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6/5/2013
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The following energy-saving tip is provided by CleanEdison.

OK, you’re having a busy week, so today we’ll give you an easy one. I’m sure many of you already do this, but if you don’t, you’re just wasting money and creating a fire hazard.For quick drying, toss your freshly washed kitty in the clothes dryer for a few minutes.

After every load in your clothes dryer, cleaning the lint screen improves the air circulation, which means that the system will work more efficiently — and run on less energy. In order to really get it all, periodically use the long nozzle tip on your vacuum cleaner to remove the lint that collects below the lint screen in the lint screen slot of your clothes dryer.

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4/15/2014

While the majority of people are aware of and may make efforts to reduce their carbon footprint, not so many people know about their water footprint and how their everyday decisions can impact it.

An individual’s water footprint is not restricted to the water they use to wash, cook and drink with, this only makes up a minority of their overall water consumption. The remaining impact of our water footprint is made up from indirect use, on the crops we use to feed ourselves and livestock, into the materials we wear and to make all of the food that we eat.

Amount of Water in Everyday Products

Most people are surprised at the amount of water it takes to produce simple, everyday products that we consume without thinking. Here is a list of the water required for commonly used items, to help put it into perspective, remember 2 liters is a large bottle of fizzy drink.

1. That egg you had for your breakfast required a huge 200 liters of water to produce. That’s 100 bottles for that egg alone!

2. The number of liters to produce 1lb of cheese is 2,500. Remember, it’s not as simple as turning milk into cheese, a cow has to be fed on grain to be milked to make the cheese – and cows eat a lot.

3. 4,650 liters of water are needed to produce a 0.6lb steak and a huge 16,600 liters of water are required to produce as little as 2.2lbs of leather.

4. That simple T-shirt you wear? That took around 2,700 liters of water to produce. Think twice before you go clothes shopping. Do you really need anything new? Consider going to the thrift store and getting something second hand.

It is imperative to take into account the impact that your personal and your family’s water footprint is having on the environment. But, why should we be mindful of our water footprint, water doesn’t run out!

While there is plenty of H2O on the planet for our 7-billion-people-strong planet, unfortunately it is distributed unevenly and a lot is wasted, filled with pollutants or not managed sustainably.

There are currently around 700 million people in 43 countries suffering from water scarcity today. By 2025, this figure is expected to increase by 250 times to a massive 1.8 billion, meaning one third of the world’s population will be living under stressed water conditions.

We are currently taking our water situation for granted and gallons of water are being wasted each day. However, by managing our water footprint properly, we can ensure the way we use it is sustainable and future proof.

Here are a few simple steps that do not require any drastic lifestyle changes that will help reduce your water footprint, and likely improve your finances.

Cut Down Your Home Water Use

When you shower. Shave off the time spent in the shower by just one minute and you could save up to $25 per person in your utility bills and between 547 and a massive 2,007 gallons of water per year.

Making tea and coffee. When you fill the kettle, make sure you only use enough water for the cups you will be filling. A good way to do this is to pour water into the cup and then into the kettle, this way you will waste no water at all. We all know that the UK are a nation of tea drinkers, but staggeringly – if they only boiled the water they were using, over the course of the year they could save enough money to generate all of the street lights in the UK for two months.

Laundry and dishes. Try and only use the dishwasher and washing machine when you have a full load. This will save you between 130 and 400 gallons of water and mean you have to do less cleaning!

Turn off that faucet! When you’re brushing your teeth make sure that the water is not still running. Leaving it on can waste up to 1 gallon of water each minute which is completely unnecessary  , wasting your money and the planet’s resources.

Taking Larger Steps to Reduce Water Usage

Eat less meat. The consumption of animal products is responsible to more than 25% of the world’s entire water footprint. By changing to a vegetarian diet permanently it is possible to reduce your footprint by a huge 36%, of course, this isn’t feasible for a country filled with meat lovers, so try to go for one meat free day each week. Do this every day for a year and it will cut 68,000 litres off your annual water footprint.

Responsibly farmed products. Where possible, look to buy responsibly farmed and sustainable produce. Farms that incorporate effective water management and land drainage systems into their everyday processes are far more conscious of their water usage and use it more responsibly.

