Wednesday, October 6, 2010
After two years of retraining in the Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency program at Greenfield Community College, which I cannot recommend to highly, I've begun work as an Energy Auditor for Next Step Living Inc. I and two others will be heading up their operations in Western Massachusetts.
Next Step Living is participating in a pilot project to open up the state-wide Mass Save homeowner retrofit project to independent contractors to perform audits in addition to weatherization work.
Generally, I have had trouble keeping up this blog while I was busy, but I will try to update this with the beginning of my new job.
I'm currently finishing up training in Boston to begin Audits in Greenfield starting next week. I'll keep you dear reader posted throughout the process.
Unfortunately this new job requires a new car
That's right, Katie and I who have spent the last six years with from zero to one cars, now need a second vehicle, and the wonderful two door Honda Civic of hers that gets 40 MPG just won't cut it for carrying the tools of my trade. So we researched to find the most fuel efficient cargo carrier that we could. It became clear that rather than buying an older pickup which would mean that we would end up replacing two cars in the next few years, it made sense to find a newer and capacious hatchback.
The cute, fuel sipping Ford Fiesta, and Toyota Yaris failed for their miserly cargo room. We found that There were really three competitors for what we wanted The new Kia Rio 5, the Nissan Versa Hatchback, And the Honda Fit. We decided against the Rio 5 because we just had a Rio four-door sedan rental that failed to wow while we visited my family in Arizona and as a new model we knew that it was unlikely that we could get any real deals. We test drove both the Nissan Versa, and the Honda Fit. Both have manual transmission options that are quite peppy (the Versa automatic was sluggish) Both are fairly well appointed at around $15,000 MSRP and the Versa can be had for much lower than that. For most people, I could see both being suitable, but for me it came down to the superbly designed and engineered cargo space of the Honda Fit. This thing is a wonder to behold. The rear seats fold flat and level which makes the space much more usable. In my day to day usage, I will rarely be returning these seats to their upright and locked positions. This vehicle will act like a mini-pickup for me, that happens to have access on three sides.
Blower door and combustion safety at home
This weekend I will be testing my skills on our new home - Oh you didn't know that we had a new home? that's because I haven't posted to this blog since we began searching for a new house. It's pretty nice. I'll dish more later.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Today is Representative Town Meeting in Brattleboro. Katie is an elected representative, and she's already hard at work hammering out the details of this year's budget.
I also wrote an article for the Brattleboro Reformer as a member of the town's Solid Waste Committee. It's about composting, and includes information I haven't posted here. Check it out.
Compostin around Brattleboro
Sustainability should be the true goal of our community -- it's good for our neighbors, ourselves and the environment. Our Vermont lifestyle should not have products shipped here from thousands of miles away, just to be used for a short time and sent away in dumpsters to remain in the landfill forever. We should strive toward zero waste.I've gotta thank Katie for all her help editing it. I just wasn't feeling my regular pithy self. Working for a word count takes away some freedom.
Step one is easy: compost. Rotten fruit, vegetables, paper towels, leftover meals, what do they have in common? They're organic waste, and half of our trash in Brattleboro. That's a lot that could be composted.
In Brattleboro, many people already compost or think about composting. Before you start taking all your leftovers into the backyard, you need a plan -- not all organic waste is easily or safely composted in your compost pile. With a little effort just about all of it can be kept out of the garbage.
Some people compost religiously, but would like to be able to dispose of things like meat which attracts animals, dairy and oils which are hard for the micro-organisms to break down, animal wastes which can carry pathogens, or weeds which have seeds that can be spread in compost. Some people would like to compost, but feel it is too difficult or they don't have the required space.
When most people think of composting, they think of a heap or bin in someone's backyard. Kitchen scraps and yard waste are put in a pile, and nature slowly turns it from trash into very fertile
dark brown dirt known as humus. This can be put in with potted plants and used along with soil as a nutritional supplement instead of petrochemical-based fertilizers saving precious oil from a job done as well by a natural product.
