Holding myself accountable (Petroleum junkie, part 3)

A view from the train on one of my recent commutes.

The deal with resolutions is that we tend to start off full speed, full of enthusiasm and, well, resolve. Before long, however, both enthusiasm and resolve tend to wane.

Last month, in large part in reaction to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and my increasing awareness of abuses perpetuated by the petroleum industry, I resolved to decrease my own personal dependence on petroleum. I followed up with a list of specific actions, and specific goals. Among other things, I had committed to tracking much of our fuel consumption.

Part of why I am sharing these details here is to maintain my resolve. I will cut down on my fossil fuel consumption. But the will may need continued prodding.


Tracking electricity usage was painless, thanks to my electric company listing kilowatt hour usage by month for the past 12 months. Tracking was painless, but the results were painful. I thought we were more moderate electricity users, but we are on the high end for our region. Our usage for the last 12 months averaged 921 kwh per month. While the average US household uses 920 per month, our state only averages between 500 and 618 kwh. (The second number is from a spreadsheet available from this site with usage by state.)

While I haven’t yet measured the electricity usage of specific items, I have rounded up the following suspects: lights and fans left on unnecessarily, and electronics. I think our past tendency to leave our stereo/home theater receiver on was a drain. We also have a lot of computers, including one large one that has been acting as a server, for a while for John’s work, but mostly as our electronic media repository. We have now gotten into the habit of turning off stereo and video equipment when not listening/watching, and John has set the server to power down at night. We have become more vigilant about turning off lights, fans and air conditioners when we leave rooms, as well.

The good news is that our usage is showing a downward trend. Our July statement showed 854 kwh compared to last July’s 946, a decrease of over 9%. June showed a 20% decrease over last year. (I have no idea why our usage was particularly high last June. 1063 kwh. It wasn’t air conditioning, as that was a cold and rainy month. What on earth were we doing? Giving each other electric shocks?)

I finally got around to signing up for one of my electric company’s renewable energy options. I have yet to get a bill showing the new rates. The cost by wattage will increase, but I’m hoping that our efforts to reduce usage will offset this. We shall see…

Heating oil

Tracking heating oil was more annoying, as I had to go through my bills month by month. (There’s no summary of deliveries.) Deliveries are also somewhat irregular, in both timing and amount, so when I found that I was missing a statement, I couldn’t really guess how much oil was delivered that month, or be certain that oil was even delivered that month. I finally came across the missing bill (helpfully mixed in with phoebe’s art papers), so have added that to my spreadsheet.

While I haven’t found great sources it looks like the average US household using heating oil uses 730 gallons per year, and in the Northeast US is 822 gallons. It looks like we have had 785 gallons delivered to our home in the past 12 months, which puts us slightly lower than the average for our region.

I can’t tell yet how much our usage is changing, but I think I have reduced my hot water usage. The real chance to improve, though, will come in the winter. With that in mind, I have contacted a company that makes storm windows that may work for us, which should significantly reduce the winter draftiness of our house.


Gasoline was the hardest of the three to track, since we don’t tend to file our receipts. I did go through our credit card statements for the last year, and logged all gas station transactions. I only have dollar amounts, not gallon amounts, but this at least gives me a general sense of frequency of filling the tanks. My sense is that we have filled them frequently. I haven’t really worked out the estimates of how frequently yet.

I’m happy to say that I have taken the train to work much more often. This is easy to track, as I bought a 12-ride pass on June 8th, and have used all 12. Each of those saved me about 35 miles of driving. I’ve even gotten a second 12-ride pass. In fact, due to slower summer schedules, I’ve only needed to drive into work maybe 3 times in the last couple months. (Plus there have been a few trips for recreational reasons.)

Other stuff

I have been doing pretty well with buying local food. I found a place to buy eggs that is only a couple of miles from us, and finally found a farm stand within 10 miles of our house. (I just don’t understand how local produce can be so hard to find in such a rural area. Gah!) We also managed to go blueberry picking a few times at the place down the road…before they abruptly closed for the season. (No!)

