When it comes to supporting companies, it’s been said that every dollar is a vote. When you do business with someone, you are indirectly condoning their methods. If you purchase an Apple computer product, you are sending the message that you believe that the inhumane labor practices that Apple uses in developing nations are worth the low cost and high availability of your new iPad. If you use General Electric appliances, you are sending the message that you condone tax evasion. And when you do business with a company that doesn’t follow green practices, then you are demonstrating your compliance with corporations that choose profit over sustainability and conservation.
On the other hand, if you work with businesses that do their part to protect the earth, you’re showing your support for a greener future. For example, if you were to purchase emergency food storage supplies through Thrivelife.com, you’re rewarding them for their sound environmental practices and eco-friendly products. “But wait,” you say, “I don’t know which companies are eco-friendly and which aren’t; I’m not consciously condoning anything.” Well, that excuse may have been viable a few decades ago, but with access to the internet, anyone can do a little research and see which businesses are living up to our high expectations.
Here are a few tips on how you can check up on your favorite companies to see just how green they really are.
1. Do an internet search
The quickest way to investigate a company is to simply type its name into a search engine and then include the word environment (or something similar). The returns that you get should include any progressive environmental initiatives that the company has instigated, and any other relevant data about their eco-friendliness. At the same time, careless, damaging, or environmentally irresponsible actions will come to light as well. Just make sure you ignore anything listed on a company’s homepage; many businesses today are shameless “green-washers.”
2. Check for sustainability reports
You can bet that companies that are trying hard to preserve the environment want to share that information. Check to see if a company produces a corporate social responsibility report or a sustainability report. These can often be found through links on the company’s web site (yes, I know I said to ignore information you find on their website, but full reports are a lot harder to fabricate than a few unfounded claims; chances are that a non-green company will simply not bother with a report at all), or by googling the company’s name + “social responsibility report,” “environment report,” or “sustainability report.”
3. See if they’ve earned any environmental awards or accolades
Rewards and recognition are annually given to corporations that do their part to protect nature. If the company in question has received any, then there will be record of it on the internet. If they haven’t, then they may not be as eco-friendly as you hope.
4. Visit ratings sites
Independent, non-profit organizations such as Green Seal can be a great resource. Their website includes a search program so that you can quickly and easily locate eco-friendly businesses. Other sites will actually rate companies based on their eco-friendliness. Climate Counts takes into account everything from recycling programs to the energy efficiency of automated shipping systems and gives the company a score.
5. See who they’re affiliated with
Certified green businesses will certainly make sure that their association with respected environmental groups is known. Inversely, some companies will claim to be green, but have no problem doing business with environmentally irresponsible organizations. Check around the internet and see who the company is paired up with. With a little bit of patience and some internet know-how, you’ll be able to figure out which businesses deserve your patronage, and which ones need to be taught a lesson about sustainability.
For Eric, Loren and I (co-founders of thePOOSH.org), this is the story that began our journey into natural building. We had been living on a beautiful piece of land on the edge of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon in 2011, living out-of-doors with a group of friends when we suddenly realized: Winter is Coming! Instead of moving back into a house in the city, we made the life-changing decision to build our own home, learning everything from books and the internet as we were doing. This was our first ever natural build project – we want to hear about your first project. Post them in the comments below or on thePOOSH.org Facebook page.
Here is yet another possible building project presented to you which requires no formal training, very little money, and techniques/methods that anyone can use. This blog intends to inspire you to take on a natural building project like this one. Don’t have fear if this is your first time working with these techniques and materials — this was our first ever natural building experience, one that has taken us to strange, wonderful places.
Inspired by Michael Reynold’s documentary, “Garbage Warriors,” we decided to build our winter shelter with rammed-earth tires for our walls. We didn’t do much planning before or during the build process, but instead relied more on intuition, making decisions as we encountered the specific stage of building. Every night, we sat around the campfire drinking beers and talking about how the day went, what the next steps in the building process are, materials we need, dreams we have, etc. One of these intuitive decisions was to place a large log along the tire wall horizontal to the door frame. This decision, perhaps my favorite of the whole build, allowed us to have a loft for sleeping and playing in!
