Tori Ledesma is eyeing the energy guy warily.
John Allen, an efficiency expert for Reliant Energy, is walking through the house, pointing out ways that Tori and her husband, Gil Ledesma, can reduce their energy use. And Tori is starting to think the lower bills might not be worth the trade-off.
Allen has already suggested turning up the thermostat, which usually hovers around 75. And switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs that, in Tori's experience, take forever to achieve full brightness. Now he's saying they should cover up the windows, too?
"The more sunlight you keep out of the home, the more efficient it's going to be," Allen points out.
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"Great," Tori says. "We're going to be sitting in the dark."
Tori can see where this is going. She's all for saving the Earth -- but right now, she's picturing spending August in a dark house that's too hot for clothes.
"Get the kids inside, and don't open the door!" she says. "We're going to sit in the dark in our underwear."
And with that, the Ledesmas embarked on their Green Challenge.
Meet the Ledesmas
Life before the Green Challenge
The Ledesmas were not overly concerned with conservation. They lived comfortably in a sprawling house -- throwing things away, opting for convenience and gritting their teeth over high electricity bills. Gil the one who wanted things to change.
"I wholeheartedly believe in global warming and do institute some environmentally friendly practices," he told us in his application for the Green Challenge. "However, I struggle to get the family on board."
He wasn't kidding. His wife and kids threw bottles away; Gil fished them out of the trash. He put in energy-efficient light bulbs; Tori replaced them with incandescent bulbs.
But Gil decided to push his family into a greener lifestyle.
How the challenge changed their habits
For two weeks, the Ledesmas experimented with eco-friendly habits that made them push past their comfort levels. For Tori, that meant switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs. For Ethan, it meant shorter showers. For Gil, who had already mastered the basics, that meant taking on bigger projects — starting a compost pile and biking home from work when he can.
The daily log
Highest mileage day: 149 miles
Lowest mileage day: 0 miles
Daytime thermostat setting: 74 to 76 degrees
They've all started conserving in small ways that add up: They use appliances less often, turn off lights, avoid drive-throughs. The kids ride the bus to school. They've bumped the thermostat up a couple of degrees. And they've started being more careful about what they toss in the trash. "It has been great to see my son and daughters and wife putting things in the recycling bin," Gil says.
What was most painful
For Tori, it was the light bulbs. The Ledesmas have started replacing the more than 100 incandescent bulbs in their home with the more-efficient compact fluorescents variety. And it hasn't been easy.
"I'm in recovery, I'm not kidding you," Tori says as she looks at the bulbs that line the mirrors in the master bath. She doesn't think the new bulbs are as bright, and some of them don't achieve their full brightness until several seconds after you turn them on. Tori has no patience with this -- after all, it's the 21st century.
Gil has switched out every bulb on his side of the room; Tori compromised by replacing, um, one of the nine on her side.
The next step
Though Gil was the only family member who really wanted to do this, the rest of the family has gotten involved. Ethan, Katie and Emily are now reminding him to recycle, save gas and turn off appliances.
Gil hopes to expand his bicycle commute after his move to a new office -- with shower facilities -- makes the plan more feasible.
And Tori is continuing to replace one by one, those incandescent light bulbs. Even though it makes her wince.
She got into the challenge because she saw that her kids were excited to pitch in. "They really became involved and concerned about conservation and pushed me to want to be proactive," she says -- "much more so than if I had attempted this on my own."