Sunday, September 28, 2008

Roofing materials given a second life

We've been working on a project that included removing part of our roof, and with it two layers of shingles and several roof decking boards (tongue and groove). You know, just a little weekend project ;-) So anyway, like all our projects we wanted to figure out a way to make this one as green as possible. Unfortunately, rather than putting on a metal roof or a green roof, we went with 50-year asphalt shingles. I say 'unfortunately,' because those options would definitely make us feel better about ourselves. But the rest of the roof is asphalt and this section needed to tie into the rest of the roof.

Anyone who has ever re-roofed a house knows what an incredible mess it makes. Most people hire other people to do this terrible job, there is usually a dumpster involved, and a big pile of asphalt, wood, aluminum and nails heads off to the landfill. In fact, I would be lying if I said that's not what happened when we had the front out our house re-roofed last year. But we all learn from our mistakes, and this time we did the work ourselves, and therefore took care of the aftermath ourselves as well.

The first step was to separate out the old demolished gutters and drip edge. Those we took, along with some other metal we had laying around, to Calamari Recycling in Essex, CT. We have brought several loads of metal to them in the past, and they give you a decent price for your scrap metal which they sell to companies that melt it down for re-use.

The second step was to separate the shingles from the roof boards. We didn't just scrape all the shingles off and then remove decking, instead we cut off chunks of wood and shingles. So we separated the two materials into piles, removing and collecting most of the nails along the way as well (those will head to Calamari in a subsequent trip).


Once we had the shingles separated from the wood, we drove the shingles up to a place in Bloomfield that Nicole found online. This company, Incorporated Industries, LLC, happens to be the only company in Connecticut that recycles asphalt shingles. They grind them up, separate out the nails (we were nice enough to do this for them), and sell the ground up material to companies that mix it in with regular asphalt for paving roads, driveways, etc.

The big pile of wood, which also contains scraps from the framing lumber, will be chipped up in a rented wood chipper and used for mulch.

All of these steps, in addition to re-using the bricks from the chimney we removed as a walkway for the garden, have taken what would otherwise be several loads of landfill material and turned it all into reused material.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pedaling feet become a renewable energy source

This is so great, and the company that installed the technology has plans for widespread distribution at a rapid pace. Living in a time like this can be depressing sometimes, especially with the current financial mess in this country, but we also live in a time of unbelievable exploration and innovation.

From WSHU:
With energy costs shooting up in the region and across the country, there's been increased interest in renewable sources of energy, like solar and wind power. WSHU's Craig LeMoult has the story of another potential energy source - fitness buffs.

Listen to the story at WSHU.org.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Furnace Replacement Rebate Program

When I was researching the boiler we got last fall, I found some information about a Rebate Program in the state of Connecticut. I emailed for more information and at the time, it was an unfunded program that was still being established. The Office of Policy and Management was collecting names of people that were interested in the rebate, with the promise to send out the paperwork once they got funding. Well, a week or two ago, I got a packed in the mail with all the forms I needed to fill out, and I strongly encourage anyone thinking of replacing their furnace or boiler to look into this. It's a simple form, and as long as your new unit is better than 84% efficient (I'm not sure why anyone would purchase a new system if it WASN'T at least that efficient, it will qualify for this rebate, which is a maximum of $500.

Here is the information from the website, but by all means head on over, sign up, and recoup some of your expenditures. All of the forms are now right there online for you!


The Furnace Replacement Rebate Program is an incentive program for Connecticut households to replace their existing residential furnaces or boilers with more energy efficient models. The program is designed to provide rebates of up to $500 to households that purchase and install replacement natural gas, propane or oil furnaces and boilers between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2017. Rebates will be available for replacement natural gas furnaces or boilers that meet or exceed Federal Energy Star standards and propane and oil furnaces and boilers that are at least 84% efficient. The amount of the rebate will decrease as your income rises above a certain level. The Office of Policy and Management, authorized by Connecticut General Statutes Section 16a-46e, is responsible for implementing this Furnace Replacement Rebate Program.

The Furnace Replacement Rebate Program has a retroactive start date of July 1, 2007. Furnaces or boilers purchased and installed prior to that date will not qualify for a rebate.