It can also just be left where it forms if you don't grow plants and don't have any friends who want your compost. This type of composting can only take fruit, vegetables, egg shells, yard clippings, leaves and non-bleached paper because it's a low temperature process. It's easy so many people do it. The pile needs a specific ratio of green material to brown material in the pile- most people just manage this themselves by putting on more yard clippings or food depending on how the pile is developing.
The compost heap can be improved with a bin. A bin speeds up the composting process and can kill weed seeds and germs if it's hot enough. Still you are limited to what you can compost. Every Spring, WSWMD has compost bins available at a discount. Check out the Web site www.windhamsolidwaste.org for details.
You can also make your own bin. I live in an apartment house with three total units, and I made a compost bin from a large plastic garbage can with many 1/4-inch holes drilled into it. We all use the compost bin. It works slower in the winter, but we don't run out of room.
At home, there are two advanced forms of composting: vermicompost and bokashi. Both can be practiced indoors with very little odor in a small space. Vermicompost is composting with a specific type of worm. Worms actually eat the organic matter, and leave very nutritionally rich castings. The worms work fast, but they should be kept inside because they are not native to Vermont. You can put more types of scraps into vermicompost than into a compost heap, but you must care for it like you might care for a potted plant. It's not as much responsibility as a pet, but it still requires some nurturing.
Bokashi is the only form of composting that uses fermentation instead of aerobic decomposition. It's like making beer for your plants. Bokashi is a japanese technique that allows you to turn any kitchen scraps into nutritious plant food. This can be meat and bones, citrus, eggshells, yogurt and even milk. To make bokashi, you need a bucket with a drain or spigot on the bottom, bokashi mix (which contains the microbes that break down the food) and your kitchen scraps.
Brattleboro has a large renter population, and sharing a compost bin may not work for everyone. Even one person interested in composting and willing to manage it a little can make a difference to all our neighbors.
If you are interested in putting together a community composting project, please contact the Solid Waste Committee at email@example.com, and we will try to help.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Today is a pretty miserable day to be outside. It started out snowing and quickly moved to freezing rain. We were running out of ice melt at my apartment and I wanted to go and get some more. We have treacherous stairs and a driveway in the best conditions, getting in and out in this weather is very tough. Of course I didn't know what the least environmentally disastrous type of ice treatment was. I went with Calcium Chloride (CaCl2) because it claimed to work at the lowest temperatures.
When I got home I did a little research. I'm satisfied with my purchase. CaCl2 is pound for pound worse for the environment than regular salt (NaCl), but it is far more effective, you don't have to use as much. However, you might have to reapply it. The most important environmental concern is proper use and application of whatever you use. Use only as much as you need to, and center it on the surface you are deicing. As it melts it will spread. If it has snowed and starts to freezing rain, you are better off waiting to shovel so that the snow acts like a buffer from the freezing rain and a hard shell of ice forms on top of the snow instead of on the sidewalk. And always remember to shovel before you apply any ice melter. You don't need to melt snow, just move it.
If you can find it, Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) is the environmentally friendly solutiotion, but it costs thirty times as much as salt in bulk. You can often find it blended with CaCl2 or NaCl which is a good choice. If it has at least 20% CMA, then corrosion can be greatly reduced.
An Environmental Program Manager for the USPS sums up all the options
Road Management Journal on Deicing
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Tonight the Brattleboro Selectboard is likely to reverse a previous decision which rejected Pay As You Throw (PAYT) garbage pickup. Brattleboro, like many towns, doesn't charge you directly to pick up and haul garbage. Instead garbage collection and pickup is part of the town's general budget and is therefore payed by property owners based on their property taxes.
It's an unfair system. I have no reason not to throw out large amounts of garbage every week. I have no reason to recycle. And anyone who does limit their trash and recycles what they can is actually paying more so that I can do whatever I want. PAYT makes the system fair. If I want to be wasteful, I still can. But now I will have to shoulder the cost of the waste myself. People have controll over their expenses.
A likely scenario for PAYT in Brattleboro will be that every 30 gallon trash bag you throw out will cost $2. Over the course of a year, if you throw out one bag a week (which I average) it will cost you only $104. If on the other hand, you have no interest in sorting your recycling out, composting, or reducing your waste, you will pay significantly more. I will not have to support your bad habits when my landlord would raise my rent because his property taxes increase.
