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The Grande Finale – an Energy Audit & HERS Score

Monday, October 26th, 2009

My friend, Alva Morrison, has been in the weatherization industry for many years, working for the state of NM helping families in need tighten up their homes with insulation, caulking and funding. As energy audits got popular for the general public, his natural next step was to become an Energy Rater. Special training and equipment is needed for this job, which entails sealing up a house, running air through it, analyzing air leakage through computer software and offering recommendations.

When my construction was done, Alva and I decided to do an energy audit. Instead of guesswork, I wanted documentation of my energy savings were and how I could make improvements to further save.

A blower door test determines energy usage. Alva determined the volume of the house, then we talked about construction details. He plugged that information into his software, then we sealed up the windows and exterior doors, leaving the interior doors open for maximum air flow.

He installed the blower in the kitchen door. blower door_3631 The red canvas was sealed all the way around to make the door air-tight. The blower was plugged into his laptop, then turned on to create air movement, which was registered in the software. We looked for areas where air was coming in. Alva caulked a few old window frames, and rechecked the figures.

We were surprised at some of the results and recommendations. Here are his comments:

“Nan’s house is a great example of what can be done to turn a pretty average house, built to code a couple of decades ago, into a modern energy-efficient home. If built as is today, it would exceed qualification for the USEPA Energy Star certification, even though many of the walls still have 2×4 insulation in a 2×6 wall. The main factor driving the house’s lean performance is a thick blanket of attic insulation. But the solar hot water and the balmy sunroom, with a thick adobe wall to catch and hold the heat, provide solid backing. Add to that a refrigerator, which squeezes kilowatts until they scream, and you have a working person’s house to take us all through the next century of global warming both economically and comfortably. All these things were added to the house by Nan at moderate expense.

“Analyzing possible improvements was very interesting. Tearing off sheetrock and re-insulating the walls seemed like it should be a no-brainer. But when we ran it through the computer, it only showed a savings of around $25 a year- not much reward for all that trouble. The moral is, heat goes up, not sideways.

“However, we found another weaker spot in the building’s ‘heating envelope’: the uninsulated foundation. A quick rework of the house through the energy rating software showed that digging a barrier of four inch rigid foam in around the perimeter of the foundation would return $175 a year – and that?s if the cost of wood and gas stays the same (don’t hold your breath for that!). Get out your shovel, Nan!”

As you can see, an energy audit gives you a lot of information on how to improve your home. I had him calculate a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) score, because I wanted to be able to show others the entire process.

The number of a HERS score is based on the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which is 100. My score was 88, meaning my house is 12% more efficient than the code. The lower your number, the more efficient your home is. When I make improvements, Alva can plug that information into his software, re-analyze the results and give me new recommendations

Many municipalities, including Taos, are beginning to require HERS scores on new construction. I highly recommend an audit, and, speaking as a RealtorR, I use them as effective marketing tools for homes. Buyers can see current efficiency and how it can be improved. There are fewer surprises and disappointments after purchase.

Food has been coming out of the greenhouse year-round. Due to some unanticipated condensation problems and failing flashing around one skylight, the greenhouse is not in full use. There is no soil in the bed yet, but I have been successfully growing in containers. This picture is my tomato garden on Jan 31, 2009. Once the construction issues are resolved, I will have achieved my goal of a true food-and-heat-producing solar greenhouse.

Find a certified local Energy Rater through RESNET – Residential Services Energy Network

The entire remodel with more details and pictures is on my website: Solar Retrofit 2007

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Solar Thermal – Hot Water for Domestic Use

Monday, October 19th, 2009

My mom passed away in 2006, and her estate was finally settled in 2007. I had no idea what my brother and I would inherit, and from what the attorney, stockbroker and CPA said, it sounded meager. I was thrilled to find a check in my mailbox that would get me started on my remodel! Meager to a big-wig, perhaps, but abundant to someone living simply.

The first thing I looked into was solar thermal – hot water from the sun for domestic use. From

Solar water heaters – also called solar domestic hot water systems – can be a cost-effective way to generate hot water for your home. They can be used in any climate, and the fuel they use, sunshine, is free.

Solar water heating systems include storage tanks and solar collectors. There are two types of solar water heating systems: active, which have circulating pumps and controls, and passive, which don’t.

