An Interview with Condo Blues

>> Thursday, April 8, 2010

We're talking energy efficiency for the next couple months here at The Conscious Shopper. This is one of my favorite topics because it can save so much money without requiring huge investments or new technology. If you check the archives, you'll find lots of articles on energy efficiency - I got addicted last year.

Unfortunately, though, I'm still renting so I haven't been able to improve my own home's energy efficiency as much as I'd like. Luckily, there are other bloggers out there that have made more strides in this category than I have, and today I want to introduce you to the one I think is a DIY maven and energy queen: Lisa from Condo Blues.

I think I do all right keeping my energy use low, but holy cow, Lisa blew me away with her numbers! Keep reading below to find out how Lisa reduced here energy use by 32%.

Q: Can you give me some background info about why you decided to improve your home's energy efficiency?

A: It all started with the February natural gas bill. I felt that it was extremely high. My husband said that the winter bill is always high. I thought it should be lower since one of the reasons we chose to by our home is that had a new furnace and should be more energy efficient and compared to our old rental with the ancient furnace.

I started researching how to make our new home more energy efficient. A slew of Greenzillas insisted that the only way I could lower my home's energy bills was to toss all of my new but one notch under Energy Star rated appliances and HVAC system and install expensive alternative energy systems. I'm not against those items but I couldn't afford to just chuck them all - I just bought a house! I also thought that getting rid of new and working items was wasteful. For example, if I replaced my then new and current refrigerator with an Energy Star rated equivalent I would only reduce my electricity use by $1.00 for the year. I could easily save a dollar's worth of energy with that refrigerator if I keep it full, made sure the seals where tight, lower the temperature a degree, and vacuumed the coils on the back.

I was determined to prove the zealots wrong and learn how to use what I had wisely and efficiently. I did it as a year long project and tried to reduce my use as inexpensively as I could. I did it with inexpensive home improvements, new habits, and a whole lotta CLF light bulbs.

Q: You say in your bio that you reduced your "home's electricity use by 32% in 2007 by changing habits, using my current appliances wisely, and with less than $200 worth of home improvements." If you're willing, I'd love to see some exact numbers. (For example, our average daily electricity use is 27 kWh for our 1200 square foot home.)

A: I have a 1500 square foot free standing condominium. Basically it looks like a regular free standing house but acts like a condo - the Home Owners Association mows my lawn and takes care of street and green space maintenance in our neighborhood. My daily average electricity use is 15 KWh. I have an all electric kitchen. The only Energy Star rated appliances I have are my HE washing machine, which I bought half way into the 20% Energy Reduction Project because my old one died beyond repair and the dishwasher that came with the condo. My daily average natural gas use is 1.5 CCF. I use natural gas for the hot water heater, furnace, and fire place. I don't use the natural gas fireplace often. The last time we used it was during a power outage for heat and light.

Q: You seem big into DIY projects. What tools would you recommend every gal have in her toolbelt?

A: I'm picky. I love custom items but I want to pay for them on my terms. More often than not, that means making or revamping something old into something new. My husband and I love the retro mixed with modern look. We hate sending things to the landfill.

I'm very lucky that my father never chased me away when he was working on a project. He always answered my little kid questions and let me "help" by handing him things or carry a broken whatis to the store so we could match it to the replacement part. My first DIY project was helping my Dad make a step stool out of scrap wood so I could reach the bathroom sink in order to brush my teeth as a toddler. My mom still has that step stool it's come in handy over the years!

I'd recommend a basic toolkit that has a Phillips screw driver (it's the one with the head that looks like a cross), a flat head screw driver, a hammer, a pair of needle nose pliers, an adjustable wrench, a tape measure, level (great for hanging shelves, curtain rods, pictures, etc.), and an electric drill if you want to get fancy.

Q: I'm completely terrified of power tools. Any tips for a girl who generally lets her husband do the sawing and drilling?

