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Some notes on living sustainably

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Workshop with 4.5Kw solar array and solar collectors for heatingGuy posing with solar collectors on workshopHouse with solar collectors for hot water
Links to sub-pages relevant to this page
Our Chevy Volt
electric vehicle
Thermal survey of our buildings with a thermal camera Custom
interior storm windows
Tankless water heater installation Insulating doors and windows DIY
interior storm windows
Conserving water with a
hot water on-demand pump
Insulating outside frost walls Installing a single room
heat recovery ventilator
Spray foam insulating
my workshop
Insulating exposed basement foundation Installing a heat recovery ventilator in my workshop
Relevant blog posts
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Chevy Volt LED lighting Solar power
Installing a solar
attic vent fan
Repurposing light fixtures for LED lamps Solar heating

It seems to me that the motivation for people to look into living more sustainably these days has a lot to do with money.  Sure, you can save money at the gas pump with a more efficient vehicle.  But it's a bigger issue and one that will affect future generations.  It's not just about using less fuel or reducing emissions, I am talking about climate change and the devastating effects that will affect our lives in the near future and dramatically affect the entire world for generations.

My wife and I believe in doing our best to reduce our use of fossil fuels and live sustainably.  I work at encouraging people to reduce their energy consumption, live more simply and adopt renewable energy, both by example and through the press, my web site and public talks.  (Contact me if you would like me to speak to your group).  I also write articles for Home Power magazine and others on renewable energy and sustainability issues.

Through the blogs on my web site and separate Sustainable Living blog, I have shared my experiences of building and installing a solar power system, solar heating  for my workshop, solar heating for the water in our home and even a solar powered lawn mower conversion!  A solar powered attic vent fan helps reduce the summer heat in my workshop.   

It may seem like we have a lot of disposable income to invest in all this stuff, but keep in mind that what you see on this page took many years.  My wife and I are both self employed with no kids and have a moderate income - we just choose to invest in things that leave the world a better place.   Most of the things we have invested in have already paid for themselves - such as the solar heating systems.

Below you can learn more about all the many measures we and I have taken to live lightly on the planet.  Hopefully we will inspire you to take some steps - Guy


If you are looking for a book to guide you through the process of improving the energy efficiency of your home and everything within it, then I can highly recommend Charlie Wing's book: "The Visual Handbook of Energy Conservation: A Comprehensive Guide to Reducing Energy Use at Home".  This is the most complete guide imaginable and an excellent resource for anyone planning to build a new home or reduce the energy use within an existing home.  As someone who has direct experience with a great many of the ideas and suggestions within the book I can say that it is an ideal resource and there is no question that you will learn a great deal of valuable and useful information.

This 16 minute video explains why I am passionate about living sustainably.
Top climate scientist James Hansen tells the story of his involvement in the science of and debate over global climate change. In doing so he outlines the overwhelming evidence that change is happening and why that makes him deeply worried about the future.


If you prefer to read, then I recommend Bill Mckibben's excellent article from the
July 19, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone:

Global Warming's Terrifying New Math
Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe -
and that make clear who the real enemy is

VEHICLES

2001 Honda Insight
2001 Honda Insight



2012 Chevy Volt


2014 Ford C-MAX hybrid

HYBRID AND ELECTRIC VEHICLES

Our commitment to driving clean, efficient, high MPG vehicles began in 2001 when my wife replaced her Acura Integra with a new Honda Insight for around $20,000.  Unfortunately Honda stopped making them in 2006, but have brought it back in March 2009 as a 4 door model for around $20,000, the same low price as the original.   We sold the '01 Insight in June 2012 and it was still going strong with 120K miles on it and a new traction battery replaced under warranty at 105K miles.

In May 2012 we purchased a new Chevy Volt electric vehicle that we can charge largely from out 5.2KW solar array.  This makes it a carbon neutral vehicle within it's 40 mile EV range.  It activates a gas generator when the battery is low to allow us to continue driving at 40MPG.  Learn more about the Volt on this page of my site.

In May 2008 I purchased a used 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid that got around 30MPG, and in 2014 we upgraded to a leased 2014 Ford C-MAX Hybrid SE that gets around 45MPG on average - with careful driving.

Scan Gauge II
Scan Gauge II

IMPROVING GAS MILEAGE

Right after I got the Escape Hybrid I bought the ScanGauge II Automotive Computer since my Escape model did not come with the fancy computer console.  It plugs into the car's OBDII computer port (under the dash of all vehicles sold in the US since 1995) and mounts to the dash with Velcro.  It provides four simultaneous real time displays of such things as real-time MPG, engine temperature, battery bank state of charge and MPH.

