Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Planning and Doing a bathroom rehab

The GreenUP Challenge Blogger has been very busy doing a bathroom model rehab, and still trying to plan it at the same time!

Too much caulk to stop the leaksWe need to remodel the surround in the shower because the surround is old, cracked and leaks. There is a enough caulking to plug a Dutch dam. The really sad part is that the surround covers up Vitrolite tile, which can be seen surrounding the rest of our bathroom. Vitrolite is a glass tile that was popular in the 20's and 30's, when our house was constructed. It is a tile that can be waterproof, so my guess was that the shower was leaking when someone installed this atrocious tub surround.

Vitrolite is durable and can be waterproofed is maintained
When we removed the surround, we found that the tub was only tiled with Vitrolite half the way up. Back in 1928, it was just a bath tub, with no shower. I was extremely disappointed, for two reasons. One, my rehab would not be able to reuse old material, and two, this was going to affect my pocketbook.

**see the beautiful white and blue Vitrolite on the side, and covered with nasty old glue. Luckily, the glue scrapped off without a problem and without leaving any scratches.**

We called in the Vitrolite Specialist, Tim Dunn. This is the only guy I know that is an expert in restoring Vitrolite tiling. He travels the country restoring and salvaging this tile (as it is no longer manufactured). I am fortunate, because he happens to live in St. Louis! He is going to add Vitrolite from his 'stash' and regrout our bathroom so that it is not only beautiful but also waterproof again! So, my bath tub will be a green remodel, because we will be using salvaged Vitrolite.

I am happy with reusing salvaged tile, an my wallet is not completely empty, so I still have some money to put into the fixtures, toilet and vanity and countertop.... I am still searching for a toilet that will work in our space and a 'green' integrated sink and vanity options. I have found a decent shower plumbing set and several counter options... details in another post!



Sunday, October 12, 2008

Planning a bathroom rehab

The GreenUP Challenge Blogger has been very busy planning a bathroom rehab.

We have a small bathroom that has quite a few problems. The toilet uses a large amount of water and sometimes runs, the sink is damaged and rusty, and the shower surround leaks into the basement.

I hope to do a 'green' remodel job. The first component of this is trying to save and restore the vitrolite tile that makes up the original tub surround. Vitrolite is a semi-opaque glass tile that was popular before the Depression. It was used both inside homes and on the outsides of business. Our neighborhood here in St Louis is full of examples of both uses. Originally, the vitrolite above the tub was waterproof, however, without proper maintenance, it began to leak and was covered by a plastic surround many years ago. We are lucky to live in St Louis, as the man (who I believe) is the only one in the country who still works with vitrolite happens to live here. After we remove the surround and repair the sure-to-be-rotten boards behind the wall, he will come in and relay the vitrolite- waterproofed so that it can be exposed in the shower.

The 80-year-old tile floor needs scrubbed up while we have the vanity and toilet removed. The tub itself needs no repair, just new fiztures. Reusing old components in a rehab is an enivronmentally- friendly choice: reusing keeps the old materials out of the landfill and decreases the demand for new materials.

I am also busy shopping for a dual-flush toilet, a vanity made of renewable materials without organic adhesives, and a countertop with an integrated sink that is not made of plastic. I have found a few (very few) sources, and once I've decided I will write more detailed posts about these items.

Wish me luck in finding componenets and patience while our bathroom is all torn up!



Thursday, October 2, 2008

Challenge #24: Use old computer peripherals

Not as cool as the next galE-waste has proven to be large in volume, toxic, and its disposal is rife with corrupt practices. Computer tend to be like automobiles - a new one is 'needed' every few years. I hope to diffuse the idea that an average consumer of computer power needs the latest and greatest.

I retired my old PC about five years ago. Neither the hardware nor the software was performing well, and I started to use my husband's laptop in the evenings. After awhile though, we had to start scheduling evening computer time so that he could work and I could take care of the household management or surf the net.

I had the opportunity to buy a Mac G4 from the Mac support technician at my work site (his personal computer from home- he upgraded to a G5). I paid $100 for the tower, monitor, and keyboard. My 'new-to-me' computer is at least 8 or 9 years old now. Since the previous owner was a trained Mac repairman, he had updated the memory, some other hardware and had installed Mac OS 10.4. I have been using this computer for two or three years now. I rarely have any problems. Safari doesn't work well anymore, so I just installed FireFox, and I love it. I can surf high bandwidth sites with flash, music players, really anything. My computer has Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, ITunes, 1000s of pictures in IPhoto, and a couple of email clients. I work full-time at this computer.