The great things about PAYT are that you the consumer are in control of your expenses, you do not have to subsidize other people's wastefulness, and it encourages everyone to conserve, recycle, and compost.
Friday, January 2, 2009
CC image on Flickr by A.M. Kuchling
Focusing on the consumers, he plans to weatherize one million low income homes a year for the next decade. That's ten million homes in ten years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 80 Million houses in the United States and a total of more than 128 million units. Weatherizing ten million homes is a significant step towards energy efficiency, but it only hints at what needs to be done.
Currently money is being spent primarilly to support the energy costs of low income users. A cynical but technically correct translation is that every american supports the energy utilities so that they allow the poorer of us not to freeze.
We need to commit to efficiency on a grand scale rather than just paying off debt and defraying costs. The LIHEAP heating assistance program has received a much deserved budget increase for 2009, bringing funding up to $5.1 billion for the year. For Every dollar spent in this way we must spend another dollar to actually fix the heating situation. Every new home should be required to meet current Energy Star standards (or at least all homes in developments of x houses or more) and new energy star standards need to be set close to zero net energy.
While I was in Tucson in december I came across Armory Park Del Sol, which is an excellent example of what every new development should be. It is downtown Tucson infill. The lot was undeveloped and probably planned originally for warehouses, now it is residences in a style similar to the historic neighborhood it borders. Of course they actually have high tech offerings as well:
All Armory Park del Sol homes are now built with a solar electric system of at least 1.5 kWh (earlier homes were built with a 1 kWh solar electric system) and a passive solar water heater that meets approximately half of a family's water heating needs. The Net ZEH has a 4.2 kW solar electric system and an active solar hot water system that is designed to provide almost all of a family's water and home heating needs.I applaud President Elect Obama on his energy plans, but we need more projects like Armory Park Del Sol and Efficiency Vermont. And I think that we need some very well crafted regulation to encourage it.
Energy Aid Still Available - The Brattleboro Reformer
Sustainability: Community scaled ideas are needed - Ralph Meima
Vermont's Seasonal Fuel Assistance Program
The State of Vermont's Weatherization Program
LIHEAP Clearinghouse: Vermont
The Census Bureau's housing Statistics
Thursday, January 1, 2009
This last year brought a lot of progress for the green movement. Green has entered mainstream American thought. It's been at least fifteen years since people have thought about their impact on the planet and the environment so much. Americans elected a new president who actually plans to address environmental issues and stop the systematic dismantling of policies which have protected both humans and habitat for many years.
While the economy is generally in a tailspin, green sections of the economy are still expanding. Gas prices went above four dollars a gallon and for a short time more people bought cars than SUVs. The big three automakers are still unwilling to change their methods enough to really make a difference in how cars are made, marketed, and sold. Toyota also had its first operating loss in 70 years, but they are still making sound investments and actually turned a profit when everything in their business is calculated.
For New Year's Eve Katie and I went to a party at a farm that is now being rented by a number of twenty-somethings who are working the land there. They have a cow which they share, some sheep and planted garlic this fall. We hardly knew anyone there, but they all live around here many making some living off the land.
This year will hopefully bring real progress in both the world and people's minds. We are at the point where humans can probably continue to exist as a significant species, but If we really want to stick around without losing everything we know and love in the process now is the time to act.
New York Times about the Toyota operating loss
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
No, this isn't about the food you eat. It's about the food you don't eat. In the developed world, 40%-50% of the trash sent to the landfill is organic matter. Food, paper towells, etc. Organic matter is capable of decomposing very quickly and returning it's component elements back to the earth for reuse, but this doesn't happen in a landfill. It can happen in a compost heap though. If we really want to lessen our impact on the Earth, we have to compost everything that we can.
Some of us live in apartments in big cramped cities, and for us it' really hard to make our own compost heaps. In some cities across the country, the government has stepped in to provide compost pick up, along with the ubiquitous trash and recycling pick ups. New York City did a pilot program for this in the Nineties, and decided it was not worth their while.
