Moving Closer

Three months ago we bought our first family home. Prices in the area we most wanted to move to had plummeted in the previous months, there was uncertainty in the market due to the election, and competition was thin on the ground. We ran the numbers and, if we bought something small, we were in a position where we could pay less in interest than we were paying in rent. It was now or never, so we chose now.

Since starting this project to curb our emissions, we had a few new criteria for buying a house that we wouldn’t have considered a few years earlier:

  • Within walking or bike riding distance of our daughter’s school;
  • Good access to public transport, shops, and other amenities;
  • A building where we could make energy efficiency improvements and not somewhere that they had already been done;
  • Small, properly sized for our family, and not a McMansion; and
  • Space for a vegetable garden and our chickens.

The biggest surprise in our search was what a limiting factor the chickens turned out to be. While they’re permitted by the local council, almost half of the properties we were initially interested in had covenants that prevented owners from having a wide range of pets, and chickens were often on that list. It’s possible to get a covenant removed, and I suppose we could have just ignored one, but it’s not a fight I was particularly interested in having. Many gardens were so small that it would have been vegetables or chickens, but definitely not both. We were happy to leave those properties for people who don’t want the hassle.

soldAfter a lot of drama, a few tears and several lawyers, we ended up finding the perfect property for us. It was a stretch for our budget, but we settled on a property that is only a five minute walk to the school (ten with our toddler). Eliminating our car for this commute will save approximately 7,000km of driving per year. The house is approximately half the size of our previous home, and we’re dazzled by how much less cleaning that involves. Since the local supermarket is next to the school and there’s a bus stop at the end of our short street, we’ve got all of the convenience we could have wished for.

Our new house is at the bottom end of the market because it’s very worn and tired. The wooden stumps had almost rotted away, so they were a major structural defect, and getting them replaced chewed up the budget that we had for our solar panels. That repair work has cracked the walls and ceilings, but it’s an opportunity to take down the damaged plaster and put some insulation in the external walls. We’ve decided to view every problem with the house as a challenge that gives us the potential to create something better than we might have otherwise had. There’s an enormous amount of work ahead of us, and it will probably take years to complete, but we know it will be worth it.

If you’re playing along at home…

…how different could your life be if you were close enough to walk to the important places instead of driving the car? If you’ve moved closer to where you live, please share in the comments what sort of impact that decision had on your every day life.

Goodbye Old House

At the start of the year we decided to buy a house of our own, which meant saying goodbye to the home that we had started to transform into a more sustainable place to live. There were a surprising number of comments about how it seemed like such a shame to abandon all of the work that we had put into the property over the previous two years. We were encouraged to dismantle a lot of what we had built on the assumption that nobody would want to take on the workload of an extensive vegetable garden, fruit trees or chicken coop, and that by taking materials with us we could recover a lot of our costs.

As we prepared to leave, we did take some of the plants with us. These were mostly plants with sentimental value and the trees that weren’t thriving in their initial locations. However, the garden beds are all still there, the structural modifications are intact, and there is still a chicken coop with run bolted to the back of the house. For the first inspection, it even contained the chickens.

for leaseThe real estate agent was sceptical that anyone would be interested in what I considered the key selling features of the property, but she agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to leave them there and let potential tenants know that they could be removed at will. This was our chance to test a theory that maybe – just maybe – there were other renters out there who would appreciate what we had created.

The response from those potential tenants blew us away. None of the advertising for the property mentioned established fruit trees, energy efficient construction, the gardens or the coop. Nearly everyone who spoke to the agent wanted to know if the chickens would stay with the property, and they were disappointed when they were told that the chickens were moving on.

A family leased our old home at that first inspection, and we couldn’t be happier. They’re keen gardeners, and they’d never expected to have the opportunity to indulge that passion while they were renting. Their son is bursting with excitement at the thought of having chickens of his own, and their daughter can’t wait to make soup from the pumpkins that weren’t quite ripe when we moved out. Our landlords picked up a considerable rent increase from tenants who definitely plan to be of the long term variety. Most importantly for us, we have validation that there are people who would love to have a bit more sustainability in their lives if they just had the chance, and that knowledge is worth more than what we left behind.

If you’re playing along at home…

…is there something that you could create for someone else that will help them reduce their environmental impact? Please share in the comments below what you’ve been able to pass on to enrich someone else’s life.

Switching From Tissues to Handkerchiefs

If you live in a house with small children, avoiding the cold and flu season feels impossible. During those years where cold and flu season stretches into hay fever season it is game over for the sinuses. The combination of colds and pollen was particularly bad for us this year.