The monitor was beginning to flicker, and I scored an old monitor when someone I knew updated their new computer (because, of course, new computers come together with new monitors, whether the old monitor is malfunctioning or not). Basically, I saved myself a ton of money and saved lots of perfectly good equipment from going into the landfill. Would a brand-new computer be faster? Probably, but would I even notice? The only complaint I have is that the new IPhoto is too new for my OS and the old one doesn't easily export to some web-based programs for printing photos. I can work around it though.

When I got this 'new' computer, I went down to the basement and dug out a few of my old PC peripherals. My old printer wouldn't connect to the Mac, so I bought an old printer from a friend who was moving for $40- along with an extra set of cartridges (score!). Currently, I am using 10-year-old computer speakers. One doesn't work anymore, so really I am using A 10-year-old computer speaker. Sounds okay to me. There is only one song in my ITunes that is really 'in stereo', and half of the instrumentation is lacking when it plays. I can only laugh when the song comes up.

Truth be told, new speakers are on my list for Santa this year. But before I can buy new ones, I have to find out how to properly dispose of these old speakers. I don't want them to end up in Africa where some kid will be exposed to toxic fumes as he burns away the plastic to recover a fraction of an ounce of precious metals.

That is E-ethics.

Dispose of e-waste responsiblyKeep up with software updates in order to extend the life of your computer and updates parts instead of systems.

Electronic waste pollutes the environment with heavy metals and toxic fumesfor anyone who properly e-recycles their old computers. I've got an old computer, two monitors, and two printers in my basement awaiting proper disposal. I have to find a trustworthy company to recycle these on-shore.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Challenge #23: Paint and Save

REuse Painting SuppliesAfter five years, I have finally painted over the juvenile stencils, leftover from the former residents, on my office ceiling! This is one of our last painting projects- we just have the kitchen to go.

For our first project, all those years ago, we bought a disposable paint tray, thinking clean up would be quick and easy-we'd just pitch it. We ended up washing the tray, and have used it for every painting project since. It doesn't matter if there is a little paint left in the tray (as you can see in the photo). The same goes for the brushes and rollers. We've reused them until the bristles or nap no longer leaves a smooth surface. We routinely use the old roller for the primer or base coat and then choose a new one for the final top coats.

All of our paints have been latex, or water-based. We wipe excess paint out of the tray or brushes and then wash them out in the basement sink. Be sure NOT to wash these paints into a storm sewer, where they will enter a creek or stream directly, without any processing or time to break down.

Additionally, we've saved leftover paint, in case we need to touch up a wall. We have also used up extra paint for smaller projects, like giving a bit of color to the basement. This is a far better alternative than throwing the leftover paint into the landfill. Be sure to label your cans with the room, the surface, and the painting date.

Now, I know these chemicals are not the greenest choice available, but using them responsibly and reusing materials as you can, goes a long way.

Save Remodeling ToolsJust because a tool is used or dirty doesn't mean it needs to be thrown away. Ask yourself if you can REuse it.

Green PaintTo anyone who paints around their house with a nontoxic, low volatile organics or other green paint. Also be sure to repair walls before painting, to extend the life of thsi paint job.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Challenge #22: Revisit Old Assumptions

Quite awhile ago, one of my favorite periodical, the National Geographic Magazine, switched from its class Kraft paper mailing envelope to a clear plastic one. I wasn't really too happy about that, since Kraft paper is recyclable. I started removing those plastic covers and throwing them in my trash can.
Check EVERYTHING to see it is recyclable
This week, I was removing the plastic cover from the October issue, I noticed that it had a recycling symbol on it! I don't know if they have changed the plastic or if it has always been there. Perhaps my overall attitude of challenging myself to be more green has made me more aware! I guess it never hurts to periodically check to see if a product or its packaging has changed.

Now, I will happily throw that plastic cover into my recycling bin!

Companies DO ChangeBe mindful of which objects you are throwing away and which you are recycling!

Recycle when you canREvisit old assumptions and see if you've over looked anything or if something has changed.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Challenge #21: The Digital Age

Digital film is reusableIn Challenge #14, I mentioned how many of you may have laughed at my late entry into the age of digital cameras. I was a slow adopter of this technology because I really liked my 35 mm film camera.

