Sunday, July 25, 2010

Half Plan Update for 2010

We started the "Half Plan"  back in 2006.  The initial object was to cut our total energy use in half.  "Total"  was to include energy for space heating, electricity, and transportation -- basically all the energy use we have direct control over.  It seemed like a pretty big commitment at the time.

We went about this in a pretty systematic way.  We worked out how much energy we were using and for what.  Then identified a whole slew of potential projects we could tackle to reduce our energy use, and then went about doing the ones that paid off the best. 

Here are the results in a nutshell:

Space Heating energy use is down from 1610 gallons per year to 700 gallons, or a 57% reduction. 
At usual propane prices, this is worth $1,800 a year.
The CO2 emissions reduction is 12,300 lbs a year.

Electricity use is down from 940 KWH per month to 170 KWH per month, for an 82% reduction.
At 10 cents a KWH, this is worth $925 a year.
The CO2 emissions reduction is 13,900 lbs a year.

Gasoline for car transportation  Switching from a small SUV to a Prius has cut our gasoline use by more than half.
The dollar saving per year at $3 a gallon is worth $1,880 a year.
The CO2 emissions reduction is 11,900 lbs of CO2 a year.

So, we have exceeded the going in objectives in all areas -- sometimes by a wide margin.  In hindsight it was a lot easier than we thought it would be.  No lifestyle changes.  It has also proved to be a very good investment with an excellent return.  
We are still working on further reductions -- I can see lots of remain opportunities.

I guess the thing that puzzles me most is that there is not more interest in the plan.  It seems like its just a no-brainer way to save energy, save money, and save Carbon.  But, while other areas of Build-It-Solar get ten thousand of visits a day, the Half Plan gets a couple hundred.  I get very few emails on the plan.
Maybe the Half Plan section is poorly done? Poorly organized?  
Does not get the message across?

Anyway, I'd really be interested in hearing your thoughts on why it does not work better and what might be done to improve it  --  you can leave a comment here, or email me...

It seems to me that if this plan were widely adopted it could significantly change the picture of energy consumption and carbon emissions in the US.



  1. Gary, not sure why because it's the best thing anyone can do before embarking on the more trendy things like adding a wind generator or solar panels. We did many of the things you have done, my problem though is the family is not entirely on board so my projects are taking more time. But we did get the CF lighting in (for the most part), new insulation (walls and attic), new windows (they needed replacing anyway), new energy star kitchen appliances (as part of a kitchen remodel). We had a Prius but had to get rid of it because it didn't handle the deep snow and ice that we are subjected to here in the rural areas of MN, but we did replace it with a 2002 Saturn that gets 34 mpg.
    Maybe you need to make it more obvious to people that before you do all the fun stuff with wind and solar that you need to conserve first, really highlight that, otherwise there's no way you can afford to put the other stuff in and make any significant dent in your load.

    Conservation just isn't cool I guess.

  2. Gary,
    In my case, its not because I don't want to reduce our footprint, its more because I'm interested in one or two specific projects. Once I get the time to try one or two, and see the effects, I'll likely move on to try others. So its not that I'm avoiding or not interested in the half plan, just that that's long term thinking and I'm more into short term things.


  3. I think Andrew hit a big part of it. I found your site when looking for DIY info on solar panels. While I want to conserve, I also want to know how to produce my own power. I have bookmarked your site and will be sure to come back. Keep up the great work!

  4. I lean more toward Kevin's thinking. A lot of the Half Plan ideas just aren't that 'sexy'. ie. change light bulbs, seal leaks, power bars, additional insulation. These ideas are cost effective....common sense, really....and most of them need only one read to put into practise.
    The other ideas in the Half Plan ie. Prius, Solar Array could be outside of the average persons budget. I'd love to own a Prius but they are too expensive. A couple of months ago, I sold my gas guzzling, six cylinder, 4x4, Jeep TJ (Wrangler in the US) and bought a 2010 Hyundai Accent reputed to get very close to the gas mileage of the Prius. I know it did cut my gas bill by better than half.
    Some sort of Solar Array is in my plans, but I doubt to the extent of yours ( I currently have 45 watts of panels keeping a battery charged and a 3000 watt inverter for emergency lighting).
    Bottom line, Gary, is don't be discouraged. Your Half Plan is being read and implemented by those of us who know that every BTU you don't have to produce is one you don't have to buy.

