Here are 9 old-fashioned ways to help you reduce your energy consumption and give your wallet a break.
Let’s rewind to a time when folks didn’t rely on electricity to get by to the degree that most of us are accustomed to. At the peak of summer’s sweltering heat, air conditioners didn’t run the way they do today. Depending on the time period, people would go somewhere communal that was air-conditioned, like the movie theatre. In the winter, people bundled up for extra warmth.
It’s not that way anymore, at least, not in North America.
As a Canadian, I would have to say that most people have gotten lazy when it comes to energy consumption. The ways of our forefathers (and mothers) have been forgotten. Convenience is king, but it comes at a cost.
The costs that may come to mind are environmental and financial. Energy based on fossil fuels isn’t as affordable as it once was. In fact, it’s become downright expensive.
There’s another cost that I can think of that is a bit more nuanced.
Put simply, most folks have lost the ability to be uncomfortable. Now, I love being comfortable as much as the next person, but it seems that we no longer see this degree of energy security as the luxury that it is. What the kings of ages past would give to have what we do!
Being comfortable all of the time is unnatural. We are meant to be knocked around by the elements a bit. Humans are supposed to feel cold in the winter and sweat in the summer. What do we do though? We turn up the heater and cool down the house instead of getting used to a bit of discomfort.
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This article is about more than temperature, however. It’s about an old-fashioned way of living, offering tips that will help us to become more mindful of how we live our day-to-day lives.
Above all else, I’m writing this in the hope that it may inspire you to rethink your routines and hopefully bring you closer to your roots. What did your grandparents do differently? Your great-grandparents? For some of us, having those conversations is no longer possible, but we can always imagine…
TIP # 1: HANG YOUR LAUNDRY TO DRY
It’s not always convenient to lug a heavy basket of damp garments and linens outdoors, but pinning every piece to the line can be a zen practice. Besides, there’s something picturesque about fresh laundry fluttering in the breeze, isn’t there? What’s more, hanging your laundry to dry outside leverages the sun’s anti-bacterial power.
When winter falls upon us, however, that’s when things get a bit more challenging. Some winter climates allow people to keep on hanging to dry all season long. Unlike humid winters, dry winter weather basically freeze-dries everything pinned to the line.
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It’s a brave soul that hangs laundry outside in the winter. For the rest of us, there are drying racks. I once had a friend who had her basement beams outfitted with cords so that she could hang her laundry to dry from the ceiling. Brilliant.
At any rate, why go to all this trouble for drying laundry? Why not just stick everything in the dryer and save a bit of time?
Depending on what kind of dryer you have, you might save anywhere from .24 to .72 per load, according to Direct Energy. In addition to energy savings, you’ll also be using less product, whether that’s dryer sheets or essential oils if you use dryer balls. For me, the biggest takeaway is the zen practice of hanging my laundry to dry. It grounds me, and I love the unbeatable clean smell of air-dried laundry. It beats an artificial spring breeze fragrance each and every time!
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To save even more energy when it comes to laundry, you could even forego the washing machine and wash it yourself, but that’s going a little too far if you ask me. If you disagree, change my mind in the comments below!
TIP # 2: MAXIMIZE OVEN SPACE
This is a tip I alluded to in my article about rationing tips from the second world war, but we’re going to go into it a bit more here. Back when there was a push to conserve energy during WWII, citizens were encouraged to maximize their oven space, which was by no means a new concept. If there was room to fit something in someone’s oven, a neighbour would take advantage of that oven’s real estate.
If you’ve ever read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, you may recall this homemaking schedule:
“Wash on Monday, iron on Tuesday, mend on Wednesday, churn on Thursday, clean on Friday, bake on Saturday, rest on Sunday.”
Batch baking. Fire the oven once and get it all out of the way.
If we were to apply this tip today, we can produce more with less.
Try to make it a habit to bake a week’s worth of potatoes at the same time you put a pie or a roast chicken in the oven. Get as much advance prep done as possible in one oven session.
