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Thursday, October 2, 2008

urban ruralist: Greening the Home


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Greening the Home

As I mentioned yesterday, my energy bill gave me a virtual kick in the bottom and precipitated some much-needed research for reconciling my actions with my environmental beliefs. Here are my findings, both general resources if you want to bookmark them and refer back in the future, as well as specific tasks that you can tackle without much effort.

General Resources for Reducing Your Impact

Low Impact Living is what I have unconsciously been searching for all my decision-making life. It has searchable blog posts and guides about how to reduce your impact on our limited natural resources, and has links in each of these to available products that help you do just that. It also has a great calculator so that you can see how each individual part of your home that affects our planet. Once you finish with the calculator, it gives you a list of projects to further lower your impact.
The Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy subdivision has a ton of great information. I like the page for apartment dwellers in particular.
Con Ed has over 100 tips for making choices at home that will help you lower your consumption.
Real Simple is not a magazine that most 20-somethings read regularly--I get a lot of heat for my subscription since it's target audience is middle-aged moms--but it does have a lot of short articles and slideshows full of handy green tips.

Impact-Reducers: Greatest Hits

Some of the categories that the general websites above list are hard for young urban dwellers to relate to since, on the whole, we live in rented apartments. Weatherization, water heating, and lawn irrigation are realms over which the landlord and not the broke renter has jurisdiction. That said, you can (and should) befriend your super and ask him/her what water and energy saving measures have been put into place. I am lucky enough to live in a building full of proactive people who have taken such things as relandscaping the yard into their own hands. The management has been very accommodating (no pun intended), and it makes sense for them to make these changes as it saves them money too.
Insulate your home well.
For us renters, get double-paned windows installed to keep the heat in during the cold months.
When I lived in a dorm I got a plastic kit to insulate my drafty window. It was essentially double-stick tape, and giant saran wrap. You just needed a blow dryer to set it. I peeled it off when it got warm again and it left no residue.
If caulking and weather strips are over your head, get or make some draft snakes.
Use a programmable thermostat, if possible.
Health permitting, set your thermostat to 68 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night and when no one is home. Each degree over 68 can increase the amount of energy you use for heating by 3 percent.
Use ceiling fans to circulate warm air in winter, especially in rooms with high ceilings.
Use curtains! Open the curtains on sunny days in the winter months and close them at night to keep the heat in.
Radiators can lose heat into exterior walls. Reduce this loss by placing reflectors between the wall and the radiator.
Don't use an air conditioner if you can get away with it. If you do cave, buy an energy efficient one, clean it once a month (yes), and use it sparingly.
Use a programmable thermostat, if possible.
We bought some rather drab light-blocking blinds from IKEA. Close both the blinds and the windows during the day to keep the sun out, and open them at night to naturally cool your home.
My parents, eco-connoisseurs if ever such a term were to be invented, purposely bought our house because it had great windows with amazing natural cross-ventilation. They have one room in the house that is completely sealed off and which has an air conditioning unit. They only turn that on when the weather is downright unbearable.
Water Heating
This is a serious energy eater. If you can't take care of it yourself, ask your superintendent to do the following:
Insulate the heater with an insulation blanket or jacket.
Set the temperature to 120º instead of 130º.
Turn the lights off when a room is unoccupied. Turning the lights on and off does not actually waste as much energy as leaving the lights on. Myth: busted.
Don't use halogen lamps. The heat they emit should be a sign that they use a lot of energy.
Replace all your bulbs with CFLs. Fluorescents have gotten much better since my mom installed flickering, dim bulbs all over our house in the 90s. This guide tells you which ones work best for each kind of light fixture.
CFLs contain trace amounts of mercury, so if they break, let the room air out for a bit, then sweep the bits up, place in a paper bag, then a plastic one, and change your clothes.
Home Depo
t and IKEA accept dead CFLs for recycling.
If every American home swapped just five incandescent bulb fixtures for Energy Star CFLs, it would keep 1 trillion pounds of greenhouse gases out of the air and save $6.5 billion in energy costs. They also last longer than incandescents, so don't be afraid of the fact that they cost more per bulb. They pay off very quickly.
Buy energy star approved appliances. Check it out.
Loosely store food in the refrigerator so cool air can circulate
Tightly pack items in the freezer
Vacuum refrigerator coils regularly. Gross, and kind of a pain, but hey! Who else cares about your lost 10 minutes?
Turn off your computer when not in use.
Program your monitor to go into sleep mode after 20 minutes of inactivity.
Unplug all appliances with boxes on the plug, e.g. cell phone chargers, as they mooch electricity even if they aren't charging anything.
Wash clothes on the cold cycle, it doesn't harm the clothing. I still use hot water for sheets, towels, and pillowcases to kill germs.
Line dry your clothes. Even in an apartment this is feasible. My boyfriend and I set up elaborate webs of twine across our living room and also use a clothes drying rack. If you absolutely must have dryer-fluffed items, line dry and then do an air fluff in the dryer. Line drying your laundry also saves money upfront. I almost cry every time I have to sink 8 quarters into the machine.
Install a low flow showerhead. My mom got me one of the original low-flow showerheads around 1994. The water pressure was like having someone drool on me. Obviously, I was against low-flow showerheads for a while. The new ones thankfully increase the water pressure by adding air to the water. You can take an amazing shower and save water. Imagine that!
Install water aerators for your sink. $3 apiece, they save $40 annually. One person commented that she bought aerators to lower her impact, but ended up loving them more because they swivel and make the sink more functional. I'm buying 2 today!
Trash & Recycling
Before you recycle, you should try to reduce the amount of stuff that enters your home that will end up in the trash can. Buy items in bulk to reduce packaging. Stoneyfield Farm has done extensive research on the environmental effect of its packaging. Buying their yogurt means hurting the planet a little bit less.
Real Simple put out a guide for How to Recycle Anything. Some places might not recycle as much as we would like. NYC has a wonderful paper recycling policy, but they only accept two kinds of plastic.
Buy Green Energy
I just signed up to get our electricity from a windfarm upstate. It took a substantial amount of investigation to navigate the ConEd page, but below is a helpful link if you want to make the switch. Personally, I'm not a fan of hydroelectric dams, so I chose an Energy Supply Company that doesn't use them. [Reasoning: they ruin healthy ecosystems so that we can, what? play sudoku online?]
Green Power Network