Most solar water heaters require a well-insulated storage tank. Solar storage tanks have an additional outlet and inlet connected to and from the collector. In two-tank systems, the solar water heater preheats water before it enters the conventional water heater. In one-tank systems, the back-up heater is combined with the solar storage in one tank.

solar dom hot water

After much research, like that above, I called a solar installer, Valverde Energy. The owner, Larry Mapes, came out to the house to do an assessment. We first talked about my current and future water use. My two teenage daughters were going to fly the coop in the next few years, so water usage would dwindle. All those long, hot showers, mounds of laundry and constant dirty dishes would be a thing of the past when I settled back into living alone as I had done before having children.

So instead of creating a system for a family of three, which would be big and inefficient just for me later on, we decided on a smaller system that would be adequate for all three of us, and would rely on very little natural gas back-up as our numbers shrank. This smaller system could be expanded when the house is sold and another family moves in.

Once we’d made that decision, we talked about infrastructure. This isn’t very exciting and is nothing anyone sees, but it was necessary to get it done.

I am on a shared well with three other homes. For years, we have talked about putting in new water lines, but not everyone had the money at the same time, and our bank account wouldn’t cover it all. I went ahead and replaced the aging line to my house. The stub-in had to go in a certain place to accommodate the solar system, since I was moving the hot water heater as well.

Larry suggested tapping into the natural gas line in the new road adjacent to my property. My gas supply was currently propane, which is more expensive, and he said this alone would cut my energy bills. It didn’t take much to persuade me to switch! The water line came in from the south, and the gas line came in from the north. My yard was chewed up all the way around! Ah… remodeling…

stubins_3428 The infrastructure upgrades needed to be done first, because those utility lines had to be in place for Larry’s crew to install the solar system and before we could pour a slab for the greenhouse. We joked that most women don’t care about these kinds of things in a home, because you can’t decorate them, but I was excited about the value of what he was proposing.

I quietly thanked my mom for making this possible. 515

More info on:

Solar hot water

Valverde Energy

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10 Eco-Friendly Solutions for the Home Office

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

With more people working at home, a lot of unnecessary commuting can become a thing of the past for many.? But the home office environment is rarely a symbol of environmental efficiency itself.? Mountains of wasted paper across your desk.? The heater blasting.? A computer that never sleeps.? If you want to tighten up these glitches, here are 10 eco-friendly changes to make in your home office.

greenhomeoffice_11.? Unplug Yourself from the Grid
Sitting in a brightly lit room with the curtains closed and blasting an air conditioner while a cool breeze blows across the yard?? All those hours stuck in the office can add up to high energy costs.? Open the windows for a draft or open the blinds to let in natural light and heat.? Make your work time less of a drain on the power grid.

2.? Bring Back the Paperless Office
The paperless office was once a dream and the future of the internet, but as the future has arrived it turns out our virtual lifestyles often end up creating more waste.? There are so many file-sharing, file-storing, and back up programs available now that there is really no need to keep paper records of everything as long as you use multiple storage medias, and our communication methods make most other reasons for printing just plain ridiculous.

3.? Maximize Your Paper
When you do print, keep it limited and use both sides of the paper sheets if at all possible. Buy recycled paper or papers made from.? When possible, be sure to recycle. Use a paper shredder to dispose of paper?you can even use it in your garden.

4.? Be a Computer Nerd
By becoming more tech savvy, you can learn more even more ways limit paper needs and increase productivity.? Organize things well online and there is less chance of losing files, which is often the reason a user prints out something out of frustration.

5.? Manage E-Waste
Dispose of e-waste properly to minimize environmental impact and before you replace something just because it is environmentally friendly, be sure you know the actual environmental trade-off of wasting the old model to buy the new.? Many times a computer can be recycled to make use of its spare parts or passed on to someone who needs it if it is still in working fashion.? Here is an idea.? Give it to a young person and encourage them to start a website about promoting green principles.

greenhomeoffice_26.? Shut Your Computer Off
Just like your other appliances, you should always turn off your computer when you?re not using it so it doesn?t continue draining power.? According to the Alliance to Save Energy, $2.8 billion dollars is spent annually in America alone by people who simply leave their computers running.

7.? Use Green-Powered Online Services
Even our ?virtual? world has a physical impact on the Earth.? A web hosting server, for instance, is responsible for the same emission levels of a 15mpg automobile.? Fortunately, many companies are stepping up to the plate and using renewable energy resources to run their systems.? Hostgator and Green Hosting are two examples.? Find out what other online services you use for your business or personal life and identify the industry leaders who make the effort to be green.

