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Oct 24, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Various
Location: United States

Green Up Your Power

We've discussed a number of ways to reduce your electricity and gas bills through conservation measures. For low costs and shorter payback periods, efficiency enhancements are almost always the way to go.

You can take greening your power consumption up another notch, though, by purchasing, or even generating, clean renewable energy. Depending on where you live, you may have several options.

Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) are available to anyone, anywhere. Credits can be a little difficult to wrap your head around: essentially, you're purchasing the environmental benefit created by renewable electricity generation. As we note in the Green Life Guide, most buyers of renewable energy credits do so to "offset" the environmental impact of their own power use, which is likely generated from coal or natural gas.

Green Power Programs allow you to buy power generated from renewable sources such as solar power and wind (though many utilities "green" the power by purchasing RECs). The Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division has a list of utilities throughout the US that offer such programs.

Renewable Energy Systems are available for purchase, of course. This represents a major investment for a home or building owner, but with tax incentives offered by the federal and state governments, you may find that your payback period on such a system is shorter than you imagined... and after that point, you're getting virtually free electricity. Renewable systems have to be evaluated on a number of criteria, including your geographic location, and the amount of power your want to generate. You also need to decide if you want to stay connected to the electrical grid. Your choices include solar, wind and geothermal systems.

Your Action for Today:
Examine Your Clean Power Options

If you're in an apartment or other living space without available land, you probably do have a balcony or patio where you can put some pots or other containers. Home owners and house renters generally have more versatility. The main feature needed: lots of sunlight. If your soil's not in the best condition, don't worry - there are ways to fix it.

Examine the options listed above to see if there is a renewable power option that's right for you. You'll probably also want to check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) to find out if you qualify for tax benefits tied to investment in renewable energy or efficiency upgrades. Record what you find in your Green Journal.

Finally, keep an eye on Green Options: coming soon, we'll be providing tools that will help your further investigate your clean energy options.

Tomorrow: Celebrate the "Greener You"

Sincerely,

Green Options

The GO Team
GreenOptions.com

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Posted: Oct 24, 2007 7:20am
Oct 23, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Various
Location: United States

Gardening: The Most Local of Foods

We've discussed a number of ways to green your eating by incorporating more local and organic foods into your diet. If you really want fresh, eco-friendly food, though, it's hard to beat growing it yourself. Whether its vegetables from a backyard garden, or herbs from a kitchen windowsill, serving food that you've grown yourself can't be beat for freshness, taste, and, of course, the pride you feel!

The section of the Green Life Guide devoted to organic gardening lays out the basic practices of growing your own food the natural way: no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. For a genuine wealth of information on how to put these practices to work a t home, check out Journey to Forever's organic gardening site. Whether you want to grow vegetables in the back yard or on an apartment balcony, they've got all the tips you need for square-foot gardening, container gardening, composting (which we 've already discussed), and other practices.

Your Action for Today:
Choose a Spot to Start a Garden

If you're in an apartment or other living space without available land, you probably do have a balcony or patio where you can put some pots or other containers. Home owners and house renters generally have more versatility. The main feature needed: lots of sunlight. If your soil's not in the best condition, don't worry - there are ways to fix it.

Gardening takes time and effort, but the rewards are well worth it. Return to your Green Journal as you make progress with your garden, whether in choosing a location, preparing it, planting, or harvesting. And don't forget to share the recipes you use to prepare that great food!

Tomorrow: Buying and/or generating green power

Sincerely,

Green Options

The GO Team
GreenOptions.com

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Posted: Oct 23, 2007 11:12am
Oct 22, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Various
Location: United States

Make Your House a Green Home!

Up to this point, we've focused on the most basic features of your living space: those elements designed to keep you protected from the elements and comfortable. The places where we live, though, are more than shelter: they're also a reflection of ourselves. Now that you're in the process of greening your life, you'll want to choose furnishings, wall coverings, window treatments and other items that mirror your commitment to living well while living green.

You'll want to think about (and ask about) the following elements when choosing home decor:

Materials: Decor items often include a range of materials: wood, cloth, and metal are among the most common, In each case, find out what you can about:

  1. The source of these materials (i.e., Is the wood from a sustainably managed forest? Is cloth made from eco-friendly fibers like organic cotton, hemp, or bamboo.
  2. The amount of reused recycled materials (reclaimed wood from a variety of sources is very popular), and the amount of material that can be reused or recycled.

Durability: Quite simply, are the items made to last? Are they things that you could resell or give away, rather than throw away, if you decided you wanted to go for a different look?

Chemicals: What kinds of finishes and treatments are used on the materials? Will they offgas toxic fumes into the air in your home?

