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Green RV'ing

Our friend Doug recently asked if we were going to apply some of the energy and resource-saving principles of our RV'ing to our new house. That made me think. Despite the general perception of RV'ing as a gas-hogging self-indulgent hobby, I believe that RV'ing is actually very "green" -- and the more nights you spend in an RV, the more you save.

This is because the fuel consumption of an RV is only a fraction of the overall resource picture. Yes, most RVs get 8-10 miles per gallon of fuel (sometimes more for diesel-powered vehicles). But when they stop moving, they are exemplary models of conservation.

I've touched on this before but never laid out the details. Thanks mostly to a water-saving toilet, a tiny 6-gallon water heater, and no dishwater, lawn or swimming pool, the daily water consumption of our household is always less than 10 gallons per person per day, even when accounting for our use of external laundry facilities. This compares to a typical household consumption of 150 gallons per day per person.

Our electrical usage is so light that we can power our entire home from a pair of 115 watt solar panels, in the summer. Our power budget on a typical sunny day is about 0.72 kwH. Compare that to 14-25 kwH per day used by an average household. When plugged into 30 amp power and occasionally using the A/C or heat pump, we use more, but still a fraction of an ordinary house because of the small space we heat and cool.

Same for propane. Our furnace, hot water, and stove a supplied by a pair of 7-gallon propane bottles. Our annual propane usage is a mere 100 gallons per year. Our last house had a 500-gallon buried tank and we topped it off several times each year. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Living small means less impact on energy and resources. We even produce less garbage because we buy less stuff.

Nearly any house we might choose would have a greater impact than the life we've led for the past 18 months. RV'ing is inexpensive largely because RV'ers choose to live small. So, for someone who has no other home to feed, I would argue that it is a very "green" option.

My point is not that everyone should sell their house and live in a trailer. Obviously that's ridiculous. But our experience on the road has taught us valuable lessons about the clear economic benefits of consuming less and conserving more. I want to apply those lessons to our next home.

Today we took a small step in that direction. I've been reading articles about CFL (Compact fluorescent) technology. CFLs are way better than they used to be. Unlike the bulbs of a decade ago, they provide attractive light, with color temperatures very close to incandescent bulbs, without flickering. They are much cheaper to run, produce more light (lumens) than comparable incandescents, and they are getting so cheap that the economic benefits of switching to CFLs are indisputable. The only issue left is consumer perception: people still think "fluorescent" means the buzzy, flickering, greenish lights of years ago. That's why manufacturers no longer call use the word "fluorescent" on the packaging.

So today I bought a four-pack of CFLs at Target. It cost $14 (on sale this week). Each bulb puts out more light than a 75-watt incandescent on just 20 watts, and lasts years longer to boot. These will replace four bulbs in the carport and entryway of the house. Once we're inside, I expect to identify at least six other places we can replace the current power-hungry bulbs with CFLs. It's a little thing, but I've learned the little things add up.

Our experience on the road has also reinforced simple practices, like using night air to cool the house and cut our air conditioning needs during the day. Or lowering the temperature on cold nights and using an extra blanket instead of the furnace. And yes, driving less to save fuel. (Believe it or not, we drove fewer miles in the past year on the road than when we had two cars and lived in a house.)

Now our challenge is to maintain the savings we've come to expect, when we come back to the house between trips. Instead of trying to live large, we'll try to continue to live small. Every little saving is its own reward, and the challenge of finding those savings opportunities is fun, like a game. RV'ing taught us the joy of it, and it's one more way that life "on the road" has changed us for the better.



Many years ago we had a Solatube installed in our laundry room. These shiny-surfaced tubes extend from a plastic bubble on the roof to a circular diffuser on the ceiling. Sunlight fills the room so effectively that we never turn on the light in the daytime. In our new home, we plan to add at least 3: one in the laundry room and two in the garage.

The web site is There are some competitors but I don't have their sites at hand. I am told that you can get a tax credit in Arizona for having these installed.

Excellent information and advice Rich. We are using compact fluorescent bulbs that we used and brought from the house that we sold two years ago and so far I've only replaced one of them. I prefer the light output over incandecent bulbs that generate more heat than light.I read recently that Americans on average use about 50% more water than European household. Also that if everyone in the world consumed like the average American it would take three earths to support the world population. I think a question that your going to hear a lot in the next decade is " what is your carbon footprint". Every little bit helps.


I'll be interested in seeing the economics of solar electricity generation on your new home. Even with subsidies and net metering available in California, I couldn't make the numbers work during any reasonable time horizon.

I was surprised to see that none of the new home developments we visited in Arizona had or offered solar electric options. Some suggested that if the homeowner wanted to add a pool, then solar hot water could be plumbed as an option. With all the sunny days in Arizona, I would have expected to see more (any) use of solar. I haven't done the financial calculation, but perhaps others have and decided that it simply doesn't make sense yet.

Recently GA Power set up a booth in the Atrium of the building where I work handing out CFL's to anyone who would agree to replace at least 5 additional incandescent bulbs with CFL's. I added up and I already had replaced the 10 most frequently used bulbs in our house with CFL's so I "agreed" and accepted a freebie.

My wife doesn't like them, but we use them in our closets, garage, laundry, pantry, entry halls, and other places where light color isn't as critical as her make-up vanity.

BTW, the daylight correct ones are so correct it's hard to tell when we've forgot to turn the light off in the garage during the day.

This is the greatest story I have ever read. I am thinking about getting an RV and starting our traveling life. We really want to find a home somewhere that we can be more green and get our lives underway. Now I will be getting that RV for sure and we will be finding that NEW HOME that we always dreamed of and we will be GREEN!!!

We recently sold our 2000+ square foot house and are now living full time in a 337 sf fifth wheel. So far it has been great, but I still have many enviro friends who give me a hard time about all the gas we burn. I thought your piece on Green RVing was great, and I'm wondering if you have any other "carbon footprint" sites I can direct people to? Also, do you mind if I post an excerpt (with attribution) of that article on my web site?

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