This energy-saving tip is provided by CleanEdison.
Having a properly maintained water heater is like going to the dentist: No one wants to do it, but it’s gotta be done. Ideally, you should have an inspection and necessary maintenance performed on your water heater once a year.
Since you’ve already done all that hard work to use less hot water, it’s pretty important to make sure that your water heater is properly insulated and working at maximum efficiency.
If you have an older model this is especially important, as it does not have the fancy new features such as built-in heat traps and demand response. Most water heaters last 10 to 15 years. Up until then, have an annual inspection performed.
I hate mowing the grass. It’s hot, it’s messy, it usually triggers my hay fever, and it’s one of those repetitive tasks that never seems to get done: a few days after you’ve finished it, you have to go and do it all over again.
In addition to merely hating an odious chore, the environmentalist in me cringes to ponder the utter ridiculousness that is the American Lawn: that we would supplant native plants with exotic ones, waste such water in nurturing them, kill their competitors with potentially toxic chemicals, and nurture their roots with fertilizers that create runoff and are energy intensive to produce…only to go and use a fossil-fuel powered engine to cut them all short again at regular intervals. Back before Facebook, in the days of chain emails, my aunt once forwarded to me an amusing imagined conversation between God and St. Francis, highlighting this ridiculousness.
And it’s not only Americans: on a trip to Australia some time ago, when the country was deep in the middle of a drought (as it often is), one of my sharpest memories is the many apologies my Australian friends felt the sincere need to offer, because all of the grass was brown.
So in my own personal quest to rise out from under the Lawn Paradigm, but maintaining a desire to keep my neighbors from hating me, I purchased a “reel mower” two years ago, and stalwartly used it to try and maintain what I believed to be an acceptable level of shortness to my small urban plot of grass—no fossil fuels, pesticides, or fertilizers required.
And it worked. Sort of. Pictured here is a section of my tiny suburban lawn, fresh-cut with the reel mower.
The upsides were that the simple technology accomplished the job much easier than I thought it would. It blasted through clover very much like the proverbial hot knife through butter, and I have found it vastly easier to turn and maneuver over the bumps and hills of my Asheville lawn than even the lightest of self-propelled push-mowers. Modern reel mowers are made of very lightweight materials. It is quiet, doesn’t assault the user with gas fumes, and reel mower manufacturers claim that the spinning blade which scissors grass, as opposed to a chopping blade which whacks the tops off, provides a healthier cut for the grass.
The downsides include a slightly longer mowing time, as some areas have to be mowed over more than once to get an even cut. Ok, I thought, I can handle this, since I’m not inhaling gas fumes when I do this, it’s just a chance to spend more time outside. Yet by far the biggest downside emerged around mid-June, when several types of grass and even more types of weeds begin to go to seed. Then they shot up thick, hardy stalks that required several runs of the reel mower to be cut, stalks that grew so quickly that they soon become too tall to be cut at all, and the reel mower just knocked them over instead. One week of vacation later, and my yard was a sea of foot-high grass seed stalks.
I began to despair. Was this why all of the neighbors were whispering surreptitiously behind their hands as I walked by?
I tried to beat this, also without fossil fuels by means of a swinging grass scythe, but ultimately was defeated. I resorted to borrowing my parents’ old gas powered mower for the weekend, resolving to do better in future summers about keeping ahead of the grass height.
Some species of grass do better with the reel mower than others. Clover, as I mentioned, does wonderfully, as does fescue, while Bermuda and St. Augustine type grasses present more of a challenge. Weeds like plantain and dandelion can also present a problem when they get tall enough. Keeping everything short can help prevent these weeds from spreading—but once again, that means keeping up with it. In the most prolific part of the growing season, that may mean mowing it nearly every other day.
Conclusion: If a beautifully manicured and weed-free lawn is what you’re after, then conventional lawn-mowing is going to be the most headache-free way to achieve this—although if you could supplant high-maintenance species with more drought-tolerant ones, you would aid in the goal of water conservation. However, if you just want to get it mowed so the neighbors don’t complain, then a reel mower might well be for you, as it does the job and even looks pretty nice if you can stay on top of it.
And if you just hate having to take any time at all to work on the lawn, then a rock garden may be for you.
Leigha Dickens is the Green Building Coordinator and resident building scientist at Deltec Homes, Inc in Asheville, North Carolina. Deltec manufactures round, energy-efficient, high-quality and highly wind-resistant homes. Learn more about green building with Deltec Homes at www.deltechomes.com/green-building/
The following energy-savings tip is provided by CleanEdison.