Since going digital, however, I have found out that a digital camera is convenient and environmentally friendly.

Before getting my digital camera, I often debated taking each shot. This internal hesitation developed as the price of film and processing began to increase as consumers abandoned film cameras. Now that I have a digital camera, I take every shot without reservation and throw out any sub-par images later. All, virtually, for free.

I don't have to worry about the plastics in the film, the chemicals used in making or processing the film, or the paper and ink used in printing the photos.

I store most of the pictures on my computer. Memory is cheap and plentiful, so I don't worry about filling my hard drive up. When I do want prints (or need to send something to Grandma), I select the few that are good, upload the order to a local store that develops film, and pick up the prints. I am not wasting any chemicals on out-of-focus photographs or on shots in which everyone's eyes are closed. I am printing just the worthy photos.

To share photos, I can email them, upload to a website, or make a slide show that I can show on my TV. All for the energy to read a few bytes, or more than likely, megabytes.

green photographyDigital memory is REusable, and alas, film is not!

photographic development chemicalsTo anyone who can 'green-up' their photography hobby or snapshots.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Challenge #20: Avoid Plastic Wrap and Foil

This post tags along with Challenge #18, about reheating your dinner plate with a reusable, plastic cover instead of disposable plastic wrap.

At my house, we store out leftovers in plastic microwavable containers, which we also use to take leftovers for lunch. We don't store leftovers on a plate under plastic wrap or wrapped in foil, neither of which are recyclable materials. However, we have been using our same plastic containers for several years: store, heat, wash, repeat.

Reuse plastic containersDon't make waste when you can REUSE!

Avoid Plastic WrapIt's just a green idea to avoid using foil and plastic wrap as much as possible!


Monday, September 15, 2008

Challenge #19: Beat your own electric-record

I just received my electric bill for the month of August. I was quite pleased with the low dollar amount (under $50), but I am not sure how 'good' I am really doing.

I found that the average US household supposedly uses over 10,000Use less energy than average kWh per year of electricity. I saw various estimates that the average US household uses 600-900 kWh per month. Well, I am competitive in nature, so I want to see if I'm "below average" in my electricity use!

I pulled out my electric bills from this year:

date ending.... kWh
1/9/08............ 361
2/10/08.......... 448
3/10/08.......... 549
4/9/08............ 479
5/8/08............ 380
6/10/08.......... 510
7/13/08........... 746
8/10/08 .......... 724
9/8/08............ 483

That averages out to 520 kWh per month and adds up to 4680 kWh for 3/4 of the year. I am doing better than the average household.

This summer, two things changed. Starting in June, I began working full-time from the house (thus, using my computer mostly all-day) and I started trying to be a bit more green. I wanted to evaluate if my new green habits were paying off, so I compared August's bill to the last 4 years:

year...... kWh...... $
8/08..... 724....... $67.28
8/07...... 737....... $68.32
8/06...... 1309...... $111.73 (our highest electric bill in five years)
8/05...... 1241....... $106.31

I don't see a big difference between last year and this year. I guess that's ok, since I am home all day using my electricity instead of my employer's.

I do know what the difference is between 2006 and 2007, when our electric bill cut nearly in half. The first three years we lived in this house, we generally kept the thermostat at ~72 F in the summer. In 2007 we decided to crank it up to 80 F. We also stopped using the window unit in the finished attic (the ceiling follows the roof line, so it is basically a sun-baked oven). Additionally, over the last three years we have added insulation to the attic, sealed around the foundation, and added weather stripping to doors and windows.

Now, what other factors go into our house: we live in the Midwest, where we enjoy the weather extremes of all seasons: the winter is cold, windy, and sometimes snowy or icy (usually a few weeks in the low 20s); the summers are hot and humid (100 F is really freakin hot); our house is modest, approx 1300 sq ft, with a half-story converted attic; our heat and hot water are gas; our clothes dryer is electric; I work from home using a 400 Mhz PowerPC G4 with the flat screen monitor. There's two adults, 1 dog and 1 pet in this household. I can see that more people make a big difference, as we had family here February through April, and our bills at that time are a bit high (see above- and compare to January and May).

So, compare yourself to me and the US averages, and see how much electricity we are using - leave your brags or your new-found motivation in the comments!

