20 posts categorized "Green Living"

11/11/2011

A Little Energy Geekiness and Just in Time for Christmas!

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                As an energy geek, I love my toys.  I have a lot of energy saving toys like a thermal imaging camera, hygrometers, smoke sticks, home energy monitors, and a combustion analyzer to name a few.  I love playing with my toys.  The home energy monitor is a great toy to teach you how to save money because it shows you what you are pulling off the grid in real time.  My monitor is from TED (The Energy Detective) and it cost me about $200 a few years back.  It came with some great software that allows me to hook it up to my computer and produce some graphs.  I have one qualm with my monitor and that is that my computer has to be up and running in order to use the graphing portion of the software.  That means it has to be up and running, which means it is on even though I am not using it.  In other words, I am wasting energy to save energy.

                 I have found a solution to my problem, and just in time for Christmas!  And, of course, it is from Apple.                  Apple has proven itself as a company that completely changes the playing field in whatever field it chooses to enter, whether that is music, computers or cell phones.  Now Apple is indirectly completely changing the field of thermostats. 

                Two former employees of Apple,  Matt Rogers and Tony Fadell, have teamed up together to use the same type of engineering design that they learned at Apple and apply it to the field of energy conservation with their new firm NEST.  The NEST Learning Thermostat has all of the features that make Apple products so appealing to the masses.  It is simple, incredibly user friendly (something not many people say about their thermostat) and the best part is that it’s software is upgradable over time.  That means that this already incredible thermostat will do even more in the future which is mind boggling to think about.

                The design of the thermostat is a simple circular touch screen with no other buttons, very reminiscent of the original iPods with the single circular button controls.  To raise or lower the temperature in the house you just grab the outside of the round thermostat and turn clockwise or counter-clockwise.  Each time you make an adjustment the thermostat remembers what day of the week and time of the day that you made the change to learn what your preferences are for particular days and times.  No actual programming on your part.  No endless series of menus to flip through to simply change the temperature for Saturday morning at 8 a.m.  This is sheer brilliance.

                To make it even better, the thermostat has a little green leaf that appears on the circular face to tell you when you have made a selection that will help you save money.  Nothing like a little feedback to help you make better choices.  This amazing little device is also equipped with an occupancy sensor which knows when you are coming and going so it can make adjustments to the temperature for you.  It even learns at what time you typically go to bed and makes adjustments for that as well.

                Have guests coming in from out of town in the middle of the day and need to warm things up at your house for them?  No problem.  Just access your NEST thermostat from your cell phone or office computer and change the temperature remotely.  You have a nice cozy house to greet your guests and you didn’t have to run home to do it.

                But the greatest feature of all, this thing is a mini energy monitor without the hard wired computer connection 

                I love things that help me save money.  I especially like devices that save me money without even having to think about it ( Nest claims 30 % on your energy bills).  Check out the video for yourself at www.nest.com.  I know you will be impressed, I sure was.  These things can be preordered now for $250 and Best Buy will begin shipping them next month.  So, you think there will be people lining up at midnight to get new thermostats like they do for Apple cell phones?  I think I might just have to do that. 

10/14/2011

Mercury in Your CFL's

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                I have been telling everyone that I don’t have any incandescent lights at my house at all.  Years ago we made the switch to CFL’s and we love them.  But I recently found myself changing out a light bulb and I realized that it was an incandescent and when I replaced it I dug around in the basement and found that box of old incandescent bulbs and I replaced it with another incandescent.  Are you shocked?  Someone like me who touts saving money on my electric bills and pushes CFL’s on everyone I meet and here I am replacing a burnt out incandescent with another incandescent?

                I know it sounds crazy, but I have found a use for those old incandescent and they are doing exactly what I want, producing heat.  We raise chickens.  I have two coops full of chickens.  I don’t know if my chickens actually get cold or not, they can’t tell me.  But just to be on the safe side I install a light on a photocell in their coops so they can have a source of heat through the night. 

                As much sense as switching to CFL’s makes, I still run into people who are resistant to making the change.  One of the reasons I hear against CFL’s is the fact that they contain mercury and that could be hazardous if they should happen to break.  You can rest assured that if one of your CFL bulbs should break, your house will not turn into a superfund site.