Don’t buy what you won’t eat. The food we consume accounts for a huge part of our water footprint. Simply being mindful when you do the grocery shopping will mean that you’ll be throwing out less and not wasting the water used to produce your food. Millions of tonnes of food is thrown into the garbage each year in the US – each item in the trash is not only wasted food, but also wasted water.

So, next time you go to throw out that half eater burger – stop and think about the vast amounts of water used to produce it and try and remember to always eat, wash and consume responsibly.


4/3/2015

green construction

According to the United States EPA Clear Air Act Advisory Committee, construction equipment is one of the leading causes and contributing factors to dangerous pollution. More specifically, this equipment ejects dangerous diesel pollution into the surrounding environment during use.

A single bulldozer engine can emit as much particulate matter as more than 500 cars. This is because diesel exhaust can carry large amounts of carcinogens, ozone smog-forming compounds and soot. The resulting pollutants are responsible for a long list of health problems like asthma, strokes, lung cancer, heart failure and even premature death.

As such, the EPA created the Clean Construction USA initiative to promote greener construction, which calls for using cleaner forms of diesel and fuel along with tighter pollution controls. It aims to provide construction equipment owners with the means to improve equipment handling, at least when it comes to the environment. This is accomplished through the use of cleaner fuels like low-sulfur diesel, implementing greener technologies, and modifying old parts and equipment with updated tech.

Even after all these changes, both the environment and our health are still at risk. More dangerous emissions and pollutants continue to be pumped into the atmosphere on a daily basis. It begs the question, what can we do to help, aside from some of the more obvious changes, such as those listed above?

Reduce Equipment Usage Times

While on the job, you may need to get everything done in a timely manner, but there are certain things you can do to cut down on equipment usage. Think of it like this: To conserve water at home, you make sure to turn off the faucet when you're brushing your teeth or while washing dishes. You don't leave the water running consistently during that time – at least we hope not – because it's wasteful.

The same can be said of construction equipment. If your task doesn't actually call for the equipment to be powered on, then shut it down. You don't need to leave it running at all times.

Retrofit and Maintain Equipment

If a piece of equipment is not working properly or is inefficient, then it's time to start repairs. Green operation can be achieved by equipment owners following proper maintenance protocols and by retrofitting machinery with new parts. There are a lot of parts in modern construction equipment that can be replaced or upgraded altogether.

While this might seem costly, neglecting to maintain equipment can be more expensive in ways that you might not immediately see. Equipment breaking down and more severe problems can result in higher maintenance and repair fees. It can also result in equipment malfunctioning for longer periods of time, thus emitting more dangerous pollutants into the air. The latter issue is a problem for everyone, and you'll realize that eventually when your health is failing. Better to take preventative measures and keep your equipment efficient and optimal.

Recycle and Dispose of Waste Properly

Another contributing factor of pollution relates to how we dispose of our waste. For instance, just recycling glass helps reduce air pollution by 20 percent and water pollution by 50 percent. That's not even factoring in harmful waste like certain plastics, metals and alloys, and various chemicals.

While on the job, you'll be dealing with a lot of waste from equipment, from the actual work and from your own habits – like lunch. Learn to recycle and dispose of this waste properly.

Together, we can improve air and environment quality by ensuring we live to greener standards even in places where you wouldn't think it possible, like a construction site.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



8/2/2013

Governments and individuals have been working on taking care of the environment through alternative energy and becoming more efficient in energy consumption. The driving force for making greener communities have been new technologies that help to automate processes and discover new methods to create energy. Here are five innovations that can help make our communities greener.

smart meterSmart Meters

Regular electric meters on our homes only tell us and the electric company basic information, and electric companies are often completely unaware of power outages until they start to get calls from customers. A smart meter connected to a network, however, can relay how much power is being used and when in real-time to the power company and the homeowner. Smart appliances can also be networked into the meters, so we can program our washing machines to run only during times of low energy demand. What does this mean for communities? Using power plants at full capacity instead of building more to satisfy energy needs during peak times.

