Update: Spring sustainability efforts

Here's a little taste of the things we're workin' on or have completed over the winter to make our lifestyle a little more eco-friendly this spring:

We have three rain barrels up and running! We added them to areas of our house and detached garage that capture the most rain due to the corresponding surface area. One rain barrel is in the front of our house, to accommodate my window boxes and herbs in the front yard. The second is on our attached garage in our backyard, a perfect spot to accommodate my garden. Another is in the back of our house, so I will have to lug some water from this bad boy.

We're cooking mostly outdoors on our grill or over our fire pit. This saves energy and keeps our kitchen cool.
Our electric service is still set to Time-of-Day billing, where we only pay a 40% rate for energy we use during off-peak hours (9 p.m. to 7 a.m.) and on weekends. So this means we run our dishwasher and do laundry before we go to bed or right away in the morning before we go to work. Since we are gone from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., most of our energy use is after that anyway. We do have to consciously remember to save big projects that use a lot of energy for the weekend, but for the most part we haven't changed our lifestyles too much. This reduced our electric bills by about $30 each month. Holla!
I continue to carpool three days a week with two co-workers. This saves me about $75 a month in gas, and cuts down on fuel emissions for all three of us.
We're almost tripling the area of our garden. I'll be growing most of the same things I have in the past, and will continue to freeze and can extra produce that we don't eat fresh. Last year I experimented with produce I'd never grown or even eaten (i.e. Okra.    Barf.), but I think I'll play it safe this year. No sense wasting my efforts on something I don't know if we'll use, or even enjoy (i.e. Okra). Additionally, we're doing raised beds this year instead of a traditional garden. We have the same surface area, but it's laid out differently which will maximize our growing potential.

The three raised beds are in the far left corner of the yard. The circled in area around the tree will be for lettuce or leafy greens that need shade, and the currently "tilled" area in the right/middle of the photo was my old 'traditional' garden, which may still house a few veggies. 
We've had the heat off for about 3 weeks! We had some really unusually hot weather this week - Cedar Rapids even broke some records with 80 degree temps. Some of our friends and family actually turned their air conditioner on! I would estimate that we run our air conditioner for about 14 days total in the summer. We have lots of fans and when we open our windows we get awesome breezes through our whole house. (Which is another thing I love about older homes - the architecture of the home maximizes nature's gifts - like breezes to cool a home and natural lighting through carefully placed windows.)

We know we're a long, long way from being as self-sustainable as we hope. It's a process. A daunting, time-consuming, sometimes expensive process. Things on the agenda for this spring/summer, that we hope to implement soon, are: 
  1. Look into blown-in insulation for the walls of our house. When we had a free energy audit done by our utility company, they recommended adding more insulation, which would cost about $700. Should we add this insulation and do a few other energy-effecient repairs, they will reimburse us up to $500. 
  2. John will begin experimenting with making bio-diesel fuel. He bought a diesel truck which, in the next few years, he'd like to completely run on bio-diesel that he makes. 
  3. I want to add a compost bin, but I don't think I'll get to it this year. 
  4. I want to add three more raised beds of the same size. Perhaps we'll get to it this summer, but I won't count on it. 

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