                CFL’s do contain mercury.  In fact, according to the energystar.gov website, they contain 4mg a piece.  This number is going down and as recently as this past year one manufacturer had gotten the mercury content of their bulbs down to under 1 mg.  Advancements in the technology are increasing rapidly.  Usage of the light bulb binds the mercury to the interior of the glass of the light bulb.  So even if you did break one, the entire 4 mg isn’t going to even make it onto your floor.  There are guidelines for cleaning up a broken CFL on the energystar.gov website, most of which is common sense like wear gloves and wipe with a cloth that you will not be using again.

                To help you better understand how much is 4 mg, think of the thermometers that we used when we were kids.  You know the ones without batteries.  They contained 500 mg of mercury which would be like 125 CFL bulbs.  I remember breaking one in college chem lab and chasing the little balls of mercury around the lab and I lived to tell about it.

                The single largest source of mercury in our environment is from the production of electricity.  When you burn coal, the largest source of energy in the U.S., you pump mercury into the atmosphere.  This mercury is then rained down onto the surface of the earth and will generally collect in our water bodies after the next rainstorm.  Once in our rivers and lakes, it is absorbed by the fish population which is then caught and eaten by humans.  Fish is then the largest source of mercury ingested by humans, not CFL’s.  Are you still eating fish?

                There is a great table on the energystar.gov website that compares an incandescent to a CFL.  Let’s assume that both of these two light bulbs burn for 8000 hours.  During that time period, the incandescent will use much more electricity because it takes more Watts for an incandescent to put out the same amount of lumens (measurement of light) as a CFL.  The amount of mercury released into the atmosphere from the coal burned to illuminate those two light bulbs will be 1.2 mg for the CFL and 5.5 mg for the Incandescent.  Now let’s say that you do a very bad thing after those 8000 hours and you don’t recycle your CFL, but rather throw it into the landfill, crushing it and releasing the mercury within it.  This would add another .44 mg bringing the total contamination to 1.6 mg while the incandescent bulb remains at 5.5 mg since it contains no mercury.  As you can see 5.5 mg released due to the use of the incandescent is more than 4 times the amount of mercury released by the CFL.  And you can even reduce that amount further by disposing of the bulb properly by taking it to a CFL recycling center like one of your big box hardware stores.

                So you see that using a CFL is better for you and the environment in every way.  So go ahead and change out those old light bulbs, even if they are still working and put in some CFL’s and start saving yourself some money!  You can tuck those old ones away for chickens.  That’s about all they’re good for.

10/04/2011

My Top Ten List Item #10

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            Ever thought about buying a rain barrel?  Just too nutty crunchy for you?  What would the neighbors think?  Buy one anyway.  You can get those food grade plastic barrels several places and they are very reasonable in price.  The hardware to fit them with a hose to fill your watering bucket and the overflow hose are fairly inexpensive as well and you can do all the work yourself.  Check out some step by step instructions at http://www.epa.gov/region3/p2/make-rainbarrel.pdf.  I would make one change; make sure to extend the outlet pipe at least 10 feet from your foundation.  Moist crawl spaces and wet basement walls are the devil’s handiwork.  Extending your downspouts at least 10 feet from your house will do wonders for helping keep your underside nice and dry.  Dry crawl spaces and basements make for healthier air in the living spaces above them and houses that feel more comfortable.

                If DIY projects are not your thing, there are easier ways of harvesting rainwater.  One of the best looking rain barrels I have ever seen is the Rain Hog at www.rainwaterhog.com.  They are rectangular containers that mount against your house near your downspout.  You can mount only one or several together with each one having a 50 gallon capacity.  They originally were olive green in color but they have more recently started selling them in several different colors.  They are flat and mount close to the house and are the least barrel like.

                Whichever type of barrel you choose,  you will be doing wonders for your water bill by watering with rainwater instead of tap water.  And remember, don’t forget to extend those downspouts!

09/14/2011

My Top Ten List Item #9

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There are lots of ways to save energy.  One way to save is to reduce the amount of water you use.  Sure, you could take shorter showers or turn the water off when you are brushing your teeth, but that all takes thought and changing our habits and we all know how likely that is.  A much simpler way to save water without even thinking is to install aerators on all of your faucets and low flow shower heads in your showers.  The Environmental Protection Agency says “If one out of every 100 American homes retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, we could save about 100 million kWh of electricity per year – avoiding 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.”  That’s a lot of water and all without even thinking or changing any of my habits. 

