Archive for the ‘Water use’ Category
June 11th, 2009
I recently had the good fortune of participating in a New York Times piece (published in the Home section today) on green home consultants. After a few hours of in-home work and many more of analysis, reporting, product research and follow-up with my clients, it was somewhat ironic that the lead image for the story was a picture of me peering into the tank of a toilet!
One could argue a toilet is a fitting representation of our times, after all. The economy remains in the tank, we continue to do relatively little as a society to combat climate change, and the residential green sector continues to dragged down by the horrible housing market (unless you happen to be in one of the few sectors directly benefiting from stimulus funding).
However, we still see a very bright future for the overall green remodeling/retrofit market. The lowest hanging fruit on the path to a lower-carbon economy lie in our homes, from weatherization to low-flow water fixtures to efficient appliances and lighting. The environmental savings can be significant, and many projects will start contributing to your bank account in less than a year. Although each of our individual actions might be a drop in the bucket (as noted by some of the skeptical folks interviewed in the Times article), our collective actions will amount to significant change and send a message to both companies and our elected officials that the old way won’t work anymore.
The first step is getting started, of course, and a good green consultant can help by explaining both the environmental and economic benefits of particular green projects. Even with that information, a long list of recommendations can be pretty hard to digest. As a result, we always recommend that projects be tiered in a way that puts the ones where you get the most bang for your buck first. Tackle green projects in these four groups, and we guarantee that you’ll soon be on a logical and profitable path to a lower impact:
- Make the easy fixes that have high environmental and economic benefits first. Many first steps can be done for $0 - $100, and can cut major chunks out of your energy, water and carbon footprints. Good examples include turning down the temperature on your water heater, replacing inefficient lighting, installing low-flow water fixtures, sealing leaks and drafts and installing a programmable thermostat.
- Swap out key house systems, starting with the biggest hogs and/or systems that have multiple impacts. Once you’ve cut your baseline down based on #1, turn to these bigger projects. Great places to start are the water heater and furnace, since they influence the energy use of everything downstream, and the clothes washer, since it consumes both water and energy and produces greenhouse gases and wastewater.
- Install sustainable systems where possible for remaining water/energy needs. By now, you’ve probably cut your energy, water and sewer bills by 30-50%. But there’s a huge added benefit to this tiering of projects: you’ve also reduced the cost of major sustainble system upgrades. These projects, like solar panels, solar hot water heaters, wind turbines, graywater systems and rainwater capture/reuse systems, will be as much as 50% less expensive if they follow the projects in Tiers 1 and 2!
- Offset the rest. In most existing homes, it’s nearly impossible to competely cut your outside energy use and associated carbon footprint. Buy offsets for this remaining piece. We believe it’s always best to cut your own carbon footprint first rather than paying someone else to do it via offsets, but they’re a great solution for those stubborn emissions that elude even the most eco-committed of us.
Of course, a consultant isn’t necessary for any of this. Many websites offer great resources to help you sort through the options. And many online tools like our Environmental Impact Calculator can help you estimate the savings of green home projects, both environmental and economic, so that you can create a prioritized list based on your home’s unique characteristics.
Oh, back to the toilets. Toilet leaks can be huge water guzzlers, and I see leaks in as many as 10% of the homes that I visit. In this case, though, they were in perfect working order!
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June 4th, 2009
Happy June everyone! We’re eager for summer to arrive– aren’t you? There are many things we can all do to ensure that we have a fun, eco-friendly summer. Read on and get that barbeque apron at the ready!
What You Need to Know Before You Mow
As the grass grows longer, we get the mower ready to go to work. You will probably be shocked to learn that gas mowers are MAJOR environmental offenders. According to the California Air Resources Board, lawn mower engines contribute 93 times more smog-forming emissions than do cars on a gallon-for-gallon basis. The pollution from a year’s use of an average gas-powered lawnmower is equivalent to the pollution from driving a car 86,000 miles. YES, it’s that bad. And some chainsaws and trimmers are even worse.
So please consider ditching your gas mower and getting either a battery powered or push mower. This Brill Luxus 38 push mower gets great ratings for usability and effectiveness. And there are some great cordless electrical mowers here, too.