Your Action for Today:
Go Browsing for Green Furnishings and Decorative Items

You have lots of choices when it comes to greener decor. EcoBusiness Links has a comprehensive listing of green furniture makers, natural paint manufacturers, sustainable flooring retailers, and more. We've got more information in the Green Life Guide. Of course, you don't necessarily have to go online - you may have stores in your area that sell new green decor, or "vintage" items.

Find something you like? Make note of it in your Green Journal.

Tomorrow: We've got to get ourselves back to the garden...

Sincerely,

Green Options

The GO Team
GreenOptions.com

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Posted: Oct 22, 2007 5:29am
Oct 22, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Various
Location: United States

Green Up Your Gadgets

We've discussed one element of the energy consumption created by electronic devices: standby power. As we all own more electronics these days, we also need to think about the energy they consume while in use, as well as the toxins contained in most devices.

According to ENERGY STAR's podcast series on consumer electronics, the percentage of our home energy use that goes to powering home electronics has more than doubled since 1980, from 5% to 13%. The easiest way to know that you're purchasing electronics that rate highly in terms of energy efficiency is to look for the ENERGY STAR label. The government programs rates most common electronics devices, including televisions, DVD players, home audio equipment and computers.

The other time we need to think about the impact of our electronics on the environment is at the end of their useful life. According to Earth911:

Electronic circuit boards, batteries, and color cathode ray tubes (CRTs) can contain hazardous materials such as lead, mercury and hexavalent chromium. If improperly handled or disposed, these toxins can be released into the environment through landfill leachate or incinerator ash.

Fortunately, electronics recycling services are widely available; some companies, like Dell computers, for instance, will take back and properly dispose of or reuse old equipment. Standards now exist to evaluate the environmental impact of new products: EPEAT, for instance, is a voluntary certification standard that ranks home computers on their environmental attributes.

Your Action for Today:
Find Greener Electronics Options

If you're in the market for a computer, a television, a cell phone, or another electronic device, make sure to take a look at ENERGY STAR's database of products that qualify for its label. EPEAT standards tell you more about other environmental issues, such as recyclability and reduction of toxins.

Note: The Consumer Electronics Association's My Green Electronics site also contains a products database; unfortunately, the site contains no information on the standards used to label a product as "green" except for EPEAT standards for computers.

Tomorrow: Shopping for Green Home Decor

Sincerely,

Green Options

The GO Team
GreenOptions.com

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Posted: Oct 22, 2007 3:20am
Oct 22, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Various
Location: United States

Baby, You Can Buy a (More Efficient) Car

Really bad Beatles allusion aside, there are more reasons than ever these days to focus on fuel efficiency when shopping for your next car. If gas prices continue moving in the upward direction we've seen over the past few years, "summer driving season" may become a contradiction in terms! By making fuel efficiency a priority when you shop for your next vehicle, you can take a bit of the sting out of gas prices, and also green up your life.

Hybrid-electric vehicles have gotten incredibly popular for their high efficiency (upwards of 60-70 miles/gallon), but they still may be a bit pricey for some buyers (even with the tax credits offered by the federal government). The Green Life Guide points out a variety of more efficient vehicles that are available on today's market, including:

  • High-mileage vehicles - conventional cars that achieve higher-than-average fuel economy. These include the Honda Fit, the Toyota Corolla, and the Hyundai Accent (all manual transmissions, though).
  • Flex-fuel vehicles - cars that can run on multiple fuels such as unleaded gasoline, gasoline-ethanol blends (or gasohol), and natural gas. The cars themselves are fairly widely available; the fuels, unfortunately, aren't.
  • Electric cars - these require no liquid fuel, as they run on rechargeable batteries. Unfortunately, they're also not widely available on the market.

Of course, there's another option for some - do you need to own a car? Could you take advantage of carride-sharing services, or public transportation, or your bike, or your feet, and avoid the costs of insurance, gas and maintenance completely? Not owning a car is always an option... and

Your Action for Today:
Look at Greener Car Options

You may not be in the market for a car right now, but it's certainly not too soon to start looking at your greener vehicle options. Some sources you might want to check:

  • The Green Life Guide's "Automobiles" section
  • The EPA's list of "Highest and Lowest Overall Fuel Economy" vehicles
  • FuelEconomy.gov's tool for comparing hybrid and non-hybrid cars and models

Find anything interesting? Write it down in your Green Journal.

Tomorrow: Shopping for (and Disposing of) Electronics

Sincerely,

Green Options

The GO Team
GreenOptions.com

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Posted: Oct 22, 2007 3:16am
Oct 22, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Various
Location: United States

The Last Item on Your Audit: Maintaining Your Furnace/Air Conditioning

Throughout these last few lessons, we've mentioned several times that heating (and cooling) make up the largest part of home energy use on average. After checking for air leaks, and making sure that you've got proper insulation levels, the last thing you want to do is check your heating and cooling equipment to make sure it's running at optimal efficiency.