The overall conclusion reached from the various collection pilots is that while in certain cases it may be possible to collect source-separated food waste, collection route efficiency is very low and would be both expensive and impractical to implement on a significant scale. The studies of on-site systems conducted by DSNY and other parties demonstrated that these technologies remain cumbersome to operate, do not effectively control odors, and are therefore unsuitable for widespread use particularly in a dense urban setting.
Other cities such as San Francisco, have had very successful programs for years. While most large cities will probably move to municipal composting soon, it's hard for smaller towns to do the same sort of industrial composting as is done on the large scale for the municipal compost projects. If you live in an apartment,ask your landlord if it's okay to put a compost bin somewhere on the property and then tell all the other tenants about your compost bin. Katie and I have a surprisingly good compost bin going, after only about a month of use because six people are contributing to it.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Kill A Watt on the shelf: Photo by Katie
I don't know about you, but I love the library. Mine is a very good one. In Williamsburg, I got fed up with it's branch of the Brooklyn Public Library which was only open till seven one day of the week. It had a decent selection of comic books, but every other section in the library was lacking. I haven't visited it in two years. But the Brooks Memorial Library is open till nine three nights a week. It has a variety of new and old books, magazines, CDs, VHS casettes, DVDs, and one more thing: a Kill A Watt.
Kill A Watt is a brand of electricity usage monitor. You can buy various electricity usage monitors for anywhere from $25 to $100. They have different bells and whistles, but you really don't need to use them very often. You take the Kill A Watt, plug it into the wall, and then plug your 120v appliances into them for a day or more. The Kill A Watt measures how much electricity runs through it and how much time has elapsed. You can use this to find phantom loads (the electricity used by things that are turned off) as well as to find out how much electricity it takes to do something like watch your favorite television show. It can help you remember to unplug appliances that are wasting energy.
So it's fantastic that I don't own it and can just return it to the library. Someone else can use the same Kill A Watt that I've been using, and I don't have to know them or give it to them. This is part of a state-wide program from the Sustainable Energy Resource Group and they should be available in many Vermont libraries. But if you're not in Vermont, many other libraries have them available too. If your library doesn't, ask for them to get one.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Locavores are the rise, and more than that fringe are the people who try and get an increasing amount of their foods from local sources. The ideas involved include knowing where your food came from, and supporting local food production, which usually means lower environmental costs.
There is a common theme of locavore challenges come harvest season now. Here in Brattleboro, we have the Windham Localvores Local Food Week which starts on september 13th, and the internet based Eat Local Challenge in october.
But things can't be as simple as just eat locally. What if your neighborhood is home to one of the biggest pork processors in the country? And most of the farms around the area are factory farms? At least the food doesn't have to travel as far to the supermarket. The News & Observer of North Carolina had a couple of articles this summer which followed the life and death of a pig that was exceptional. The N&O pig was raised on a small farm in the heart of big pork country. He was a heritage animal, and a product of natural breeding. He lived a little longer than his neighbors on other farms, got to do "pig things", and then went to slaughter at another small operation.
Watch both the audio slide shows.
Ossabaw Hogs, Naturally Raised
Ossabaw Hogs, Farm to Market
And here are the articles that went with them:
Rooting for Locavores
Gone to Market
Katie and I try to eat locally, naturally, frugally, and flavorfully. So far there is no rubric that combines these values and gives an absolute output. We have to just live our lives, and try our best tobe satisfied with the outcome.
Thanks to Varmint Bites for informing me of the articles.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Saturday Katie and I went to Live Green in Manchester, VT. It's a green lifestyle showcase and concert. Katie was there for her new job at Marlboro College Graduate Center's MBA in managing for sustainability, and I was there to help out and see the booths. The event was very well attended. They expected 400 people to show up, and more than 1,000 had arrived by 1:00.
Katie's booth was right next to the CVPS Cow Power booth. From our neighbor, we learned that 60% of our electrical needs could be provided by one dairy cow. We are not heavy electrical consumers, but there are certainly a lot of cows in America ready to help us with energy independence.
I also ran into Bill Hulstrunk, one of the teachers of the super-insulation course that I took at Yestermorrow this winter. In October, a friend and I are going to take a course on biofuels there.
While looking for pictures I came across this great set about industrial digesters.
Check out my previous post about biodiesel here.