Using this gauge with ANY vehicle will help you to learn how to improve your gas mileage because you can evaluate the performance in real time, and per trip/day/tank.

tire pressure monitor screwed into tire stem
tire pressure gage

TIRE INFLATION

If your tires are low it can cost you as much as 3% of your gas mileage.  In order to remind myself to check tire pressure I installed these neat little gauges on the stems that are green if the pressure is good and red if it's low.  A set of 4 retails for $13 - 19.00.  Click on the image to order them from a Quick Pressure - a US manufacturer - not a cheap import, these are very well made.  Read my blog post about this.

LIGHTING

ceiling light fixture that uses a 30 W circular fluorescent tube
circular fluorescent
30Watt = 150W light

compact fluorescent flood lamp
CFL flood light

compact fluorescent lamp
regular CFL

COMPACT FLUORESCENT LIGHTS

When we bought our new home in 2001, the very first thing we did was replace all the lighting.  Most of the ceiling fixtures used 100 Watt incandescent light bulbs.  We replaced the fixtures with attractive ones that use 30 watt circular fluorescents with efficient electronic ballasts.  These fixtures produce the same bright warm colored light as a 75 Watt incandescent lamp and last 10,000 hours.  Of course we turn them off when they are not actively needed. 

We also replaced the 100 Watt recessed flood lights in the kitchen with CF flood lamps that consume only 15 Watts each yet are just as bright.  They are available in warm and cool colors.  As these lamps have worn out, we have replaced them with 13 W LEDs, or retrofitted the fixture to accept LED lamps

In the bedroom and dining room we installed dimmable halogen fixtures so that we can create ambience.  Halogens are more efficient than regular incandescent lamps especially when dimmed down as ours often are.

fixture with 30W circular fluorecent
fixture with LED lamp retrofit

LED LAMP RETROFIT

When the 30W CFLs wear out  in our ceiling fixtures after 13 years of service, I have been retrofitting them with a regular screw base lamp socket and a 13W 800 lumen warm white LED lamp.  As of February 2014 these LED lamps cost around $10-13, and are rated to last over 25000 hours - much longer than fluorescent lamps.  By upgrading the fixture I am keeping it from the landfill and we get to keep these attractive fixtures (see above).  Here's another retrofit of a torchiere lamp.

I am taking the burned out circular tubes to the landfill where they charge a small fee to recycle them responsibly since they contain mercury.  Regular CFL lamps can be turned in for free at Home Depot, Ikea and Lowe's stores and many other places.
LED disk light
18W 750 Lumen (60W equiv.)
LED disk light




8.6W 430 Lumen LED light bulb in socket
8.6W 430 Lumen (40W equivalent)

LED LIGHTS

When our CFLs wear out we are replacing them with new LED lamps and fixtures that use even less power.  The 18 Watt, 750 Lumen, LED Disk Light from Home Depot at left was $39.00 (in November 2013) and can install into either a ceiling box or recessed fixture.  These lamps provide a very bright slightly cool light and they come on at full brightness almost immediately  - unlike CFLs that take minutes to reach full brightness.  Ideal for high-use areas like hall ways and kitchen, they last over 50,000 hours - about 5X longer than CFLs.

We have also replaced standard CFLs with LED lamps like the 8.6 Watt one at left in our basement stairwell.  This is equivalent to a 40 Watt lamp and fits in most standard fixtures. 

A great resource for purchasing any kind of LED lamp from household to automotive is superbrightLEDs.com.   Their excellent website will guide you to solutions for replacing or upgrading existing incandescent lights.
LED light under counter

LED UNDER COUNTER KITCHEN LIGHTS

We light our kitchen with 4 15 Watt CFL flood lights, but if we just need to use the counter top briefly we have installed 2 LED light strips.  They use about 2 Watts, compared to the typical fixture that would have 3 or more 12 to 35 Watt halogen lamps. See my blog post for more info.

exploding lightbulb with green CFL inside

INCANDESCENT LAMPS BANNED

In the US incandescent lamps were phased out in 2014.  The Clean Energy Act of 2007 has mandated that all incandescent lamps from 150 to 40 Watts will be phased out.  For more info.

electroluminescent night light in outlet

EFFICIENT NIGHT LIGHTS

We use these inexpensive electroluminescent night lights throughout the house, they use less than a penny worth of electricity per year.  By comparison a typical 7 Watt night light left on all day wastes 168 Watt-hours/day or over 5 Kilowatts a month!

They sell in packs of 2 or 3 at most home supply and hardware stores for $3-8.00 each.  While not quite as bright as a night light with an incandescent lamp, they serve the purpose very well.  Click the image to buy some online.

outlet strip
outlet strip
 

wall power module
"wall wart"

PHANTOM LOADS

Stereos and any device with remote control - like VCRs and DVD players all stay on all day waiting for the remote signal, this is called a "phantom load".  That can add up to a lot of power.

Any electronic device that uses a wall adapter (engineers call them "wall warts") is a potential phantom load that can be switched off with an outlet strip or un plugged when the device is not in use.  A simple rule of thumb - if it feels warm it is using energy, so unplug cell phone chargers etc when you are not using them.  Of course cordless phones and answering machines.  But VCRs and DVR (digital video recorders) can be controlled with a timer - see below.