For the roof, we decided upon a reciprocal one, an increasingly popular method of building a roof frame. It is very simple to construct, very aesthetically pleasing and can be built with nothing else than wood (no nails, rope, etc!). Reciprocal structures can even be placed directly on the ground for a quick, temporary shelter.
In reflection, the experience of building this roof was especially important for me as it has shown me how quick of a learning curve you can have as a novice natural builder. We used metal lathe to support second-hand cloth that we dipped in concrete/earth slurry to waterproof our roof. This was two years ago – I couldn’t imagine putting concrete on my roof today. It doesn’t breathe, is toxic and a huge contributor to global CO2 emissions and ugly. However, this wasn’t necessarily a mistake but rather a lack of experience.
This is one of the beautiful things about experimenting with natural building; if you make a mistake, it is relatively inexpensive and, in my opinion, one of the most valuable tools in learning. Rising up to the challenge of realizing and accepting your mistake and then trying again is a great tool for developing resilience and personal growth.
We sourced as many materials as possible from the local community. The best resource for building supplies were Re-use stores. These were huge warehouses that collected all of the “waste” materials from demolished buildings. These are then sold in an informal bartering manner. We bought a lot of beautiful granite for less than 100 dollars for our floor. This type of re-use project is something that should exist all over the world. As far as I know, these only exist in the United States.
In addition to buying materials, we sourced flagstone from the nearby mountains, sustainably harvested wood for the bond beam/roof and made a lot of cob with earth that came out of the hole we dug. Miraculously, we found a beautiful cast-iron wood stove on the land, which became our heating source over the winter.
During the building process, we had two or three people working full time (around 30 hours per week). However, we had many people visit from all over the world. Some of these visitors are now our best friends…they never left and we have lived together since. It is an understatement to say that carrying out a natural build project is not just about the building – so much more happens in this process. Friends for life are made, love connections are manifested, many memories are created, tears are shed. In short, natural building brings people out of their comfort zone and a sense of communal bonding is upheld, one of the most powerful senses of being that humans can experience.
In our case with our first build project, Jim and Maarja (also co-founders of thePOOSH.org) visited from across the ocean and later on, around the campfire, the concept of this global project came to be. What a journey it has been and there’s no stopping now – who knows what will happen when you join or host a natural build project? Guaranteed, experiences and people will enter into your life that you will think fondly on years later.
Want to bring your community closer and build something great like this? Create a build project listing, named "[Insert your name here]´s Mothership" on thePOOSH.org and find some assistance.
Want to get some experience building with natural and sustainable materials? Check out all the build projects (thepoosh.org/infopooshprofile) that people have posted. Remember, as Llyod Kahn (author of Shelter) says, "If you're unsure what to do, just start."
Michael Beck is a co-founder of thePOOSH.org and has been gaining experience living in community, practicing permaculture, improving his natural building skills and focusing on trust and honest, open communication. He has dreams to one day soon have a piece of land to design and build on, starting a community with his close friends and family.
While many people are now aware of the importance of reducing the world’s carbon footprint, there are still a lot of people, both corporate and individually, who are not taking the necessary steps to cut their own personal impact on the environment. This is often because it can seem too difficult, or sometimes it is because people simply do not know how to “greenify” their homes. However, when people take the small amount of time and effort required to make a home eco-friendly, they will soon find that not only are they saving the environment, but they are saving money and improving their home in the process. So to help you out, here are some easy steps to making your home greener.
Starting with the basics, the first thing that you should do is check your home’s insulation. A poorly insulated house will not only waste energy, but it will cost you money that you will not know that you could be saving. Check for any poorly insulated areas of your attic, as one weak area can undo all of the hard work that the rest of the insulation is doing. Furthermore, check around your house for any air leaks, and plug them with weatherstripping and caulk. There are a lot of advancements in eco-friendly building materials, including insulation that by using them can have a big impact on your carbon footprint.
You can save an incredible amount of energy by getting a programmable thermostat that will adjust the heating and cooling when you are out of the house or asleep. The most basic programmable thermostats will allow you to program a couple of times, and will more than do the trick. However, if you want something more advanced, there are now thermostats that will adjust automatically, or allow override with a smartphone.