It might seem like a small thing, but your refrigerator can be a HUGE drain on your energy bill. We’ve already shown you how to check for leaks in your refrigerator seal—now let’s take the next step in keeping your fridge in top working order. The coils in the refrigerator are generally hidden away so it’s easy to forget about them or to think there isn’t much of a problem. The truth is that these coils are very important in helping your appliance to maintain the highest levels of efficiency. If they’re covered in dust and dirt, they can’t do their job. Adding these simple steps to your maintenance routine twice a year can increase your refrigerator’s efficiency and save you money over the life of the appliance.
- CONSULT YOUR OWNER’S MANUAL: this will give you information on where your refrigerator’s coils are located and the best way to reach them. On some models, this may require a screwdriver and on others the panel will lift away by hand.
- Pull the ‘fridge away from the wall for easy access to the appropriate panel if it’s in the back—you’ll also need room to get your vacuum close.
- Make sure the refrigerator is disconnected from the power supply and then open the panel that covers the coils.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a long, thin nozzle attachment and gently clean away the dust and build-up around the coils. Go as far as you can with the vacuum.
- For hard-to-reach coils, use a nylon or wire brush to clean off dirt and debris.
Be sure to clean up the dirt that fell off the coils before you replace the panel cover, slide the refrigerator back and plug it in!
Lloyd Kahn's post below features the tools that caught his eye at the recent MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. Lloyd was at the fair to give a slideshow presentation of 100 tools he uses on his half-acre homestead. This guy knows and appreciates great tools when he sees them.
Lloyd has been helping to lead the natural building and owner-built housing movements for more than 40 years. He’s the Editor-in-Chief of Shelter Publications, and the author of several classic books about owner-builders, including one of our favorites, Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter. In recognition of Lloyd’s exceptional contributions to wiser living, MOTHER EARTH NEWS presented him and Shelter Publications with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
If you like his post about tools, you might also enjoy this one, about the evolution of his homesteading lifestyle:
This fair is a good-vibes event with many useful tools for homesteaders. This isn't a comprehensive report; there lots of things I just don't have time to cover, but here are some items that caught my eye in two days wandering around at the fair. Note: there will be two more Mother Earth News Fairs this year: Sept. 20-22 in Seven Springs, PA, and October 12-13 in Lawrence, Kansas.
Yurts made in Mongolia: Unlike any of the U.S.-manufactured yurts I've seen, this one has a hand-crafted look when you step inside. "The hand-painted rafters and natural wood latticed walls covered with a clean white wool felt create a cozy, comfortable atmosphere. The thick felt dampens outside noise, holds heat in the coldest of winters and keeps heat out in the hottest of summers.
Bamboo Clothing: Beautiful fabric, soft as silk, some 100 percent bamboo, other items bamboo/organic cotton combo. I bought two T-shirts and a pair of shorts. Wayi Bamboo Apparel, click here.
JapaneseTripod Ladders: Never seen ladders this sturdy or sensible, and I have lots of ladders around my place (like maybe10). I don't know about the logistics of getting one of these shipped, but they're a notch above (sic) any ladders I've seen.
Olive Oil From Greece: Unique organic olive oil and olives from a family estate in Sparta, Greece. www.oleaestates.com
Chicken Butchering Tools: The stainless cones make for a neater way of offing chickens than chopping heads off and having them thrash around like, well, like chickens with their heads cut off. The other tools, like the rotating tubs with rubber fingers and the scalders are for larger-than-homestead size chicken operations and are a whiz bang way of plucking feathers. www.featherman.net
Rototillers: In the '70s, I had a Troybuilt rototiller. It was a much-beloved serious gardener's tool that came with a brilliant manual that told you how to do just about anything with it and how to fix just about anything that went wrong. Like a Model A Ford. These days it looks to me like the BCS tillers (formerly Mainline) are the next generation. All gear drive, automotive style clutch, a lot of possible attachments. www.bcsamerica.com
Scythes: These guys from British Columbia offer a collection of beautiful scythe blades. Some of them are shorter than scythe blades I've seen. European scythe blades, ergonomic snaths and sharpening accessories. http://scytheworks.com/
Composting Drum: Sun Mar makes two sizes of these drums and they look sturdy and animal-proof. Being able to turn the compost is a big advantage over stationary piles. These would work well in cities as well as country. www.gardencomposter.com
Water Pump: This is a different principle than the ram pumps I've seen. They say it will put 200 to 1,500 gallons a day in your tank with no fuel or electricity and "pumps from 100 to 1,000 feet high depending on your water source." Click here.