When we got our new worm farm, I decided to start putting the used tissues in with the other waste. Seeing our tissues for just half an hour piled up high in the worm food bucket was a revelation. I knew we used a lot of tissues, but it wasn’t until we collected them that I realised just how habitual they had become for us. Runny nose? Grab a tissue. Small spill on the table or floor? Grab a tissue. Child with a dirty face? Grab a tissue. I was even blowing my nose because I was walking past a tissue box, not necessarily because I needed to do it.

The obvious solution to this problem was to switch back to old fashioned hankies. It had been so long since I last used any that I didn’t know where you could even buy them anymore. I knew that they were still around somewhere, because our oldest daughter had been given some as a gift, but those had also been sent from overseas.

When I asked my mother if she knew where to buy them, she said that she still had all of my grandfather’s hankies in a drawer that we were welcome to take. I said yes, so the next time I saw her she brought around the surplus. Some of them were still in unopened packets, the tape so old that it stained the fabric yellow.

As soon as I had the hankies in my possession, I immediately remembered why I switched to using tissues. I first learned how to iron by ironing these hankies and, as I threw them into the washing machine, all I could think of was how many hours of my life were going to be dedicated to this chore. Then it dawned on me that if I didn’t care whether they were ironed or not then there was no need for me to do it. My partner saw me folding them and putting them away – unironed – and was weirdly excited that we had made the decision to skip ironing.

Once it came time to use the hankies, I found myself resistant to making the switch. The texture on my face was different, I wasn’t throwing it away as soon as I had used it, and it took me more than a week to get past the ick factor of reusing it. However, as soon as I realised that since I’m the one washing them I can swap mine as often as I like, it immediately stopped bothering me.

Hankies

Getting to the point of happy hanky use took me longer than anyone else in the family. The kids like the colours and patterns of the hankies far more than the plain white tissues, and my partner really couldn’t give a stuff either way. Where the change became real for me was when I went through the house and literally hid all of our tissues in a cupboard so that I wouldn’t use them. I now have a few strategically placed collections of clean hankies where the tissue boxes used to be.

By switching from tissues to hankies we’re saving about $100 a year. Our laundry costs haven’t really changed because the hankies are going in with our regular load and washing them takes less time than buying tissues did. Then there is the obvious environmental benefit from eliminating a type of single use item from our lives. Most importantly for me, the skin around my nose has stopped cracking and peeling the way it does when I use too many tissues.

If you’re playing along at home…

…how can you reduce the amount of tissues that you use? Please let us know in the comments if you have switched to hankies or found another alternative.

Switching to Green Electricity

One of the fastest and easiest ways that we can reduce our emissions is by being aware of the electricity that we use and where it comes from. As a nation, Australia is heavily reliant on fossil fuels for electricity, which provided 83.7% of our electricity in 2016 compared to renewable sources at 16.3%. We live in Victoria, which isn’t exactly dazzling in converting to renewable energy; in 2016 only 16% of the state’s energy came from renewable sources. The state government has committed to increasing renewables to 25% by 2020 and 40% by 2025 but, even if those targets are met, a lot of our electricity will still be coming from fossil fuels.

Even though the state grid has a limited amount of renewable energy being supplied to it, as a consumer we still have a degree of choice about how our power is produced. Electricity companies offer two types of electricity plans: green and default. The default plan that most homes sign up for allows the company to produce electricity from whatever source takes their fancy. The green plans require the company to produce a certain amount of your electricity from renewable sources. I’ve seen green plans range from 10% renewable all the way to 100% renewable.

Switching to a green energy plan can seem a bit superficial; the electricity that we actually use in our home is pooled, so just because we might pay for a green energy plan doesn’t mean that the specific electricity used in our home is green. The important thing here is the symbolism; companies like to follow dollars, and your dollars can speak louder than emails and phone calls will.

Finding a new electricity provider can involve a lot of research and ridiculous comparison websites. If you’re interested in shopping around, there’s a comparison page at the Green Electricity Guide that lists a lot of retailers I’ve never heard of before and a bit of information about their environmental credentials. It looks fancy and informative, but I’ve got a bit of a headache and I can’t be bothered, so I decided to just call our current company and switch with them. I signed up for a 100% green electricity plan, which took me 17 minutes on the phone, and I managed to negotiate a pay on time discount that fully offsets the slight increase in cost. Winning!

If you’re playing along at home…

If you aren’t already on a 100% green electricity plan, now is a great time to switch. With more and more companies realising the importance of offering green power to their customers, you might be able to save some money as well as the environment. Please share in the comments how much carbon you’ve been able to save and what sort of impact it had on your bill.