Now, I have a test for you.  Get a 2 qt saucepan out of your kitchen and head to the shower.  Yes, the shower.  Place the saucepan on the floor of the shower right in the center of the shower discharge and turn it on.  If it takes less than 12 seconds to fill the pan, you need a low flow shower head with an aerator.  It doesn’t take away from your shower experience, it just helps you save money.  Changing out your shower head  could help you use as much as 50% less water!  How does that save you money if you pump it out of the ground instead of paying for your water?  I have teenagers.  Have you seen how long they can stay in a hot shower?  Nuff said?

Next, you need to check out your kitchen faucet.  You want an aerator to lower the flow rate of this fixture as well.  The thing to keep in mind in the kitchen is that you routinely are filling pots and things for cooking so you don’t want to lower the flow as much as you would in the bathroom where you are only washing your hands and brushing your teeth.

All faucet aerators have WaterSense ratings on them to insure that you are getting an aerator that has a flow rating that falls under the EPA recommendations.  For your kitchen think about purchasing one that is between 2.0 – 2.5 gallons per minute or gpm.  For your bathroom you can go as low at 1.5 gpm and never even notice the difference.  If you have no aerator at all now, you will probably be reducing your flow by as much as half.

You can find aerators and shower heads at any hardware store and the prices will vary depending on the manufacturer, just remember to look for the WaterSense label when you buy!

08/20/2011

My Top Ten List Item #8

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Thank goodness, our weather has broken a little lately.  This wonderful, not hot, not cold, somewhere in the perfect middle temperature.  This is the perfect time to head into your attic.  Any other time of the year and it would be unbearable.  Right now, before the temperatures climb into the upper 90’s again outside and into the 140’s in your attic, Get into your attic and let’s assess the situation.  Do you even have insulation in your attic?  I see a lot of attics and you would be surprised how many attics have no insulation or at least none in a portion of their attic.  Do you have blown in insulation?  Take a 12” ruler with you and push it down into the insulation beside a ceiling joist.  How many inches do you have?  You need at least 13” to just meet code and we all know that code is just the bare minimum.  Chances are you have a lot less because insulation compresses over time and loses some of it’s ability to protect you from the extreme temperatures in your attic.  The picture above shows insulation that was blown off of the bathroom ceiling from ahigh winds through the eave vent.  Do you have batt type insulation?  Is it everywhere?  Are there portions missing or pushed out of the way? 

The sad fact is that most houses that we inspect are missing insulation or the insulation is compromised in some way.  If you don’t know enough about insulation to know if what you have is enough or if it is functioning the way it should, call an energy auditor to come and make a quick evaluation.  A little professional advice to help you evaluate and decide if you need more insulation may help keep you from making some costly mistakes.   The most important decision when adding insulation to your attic is to purchase the right type.  Don’t know what kind of insulation would work best in your attic?  Get an Energy Audit.  Have the whole house and the insulation evaluated and ask for a written report.  The report should explain in detail what needs to be addressed and how to address it. 

So take advantage of the next few days and head to your attic and take a look.  Find something that concerns you, send me a picture, I’d love to help you out. E.guinn@DanGuinnHomes.com

08/08/2011

My Top Ten List Item #7

Dryer pipe
Since you have been using your dryer so much more now, it’s time to do a little maintenance on your dryer.  While it is unplugged, go ahead and pull it out and disconnect that dryer vent.  Get yourself a long handled duster like a swiffer and start at the dryer end and  clean out the hose.  Go as far as you can from the inside then head outside.  Take of the cover on the outside and clean from the outside end as well.  Dryer vents should not be too long so you should be able to get to the entire line by cleaning from both ends.  Depending on which kind of dryer vent pipe you have, the job will either be an easy one or a hard one. 

The best type of dryer vent pipe is the hard metal pipe.  The smooth interior surface makes this kind of pipe a cinch to clean out.  The lint will simply wipe away and fall out.  The flexible type of dryer piping is not so easy to clean.  If this is what you have, and most people do, you will have to wipe it several times and keep checking to see if you got it all.  Keep at it, dryer lint is a tremendous fire hazard, and is especially a problem in the flexible type of piping since is much more flammable.  You may even find some little critters in your vent when you reach in from the outside, they need to relocate as well. 

Check yours frequently, we check them when we do audits and it’s rare that we find one that isn’t at least partially clogged up.  Cleaning your dryer vent helps to improve the efficiency of the unit, that is, when you turn it back on right?  I would love to see a picture of what you found in your dryer!  Share your picture with me at e.guinn@DanGuinnHomes.com or attach it here.

