Friday, August 31, 2007

Who recycles? A new poll

Here's an interesting new poll from Harris Interactive about who throws out the aluminum cans with the rest of the garbage.

Harris Recycling Poll

Some highlights:
Those in the East and West are more likely to recycle (88% and 86% respectively). One-third (32%) of those in the South as well as three in ten (30%) of those in the Midwest, however, say they recycle nothing.

Three-quarters (77%) of American adults recycle something in their own home, one-quarter (23%) still recycle nothing at all. One may think that the younger generation is the one most likely to recycle, but this is not the case. Three in ten (30%) Echo Boomers (those aged 18 to 30) recycle nothing, compared to 19 percent of Matures (those aged 62 and older).

Among those who do not recycle, the reasons are very varied. One in six (15%) say they do not recycle because it is not available in their area while 12 percent each say it takes too much effort and it costs more to recycle where they live. Just one in ten (11%) say they do not recycle because they don’t believe it makes a difference while six percent say they are too busy and five percent say it is too difficult.

Almost there

The trenches are filled in, the lines are run. We're less than three working days away from flipping the switch on our new geothermal system! Of course, the house is a mess, with some drywall in the basement ceiling torn out to make room for pipes, but we're very excited to give it a go.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Little green changes that can save you a lot of money

I thought I'd post a list of handy tips that appeared in an article I wrote for the Columbus Dispatch about saving money by conserving water and energy. Most don't cost a lot of money, and I've put some into effect in my own home already...


Install a low-flow showerhead : A 10-minute shower uses 50 gallons of water. A low-flow showerhead reduces that to only 25 gallons. Low-flow showerheads cost about $12 at home-improvement stores. If you shower 10 minutes a day, the savings would be 750 gallons of water a month, or about $5 a month on your water bill.

For added savings, replace your faucet aerator. Aerators are the round disks at the tip of the faucet that control how much water comes out. Low-flow aerators cut water use from about 2.5 gallons to as low as half a gallon per minute, at a cost of about $1 each.

Watch the flush: The typical family of four uses 112 gallons of water a day, or 3,360 gallons a month, to flush toilets, at a cost of about $20 a month.

Replacing older toilets, which use 3.5 to 7 gallons of water per flush, with low-flow toilets using 1.6 gallons could reduce your water use by up to 73 percent. The cost to make a replacement starts at about $100, but you could save up to 2,450 gallons of water and shave about $14 a month off your water bill.

If a new loo is out of your budget, hanging a water displacement bag in the tank can reduce water use by 20 percent, or about 1 gallon per flush. Water displacement bags cost about $2, and could save you up to 672 gallons, or about $4 a month.

Lawn smarts : The average American family uses about 120 gallons a day, or 3,600 gallons a month, watering lawns and washing off driveways and sidewalks. You can reduce that by up to 50 percent by watering in the evening -- when less of the water evaporates because of heat -- and by "making sure you aren't watering your sidewalk instead of the grass," said Rick Tilton, assistant director of the city's division of water and power. Potential savings? About $10 a month.


The average U.S. household consumes about 11,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity (kWh) a year, at a cost of about $900, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs : Compact fluorescent bulbs use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer, according to Energy Star, a government program that rates products by how much energy they save.

In central Ohio, it costs 95 cents to power one 75-watt standard light bulb for five hours a day for one month, according to AEP Ohio. It costs 25 cents to power a compact fluorescent for that long, a savings of 70 cents a month and $8.40 a year per bulb.

It takes only about 3 months to recoup the extra cost of compact fluorescent bulbs in energy savings, according to Energy Star.

If a houseful of new bulbs isn't in the budget, replace those in the fixtures you use most, such as the kitchen, bathroom and family room lights, Deyette said. Replacing five bulbs will save you about $3.50 a month, or $42 a year, according to AEP Ohio.

Buy a power strip : Many appliances use electricity even when they are turned off. It's called a phantom load, or vampire electricity, and the Ohio Consumers' Council says it accounts for 5 percent to 10 percent of a home's electricity use and costs Ohioans $46 to $93 a year.