Custom Biofuels

The first bio-fuels created were expensive and lacked efficiency, mainly because cars had to be adapted in order for the fuels to work. Now, biotech companies are working to adapt biofuels to fit our current car infrastructure instead of the other way around. The companies create custom microbes in a lab that can produce biofuels to order that work in the cars and trucks we already have, including “green crude” which acts similar to petroleum without the drawbacks. Still in development, this technology could dramatically decrease pollution and oil dependence in our communities.

Solar Energy Storage

One of the biggest problems with using solar energy is the sun isn’t always shining. After all, the sun goes down at night and we get rainy or just cloudy days, and there’s no way to store up the sun’s rays for future use. This means that electric companies can’t rely solely on solar because they wouldn’t be able to consistently provide enough energy to meet demands at all times. However, solar companies are working on a way to store the energy they produce on the brightest days through molten salt.

Solar thermal uses powerful mirrors to focus the sun’s heat to create steam that drives an electric turbine. On extra sunny days, the excess heat created can be used to heat up massive amounts of salt. Then, when the sun isn’t shining, the heat from the salt can be used tosolar thermal illustration generate steam.

The ability to maintain a utility-scale solar power plant would significantly decrease the cost of generating electricity and decrease a community’s carbon footprint.

Green Home Automation

Home automation has come a long way, and many of the innovations can make homeowners more energy efficient. Automated thermostats allow homeowners to program when to lower and raise the temperature in the home, so the thermostat does it automatically whether the owner remembers or not. Automatic lights that you can turn on and off with a smartphone can allow parents to switch the lights off from work when the kids forget to, or to make sure everything is shut off when they leave for a vacation. These revolutionary systems are becoming increasingly available because the amount of competition in the industry has grown fast and driven down the price. Companies like Vivint, and Smart Home USA, have given the power to the people, offering DIY systems, or elite, extensive set ups, all Eco-friendly. Research is a necessary step when shopping to make sure you patronize earth-friendly businesses.

rooftop turbineRooftop Wind Power

An individual’s ability to create his or her own energy has been fairly limited. The only tool available for getting off the grid was solar panels, which only worked if you lived in a sunny area. Now, a start up is working on bringing wind power to individuals, as well, with a 6 foot turbine and silent generator. The system can generate, on average 1,500 KW/h a year.



11/21/2013

tulikivi, masonry heater Photo Credit susan GlazerOh baby its cold outside! Time for sweethearts to head indoors.

Soft music, a bottle of wine, a dozen red roses, chocolate truffles… the accoutrements of romance lay out on a soft white sheepskin in front of….. a hot air vent. What’s wrong with this picture?!?!?

When it comes to creating atmosphere nothing beats the warmth of a toasty fire. The deep penetrating heat, dancing flames and crackling roar delight our senses. Having a relationship with this powerful element evokes a deep sense of home. The hearth is the heart of home and this is why so many homes have one, even though, as a rule, a they produce very little heat in the home and lots of smoke pollution in the neighborhood.

There is a way to have it all…romance, energy efficiency, and healthy heating, by following the example of Northern Europe.

Our European ancestors were no strangers to energy crisis. Their big ah-ha occurred in the 13th century when it dawned upon them that the wood supply was not endless and, in fact that they would soon be shivering in misery if they did not curb their rapid consumption of the forests. This is when the evolution of the masonry heater began. The German Kachelofen, Finnish Tulikivi, the Russian stove… each country invented a way to provide home heat efficiently with a sustainable use of the available wood fuel. Using the principles of contra-flow, mass, surface area and central placement, regional versions of the masonry heater have continued to serve Northern Europeans generation after generation…knowledge, passed down and perfected over a 700 year evolution. The masonry heater works by burning a small wood fire full bore for a short amount of time. A series of chambers built into the heater circulate the hot air, warming the masonry mass. The spent air finally exits through the chimney without the polluting combustion bi-products emitted by other fuel burning appliances. The heated mass continues to radiate warmth into the space for many hours after the fire is spent.

From the standpoint of Building Biology which considers the natural environment to be the gold standard for human health and planetary ecology, a radiant heat source is ideal. Consider how nature heats us. The sun is our renewable source of radiant heat. Life on earth is possible because that heat is stored in the mass of the Earth sustaining us through the night and the winter. It is because radiant energy heats bodies and not the air that we can be comfortably warm on a sunny day, even when the surrounding air is cool.