Don’t Be an Enviro-Hog at the BBQ
When we have a summer BBQ, most of us generate a pretty impressive amount of waste. You can cut down on the trash going to the land fill in several easy ways. First, make sure to put out two trash cans: one for the food junk and one for recyclable glass & cans. As you know, if you don’t have a separate can, people will dump all of their cans and bottles right in with the other trash. If you don’t have a second can, then put out a cardboard box and write RECYCLE on it. Then you can toss the whole box in the recycling bin after the party!
Next, don’t use traditional paper plates and plastic utensils. Get yourself some compostable and biodegradable alternatives. These are just as functional as the plastic/paper kind but will decompose over time. Or if you don’t want to go that far, look for paper plates and napkins made out of recycled materials.
And what about the left-over veggies, salad and buns? You know where those go–right into your handy composter, to make healthy mulch for the garden.
Be Water-Wise this Summer
Don’t forget that water is one of our most valuable natural resources. In the Western US this summer we’ll be facing a fierce drought, given what little rainfall we’ve had so far this year. Please be sure to conserve water by 1) watering only in the early morning when the sun and evaporation are lower and 2) adjusting your sprinklers so that they only water your yard and not your driveway or street.
With all of the outdoor recreation and beach trips, showering can increase over the summer. Save as much as 40% of your water and energy per shower with this new Delta Fluidics showerhead that offers low-flow efficiency and high-flow comfort.
Cool It with a Ceiling Fan
Energy Star ceiling fans are much more efficient than air conditioners and can cool your house by a few degrees or more. Run a ceiling fan instead of AC whenever you can, and even if you do run AC, run it at a higher temp and use the ceiling fan to recirculate the cool air. See our selection of Energy Star ceiling fans here.
Kids at Loose Ends? Here is a Great Game!
Get the Bioviva board game and teach your kids about our global environment. This award-winning game will help instill in your kids, and yourself, an interest in learning more about nature and our planet. Multiple choice question cards cover topics such as solar systems, plant/animal behavior, evolution, and environmental protection. Kids earn eco-points by correctly answering questions, with the winner being the first player to collect the required eco-points for the locations listed on his or her destination card. Find the Bioviva game here.
Don’t Put Toxins on Your Family’s Skin - Sunscreen and Insect Repellant
Standard insect repellants contain chemicals that not only repel bugs but also are toxic to humans. And sunscreens also often contain harmful chemicals. Protect your family with toxin-free insect repellant and healthy sunscreens.
We hope you all have a wonderful summer! Keep your mind on relaxing– and protecting the Earth at the same time.
Popularity: 4% [?]
May 28th, 2009
From the Environmental News Network (ENN.com)
New research by the National Center for Atmospheric Research points to the possibility that water from the melting Greenland Ice Sheath could change oceanic circulation in the North Atlantic, in a way that would raise sea levels off the Northeast by about eight inches more than the average global sea level rise that is expected with global warming.
Results of the study are being published this week in Geophysical Research Letters. They suggest that moderate to high rates of ice melt from Greenland may shift ocean circulation by about 2100, causing sea levels off the northeast coast of North America to rise by about 30 to 51 centimeters (12 to 20 inches) more than other coastal areas.
The research builds on recent reports that have found that sea level rise could adversely affect North America, and its findings suggest that the situation is even more urgent than previously believed.
“If the Greenland melt continues to accelerate, we could see significant impacts this century on the northeast U.S. coast from the resulting sea level rise,” says scientist Aixue Hu, the paper’s lead author. Hu is at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo. “Major northeastern cities are directly in the path of the greatest rise.”
To assess the impact of Greenland ice melt on ocean circulation, Hu and his coauthors used the Community Climate System Model, an NCAR-based computer model that simulates global climate.
They considered three scenarios: the melt rate continuing to increase by 7 percent a year, as has been the case in recent years, or the melt rate slowing down to an increase of either 1 or 3 percent a year.
Popularity: 2% [?]
May 15th, 2009
Summer is just around the corner, and this is the time of year when we really ramp up our lawn activities– watering, fertilizing, mowing, etc. And all of these can have major negative environmental consequences. Did you know that over 50 million Americans mow their lawns each weekend, and that mowing contributes as much as 5% of the country’s air pollution? And it’s staggering to realize that the average American grassy lawn can use over 20,000 gallons of water each summer! So, a major part of any green home strategy should be to embrace eco-friendly lawn and garden care.
Here are 12 ways you can make sure you have an eco-friendly lawn this summer
1. Collect rain water and use it for your plants. Getting a rain barrel or two for your yard is a simple way to collect and reuse Mother Nature’s water. Just put it under your gutter’s down spout and you’ll be amazed how fast it fills up. Click here for rain barrels.