Miscellaneous Earth Savers

Decrease the margins in your word-processing program to save on printed paper,
Switch to a laptop from a desktop to save energy
Use bamboo linen products
Give eco-friendly gifts meant to inspire the recipients.
Recycle or repurpose everything; If you aren't going to use it anymore post it on
or Craigslist as a Free Item or Curb Alert

Inspire Change in Others
from Real Simple

For us, three changes have turned us into a greener family. First, we became eco-conscious. Moving the environment to the front of our minds means we think twice before tossing trash, starting the car, and making purchases. Second, we try to make it fun (and sometimes it even works). We use a magnet to find out which cans are steel and which are aluminum. We say, “Let’s find three fun ways we can use this empty hot-chocolate container.” Third, we took baby steps. Long before we started composting and recycling water with a rain barrel, we made simple changes, like switching to recycled-content paper, buying a staple-free stapler, and using egg cartons as paint palettes and Mylar balloons as gift wrap. Little changes make a big difference, and as the momentum builds, we’ve found it easy to make bigger changes.
Aside from the regular things, like recycling and changing incandescent bulbs for more energy-efficient ones, I have begun explaining to my four-year-old and two-year-old what it means to be aware of the environment. Every day I talk about what I am recycling and why. The most eco-friendly thing you can do is teach future generations how to take care of our planet for the good of everyone.
I teach preschool and am instilling eco-friendly changes in our kids from an early age. We talk about going green and combine it with a lesson about the letter R, as in recycle and reuse. We discuss Earth Day, and we ask parents to send in paper-towel rolls and brown bags for art projects. Personally, I feel as if this is an investment for the future of our planet if our future adults start thinking about these concepts now.

urban ruralist: Greening the Home

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