While your current light bulbs might not be the most energy efficient, the prospect of replacing every light in your house with an energy efficient one probably does not appeal to you. Instead, slowly phase out your old light bulbs, replacing each one with an energy efficient alternative. You can also prevent lights from being left on for hours by installing motion sensors.
To take your home’s energy efficiency one step further, consider automating your home. Some of the previous steps will get you halfway there, but if you want to truly save as much energy as possible, total home automation is the only way. This will allow you to monitor your home’s efficiency and control it with your smartphone.
One of the biggest steps towards energy efficiency is generating your own renewable energy at home. The easiest way to do this is through installing solar panels. This was once an expensive and difficult task. Now however, solar energy companies are making it easier than ever. They will install the panels for you, and allow you to purchase the energy at a lower rate than that which you are paying currently. By simply searching Reviews by Vivint you can find solar panel options that
Start taking notice of how much water you use in the shower each morning. To cut it down, install a low-flow showerhead and faucet aerators, which will allow you to save water, while still providing good water pressure. Smart home tech is becoming the answer to solving many of our environmental problems, but is there an unseen price to that? That seems to be the million dollar question. Only time will tell.
In my architectural practice my focus is creating healthy homes following the principles of Building Biology. I often receive inquiries from folks who have become ill with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). They are living in homes that are far from ideal and don’t know how to begin to make it safe for themselves. My advice to them is to first remediate any large ongoing problems like mold, combustion gasses or chemical pollutants. Next concentrate on the single most important room, as far as health is concerned - the bedroom. It should be a sanctuary where our bodies repair as we sleep soundly. In this blog I will explore 6 steps for creating a healthy bedroom.
Uncluttered, Cleanable and Clean
The first step to creating a healthy bedroom is making it cleanable. It is impossible to properly clean a cluttered room. Clutter invites dust and dust invites dust-mites. Dust mites invite allergies. Too much stuff can make the room feel mentally cluttered as well. The bedroom should feel calm and soothing.
All surfaces should be easily cleanable, especially the floors. I am not in favor of wall-to-wall carpeting in the bedroom, or anywhere else for that matter because even with the best cleaning efforts carpeting can become a storage reservoir for dust, pesticides, dirt, mold, odor, moisture. Witnessing the removal of older wall-to-wall carpeting is a sobering experience for even the most fastidious housekeeper. As the carpet and under pad are torn away they reveal a disgusting array of accumulated debris that eluded the vacuum.
It matters what you clean with as well. It is never necessary to use harsh chemicals. Many commercial cleaners contain harmful toxics and perfumes undesirable anywhere in the house and especially in the bedroom. My rule of thumb is the simpler the better. There are many non-toxic cleaning products available at your local health food store or you can make your own. A light dilution of vinegar in water, a duster and a good quality HEPA vacuum will do the lion’s share. Here is a great demonstration about home-made cleaning products. Essential oils are a fine addition for added disinfection and pleasant smell for those who tolerate them. My favorites are peppermint or Thieves Oil.
Air the bedroom out with regularity. Almost anywhere the outdoor air is multiple times cleaner than indoor air. Strip the bed, open the windows and doors and bring in fresh air and sunshine - just like our grandma’s did.
Instituting a “no street shoes” policy for the whole house is a good way to assure that dirt, pesticides and other pollutants are left at the front door. At the very least “shoes off” in the bedroom should be mandatory.
• Choose cleanable surfaces
• Clean with simple non-toxic ingredients
• Air the room out regularly
• Don’t track bad stuff in with your shoes
Non-toxic and Natural
What is your bedroom made out of?
The Building Biology ideal is to build structures out of unadulterated natural and non-toxic ingredients that have a balance of mass and insulation. Walls should be vapor diffusible allowing for a natural free flow of water vapor through them. All finishes materials and coatings should be natural, non-toxic and vapor diffusible as well. Using certain types of natural plasters may even help to remove toxins from the air!
Conventional wood-frame home construction, in contrast to the Building Biology ideal, consists of many layers of lightweight synthetic materials, exterior or interior vapor barriers, sheathing insulations, gypsum board and paint. Any of these layers within the envelop can contribute to poor indoor air quality as can furnishings, bed, bedding, window coverings and other surface treatments.