For further information call 1-866-940-4676.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

FSC Certified Wood

Nicole and I are in the midst of doing a project on our house that requires a fair amount of lumber. We tried for weeks to track down FSC certified wood and I am very sorry to say that we were not able to find any that made sense for us to buy. What I mean by that is I did track some down but the company is an hour away, they would have charged a couple hundred dollars to deliver the wood, and at that point it was a deal breaker. I do not believe that any of the local lumberyards purchase old growth wood, although some of the wood does come from Canada, where the rules are lest strict about managing forests. If you are setting about building anything, I do encourage you to see if you can find FSC certified wood. They are very strict about their certification, which factors in the forestry management, shipping distances and practices, etc. It is with head in hands that we were not able to use this kind of wood. Not every battle can be won, I suppose, but it stinks to want to do everything we can and not really be able to do something this important to us. Kind of like our desire to recycle all our plastics.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Conservation movements (tongue in cheek)

Blinker Conservation - Ever notice how people are using their turn signals less and less while driving? I'm calling this "Blinker Conservation." This must be a conscious effort to save both car battery life and blinks out of the blink lifespan of the turn signal bulbs. Well done, people. Every little bit counts... or something.

Recycle Bin Space Conservation - Who likes clutter? Not me. Not many people. And when you can save space in your recycle bin by throwing soda and beer cans all over my road, why wouldn't you?! Luckily, my hands have the physical ability to pick up these items and place them into my recycle bin. In fact sometimes I return them to the store and get your 5 cents, which helps pay for the corn starch dog poop bags I use to pick up Guinness's #2's. So, basically, thank you for helping pay for bags to pick up my dog's poop.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Thursday, July 31, 2008

eWaste

"The Computer Recycler" reached out to me to tell me about the new eWaste initiatives they are starting in Cromwell, CT. I encourage anyone interested to check them out:

We're working to setup programs with several towns and businesses in CT to help keep electronics out of CT's landfills.

We've recently expanded our operation to have the ability to service all of Connecticut, and now, with a recent partnership, we are not limited to just computer related eWaste; we can now accept all electronics, including TVs, monitors, and many other items most electronic recyclers do not accept. We can also now accept most appliances, refrigerators, air-conditioners, microwaves, even water-heaters... We're really excited about this expansion, and happy to do our part with going green for the state. You can check us out at www.thecomputerrecycler.com, and per your blog's inspiration, I've decided to start my own regarding CT's eWaste as well. :)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Four copies of the movie still available

In case you missed it, I am doing a little project here on the blog and wanted to let you know, in case you were wondering, that I still have four copies of the 11th Hour available if you'd like to participate. Be sure to read the original blog post and email me if you would like to participate and can abide by the rules. Thanks!

Yeah, climate change is just a theory...right?

People multiply at an ungodly rate, CO2 increases, greenhouse gases trap heat, ice melts, less reflective land mass exists, more of the sun's radiation hits darker Earth surfaces, warming things faster, repeat.

Canadian Arctic sheds ice chunk

Oh, and caught in the crossfire right now are polar bears who will eventually have no ice left to raise babies on, rest from fishing, or sleep on. I shouldn't get started on polar bears or I may go off on a tirade.

Ok so let's say a fisherman falls off his boat. He is not adept at swimming for long periods of time. The currant pulls him away from the boat a little bit and then as he tries to swim back to the boat, it just floats off into the distance. The fisherman is now treading water in the middle of the ocean with no life raft and nobody coming to save him. He has no chance to live. No land for miles around. Eventually his muscles will give out and he will drown.

Sad metaphor, I know.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Everyday Greener 11th Hour Project


"The Earth has all the time in the world. And we don't."
-Chief Oren Lyons


Nicole and I recently watched The 11th Hour and I have decided to do something fun. I need your help to carry out a project. I was so moved by the film that I went and purchased 11 copies of Leonardo DiCaprio's documentary about how human beings are pushing ourselves to the brink of extinction. I will send or hand these DVDs to the first 11 people who contact me to request one.