The Depart of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division suggests the following steps in keeping the furnace and air conditioning running well:

  1. If you have a forced air furnace, check the filters monthly, and replace when clogged. Permanent filters are a greener option: instead of throwing them away, rinse out the gunk, and put them back in.
  2. Have a professional inspect your equipment annually.
  3. Check your ductwork for dirt streaks, especially near seams. These indicate air leaks, and they should be sealed with a duct mastic.
  4. Insulate any ducts or pipes that travel through unheated spaces. An insulation R-Value of 6 is the recommended minimum.
  5. Finally, if your equipment is more than 15 years old, you should consider replacing it. A new unit is certain to be more energy-efficient, especially if your existing furnace or air conditioner is in poor condition.

Your Action for Today:
Schedule Your Heating/Cooling Equipment Maintenance

Maintaining your heating and cooling equipment is largely a matter of making a schedule for routine maintenance, much like with your car. So, plan it out:

  • Pick a day of the month to check filters, and check for leaks.
  • Pick a month each year to schedule a service call from a professional.
  • Periodically, check the shape of the insulation on ducts and pipes.

Record the schedule you create in your Green Journal.

Tomorrow: Car Shopping Made Greener

Sincerely,

Green Options

The GO Team
GreenOptions.com

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Posted: Oct 22, 2007 3:09am
Oct 21, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Various
Location: United States

How Well-Insulated are You?

The next area that the EERE suggests examining in a whole house energy audit is your insulation. As with air leaks, the proper levels of insulation can help insure that you're not spending more than necessary on heating and cooling. Keep in mind that your home likely has the insulation levels recommended at the time it was built, so adding to these levels can keep your energy usage (and your heating and cooling bills) down.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory suggests focusing on the following actions:

  • Insulate your attic to the recommended level, including the attic door, or hatch cover.
  • Provide the recommended level of insulation under floors above unheated spaces, around walls in a heated basement or unventilated crawl space, and on the edges of slabs-on-grade.
  • Use the recommended levels of insulation for exterior walls for new house construction. When remodeling or re-siding your house, consider using the levels recommended for new construction in your existing walls.

EERE lists specific steps you can take to check your insulation levels in these areas of your home. Be particularly careful when checking walls - you'll likely want to check through electric outlets, but it's critical to make sure that the electricity to those outlets is turned off before checking.

Your Action for Today:
Check Your Insulation Levels

Using the steps and safety precautions provided by EERE, check the levels of insulation in your home. If they're below recommended levels, consider adding insulation - it will make a big difference in your energy usage, especially in the hottest parts of the summer, and the coldest parts of the winter.

For most people, insulation means fiberglass. Greener alternatives* are available, though, including:

  • Soybean-based polyurethane foam
  • Blown-in cellulose

Are your insulation levels adequate? If not, how will you increase them? Let us know in your Green Journal.

Tomorrow: Let's go car shopping...

Sincerely,

Green Options

The GO Team
GreenOptions.com

*This article is from The Green Guide, which Green Options sells through the magazine's affiliate program.

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Posted: Oct 21, 2007 9:54pm
Oct 20, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Various
Location: United States

Is Your House Leaking?

Most American's use more energy for space heating than anything else, and if you've got air leaks in your house, that means energy and money are leaking out with that heat. When making choices about repairs and upgrades to make your home more energy-efficient, start off by looking for leaks.

Where should you look for leaks? According the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division of the US Department of Energy, start with the following:

  • Electrical outlets
  • Switch plates
  • Window frames
  • Baseboards
  • Weather stripping around doors
  • Fireplace dampers
  • Attic hatches
  • Wall- or window-mounted air conditioners.

Some leaks you'll be able to feel easily. Others may require a few tricks. Try dampening your hand when feeling for leaks. Or, use the following method to increase the flow of air:

  1. First, close all exterior doors, windows, and fireplace flues.
  2. Turn off all combustion appliances such as gas burning furnaces and water heaters.
  3. Then turn on all exhaust fans (generally located in the kitchen and bathrooms) or use a large window fan to suck the air out of the rooms.

You may also want to burn incense while doing this: the smoke will float to spots where air is moving. You'll also want to check your home's exterior for leak points, such as:

  • All exterior corners
  • Where siding and chimneys meet
  • Areas where the foundation and the bottom of exterior brick or siding meet.