From nature we can deduce the qualities of the perfect heating system for optimal health and ecology.

  • radiant heat that warms us and not hot, dry air heating air.
  • free of toxic combustion bi-products and fried dust
  • maintaining a natural ion balance (negative ions cling to ductwork and forced air is depleted of ions)
  • maintaining a constant temperature from head to foot
  • providing healthy temperature variation within the home
  • quiet, without noise pollution from blowing air an cycling motors.

As a bonus radiant heat in the form of a masonry heater can create a cozy focal point in the home.

A masonry heater combines all of these qualities providing function and beauty…a romantic addition to any home.

In our EcoNest homes we often use Tulikivi which is a Finish soapstone masonry heater. Because the soapstone is so dense these masonry heaters are more compact than some others and they fit well into our compact designs.

If you have the opportunity to build from scratch then I invite you to think outside the conventional box of forced air heating blown around in a lightweight home. Be prepared to realize a new level of comfort in a win/win relationship with the environmental steward inside you!

To quote Mark Twain, who first discovered the masonry heater in his travels to Germany:

to the uninstructed stranger it promises nothing, but he will soon find that it is a masterly performer The process of firing is quick and simple. At half past seven on a cold morning one brings a small basketful of slender pine sticks and puts half of these in, lights them with a match and closes the door. They burn out in ten or twelve minutes. He then puts in the rest and locks the door and carries off the key. The work is done. He will not come again until next morning. All day long and until past midnight all parts of the room will be delightfully warm and comfortable.

Americans could adopt this stove, but no, we stick placidly to our own fearful and wonderful inventions of which there is not a rational one in the lot….

Consider these aspects of the Masonry stove. One firing is enough for the day: the cost is next to nothing, the heat produced is the same all day, instead of too hot and too cold by turns: one may absorb

Himself in his business in peace. Its surface is not hot, you can put your hand on it anywhere and not get burnt, yet one is as comfortable in one part of the room as another”

From “some National Stupidities” written in 1891.

Resources for Masonry Heaters:

Alaska Masonry Heat 

Canadian Kachelofen: they manufacture and ship masonry oven cores.

Masonry Heaters Association of North America: A source for general information and list of person trained and certified in the specialized art and craft of masonry heater building.

Temp-Cast: Modular wood-fired masonry heaters and heater core kits.

Tulikivi: Soapstone masonry heaters imported from Finland.

Photo by Susan Glaser



6/19/2014

When it comes to household goods, the drumbeat of a sustainable lifestyle is longevity; the longer you use an item, the longer it stays out of the landfill, and the longer before a new purchase requires the use of virgin resources. However, there's one item you shouldn't try to push past its natural life cycle for the good of the planet: your refrigerator. When it comes to that most essential of all modern appliances, the best way to be eco-friendly is to stick with the tried and true three R's: reduce, reuse or recycle.

Recycle An Old Refrigerator

Reduce

Reducing the energy use of your refrigerator is one of the single most effective "green" steps you can take in your home. As we all know, reducing energy demand results in reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, and a fridge uses a lot of energy. That food chiller is responsible for an average 13 percent of your household energy use. And that's a modern refrigerator, full of super thin, highly efficient insulation. If your fridge is clocking in at a decade or two, that figure skyrockets.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, replacing an inefficient, 20-year-old refrigerator with an Energy Star-rated appliance saves 700 kWh/year or more. For tips on picking the most energy-efficient fridge for your needs, read this article I wrote for sustainablog.org.

Reuse

Once you've upgraded to an energy-sipping Energy Star refrigerator, you must decide what to do with your old one. Ideally, you want to keep that energy guzzler off the power grid. Yes, I know a second fridge in the garage sounds awfully handy, but not only does that convenience come with a hefty environmental price tag (sucking an extra 1,200 kWh/year), it will also cost you about $120 each year it chills that extra six pack and gallon or two of milk.

