trying to cut down (Petroleum Junkie, part 2)


That’s the goal I’ve set for myself for reducing my personal usage of petroleum products and other fossil fuel gluttony in the next few months. 10%.

Living where I live, working where I work, I can’t stop driving. We can’t completely change our home heating needs. It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to cut out plastics entirely without major lifestyle changes.

But I’m determined that I won’t keep going as I have been. I’ve worked with vague goals and good intentions for a long time, but I’m not getting all that much closer to breaking my addiction. I need a specific goal, with a concrete number. Like 10%.

I’ll start with things that I can easily monitor: home electricity use, heating oil, and gasoline. I’ll check our bills for the past year for comparison. For gas for the cars, I’ll have to make a rough estimate of consumption, as I haven’t saved all of our receipts. (I intend to keep better track now.) For other things, like plastic use, I’m still planning to make changes, but I may be less able to estimate a number.

Seeing as I probably won’t get reach the 10% goal immediately, I’ll set a deadline. Let’s say by the end of 6 months. Oh, hell. Let’s say 3 months for electricity and gasoline use. By the end of September. For heating oil the real test will be the winter. For each month, I’ll have to evaluate more-or-less based on the month of the previous year.

Below I’ve broken down my plans into short-range and longer-range ones, and I’ll tell you a bit about what we do now.

The starting point
I don’t know our actual usage is yet. We are a family of 4, living in an 8-room house with drafty 20-year-old windows and an oil furnace for heat and hot water. We use lots of electric appliances and electronics, do lots of laundry¹. We have 2 window air conditioners that we use in the summer, and living in New England, we use heat several months of the year. We drive a fair amount: we live 9 miles from public transportation, 3 to 8 miles from stores and services, 20 and 45 miles from our workplaces. Most of our friends live far from us, and our families are even further. We buy food and beverages in plastic packaging, and the kids have lots of plastic toys.

Efforts we already make/have made:

  • We drive small cars. (mileage in the 26-30 mpg range)
  • We often work from home
  • We use the window air-conditioners fairly sparingly (we don’t have central air)
  • We replaced most of our lightbulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs
  • When we had to replace our furnace, we chose a more fuel efficient one
  • Our washing machine, dryer and dishwasher are energy efficient models
  • We use reusable bags for groceries, and increasingly, other shopping
  • I consider packaging when shopping, and favor goods with less plastic.
  • We reuse the plastic bags and containers we do get as much as possible.
  • I try to buy local produce
  • I get much of the kids’ clothing second-hand
  • we recycle plastics
  • We do other kinds of recycling, composting, reusing, and reducing that probably add up

Short term plans:

  • Check last 12 months for electricity, fuel oil, and gasoline usage
  • monitor current usage
  • make better use of informational resources like the ones from my electric company
  • buy more local goods: goal of 50% of produce for summer/fall
  • Select electric company provider which uses renewable energy sources
  • adjust our usage of…

    • Check to see what is plugged in or turned on that needn’t be
    • Turn off lights/don’t turn them on
    • Get better nightlight for bathroom and/or hallway (we leave a light on for Phoebe at night)
    • Line dry more clothes (goal of 1 load in 4)
    • Change temperature of fridge
    • better monitor use of air conditioners

    heating oil:

    • Use only cold water for laundry under ordinary circumstances
    • Time my showers, and reduce time and/or temperature
    • turn down the heat in the winter, especially at night and when we leave the house
    • be less lazy about weatherizing our windows, doors and other draft sources


    • Take train for at least some commutes (at least 1 in 4)
    • avoid using the air conditioner in my car
    • better combine trips for recreation and shopping/errands
    • have occasional family train trips rather than driving for recreaction/visits

Mid-range plans:

  • get programmable thermostats
  • Replace windows or get storm windows
  • consider getting ceiling fans installed
  • Evaluate purchasing habits

Long-term plans:

  • Move closer to public transportation (as well as closer to work & friends)
  • Investigate alternative heating and cooling methods, such as geothermal and solar
  • Get a more fuel efficient car: hybrid or electric (I’m determined that the next car we buy will be one–I’m liking the Leaf)
  • Grow some of my own food

Other green choices I can make along the way:

  • Buy gas from companies ranked higher for social responsibility. (The ranking page has been updated, by the way. Sunoco is still highest ranked, and Hess is next. BP is now near the bottom. Near the bottom mind you–there are still companies that rank lower!)
  • Take the stairs more at work and in public buildings (I need more exercise anyhow!)
  • Invest in green technology
  • Paint my house green.²

I know that these things aren’t enough³, and I don’t plan to limit my efforts to my personal use. I plan to take actions in the public sphere as well: by speaking out in support green energy initiatives, through grassroots organizations and voting. I will support stricter regulations in the oil industry. I intend to participate in bringing about greater energy conservation and awareness in corporate and industrial environments.

This has been a follow-up to my post Petroleum Junkie⁴. If you made it this far, you might also be interested in several recent posts at Momcrats: Where do we go from here?, Baby, You Can Drive My Car., Where Do I Go From Here? A List of Proactive Steps and Planes, Trains Automobiles & BP Boycott: All a Red Herring.


¹ Loads of it, even.
² Just kidding.
³ You may have noticed that I haven’t set any goals as far as reducing my air travel. I noticed that, too. I just can’t go there right now. But I promise not to buy a private jet.
⁴ Sorry this post is so long. I’m very wordy. I’m trying to cut down.

29 thoughts on “trying to cut down (Petroleum Junkie, part 2)

  1. one thing that made a HUGE difference in our 110-year-old house was to put permanent storm windows over the original leaded glass windows we never opened anyway, and replace the upstairs double-hung windows with architecturally-appropriate new ones. the tax break didn’t hurt, either.

    we also just replaced the two sets of doors that go out onto our deck (no more drafts from there!), and one of our two a/c units with a 13-SEER unit (not the most energy efficient on the market, but a great improvement over the circa-1983 unit that used freon). needless to say it’s been a larger cash outlay than we’d planned, but i’m happy with the results.

    what else – replaced the old washer & dryer with more efficient (both energy and water) front loaders, and we’re looking at insulating the attic (it’s almost unimaginable to me that it’s not insulated at all).

    some friends of mine put solar panels on their roof last year, and have seen considerable savings on their electricity bill so far – we’re thinking about that, but we’re in a heavily-treed area and it may not be worth it.

    my brother’s partner has also suggested putting an insulating film on some of our skylights (like, which we may do as well.

    good luck with your energy-use reduction – it’s a long process!

    1. Thanks, jenny. We did just get our 2 deck doors replaced, which should help–I forgot to put those on our list. I’m all in favor of getting either new windows or storm windows, too. (But they’re so darned expensive! Plus it’s hard to decide among options for durability and appearance.)

      Our current yard is way too shady for solar panels, but perhaps we will move somewhere where they’d be feasible. I’ll be interested in hearing what you learn if you do investigate, in any case.

  2. This is the best post related to the oil spill that I have read… and I have read a lot. Thank you for putting the conversation where it needs to be and doing so in such a concrete way, with measurable goals and objectives. The diesel smell and taste in the air, and the continuing poor of bad news, and the work and people and everything… I’ve been turning so apathetic. This really is helping me get in a better place right now.

    1. Thanks so much, Holly. I put a lot of time and thought into this, not to mention my efforts off-blog to actually address the items on the list. So I’m glad it seems productive to others. Now I just need to actually show some results.

      As far as the endless bad news and the conditions you and your region are already dealing with, I’m at a loss for words. :(

  3. Some friends of mine just got the diesel Jetta. They replaced their Prius with it. They say the Jetta often gets 50 miles to the gallon!

    This winter we put plastic sheeting (I know! But I was able to reuse a bunch of it) on the big picture window in my son’s room. It made a HUGE difference. I know it did because I took it off too early, and his room was freezing through all of May.

    This is inspiring Alejna.

    1. Thanks, Jennifer. It’s inspiring for me for this to be called inspiring!

      I hadn’t even really considered diesel options–50 mpg is pretty impressive! Maybe I’ll look into that some more.

      We did plastic sheeting this winter, too. It did really help with the drafts. But in addition to being more plastic, it’s just so butt ugly and a hassle to put up. We’re probably stuck with that for at least another winter, though, as I don’t see us getting new windows right now.