SAVING ELECTRICITY
Kill-a-Watt Meter
Kill-a-Watt Meter

TV/stereo with timer
Timer (white unit)
controls TV + stereo

MEASURING ELECTRIC LOADS

A while ago I purchased a Kill-a-Watt Meter, a simple device that sells for $20-30.  You plug your appliance into it and it displays, Watts, Amps, Volts and Watt hours amongst other things.  Leave your appliance plugged in for a day to see how many kWh it consumes!  It will record how many hours it measured.  Here are some readings I took of our stereo equipment for instance:

DEVICE STANDBY OPERATING
37" LCD TV 1 140
DVD player 4 12
Dish DVR 48 48
Stereo amplifier 2 35
CD player 2 7
TOTAL 57 242

We use a timer (see below) to turn everything on (including DVR) just when we use it which is from 6:00pm to 12:00pm.  This saves us 10.2 kWh each month.  Here in Maine we pay around 13 cents/kWh for electric power and the timer saves us $1.33 per month while reducing fossil fuel sourced electric power from the utility. 

electronic timer

SAVING POWER WITH TIMERS

I use timers that to reduce phantom loads to save power (see above).  One in the house turns my light sculptures and decorative on only in the evening.  I use another to control the heat recovery ventilator in my home office in my very well sealed workshop so it only runs during my office hours in the winter.

The timer that I found uses less than 1 Watt (compared to over 3 Watts for the old mechanical rotary timers) and has a battery backup so it never loses time in a power outage.  It can be set for multiple times/day and only on certain days of the week, it is available from Harbor Freight for under $10.00.  A nice feature is the button at bottom right that allows manual override ON/AUTO/OFF/AUTO.  This makes it simple to turn on the load with 2 button presses and then leave it in AUTO mode to shut down at the next programmed interval.


sensor switch

SAVING POWER WITH A ROOM OCCUPANCY SENSOR SWITCH

When I walk into my workshop, I walk through the ground floor to get to my 2nd floor office.  The light switch is by the front door, and I used to end up leaving it on for hours so that I could see to get back out.  This really bugged me, so I installed a Room Occupancy Sensor Switch in place of the wall switch for about $15.00.   It senses motion in the room from up to 30 feet away and turns on the light for several minutes - and remains on if it sees a moving person.  I can adjust the sensitivity to motion, the time delay, and the room darkness before it will switch on.  It is shown at left with the programming cover removed.  I can press the bottom panel to manually override the switch on or off which I do when leaving the building at night.

Delta surge protectors

PROTECTING ELECTRONICS

If lightning hits your home or power lines you could lose all your electronic equipment.  Think of what that would cost to replace, and the potential data loss from computers!  Not to mention the potential loss of your entire home due to fire.

I installed 3 devices from Delta Surge Protectors, 2 in the circuit breaker box and one in the telephone interface box.  In spring 2007 we had a massive lightning storm and 2 strikes right on the power line that damaged the pole transformer for our house.  The surge protectors saved all our equipment except the cable modem - the surge came in the cable wiring.  This is the best insurance you can buy for your equipment.

We later installed a lightning protection system on both our buildings since our home is on a rise and has had several near misses over the last 8 years.

solar yard light
solar yard light


motion sensor
flood light

OUTDOOR LIGHTING

The path from our house to my workshop is over 70 feet,  on a moonless night it is totally dark our here in the country, so I installed several solar powered floodlights to light my way.  These inexpensive lights use a solar panel to charge a battery inside in the daytime, then turn on automatically at dusk.  Depending on how much sun they get during the day they will vary in brightness and duration at night.

To light our parking area so that we can see to unload our vehicles I installed a motion sensor flood light that turns on for only 5 minutes at a time.  This saves more energy than one that turns on at dusk and stays on all night.

Workshop with solar array on roof 

SOLAR POWER

In August 2009 I installed a 4kW solar electric array (23 175-Watt panels) on the west facing roof of my workshop with the help of friends and neighbors.  My detailed installation blog shows the whole process from financing to completion. 

The system has been expanded over the years and currently has 31 panels with a max rating of 5.7kW.  On a clear summer day, we can generate over 33 kWh which is significantly more than our daily requirements of around 26-28 kWh (including 13kWh required to charge our Chevy Volt).  For reference average US homes use around 30 kWh per day, and Maine average homes average about 17kWh/month since most homes are heated with oil or propane and require no air conditioning.  You can see near real time performance statistics here.  Also I talk about updates to the system on my Living Sustainably blog.

Guy with his solar lawn mower
my solar mower

SOLAR CHARGED LAWN MOWER

In 2005 I converted an old broken 22" gas lawn mower to use a battery powered DC motor that charges from solar power.  This means that I am eliminating one one the most polluting machines that there is, since there are no emission controls on small gas engines.  Also my mower is much quieter and uses free energy!  Click here to learn more about how I did the conversion. 