A: Put on your safety glasses, tie any long hair back and dive in! Your first project may not be 100%, but just like anything, your skills will improve the more you use them. If you have a husband or person in your life who's skillful but tries to micromanage your project without your consent, try to do it when they aren't around or are busy with something else. If you're worried about cutting yourself with a table or circular saw, you can pay to have the home improvement store make those cuts in the wood you buy from them for you. Having a good home improvement book or Web site with lots of step by step instructions and photos helps too.

Fortunately very few of my energy saving home improvements involved power tools and heavy duty DIYs. Most of them involved spray foam or caulk. I did use a rotary tool to cut a metal door sweep to fit my door which you could do with a small hand saw. I used that project to try out the new toy my in laws gave me for Christmas. :)

Q: At the Conscious Shopper, I divide a lot of my going green tips into Baby Steps (easy), Jogging Stride steps (medium), and Marathon Runner steps (hardest). Can you give us your favorite Baby Step, Jogging Stride, and Marathon Runner tips for improving a home's energy efficiency?

A: I'd pay someone or do my own DIY home energy audit as a energy saving Baby Step. You need to know how much energy you are using and where your home's and weaknesses are before you can reduce your use.

As a Jogging Stride step I would seal air leaks in your home with caulk (there are removable caulk options for renters), weather stripping, spray foam, or door sweeps. Even newly built homes like mine have little gaps around doors and windows that draw heated or cooled interior air out of your home.

For a Marathon Runner I would either replace an energy inefficient appliance with a more energy efficient model or add more insulation to your home.

What resources have you found that might be helpful to someone interested in improving their home's energy efficiency?

A: The Energy Star website has an online home energy audit tool that lets you do a free home energy audit. I used it to do the home energy audit that gave me the idea to do the 20% Energy Reduction Challenge. It has a lot of great information about how to make your home more energy efficient. DIY Network has a slew of shows and advice when you're trying to decide if a project is a DIY job or if it's better to call in a pro. Of course I think Condo Blues has some great real world examples on how to go green and save money doing it too.

I hope you all enjoyed learning more about Condo Blues. Her blog is really a wealth of information. Check it out!


You have hereby been challenged to go green in a year without going broke! Check out the last challenge, or view the whole list of Challengicious Mondays. Sign up for my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, and join my "Go Green without Going Broke" group on Facebook!


diy April 8, 2010 at 8:43 AM  

Right on! Doing your own energy audit isn't hard, and is the easiest way to save money on energy bills.

A lot of contractors are touting that only they can provide great results with their professional audits - and they charge hundreds for it. You can do your own energy audit for next to nothing with only simple tools and items you already have laying around.

Nice post, thanks for the insight and interview!

Dave Andersen
DIY Energy Audit Kits

Jenn the Greenmom April 8, 2010 at 9:26 AM  

Love this! Thanks for posting it!

Re the power tools thing--my dad gave me my own tool box when I stepped out into the world, with the basic tools Lisa listed here, and I still have and use almost all of them--but my first power tool was a gift from a couple of Girlfriends, and it was a combo drill-driver. A great first power tool--and not too intimidating and fairly easy to use, and it cuts back on a lot of time.

Of course, three years later when I got married my husband sneered at the lack of horsepower or whatever, but it's a great tool.

And BRAVO to Lisa for not tossing out perfectly good appliances just because they are not the most efficient on the market--I don't even know how to calculate the carbon impact of building the new unit combined with discarding the old, but I'm fairly sure you'd have to wash a LOT of clothes to match it.

cpcable April 8, 2010 at 10:27 AM  

Thanks for the interview--lots of good advice! In other news, check out my post today...I have something for you! :)

Condo Blues April 10, 2010 at 12:49 AM  

Thank you for the kind words. I'm flattered!

Jenn - My first power tool was a one speed drill and was the only power tool brought into our marriage - by me. It served me well until we moved into our Condo and I bought the multispeed mega drill in my photo. We call it Mommy's Little Helper. My father in law is SO jealous - it drills thorough steel studs like buttah.

Naturemom April 10, 2010 at 12:15 PM  

Love the interview. Lisa is an inspiration!

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