There's a catch (of course). But it's a good one, here's how this project will work:

You request a copy of the movie. I send or hand-deliver one of the eleven copies of the DVD to you. The DVD is not yours to keep, but I don't want it back (I have my own copy which I intend to watch several times). After you and your loved ones have watched the movie, you need to pass it on to someone who you think could benefit from watching it. Or who you think will enjoy it. I'm sure you know someone who will be affected by a powerful, inspirational film with many, MANY ideas of how we can get out of this mess.

Once the next person receives the movie, I need that person to contact me with the copy # of the DVD, their name and zip code (I will add them to this Google Map, and once they are done, they need to pass it on, etc.

This is sounding like a chain letter or one of those goofy emails that promises that you will win the lottery if you pass it on to 20 people within 10 seconds of reading it. This is nothing like that, but the payoff of spreading the word about how we can individually behave more responsibly is huge... and necessary if we want our descendants to have clean drinking water, polar bears, and breathable air. Maybe we should scale back the interest in exploring and building subdivisions on Mars, and start exploring new ways to live right here on the planet we were born on.

Solving the climate crisis is not just about governmental mandates. Although those will affect major change, so will individual local efforts by every single person who chooses to live differently. This is not about being a tree-hugging hippie.

It's about not buying the cheapest possible item every time you need to buy an item. At this point in history, that item was probably manufactured in terrible working conditions by workers with no benefits and miniscule income, and the factory is probably polluting the drinking water of its workers' villages.

It's about eating food produced locally, and it's about turning your back on the disgusting gluttony that has engulfed the American mindset. It's about using natural products to control the weeds in your lawn, if you even care to have a lawn.

Solving this crisis requires a complete overhaul in the way we think, in the way we do, and in the things we consider to be goals in life. We need to overhaul our manufacturing processes to the Bill McDonough plan of Waste Equals Food.

Back to the Project...

All you have to do is be one of the first 11 people to email me and we can get this thing started. Think of this as Netflix, except you are not sending the movie back to the place you got it from. Instead you are participating in an effort to Affect Change, by sending it on a journey to a person you know and then a person that person knows, and on and on.

I will update this map to show where each copy travels to.

Or look at this:


View Larger Map

The Project In Summary:

  • You request one of the eleven copies of The 11th Hour that I have purchased for this project.
    • You must give me your Name and Address in order to receive your copy. How else can I deliver it to you?

  • I will send or hand you the movie.

  • You watch the movie with as many people as possible
    • Let me know how many people you watched it with and what copy of the movie you have. I will keep track of everything on a subsequent blog post.

  • Send the movie on to someone you think will benefit from it, letting that person know how this works. (They can also read the instructions that will accompany the DVD).

  • Working together, we can get a lot of people who may never have heard of this movie to see it, think about it, and spread the word to someone they know.

Plastic bags suck

I received this as an email forward from my Aunt Lin and thought it was very appropriate to this blog...



And then there is this story which is somewhat unrelated, but hilarious. San Francisco seems like a pretty cool place.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Thursday, July 3, 2008

4-Day Work Weeks

I am definitely not breaking new ground here, as companies all over the place are adopting both flex time and 4-day work weeks, but I am proudly beginning this next week. Basically, I will be working Tuesday-Friday, from 8-6 with about a 35 minute lunch break (37.5 minutes to be exact)... My employer, Wesleyan University, in Middletown, CT, thankfully has just begun a 1-year trial program for employees who consistently receive good annual reviews.

This is actually an amazing reward if you think about it. I get about 31 miles/gallon in my 2001 Honda Civic and my daily commute is about 75 miles (blech)... With gas creeping up on $5/gallon, I will be saving myself almost $10 per week in gas alone, not to mention the 75 fewer miles of wear and tear on the car. I used Native Energy's CO2 Emissions Calculator to figure I will also be saving the Earth from an extra 48 pounds of CO2 emissions every week. Big fan of that. Check and see if your employer offers this kind of schedule. It is a win for everyone involved. I will be a happier and more productive employee, knowing I am helping the environment by being here one fewer day, but will still work the same number of hours and will have 3-day weekends.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dehumidifier water


Like many people in New England, and I'm sure elsewhere that it is humid, we run a dehumidifier in our basement all summer. It collects a lot of water. Throughout my life I have seen this water dumped down the drain or in some cases the dehumidifier is connected to the main drainpipe for the house and goes out to the sewer or septic system.

