to save energy and reduce our utility bills. Our energy reduction plan evolved over several years. On paper, it may look like we have been very organized in this process. But, in reality, we made changes as we went along, adapting our lifestyle as we learned about new ways to efficiently use energy in our home. Here are a few of the baby steps that led to our final leap into solar electricity.
Step One. Long before the buzz about compact fluorescent (CF) lightbulbs, we swapped all our standard incandescent bulbs with high-efficiency CFs—which use about 75% less energy and last up to four times longer. Back then, there wasn’t much in the way of selection, and prices were on the high side. Today, a four-pack of 13 W bulbs (equivalent to 60 W incandescents) costs about $10, and bulbs in every size and shape accommodate a variety of fixtures and uses. Improved phosphor formulations have virtually eliminated the harsh fluorescent glare that once gave CFs a bad reputation.
Step Two. Since many of our appliances were nearing the end of their life expectancy, the timing was right to start replacing them with energy-efficient models. To spread out the cost over time, we replaced one major appliance per year with Energy Star-rated models. First came the dishwasher, second a refrigerator, and then, a horizontal-axis energy- and water-saving clothes washer. With two adventurous boys, we do lots of laundry. The new washer alone has reduced our water consumption by 8,000 gallons per year. Whenever the weather cooperates, we dry laundry on a Breezecatcher rotating clothesline.
Step Three. A story in Home Power introduced me to UltraTouch, a recycled denim insulation. At 5.5 inches thick, it has an R-19 insulation value. I loved the idea of using a nontoxic material that required no gloves or masks. For only $300, I insulated two-thirds of our bungalow’s main subfloor area. The material stays in place between the floor joists without staples or nails. New windows are coming soon, but for now, the insulation makes a huge difference.
Step Four. At a home-improvement store, I spotted a stack of 10 W PV modules that are used to power vent fans and wondered what else I could use them for. I bought three, and paired them with a single, deep-cycle marine battery and an 800 W inverter. We power all sorts of devices by plugging into the inverter’s outlets. Small power tools, lamps, stereos, and even an electric vehicle—well, my boys’ battery-operated Power Wheels kiddie car.
Step Five. Given our success with my sons’ Power Wheels, we decided to use solar power for bigger wheels. We replaced our second car with an electric bicycle for local commuting and errands. An attached trailer enables me to take the boys to school and leaves room for groceries on the return trip home.
Step Six. After we learned that solar cooking is a relatively simple way to reduce everyday energy needs, we purchased a solar oven and started experimenting. We started with simple things, like cornbread and brownies. Soon, we graduated to chicken, potatoes, rice dishes, and casseroles. All year long, we see the savings in our gas bill. In the summer, outside cooking in a solar oven helps keep the house cooler. The best part: Aidan, my youngest son, now accepts renewable energy as a way of life. One day, when I declined his request to make brownies, he said emphatically, “But daddy, the sun is shining!”
Bonded Logic Inc. • www.bondedlogic.com • Recycled denim insulation
Breezecatcher clothes dryers • www.breezecatcher.com • Rotating clothesline
Powabyke Ltd. • www.powabyke.com • Electric bike
Solar Ovens International Inc. • www.sunoven.com • Solar oven