Cordless electric mowers are available from $400-800 and up, my conversion cost me over $500, and the solar panels and charger add about $400.

energy star logo

ENERGY STAR APPLIANCES

Our major and smaller appliances all have good Energy Star ratings for efficiency.  For instance our 2000 model refrigerator which has a freezer on the bottom with a separate door consumes an average of 225 Watts when running - which is about 40% of the time for a total of about 64kWh/month (2.1kWh/day).  Refrigerators are one of the biggest electrical energy users in the home and replacing old ones can have a dramatic impact on reducing your electric bill.

dishwasher front panel showing buttons and settings
dishwasher set for
Eco mode

USING ENERGY SAVER OPTIONS

Our dishwasher has energy saving features that allow us to set it for Air Dry which does not use the 500 Watt heater.  We also use the Eco setting most of the time to reduce energy as it is a shorter cycle that also uses less water.   We use the delayed start feature to start the wash cycle in the afternoon - after the sun has heated the water in our solar storage tank on sunny days.

Incidentally using a fully loaded dishwasher uses considerably less water than washing them by hand, so we use it for most of our dish washing needs.

water heater
water heater

LOWERED HOT WATER TEMPERATURE

Like most water heaters, our old tank heater came set at a default of around 130F which can scold you in 30 seconds.  I set our new (2010) tankless heater to 115F to reduce our propane consumption.

If you find that you add cold water when washing or showering, then you can turn down the thermostat on your water heater to the point where you no longer add cold water.  This will save all the energy that goes to waste - heating water above the temperature that you actually use.

fiberglass blanket wrapped around water heater tank INSULATING THE WATER HEATER

I wrapped our solar storage tank (a 40 gallon electric water heater that is not wired) with fiberglass a blanket.  This simple inexpensive action will reduce heat losses by 25% - 45%. This will save around 4% - 9% in water heating costs on a regular tank style heater.   Blankets are available at most hardware stores for about $10.00.  Note that they often sell a top piece separately from the side-wrap.

SAVING WATER 
pump installed under sink
pump under sink

CONSERVING HOT WATER

Like many houses, our main bathroom is on the 2nd floor at the far end of the house from the water heater.  A total of about 45 feet of copper pipe that must be heated before hot water arrives at the faucet.  This takes over a minute - longer in colder weather.  This wastes a lot of water (and well pump energy) as we used to run the shower and wait for it to warm up!

I installed a pump made by ACT, Inc. Metlund Systems, for around $330.  This unit conserves water by using a 57 W pump to draw hot water up to the faucet at the press of a button - and re-circulating it back to the water heater, it shuts off once the water is hot enough, typically in less than a minute.   Click the image to learn more.

The Story of Bottled Water, employs the Story of Stuff style to tell the story of manufactured demand — how you get Americans to buy more than half a billion bottles of water every week when it already flows from the tap for free. Over seven minutes, the film explores the bottled water industry’s attacks on tap water and its use of seductive, environmental-themed advertising to cover up the mountains of plastic waste it produces. The film concludes with a call to ‘take back the tap,’ not only by making a personal commitment to avoid bottled water, but by supporting investments in clean, available tap water for all.
PUR faucet mounted water filter

DRINKING WATER

Our water comes from our own well and we run it through a PUR faucet filter to remove the metallic taste of the copper plumbing in the house.  We do not drink bottled water (see above).

low flow shower head
low flow shower head

LOW FLOW SHOWER HEAD

We installed a low flow shower head that I measured at 1.6 Gallons per minute yet it has good pressure and an invigorating spray.  For reference a few years ago average showerheads delivered about 5 to 8 gallons per minute (gpm) at 80 psi (normal city water pressure).  The current standard for low-flow heads is 2.5 gpm at 80 psi.  The pressure from our well pump is a nominal 45psi which aids in reducing flow. 

A 10 minute shower in our home uses about 16 gallons vs 50 gallons at 5 gpm, or 25 gallons at 2.5 gpm.  Here is some interesting info about low flow shower heads.

We could think of our well water as "free" until we consider the 1600 Watts that our well pump uses.

Dual flush adapter has 2 buttons instead of handle

DUAL FLUSH TOILET UPGRADE

I installed Hydroright dual flush adapter kits from ACE Hardware in both our toilets.  At about $25 they are affordable and simple to install, it took me about 20 minutes.  A round fixture replaces the handle, it has 2 buttons - the top one is low flush and the bottom larger button provides a full 1.6 gallon flush.

This can save thousands of gallons a year, and reduce the power needed to operate our well 1600 Watt pump.

