Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eco Friendly Radiant Heating

Many of us have forced hot air heating systems in our homes. It might have crossed your mind in the winter just how inefficient this method of heating is. Forced 'hot' air they call it? More like barely lukewarm, not to mention that the registers are often placed in the ceiling plane or high on a wall, resulting in cold drafty floors and all your heat escaping through the ceiling before it heats the room. Whoever came up with this system should be ashamed. It does not even follow any basic common sense laws of physics. Should we take into account the poor quality of indoor air that this system creates?

Fortunately there are much better alternatives, radiant heating has been a growing trend. While installation can be costly, it will pay for itself with the money you will save on heating. Radiant floor heat creates a very comfortable indoor environment, it also makes complete sense by all laws of physics. Since hot air rises, a heated floor will distribute it evenly in the entire space and you can say good bye to drafts! Moreover, this kind of heating is great for homes with kids, pets, and people with allergies as it does not create airborne pollutants.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Log Homes: Sustainable Living

Log homes have been around for centuries and have regained popularity in recent years. Until not long ago though, the energy efficiency of log homes was in question, but recent tests confirm that well built log homes have a superior 'thermal mass effect' and can outperform stick-framed buildings. Timber is a naturally renewable resource that requires less energy to produce than all other building materials. Log components, in particular, consume less energy and labor between harvest and placement on the housing site, while log walls provide 'surface as finish', saving material and labor costs since other building material layers are not required. Provided that a log home has high performance doors and windows that are well installed and an insulated roof membrane, it can provide enormous energy savings, not to mention it is very comfortable to live in concerning many aspects. While I believe the sheer size of modern log homes is often very unsustainable, if you keep with reasonable square footage - it can be a very ec0-friendly housing option. As with any wood used, you should always seek FSC certified wood, most log home companies and builders adhere to that as a given.

Watch this interesting video about Eco Log in Ontario, Canada.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Landry & Arcari Clearance and Carpet Benefits

Another winterizing tip: carpet your floors. While carpet may not always be the best option for homes with pets, young kids, and people with environmental allergies, it is great if your household does not fit into any of the above categories. Good quality carpeting can last a long time and provide significant thermal benefits in cold New England winters. There are also many sustainable options available on the market today if you are concerned about formaldehyde or other off gassing substances. Wool, though more expensive, is one of the best carpeting materials simply because it has unparalleled thermal properties, is naturally water repellent, and is a natural material. By their very nature, wool carpets and rugs are good for the indoor environment. That's because wool, unlike synthetic fibers, rapidly absorbs common contaminants in indoor air like formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Not only does wool keep the air free of many harmful pollutants, it will not re-emit them, even when heated. In fact, it has been estimated that wool carpets can continually purify indoor air for up to 30 years!

There is actually evidence that wool carpeting might help with allergies. It is not immediately apparent, but hard flooring lets the dust freely and constantly move around, which might trigger allergy attacks unless kept absolutely dustless everyday. Carpeting on the other hand can trap allergens and not let them escape, prohibiting the movement of particles in the air, and when regularly cleaned with a HEPA and CRI Green Label vacuum that does not release allergens back into the air it can create a more controlled environment for people with allergies.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Upgrading Laundry: Energy Efficient Washers

Your old washing machine may be sending a good chunk of your wallet down the drain. While the approach of 'if it ain't broken, don't fix it' might work in some cases, in this case you might save more in both energy and water costs (not to mention clothing) by investing in an efficient washing machine. Energy-efficient washers can use up to 50 percent less energy and 60 percent less water than standard machines. As a general rule, front loading machines are more efficient when it comes to water. Some local utilities even offer rebates for front-loaders.

You might have not thought of this, but you will also benefit from the new washers that have more than just three basic cycle options like small, medium, or large load. They offer features like the delicate cycle and the steam cycle, which in turn can save you money by giving longer life to your clothing and as an alternative to dry cleaning (we all know how wallet draining that can be). From my personal experience, my clothing suffered significantly when we had to use an apartment complex community washing machine. The clothing that I wore for several years that still looked great after being washed hundreds of times in a European front-loader now all of the sudden looked like it was fifteen years old, the fabric started really showing the wear.

