In many ways, the Koerners have been ahead of the times. I have been composting for as long as I can remember. I have been recycling coffee grounds for years. Actually, my grandmother taught me to do that when I was a kid. In Deerfield, where I live, any yard waste has to be placed in specially purchased bags and put near the street on garbage day. I have lived in this town since late 1981 and I do believe I have only purchased these bags once, and not even used them all. Virtually all of my leaves go in the back of the yard. I have used this compost to build up the yard, as it is low and prone to flooding in the late spring. We have also purchased a small container to keep scraps in until they make their way outside. Once outside, these scraps go into our latest composter which is a barrel which can be turned to further the speed of the composting process and also provide “compost tea” which can be used to water flowers.
Our latest venture is in the area of rain barrels. These have come in very handy for watering plants and for replenishing water in the koi pond. I have two large ones and am thinking of getting others. It is a known fact that rain water is far better for plants than the chlorinated version coming from the tap, anyway.
Another thing we do, which I borrowed from the French, is to dry clothing on racks all year long. In the summer, we had always been the people in the neighborhood who hang clothing out to dry in the sun. We still do this to this day. In our unfinished room beyond the laundry room, we have purchased a large Amish made rack to hang clothing on. We have several of the smaller variety that you so easily find in the local hardware stores. There are several good reasons to use these racks. First of all, when clothing is hung on them, it tends to wrinkle less. It is far easier to fold. The other main reason is especially important during the winter when those of us who live in homes heated by gas forced air complain about the dryness of winter. We have found that our dryness has been helped immensely by the drying method we have chosen. Our gas dryer still gets used, just less so, sheets and towels are pretty much the only thing we dry other than a short period in the dryer for the low maintenance shirts that are not supposed to need to be ironed.
Obviously we have replaced our regular light bulbs, in almost every instance with CFLs. We have very few incandescent bulbs left. We try to make sure to unplug rechargers when we are done with them and even unplug the coffee pot when we are done making coffee. We have purchased high quality thermoses from Germany to keep coffee warm during the day and save on our coffee production/consumption.
To make our house look nicer, we have all sorts of plants which also often do double duty by purifying our air and adding to the humidity.
Our lawn is a generally a pesticide and fertilizer free site. I gave up the chemical weed control years ago. I have decided that I am okay with clover; it is green and enriches the soil. In the spring I do spend time, once the dandelions start to bloom, to remove them by hand. This sounds incredibly tedious, but it is a good low key exercise and it is also something which, with time, diminishes. What happens is the more you work at it, the less work you have. In the beginning of spring, it may seem overwhelming, but it soon settles down to almost no work at all. After several years of this, it becomes more and more doable. Our only attempt at fertilizer is to mow the lawn frequently with a mulching lawnmower. I try using the old family push mower when I can, something that can be difficult since my neighbor has a pine tree which is constantly endowing my lawn with numerous pinecones. The result of all this is a lawn that I don’t worry about for my dog or for my granddaughter as we only use chemicals if we absolutely have to.
Watering, in the summer, is usually reserved for the flowers and we use the rain barrels to provide most of this. The lawn is usually allowed to go dormant.
In the house, during the summer, to keep the house cool, we have a protocol. Windows are kept open as long as it is cool. Once the sun starts beating down and causing it to warm, windows get closed and our blinds are drawn. Small fans and a large fan or two are used to keep air circulating. If at all possible, we have often used a large fan to pull air from throughout the house, it being placed in the upper level. It is then a good idea to crack a window in the lower level of the house. The result is cool air circulating through the house. If it cools off at night, windows get opened once more.
Once the air conditioning is necessary, we still utilize fans so that we can keep the air conditioning at a temperature which will not break the bank. It is amazing how the fans make it feel cooler.
In the winter, as in the summer, we always make sure that the thermostat is used to change the temperatures of the house according to its usage. I f we know that no one will be in the house at a certain time; the temperature can be set accordingly. At about 10:30 PM or so in the winter, the house temperature goes down to about 55°F, which may seem excessive, but for our bi-level house is perfect. We prefer that it be cool in the house and use our down or silk quilt to keep warm. Although the lower level is 55°F, the upper part of the house is significantly warmer.
We use our dishwasher religiously, waiting until it is full to turn it on. We also invested in a European dishwasher for several reasons, although I believe you can now purchase an American one to do what we originally purchased the European one to do. I remember being in the kitchen of my friend in France and seeing her load the dishwasher. I was amazed to see that she wasn’t rinsing the dishes as I had always been taught to do back home. I asked her about it. She responded to me, “Why would I use a dishwasher if I had to wash them before loading them?” That set me to researching. The biggest issue I had was noise pollution; our dishwashers had always been noisy. I found out that the noise was produced by a sort of “food grinder” that emulsified the food matter left on the dishes. The European dishwashers did not have this, they used more heat and more pressurized water to achieve the same goal. When we first got our new dishwasher, which was more expensive, we couldn’t believe that we could hold a phone conversation while washing the dishes!
Another thing that we found out in our usage of washers and dishwasher is that we are told to use entirely too much detergent and that this over usage is not only costly but also makes the machines less effective. Cutting down on this helped immensely.
During the summer months, we always “vacation” our plants outside in sheltered areas where they can recover from being in the house. When we bring them back in, instead of using pesticides on them to clean off any pests they may have picked up outside, we take a mild solution of dishwashing liquid to spray on them, saturate the soil, and then rinse off. My hibiscus, which winters in the house, sometimes gets whiteflies; this treatment takes care of the issues. Dishwashing liquid used this way is a disinfectant and a mild fertilizer.
The skinny on all of this is, there are many ways that you can more positively affect your environment, all while saving money and doing good for all.