Staber clothes washer
Staber washer

EFFICIENT CLOTHES WASHER

We purchased an ultra efficient washing machine in 2001. Staber washers use 67% less water, 50% less energy, and 75% less detergent compared to traditional top load agitator washers. It is the only top load horizontal-axis washer made in the U.S. There are also many design advantages compared to front load washers.

It is super reliable, my first repair after 13 years took only 1/2 hour and was easy because the front is removable to gain access to the entire mechanism.

While these units are pricey at around $1300, the energy savings pays for it rather quickly.  It saves electricity on our well pump which is a significant energy user (240 Volt, 1600 Watt), not to mention propane used for water heating and electricity costs to operate the washer.  My wife says it can be rough on delicates though.

home made rain barrell
50 gallon rain barrel

RAIN BARRELS

We have a 50 gallon rain barrel that we use in the warmer months that captures water from the house roof, it has a hose spigot on the bottom.  We use the water on the garden and vegetable beds to reduce the load on our well pump.  

I made my barrel from a surplus 50 gallon fertilizer barrel obtained for $10.00 from the local feed store.  I painted the white translucent plastic dark green to prevent the sunlight from causing algae growth, and installed a hose bib at the bottom.  I  raised it on bricks so it was above the level of the garden to improve the flow.  A cover prevents debris from entering.

A company in Maryland called Aquabarrel sells barrels and kits for conversions along with downspout adapters etc.

house with solar collectors
solar collectors on wall

utility closet showing propane water heater and solar storage tank
water heater and
solar storage tank

SOLAR WATER HEATING

In July 2006 I purchased and installed a complete solar kit that augments the propane domestic hot water heater.  The solar collectors mounted on the south wall of the house pipe heat into a 40 gallon storage tank when the sun is shining.  This tank feeds into the propane water heater which now runs much less often.

Solar water heaters are one of the simplest, and least expensive ways to reduce energy in your home with an average installed cost of $4-8000.  The design goal is to reduce the energy required to heat water by 75% per year, with a 90% savings in the summer.  See real-time performance stats here.

My system cost me $3200 but my net cost after Maine State's 25% refund and the 30% Federal tax incentive was $1440 (not including installation which I did with friends and neighbors).   To learn more about solar incentives visit the DSIRE web site for state by state listings.  The calculated break-even on the net $1440 cost was around 4.5 years.

To find a solar installing contractor in your area, click here.
Click the images to learn more.

propane tanklkess water heater

DEMAND WATER HEATER

In June 2010 our propane fired water heater tank blew a leak, so we replaced it with a Rinnai R75LSi tankless propane unit.  This reduces the standby heat loss from the tank and operates more efficiently since propane is only used when hot water is needed.  We can set it in 5F increments and usually leave it at 115F, occasionally raising it to 120F as needed. 

Most standard water heaters come set at around 130F which is dangerously hot and can scald you within 30 seconds.  Suggestion: try locating the thermostat setting on your water heater and turning it down a tiny amount every day until you or someone in your household notices the water is not warm enough.  At this point you can turn it back up another notch.  You will probably find that when taking a shower you no longer need to mix cold water in and will save a substantial amount of energy.

ENERGY MONITORING
7 day chart of solar power

Solar DHW 48 hour collector chart
I have installed energy monitoring equipment with live web interfaces to make my renewable energy sources transparent:

Solar electric power generated vs utility power consumed

Solar domestic water heater

Solar building heating system for my workshop


Heat recovery ventilation system temperatures

Also check out my weather station web page
HEATING AND COOLING
infrared thermal image of house

STUDYING HEAT LOSS

In December 2008 I conducted a detailed infrared thermal study of the outside of both our buildings, see the images and my observations here.  Most home energy auditors will use a thermal imaging camera inside your home to evaluate exterior insulation.
workshop with solar collectors
solar collectors

SOLAR HEATING

In 2001 I built a solar augmented heating system for my workshop.  You can see all the details of that project on my site.  Solar heated water is used to heat the radiant concrete floor via tubing embedded in the concrete.  On a sunny winter day this system will heat the building to 70F when the outside temperatures are as low as 32F.  A tankless propane heater augments the stored solar heated water as needed.  I use less than 400 gallons of propane and less than 1 cord of wood per heating season in my 1200sq. ft. workshop, see my annual usage stats here And see the real-time performance stats here (fall/winter/spring months only).

To find a solar installing contractor in your area, click here.
Click the image to learn more about my detailed installation blog.

frost wall with insulation

INSULATING EXPOSED FROST WALLS

The frost walls of my workshop are exposed above ground by up to 24" in places.  So I covered them with 2" of blue foam board and exterior sheathing.  This reduces the heat loss dramatically along the base of the interior walls.  Where practical, I also added 2 inches of foam horizontally coming out from the wall up to 2 feet.  This is sloped away from the building so that it drains correctly.  For every foot out from the wall you gain the equivalent insulation a foot down below grade.

basement wall with blue foam insulation

ADDING EXTERIOR INSULATION

To improve the insulation of the exposed concrete walls of the daylight basement in our home, I added 4" of rigid foam insulation to the outside.  This adds about R24 to the wall and should prevent it from remaining below freezing for much of the winter.  It's a simple and relatively inexpensive process to add rigid foam to any exterior wall and the benefits can be significant in cold climates.  Click the image to learn more.