8.? Learn Productivity Skills
Not only do productivity skills teach you how to make your time more efficient, but if you can learn to work better faster, than you spend less time on the computer, correct?? Not to mention the train of thought associated with productivity thinking spills over into other areas of life.? More efficiency is usually a good thing when we?re talking about out interaction with the environment.

9.? Use Recycled Furniture
Cheap office furniture is always easy to come by.? Forget about that stylish brand new office setup you want to buy so the people who never see your office think you are a professional.? Hit up your friends who are downsizing.? Check out for cheap purchases or for free furniture.? Hit yard sales and second-hand stores.? There is plenty of decent furniture out there to snatch up.

10.? Stop Being a Computer Geek
Are all those wasted hours online really necessary?? It isn?t doing much for those productivity skills you?ve been learning, and the chances are you are going to play around on that cool new site about picking up women for a few hours and never apply it to the real world, so save the trouble.? Instead, why not go outside and meet some real people?? Use that extra time you?ve created by doing something worth doing.? It?s better for the environment and better for you.

These are just a few things you can do to make the home office a greener room and a greener part of your life.? Just like any other area of you life, there are countless changes, small and big, to make you mark on the world less significant.? Get creative.? That is the real key.? And look through the habits you have created for yourself that are based on old foundations of thought.? Bring the green lifestyle into your office, make it a comfortable healthy place to work, and get on that computer to start making social changes.

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Greening up the House with Energy Efficient Windows

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Once the infrastructure decisions were finalized, Alex, the construction contractor, and I could firm up our plans. We knew where water and gas lines could go in the house and greenhouse.

Not only did I plan on the greenhouse addition, but I also made some drastic changes in the rest of the house.

1) I replaced all my single pane windows and sliding glass door with vinyl, double pane, energy efficient, low-e windows.

It’s important to choose the right windows for different areas of a home. Lighting, vies and orientation are taken into consideration.

window There are several criteria to determine a window’s performance, two of which are:

  • Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) – the higher the number, the more heat the window transmits.
  • U-factor rating of the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) – the lower the number, the more efficient the window, based on the glass, frame and spacer material.

I have big pictures windows and a slider on the northeast side facing the mountains. Sun pours in here on summer mornings, so I chose windows with a low SHGC that let in sun and but heat. Obviously, on the southwest side, that’s not what I wanted, so I chose windows with a high SHGC that allowed the sun to heat the space.

Low-e stands for low-emissivity. There is an invisible, thin coating on the glass that controls the amount of heat moving through it and affects the SHGC and the U-factor. All windows should be labeled with this information.

2) I changed the floor plan in western 2/3 of the house to facilitate heating, which was difficult due to a remodel done by a previous owner. The traffic flow was choppy, which also prevented heat from being distributed evenly. I was spot-heating separate areas, which was a continual experiment and not very effective. If I could easily get the rooms heated, I would further reduce my energy bills.

3) I created two separate heating zones:

  • The greenhouse, girls bedrooms, a bathroom
  • The kitchen/living room, my room, a bathroom

Do you remember that huge room where I installed that huge sunny window previously? I split it in two and gave the girls identical rooms. The doors, which I recycled from other parts of the house, opened into the greenhouse, which would help heat them and the second bathroom. This area was separated from the kitchen/living area by a steel exterior door.

remodelimg_3550 4) I added insulation in the ceiling over the kitchen/living part of the house. Since we put gas lines in the attic and access panels in the ceiling, we got a chance to look at the insulation. It was pretty thin, and we had disturbed a lot of it with our work. I decided to beef it up by having R30 shredded fiberglass blown in on top of what we guessed to be about R19 insulation. I was eager to see how my heating bills would react.

My original thought for the greenhouse was to create a 5.5′ wide passive solar hallway to the girls’ new rooms and bathroom. This would span the entire front of the space. After many measurements and number crunching, we decided to fill the entire corner with the greenhouse. It would be easier for Alex to build if we brought the exterior wall out even with the existing wall. This space was 8.5′ wide and allowed the planting bed to be included.

Once we had these dimensions, we could create a detailed design and start ordering materials.

More on energy efficient windows:

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The Solar Greenhouse Gets Built

Monday, October 5th, 2009

I will spare you the entire thought and building processes and show you what we finally decided on.

remodelimg_3285 Since this is southwest orientation, my main concern was getting extra light and heat, since the winter sun does not come around to that side until late morning. I put three fixed skylights along the lowest part of the ceiling, which has worked well. The sun comes through them a few hours before it gets to the front.