I'll also be posting some other energy-saving ideas over the next few weeks.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Challenge #18: Microwave Waste-free

Microwave Plate Domes Save PlasticI often heat leftovers for my lunch or cook a side of veggies in the microwave. We have a plastic dome that fits over a plate to keep the food from splattering and to keep the moisture in. These plastic domes are a sure green alternative to using and thowing away a piece of plastic wrap every time the microwave is engaged.

If you don't have a plastic microwavable dome, invest in one! I recall that ours cost about the same as one roll of plastic wrap, and we've been using it for at least a couple of years (well, since we actually got a microwave, which was about two years ago).

Little changes add upThink of other tiny ways that you can make a LOT less garbage!

Avoid plastic wrapThese little things can really make a difference!


Monday, September 8, 2008

Challenge #17: Social Media Apps

I maintain a FaceBook page to keep in touch with friends and family. I am not really into many of the applications that one can add to their page, but one "app" I really like is "(Lil) Green Patch".

In this application, you exchange 'Lil' plants, or plant people, with your friends and maintain your garden with periodic watering or weeding. With every 10 plants you share, a square foot of rain forest is "saved".

At first I was a bit skeptical about this, so I looked into how the site works. It has been covered online and in reputable print newspapers (such as the Wall Street Journal), so I believe that it is legitimate.

The application raises money with clickable ads. They donate a portion of this to the Nature Conservancy, which then purchases rain forest land in Costa Rica to save it from development. I think that if they weren't really donating the money, the Nature Conservancy would have had their name removed. Thus far, they have donated money to purchase over 1100 acres.

I like this because I am not really doing anything, yet money is going to a decent cause. It's so easy! It is also the one application that most of my friends all have. If you have a FaceBook or MySpace page, I recommend getting a (Lil) Green Patch and sending plants to all your friends to get them in on it too!

Save the Rain ForestUse free-to-you applications on your social media sites to raise awareness or funds for environmental issues.

Lil Green Patchto anyone who sets up (Lil) Green Patch on one of their social sites!


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Challenge #16: Off-Peak Electricity

Time energy use for off-peak hoursI just read in the newspaper this morning that the electric company in a neighboring state offers their customers the options of being charged for electricity at different rates depending on the time of day. The rate is determined by the demand for electricity throughout the day. Electricity is more expensive at high noon, when offices are up and running across the whole country and A/Cs are cranking to compete with the heat of the day. Check you local municipality to see if this service is available in your area. A savvy consumer could really save some money.

Unfortunately for me, neither the great state in which I live nor the company from which I must purchase my electricity offer this service. However, I think it would be beneficial to try to use my electricity when the demand is less throughout the nation. At off-peak times, the electric companies can rely on energy productions through hydroelectric and nuclear means instead of "firing up" an additional coal burning furnace.

I live in the central time zone, so the demand for electricity is less in mornings until about 10 AM. It would put less demand on the energy producing systems if I ran my dish machine or clothes dryer before California comes online for the day. This is an easy habit shift to make.

Peak Energy Usageto anyone who tries out a similar "hourly pricing" or "smart metering" program for their utilities.

Conserve electrcityTiming my "elective" energy use for non-peak times will mean less energy must be generated - meaning less fossil fuels need to be burned.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Challenge #15: Filtering your water

Filter water to avoid buying bottled waterWe live in an old house that still has a few lead pipes carrying the incoming domestic water (like the one coming from the street), and thus consider filtering our water a necessity. We have been using a Brita system for several years. The last time our filter timed out, we decided to try one that mounts directly on the kitchen faucet.

Our first faucet-mounted filter (the one on the left in the accompanying photo) was quite bulky, and occupied too much space under the tap, making it hard to wash pots and pans. It is also a completely disposable, one-time-use model. The whole thing needs to go to the landfill after it's ~one year of service.

When this filter ran out, I went to buy another and saw this new model at the store. The filter is housed to the left of the tap, instead of beneath. The biggest advantage is that the white part, the mount and the two taps, is reusable, and only the silver filter part needs to be disposed of. This filter is also superior to the old model in that our water pressure is still strong coming out of either the unfiltered or the filtered side. It also has two spray styles for the unfiltered water, one is more like the spray hose.

I drink water from this filter not only at home but also whenever I leave the house - I fill up a reusable water container and take it with me. So, even though I am using a filter that is not recyclable, I am not buying bottled water when I am out and about.

