Save Energy, Skip the Insanity

You’ve switched to compact fluorescent bulbs, put your TV on a power strip, and checked your windows for leaky seals. The next echelon of saving energy at home, however, often seems to mean one of two things: purchasing appliances with top-notch Energy Star ratings or implementing ambitious but impractical strategies–like converting washing machines to bicycle power and grinding flour with your fists.

The truth is we don’t all have ever-expanding pocketbooks or the living space, free time, and gumption required to go off grid. What we do have is a keen interest in doing what we can. Here, then, courtesy of the Utne Reader library, are a host of practical, low-tech, “next stage” solutions that will facilitate a more ecofriendly lifestyle at home.

An easy place to start is that energy-abusing conventional stove. For dishes you’d simmer over the burner or hand off to a Crock-Pot, a hot-box cooker is a simple, low-energy alternative. ReNew (July-Sept. 2008) suggests using a large wicker basket stuffed with old blankets. Heat your cuisine fossil-fuel style until it’s evenly hot, then transfer the tightly lidded pot to the box and pack in the blankets so heat can’t escape. Over the next six to eight hours, your meal will cook and remain insulated until you’re ready to eat. For type-A eco-chefs, a pressure cooker cuts time by about 70 percent, reports Clean Slate (Spring 2008). Utne Reader‘s sister publication Natural Home (Sept.-Oct. 2008) named it a kitchen essential, and if there’s another way to cook delicious potatoes in just four minutes, we haven’t tasted it.

Alternatives to electric lighting are numerous, but not all are ecofriendly options. Most candles, for example, emit scores of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), warns the Ecologist (Feb. 2008). VOCs are those nasty carcinogenic buggers that also seep from traditional wall paint. BackHome (Sept.-Oct. 2008) suggests lighting lamps and candles made from renewable fuels such as vegetable oils and beeswax–they release a minuscule amount of pollutants, but ample ambience.

Freezers siphon a steady stream of energy, double as much if you have a basement unit for extra storage. A solar dryer preserves your prized harvest with no risk of freezer burn, but commercial brands are expensive and homemade versions touted in a lot of magazines seem to require a master’s degree in industrial arts. It is possible for mere mortals to build their own, though–quickly and painlessly, using materials such as cardboard and plastic wrap. Mother Earth News, another of Utne‘s sibling publications, has instructions for a cheap, easy-to-make solar dehydrator online (

If rising energy costs inspire you to wean yourself further, consult the 10th edition of Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living (Sasquatch, 2008). While some plans require a bit of elbow grease, many of the suggestions are as simple as they are instantly gratifying, like turning on a strategically placed fan to cool your home. At the end of the day, costliness and exhaustive effort don’t have to be the norm for energy-saving solutions. Whether you live in a one-bedroom apartment or out on the prairie, stick that casserole in a hot box and watch the pennies fall from your energy bill.

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