2. Make sure you’re not over-watering. Most of us over-water our lawns. Do you have moss growing on your driveway or sidewalk or in your garden? That’s a sign you’re watering too much. Do you have pools of standing water anywhere? Another sign. You can buy a very inexpensive lawn moisture meter that will tell you if you’re over-watering. You might also consider getting an intelligent irrigation control system that attunes your watering to the weather and your lawn’s needs.
3. Don’t hose down your sidewalks and driveway. That water is a valuable resource and the water you send into the gutter is carrying oil and a host of chemicals out as run-off that go on to pollute our rivers, lakes and oceans.
4. Get a push mower for your lawn. Traditional gas mowers are horrible for our air quality and contribute to global warming. They are major environmental offenders. A good-ole push mower is the eco-friendly solution. (Or if you can’t go all the way to push style, get a plug-in electric model– better than gas.) Find mowers here.
5. Say no to leaf-blowers! The gas-powered leaf blowers some people use are major carbon emissions culprits. Say yes to a broom! Your waist-line will thank you too.
6. And when you’re done mowing, leave your clippings on your yard. Those grass clippings make great mulch and will help you save water as well.
7. Be sure to compost your other yard waste. If your city doesn’t collect green waste for composting, please get a composter and do it yourself. It’s super easy and the composter will turn your waste into great mulch for use throughout your yard and garden. Find composters here.
8. Embrace native plants. Plants, flowers and grasses that are native to your region are the most atuned to soil, climate and water particularities. They are great water savers and will thrive with less care than tropical and other imported varieties. And they are gorgeous! Learn more about native landscaping here with our book collection. Or contact a green professional landscape designer or maintainance provider from our green services directory. We have eco-minded landscaping experts listed across the United States.
9. Are you addicted to the look of grass but live in a high-drought area? You may want to consider synthetic grass. It uses no water, lasts over ten years, and looks & feels surprisingly real. Learn more about synthetic grass here.
10. Why not start your own organic food garden? Nothing could be better for the planet or your health. Learn how to get started with organic gardening here.
11. Use non-toxic fertilizers and pest-control agents for your garden and lawn. Not only are these better for your plants (particularly any food you might eat), they reduce the amount of toxins that run-off into our waterways. Find safe alternatives here.
12. Use solar or LED lighting in your lawn. Solar lighting is obviously an energy-saver. If you don’t find solar lights bright enough, check out LED lights—they are very bright and use very little power. They will last 5-10 times as long as standard outdoor lights. Find energy-efficient lighting options here.
Popularity: 5% [?]
May 10th, 2009
As the recent fires in Santa Barbara show, we have a long, hot summer of fire danger ahead of us. Many of us who live in areas where wildfires are common are also now facing record drought conditions. We all need to do what we can to protect our homes and communities from the danger of uncontrolled fires. And don’t forget that reducing fire risk is a great way to save water as well. Every little bit helps!
Fortunately there is plenty we can do as homeowners. Here is a great checklist, courtesy of Colorado State University:
- Thin trees and brush properly within the defensible space.
- Remove trash and debris from the defensible space.
- Remove any trees growing through the porch.
- Clear roof and gutters of leaves and debris.
- Remove branches overhanging chimney and roof.
- Stack firewood uphill or on a contour away from the home.
- Use noncombustible roof materials.
- Place shutters, fire curtains or heavy drapes on windows.
- Place screens on foundation and eave vents.
- Enclose sides of stilt foundations and decks.
- Use a chimney screen or spark arrester.
- Clear vegetation around fire hydrants, cisterns, propane tanks, etc.
- Make sure an outdoor water supply is available, with hose, nozzle and pump.
- Make sure fire tools, ladder and fire extinguishers are available.
- Post address signs that are clearly visible from the street or road.
- Make sure the driveway is wide enough for fire trucks and equipment.
- Install and test smoke detectors.
- Practice a family fire drill and evacuation plan.
Be sure to read the rest of this helpful site’s information, which gives excellent pointers on how to clear trees and brush to create a safe zone around your home, what kind of fire-resistant plants to plant, evacuation tips, and how to protect your home should it be struck by fire. Another good resource for fire-safety education is Firewise.org. Their guide on How to Prepare a House for Wildfire Season is particularly good.
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