Stick squash in there, heads of garlic (roasted garlic is an easy way to add HUGE flavour to your meals), rice pilaf, and anything that will make fixing dinner less of a hassle. Are you a baker? Challenge yourself to get a week’s worth of baking done in one day. The extra output can always go in the freezer.
TIP # 3: DRAW THE CURTAINS (OR OPEN THEM WIDE)
Do you know what’s expensive in the summer? Running the air conditioner. As much as I love a brightly lit room, I prefer not to swelter in my salon.
Draw the blinds or curtains in the morning to block out the light that will heat up your home and make you want to turn down the thermostat. Mind you, if you keep indoor plants, this idea might not be feasible, especially if there are plants in every room of the house.
Once the weather cools down and you’re contemplating turning on the furnace, the reverse becomes true. Take full advantage of that natural light to heat up your home. If it feels cold around your windows, it might make sense to keep the drapes closed at night to help keep the cold out.
If it’s been a while since you last updated your window treatments, you may want to consider installing thermal curtains. They’re wonderful for keeping the heat in or out.
TIP #4: TURN DOWN THE TEMPERATURE AT NIGHT
Did you know people sleep deeper when they’re in a cooler room? There’s something terribly cozy about being warm and snug under thick covers in a chilled room. Unlike in times past, most of us don’t need to get up to stoke a fire back to life and we can just turn up the thermostat instead.
According to the Department of Energy, turning down your thermostat by 7-8 degrees from its normal setting can save you up to 10% a year. During the day, I personally keep my home at a comfortable 67ºF (19ºC), but at night, I let it drop down to 62ºF (16ºC), which is as low as I’m willing to let it go. It gets cold in here.
Check your thermostat to see if it has a programmable schedule. If it does, run a program that automatically cools down the house at night and starts heating it up in the morning so you don’t forget!
If you are hesitant about your house being that cold in the winter, then be sure to stay tuned for my upcoming article about old-fashioned tips to keep warm!
TIP #5: SHOWER LESS
This might give you the heebie-jeebies, but showering less is a terrific way to cut down on the monthly energy bill.
Most of us don’t give a second thought when we hop in the shower every morning to freshen up for the new day. As good as it feels, it is wasteful. What’s more, it dries out our skin and our hair. It goes against nature.
What we take for granted today, however, used to be an unthinkable luxury. Bedrooms had ewers and basins for a reason. People used to have to heat up their water over a fire and share the wash basin. Bathing was a production, so it was more of a weekly ritual than a daily one.
Now, I’m not saying to stop taking showers, but I am suggesting spacing them out farther apart. Besides, you can still feel rejuvenated without a shower or bath. Here’s what to do.
Fill up your sink with hot water and a squirt of soap. I like using Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castile Soap. It smells great and has all kinds of aromatherapy benefits that help to reduce stress and boost mental function. Whatever you use, put a washcloth in the water and wring it out. Working from head to toe, scrub yourself clean.
Dry brushing is another way to groom yourself in between showers. If you’re unfamiliar with dry brushing, it involves brushing your skin with a special brush which removes dead skin. Along with its exfoliating powers, it improves blood circulation and promotes lymph drainage. I can tell you, I wouldn’t want to be without my dry brush. It leaves my skin feeling like silk.
As for hair, well, it doesn’t need to be cleaned every day. If it does get greasy after a day or two, it means that you have some serious rebalancing to do. When I was younger, I diligently washed my hair every day because it would get greasy if I didn’t. I experimented with all kinds of natural shampoos, the “no poo” method, apple cider vinegar rinses and dry shampoos until I finally broke free from daily hair washing. I can go five days to a week now in between washings and it’s wonderful.
Last, but not least, if you insist on taking a daily shower, you can always experiment with a cold shower to save on energy costs. What some consider torture, others proclaim beneficial. Cold showers have all kinds of health benefits, like reducing stress, improving metabolic health and increasing alertness, to name a few. You can read more about the virtues of cold therapy here.
TIP #6: SEAL UP DRAFTS AROUND WINDOWS AND DOORS
This seems obvious, right?
If there’s air leaking out of your home, that means your heating and cooling system has to work harder (which uses up more energy) to maintain a comfortable temperature inside.