The National Geographic Green Guide offers a buying guide for washing machines where they rate them on several factors. Their top pics include the Kenmore HE2 Plus Super Capacity, the Samsung WF218ANW, and the LG Electronics WM3001HWA.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New President: Green Economy

With Barack Obama in office, as Van Jones put "the first 'green' president", the window of opportunity for renewable energy can finally be opened more than just an inch. The highlight and focus of Greenbuild 2008 in Boston was the Green Economy, now it can become reality. With the current economy crisis, energy is one of the spring points that can create jobs and jump start this country if it is executed in a wise and thought out manner.

California is already at the forefront of this solution with companies researching and producing renewable energy technology that demonstrates performance surpassing what was previously thought possible. New jobs are created and workers are trained in things such as solar panel or wind turbine installation. The task ahead is not easy, it requires determination and perseverance, but no longer can the US rely on other countries for its energy needs. The payback on the investment in renewable energy will not be seen in an instant - that would be too easy. It will take a few years, years that many small businesses do not have, yet it seems to be the only solution that can address several problems at once.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Art of Biomimicry

Biomimicry is an art. The art of learning the intricacies and ways of nature and using them in the design of today's new technologies and products. Nature is overflowing with examples of complexity, efficiency, and sometimes outright mind-boggling design. Today architects, engineers, and designers can all draw on the inspiration provided by nature to design more efficient buildings, more adaptive transportation, and more innovative products.

The Biomimicry Institute is a non-profit organization that is at the forefront of this design movement. They have really great tools that a designer in any industry can use to learn more from nature and perhaps find ingenious solutions to problems that they face. Their portal, Ask Nature, is a free on-line database that is searchable by design challenge. It is also a great tool for students and children to learn more about the intricate designs found in nature.

Biomimicry has helped design a myriad of products and objects including cars, boats, airplanes, paints and coatings, high performance fabrics, solar panels, roofing material, and buildings.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The List: Creating a Healthy Home

I often come across questions from people who are new to sustainable living and they often ask for the 'easy list' on what they can do to make their homes and lives more healthy. Recently I came across an interesting list that I thought was worth it, I attribute the credits to Seventh Generation, you can also view it here.

Light Green Steps to a Healthy Home

1. Use cleaning products made from natural and not-toxic ingredients; avoid cleaners that contain synthetic chemicals.
2. Dust with a damp cloth to ensure that household dust, the final resting place of many toxins that enter our homes, is removed and not stirred back into the air.
3. Open windows and doors occasionally (even in winter!) to bring in fresh air and rinse out pollutants that have accumulated inside.
4. Avoid aerosol products. They fill your home with microscopic droplets of the synthetic chemicals that are often in these sprays.
5. Same for deodorizers or other air “freshening” products, which are frequently made from unhealthy chemicals that coat surfaces and pollute the air your family breathes.
6. Opt for natural pest control methods instead of pesticide products.
7. Keep conventional cleaners and other chemical products out of kids’ bedrooms and playrooms. Click here to learn why children need special protection.
8. Use chlorine-free products to wash dishes. The chlorine in conventional detergents evaporates in hot water and is released into the air in your home.
9. Conduct a radon test. Radon is an odorless natural radioactive gas that seeps into homes from surrounding soil. A simple test can tell you if your home needs abatement measures.
10. Replace synthetic personal care and make-up products with natural alternatives that don’t contain toxins. To learn more about the hazards in personal care products, click here.

Medium Green Steps to a Healthy Home

1. Eat organic food. It’s grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers, drug and hormone treatments, and genetic alterations. That makes it healthier for you and the earth.
2. Ask guests to remove their shoes upon entering your home. From pesticides to pollutants, shoes can track unwanted visitors into your home.
3. Clean and inspect combustion devices like furnaces, stoves, and hot water heaters to make sure they’re functioning properly and not venting hazardous gases into your home.
4. Have your water tested for chemicals pollutants like pesticides and chlorine. Install a filter on drinking water taps if pollution is found.
5. Buy a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. These special filters trap particles that regular vacuums can’t catch.
6. Don’t buy soft vinyl products, including toys and shower curtains. These items likely contain phthalates (“thal-ates”), toxic chemicals that easily leach.
7. If your home has a chlorinated water supply, install a filtering showerhead to prevent chlorine from vaporizing in hot shower water.
8. Remove any permanent press, easy-care, wrinkle-free, and/or flame-resistant linens and fabrics that are less than one year old and don’t buy new ones. They are most likely treated with the chemical formaldehyde, which slowly escapes during the first year of use.
9. If your home was built before 1978, test painted surfaces for the presence of lead. Conduct the same tests on your child’s toys.
10. Conduct an indoor air quality test to see if any toxic gases, including formaldehyde or vapors from VOCs, are being emitted by your home furnishings.