Of course we wouldn’t want to use toxics anywhere in our house but this is most important in the bedroom. When choosing any new finishes or furnishings for the bedroom make your selections based on health. Select finishing products that are Zero VOC . Furniture should be made of solid wood or very low emissions plywoods. Avoid synthetic fabrics and foams. It is important that nothing is releasing toxic chemicals into your bedroom while you sleep.
Does your bedroom smell neutral or naturally pleasant? If you detect an odor after doing all you can to clean the room, then you may need to introduce filtration. Two stand-alone very high efficiency filtration units that I recommend are the Austin Air Healthmate and the IQAir Healthpro. Either of these will filter-out impurities that can cause odor.
There is a quality of fresh air that is lost once it is sent through ductwork. If your climate allows you to use the real thing then why run it through ductwork? As weather permits open your windows and let your home breathe!
We love fresh air and our home is designed to invite it in.
Our bedroom is designed with windows to the south and sliding doors to the west.
Our summers here get quite hot during the day but will cool down 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Although air conditioning is very popular in Southern Oregon we find that we can work with nature and stay comfortable without it.
At nighttime we open all the windows. The cool night air flows over our massive walls and the coolth is stored in them, buffering the extremely hot daytime temperatures. The fresh cooling breezes keep us comfortable during summer nights with just a light sheet. It is healthier for us and healthier for the planet than running even the most efficient air conditioning unit!
In the winter we also leave our window open…just a crack. We are able to do this in comfort, in our climate, again because of the thermal storage capacity of our massive walls. The interior wall separating us from our dining room sunspace is a waddle and daub mixture. Because it has excellent thermal storage capacity, it helps to temper the room during the night with heat it has stored from the sun or our masonry heater. This allows us to comfortably let in some fresh outdoor air, in fact with our wool duvet we are comfortable without the addition of heat in the winter bedroom. The mass walls also allow us to air the bed room thoroughly when cleaning it without a sharp drop in temperature. Of course our climate is moderate compared to much of North America. And if you live in a climate where open windows year round is not an option then whole house mechanical ventilation may be an important component to maintaining healthy indoor air quality.
Free of Man-made Electro-magnetic Pollution
I think James Bond movies initiated at least one serious cultural setback by portraying the bedroom as a high tech seduction lab…….as if women got turned on by electronics! Building Biology states that the ideal electro-climate indoors is as close to the electro-climate found in unadulterated nature as possible. The human body is a finely tuned, sublimely sensitive electro-magnetic antenna that evolved in nature with only the naturally occurring frequencies of the earth. At night our bodies repair by transmitting subtle electronic signals. There is mounting scientific evidence demonstrating that low-frequency man-made signals can interfere with the body’s natural repair process.
Are you or your loved ones affected by the electricity in your home? Sensitivity amongst individuals varies greatly and since we can’t see, smell or taste electricity it is often overlooked as a source of discomfort and ill-health. Of course electricity is unavoidable during the day but we can greatly decrease our exposure while we sleep, when avoidance is most important.
Here are some simple and inexpensive things you can do:
- Get rid of electronics in the bedroom. Trade in your electric alarm clock for a battery operated one. Unplug everything around your bed, get rid of cordless phones and turn off cell phones.
- If you have a wireless router, anywhere in the house turn it off at night.
- Turn off the electricity in your bedroom while you sleep. The room can be wired to accomplish this task easily if you are building from scratch. If working with an existing space you can figure out which breakers serve your bedroom and the walls surrounding it and flip them off at night. This takes a little investigation but some people notice a huge improvement in their sleep. If you are one of them you can go the next step and purchase an Remote Cut Off Switch and use a remote control device to conveniently turn things off from your bedside.
If you are concerned or if, after doing these simple things, you notice you or a family member, are sleeping better, have a professional electro-magnetic assessment done on your home with special emphasis on your bedroom. Mapping all of the potential frequencies from various sources both inside and from your surroundings is complex and requires specialized training and equipment. A Building Biologist can come to your home and perform measurements to determine if there are other sources of electro-magnetic pollution affecting your bedroom and help you map out a strategy for dealing with them.
Free of Noise Pollution
I am spoiled. When I sleep away from home I am often most struck by the myriad of noise sources. The sounds of forced air turning off and on during the night, refrigerators, sounds from other hotel guests, traffic these all contribute to a restless night.