We happen to have four cats, as I may have mentioned before, which means we have a lot of big buckets from buying litter. We have always saved the buckets (which come in handy for all sorts of things and have lids that fit pretty snug). So, we let the dehumidifier work its magic, then dump the water into these buckets, which conveniently hold exactly two batches of collected water, and then use that to water various plants around the yard. It's funny if you think about it, sucking water out of the air and then using it. It's kind of like a rainwater collection system except this water has never even rained down on us.

Anyway, just thought I'd share. If you are paying for the electricity to run your dehumidifier, you might as well get something free out of the deal other than just the less humid air.

edited

Here is some more information about dehumidifiers from Wikipedia

Potability
Water collected from any dehumidifier is technically distilled water in that it does contain few of the minerals and other particulates that are removed in a true distillation process. However, a true distillation process condenses the steam of boiled water, and the boiling process kills any microbes and fungi that may be present in the pre-distilled water. Dehumidifiers are also not kept to a state of cleanliness required for food-grade standards (drinking water usually has very high legal requirements). The collected water is therefore not considered safe to drink.[1] Also, as the water may sit for a while in the collection bucket, the water may be quite stale, in particular with fungus collected from aerial spores.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gas Saving Tips

A nice little set of tips for driving more efficiently can be found here, put together by the Federal Trade Commission. These are a lot of the same things we have all heard over and over but it's a nice reminder as gas approaches $5/gallon.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Slacking, kind of

I haven't written lately because a lot of things have been going on, including a re-organization at work, two trips, and an upcoming opening reception for my first real photography exhibition. Incidentally, my series of photos on display are very much inspired by my interest in sustainable living and the impact of human beings on this planet.

I am exhausted right now from getting ready for this show but the general idea is that we humans are essentially inconsequential in the grand scheme of everything that is 'out there' in the universe. This is not to say that I do not appreciate the air I breathe or the water I drink. On the contrary, my goal with these images is to push the idea that we are touching EVERYTHING. I just want us to retract a little. Or a lot. Stop over indulging. How very un-American of me to say such things.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

700+ kWh hours later...

It's been over a month since I've posted here, which bugs me. A lot has been going on, including a problem with the PV array. It has been producing marvelously. In fact, in the first month of operation, we purchased 288 kWh from CL&P, and sold them 440 kWh, giving us a surplus of 152 kWh that will become a credit on next month's bill... We have a small problem though, and electricians and electrical engineers are working on solving it... Remember that nifty on demand electric hot water heater we got? Well, every single time it turns on, the inverter for the PV system goes into default mode and tries to reset itself. It seems to think there is a problem with the grid and is designed to turn itself off so as not to be damaged.

As you can imagine, this is probably not good for the inverter to be going through these cycles 20-30 times a day. And it doesn't do it just once. For the duration of time that the hot water is running, which means the water heater is turned on, the PV system is basically not doing anything. This is not cool. Not at all. That thing was WAY too expensive to be turning off several times a day just because we are using hot water. Especially when we made it clear we would be purchasing this type of water heater when the PV system was being specced out.

Long story short, Nicole has made a ton of phone calls to Solar Wrights and our electrician to try to get this straightened out. And we do not like being nudged to abandon the tankless water heater (which we just purchased about 7 months ago) as a solution.

So, we'll see what happens.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Summary of Projects

I will use this post for a running summary of the major greenification projects that have gone on at our house/in our lives. You'll be able to find it easily in the future by clicking the SUMMARY OF PROJECTS category in the right column. I wish Blogger would let me create a page instead of a post, but I haven't figured that out yet, if it's even possible. Newest projects are at the top of the list.