Dark Green Steps to a Healthy Home

1. Don’t buy home furnishings or fixtures made from particleboard or other pressed wood products. These can emit dangerous fumes over time. Choose solid wood instead.
2. Choose naturally- or low-impact dyed natural fiber carpets and textile products, and use natural flooring for your home. These products won’t introduce any chemical additives to your environment.
3. Become a "localvore" by eating foods grown within 100 miles of your home. Organic or not, such foods have the lowest overall impact on the environment.
4. Clear out the clutter. Crowded, exposed shelves are dust magnets that collect a disproportionate share of the toxins present in your home. Display your favorite items behind glass instead. To find out more about dust and dusting, click here.
5. Replace synthetic foam mattresses with beds made from untreated cotton, wool, and other natural fibers, and glue-free solid woods.
6. Take the same step with other home furnishings. Synthetic foams and treated textiles are one of the chief sources of toxic flame retardants.
7. Replace your lawn with natural landscaping that provides valuable habitat for your local flora and fauna.
8. Wear naturally-dyed natural fiber clothing and keep synthetic materials, colors, and treatments away from your family’s skin.
9. Swap all your non-stick cookware for cast iron. Properly seasoned cast iron will provide much the same results and won’t leach perfluorochemicals or toxic fumes.
10. Express yourself. Let public officials, corporate leaders, and other decision-makers know how you feel about local, national, and global issues.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Eco Friendly Cellulose Insulation

Most US homes are insulated with fiberglass. What’s the problem with fiberglass insulation? Fiberglass can escape from the insulation, filling the air with the equivalent of microscopic shards of glass. If inhaled, these tiny particles of glass can inflict damage to the lungs. What’s more, fiberglass is considered to be a probable carcinogen by National Institutes of Health. Children are at greater risk than adults when exposed, because they breathe more air – and whatever it contains.

Until recently, the other insulation options consisted of cotton, wool, and petroleum based cellulose insulation. Now you can have the same benefits of cellulose insulation - at the same cost, but without the unfavorable petroleum aspect. Soy-based blow-in insulation is made from a byproduct - oil left over after the beans are crushed to make foodstuff, cosmetics, and other products, that until now was waste. Unlike fiberglass, soybean insulation is non-carcinogenic, has no off-gassing (VOCs, CFCs, HCFCs, or formaldehyde). It eliminates mold and allergens, and is rodent and insect resistant. It also boasts very high sound attenuation properties. Soy based blow-in insulation will make your house stand out from the crowd both in energy savings (50-70% more than fiberglass) and the health of your indoor air. There are also tax credits and rebate programs from energy providers that can help you offset the costs of the investment in soy-based insulation (for the year 2009).

The leading company for soy-based insulation in the Northeast is The Green Cocoon, contact them for more information if you are interested in this insulation for your home or business. You can also visit BioBased, the manufacturer, to find a dealer near you or to find more answers to your questions.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Can Coal Be Clean?

The new 'clean' coal ad campaign hauntingly resembles Joe Camel that was used to promote cigarettes more than 15 year ago. This Is Reality is a tool to educate people about the realities of coal power and to serve as an activist for change.

So how can you call something obviously dirty - clean? Moreover, get away with it and have the public believe it? Here are some facts from This Is Reality:

New coal industry ad: "Part One of clean coal has taken place in recent years, as billions of dollars in new technologies scrub away emissions."

The Reality: Burning coal is the dirtiest way we generate electricity. While federal regulations have required coal plants to reduce some pollutants, the industry has not prevented a single pound of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere.

New coal industry ad: "America has more coal than any nation...The more we use it, the less we need to rely on foreign energy."

The Reality: America's most abundant energy resources are the sun and wind, which are limitless and free. The more we use those, the less we need to rely on foreign energy, carbon-polluting energy, or costly fuels.

New coal industry ad: "Eventually, carbon capture and storage will allow plants to recycle the CO2 back underground in deep storage or even oil fields, increasing US oil production..."

The Reality: Eventually perhaps. But there are roughly 600 coal plants producing electricity in the U.S. and not one of them captures and stores its global warming pollution.

