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.