'11 Nissan Leaf
Reserved the first mass-produced fully-electric car.
Manufacturer's site
See posts about electricity

SunPower Photovoltaic Array
Purchased a pole-mounted 4.2kW grid-tied photovoltaic system. This system will produce all the electricity our house will use during the course of the year and carries a 25-year warranty.
Manufacturer's site
Solar Wrights (installer)
See posts about solar power

Buderus 142/30 LP Boiler
Replaced our aging, dying, inefficient oil boiler with a wall-mount Buderus 142/30 propane boiler. It is 94.7% efficient.
Manufacturer's site
See posts about heating

American Tankless electric on-demand water heater
Replaced our aging, dying, inefficient oil boiler (which also indirectly heated our domestic hot water) with an American Tankless Model 280 whole-house on demand hot water heater. It is 98.5% efficient.
Manufacturer's site
See posts about hot water

'06 Toyota Prius
Invested in one of the coolest cars ever to hit the streets.
Manufacturer's site
See posts about commuting

Solar Panels, Day 1

The solar panels were officially commissioned at 8:15 a.m. on Monday, April 7, 2008. It was a dark and overcast morning, and turning the system on produced minimal results at best. What a waste of money!!! Just kidding. The sun popped out around noon and for the rest of the day it was mostly sunny. End result? 18.5 kWh of energy produced on Day 1. Considering there was a morning of cloudiness and no results, that's not too shabby since we use an average of about 16 kWh per day. So far, so good!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Solar Panels


Get comfortable, this is going to be a long one.

About a year ago, Nicole and I were about to sign up for a Green Architecture class at Wesleyan University, in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program in which we are both enrolled. We had already done a lot of research into green building materials, some of which you have read about in past posts, some still to come. But a major investment was sort of in the works. We knew we wanted to do something big, and for our age, I think seriously considering a photovoltaic (PV) system a year after buying our first hybrid car was certainly big enough.

By the time the summer semester began, Nicole had already made some phone calls for information about different systems and we had a few sales reps come out to the house. The problem is, the peak of our roof runs North-South, meaning the slanted sides of the roof face due East and West, the exact opposite of what you want for a PV system. We have dreams of ripping off the back half of the roof and putting a full dormer across the back side of the house, and while trying to draw up plans for that, we went to great lengths to try to design the new roof in such a way as to make it somehow face South. It just wasn't happening. The best we could come up with was about a 2-degree pitch to the South, partially blocked by the peak of the roof during the latter half of the afternoon, and the ideal pitch for PV is 33-degrees, due South.

The last company we talked to (we didn't need to go any further) was Solar Wrights, who have an office in Stonington, CT, among others. Dave Cohen (email) was our sales rep and we now consider him a friend. Dave took a look at our roof and really listened to our ideas. He was unlike other people we had talked to, in that he really worked WITH us to design a system that we would be happy with.

Dave has a ground-mounted PV system at his house and noticed our large, mostly unshaded backyard. We hadn't considered a ground- or pole-mounted system but as soon as he suggested it we were on board. Our whole yard is a work in progress, much like the house, and Nicole and I both find solar panels to be gorgeous additions to a property, and not something to be hidden up on the roof necessarily. Everyone that has seen them so far agrees.

Anyway, We signed a contract in July, 2007 for a 4.2 kilowatt pole-mounted, tilt-able PV system that will produce, on average, all the electricity our house will use. We are still on the grid, and there is no electricity storage system, like a bank of high capacity batteries. We don't have the space (or money) for something like that, and in all honesty we don't often lose power, so going "off the grid" is not really a concern of ours. There will be months that our electricity bill will be a couple of dollars and others that we will have a credit balance. The credits can carry over month after month, in case we continually produce more than we use.

After beginning the process with Solar Wrights, we had other projects in the works like overhauling our heat and hot water systems. The new tankless hot water heater we got was strategically electric, so that it will basically run for free.

At the same time, however, we had to figure out how the hell to pay for the PV system. Without going into too many numbers, it is very a pretty expensive forray. Almost prohibitively expensive, in fact. Nicole and I do not have a lot of money, far from it. She works part time jobs and I work for a university, both of us coming from middle class families and both have parents that have worked their asses off to give their children better opportunities than they had growing up. We have both learned the importance of saving money and living fiscally responsible. All that said, this is not a financial commitment to be taken lightly. Luckily, the Connecticut Housing and Investment Fund offers an Energy Conservation Loan, which we applied for. It is a 10-year loan and is based solely on debt-to-income ratio, and does not take into consideration any jointly held assets. It does put a lien against the property, however, and would need to be paid off prior to selling the house, if we were ever to sell. The maximum loan amount is $25,000, which may or may not cover the cost of a PV system, depending on the size of it. Think of it like a home equity loan. I think the interest is tax deductible as well, we'll find out next year.

