By Wayne Snyder,
Director, Technology Development
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has disrupted economies, food systems and lives across the globe, forcing many to shelter in place to prevent the disease’s spread. Since March 2020, I have spent nearly every day working, learning and playing around my home with my wife and daughter. While I am grateful for this additional time with my family — and fortunate enough to work from home — spending more time in our house has increased our home energy usage by 50%. For many families, this is a stark, expensive reality.
For years, I have maintained a lofty goal of transforming our 1946 bungalow into a net-zero home. While this is still my ultimate goal, the pandemic has made me rethink my approach to sustainability. Instead of large, sweeping moves to slash our energy usage, my family took small, simple steps to minimize our bills, leverage our existing resources and contribute to a healthier planet. Here are some simple ways my family has worked to tackle our sustainability problem amid the pandemic.
- We decided to scrap our one-use dryer sheets for wool dryer balls, which naturally soften your clothes and can be reused.
- We used smaller cooking appliances, like pressure and slow cookers, to fine-tune our culinary skills. This saved us time and energy, especially when compared to using a traditional, energy-intensive electric oven.
- Since our coffeemaker uses biodegradable pods, we reused the grounds as fertilizer for our vegetable garden.
- I cut the grass less often and at a higher setting, reducing emissions while giving the grass a healthier, greener look and feel. We even stopped using our sprinkler system, opting for spot watering and diligent attention to the weather forecast.
Fitness, Health and Well-being
- We supplemented new toilet paper with three-ply recycled toilet paper.
- We made our own hand soap and surface cleaning solutions.
Work and Education
- We updated an old Google Chromebook so our daughter could use it to attend her virtual classes.
- We purchased a custom-made, repurposed wood table from a skilled local craftsman and used it to create an office space. My wife also refinished and painted her childhood desk for our daughter to use for virtual school.
- We repurposed an older smartphone for our daughter to use as an alarm clock so she would be on time for her classes.
- We made fewer trips to the grocery store and asked for paper bags instead of plastic.
- We purchased organic, imperfect produce from an online supplier to fight food waste and reduce in-person grocery store trips.
- We revitalized the garden to grow cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries and herbs. This contributed to higher levels of self-sufficiency, less reliance on grocery store tripes and decreased waste.
- We reduced our plastic bottle usage by choosing aluminum options, which are more easily recycled.
- We also made sure to break down all of our cardboard boxes to fit into our recycling containers, preventing needless waste in our landfills.
While we have only scratched the surface toward true sustainability, we found these simple steps to be effective in reducing our home energy usage and decreasing our contributions to landfills. For 2021, we’re still working toward having a net-zero home and even have plans to install a new water filtration system, a stormwater bin and a geothermal system. Though the pandemic has slowed our lives in many ways, it has also given us accelerated opportunities to be less wasteful and more environmentally sustainable.