07/25/2011

My Top Ten List Item #6

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Hang a clothes line.  It doesn’t have to encompass your whole yard, unless you have a really small yard.  Just tie a rope from your deck to a tree.  Make it just long enough for one load of wash.  Nothing fancy, just a thin rope and some clothespins. 

Then, unplug your dryer.  Force yourself to carry those wet clothes outside.  I know this sounds radical, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get us to make a change.  Studies show that it takes 30 times of doing something to make it a habit.  So make a plan to do it for a month and stick with it. 

That means if it rains, you wait a day to hang your clothes.  You will begin checking the weather report in the morning and planning when to run your laundry and hang your clothes.  I promise you that if you stick with it for a month, you will be addicted.  The smell of clothes hung outside to dry is better than any perfumy odor from a dryer sheet and healthier for you I might add.

You won’t know what you are missing until you try!  I would love to see pictures of your clothesline!  Post them on my Facebook page at Dan Guinn Homes or send it to me at e.guinn@DanGuinnHomes.com

07/11/2011

My Top Ten List Item #5

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I know if you have watched any of those “Redesign your House in a Weekend” shows on cable, you know that all designers hate ceiling fans.  It seems that no matter what the homeowner says in the beginning of the show, the poor ceiling fan is the first thing to go.  Those fancy designers aren’t paying your electric bill. 

Put a ceiling fan in every occupied bedroom in your house.  Put another one in your kitchen, and then one in the room that you spend the most time in like your living room or office.  This way you can adjust the temperature on you programmable thermostat a few degrees to save a little money and you will still be comfortable because you got an amazing, comfort increasing, and yes, beautiful ceiling fan. 

The engineer in me has always made me a function over form kind of a person.  But if you are looking for the best performing fans I have ever found, you have to check out this link to see what beauty and brawn in the same package looks like.  Fan link

Forget the designers, I love my ceiling fans.  They burn a whole lot less electricity than central air.

Interested in other ways you could save?  Drop me an email at e.guinn@DanGuinnHomes.com to schedule a Home Energy Audit.

 

07/04/2011

My Top Ten List Item #4

Add a storm door on the front of your house.  Better yet add two, put the other one on the back door as well.  But don’t just purchase any storm door; make sure you buy the kind with the disappearing screen.  The one that I love is a full glass version which means that you get the maximum amount of glass window.  When I lower the top glass panel I then have half glass and half screen.  That way, not only will your new investment help insulate your front door and decrease the amount of leakage around your door, but every day for the next couple of months that the weather is beautiful, open up those two doors, drop the screens and enjoy cooling your house with that amazing clean air from outside. You can purchase doors that have removable panels of glass that you then replace with a full screen panel.  This gives you more area for allowing the breezes to blow.  For me, I have found that if I have to remember to change out and store the unused panel, I probably won’t get it done in a timely manner and will then miss out on the spring and fall breezes.  I also like the option of closing the glass panel throughout the unbearable hot months of summer.  I do open it up on mornings when the temperatures outside are cooler than the inside, flush the heat out of the house and then close it back up.  It is good to get some fresh air into the house from time to time, especially as we begin to build our houses tighter and tighter.  So when the temperature permits, forget that air conditioner, fresh air is better.  Follow me on Facebook at Dan Guinn Homes, or email me at e.guinn@DanGuinnHomes.com or see my personal blog at www.danguinnhomes.com/wordpress/blog

 

06/27/2011

My Top Ten List item #3

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Does your house leak?  Duct work in good shape?  Got a moist crawl space?  Is your insulation sufficient?  Windows leak?  Can’t answer all of these questions with any sense of assurance?  Get a Home Energy Audit.    DSC_0041
Quit guessing about your houses operating efficiency and get some hard and fast numbers so you have something concrete to make your home efficiency upgrades.  The best place to put your money right now is into your home.  And if you are going to put money into it, why not maximize your savings per investment.  Don’t guess that you need new windows or a storm door and hope that you are making the right decision, get an audit.  You will have a detailed written report from which to work from.  And when you get one, follow the auditor around with your own clipboard and make your own notes to make sure you don’t miss a thing.  Don’t know a good auditor?  Contact me, I’ll hook you up. E.guinn@DanGuinnHomes.com or at www.DanGuinnHomes.com/wordpress/blog