Of course, you don't want to seal your house so tightly that you create an unhealthy situation from indoor air pollution or "backdraft" from fuel-burning appliances (stoves, furnaces, etc.). According to EERE:

When sealing any home, you must always be aware of the danger of indoor air pollution and combustion appliance "backdrafts." Backdrafting is when the various combustion appliances and exhaust fans in the home compete for air. An exhaust fan may pull the combustion gases back into the living space. This can obviously create a very dangerous and unhealthy situation in the home.

In homes where a fuel is burned (i.e., natural gas, fuel oil, propane, or wood) for heating, be certain the appliance has an adequate air supply. Generally, one square inch of vent opening is required for each 1,000 Btu of appliance input heat. When in doubt, contact your local utility company, energy professional, or ventilation contractor.

Leak-hunting isn't just for homeowners or house renters: apartments can have leaks, too. If you rent, you'll probably want to report any leaks to your landlord.

Your Action for Today:
Go Hunting for Leaks

Using the methods and information above, go looking for leaks in your home. When you find them, you'll want to seal or fill them with the proper material: caulk or weather stripping will work in most cases.

Record your activities in your Green Journal. And keep in mind that you may want to call in a professional for some leaks and repairs.

Tomorrow: Inspect Your Insulation

Sincerely,

Green Options

The GO Team
GreenOptions.com

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Posted: Oct 20, 2007 8:12pm
Oct 20, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Various
Location: United States

Time for an Audit... of Your Home

We've covered a number of strategies you can implement to use less energy in your home. If you really want to find out what kinds of improvements you can make that will increase your house's overall efficiency, it may be time for an audit: an audit of your home's energy usage.

While many utilities offer free auditing services, if you're serious about cutting energy usage (as well as your utility bills), you'll want an audit that takes a "wholehouse" approach. Wholehouse audits look at overall energy usage, identify issues that may be increasing usage, and prioritize improvements you can make to achieve higher efficiency. The Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division of the US Department of Energy describes the wholehouse process, and provides tips for conducting one yourself, or for hiring a contractor to complete a much more extensive one.

Over the next few days, we'll cover some actions you can take to identify and even fix some of the major energy gobblers in your home. This is a good way to start (and to learn more about your home). Hiring a professional can give you more detailed information, and help you prioritize repairs and upgrades in terms of both costs and results.

Your Action for Today:
Take a Look at Some New Tools

EERE's page on home energy auditing has a series of questions to ask yourself about your current energy usage and goals (under "Formulating Your Plan"). Answer those questions to the best of your ability in your Green Journal.

If you think you might be interested in hiring a contractor, the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) has a directory of certified home energy raters in your state.

Tomorrow: Looking for leaks

Sincerely,

Green Options

The GO Team
GreenOptions.com

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Posted: Oct 20, 2007 8:08pm
Oct 20, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Various
Location: United States

Mow Green for Mo' Green

We're down to the last third of 30 Days to a Greener You, and from here on out, we'll take a look at various steps you can consider to move beyond the "low-hanging fruit." Keep in mind that greening your life doesn't have to involve big investments; at the same time, we all do make larger purchases, so keeping our environmental footprint in mind when shopping for bigger-ticket items is a natural next step in greening our lives.

If you're a homeowner or house renter, keeping the yard and garden healthy takes a lot of work, and various kinds of tools, particularly power tools, help ease that work load. If you're cranking up a gas-powered lawn mower, leaf blower or rotor tiller, though, all of your efforts to green your gardening may be offset by the pollution that tool is belching into the atmosphere: according to a 2001 Swedish study, small engines such as lawnmowers may contribute up to 5% of the US' total air pollution.

Fortunately, greener alternatives are available. Reel mowers (you know: the "old-fashioned" lawn mowers) use only human power, and are a perfect tool for a small yard. If you still need some power for a bigger yard, consider an electric mower (many of which are now cordless), or even a solar-powered mower (they're still a bit pricey, but what a way to impress the neighbors - and avoid any emissions).

Your Action for Today:
Take a Look at Some New Tools

While you may not currently be in the market for a lawn mower, it's good know what's available. Take a look, and record what you think might work for you (and why) in your Green Journal.

  • Reel mowers are likely the greenest alternative - no fuel or batteries.
  • Solar-powered mowers have batteries that are charged by sunlight - Appropedia tells you how to build your own!
  • Electric mowers require plugging in at some point, so while they don't emit pollutants themselves, they're drawing electricity that may come from a dirty power source. Overall, they're slightly better than a gas-powered model.

And a tip for organic lawn care: leave the clippings on the lawn - they don't contribute to thatch growth, and do provide organic material for your lawn.

Tomorrow: Time for an audit

Sincerely,

Green Options

The GO Team
GreenOptions.com

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Posted: Oct 20, 2007 8:00pm

 

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