Oddly enough, there are no homes in America powered by 'clean' coal. The EPA says CO2 emissions from U.S. coal-based electricity are greater than emissions from all the cars and trucks in America. Virtually all the new coal plants that have been proposed will, just like their predecessors, release 100 percent of the CO2 they produce into the atmosphere, where it will linger—and contribute to global warming.

Here is some food for thought: "An investment in wind power produces almost three times as many jobs as the same investment in coal power. And an investment in solar power produces almost four times as many jobs, and energy efficiency, almost thirty times as many jobs as coal power." Earth Policy Institute, November 2008

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stickley Furniture Sale: 4 Days Only

Stickley Audi & Co. in Natick is having the truckload and rug sale this Friday through Monday. Save 42-60% on quality furniture! Click on the image link for an additional savings of 5% off on Friday from Boston Shops.

Slow Water Current for Renewable Energy?

New technology developed by a University of Michigan engineer can turn vibrations in water into clean, renewable energy. This machine is named VIVACE ( Vortex Induced Vibrations for Aquatic Clean Energy). It is the first known device that is capable of drawing energy from most water currents around the world, according to a statement from the University of Michigan. “There won’t be one solution for the world’s energy needs,” VIVACE developer Michael Bernitsas, a professor at the U-M department of naval architecture and marine engineering, said in the statement. “But if we could harness 0.1 percent of the energy in the ocean, we could support the energy needs of 15 billion people.”

Biomimicry played a role in the design of this system,
Bernitsas and his team have tried to duplicate the roughness of fish scales on their cylinders because a rough cylinder surface could increase the power output by 40 to 70 percent compared to a smooth surface. Bernitsas is also impressed with fish tails. His team has begun to experiment with passive tails that could keep vortexes from interfering with each other.

Currently Bernitsas’ group is working with the U.S. Navy to install two VIVACE systems in the next year: one in the Detroit River and another in an ocean environment somewhere.

Although the production of VIVACE systems in commercial plants is still a future dream, the cost of electricity from a mature VIVACE installation would be roughly 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is similar to the current price of wind generation. Roger Bedard, EPRI’s ocean energy leader is of the opinion that with the passage of time, slower tidal passages will become economical.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dell Children's is First LEED Platinum Hospital

Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas has become the first hospital in the world to receive the LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Platinum designation, given by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Many consider building to LEED standards a waste of money and just a reason to brag, but it is clear that LEED buildings are actually money-saving, not to mention healthier to occupy. The poor building standards that have governed for such a long time result in the occupants developing chronic conditions such as asthma. We spend most of our time indoors in schools, office buildings, and hospitals, the air we breathe there has an absolute direct impact on our health. Here are some reasons why Dell Children's is superior to other hospital buildings:

"Dell Children's, which occupies nearly one-half million square feet on 32 acres that were once part of Austin's old Mueller Airport, opened in June 2007. Its environmentally-sensitive design not only conserves water and electricity, but positively impacts the hospital's clinical environment by improving air quality, making natural sunlight more readily available, and reducing a wide range of pollutants.

Inside the facility, sunlight reaches 80 percent of the available space. Outside, sustainable and indigenous building materials were used throughout the fa├žade. A 4.3 megawatt natural gas-fired power plant produces 100 percent of the hospital's electricity, heating and cooling."

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Window Coverings for Energy Savings

For more energy savings this winter consider thick panel window coverings or insulated drapes for the coldest rooms in your home. Designer Linens Outlet offers many options to choose from that can be used with an additional lining. Here are a couple of them:

For insulated drapes try the selections at the Bed Bath Store, Boscov's, and Amazon. To save money you can also just buy some inexpensive material and line your existing curtains for insulation. Just be sure to keep those curtains open on southern facing windows when the sun is shining to take advantage of the free heat.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Going Green: Middlebury College

Most colleges have both the power and resources when it comes to 'going green'. Even with economy struggles, the promise for savings in the long run, not to mention appealing to the market, makes it worth the trip. Middlebury College in Vermont has committed to becoming carbon neutral by the year 2016. The college plans to achieve carbon neutrality through a combination of efforts, including the 2008 completion of a biomass plant powered by wood chips; operational adjustments such as energy efficient lighting and facility upgrades; and — after all other economically feasible efforts to reduce carbon have been exhausted — the purchase of carbon offsets.