There is also a federal tax credit for PV systems installed before the end of 2008 as described here:
Tax credits are available for qualified solar water heating and photovoltaic systems. The credits are available for systems "placed in service" from January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2008. The tax credit is for 30% of the cost of the system, up to $2,000. This credit is not limited to the $500 home improvement cap.


Of course, like almost every tax credit, the maximum credit is nowhere near being 30% of the cost of the system. But hey, it's still a size-able credit nonetheless.

The only way we ever could have afforded this system, aside from the CHIF loan, was because of the rebate program offered by the CT Clean Energy Fund. They offer rebates for up to 40% of the installed system, based on the efficiency of the panels. The efficiency is determined by the number of modules, size and orientation of the solar array, shading, etc.

After being approved for the loan, Solar Wrights has really taken care of the rest, including the rebates. Tonya Morgan has been extremely helpful with all the paperwork, and her husband Charlie did an amazing job project managing the installation. This has been strange for Nicole and I, since almost every project we have done on the house we have done ourselves or with the help of our parents, siblings, and friends. Anyway, when we signed the contract with Solar Wrights, we were aware of the full cost of the system, but really never had to be concerned with the full cost. Your solar installer will take care of the rebates, and they deal directly with the CCEF before even determining the amount you are responsible for. By that I mean, we are not paying the full amount and then getting a chunk back in rebates, we just pay the post-rebate amount, and in our case there was a deposit and then 3 installment payments during the course of the process.

Installation: The system consists of two poles, set in a LOT of concrete. The concrete bases required 5' square holes to be dug 9' deep. The plywood forms were put in the holes and leveled, with the poles leveled within the forms. We also needed to dig an 18"-deep trench from the array to the house, for the conduit that would carry the wiring into the basement. This process made a much bigger mess of the yard than I had envisioned, but our yard was already kind of a mess anyway, so who cares. It's worth it.

Equipment: On each of the two poles are ten 210-watt SunPower solar panels, for a total of 20 panels. Each set of ten is independently tilt-able, so that in the winter we can tilt them more upright to catch more of the sun's rays, which is lower in the sky. We'll tilt them more horizontal in the summer months. And then in the basement is a SunPower 4000 inverter, which will convert the DC electricity produced by the panels into AC power that can go into the grid. There is also a meter in the basement so we can see how many kWh we are producing on a daily basis, as well as a shutoff switch next to the main panel, so we can turn off the power coming out of the inverter in case we need to work on the electric panel. There is another shutoff switch on the outside of the house so that if Connecticut Light and Power needs to work on the power lines, they can shut down the panels so that they won't backfeed into the system and electrocute the workers.

Long story short, this is a pretty complicated and expensive process, but if we can do it, anybody can. Before beginning this process, we really didn't know that much about PV systems, but it is such an exciting step to take that we are both happy to talk to everyone we know about it, share what we know, and hopefully make it less complicated for anyone else considering doing this.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Planet in Peril

This show on CNN was amazing, and of course, frightening. Not to keep posting just to post URL's, but their website for the show is a site that one could spend a lot of time on.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Help plant a billion trees in 2008

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched a major worldwide tree planting campaign. Under the Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign, people, communities, business and industry, civil society organizations and governments are encouraged to enter tree planting pledges online with the objective of planting at least one billion trees worldwide each year.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

OneThing

I haven't had a chance to check this website out yet but it seems like a really good resource for us Connecticut people. onethingct.com.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On-Demand Water Heater


These are all the rage these days. I guess they have been around in Europe for a long time (we Americans are a little behind the times in many facets of Earth-friendly living it seems), and so we bought one. With the planned solar photovoltaic (PV) system, we went with an electric model made by American Tankless.

These are kind of hard to research I found, and most of the information you will find at this point will be on the manufacturer's websites, which of course all boast that their model is the best. I bought the American Tankless one because it came with a lifetime warranty. Who knows if this one is any better than the next one. Home Depot and Lowe's are pretty much useless sources of information, and last I checked only Lowe's carried a model in stock and it was a natural gas model.