Of the 200 million refrigerators and freezers in the United States, the EPA estimates that over 20 million are secondary units sitting in basements or garages. Imagine if all of these were unplugged. The reduction in energy demand, ozone depletion and global climate impacts would be astounding.

But how are you going to reuse a refrigerator if you don't refrigerate things in it? Consider "up-cycling." Try one of these surprisingly useful reuses for your old fridge and its parts, all of which are less deleterious to the planet than actual refrigeration:

1. By its nature, a fridge is an excellent storage space. Unplug it, clean it out, remove the door and place it in your pantry, garage or kitchen for extra dry goods storage, dish storage or as a tool shelf. Then use that door as a wall shelf in your pantry to store the unopened versions of things that, once opened, end up in the fridge door. If you don't have a convenient place in your kitchen for a refrigerator wall shelf, it also works well as an indoor or outdoor wet bar accompaniment.

2.  The properties that make a fridge airtight also make it surprisingly watertight and dirt-resistant. Consider taking your old fridge outdoors and turning it into a pond, a root cellar or an ice-chest. It also makes an ingenious, if a bit extravagant pet shelter, as this stray Chuichui in China discovered.

3.  A particularly ingenious use for an old fridge was dreamed up by Mother Earth News staff members over 30 years ago. Read this article from the archives on repurposing your refrigerator into a solar water heater.

4.  For my own upcycling project, I took a refrigerator I found for $10 at a yard sale and turned it into a unique storage space for my son's growing gaming habit and my penchant for gadgets. The fridge will look perfectly at home in our den, without adding to the clutter, and provides much easier access to these everyday essentials than storing things in boxes or drawers. Plus, it's such fun to watch guests reach for a beverage and come away with a Wii remote.

With any up-cycling project, it's important to safely remove any and all working parts of the refrigerator and responsibly recycle them. Also be sure to either remove or secure the door to make sure children and pets don't become trapped inside and suffocate.

Recycle

If up-cycling is outside of your comfort zone, then recycling is the next best thing. Older fridges probably contain ozone-depleting refrigerants, foam-blowing agents and greenhouse gas-producing substances. Proper recycling prevents these from getting into the atmosphere and limits the potential release of PCBs, mercury and used oil, while also saving landfill space and energy by recycling the plastic, glass and approximately 120 pounds of steel in your typical "vintage" fridge. This in turn reduces energy consumption by eliminating the need to produce virgin materials.

When you recycle your fridge, you need to make sure it is actually recycled and not re-sold as an inefficient, second-hand unit (which currently happens to over 40 percent of "recycled" appliances). One way to do this is to buy your new Energy Star model from a retailer that partners with the EPA's Responsible Appliance Disposal program. By taking this route, you can be sure that your old appliance will be responsibly recycled and not put back into use.

If that's not an option, check with your local utility company or waste management company. Some utility companies offer cash incentives or utility bill credits in exchange for recycling your old appliances, and many municipalities offer heavy trash pick-up and recycling programs for appliances. Just be sure to ask exactly how the appliance is recycled before letting them cart it off into the sunset.

Have you seen an ingenious use for an old fridge? If so, do share it with us in the comments section below.

Jennifer Tuohy writes about appliances and green homes for Home Depot. Jennifer focuses on providing tips to homeowners on energy consumption and recycling of appliances including washers, dryers and refrigerators. A complete selection of refrigerators, including top energy savers, can be viewed on the Home Depot website.

Photo by Jennifer Tuohy. Give an old refrigerator new life with one of these ingenious ideas for up-cycling your appliance.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.



12/19/2013

TIny homes progressRick has been working over a month now on the 1,000 images in the book, using Photoshop to enhance (and sometimes rescue) the photos. He's just about finished. As of a few days ago, we finished layout of the last pages. Next we've got a round of corrections, then proofreading, then printing out the entire book full size on Epson proofing paper.

For the last week I've been fooling around with a title page showing people in the book. Here's the latest version, just finished this morning. Scissors and removable scotch tape at this stage.

We're working on a bunch of ideas for the cover. Nothing solid yet. Subtitle: Wheels & Water.

Target date is books in stores by May.

We've had orders for 2100 copies of Tiny Homes this month, and the month isn't even over. Saving our bacon.



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