July 2nd, 2009
Environmental health researchers from UCLA, the University of Southern California and the California Air Resources Board have found that during the hours before sunrise, freeway air pollution extends much further than previously thought.
Air pollutants from Interstate 10 in Santa Monica extend as far as 2,500 meters — more than 1.5 miles — downwind, based on recent measurements from a research team headed by Dr. Arthur Winer, a professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA School of Public Health. This distance is 10 times greater than previously measured daytime pollutant impacts from roadways and has significant exposure implications, since most people are in their homes during the hours before sunrise and outdoor pollutants penetrate into indoor environments. (more…)
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March 20th, 2009
In a recent article for the Scientific American, Michael Lemonic wrote about the Top 10 Myths About Sustainability. The article is a great reminder that we still have a ways to go - not only in our understanding of what sustainability is, but in how to live a more sustainable life. The following is a summary of Lemonic’s Top 10 Myths. (more…)
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February 18th, 2009
If you’ve long longed to green your home but never felt you had the money to do so, get ready to take action. Obama’s new stimulus plan, signed into law Tuesday, might give you just the extra financial nudge you need to undertake that eco-project you’ve had in mind.
First of all, the new stimulus plan will give you a tax credit for 30% of the costs, up to $1,500 total, for these eco-improvements on a property (via Associated Press):
>> Getting new energy-efficient furnaces, air conditioners, or windows
>> Replacing leaky windows
>> Putting more insulation into attics.
In addition to tax breaks, the stimulus plan lets you get government rebates for buying Energy Star rated appliances. About $300 million will be given out via these eco-rebates through state-run programs. Check with your state in the coming months to see how you can take advantage of these rebates.
Low-income households will also be able to get greenification help, thanks to the $5 billion going to the Weatherization Assistance Program (via LA Times). This existing but underfunded program’s aimed at helping low-income households make energy-efficiency improvements in their homes; more than 33.8 million households are eligible for weatherization services according to the Department of Energy stats. So — If your income’s less than 50% above the poverty level, make sure you’re signed up to get on the waiting list in your state for this eco program, which could reduce your annual gas heating bill by almost a third.
Wealthier people can also get some financial help — though the economic boost isn’t tied to enviro-leanings. According to the Associated Press, the biggest winners from this stimulus bill could be “Americans with more expensive homes who will be able to refinance their home loans at cheaper rates.”
Why? The stimulus bill “temporarily raises the maximum size of mortgages that government-sponsored mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can purchase and market as securities from $417,000 to as high as $729,750 in expensive parts of the country such as New York and California,” says the AP. The bill also “makes a similar change for loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration.”
What this basically means is that homeowners will be able mortgage or remortgage their houses at much more favorable interest rates. Plus, through a separate tax break in the stimulus plan, first-time homebuyers will get an $8,000 tax credit, so long as they buy their homes before Dec. 1.
All that’s to say that many homeowners will be able to save a lot of money — which can be put toward greening projects — which can also earn their own tax credits and rebates!
That’s already a lot of good green news, but homeowners could see additional eco and economical benefits from the stimulus bill. Since the bill’s aimed at creating a lot more green jobs, from training people to make wind turbines and solar panels to promoting energy efficiency in schools and government buildings, we’ll hopefully all see some savings result from the expanding market for energy-efficient products and services.
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January 15th, 2009
President Obama, we humbly beseech you to make your new home, The White House, a model green home. You have an incredible opportunity to make it a home from which all Americans can learn, and of which we can all be proud. What better way to start our country off on a bright new green path to the future than by making The White House the Great American Green House?
We’ve been encouraged by some of the things you’ve said about your intentions to make your home more eco-friendly, and we’d like to offer some thoughts on how you might flesh-out your green home renovation program.
First, let’s ground ourselves in some numbers. The White House is over 55,000 square feet and has 132 rooms. There are over 35 bathrooms and the building has three kitchens. Using our Household Environmental Impact Calculator, (and a few resources like the CBECS data for commercial buildings as your house doubles as an office building) we estimate that that The White House has a carbon footprint in the range of 1.2-1.5 million pounds of CO2 per year, uses somewhere around one million gallons of water, and generates over 50,000 pounds of trash each year. As a point of reference the average 2000 sq. foot American home has a carbon footprint of 65,000 pounds, uses 90,000 gallons or water and generates 3,800 pounds of trash per year. So The White House is no low-impact house! We have our work cut out for us.
Fortunately your predecessors have already taken some steps in a positive direction. President Carter famously installed a solar water system in 1979, which was then unfortunately taken down by President Reagan. However, in 2002 a new solar system was installed to power lighting for the grounds. Apparently the toilets have been changed to low-flow models and many of the water fixtures have also been upgraded. President Clinton commissioned the Rocky Mountain Institute to do a study on the White House and make recommendations for environmental improvements. We’re not sure how many of those got made– you’ll want to kick the tires on that one. (Perhaps someone from RMI could comment here?)
Here are some ideas we’d like you to explore for turning The White House a nice shade of green:
1) Let’s get the entire building off the grid. You could install more solar panels, and/or augment the system with a wind turbine. You could also look at geothermal energy options. We think it would quite feasible to generate enough power for the building using renewable energy sources. This would serve as a great example of clean-power living, and would actually save the government money in the long run.
2) How is the insulation situation? I’m sure you have attic insulation but let’s have a look inside the walls. I read that there are hundreds of year’s worth of copper wiring in many of the walls– let’s clean them out and blow in some soy foam or denim insulation. Full insulation could reduce heating and cooling costs by 5-10%.
3) Let’s turn part of the lawn into an organic vegetable garden. Encouraging Americans to eat fresh, local, organic produce will cut down on carbon emissions and also help us live healthier lives. That green grass is lovely, yes, but it sure sucks a lot of water for a low return on investment. Eleanor Roosevelt started a Victory Garden at your house long ago…let’s bring back that wonderful tradition! Author Michael Pollan has also advocated this idea. It would be a great treat to serve visiting dignitaries “Roasted White House Garden Vegetables” with their meal, would it not?
4) Speaking of organics, let’s make sure there’s a composting system in place. What happens with all of the food trash from the kitchens today? Well a composter could reduce the building’s trash load by 25-25%. It would be easy to set up, and your gardeners could use the compost mulch on your vegetable garden.
5) We hear Michelle has picked her decorator… and we hope that they’ll choose to use plenty of eco-friendly product in your decoration choices. How about some cork floors? They are sustainable and absorb sound. Or some reclaimed American wood flooring could look very nice. For furnishing we recommend antiques (anything used is more sustainable than newly made) or eco-friendly furniture made of sustainably-harvested woods and other recycled materials. For paints, obviously make sure to use no-VOC varieties, so that you and your family don’t breath toxic fumes. We need you to stay healthy for at least eight years!
6) Let’s review the lighting. Is everything running on LED and/or compact fluorescent lighting? The Pentagon has just announced they’re switching to LEDs– so should The White House. And we’d also want to make sure that we had maximized the use of light sensors– no need to light uninhabited areas. Perhaps there is even an option for increased day-lighting? We could install some new solar tube lighting to save energy and money.
7) How about getting all of your vehicles to run on biodiesel? There are a lot of big SUVs rushing around you and your home… it would be wonderful to have them running on American biodiesel fuels. Energy independence starts at The White House! You could have a biodiesel pumping station right there on the White House lot. Maybe one day even Air Force One will run on biodiesel!
Those are just some initial ideas. We here at Low Impact Living can’t wait to see you inaugurated and we hope you settle into your new home very nicely. We’ll look forward to hearing news of your Green House plans!
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