Instead of going the old-fashioned route of using mud, straw, newspaper and rags to plug up drafty spots, we can use caulk or weatherstripping to get the job done. If you’re like me and don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to weatherproofing, ask a neighbour, crack open a home maintenance book, or watch a video on YouTube.
When I was growing up, one of the century homes I lived in had the thinnest window panes I’ve ever seen. Gorgeous windows, but expensive with the amount of heat they had the potential to let out. To help keep down the heating bill (and it was always a whopper in the winter) my mother found it necessary to cover some of the windows in great thick sheets of plastic to keep the drafts at bay.
It wasn’t a pretty solution, but it was nicer to look at than a much bigger number on the cheque for the gas company every month. Not wanting to fuss with great swathes of heavy plastic, I found that this window sealing kit helps keep my son’s room warmer during the coldest of winter days. I didn’t even know these kits existed until I started working on this post!
In a similar vein, if you have drafts wafting underneath any doors, consider making or purchasing a door draft stopper.
TIP #7: WALK MORE
Once upon a time, I used to follow a blog about frugal living called Mr. Money Mustache. There was one post that really stuck with me and it was about driving less. The article in question is called Curing Your Clown-Like Car Habit and calls into question people’s overreliance on private transportation. Be warned: the language is a bit colourful.
Before having children, I walked just about everywhere. I would walk 3.6km (2.24 mi) lugging heavy groceries home. Whether work was a 25-minute walk or a 45-minute walk, I would put on a podcast and walk it. Having two young children, I now drive more than I’d like, but if I’m parked at a big store complex, for example, I’ll only park once. This habit actually saves me from overspending as it’s more complicated to lug extra unplanned purchases back to the car.
Of course, walking isn’t the only way to get around without a vehicle. Biking is another option. It’s not for nothing that e-bikes have been gaining in popularity these past couple of years.
The bottom line is, fuel is expensive, so if you can go somewhere on foot (or by bike), do it!
TIP #8: UNPLUG
No, I’m not talking about unplugging appliances when they’re not in use. Yes, those can still use energy if they’re plugged in and should therefore be unplugged when not in use (things like toasters, coffee makers and computers).
What I’m talking about is turning off and unplugging the television or computer. How many nights have I walked outside just to see the blue glow of people’s television sets to help light my way home? Blue light, by the way, is detrimental to sleep and can have a negative impact on our health.
While they don’t use up a lot of energy in the sense we’ve been discussing, I do believe that they rob us of our own vital energy. Even if it’s for just one day a week, challenge yourself to swap out digital entertainment for something tangible.
Before smartphones, TVs and computers, people worked on their skills. Women would sew, knit, tat lace, and embroider. Men would whittle. There was storytelling, live music and dancing. Why have we let these things fade into the background? How is it we’ve become more entertained by watching people on television having fun and doing things rather than having fun and doing things ourselves?
Pull out Shakespeare and act out a play with your family. Learn how to make shadow creatures with your hands. Bring out the musical instruments, the paints, or a good book. Bake something. Learn how to juggle. Host a party, play a board game. Start a side hustle. Go for a long walk and let the blue glow of screens light your way.
TIP #9: PUT A LID ON IT
This is a simple tip, but one that I’m wagering most people don’t think about. When you’re bringing a pot of water to a boil, simmering a soup, or boiling vegetables, cover them up!
When pots and pans are left uncovered, heat escapes. That not only means that it takes longer for the contents to come to temperature, but the stove also needs to work harder.
Obviously, some things can only be partially covered to avoid spillovers, but for everything else, put a lid on it!
Our grandparents were (and are) experts at conserving energy and saving money. There’s so much to be learned from our elders! By following their tips, we can save money on our energy bills and help preserve our planet’s resources for future generations. So the next time you’re looking for ways to save energy, think as our forefathers (and mothers) did—it’ll do wonders for your wallet and the environment.
Oh, and if there’s a tip you believe should be on the list, let me know in the comments below. I always love hearing from my readers!
Love and gratitude,