Measuring domesticity

A few years ago I used an online tool to estimate my carbon footprint. For a guy that walks to the downtown Target and carries home 16 rolls of toilet paper and laundry detergent, it was horrendous. Closer investigation revealed it to be grossly skewed by the occasional Worldperks mile, but more unwelcome, it was also exaggerated by being single.

So it has been with some relief to the planet that I settled in with my beau. The non-momentousness of this life-changing event came into focus when Steve, a polite, coherent Xcel Energy operator, having been challenged by me over the phone to explain why my electricity bill had increased 33 percent on average over the last year, replied, “Have you experienced any changes in your domestic patterns over that time?”  

For all the resistance from the American public to making energy-saving and natural resource-prolonging changes to their lifestyles, it’s remarkable how unremarkable those changes can be. I couldn’t believe it. We are on the same schedule. He’s not home watching television and leaving lights on, and as far as we know, neither are the dogs. But when I thought about it, the dishwasher runs more, the dryer runs more, the shower runs seemingly forever, and I am now, without the slightest suspicion of it sneaking up on me, living in a 2.5 person average American household — give or take.

Though it may seem counterintuitive to celebrate the increase in my electricity bill, the larger implications are inspiring. When we began this coupling, we considered both housing options. I have made reference to the “Country House” in this column before, describing my partner’s house on a quiet block of early 20th century Tudors in North Minneapolis.

Since making the decision to stay in the smaller, centrally located house, we have shed a car and added a bus pass. A few years ago I made it a goal to begin biking to and from work at least a few days a week. The regularity and ease of this has increased over time, though I will confess to abandoning my bike with the first snow.

Our domestic downsizing is, of course, filled with irony in the wake of Great Recession, with the Country House for sale (but still requiring heat) and the unused second car parked in its garage (demanding payment), just far enough away to avoid temptation on the below-zero days. But as with our 401(k)s, there is belief that in the long run we will reap savings and increased efficiency in this new meter: milestones per gallon.

Bryan Anderson lives in Stevens Square. He works for SALA Architects on East Hennepin.