When this filter was expiring, I briefly looked into other filtering systems, but cost or space requirements proved to be the limiting factor for us. I do feel, however, that I made the greenest choice that will work for us.

Minimize wasteChoose household items on factors such as REusable parts and component REcyclability.

Green water filtersto anyone who gets a ceramic filtering system - I wish I could!


Monday, August 25, 2008

Challenge 14: Rechargeable Batteries

Almost 2 years ago, I bought my first digital camera, right before going abroad.

Now that you have stopped laughing at me, let me tell you about the batteries.

My camera uses two double A batteries at a time. I invested in a package of rechargeable batteries that came with a charger. Through my three weeks in Taiwan, I didn’t have to buy any batteries (always marked up at the touristy places).

Now I have about 10 batteries. I’ve noticed that a few of the sets don’t last in the camera as long as they used to, particularly when using the flash.

Last week, my wireless mouse started acting a little sluggish, and I figured it was the batteries dying. I took out the old non-reusable heavy metal waste-containing batteries, and stuck in that rechargeable pair that is too old for flash photography.

REcycle used batteriesThe mouse is working fine, and when it starts to get tired, I can just charge up the batteries.

One thing I have to remember is to unplug the charger when the batteries are all charged up, so I don’t waste any electricity.

Once my batteries don’t hold a charge, I will find a place to recycle them properly, along with the collection of non-reusable dead batteries that I have.

Rechargeable batteries are REUSABLERechargeable batteries help to reduce the use of heavy metals.

REcycle worn-out batteriesRecycle all used batteries.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Challenge 13: Buy Used

Secondhand Reading NookAs the summer heat starts to break, I am looking forward to an increase in local yard and estate sales. These kind of sales are great places to pick up used home goods. I like to buy solid things such as furniture, glassware and dishes, and books.

I love the retro look that you can easily and inexpensively achieve through buying second-hand.

The best thing about buying glassware at an estate sale is that people often stored their best stemware or dishes in a china cabinet and rarely used it because it was "too nice". These finds are in perfect shape and a true steal for someone in the secondary market, like me.

I look for local sales in the newspaper, on craigslist, and by just biking between the advertised sales and following street signs. I bike to sales for several reasons: it's fun and exercise for me, saves gas, and it keeps me from buying too much!

Buy UsedReusing second-hand materials decreases the use of primary resources (often mined from the earth or cut from a forest) and saves the energy that would otherwise be used in the manufacturing process.

hand-me-downsFor anyone who holds a yard sale or donates items that they no longer want and keeps their old 'stuff' out of the landfill!


Monday, August 18, 2008

Challenge 12: Make Sun Tea

Sun Tea uses Solar Energy
I hope to enjoy the remaining summer days with an endless supply of sun tea. While the days are still long and the sun is still intense, I set out a glass jar with water and a few tea bags right before mid-day. The sun can make tea in a few hours with zero carbon emissions.

My favorite sun tea uses fresh mint leaves from my garden. After less than half day in the sun, I have minty-fresh water that tastes great when I add a bit of sugar and stick it in the fridge.

This costs me nothing and uses no energy, save for putting it in the fridge. I pre-cool my tea by adding a few ice cubes, so that the fridge doesn’t need to work so hard.

Harness the Power of the SunThis REDUCES my overall use of electricity or gas, since the sun is heating the water. That little glass jug is a great way to harness solar power without any fancy equipment.

Use the sun to cookFor other adventures in sun-cooking.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Challenge 11: Drink Milk - From Reusable Jugs

I grew up in the rural part of Pennsylvania. Near our borough, there was a dairy that milked their cows, and pasteurized and bottled their milk on site. We drove to ‘the milk store’ once every other week, with a cooler in the car, to pick up our milk. Needless to say, with milk like that, I was a big milk-drinker.

I went away to college, and poured some watery white stuff on my cereal, and didn’t drink too many glasses of the stuff. On one trip home, anticipating a nice glass of milk, I found a plastic jug in my parent’s fridge. Sadly, the dairy couldn’t make it anymore, and stopped bottling their own milk and started selling to another company. If only they had been able to hold on another few years.

