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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Review: From My Bottom Step

The citizens of London, Ontario need look no further than the website, From My Bottom Step, to get local information, news, and opinion - including ways to green your lifestyle. Local blogger Greg highlights news that we all can use, from fire safety to curbing traffic congestion.

One thing I particularly like about this site is how it blends a wide variety of relevant social issues with a lot of humour. From My Bottom Step supports a number of green issues including Free Public Transit along with pedestrian rights.

While I'm also a regular viewer of XKCD strips which are featured from time to time on Greg's site, I was happy to be reminded of BookCrossing, a book exchange service which releases books into the wild so they can be enjoyed again. How's that for good recycling?

If you're from the London area, or just want to get a glimpse of local issues there, check out From My Bottom Step.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Should I Be Boycotting the Oscars?

I'll admit it. I watched the Oscars last night. While I was disappointed that local girl Ellen Page didn't win, I was mildly entertained for the evening. Yes, I'm a movie geek.

After 4 hours, I began to wonder, what is this costing in terms of carbon footprint? For me, I already know it's not much. Maybe $0.06 worth of electricity total and I'll make up for that by turning off the power bar when I'm done.

But what about the massive number of viewers around the world? You always hear about the 2 -3 BILLION people that watch the Oscars, a number that seems quite high for me considering that only 1 or 2 in ten Americans watch the show, the rest of the world would have to tune in en masse despite the fact that the Oscar-nominated films are largely in English and are on television during the middle of the night or the work day for most of the planet.

So let's assume, conservatively then, that only 100 million people watched the broadcast worldwide. Based on figures from CarbonFootprint.com, you could estimate that the watching of the Oscars would have been responsible for 43,200 tonnes of CO2 (assuming an average of 2 people per tv).

0.2kW x 4 hours x 50,000,000 tv sets x 1.08 kg/kW = 43,200,000 kg of CO2

Even if we blindly deny the impact of CO2 on the environment, this still represents $9,000,000 worth of electricity spent on watching one television program. That a lot of wasted opportunity. What if it was 2 billion viewers?

And I haven't even mentioned the costs of the production (which were greener this year), the one-use gowns, the transportation and flights to make it happen.

Maybe we should celebrate that the early reports suggest it was an all time low viewing audience. Next year, I'll read the results the next day.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Challenges You Can Do Too

Are you looking for a challenge to do? Something to kick start your eco-friendly change? Look no further because the web has a lot to offer. Here are three challenges I've joined this week:

  • Greenpeace has a seven week challenge called 7 Steps that will send you a new challenge each week by e-mail. Each one gives you some information on a particular topic and gives you a simple task to complete. I can't wait for my second e-mail!

  • Earth Hour is coming up in only another month. This challenge gets you to turn off your power for one hour starting at 8pm on March 29, 2008. This video shows where it all started last year:

  • Finally, I also joined the Freeze Yer Buns challenge over at Crunchy Chicken. I dropped the thermostats another two degrees to exceed that challenge's targets (13C and 19C). A warm sweater does wonders.

Do you know of any challenges that I haven't heard of yet? Leave me a comment and I'll see if I can sign up!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Project: Power Bars

In combination with the energy meter I've been using, I was able to determine which devices in my house use phantom power even when the item is off. By connecting all of the items to a power bar and turning it off when not in use, you can turn that phantom power to zero. A good move.

The good news is that any cheap power bar will do the trick. The return on investment (ROI) is less than a year since you will save $10 - $15 or more per set. Spend less than that amount on your power bar, and your ROI is even shorter. You can buy a fancy power bar if you want to though. Some will even turn off peripheral devices when you power down the main machine.

This is one of those really simple things that you can do immediately with little or no investment (you probably have a few power bars already!). It's only a small drop, but it is enough to remove roughly 0.15 tonnes of CO2 from your footprint per year!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My Crank Radio

This one might take a few years to make a significant difference in energy consumption:

My Crank Radio

I bought this crank radio for my emergency kit. We tend to get some nasty weather during the fall and winter, so I wanted to have a radio and light for those nights when the power goes down. Since then, it's become part of the my day to day routine. I keep it next to my computer, so I get to listen without draining any more power.

A nice side benefit is that as the battery drains down, I get a reminder to take a break and move away from the computer! It certainly helps avoid that stiff neck and eye strain!

Roughly 30 cranks gets me 15 minutes of listening time at a decent volume.

Daily radio for zero new emissions. That's good math.