In the New Hampshire house, the south facing windows were floor-to-ceiling. I wanted as much sun coming in as possible for daytime heating. Here in Taos, I wanted a planting bed close to the windows for maximum light, so the windows are in the 5′ space above the 3′ deep planting bed. In both instances there is a 1′ spacer between them for support.

Ventilation is as important as heating. Plants and people don’t like temperatures that are too hot, as much as they don’t like them cold. To keep everyone and everything comfortable, I installed:

  • A glass door flanked by two double-hung windows. This allows more sun in winter and serves double duty to ventilate in summer.
  • Two double-hung windows in the end wall
  • Two VeluxR operable skylights in the upper part of the ceiling. This is where heat will rise, which made it the most logical place for a moveable vent. Air moves in through the windows carrying the heat out of the top vents. Moving air is cool air, so opening the windows and the vents cools off the greenhouse, even if it is hot outside.

The soil in the bed is to be part of the thermal mass. It will absorb the sun’s heat to keep the temperature levels even and keep the plants warm. The concrete floor and an adobe-lined wall on the northern side are also mass that will absorb sun and ambient heat to radiate back out at night.?remodelimg_3526

The ceiling is super insulated, and exterior doors lead into the four rooms of the house. There is no supplemental heat in the greenhouse. In the event there are many cloudy days in a row or old-timey winter temperatures of 40 below, I will sacrifice the plants as the greenhouse gets cold, but the heat in the other rooms will not be lost. The girls have small gas heaters in their rooms for the coldest days and nights.

remodelimg_3531 The work was done enough by Thanksgiving to start seeing the benefits. My fuel bills that following winter were half of what I’d been used to paying. I cut my wood consumption by half with the new ceiling insulation and double pane windows, and my natural gas bill was about $40 a month at it’s peak with the girls using their heaters.

Come spring, I got an energy audit and a surprisingly good HERS (Home Energy Rating System) score.?

Solar Greenhouse – Detached or Attached?

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

When I bought my house, it was an upside-down T, with the stem facing southwest. In last week’s post, I talked about installing sunny windows in the southeast and southwest walls for passive solar daytime heating. Now I was trying to decide how to further remodel for more solar gain.

floorplan before

I could have added a greenhouse on the southeast corner adjacent to the kitchen. This was very appealing as far as harvesting food and herbs. I’d also envisioned it as a sitting area, the breakfast nook, I suppose. But I enjoyed the new windows, and one was in my bedroom. I’d have missed that if it went into a greenhouse instead of to the moon, trees and coyotes.

The warmest winter sun hit the southwest corner, so I decided to add something there. I wasn’t sure what, but many pencils and eraser goobers later, I came up with this plan. Craig Simmons of Eco Builders fleshed out the details for me.

I was content enough with the heat produced through the new windows that I put these drawings away. I was also a working single mom of two young girls, and my time constraints prevented me from doing a lot of research into this project, never mind starting and completing it! I rolled up the drawings and propped them up on my desk.floorplan after

In 1997, I lived in an old block home on an irrigated acre of land in Ojo Caliente – almost the adobe dream home! I was more interested in the land than the house, and we cultivated half of it with beans, corn, tomatoes, squash, herbs and flowers that we sold to friends and co-workers.

Out near the garden, there was a small frame greenhouse with translucent polycarbonate walls. I checked the overnight temperature in early spring to see if I could start my seeds in it. It was too cold, since it was not heated or insulated. It was essentially a cold frame with an 8-foot ceiling and roof.

I started researching greenhouses and was disappointed to find all standard greenhouses need supplemental heat. This is usually generated with electric heaters for something as small as I was looking at. Aside from growing food to eat healthy, cost needs to be taken into consideration. Heating a non-insulated building of plastic walls with electricity was not cost-effective.

UdgarPujaWinterDome (2) I came across the Growing DomeR Greenhouse in a gardening magazine. It is still available, and I see them popping up across the landscape as food and energy costs rise. This is a passive solar, geodesic design with glazing on the south side and insulated solid walls on the north side. Planting beds and the concrete slab floor are the thermal mass, along with a pond. Do you remember the 55-gallon drums in the solar pods? Poisson knew water is one of the best materials for thermal mass. It must be sized properly so it can radiate heat effectively. The pond can hold fish or water plants, or boards can be placed across it to make more room for container plants.