Reusable glass milk jugsThe use of re-fillable glass bottles in the dairy industry is seeing a resurgence. In the St Louis area, there are two local dairies that supply not only stores such as Whole Foods, but also the local ‘regular’ grocery stores, and my favorite locavore depot, Local Harvest Grocery. Basically, at any store from which I buy groceries, I can buy milk in a re-fillable glass bottle.

The store charges me a bottle deposit fee. This helps to ensure the return and reuse of the bottle. My husband and I joke that it’s our saving account, as we often forget to take the bottles back with us. Our last trip to return bottles, to one of the dairy’s stores, resulted in us paying 47 cents for two ice cream sundaes, because our bottle return was so ‘profitable’. See, savings account.

Buying milk in glass bottles also helps keep farms smaller, and accountable. The milk is labeled with their family name, not a generic store label. The dairy is also directly selling to the store, eliminating the middleman.

Glass bottles also do not leach chemicals into the milk and produce no off-flavors (think milk in wax cartons). The dairy collects them when they make a delivery to the store, wash and sterilize them and re-fill them at the dairy, likely very close to where the cows are milked. Yes, this takes energy, but reusing is better than recycling.

Hopefully, there is a dairy near you producing and selling milk in glass bottles. Make sure to buy re-fillable glass bottles, as that is more environmentally friendly than bottles that are only recyclable. If it’s not available in your area, be sure to let the store manager know.

Now if only the soda industry would return to this practice, as they still do in foreign countries.

Dairies Using Glass Bottles for Milk in US

REduce Packaging and Reuse materialsSelecting the most environmentally friendly packaging should be part of my criteria for purchasing food, to REDUCE waste and to select containers that are REUSABLE.

Environmental decisions in everyday lifeTo anyone who helps to bring milk to their area stores in re-usable glass milk jugs.
I hope to get a few green bonus points for myself by visiting the one dairy soon to see their operation.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Challenge #10: Take-Out and Delivery

About once every two weeks or so, we don't feel like cooking and we don't feel like going "out." We opt for take-out or delivery. I've noticed that the restaurant often includes plastic silverware and paper napkins. If we are getting delivery to our own house, don't ya think we have utensils and napkins?

Make food delivery greenI prefer to use real "silverware" and my "good" cloth napkins, so we usually don't use their disposable items anyway. Next time I order take out, I will request no plastic utensils or napkins.

I will also ask Chinese restaurants not to include soy or mustard sauce, as the soy sauce we have at home is much better and less salty, and we never use theirs. We save all this stuff in a drawer, just in case we ever need it. Well, I did need it for this photo...

I am aware that the biggest problem with take-out is often the packaging. A few of the places we order from have recyclable containers, such as a #1 for the soup. I think I will also try to ask the restaurants to use recyclable containers if they have them. I will note, and keep ordering from, those take-out places that use the most environmentally-sound packaging. Maybe the restaurants will also respond to these questions from customers like me and start their own shift to recyclable packaging. This is change at the grassroots level!

Along these lines, may I suggest that any of my readers who regularly buy take-out coffee purchase a refillable travel mug and keep those coffee cups out of the landfill!

Green Mantra I will save the planetSelecting restaurants based not only on their food but also on their packaging will help increase the amount of recycling that I do!

environmentally friendly decisionsto anyone who can help get restaurants to change their packaging.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Challenge #9: Paying Bills Online

A few years ago I started a bank account at a bank that has an online feature to pay bills. I have found this service to be convenient, secure and timely. The best thing, I save money and paper: on checks, stamps, return address labels and envelopes. Every bill I have gets paid online.

About 8 years ago, I had tried receiving and paying bills online. At this time, I had to go out to each company’s website, download the statement, and pay the bill on their site. It was a terrible system to try to use that was stressful and time-consuming, and I messed up or missed quite a few payments. I gave up and went back to paper bills for everything, although I still paid many bills online.

With the current system, you can actually get the bills downloaded into your bank account. I am going to try this with my utility bills, as I don't worry about unknown charges on these bills.

I am not ready to try this yet with my credit cards, as I like to look at each charge to be sure it is legitimate. But, I will start with the bills that I can and start reducing the amount of paper I receive in my mailbox.

Be green reduce you mail By receiving and paying my bills through the exchange of bytes instead of mail, I will REDUCE the amount of paper that is used by my household.

Save paper and petition for Do Not Mail to anyone who can decrease teh amount fo junk mail that they receive. Try donotmail.org to find some tips and to sign a petition to instate a nation "Do Not Mail" registry.