I have been doing a good job with reducing our use of new plastic containers. I have used my stainless steel water bottle regularly, and (aside from when I was travelling) have only resorted to buying bottled water a couple of times.


There. That’s the skinny on my recent efforts to reduce my fossil fuel gluttony. If anyone has actually read this far, you deserve a prize. Like maybe a big, fat virtual hug from me.

9 thoughts on “Holding myself accountable (Petroleum junkie, part 3)

  1. Virtual hug accepted!

    Even just tracking this stuff seems to have required a fairly big time investment, so I’m impressed. And congratulations on the increased train over car use!

    Not having a car, I’ve been fairly dependent on public transportation. Now there is some contract dispute going on and the bus service has been pretty badly disrupted, so I’ve started riding my bike to work. This is mildly terrifying in some spots, but I shouldn’t complain, because most of my route is on “bicycle boulevards” that have very little car traffic. I just hope the buses will be running normally again before the rainy season starts.

    I want to be more consistent about turning off lights when I leave a room.

    Ideas for plastics: I save (and sometimes wash if necessary), then re-use plastic produce bags. A lot of people bring their own reuseable cloth shopping bags when they buy groceries, but then put their lettuce, apples, etc. in new plastic bags that they then throw away, or at best accumulate in a cabinet somewhere. I use mine until they get too dirty or until they sprout too many holes.
    For sandwiches I don’t use plastic bags at all but waxed paper (which is what people used before plastic bags were invented, apparently) or a sandwich-shaped plastic container.
    I’ve also started saving little plastic tubs (originally for goat cheese I bought at my local farmers’ market), which are useful for bringing small amounts of snacks to work.
    Mmm… snacks…

  2. Mutual virtual hug! I have a small booklet in my car where I record date, mileage, cost and amount at each fuel fill, also oil changes, etc. Jim calculates our usage on a sort of regular basis. Alas, we have to be a two car (and one tractor) family where we live.
    Luckily we can recycle almost anything plastic, including bags. My worst environmental sin is using plastic bags for bin liners; can’t stand the mess if I don’t.
    It’s difficult to get the electricity down past a certain point. My BIL, who is a computer nerd, says that it uses less electricity to leave it on than to restart it more than daily. My worst environmental sin is using the microwave a lot. Or maybe leaving the fans on. But that is an alternative to air conditioning, so I suspect it’s better to leave them on.
    Local food can be a problem in the countryside unless you have contacts. I have a neigbour with a big garden and mobility problems; I trade weeding for produce. Easier than planting crops for the deer, raccoons, ground-hogs – well you get the picture. She uses two dogs and an electric fence, ouch!

  3. I guess we drive very little, because when we picked up the Alligator from the shop, the mechanic asked if we used the car much, and it’s the one we both drive. Unfortunately, all of our vehicles are gas hogs. Public transportation is not an option where we live; unfortunately, even the kids have to be driven to school.

    I wonder if there are any resources for homeowners who want to convert to solar or wind power? This property is especially ideal for solar panels, but I cannot outlay anything for them at this point.

    I’ve been on a major anti-factory farming rant lately, so reduced meat consumption has definitely taken place.

    Finally, our city has single-stream recycling, which means we can recycle more items than previously. Tomorrow is trash pick up day, and the garbage can was only 1/3 full, while the recycling was overflowing – and that does not include beer bottles :) I am ashamed to admit that I have not been composting because I thought we were moving, so the first thing I am changing in celebration of our respite is to start composting. (That, and to put up the basketball hoop.)

  4. It’s almost impossible not to buy bottled water when you’re travelling. And it’s almost impossible not to forget that you have to buy bottled water *after* you go through airline security, or? all your bottled water gets thrown out. This happened to me twice! What a novice!

  5. You are amazing. Reading this post makes me feel embarrassed… You are right: we need to all start doing something. The root of all this is our dependence on easily accessible and relatively cheap fuels/energy in our daily lives. Suburbs have got to be one of the big reasons for all this dependence…

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