Foam insulation around door frame

INSULATING DOOR AND WINDOW FRAMING

During our energy audit in November 2008 we found several doors and windows with air leaks from around the framing.  Here I show how I removed the trim and found huge gaps that required filling with spray in foam.  Click the image to learn more.  After sealing up these gaps, we noticed that the humidity level in the house was higher in the winter and no longer needed a humidifier in our bedroom to maintain comfortable humidity.

Spraying in Corbond insulation
spray in foam insulation

second floor with sprayed in foam insulation


sprayed in foam detail

BUILDING INSULATION

When I converted my open barn to a heated work space, the first thing I did was to contract the installation of spray in isocyanurate foam (Corbond) that completely seals the building with high R value insulation (R7.5/inch).   My workshop is considered "super insulated" with R30 walls and R45 roof, and it is very well sealed around doors and windows.

For new construction I recommend spraying in 1 to 2" of foam and then adding fiberglass over that.  This yields the best performance characteristics of both types for the best price per dollar in my opinion.  Another popular choice is blown in dense pack cellulose.

The single best way to reduce your heating and cooling energy costs is to insulate your building envelope well.  Most buildings are poorly insulated and have many air leaks that allow heat to escape.  Simply identifying and sealing the cracks around doors and windows can dramatically reduce your heating costs -- see above.

solar attic vent on roof

A SOLAR ATTIC VENT HELPS COOL MY OFFICE

This simple, elegant vent only works when the sun is shining and heating up the attic above the office in my workshop.  It has reduced the attic temperature in my workshop by 20F to 30F and I have noticed it does not get as hot in my second story office in the middle of the summer.

heat recovery ventilator mounted to wall off utility room
HRV unit

A HEAT RECOVERY VENTILATION SYSTEM

The drawback of having a very well sealed building envelope is that indoor air quality can suffer.  One needs to exchange all the air in a building about every 3 hours for optimum health.  While this is easy in the summer as the windows can be opened, it is not sensible to leave them open in the winter!  An HRV system uses blowers to exchange the air in the building while recovering most of the heat that leaves the building and using it to heat the incoming air. 

The unit I installed is relatively inexpensive and is over 84% efficient.  The air in the building feels fresh all day and I just feel better and more energized at work.  Click the image to learn more.


ERV vent

A SINGLE ROOM ENERGY RECOVERY VENT FOR OUR HOME

Our well constructed home was built in 2000, and over the years we have succeeded in tightening it up to the point that the air inside is not being replaced sufficiently for good health and when we seal up the windows in the winter we find that kitchen smells linger for many hours.  Clearly, we needed more fresh air!

I decided to install a single room Energy Recovery Ventilator called the TwinFresh Comfo.   It installs in a 6 inch diameter hole in an exterior wall and consumes just over 5 Watts.  It is over 90% efficient at bringing fresh warm airinto the home during the winter. 

digital thermostats
digital thermostat

PROGRAMMABLE THERMOSTATS

In my workshop I installed 2 digital programmable thermostats.  I set back the heat outside my business/working hours to save heating energy when I'm not using the space.  There are 3 types available: 24 hour, weekday/weekend, and 7 day timers.   My thermostat allows me to set 4 different temperatures at 4 adjustable times each day on weekdays and different settings on weekends.

wood stove
wood stove
Wood stove emissions

HEATING WITH CLEAN BURNING WOOD STOVES

We heat my wife's basement work space with a wood stove, and I also supplement the solar/propane heating in my workshop with a stove that I added in 2005 Replacing an old wood stove or fireplace with a more energy efficient appliance can save fuel, money and protect you and your family’s health. Older stoves that were manufactured before 1990 burn wood inefficiently which wastes firewood, pollutes the air in your neighborhood and creates dust inside your home. Newer stoves can reduce smoke and dust, as well as cut heating expenses.  Our Regency F3100 stove is 77% efficient for instance.  I also improved the effectiveness of my workshop stove with a heat reclaimer.

firewood cut and stacked 

FIREWOOD 1

I fell trees on our 2.5 acre wooded property that I cut with an electric chain saw.  I split the cut wood by hand, and stack it to season for 6-9 months before burning.  Heating with wood is carbon neutral and renewable, so long as responsible forestry management practices are used.

cutting firewood with a chop saw
cutting firewood

FIREWOOD 2

In addition to felling trees on our property, I also gather standing dead wood from our woods and windrows that I cut up and stack inside.   This dry wood lights easily and burns clean.