Friday, August 1, 2008

A Tour Around the GreenUP Challenge Blog

If you visit this blog at the main site (as opposed to reading feeds), you may have noticed that I recently adding some new features. I wanted to point out some of these, both for those of you who are new to "web 2.0" and to entice those who use a feed reader to come visit the site!

Leave Comments

I have changed the settings to allow anonymous comments, at the risk of getting slammed by spammers. If I see an increase in comments from my readers, I will continue to allow anon. comments, which means you won't have to login to Blogger or have an account. So, if you want to leave comments, here's your chance- and do it so that I know you want the service!

The Side Bar
On the left, under the "Archives" and "About me" are three links that help to promote this blog. I want people to read this blog so that I can share ideas on easy things they can do (heck- even I can do them) to bring a little green into their life. And, it helps my ego!
  1. Plurk is a social media site that allows real-time conversations to take place with other users from around the world. It is a cross between the more-famous twitter and the old discussion forums. It is certainly not for everyone, but check out my page to see if you like it.
  2. Stumble Upon is a site that allows you to recommend pages to other users. It requires you to have an account, but I really like it for true take-me-anywhere web surfing, but with filters for your interests (like "environment" or "science"). If you like my pages, be sure to "Stumble" them! Here's a link to pages that I have enjoyed or learned from and then Stumbled!
  3. This link is the social bookmarkers best friend: Social Media It gives you quick access to the most common website bookmarking and sharing pages, like FaceBook.
The next set of buttons are there to make your consumption of the GreenUP Challenge blog easier: they give you an easy way to subscribe to the blog and to stay up-to-date with the comments to blog posts, so that you can follow along in the conversation. The conversation that happens in the comments following a post is one of the really great things about blogging - for both me, the writer, and you, the reader.

Under Links and Blogs are webpages that I have found that do a better job than I at explaining green issues and advising you on how to be green. I will add more as I find them.

That little merit badge is from a site that offset 350 lbs of carbon just by me putting it on my blog! How easy is that? Go check out their page when you've got a second.

At the very bottom of the sidebar is a box labeled "Site Sponsors." These are advertisers that I select because I think they offer products that may offer green alternatives to an item or service.

The companies I have on there now include a book and audio book rental company and a camping equipment rental company. I could see the book rental company being good for anyone who lives in a rural area that does not have a library. For myself, I love to buy books, even though I know it is not the greenest choice. Would renting books that aren't available at my library be a greener choice? As for the camping and outdoor equipment, I think this is a great idea! We bought a tent a few years ago, and I think we've used it once (I can't really count the practice set-ups in the yard, right?). They also rent GPS units, so now I can take part in geocaching, if I ever get the chance!

Please keep you eye on this box, and hopefully I've picked green ideas for you to check out. If anyone knows of an affiliate program that offers green companies, please let me know. The program I am using now has limited choices. I am also trying to get a company that sells fair trade coffee. Check back here in a few days and the ad should be up.

Within each Post
Within each post are several useful buttons or links, after the "content" of the post.

  1. The bookmarking link is here again, if you want to specifically bookmark or share the individual post.
  2. The "## comments" link is where you can talk back to me. Yes, I do want your 2 cents worth. Just click here for a pop-up window that allows you to join in on the GreenUP Conversation.
  3. The next button is for sharing the post with your friends via email. Don't worry, I won't get their address or anything, so share if you like.
  4. The "Links to the Post" will show you any comments and any references of my post on another blog.
  5. The Labels are descriptors that I add to each post. If you wanted to find similar topics within my blog, these labels allow you to easily sort my posts by topic.
That's all folks!
I hope that you have enjoyed the tour around the GreenUP Challenge blog. Blogging is fun and easy, and I hope any hesitation you've had in participating more has gone the way of x-ray machines in shoe stores or radium on watch faces. Those were bad, everyday choices that caused unnecessary harm. This blog is here to help you!

I will post later this week on another simple change that you can adopt in your own life to get that much closer to being green. I am not trying to completely remake my life over night, but to slowly add habits that I can keep up and that my family will participate in too. Comment on this post with any topics you'd like to suggest or just to introduce yourself.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Challenge #8: Every Watt Counts

Reduce electricity use,standby electricity, to reduce carbon footprint I've been wondering if it is more energy-efficient to turn my computer off or to let it got to sleep. I already have it set to turn the monitor off after 10 min of inactivity, with no screen saver, and the computer set to go to sleep after 20 min. Since I didn't know, I did some reading on the 'net to see if I could find some answers about simple habits I could do around the house to save some electricity.