The combination of masses in this greenhouse meant no supplemental heat. It was an environment that took care of itself – an ecosystem of sorts. I was sold on it immediately!

For a variety of reasons, though, I didn’t purchase one at the time, but this is the only greenhouse I recommend to anyone. It needs no extra heat, and the larger ones double as a small living space as well.

Ten years later, it is spring 2007, and I want to start my vegetables from seed. I am toying with the idea of buying a 12′ diameter dome greenhouse and putting it about 100′ from the house down the hill on my property. This is a sweet, quiet, sunny spot with completely different views and feel than the house. A few cottonwoods along the irrigation ditch give the space a cozy feel and summer shade. A passive solar greenhouse here would be an excellent get-away.

As I walked the land, I began to picture it. I imagined bringing in electricity and water, and building a path of crusher fines between the greenhouse, the house and the garden. I considered views, sun, neighbors and the heat the greenhouse would produce. I wanted to somehow move the extra heat back up to the house in winter. I thought of underground ductwork, insulation, fans….. My little greenhouse project was getting complicated, the kind a contractor would balk at.

In a split second, like the cartoon cliche of a light bulb going off over your head, my face went from bewilderment to wonderment and glee! I decided to build an attached passive solar greenhouse for heat and food. Remember the mention of this book??yanda.fisher.4153

I dusted off my original vision and the drawings Craig and I had worked on a few years before.

More info about:

Growing DomeR Greenhouse

Craig Simmons, Eco Builders

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As Winter Approaches: Minimizing Energy Costs

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

As winter fast approaches, so does the cold, and with it rising energy usage, taking a toll on the environment and your wallet. aswinterapproachesAs a child, I used to love winters for those days at home when I could curl up on the couch with a book, a heavy blanket, and a hot cup of hot chocolate or tea. It didn?t bother me that the air was colder.

So steam heat up some tea or chocolate and start using these basic tips to keep energy consumption low when upgrading your home is not possible.

The Air – A lot of your energy consumption comes from heating costs. Install a programmable thermostat to maintain different temperatures when you are home and when you are away. When running heaters with automatic control, close doors leading to empty rooms. Open curtains facing the sun when it is shining to take advantage of passive solar heating, and at nighttime or on cloudy days keep them drawn to hold in the heat, especially if you don?t have energy-saving windows.

Also, keep your furnace nice and tuned. Replace or clean furnace filters once a month. You can save up to 5 percent on heating costs by keeping your furnace lubricated and stocked with a clean filter. Turn your central heating down by 1 degree and you can save up to 10 percent on heating costs. Replace weather stripping on windows and caulk drafty air leaks to make sure you?re keeping warm air in and cold air out.

The Water – I know…I know. The last thing anyone wants is give up hot showers when the air is chilly. Still, most people keep their water too hot. Keep your hot water heater set at 120 degrees. Many manufacturers set their heaters at 140 before sending them from the factory, but this is completely unnecessary in the average home. You can also insulate your hot water heater to keep the heat from dissipating. Click here for some tips.

Another great way to make your heated water usage as efficient as possible is to install a hot water heater timer so you it is only warm at the times of day when it is needed. It is crucial to most of us to have hot water flowing in the winter, but it is it really necessary 24 hours a day? Here are some great tips on insulating.

Your Body – When it comes to warmth in the home, you’re really worried about yourself. Make the most of your body heat and bundle up. Get comfortable when hanging around the house – no one is going to see you. Wear a beanie, nice warm pajamas, and wool socks. Keep some down comforters near the couch for when you’re watching television.

aswinterapproaches2Keep in mind that layering provides more warmth than thick clothing. The first time I went to Europe I found this out and made it through a month of backpacking in snowed-over German cities without a jacket. And where I?m from it doesn?t even snow.

Also, there is a common misconception that people sleep better when they crank up the heat, but research shows reasonably cool temperatures to be more conducive to healthy REM. If you?ve ever tossed and turned in sweaty blankets in the summer heat or the tropics, this makes perfect sense. Don?t go too extreme though?really cold temperatures can be disruptive?and keep your socks on because having cold feet will not make you sleep better.

Most importantly, stay active. When you?re home, work around the house. Get involved with the community when you?re not working. Play sports or join a club. When you?re constantly on the move, you don?t have time to get cold, and it is a lot healthier in many ways than sitting around all day in a heated home watching television.