January 15 through 17 Middlebury will be hosting a series of events showcasing the FirefFy wind inventions of Jito Coleman. Jito is an engineer and artist who has been in the wind energy business for many years. The
FireFly is "a small wind turbine that powers an LED light; it is mounted on top of a ski pole driven into the ground. When windy, the light glows with an intensity proportional to the speed of the turning blades. When a lot of them are placed on a landscape, they make the wind visible in the dark."

Vermont has been known for many Eco initiatives in everything from farming to architecture and recycling. Middlebury College is following the lead and hopefully will be attracting many environmentally conscious students in the coming generations.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Water Conservation and Safety Tips

If your New Year's sustainability resolution includes using less water in your household, now is a good time to invest in a shower head that does not waste the increasingly precious resource. There are many options out there but some deliver truly superior results and many also offer the benefits of taking chlorine out of your water (which may help with that 'eliminate dry skin' resolution). Of course by using less you not only save on water bills but also energy bills for heating that water for showering. While shorter showers are common sense for conservation, it will not make a big difference if you have an old water guzzler shower head, the same applies to your toilet - new technology can take even less than 1.6 gallons per flush.

Try the Oxynator for a luxurious chlorine-free shower. It is very nicely styled, comes in a chrome finish, and delivers a 99% chlorine free shower infused with oxygen. It will do wonders to your skin and hair:

If you prefer a hand held shower that is convenient with kids, pets, and the elderly, try the Ultra Oxygenics. You get both the benefits of more oxygen in your water and the impressive 2 gpm consumption:

For conserving water without replacing your existing toilet, try the Controllable Flush. Convert your standard toilet into a low-flow toilet -without tools or a plumber- and save up to 35,000 gallons of water a year. Because not all flushes need to be the same, the dual-action Controllable Flush controls the amount of water you use to flush waste matter:

A kitchen faucet aerator will conserve even more during dish washing and food prep. This 1.5 gpm Touch Flow Swivel Spray Aerator makes your faucet more versatile:

If you are at all concerned with the quality of your tap water you can also invest $60 in a home water test kit that will determine the levels for bacteria, lead, pesticides, arsenic, nitrates, nitrites, chlorine, iron, pH, copper, alkalinity and hardness:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Eco Friendly Landscape Lighting

Landscape lighting can add significant curb appeal whether you are looking to keep or sell your home. When you are aware of rising energy costs though, the last thing you want is to add more items to plug into your outlets and drain your bank account. The solution is to use solar powered landscape lighting that makes your place glow after the sun goes down. While we have all seen the cheap solutions that you can get at Home Depot that give off the soft blue glow, there are other options that will look more 'designer' and professional yet still affordable The Missions Solar Light pictured below requires 3 hours of direct sunlight to charge, these lights dispense light more brightly and evenly than most other solar products. It can also be removed from the post and used as a table lantern. With LED technology this light will last you a long time:

Check out these very eccentric solar slate stepping stones that you can use to light pathways on your grounds. They are powered by an integral solar panel and after being auto-charged can provide up to eight hours of LED light:

These incredibly stylish Solar Shoji Lanterns can be hung anywhere in your garden or near your patio to give off a soft glow and moon like radiance. Yellow LED lights are encased in paper-like, weatherproofed nylon and automatically switch on at night:

Also appealing for a garden setting is the Shepherd's Hook Lantern . They are crafted from copper plated stainless steel for rust resistance and long time outdoor use. They are somewhat reminiscent of the Arts & Crafts movement and add a lot of charm to an outdoor space whether it is by a cottage, mansion, or a simple cape:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Simple Steps to a Greener Home

If you are looking for ideas for a more sustainable lifestyle for you and your family, check out the DVD Simple Steps to a Greener Home by Danny Seo.

This presentation will show you simple steps that will help you turn your home into an Earth-friendly oasis. Learn more about implementing recycling, decorating, and remodeling that is Eco-friendly.

The book Plug-in-Hybrids by Sherry Boschert is an interesting read. Plug-in hybrids are a part of the environmental solution, and the technology to put them into mass production is already existent. Demand for plug-ins is nearly at a fever pitch already, and this book examines how you can get one, along with just what they are and why you want one.

For further home and lifestyle greening check out this book Solar Electric System Design and Installation:

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ecotourism: Vermont Green Hotel

Park Light Inn located in Chester, VT offers Ecotourism packages and also has great winter specials. This green inn adheres to socially and ecologically responsible practices. Here is a list of some of their environmentally friendly commitments:

Carbon free reservations: Carbon free reservation system conserves energy and dramatically reduces paper consumption and waste.
Organic Amenity Products:

Guests are pampered with quality organic/vegan amenity productions including those from Vermont Soapworks.