Anyway, These come in oil, gas/propane, and electric models. The basic gist is that this is a little wall-hung unit that is never running or maintaining a vat of water at a certain temperature. You open a hot water faucet, it turns on. You close the faucet, it turns off. Very nice. With an electric model like mine, it consumes no electricity, ever, unless you turn on the hot water. That is pretty sweet. When it does turn on, it requires a 125 amp breaker (your house needs to be juiced up to run one of these things...like an electric oven or electric heat), but even without the solar panels installed yet, the water heater only raised our electric bill maybe $10-$15/month (and is 98.5% efficient). Admittedly, there are only two people showering in our household, but considering at $10/month, that's only $120 bucks a year to run the thing. I'm guessing a standard tank-style electric water heater uses a lot more electricity than that. On-demand models do cost more than a tank heater, but since water is never sitting in them, they should last longer.

The big selling point of on-demand hot water heaters are that they don't run except when you need them to. When you are off at work all day, there is no quantity of water having its temperature maintained. This saves electricity if you have an electric model, and obviously oil or gas if you have those models. The oil or gas models can typically vent right out a wall as well, and don't need to tie into the chimney. Electric ones could even be (and often are) installed under a sink or in a closet behind the shower... Doing this makes the heated water have less distance to travel to the place it is needed, and thus retaining more of its heat.

Ours is installed in the basement and is only pushing water up to the first floor right now. I'm guessing once we renovate the second floor, we may install a second on-demand heater upstairs.

I should note, this little thing is ONLY used for domestic hot water. Not for heating the house. I should also note that this type of water heater can be installed in-line with a solar thermal or geothermal system, so that those systems pre-heat the water before it gets to the electric water heater. If the pre-heated water is hot enough already, the water heater won't even turn on. If it needs to come up a couple degrees, the water heater will kick on as the water travels through it. I would imagine a solar thermal system will be added to our arrangement sometime in the future. Gotta get the solar PV system up and running first. More on that soon. It shouldn't be long now.

Green is the new black

Not to get all morbid or anything, but there was an interesting article on CNN.com a couple months ago (yes, I did forget to publish this post) about natural burials. I guess if one chooses to be buried, unless they plan on being exhumed one day and having their coffin raided for the untold riches within like an Egyptian tomb, why not go with a biodegradable coffin? Or maybe toilet paper mummification? Forget cremation, think of the garden that could grow in that cemetary!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Let's get a plastic recycling movement going

Do you live or work in or around Middletown, CT? If so, let's get a little campaign going here. I actually don't live anywhere near there but I've given up on my town (Waterford) to do anything more advanced than they are for recycling plastics. I've posted about this before and a reader of this blog (woohoo, I have one!!!) contacted me about wanting to get something going at the recycling center in her town. I have heard Middletown has been making advances and I know that Wesleyan University has great recycling and sustainability initiatives. It would be wonderful if something... ANYTHING could be done here in CT. I didn't know about the programs in New Haven and Manchester that she mentions but I am definitely going to find out more. I've dropped off a full carload at my uncle's house in Massachusetts before, but that is really far away and a hassle for him.

Anyway, here is an email that Elisabeth Holder sent to Kim O'Rourke, the Recycling Coordinator of Middletown, CT. If anyone else is interested in joining this effort, let me know and we can see what we can get going. I have another friend in Middletown that has contacted Ms. O'Rourke about this before as well, and if enough people get involved maybe we can get some changes made. The Middletown facility has lots of room for extra containers...


Dear Ms. O'Rourke,

I have been watching for the past decade or so as the Middletown recycling program has developed and I am very pleased with the diversity of options that is available. The curbside pickup is great because it recycles so many types of paper and cardboard, as well as being convenient. I have taken items to the swap shack for re-use and regularly bring quantities of cardboard and styrofoam to the landfill. However, I am concerned that there is nowhere to recycle plastics #3-7. Would it be possible to create some bins at the landfill as a pilot program and see what happens? I have heard that Manchester and New Haven recycle all these plastics. Occasionally I take plastics to my friends' bins in New Haven, but I feel a bit guilty about doing this. There must be some way for Middletown to do this more advanced recycling, too...