By employing these simple tips, you can have a comfortable winter without cranking up the energy costs. You will find that you don?t even notice the differences in the water temperature, and even if you drastically reduce the air temperatures you will soon get used to it. Staying warm as the weather fouls doesn?t have to mean Neanderthals hunched around a fire in a small cave – just use your brain.

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Five Living Choices for an Eco-Friendly College Life

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

University students don’t necessarily have the discretionary income to back their political and ideological views with buying power; however, what they lack in funds they make up in passion. America’s schools have long been the leaders of revolutionary social thought, which in the long run often leads to ecolivingcollege1top-level policy changes.

Maybe you’re off to college this coming fall, and you want to start living in line with your beliefs. You no longer live with Mom and Dad, and you’re ready to make your own decisions about what equals a responsible life.

Here are five ways you can make your entrance into college life a green one.

1. Live on campus – Even if you have the choice to live off campus, do yourself a favor and opt for the dorms. Living at the college is appealing to students for many reasons. It is great for jumpstarting your social life, makes it easier to get to school in the morning, and keeps you up on your work because of constant submersion in a learning environment.

Did it occur to you it is easier on the Earth as well? Living walking distance from class, the library, the cafeteria, the gym, and all your new friends means less unnecessary driving around. Many universities are small cities in themselves.

2. Get rid of the car! – Get creative about transportation. It is better for the environment and likely better for you. Many of the best university towns are the most bicyclable in the nation – Santa Cruz, CA and Eugene, Oregon spring to mind on the West Coast.

Riding a bike keeps you in shape and gets you out into the real world.

Walking, the world’s oldest means of transport, is also great for your health. You will be surprised how many miles you log just walking about your day. I know winter is coming, but a good hard pedal or brisk walking pace will keep you nice and warm.

No matter how far you need to go, there are options. Many university towns have fantastic transportation systems to fill the needs of a student demographic. Riding along with your friends when going to more secluded places is more fun than driving alone, in my experience. A combination of transportation solutions makes a car completely unnecessary.

For more about the health benefits of active transport, click here for information from the NIH.

ecolivingcollege23. Stay active – I know you want to be in shape to look your best when you?re out on the town, but the truth of the matter is spending all that time on a tread mill is a waste of energy. But you’ve been riding your bike and walking to class, haven’t you? Active transport alone will do wonders for your figure, but you can do more to stay in shape by playing amateur sports, lifting weights, or running on the track. There was a time when staying fit wasn’t so much like being a hamster on a wheel. Bring back the old school with hands-on physical activity.

4. Plan for the Future – Some of the hottest fields of study today are in greener industries. Make no mistake, the world is changing and changing fast. Students who see the opportunity are diving in and getting the know-how in order to be better equipped for the jobs of the future.

Not a tech guy or gal? No problem! Your options are only as limited as your thinking. Career opportunities abound in environmental business, environmental ethics, government policy, and advocacy. With a green future looming ahead, there is room for forward thought in nearly every industry. Click here (link to the green tech majors article, which is coming soon) to learn more about the opportunities available.

5. Get Involved – The beginning of the semester is the best time of year to launch your brain-child club that organization your school needs to come along and start pushing for new policies. Why not start a club focused on solutions? How about organic food options in the cafeteria? A university garden?

Petition to start your new club as soon as possible. These are issues people care about and a lot of new students are eager to meet like-minded people to form those lifelong friendships.

College is a new beginning. The paths before a young adult entering the real world offer limitless choices, and it is time to start thinking about the mark you want to leave on the planet. Make the right choices. Take control of your future and inspire others to do the same.

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Green Your Gardening Habits

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

We’ve entered that special time of the year when the smell of lilacs fills the air, when trees and bushes explode in pink, yellow and white blossoms, and when gardens need your love and attention after another long winter. For those of us who love gardening, now is the time that we pull out our wheelbarrows and rakes, map out where we want to plant new flowers, and get our hands dirty working in beds.

In caring for our gardens however, it’s important to consider how your actions are impacting the environment. While it seems contradictory that your gardening activities chummingbird-attractionould have a negative impact on the earth (you are gardening after all), you might be surprised to find out how many seemingly innocent products and practices are actually eco-adverse.

By incorporating a few “green” practices into your gardening habits, you can create a more healthy outdoor ecosystem and have a truly “green” garden this season. And while you may have to compromise a little bit (after all, it’s hard to have perfect green grass if you don’t use chemicals on your lawn), but at the end of the summer you’ll feel better about your yard and have reduced your negative enviromental impact on your own land.