Poulan electric chain saw

ELECTRIC CHAIN SAW

I use a Poulan 16" electric chain saw on a 100ft 10 gauge cord.  It's just as powerful as gas ones without the smelly gasoline, noise or pollution!  I have felled 50ft trees that were over 20" at the base with this saw.  It is essentially solar powered since it runs off our solar power system during daylight hours.

Oregon PowerNow cordless electric chainsaw

CORDLESS ELECTRIC CHAIN SAW

To fell trees from our back woods, I use an Oregon PowerNow CS250E 14-Inch lithium powered cordless chain saw.  This is a very powerful saw that can cut down trees like a regular gas saw.  I fell hardwood trees up to 12" diameter at the base and cut them into portable length logs that I carry to my cutting/splitting station.  where I buck them into shorter lengths with my corded electric saw (above).

Marvin window
Marvin Window

Windo-therm panel detail view showing mounting clips
AEP insulating panel

WINDOW INSULATION PANELS

Windows are the single largest source of heat loss in most homes.  The folks that built our home in 2000 installed very good  Marvin windows.  These units are wood framed with tightly sealed vinyl sliders and they have dual pane low E glass filled with inert gas.  With all these features they have a very high R value (about R-3) and low air leakage.

My workshop came with very inexpensive wood windows that were loose fitting and drafty.  In the winter I seal them from the inside using AEP window insulation panels.  These light weight double glazed plastic panels clip onto the inside of the window frame like a window screen and form an airtight barrier that seals the window with double pane plastic.  At around $9.00 per square foot they represent the least expensive off-the-shelf solution for leaky windows in older homes. 

In February 2008 we installed these panels throughout the ground floor of our home, click here to learn more.

window panel detail
window panel detail

MAKE YOUR OWN INEXPENSIVE
WINDOW INSULATION PANELS

In 2008 my friend Topher designed a home-made version of the panels above.  The cost of materials is under $1.30/sq.ft. compared to over $9.00/sq.ft. for commercially made ones (above) and they are just as effective and almost as attractive.  Click here  for detailed instructions on making these yourself.

window screen laying on grass

WINDOW SCREENS

Every Fall I take down all the window screens on the house and workshop when I install the window panels above.  This gives us an estimated 30% gain in sunlight through the windows which can really contribute some heat to the interior during the winter.  I put them up when we start to see bugs in the spring.

Windows with pleated shades installed

pleated shade detail showing side track

INSULATING WINDOW SHADES

Our passive solar home has many south facing windows in the master bedroom and 1st floor living/dining area.  Even though we have the best windows we can afford - double pane, gas filled, low-E, wood framed with sealed vinyl sliders the R value is still only around 3.

cutaway view of pleated window shadeWe installed high R value pleated honeycomb window shades in all 5 windows of our bedroom that add about R4.6 to the windows when they are lowered fully.  They are made to order by Symphony Shades.  Each shade comes with side tracks that hold the shade and prevent air leakage around the sides.  Symphony shades are expensive but they will dramatically reduce our heating  loads in the winter, so we should recover the cost in a few years.  They are available in various styles from light filtering to room darkening, with a range of decorative colors to choose from.  We chose room darkening ones so that we can sleep in after the sun is up.  We are very pleased with these attractive units and they seem to work very well - at least the propane monitor room heater seems to run a lot less in the winter.  On frigid but sunny winter days we open them early for the solar gain and close them at dusk.

raised vegetable beds
vegetable beds

HOME GROWN FOOD

We have 5 raised vegetable beds that we seed with various veggies including peppers, rhubarb, tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, peas, beans, chard and a variety of herbs such as basil, dill, chives and rosemary.

We actively maintain and prune our 4 high bush blueberry bushes that produce a bountiful crop.  And our crab apple tree produces 30+ lbs of fruit from which we can make dozens of jars of crabapple butter per year (2009).

We also make an effort to purchase locally grown and organically produced foods from local farmers at the farmers market and local natural food stores..

RECYCLING
recycling logo

RECYCLING

Our small rural town (pop. 2500+) started curb side pickup of mixed stream recycling in 2010.  This includes cardboard, paper, newspaper, clear glass, plastic (5 types), tin and aluminum.  Our town now recycles more than 40% of our waste stream.

With 2 home offices we end up with a lot of paper that we can recycle.  Since we ship and receive a lot of goods, we re-use as many cardboard boxes as we can yet we still have a lot of packing materials to recycle.  We take our surplus packing peanuts and bubble wrap to the local shipping store for re-use.  In the winter we are able to utilize newspaper and cardboard to light our wood stoves as well, cardboard makes excellent kindling.

Styrofoam recycling - what to return STYROFOAM RECYCLING

Until recently there was no way to recycle the crumbly white Styrofoam packing that many larger products come packed in.  A Florida company RecycleTech will recycle any Styrofoam that you send them (at your cost by first class mail).  Just mail it to them in the original box the product came in, but first remove all extraneous bags, labels etc.  Note that shipping this stuff can get expensive, even by Parcel Post!

starch peanut dissolving in water cup vs. styrofoam that does not

PACKING PEANUTS

There are 2 types of peanuts currently in use: starch based and Styrofoam. 