Towel/Linen Care Program: Voluntary participation by guests reduces water waste and unnecessary detergent use.
Cleaning Supplies: Facilities are cleaned utilizing environmentally friendly, biodegradable cleaning products and sanitizing processes.
Recycled Paper: Where ever possible we utilize and provide for our guests recycled paper products.
Reduce, Recycle, Reuse Policy: Active recycling programs address glass, bottles, newspaper, cardboard, and paper products, etc. Cloth napkins, glasses, real china and silver service are readily available to guests 24 hours – even for picnic baskets, eliminating the need for “disposables.”
Plastic reduction / elimination As opposed to bottled water, personal bedside pitchers and tumblers are provided for each guest, for use with finest Vermont water. You will find only real silver, no plastic utensils.
Energy Conservation: In addition to low-flow toilets and faucets, over 100 Compact Florescent Lamps CFL's are presently in use at the Park Light Inn. 1.6 GPM shower heads provide exhilarating shower experience while saving water.
In-room recycling bins: Guests are encouraged to participate by utilizing the convenient recycling containers placed in each room/suite. A full sized recycling sort station is also conveniently located and accessible to all guests/visitors. A full sized recycling station is located off the stone patio.
Local/Organic Refreshments:

Our coffees are locally roasted, decaf is chemical free water processed. We are actively working with our service providers to increase organic and fair trade selections of beverages and snacks.

Donation programs: Magazines and items/furnishings no longer needed ( but in good condition ), are donated to local charities.
Energy Star: Energy Star appliances are found throughout including LCD flat-screen TVs in guest suites.
Automobile Free Travel: Shuttle and guided tour service year round.
Renewable Energy A collaboration wth CVPS allows the inn to provide a portion of it's energy using COW POWER – which is not only a sustainable energy source, the program supports Vermont Farmers.

Their Winter Wonderland Romance Package includes: thee days/two nights lodging (minimum), refreshments upon arrival, a three course gourmet breakfast, one candlelight dinner served prepared by your own personal chef, snowshoeing at the ponds, and a private horse drawn sleigh ride (holiday blackouts apply) starting at $289 per person.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Best of Boston Interior Designers

Looking to redecorate or remodel the interior of your home? Perhaps you are desperate to sell it and need some home staging help? Try these local Interior Designers and Home Staging companies for outstanding results:

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Passive Houses: no heating bills!

Did you ever dream of not having a heating or cooling bill for your home? Are you tired of cold drafts, leaky doors and windows, and the unknown of energy costs? You can get quick fixes like replacement windows, radiant heat perhaps - but how about a house that does not need a heating/cooling system to keep warm, even in a cold climate? Sounds enticing?

Passive house is a concept more familiar to the people of Europe (they always seem to be a few steps ahead), and the Passivhaus Institut in Germany is the pioneer of the engineering concepts for this energy efficient way of living. A passive house is a "very well-insulated, virtually air-tight building that is primarily heated by passive solar gain and by internal gains from people, electrical equipment, etc. Energy losses are minimized. Any remaining heat demand is provided by an extremely small source. Avoidance of heat gain through shading and window orientation also helps to limit any cooling load, which is similarly minimized. An energy recovery ventilator provides a constant, balanced fresh air supply."

To learn more about Passive Houses (not to be confused with a solar passive house), take a look at the links below:

Friday, January 2, 2009

CFL Lightbulbs: Mercury Content Concerns

While the recent trend to change light bulbs to CFLs is a step toward energy efficiency, it is also a step toward indoor toxicity and pollution considering the unhealthy amounts of mercury they contain. A CFL bulb uses a whopping 75% less energy than its incandescent brother, it truly is an easy decision. But there are concerns over the amount of mercury that is currently capped at 5 mg by Energy Star. Some Energy Star light bulbs would not be able to be legally sold in Europe because their cap for mercury content is lower than the US.

Under the Bush administration, Energy Star has become a passive backseat passenger and a partner to the electrical industry, hopefully things will change in the coming year. For now, to take the guesswork out of which bulbs are safest to buy, refer to the Environmental Working Group's guide for the CFLs with lowest mercury content and highest lifespan hours. Be sure to avoid using CFLs in rooms and locations where they can pose a hazard to children. For more in-depth information on this topic visit EWG.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

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