I would appreciate knowing what the drawbacks are and how they might be overcome. Thank you for your time and attention.

Sincerely,
Elisabeth Holder
29 Long Lane
(Earth Science Teacher)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It just never ceases to amaze me

I didn't start this blog to have a soap box. Or to be political. But when I read stories like this one at cnn.com, I just have to write something down. I want to be sure I am not the only one that is flabbergasted by so many things, least of all the fool we have in charge. The newspapers are plastered with predictions of $4/gallon for gas by as early as this summer. FOUR BUCKS! I drive a Honda Civic that gets about 32 miles per gallon. Even with this I am paying about $120 a month just to drive to and from work. Sure, I live too far away from my office, but the real estate market doesn't exactly favor relocation. Do I feel bad for people that drive gas guzzlers? Hell no. However, it's getting to the point where everyone should feel bad for everyone that has to drive anywhere. This gas thing is really starting to affect everyone, even people that drive hybrid cars. Anyway, I don't even have a point, just wanted to link to that story and point out the idiot that is again rearing his head.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Feral Cats

There was an article in the local newspaper recently about a guy who takes in stray cats, provides medical care for them (many are in need of it) and gives them food and a place to stay. He doesn't try to make them all his pets, but does care for them. There are about 30 or so that come and go from his property. He also discovered that local shelters and other programs often offer financial assistance, something i have firsthand experience with, to people who capture feral cats and pay to have them spayed or neutered. Often people will Catch-Neuter-Release (CNR, in case you ever hear this term). This kind soul is doing this but also providing other medical care for the animals. And food. He lets them go but if they come back he feeds them.

What amazes me is the number of letters to the editor in subsequent days complaining about there being no regulations for this type of situation, and that he has basically opened an illegal shelter. I think neighbors complained as well.

I don't know what to say about this. Just give the friggin guy a break. He is a single, aging man, who is spending his limited money to help animals. People seriously do not have enough going on in their lives if they have time to write a letter to the editor just to complain about someone doing something so kind.

On a related note, a relatively inexpensive and quick way to spay/neuter a cat is T.E.A.M.. This is a traveling clinic and all they do is spay/neuter. You have to find out when they will be in your area, and I know they often set up shop in the PetCo. parking lot in Waterford, CT. You drop the animal off in the morning and pick him/her up in the afternoon. I forget if you need an appointment, but they love animals and have done an outstanding job on one of my cats and three feral cats I have caught and either released or found homes for.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Bamboo

There has been so much talk about bamboo lately, and for good reason. I don't even know a fraction of its uses other than for flooring, fabrics, and to use as a blow-gun of you are a ninja. It's one of those really strange things in this world that is almost impossible to kill, grows hearty and rapidly, and is strong. I happen to have some growing in my yard and part of my reason for this post is to warn people about it.

Bamboo spreads. Like poison ivy (the plant and the rash). After seeing the little patch of bamboo in my yard, several people have told me they wanted some. And I could easily give it to them. This patch came from my parent's house in the form of 5-10 roots about 10 years ago.

What people don't often notice is the 40-mil plastic barrier sticking out of the ground about 3 inches (it is hidden by edgers). Those 3 inches above ground are supported by 33 inches below ground. That's right, I dug a 3-foot deep trench around the bamboo patch and it took countless hours to pull up all the roots and rhizomes that had spread into the surrounding grass area.

Bamboo must be contained. Period. It is a HIGHLY invasive species. When planned for, however, it can make a beautiful natural fence or privacy screen. Too often, though, I see peoples' yards where the bamboo is simply spreading out of control, and there is not a lot you can do about that once it starts. Ask my parents. They started with 3-5 clumps of roots and shoots. Ten years later, they had a forest of bamboo behind their house and after several days (at a time and multiple attempts at this) of serious manual labor trying to dig that stuff out, it keeps coming back. The people they got it from were digging it out with a backhoe.

My basic point is that if you want any of my bamboo, you need to approach me with a 10-step plan of how you plan to contain it.