First off, I didn't realize how many seemingly innocuous things are sucking electricity. I saw estimates around the web that standby power squanders 5% of the total electricity used by residential customers. Not only do these sneaky transformers and appliances cause the senseless burning of coal, it costs me money!

Here is a short list of some energy wasters:
  • Cell phone chargers (anything that has one of those big boxes on a plug) draw a bit of electricity even when the phone is not being charged or the attached electronic is turned off. I am going to keep these unplugged!
  • The TV always draws electricity as it is waiting for the remote's signal ALL DAY and NIGHT! It's been suggested to plug the TV into a power strip so that it can be flicked off when no one is not watching the tube. On an aside, I know that my DVR sucks electricity all the time (I often hear the fan running). The problem with unplugging it is that it records shows throughout the day, which is kind of the point of having a DVR. Hm, ethical dilemma here, because I really love not watching commercials. Well, I guess I am saving electricity when I spend just 40 minutes to watch an "hour-long" program sans commercials (that's what I am going to tell myself).
  • Clocks on appliances use electricity. Yes, it's kind of obvious, but worth the reminder. I looked in my kitchen and counted four clocks (and I still never know what time it is). I've unplugged the coffee maker, as I'm not really drinking much coffee anymore, and I can always plug it in when I want to brew up a cup. I guess I could unplug the microwave, as we don't even use it on a daily basis. The stove is impossible to unplug. The fourth clock is a decorative one that is run by a battery- and is hopelessly always on the wrong time. I guess I'll climb up there and remove the battery.
Wow. I am doing pretty bad so far. All of these electricity leaks can really add up. We've spent a lot of time and effort to increase the weatherization of our old, creaky house, but we've let these small, bad habits undermine our efforts.

  • I am also going to get back to hanging my laundry to dry. I've got two lines down in the basement, and I used to be pretty good at hanging clothes on them, but I have gotten lazy. Line drying my clothes not only saves electricity from the dryer, but also cuts down on the heat input into the house, and thus should reduce my cooling requirements. I hung up some laundry yesterday; it was rather relaxing. I can hang the laundry just to hang the laundry (a la Thich Nhat Hanh)
  • These last few weeks I've been trying to not turn lights on every time I walk into a room. Sometimes I really think it is more of a habit than a necessity. If the sun is shining outside, must I turn the light on when I run into the bathroom? It's not like I actually need to see what I am doing (I do know where the toilet is, after all). Yesterday, my husband came home, and I was chopping the veggies for dinner without the kitchen light on. He knew I was up to some new habit-shift, and jokingly asked me if we would now be cooking in the dark. In my defense, it was pretty sunny when I got into the kitchen, and he had walked in from the bright outdoors. And yes, I still have all my fingers.
  • The computer is a big thing for me. I work here for a bit, go off and do something, then come back. Since I let it go to standby, I think it is not really drawing that much electricity. I am going to set a limit for myself: if I plan to be away from the computer for more than 1.5 hours, I will turn off the computer. Last night, I also switched off the power strip. This is something that I remember doing back in the day when a computer was still a new thing in the home. I think we did it in case it stormed, so that the computer would be protected. Now, I plan to get back into the green habit of switching my power strip off every night to reduce the leaky electricity going to my computer peripherals.
  • To update you on my refrigerator-opening challenge, we wrote down that we open our fridge an average of 11 times a day. This is calculated from the 10 days that we remembered to jot down our ins-and-outs and this is while we were trying to consciously open the fridge less! I am astounded by how much we open this cold box and let hot air in. Although I will admit, I have decreased the number of times I just open the fridge just to see if there is anything to eat...so maybe it's helped with my diet.
I found two sites that contain good information regarding wasted electricity in the home. I like the now banished term "leaking" electricity. Maybe if it was still called leaking electricity, it would have more impact on consumers, and that's how I am going to think about it.

Electricity Use by Computers

Standby Power

1-Watt Plan

Conserve Electricity Conscientious electricity use will REDUCE my household's carbon footprint.

Be Green
All around for anyone that can reduce their "standby" energy use!