The starch peanuts dissolve in water and can be disposed in the trash or compost.  A quick test, touch one to your tongue, if it sticks - it's starch, if not it's styrofoam.

We re-use the Styrofoam peanuts to ship our products, or take them to our local packing/shipping store in re-used store bags.  Most packing stores welcome your contributions.   

compost jar
compost jar

Envirocycle composter
envirocycle composter

COMPOST

We cook mostly vegetarian meals, and keep a compost container on the kitchen counter.  All our vegetable scrap goes in this well made ceramic jar which has a lid with a carbon filter in it to reduce the smell.  Of course we try to empty it before the point where the contents start to rot!

Note, if you get fruit flies in your kitchen from your compost bin, a good way to eliminate them is to put out a shallow bowl with apple vinegar in it and a drop or 2 of dish washing liquid.  The flies are attracted to the vinegar because it smells like rotting fruit and the detergent reduces the surface tension so they drown.

We dump the contents into our EnviroCycle composter which sits at the corner of our front porch.  This is the best unit we have found since it is so easy to use, just turn it over 3 times every so often to mix the contents.  There is no smell, and the roller base collects the compost "tea" which when diluted makes excellent fertilizer.  The compost itself gets dug in to our flower and vegetable beds.

The Story of Electronics,  takes on the electronics industry’s “design for the dump” mentality and champions product take back to spur companies to make less toxic, more easily recyclable and longer lasting products. The eight-minute film explains  ‘planned obsolescence’—products designed to be replaced as quickly as possible—and its often hidden consequences for tech workers, the environment and us.

You can locate an e-waste processing center through eStewards.org a site dedicated to responsible recycling of e-waste.
zip lock freezer bags trying on dish rack
drying zip lock baggies

RE-USING ZIP LOCK BAGGIES

By simply rinsing them out we re-use baggies many times over before they wear out or we leave food in them so long it gets moldy!  We use the stronger freezer type bags since they last longer.

various rechargeable batteries
rechargeable batteries
RBRC link

BATTERY RECYCLING

We recycle all our rechargeable batteries by taking them to local drop off sites which are located in retail stores nationwide (including Radio Shack and Lowe's hardware stores) that are organized by the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) .  Click here to find your nearest drop off site.  I have recycled batteries from laptops, emergency lights, cameras, power tools, cell phones etc.  Rechargeable batteries contain toxic cadmium, lithium, lead, acid and other chemicals that don't belong in our landfills.

Did you know that automobile lead/acid batteries have been recycled since the beginning of the auto industry?  They are one of the most recycled products in the world!

ink cartridge
printer cartridge

PRINTER CARTRIDGE RECYCLING

Staples stores offer a credit to their Rewards customers for cartridges, so we turn ours in.  There are many other ways to recycle these expensive items.

REDUCING WASTE
Story of Stuff The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever. 
Click image to view movie
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prepaid return envelope stamped with "please remove from your mailing list"

REDUCING JUNK MAIL

I made a rubber stamp that says "please remove from your mailing list - thanks".  When I get any junk mail that has a prepaid return envelope and a return order/contribution form, I stamp the form and return it in the envelope provided.  Eventually they get the message.

You can also sign up with the National Do Not Mail List, it's free and easy to get yourself removed from catalog mailings.  This only works with direct mail advertizing, the rubber stamp will work with non-profit and political mail.

canvas shopping bag

PAPER OR PLASTIC? . . . NEITHER!

Both types of bag have trade-offs that are unacceptable.  We use cloth bags to carry our groceries, and re-cycle the plastic and paper bags from other stores.  Whenever practical I decline the use of a shopping bag from most stores.

graphic of garbage can with red X across it

FIX IT - DON'T TOSS IT

When something breaks my first impulse as a "well trained American consumer" is to toss it an buy a new one.   But I have a broad range of skills that I can apply to repairing everything from furniture to electronics. 

Case in point: our 37" flat screen LCD TV stopped working, the HD input failed.  I opened it up and identified the motherboard.  By looking up the make and model on-line I found a supplier of surplus replacement parts.  At a cost of a little over $100 I found a replacement board.  It took about an hour to replace using nothing more than a screwdriver, ingenuity and patience.  See my blog post about this.

septic ank pumping cartoon
septic pumping

SEPTIC TANK

Every 5 years or so we have our 1000 gallon septic tank pumped out.  The company that provides this service, Pat Jackson Inc., delivers the contents to a processing facility that recycles the waste into fertilizer.  This particular form of recycling came as a surprise to us too!  Yes, I know, you're thinking "These guys even recycle their own shit!"

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If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. 
What have you done to reduce your non-renewable energy consumption?