Thursday, January 15, 2009

Victus Viridis

So, it's 2009, and America is in a recession. But there's that pesky environmental concern that just won't go away. How do you balance green living with scrounging for dollars? Here's a few tips.

Easy electrical tips:
1. CFBs. Compact florescent bulbs are the easiest way to insert some green living into your lifestyle. Sure, they cost a little more initially, but the long term payoff is huge: a)they last longer than incandescent bulbs so you purchase fewer (which helps offset the initial cost) and b) their wattage is much less so you pay less per month on your electric bill. How much less? Well, consider that a the equivalent wattage on a CFB for a 60w incandescent bulb is 10 watts. So if you are able to light six lamps in your house but use the same wattage as if you were only using one lamp, that's a discernible difference. The equivalent wattage on a CFB for a 100w incandescent is 14 watts.
This brings me to my next point.

2. How much lighting do you need? There is a 4 bulb chandelier above the dining room table at my house. Is it necessary to have all 4 bulbs on at once? Is it possible to light the room comfortable using three bulbs? Two? One, even? This is really a question of personal accountability. It's about taking a close look at how much light you are comfortable living in and then going for the absolute minimum. There are 40w incandescent bulb equivalents in a CFB. The lighting may be dimmer, but for me, I'm comfortable with that. When I lived in my studio, I could light practically my whole house on 8 watts.

3. Turn off your stuff. Turning off the lights when you're not in the room is a given. Everyone should do that already, and if you don't, shame on you. But how about other things? Automatic toothbrush chargers, for instance. The stay plugged in, and serve as a spot to hold your toothbrush, but it's a constant (albeit tiny) drain of electricity. Try plugging in the charger only when your toothbrush needs charging. Or kitchen appliances. If there's a clock on the stove, do you need to leave the microwave and coffee pot turned on? Okay, maybe if you're the type who has the coffee pot automatically make coffee for you in the morning you'd need it, but it's something to take into consideration. Standby mode on a computer is a tiny drain of electricity, is there a problem with shutting it down when it's not being used?
Shutting down computers is actually a big one. Keeping those things running all the time is not good green living.

4. Plenty of shade. While studies are inconclusive on whether more shade will help an air conditioner run better, during the summer months, direct sunlight can heat a building the same way an oven can. Good shade, especially natural plantlife, can act as a buffer between the sun and your house, which can lower the internal temperature of the house, which makes the air conditioner not work as hard. Check the path of the sun during the hottest months, and plan your shading accordingly. A minimal investment can make a big difference.

Advanced electrical tips:
1. Energy star compliance. So, it'll take quite a bit more of an investment, but energy efficient appliances are worth it, if you can afford them. Especially a refrigerator. Always on, always working hard, having a fridge working on less power ends up saving quite a bit every month in electricity. An efficient washer and dryer will also make a big difference over time. Appliances are never cheap, and in this economy, there's probably better uses for your money than new appliances, but if you are in the market for them (due to current appliance being broken, or whatever) definitely look into energy efficient appliances.

2. Solar water heating. This is a great way to get involved in solar energy without the vast amounts of money necessary to put solar paneling on the roof of your house. Additionally, if your water heater runs on natural gas, it's a huge reduction on your pull of natural resources.

3. Green power. You can actually request this as an option for powering your home. It costs a little more, but as wind farms and solar fields go up, you have the option of requesting your electricity to come from these sources rather than the coal, oil, or nuclear power plants you normal pay for. An increase of demand should warrant an increase of supply.

Easy Water Tips:
People often forget that water conservation is a major part of green living, but it is absolutely necessary, especially in high population density areas.
1. Check for leaks. Keep tabs on your faucets and drains, catch the leaks early and fix them immediately. Good plumbing will not only save you money later, it saves water now.

2. Use a brick. It's a neat trick as long as your toilet drains with some power: drop a large rock into your toilet tank. It means you'll be using less water to refill the toilet, which is one of the major water resources used in the home.

3. Learn about horticulture. The other big drain on water resources is watering the lawn. Most lawns are way over-watered. Check the type of grass, and then check the timer on your water sprinkler (if you have one). If you live in an apartment complex, get the super to check it (odds are good they know as little about lawns as everyone else).

4. Re-use water. This is a tough one to get into the habit of doing but it's worth it if you do, especially if you don't have a dishwasher. Use a biodegradable soap (there are plenty out there) to wash your dishes, and don't let the water drain into the sink. You can use that water after the dishes are done to water plants. This is another way to help your yard continue to look pretty without overdoing it on the water sprinklers. As an added bonus, the odors in the soaps keep many plant-eating bugs away for those who've a mind to start growing their own vegetables. This type of water is called "grey water", water that has been dirtied, but still isn't completely useless; unlike "black water" which would be the type of water getting flushed down the toilet.

Advanced Water tips:
1. Energy Star. I can't say it enough, if you have the money and you need to repair or replace an appliance, get one that is Energy Star compliant. An energy efficient washing machine not only uses electricity more efficiently, it also uses less water. Same with an energy efficient dishwasher.

2. Native and climate appropriate plant-life. Another good investment you can make if you've got the money is re-landscaping. Unfortunately, many yards are landscaped to look pretty, regardless of how much water the plants would need and whether or not the plant is native to the region. Native plantlife is designed to thrive in the environment it's from, so take a look at your options and see what your yard could use and what you can get rid of. For areas like Southern California, look at high shade/low water plant life. Look at alternatives to a lawn (like stones or mulch), if you can stand it (most grass isn't native to California). It is possible to have a quite beautiful native lawn which provides plenty of shade but requires very little watering outside of normal rainfall parameters.
Another consideration to keep in mind is deep irrigation watering. Watering the surface of the ground allows some of the water to evaporate before the plant is able to absorb it. It also encourages the root system to stay near the surface, which is how sidewalks and other concrete foundations start to crack. Deep irrigation encourages the roots to grow downward. See here for more details on planting new foliage for your yard.

3. Grey water systems. You know how I was talking about grey water? There are actually systems you can get installed in your home which will automatically distribute grey water into your irrigation system. They are fairly expensive to purchase and install, but the environmental benefit and water savings over time will eventually make up the expense. This is another great idea for people who have the capital on hand but aren't sure how to spend it towards green living. Even though it isn't currently, "grey water" should be a buzz-word on the lips of every Californian concerned about fresh-water distribution and green living.

Other tips.
1. Recycling isn't enough. It's great that we recycle, and we use products which are made from x% of recycled materials, but we also need to be smarter in how we consume. It may be great that you are buying waterbottles made of recycled plastics, but if you go through three or four water bottles per day, that's still a lot of energy waste. Look into getting a refillable bottle, as an example of living, not just greener, but smarter.
2. Go paperless. Most bills can be sent to you via email now, reducing the paper wasted on mailings. You can also pay most bills online, which reduces paper and saves money on postage.
Our society tosses untold amounts of paper. Think of it this way: We've lost forests for the pleasure of wiping our ass. And until somebody actually invents the 3SeaShells (thank you, Demolition Man), that's a consumable we aren't going to recycle. Also, consider the act of recycling itself. It consumes natural resources to harvest the tree, requires natural resources to convert the tree to paper, and it requires natural resources all over again to recycle the paper.
So while recycling is good, consumering less paper and plastic is also a very good goal to have.
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