The bedroom should be acoustically protected.
What does your bedroom sound like at night? There are many strategies for attenuation of annoying sounds depending on the source. An architect can talk to you about renovation strategies to create a more peaceful acoustic environment. If this is not in your budget try earplugs.
Free of Light Pollution
It is important to have the ability to darken a bedroom, especially if you are living in an urban area. Our brains require darkness to produce proper levels of melatonin. I am always astounded when travelling and staying in hotels/motels en route. I am often forced to choose between fresh air or darkness!
We are fortunate to live on the edge of a small town in a rural setting. Still our Hunter Douglas blinds come in handy when the moon is full or when the Oregon sun rises way too early in the summer!
Of course no discussion of the bedroom would be complete without discussing the most important piece of furniture in it - the bed. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this discussion - The Healthy Bed
Wishing you and yours a peaceful night of sound sleep filled with sweet dreams!
Paula Baker-Laporte, FAIA, is an architect, healthy building consultant, instructor for the International Institute of Building Biology and Ecology and author. She is the principle of EcoNest Architecture. She is primary author of “Prescriptions for a Healthy House” and co-author with husband Robert Laporte of “Econest-Creating Sustainable Sanctuaries of Clay, Straw and Timber”.
Photo credit: Laurie Dickson
Architect Credit: Paula Baker-Laporte FAIA
Builder: EcoNest Company
Imagine doing yoga in nature…a leveled forest floor is your earthen platform. The sun’s light diffused through the tree canopy creates the perfect ambient temperature. A subtle breeze kisses your skin. The air is fragrant and you drink it in. The song of nature serenades your ears and the hues and tones of earth, leaf, flower and bark feast your eyes. Subtle electrical pulsations flow through you from cosmos above and earth below. Your practice is enlivened. This wholeness need not be lost when you practice indoors.
I am a longtime yoga practitioner. I am also an architect. 20 years ago I became chemically sensitive and I was compelled to seek healthier ways to design and build. I discovered the principles of building with nature and it profoundly changed my work. I know now that we can create beautiful spaces that nurture us, embrace us and deepen our experience as we practice.
The natural laws concerning healthy building were re-discovered in Germany and formulated into a system called Bau-biologie or Building Biology in the early 60’s. This quest was precipitated by an alarming number of people who became sick from the new chemical laden building products that were used to rebuild Post WWII Europe. This was the beginnings of Sick Building Syndrome. Surrounded by historic earthen buildings that had served for hundreds of years Bau-biologists studied them in comparison to the new industrialized buildings and formulated 25 principles for healthy building. Although this body of knowledge is broad and complex in scope, the essence of it can be summed up into three simple statements:
• Nature is the gold standard for human health and is the environment against which all built environments should be evaluated.
• A built space will nurture us to the extent that it integrates the laws of nature into it.
• Built space that serves deep health will also exemplify deep ecology
Sound good so far? It makes sense. We can and should demand something better especially within the sacred walls of a yoga studio. Although it takes more effort to travel against the mainstream of conventional building most yoga practitioners have already made healthier and more conscious choices in other arenas of life in the quest for a more holistic sojourn on the planet. Leaving convention behind we choose organic food, organic clothing, conscious healing modalities. As with conventional food, medicine and fashion we live in a culture with particularly insane values around conventional building. Our man-made environments are uniquely insubstantial and denatured. They are for the most part assembled out of industrialized components, conceived with the same parameters as junk food; synthetic, chemical laden, mass produced, packaged and transported thousands of miles and assembled for convenient and low cost consumption. Longevity, health and ecology are either given scant lip service or disregarded entirely.
How does nature nurture? What can we do to improve our indoor environments? Our senses will give us valuable guidance if we open them to the language of nature. Here are just a few examples:
Mechanical forced air, the most common form of heating and cooling in North America, is noisy and uncomfortable. It works by convection warming the air and not the people or surfaces. The sun warms us silently with gentle radiant heat, evenly from head to toe. Radiant sources include in-floor/wall hydronic heat, wood fired heat, fluid filled radiators. These work more like the sun and create a higher level of comfort.
