Friday, February 29, 2008

What I've done so far

So far in our efforts to reduce our impact, we have done some basics. Remember we are renters so our list of changes may not reflect what you can do in your situation. For example we....

-Replaced our light bulbs with energy efficient CFL's. I know these are generally more expensive then incandescents initially, however over time they can save you a lot of cash. In fact, using the calculator at the Energy Star website I find we will conservatively save more then $800 over the life of the bulbs. That is using their best case life expectation for the incandescents (1,000 hours) and their worse case for the CFL's (6,000 hours). You can also lower your up front cost by watching for sales and checking out those stores that sell buyout items from other stores like we did.

-Improved our recycling habits. We have actually been doing this for years, however by changing some of our purchasing habits as well as continuing to teach our kids what goes where we have gotten much better. In fact our family of four can often go a month without needing to take our trash container to the curb. The only downside is our recycling container fills faster then the twice a month pick up.

-Began gardening this past summer. You can read about my lazy square foot garden, but for starters we had some fresh veggies on our back porch and some shade helping to prevent heat radiating into our living room which in turn lowered the need for our air conditioner. This year I hope to do better and will plant things to grow directly in front of those windows.

-Started using Freecycle which helps to keep items you no longer need in use by someone who does. This means preventing, or at least postponing when it goes to the landfill. It also means a new item does not need to be made to replace it.

-Stopped buying stuff. Not completely of course, but now we really think about whether we really need the item. Does it really fill a need or are we getting it because everyone else has one? In addition we have scaled back on services we use. I will talk more about that later too, but basically we decide if the cost justifies the time we must work to pay for it. I think going green is not just about direct environmental impact, but also in how the decisions you make will affect the time you have to spend working to pay for the things you buy.

-Are using energy efficient front loading washer and dryers. Not only do they use less electricity and water, but we run it with cold water saving energy and money that way as well. In addition, we wash the laundry using the detergent made for the machine in half the recommended amount. To increase the cleaning power, we use between 1/4 and 1/2 cup baking soda bought in bulk. This gets the clothes nice and clean without making them smell perfumey as well. If the clothes smell strong, we add a half cup vinegar to the wash. The vinegar also prevents static if you have a problem with it and we no longer need softener. This saves money, the clothes smell better and they last longer as well (fabric softener breaks down the fabric fibers, that's why they feel softer).

-Run our dishwasher on time saver mode and air dry. Our machine seems to work just fine with a basic wash, and we are not in such a hurry that we need to spend more money and energy on running the dry cycle. Some people think you can save water by doing it by hand, but I read a report a bit back that shows modern machines use less then the average person because we tend to let the water run between dishes. In other words, we are generally less efficient then the machine now days.

-Have placed gallon jugs in the water tanks of our toilets saving one gallon of water for every flush. Not only does this save water, it lowers our sewage bill since that is based on our water consumption. Why pay for that extra gallon twice when it isn't needed in the first place? If we were home owners we would invest in low flow toilets as funds allow.

Photography by Bill Davenport

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Just legalize it

Should renting or leasing solar panels qualify the company providing them as a utility company? That is what the Nevada Public Utilities Commission is set to decide in the very near future.

If the PUCN has its way, residents choosing to go solar may have no choice but to pony up 10's of thousands of dollars to do so. And this in a time when several companies are stepping up to make providing yourself with clean renewable energy affordable for almost any homeowner.

The PUCN claims providing panels in this way would be a duplication of service and if allowed, the various services would need to be further regulated and broken into specific territories. All because a few forward thinking companies see a market in providing affordable solar.

I wonder if companies renting gas powered emergency generators had to go through these sorts of hoops in order to rent you their systems.

More likely someone is afraid their monopoly is at risk of facing a bit of competition. Can you imagine what the future of energy will look like once the average person is finally able to choose what is best for themselves?

It's about time our free market system started acting like one.

Photography by Agata Urbaniak

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Kicking our oil addiction

How do we finally wean ourselves off of non renewable sources of energy? There are more opinions and heated arguments on this then many other topics but the Solar Grand Plan is one of the most comprehensive plans I have seen so far.

The basic jist is to build a variety of power generation sources using primarily solar energy due to its abundance and other sources such as wind and hydro as well as underground compressed air storage to supply stored energy at night.

They focus on solar farms as the key source of energy for the article, but realize that distributed sources(solar, wind, hydro etc.) generated at the point of use are necessary as well. In addition to providing a well thought out plan and article, the authors continue to discuss and answer any questions as they arise in the comment section that follows.

I highly recommend this article even if only to peak your interest in what is possible with todays technology. In my honest opinion, the only reason we are not further along in our use of renewable energy is because the average person is not truly aware of our current capabilities.
Photography by Dan MacDonald

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Who'd of thought typing could save the planet?

So I have finally learned how to type.

What does this have to do with going green you ask? Well, the way I figure it, I can save time and energy by being more efficient when I write conserving both calories (translating into less travel needed for groceries) and electricity needed to run this computer. Or it would if I could type more than 6 and half words a minute.

To be honest, I put it in here because of the method I am using to type. When I Googled for free programs to learn how to type (see, I am conserving money) I ran across something called the Dvorak keyboard. It caught my attention with its claims of being easier to learn and much less work then the Qwerty method (see, yet more ways for a lazy guy like me to conserve). As if that wasn't enough it claims to dramatically reduce RSI due to having been designed around the needs of the typist rather then the old style typewriter that Qwerty was designed for.

I won't take up much more time discussing Dvorak because as you will find in your own searches, a lot has already been said. I did want to leave you with some links I have found useful though.

You can learn how to change your keyboard to Dvorak for free here.

If you would like to have something to help visually until you get the keyboard down you can print a copy here.

For a bare bones basic course you can look here and for a more advanced course with timing and games you can go here.

After about a week now I will tell you I am very happy with my decision. In the past I have made a few failed attempts to learn how to type and this is the only time it has stuck. The layout makes sense and most words can be typed using just two rows of keys which is important for someone like me.

Now to build up to a respectable speed so I can write a post like this in less then three ours.

Photography by Erik Dungan