Everybody’s trying to save money. And even if you aren’t especially tight on cash right now you don’t want to be throwing money away. One of the most common expenses that can easily be lowered is the monthly utility bill. There are so many factors that contribute to the cost of utilities—climate, age of home, supplier prices—but regardless of your current price it is always possible for the cost to go down. Here are a handful of simple tips to keep in mind so that you can keep your utility bills from climbing through the roof!
Be Smart About the Thermostat
You should be comfortable in your home. But it’s less important that your furniture enjoys nice warm temperatures while you’re out of the house. Turn down the thermostat when you leave for the day and especially if you’re leaving for an extended period of time for vacations etc. Generally speaking, you can save about three percent on your heating bill by lowering the thermostat just a single degree. If you have a newer thermostat it likely allows you to have it automatically programmed to lower during the day and overnight while you’re cozy in bed. You might also consider lowering your water heater temperature slightly. Smart thermostats allow you to do this at the utmost convenience, and with little effort.
Seal Up the Leaks
Leaking warm air out into the winter cold is almost literally like throwing money out the window. New windows and doors can be expensive to have installed but if that isn’t in your budget there is still a lot you can do to help the problem. The easiest solution is keeping curtains on the windows and closing them at night to soften heat loss. It is also very affordable to buy door sweeps, caulk, or weather stripping keep the cold air out and the warm air in.
Keep Everything in Good Shape
Poorly maintained equipment is far less efficient. Regularly check your HVAC unit and other equipment to ensure that filters are clean, insulation is sufficient, etc. Even older heaters can be extremely effective if they are well maintained. Don’t forget the simple things like changing out incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescents that last longer and produce less wasted energy.
Turn off or Unplug Appliances
About twenty percent of most total energy bills are the direct result of appliances and home electronics. Most people are surprised to find how many small gadgets are left plugged into outlets even when they are not in use. Establish a rule in your home: unplug it when you’re done. Additional energy can be saved by turning off appliances that are used regularly enough that unplugging would be an inconvenience when you are not using them. Computers, TVs and radios are common examples.
Turn off the Lights
Most people are unaware of how often lights are left on in rooms that are unoccupied. Make it a habit to turn off the lights in any room that you leave unoccupied and make sure to turn off all lights before leaving the house, especially if it is going to be for an extended amount of time. Many home-automated systems allow you to remotely control lights (and other utilities) from your smart phone. If you have those features you should take advantage by regularly monitoring your utility usage.
David Glenn is a home improvement and DIY expert of over 20 years. He enjoys working with his hands and keeping up with the technology trends and advances.
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.
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.
To learn more about passive solar homes, read "Passive Solar Design: Creating Sun-Inspired Homes," an interview with Debra Rucker Coleman, conducted by Megan E. Phelps. In the interview, Debra discusses the many benefits of working with the sun, and what to consider when building a home using passive solar design. —MOTHER EARTH NEWS
Prior to remodeling for passive solar design features, addressing the overall energy efficiency of the structure is important. You wouldn't want to add any type of additional heat, whether it is through passive solar, electrical photovoltaic energy or fossil fuels, unless you first sealed up the paths where this added energy could then leak back out. Having an energy professional run a blower door test on the existing home would be a good first step. You can locate professionals and home energy auditors through Residential Home Services Network or Energy Star. They can help identify any problems with your existing home that may need to be corrected as a first step or at least addressed during the renovation.
Specific recommendations for each home vary greatly and are best handled by a local architect, preferably with passive solar experience, or one who has at least been educated on the subject through one of many passive solar books (such as The Sun-Inspired House by Sun Plans, books by Dan Chiras, etc.).
Overall design issues that would need to be addressed are:
Long-term family goals and needs
Survey that includes identification of legal building setbacks, land covenants and solar access
Drawings of the existing home
Structural analysis of the existing building
Energy analysis of the existing home in terms of building shell, mechanical systems, insulation and utility bills
Budget and early involvement of builder to review ideas and options
The specific design elements would then be similar to new construction.
As with any project, make sure that renovated or new spaces add functional value to the home.
Review preliminary design options with home owner and builder.
Get input from builder on construction elements.
Create construction drawings that meet local planning and building codes.
Get input from Home Energy Rater
, an HVAC designer and a structural engineer as needed.
Revise drawings as needed to incorporate feedback from other design professionals.
Then, there are more passive solar-specific concerns:
Orient your windows southward. Place most windows on the south side of the home.
Shade south windows with a properly sized overhang.
Add thermal mass in walls or floors if the total amount of glass on the building’s south side exceeds more than 7 percent of the floor area.