  4. Good work! If only everyone did all these things.

    You should also give yourself kudos for being vegetarian – there’s a considerably lower carbon footprint involved. Well, methane footprint, really.

    1. Stella! It’s been ages since I’ve heard from you. How are you? Have you given up on blogging?

      As for my “good work,” time will tell! I have a bad track record of laying out projects and then losing steam. I must keep up my steam. (My non-fossil-fuel fired steam, that is.)

      And thanks for giving me bonus points on the vegetarianism. I wonder if there is a smaller carbon footprint associated with that as well as the methane one. I suppose it’s possible that the large quantities of grain used to feed livestock get trucked around more than the more moderate quantities of things that vegetarians consume. (On the other hand, I’m one of those not-truly vegetarian types, so I lose points for that. Tough score card, this.)

  5. I was thinking about this all last night… When I did an eco-overhaul of my life 2 years ago, I found there were some things which made a big difference ecologically but a small difference to my life; and then there were things which made a small difference ecologically, but which served as a kind of reminder to me about what I was trying to achieve. Use of the dryer is one example. Our dryer uses hardly any energy; eliminating it saves us about $1 a month; but taking an extra 10 minutes to set our clothes out on the drying rack is a satisfying reminder to take more care. Similarly, I rinse my lettuce in a bowl & then pour the dirty water on my plants. The water savings is tiny, but it reminds me to look for re-use in other areas.

    1. Wow, Jennifer, I’m glad that this got you thinking some more. And it sounds like you’re already more ecologically responsible than I am! I am only beginning my own eco-overhaul, as you put it.

      I hadn’t really thought about the relative impact of some of the actions, but I like the way you have put things about the value of some of the actions as a reminder.

      I’m also inclined to consider some of the small actions as important in an outwardly symbolic way. While some people may feel that, for example, the use of a reusable cup or bottle is “just a symbolic act,” I would argue that there is value in making publicly visible symbolic acts as well as the less visible higher impact acts. It’s the visible acts that may give someone else a reminder to take more care. (I know that seeing other people take small actions has reminded me that I could easily do the same, and gets me thinking about what more I can do.)

  6. Don’t forget Diesel!

    The new Diesel VWs get around 45 mpg, and they don’t drive like it, plus with some minor mods, you can run them on veggie oil. Carbon from the air, sucked into plants, and then returned to the air… as opposed to sucking it out of the ground and burning it into the air. Honda and Subaru have diesels coming out soon.

    I agree, tho. Electric is the future, and I’m surprised its not here now. Screw hybrid. They still have to carry around all of that dino juice burning stuff. The nice thing about full electrics is that maintenance is near zero. No valves or pumps or timing belts to wear out. Electric motors are dead simple. Not much to wear out except for the battery stack, but you should be able to get 100k miles out of it. Plus, no trips to refuel. Just plug it in every night at home.

  7. Much harder to haul kids to daycare on, but don’t forget bicycles. Electric assist bikes can replace much of what a car does for the short haul, depending on how much bad weather bugs you.

    I think US road laws limit electric bikes to 15 mph (or they qualify as scooters or mopeds), but they make a motor that will hit 27.

  8. This is a great list of goals! I’m impressed with how you’ve gotten specific about what you want to accomplish and how you’ll measure your progress.

    I’m going to think about what more I can do, too. I’m already living car-free, but I’m sure I can find other ways to cut down on my energy usage.

  9. I smiled when I read “avoid using air conditioner in my car.” I remember a time when the air conditioner in my car was out of commission. I’d get off work and strip nearly naked on the way home. While it is possible to live without an air conditioned car in Texas (summer here lasts 6 months, rather than 3), I’d advise against it. One should not insult the noses of strangers, friends, and family with one’s foul perspiration. :-)

  10. Very good. :) Very comprehensive. We already hang up most of the clothes to dry, so I’m good there! And we get insane gas mileage with our diesel Volvo. Why don’t they sell these cars in the US?

    Still need to get a bike, though.

  11. Just catching up with your posts so sorry for the late comment. I have a diesel BMW 1-series and I’m getting well over 50mpg. I only have to fill up once a fortnight (which is just as well, with UK fuel costs – how does $7.30 per gallon sound?) Don’t know if they sell them in the US?

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