Unplugging one small appliance, such as a fax machine, one computer monitor, and one television when you aren't using them will save you about $6 a month, Stroh said.

Plugging electronics such as computers, televisions and DVD players, and small appliances such as coffeemakers and microwaves into a power strip, and then turning the power strips off when you aren't using those items will save you even more money, Deyette said.

Heating, air conditioning and laundry : Heating and cooling account for 47 percent of the average household's annual energy bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The easiest way to cut that expense is to adjust your thermostat.

Every degree you raise your thermostat in the summer shaves 2 percent off of your energy bill, Deyette said. Every degree you lower the heat in winter, shaves 3 percent off the bill.

Install a programmable thermostat : This can lower your heating and air-conditioning bills even more, by about 10 percent, said Ronnie Kweller, spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit group in Washington.

Programmable thermostats alter the temperature of your house at different times of the day, allowing you to use less energy when you're sleeping or not home.

"If you're spending $1,000 on A/C in the course of summer, it can save you up to $100," Kweller said. "You can still come home to a comfortable house but not at the cost of running the air all day."

They cost as little as $30 and usually can be installed by the homeowner, Deyette said.

Laundry day is another cost-saving opportunity.

A family that washes seven loans of laundry a week can save about $5.25 a month, or $63 a year, in water-heating bills by washing clothes in cold water, Kweller said.

Old-fashioned line-drying will save you even more.

"A new electric dryer can use 4,500 watts per hour," more than almost any other appliance in your home, Stroh said. Old dryers use even more.

"Hanging your clothes out to dry will knock nearly $10 a month off of your utility bill."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The $5 recycling roadblock

Every Tuesday I put my red recycling bin out on the curb. It's always so full it's spilling over into whatever other containers I can muster. But when I look around, I'm the only person on my street putting out a bin. My neighborhood overall doesn't have many recyclers either. It's so easy, I couldn't understand what was going on. So I went straight to the head of the neighborhood association. Here is his response:

"Folks don’t want to pay for it to be picked up."

Recycling in my town costs $5 a month. 5 smackers. Trash pick up is completely free, so it's not as if the $5 fee is on top of a large monthly trash bill. But free trash does send a clear message: why conserve? Throw it away. It's free!

I tried to talk the neighborhood association into doing a recycling fundraiser-- starting with something simple like aluminum cans-- because they're always trying to raise money for projects. They passed.

I know I'm the young person in a neighborhood of older people, but is there really a recycling generation gap?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Geothermal isn't pretty

The yard is a mess. I guess I wasn't expecting them to coat it with bentonite clay. They also had to dig a trench to hold excess water, because it's been raining a lot here this week. Hopefully this is the worst of it. And to think the neighbor complained that the rain barrels were unsightly!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Geothermal Green Light

After a lot of thought, we've decided to go ahead and get the geothermal heating and cooling system, even though it costs a few thousands dollars more than a traditional high-efficiency furnace. Price tag: $12,400.

Three factors made the decision for us. First, geothermal is one of the most efficient forms of conditioning the air in your home. It is up to 500 percent energy efficient, and emits very little CO2. Also, any extra heat the system generates would be used to heat our water, displacing some of the natural gas we currently use. The geothermal heat pump is also a high-efficiency air conditioner. It carries heat out of the house in summer, just as it carries it in in winter.

When you do the math, we're getting the equivalent of a new furnace, a new air conditioner (ours needed to be replaced), and a super efficient water heating system all with one new appliance. When you look at the price tag again, it's more cost effective to pay for geothermal than it is to buy each of those three items.

We also calculated that it will take about 5 years for us to make our money back in energy savings. For alternative energy systems, that's a very short payback time. Solar panels can take up to 30 years to pay for themselves.

Given those factors, it simply makes sense. Of course, I will have to pay to re-seed the lawn when they're finished drilling the wells. But I think that's a small price, don't you?