Natural finishes, oils and waxes feel good to the foot and hand and they contribute to good indoor air and electro-climate. Synthetic materials and finishes create a plastic barrier between surrounding surfaces and our skin. They don’t breath and they contribute to static electricity.
The sounds of nature… birds, the rustling of leaves, the gurgling brook…are melodious and they delight us. The sounds of technology; furnaces, refrigerator motors, air blowing through ducts are noise. We spend unconscious energy blocking them. Mass materials can absorb unwanted noise and enhance intentional sound. Clay is an abundant mass material. Build walls with it, plaster interiors with it, create a floor out of it and transform acoustical space.
In nature we are surrounded by endless variety of colors and hues, enlivened by the dance of light and shadow. Inside, electrical lighting, synthetic paints on flat gypsum walls, repetitive patterns on man-made surfaces are dulling, denatured, monotonous. Natural daylighting, plant and mineral-based pigments, clay plasters and natural wood, stone and plant fibers can transform the visual context of space.
Indoor air is almost always, at least 10x more polluted than outdoor air. Clean air, especially where we are breathing with intention,. is paramount. Eliminating toxics, and synthetics fragrances are a first important step but we also need to pay attention to subtleties. Outdoor air is rich in ions and oxygen. Ions are depleted when air is forced through ductwork and further depleted as it clings to synthetic building materials and furnishings. Studios become quickly filled with carbon dioxide during rigorous group practice and our bodies, crave oxygen.
Fresh air, natural finishes, plants, waterfalls are all sources for maintaining healthy ion balance in the air. Operable windows and cross ventilation will re-introduce and circulate vibrant air while exhausting spent air.
Beyond the senses: The Electro-Climate
Humankind evolved in resonance with the gentle radiation of the earth’s and cosmos. Humans once knew how to detect and avoid naturally occurring areas of elevated radiation known as geopathic zones. In just a fraction of the blink of the evolutionary eye we find ourselves surrounded by ever-increasing smog of man-made radiation. Some hypersensitive individuals can sense very subtle levels of radiation. Most of us cannot but just because we can’t sense it, it doesn’t mean we are not being affected. When building anew it is possible to choose a safer site and more easily shield occupants from ambient man-made electrical fields. Buildings can be properly wired and it is even possible to shut off the electricity to certain areas as desired. In an existing space instrumentation can measure the surrounding fields and causes of high radiation can be traced and fixed. We can also lessen the load by making the practice space cell-phone free, keeping motorized equipment out of the space, and hard-wiring computer terminals.
The earth is an infinite source of free electrons. Human beings are a complex and dynamic electrical circuitry that benefits from being grounded. In day-to-day life we are insulated from the earth by footwear and building materials. When building anew it is possible to tap into this beneficial earth coupling. Literally earth can be used to make a durable, cleanable surface so that we receive the full benefits of being bare foot…as we practice.
In summary: Every indoor environment can be enlivened by taking cues from nature. To the extent that we bring nature back into our indoor environment, we receive her life affirming gifts. If you are in the privileged position to build a new yoga studio then the opportunity to create vibrant and inspiring temple awaits. you! The great architect Frank Lloyd Wright advised us well when he said “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”
Case Study: Prajna Yoga Studio, Santa Fe, N.M.
Tias and Surya Little teach yoga and train teachers throughout the world. When it came time to build their yoga studio following the principles of building Biology was natural. We had already designed and built their home this way five years earlier and they understood the benefits to their health and well-being.
The walls of their studio are built of a mixture of clay and straw with a technique known as Light Clay Straw Construction, and finished inside and out with clay-based plasters. The yoga space has a hand crafted timber-frame and custom shoji screen sliding doors at entry and prop cabinet. Floors are naturally finished oiled cherry with slate in the entry and tatami mats in the meditation room. All finishes throughout are natural and non-toxic. Operable windows and skylights provide ample, well balanced natural lighting, and ventilation. Radiant in-floor heating keep bare foot yogis warm in the winter and the mass walls and large roof overhang keep the building cool throughout the summer, without the need for noisy and energy guzzling air conditioning.
The studio is L shaped and embraces a courtyard which is beautifully landscaped integrating nature and building seamlessly.
