Monday, December 31, 2007

20% by 2010

Is your town participating? Shamefully, my town of Waterford is not, but I can say I have tried to do my part. After several emails to the First Selectman (Dan Steward), and after contacting Connecticut Innovations, I finally after months received the following email back from Steward:


I apologize for the delay in getting back to you on this idea. I have done some significant research into this program. I met with a representative of Ct Clean Energy and have their proposal for this project. The concept is excellent if we could utilize Green Energy in Waterford. The options provided in this program are for Photovoltaic, Methane Gas, Wind Power and Fuel Cell. The first three provide minimal return in our area based on location. The Fuel Cell option could provide us with approximately 5% of our usage based on where we can locate the unit initially with a major capital investment. The program provides an opportunity to buy energy certificates if we do not meet the 13% by 2010 which we would have to do. Those purchases based on today's rates would cost the town approximately $13,000 per year for no return other than to say we are trying to be green. At this time the Photovoltaic option has a very low potential of payback over the 20 year life based on the amount of electricity they produce. I also compared some of the other towns that have been doing this program for a while that are similar in size to Waterford and they are yet to hit 100 units.

I believe we are a little early in the process and we will continue to look to LEED options with our schools and possibly fuel cells for power and heat. Although they may be expensive today, the ROI is extremely important to our taxpayers as well as helping to maintain our environment.

Thanks again for your interest and we welcome your suggestions.

Dan Steward

His comment about "The first three provide minimal return in our area based on location" absolutely baffle me. Our solar array that will be installed soon will provide 100% of the electricity our house needs. The sun is the friggin sun and as far as I know it's always up in the sky. Call me crazy. And our system will pay for itself within 7-8 years and will be producing electricity for at least 30 years (manufacturer's warranty). Hmmm something doesn't add up here.

See if your town is participating in this program. It doesn't hurt to ask and maybe you have someone more amenable to progress in control of your town.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

World's Best Cat Litter, literally

We have cats. Four of them actually. Some go outside, some don't. It's a zoo. Anyway, with that many cats, one goes through a fair share of litter. We used to get Fresh Step litter ($11.99 for 30 pounds I think at BJs). The stuff is so dusty though and it stinks up the basement, leaving a film of dust on everything.

One of my new favorite products in the world is called World's Best Cat Litter. It's amazing. It is litter made from corn. It clumps just like regular cat litter but smells SO much better and has NO dust! The first time Sage went in to take a tinkle, she even thought about eating the litter. And the best part (aside from the dust elimination) is that it is completely biodegradeable.

This litter costs a little more than the Fresh Step, but for the dustlessness alone it is totally worth the extra few dollars. And this is coming from someone on a limited budget and a lot of felines.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Recycling plastics in CT

This is a topic I am pretty frustrated about. Our town, and every town in CT, recycles #1 and #2 plastics. What about the rest? We have a pile of #3-7 plastics in our basement that we have been collecting (or not throwing in the garbage, I should say) for four years now. We used to put everything in the bin that goes out by the road on trash/recycling pick-up day until we found out from the regional manager of recycling in our area that he sorts through the materials collected, and #3-7 wind up in the landfill.

It's pathetic. We used to live in Boston, and in Boston (and as far as I know throughout Massachusetts), they recycle all plastics. My uncle lives in Mansfield and his town takes everything as well. We have made so many phone calls on this topic I can't even tell you how many people we have talked to about this issue. We tried to find places using a website called Earth911 but when we got to the place it said we could bring plastics to, it turned out to be a metal scrap yard. That was a waste of a drive to Rhode Island.