  5. I read the half plan with great interest. Once. Then skim it on occasion. I come back to other pages more often to see new stories.

    Since finding your site, we have changed from a fuel sucking Tacoma Quad Cab and a AWD Honda CRV to a Honda Fit and a Toyota Prius. Can't give you all the credit there, but it reinforced my direction.

    We have insulated, replaced windows, appliances, etc. Though we don't quantify our kwh too much, we are perhaps nearing 50% without really working hard yet.

    We have resolved that our next home will have solar DHW and floor heating.

    Even though I don't read that page regularly, I think of it every day.

  6. What percentage of your total content is the half plan? I bet it gets its fair share of hits based on bytes.

    Also, many readers probably read the half plan first, and then return many times to read the rest of the site.

    If someone tackles a big project, this tends to take up a lot of their available free time and energy. I think some good advice would be not to forget about the little things in the half plan.

    For example, Home Depot sells an inside dryer vent that can switch between inside and outside venting and has a lint trap for about $10.


  7. Thanks guys -- all good stuff.

    OK, this may be a dream way too far, but what I would really like to see is most of the households in the US coming to the Half Plan for a good approach to cutting their energy and carbon emissions a lot. Ideally, they would leave the site armed with a good plan to tackle their house and car energy use saying, "WOW --this is going to save me tons of energy tons of carbon and tons of money!". OK, now you know why I made my living as a product development guy :)

    I realize this is not likely to happen, but any ideas on how to get closer?
    Basically the people who use the site a lot now tend to be people who: 1) know they want to do energy related projects themselves, 2) already have good build skills, 3) don't need a lot of hand holding -- ideas and plans are what they are looking for. This is all very fine by me -- its exactly what I had in mind when I started the site.

    But, the intention of the Half Plan is different. I'd like to get it to the average Joe and Jane homeowner who knows very little about energy use and little about figuring out what the best way to go about reducing energy use is, and little about selecting and doing projects to reduce energy use.


  8. Gary,

    As a fan of your site for years, I still review your "Half Plan" on a regular basis, looking for ways to eek out more savings on our energy costs. We recently have been putting the "Kilawatt" meter on all kinds of appliances at my truck dealership. This action provided us with the info to eliminate one old fridge that was using almost double the energy of another (and we can get by with one with little inconvenience). We are also removing one of the two pop machines, and requiring the owner of the other one to reimburse us for the energy use on an annual basis.
    As far as getting to the average "Joe", why not hit up Mother Earth News or Home Power for a clearly over due article on energy conservation of the magnitude of your "Half Plan". This would get the information to a much larger audience.
    Lastly, have no doubt the numbers of people your information has impacted. The feed back you get from those of us willing to talk about it, in my opinion, is the tip of the iceberg. Far more people apply information provided by you that are "lurkers" than the few you hear from.

    Tom S.

  9. Each week you add some links to the other sections of the site. Once a year you provide a link to the half plan progress report. Not surprising that the other parts of the site get more interest.

    I have read the half plan, but found that most of it was either not applicable to me, or I'd already done it. Some of the items are on my to do list.


  10. You mentioned you want people to read the half plan and say "WOW --this is going to save me tons of energy tons of carbon and tons of money!"

    That's not the best way to market it. Change it up to "WOW --this is going to save me tons of money tons of energy and help the environment!"

    People in general don't understand energy beyond it's what makes the light come on when I flip the switch and even today carbon polarizes the audience instantly turning about half of them off. Everyone understands money and almost noone has enough so I'd push that aspect harder.

    I know that your goal was to reduce the energy in and carbon out by 50% and that you've done better then that but I think that most people doing a quick glance would be more likely to read the plan if you start off hammering down the point that it's saved you thousands.

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