Change your Mowing Habits

For a nation trying to reduce its dependence on foreign oil and petroleum, Americans use an awful lot of it when mowing their lawns. There’s no need to power mowers with petrol however, and one way to redpush-moweruce your footprint is to go petroleum-free when it comes to your lawn. If you have a small patch of grass, consider investing in a push-mower. Clean Air Gardening offers several types that range in price from $109 for a Scotts Classic Reel Push Mower to $1300 for a?Putting Green Reel Mower that provides that manicured and finished look found on golf course.

If you have a larger yard, try buying an electric lawn mower instead of one that runs on gas. Electric mowers still require the use of electricity and power cords, however, they only consume about $5 in electricity annually. Additionally, electric mowers are quiet and don’t contribute to the buzz-saw sound of gas mowers that’s often prevalent on warm weekend afternoons. Sears has electric mowers that range from $160 for the Black and Decker 18 inch Electric Mower, to $239 for the Craftsman 19 inch Premium Electric Mower.

Mulch, than Mulch Some More!

Mulch is a great water saver in the garden as it prevents water from evaporating, keeps your plants’ roots cool, and holds water for longer, therefore requiring that your water your plants less often. Mulch also gives your beds a well-kept and finished look, and improve your soil by adding organic matter to your mix. Learn more about the benefits of mulching by visiting The National Resources Conservation Service.

Buy Heirloom Plants and Seeds

Not all seeds are created equal – especially when some of those seeds have been genetically modified in a lab! When planting a garden, consider only using heirloom seeds and plants – those that were introduced before 1951, when plant breeders introduced hybrid plants developed from inbred lines. Heirlooms are old, open-pollinated plants, and have not been altered by science.daisys

Many people also feel that heirloom fruits and vegetables taste better and are easier to grow than fruit and vegetables from hybrid plants. Regardless, when you grow heirlooms you are growing the same plants that your grandparents grew, and contributing to an environment filled with naturally-propagated plants instead of those created in a lab.

Go Organic!

When growing vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, shrubs and trees, there is no need to add chemical fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides. You can still produce a bumper crop of tomatoes or prize-winning flowers without dumping chemicals into the ground. Check out these tips for organic pest control from Organic Garden Pests, or Extremely Green’s Organic Pest Control Guide. Remember too, whatever you dump on your herbs, fruits and vegetables will eventually make its way back to you – so think twice before pouring Miracle Gro or other chemical foods and fertilizers all over your gardens.

I hope these simple tips will help point you in the right direction this spring. There are tons of other green gardening tips out there that I can’t address in one post – keep tuned though and I will try to bring you more tips for the garden as we get deeper and deeper into this beautiful non-winter weather. Happy Gardening!

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Film Review: The Greening of Southie

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

South Boston MapI am a recovering Massachusetts dweller who used to work for a mostly environmental communications firm outside of Boston, so it was under some surprise that I randomly found a documentary playing on the Sundance channel that was entitled “The Greening of Southie“, which basically followed the development of the Maccallen Building in South Boston as it attempted to get an LEED certification of being a green building.

The interesting part of this movie was that it showed the very real issues that are going into green building development – the retraining of the construction workers for materials installation, the cost of travel for green materials and the prohibitive cost of living in green spaces. The most important of all the issues in the film highlighted the cultural differences between the ideology of green development and the army of workers that it effects. From the blue collar bricklayer to the upper middle class management who are trying to collate all of the existing materials together to get LEED certification – which ironically,? it appears to take an entire tree’s worth of paper to be certified as LEED.

My one problem with the project was that instead of installing solar panels on the roof of the building which would make the building much more energy efficient and reduce the tenant’s electrical bills, they installed some sort of roof shrubbery that grows in harsh climate and with minimal effort–but in a stroke of green karma retribution by the end of the film all of the plants had died, and would need to be replanted.

One of the thoughts that I had walking away from this was, yes, I think it is important to use more renewable goods instead of plastic laminate that will spend forever in a landfill after the construction & use process. But the most important thing we can do is to repurpose our existing living spaces using greener solutions – renewable flooring, carpeting, low VOC paints. The film is definatly worth a watch, however, after you do watch it, take a stroll over to the photojournalist essay on urban decay that is happening to the city of Detroit.

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