I'm, phishing here. If anyone that reads this knows any possible way to recycle these plastics in CT or surrounding states, please let me know. I have dropped off huge nags of them at my uncle's house, but I'd like to find a place I can regularly drop this stuff off and in the process get rid of the mountain of plastics in my basement.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Reusable shopping bags

I don't have a whole lot to say about this one. I mean, they cost like a buck and are ridiculously useful. The ones we got from Whole Foods are huge and sturdy. The Stop and Shop ones are pretty small, and we have gotten a few at other places and they all seem to be made by the same company or the same template or something. I'm talking about the ones with a plastic insert that goes at the bottom of the bag and is kind of a pain. I much prefer the Whole Foods ones. I'm not going into grocery stores here, just saying that using these bags is a great thing, costs little... Some stores even give a small discount if you bring your own bags, which after 10 trips or so has paid for the bag. You just have to remember to carry them into the store with you. I have left mine on the back seat of my car way too many times, only to have to abandon my shopping cart, run out and get them and then proceed with the transaction.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Toyota Prius

I'll admit it, I love our Toyota Prius. I love that we sacrificed a lot of things to be able to afford it, and every time I sit in the driver's seat, I feel lucky to be sitting there. It's a car. It's not just a car. It is a life-altering vehicle. It is a sign of the times and its popularity speaks volumes about what so many people actually want.

Not Hummers. Not Lincoln Navigators.

While I don't doubt that there are many uses for such vehicles, It's not commuting up a scenic highway that passes from Old Saybrook, CT to the hospital this doctor must work at in Middletown. Ridiculous. I see this guy on the highway and want to ticket him for idiocy. Sure he has earned the money to buy expensive things and show off his success. Great! Good for him! Does he have to drive such a ridiculous vehicle to do it?

Back to the Prius. We had a car that kept breaking down and it was just time to be replaced. We sold it to a guy that fixed it up and bought it to save himself money on gas because it happened to get much better mileage than his current car. We knew we wanted a Prius, but good luck finding one. People buying them today, off the lot, are lucky. There are tons of people like us who put down a deposit, submitted an order, and waited months to have the privilege of driving this futuristic machine.

The Prius changes the way you drive. It gives you a gentle reminder that accelerating too fast burns more gas. It shows you right up front how much gas you are using, and when you alter your habits a little, it rewards you with a little green car icon, like a friendly pat on the back saying, 'hey, you have generated more electricity than in the previous 5 miles.'

The Prius is far from the only hybrid car, and is one of several gas-reducing technologies out there. People often compare only the bottom line (price) and the miles per gallon. The Honda Fit probably gets better gas mileage than the Hybrid Civic, but it's missing something. The Toyota Yaris no doubt gets much better mileage than the Toyota Hylander Hybrid... But the next time you pull up to a red light next to a(ny) hybrid vehicle, I want you to roll down your window and listen.

Enjoy the silence. That silence is the sound of gas not burning. My favorite thing, every time I drive the Prius, is when the gas engine shuts off, while driving or at stops. It is such a wonderful feeling.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Heating, part 1

We live in Connecticut, which is a pretty cold climate. Today it snowed and sleeted and it has been down in the teens at night a few nights. Folks in this part, and other parts of the country are cranking up the thermostats these days, and with it the levels of pollution. it just so happens that of the some 8 million homes heated with oil in the United States, 6 million of those are hear in the Northeast. If you are in a position of having to replace your home heating system, as Nicole and I were this year, there are several options for how to heat your house.

Chances are if you have duct work in the walls for a forced air system, you will probably stay with that kind of system, as you would if you already had hot water baseboard radiators throughout. There are different levels of expenses that people can look at practically. For example, We converted a garage into a dining room. That process allowed us to put in a zone of radiant heat, which is essentially a plastic tube that snakes back and forth in the concrete, and as the hot water flows through the tube, it heats up that mass of concrete and warms everything in the room, not just the air. We have found this room to be far more comfortable, even when set at a lower temperature than the rest of the house. It is possible to retrofit floors with electric radiant heat, where you basically attach something to the underside of the subfloor from the basement, and the heat radiates up through the floor.

When we bought our house, we had the old cast iron radiators and an oil boiler dating back to the 1970’s. While the iron radiators did put off a lot of heat, they were not very attractive and had years of gunk caked into them. We decided to send those to the scrap yard, where they no doubt were recycled, and replaced them with low profile Slantfin® radiators we bought at Home Depot.