Paula Baker-Laporte, FAIA is an architect, healthy building consultant, instructor for the International Institute of Building Biology and Ecology and author. She is the principle of EcoNest Architecture. She is primary author of “Prescriptions for a Healthy House” and co-author with husband Robert Laporte of “Econest-Creating Sustainable Sanctuaries of Clay, Straw and Timber."
Photo credit: www.kimkurian.com; Paula Baker-Laporte
Architectural Credit: Paula Baker-Laporte FAIA
Builder: Econest Company
Everyone knows the basic ways to conserve energy and resources in the home: turn off lights, water your lawn less often, don’t rely on the thermostat as much, etc. These are certainly all great suggestions, but to really reduce the shoe size of your carbon footprint, you need to get a bit more innovative. Here are seven lesser known gadgets that can help you help the environment (from the comfort of your own home).
1. Thermal leak detectors. One of the biggest energy wastes comes in the form of heat loss. This is because most homes are anything but airtight, and the expensive heat that we pump into them when things get chilly tends to escape back out into the word through leaks around doors, windows, and in poorly insulated walls and roofs. Patching up some of these leaks is actually fairly simple, if you can find them. That’s where thermal leak detectors come in handy. The Black & Decker Thermal Leak Detector, for example, works by taking a basic reference temperature reading from within your home, and then identifying areas with temperature variances.
2. Water powered appliances. Although this is a relatively new technology, there are a few devices on the market that are able to take advantage water’s ability to provide electricity. The beauty is in the simplicity, an internal converter draws electrons from the water reserve and acts as a fuel cell. Although the water powered car is probably still a ways off, small devices such as clocks and radios are picking up the slack. And it’s not as though you need a steady stream of clean running water to make these work, a few ounces or rainwater will generally do to keep your device running for days.
3. Occupancy sensing light switches. Regular incandescent light bulbs produce visible light by pumping an electrical current through a tungsten filament, which then becomes hot and glows. The glow provides us with the light we use to go about our daily activities, but it also produces a massive amount of heat as a byproduct. In fact, conventional bulbs waste about 80% of their energy in the form of heat. Newer types of bulbs (such as LEDs) can cut down on this waste, but in the end the best way to keep your lights from wasting energy is by turning them off. Occupancy sensing switches automatically turn off lights when no one is in the room. These often come standard with certain home automation packages from providers such as Vivint. Reviews are available online to help you choose an option that is right for you.
4. Learning thermostats. Thermostats are designed to help maintain a specific temperature in the home, no matter what the weather outside may be. However, unless you’re willing to make constant thermostat adjustments throughout the day, it can actually be a major waste of energy. If you leave the house every day at 8:00 am, but you don’t remember to deactivate the thermostat, you’ll end up paying to keep your house a comfortable temperature even though no one there. The answer to this problem is the learning thermostat. A learning thermostat will learn your habits, and automatically adjust itself to better accommodate you. Within a few weeks, your thermostat will be doing its job so well that you won’t even have to think about it.
5. Shower reducers. It’s easy to lose track of time while in the shower, especially if you take yours in the morning right after you wake up. But long showers can end up wasting thousands of gallons of water over the space of a few weeks. To combat this, several devices have been created to help homeowners cut back on their shower time. Low flow shower heads can reduce the amount of water you use, without you even being able to tell the difference, and simple shower alarms that alert you when a set amount of time has passed can keep you from falling into the shower-stupor.
6. Solar chargers. Most people don’t put too much thought into it, but our laptops and mobile smart devices are absolutely guzzling energy on a daily basis. That’s because they often need to be fully recharged at least once a day. You can reduce this energy cost by getting a solar charger. These alternative energy wonders convert abundant and free sunlight into electricity to keep your devices working without ever having to plug them into the power grid. Best of all, because they have built-in solar panels and don’t need to be plugged into any socket, these chargers are generally easily portable.
7. Battery rechargers. Unless you purchase expensive rechargeable batteries, you know that disposable batteries don’t generally last very long. However, new advances have finally created technology that can be used to recharge non-rechargeable batteries safely and simply. And although the batteries won’t last forever, they can have their lifetimes extended up to 10 times what they normally would have been. This is a must for anyone with electronic kids toys, remote controls, alarm clocks, watches... well, pretty much everyone, in fact.
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.
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.
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 to 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 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.