The issue of replacing the boiler became a pretty big research project. We are fed up with oil and made the decision early on to get rid of that whole disgusting behemoth of a tank in the basement and the sickly old boiler. The last time we had it cleaned we were told the fire box was cracked, which I guess meant its days were numbered. Since we live in a colder climate, and are renovating and not building new, our solar and geothermal heating options were somewhat limited, not to mention we have budgeted other large scale projects that I will talk about in future posts. We had to stick with burning something to heat the water that goes through the radiators and radiant floor, and the other most common options besides oil are natural gas (preferred), propane (not as good as natural gas), and there are wood pellet stoves that can do this job as well.

After a lot of phone calls we determined that natural gas is not in our street, and because of that it was ruled out, unfortunately. It is the cleanest burning of the home heating fuels, and boilers these days can get up into the 95% efficiency range (which happens to qualify for a $150 federal tax credit right now). We settled for LP, or liquified propane, which is slightly worse than natural gas, but nowhere near as bad as oil. I will post some statistic in the days to come to corroborate these claims. We got a Buderus 142/30 propane boiler, which is actually a natural gas boiler that we had to change one small part on to make it burn propane. It came with that part. We just missed the federal tax credit because this model, which produced adequate BTUs to heat our house and then some is 94.7% efficient. This is a really slick unit that makes virtually no noise. I mean that too. If I am standing next to it while it is running, the only thing I hear is the circulator pump installed on the wall next to the boiler.

Wall-mount is a wonderful thing. Hey, so I have to run but will be back with much more on this topic and more soon.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Paperless billing

This is an absolute no-brainer and I am ashamed that it took this long for me to break out of my old-school ways. I just couldn’t come to grips with the idea that I could stop getting all this paper in the mail and still remember to pay my bills.

This coming from someone who checks his email about 1,200 times a day. In fact my student loan was already set up to send me electronic statements. They even asked me if I needed to keep receiving my paper statements and I said, *gasp*, YES. What is wrong with me?!

So here’s the deal. I finally wrapped my brain around a system that will work for me. I’ll get an email when a statement is issued. I will go to the website, log in, and download the pdf version. I will then log into my bank account online and pay my bill through the bank, online, like I have been doing for two years now.

With this system I will have an organized record–one folder for each company–just like in my file cabinet that is stuffed full of paper statements that I have no idea how long I am supposed to hang onto, except these will not be paper. They will not require an envelope with one of those stupid plastic windows in it, or a return envelope, or all the glossy bill inserts.

I seriously can’t believe it took me this long to come to grips with a new system. I am a really organized person when it comes to my bills, and usually pay them the day I receive them (online bill-pay is a god-send).

And the best part is, it only took about an hour to remember how to log into all my various accounts at various credit card, utility, etc companies and every single one of them had paperless billing as a simple-to-access section, and signup was a breeze on all of them. And as they said at one credit card company…

You’re going paperless.
(The trees thank you.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Practical ideas for everyday people, my new blog

This blog is an idea that I have been considering doing for quite some time now. Well, as long as you can call “long” in the short amount of time that blogs have been around. Nonetheless, the idea is as follows. I will play the part of a regular person, much like yourself, who along with his wife has decided to throw away the consumer driven ways of the society in which we live, and not only join the green revolution but try to stay on the leading edge of it. We are attempting to do things that some people may not think about during home renovation projects, or during a trip to the grocery store. I hope to write this in a very friendly voice, though may occasionally come across as cynical. That’s just my nature but I will try to keep it to minimum. I have no intention of preaching anything. You would not be reading this blog or subscribing to it if the idea of living more responsibly was not appealing or at least in some way interesting to you.

I should qualify myself as the author, I am 31 years old as of today’s publish date. I am a web designer working at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. I am not old enough to remember the energy crisis of the 1970’s, but did suffer for 28 years as a Red Sox fan, and am now living large.

Thanks for your interest and feel free to comment, contact me for more information or do whatever else it is that people do with blogs.