Get one like it at ThinkGeek and support the 25kW Challenge.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Update: Pop Can Solar Furnace

It's a bright sunny day in Halifax, so the pop can solar furnace is working at full tilt.

The temperature in the solarium is over 25C and the spill over has boosted the dining room to 21.8C. Since warm air rises, the upstairs of the house is 20.6C. This would be further enhanced by a fan, but it's pretty good for just passive. Free heat!

For comparison, the current outdoor temperature is 4C.

Monday, February 18, 2008

25kW Challenge: Store Now Open

The next option in the 25kW Challenge is now available! You can now support my eco-friendly projects by buying an attractive T-shirt or Shopping bag at the Lower Footprint store:

Each purchase contributes 5W to the 25kW total and proudly features the 5W confirming your contribution and the blog's address. The back says "Lower your ecological footprint" and the blog's address.

Various styles are available. Prices range from $13.99 for a value t-shirt to $24.99 for the organic cotton tee. It makes a great gift!

Project: Programmable Thermostats

Part of the reason I'm tackling this whole endeavour is due to the fact that my house is heated by electricity. Yes, I know. Very expensive, or at least it could be. One way to counter the fast spinning meter on the side of the house is to install programmable thermostats.

Each room that has a thermostat can now be set independently and it can be pre-set for different times of day. For example, my bedroom is set to be warm (19C) in the evening and early morning, and low (15C) overnight and when I'm at work. Rather than keeping an empty room warm 24 hours a day, I know I can heat it only when I need it. In combination with the right insulation (or plastic assistance), the room heats up very quickly.

One of the nice things is that anyone can simply up the heat in the room they want to use. Feeling cold while watching TV? Up the heat to 20C or more. At the beginning of the next time cycle, the heat jumps back to its usual setting. No more forgetting to turn the thermostat down!

I'll report back after my first set of power bills come in.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Green ESL Students

My Lower Footprint blog was chosen for an ESL learning activity at a local university. It's a chance to practice English and learn about something green. What follows is the background information for the instructor's activity. Enjoy!

I understand. When you came to Halifax to study English, saving the world wasn't exactly a priority. Your goals were to find your way around, try to understand your teacher, and to get into a routine. Meeting new people and doing your homework took precedence over being environmental. Besides, Canada isn't your country. Why should you bother to recycle at all? You buy bottled water, you throw your Coke cans and paper into the garbage and you complain when the teacher double-sides any copies she gives you, because it's harder to read.

However, eventually, you settle into a pattern and you become more comfortable with your surroundings. Things outside of your classrooms start becoming more important to you. You notice that St Mary's University has recycle bins, and there are even divided garbage and recycle bins on Spring Garden Road! Interesting? Maybe not, but taking the initiative to follow the recycling rules of your new city is your responsibility. While choosing to put a pop can into a recycling bin downtown may not directly affect you or your grandchildren, it will be one small puzzle piece in the bigger picture.

What can you do, then? Where do you start?

Here's some food for thought:
  • Talk to locals and learn what they do
  • Drink water from the kitchen tap (it's safe - honest!)
  • Buy some containers to carry your lunch instead of using plastic bags
  • Bring your backpack when you go shopping, or buy re-usable bags from your supermarket instead of using plastic
Now return to the worksheet Arleigh gave you and follow the instructions! Learn stuff! Have fun! Be green!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The 25kW Challenge

To celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, I am launching the 25kW Challenge.

Through the savings generated by the projects featured on Lower Footprint, the revenue from ads, sales, and donations, I will be re-investing the funds into my Lower Footprint projects. Since the current price of PV solar panels is about $1 per W, I am estimating that to go off-grid today would cost me about $25,000, thus the 25kW challenge.

You can help me out in the following ways:
  • Visiting my sponsors by clicking on an ad. Once per day only, please!
  • Making a purchase at one of our online retail partners (i.e. Think Geek).
  • Buy Lower Footprint 5W merchandise (Lower Footprint Store)
  • Buy a great green book or DVD (Lower Footprint Bookstore)
  • Buy an Amazon Gift Certificate (below)
  • Make a donation through PayPal.

Part of the whole idea behind Lower Footprint is to make this off-grid, lower consumption project a reality as cheaply as possible. If I can make it happen for less, I will donate any excess funds to an appropriate charity that furthers these same ideals!

Just noting here that in a few places around the web, I've been mistakenly called "Mateo York"... just wanted to mention it here for the search engines...

Project: Plastic on Drafty Windows

A little bit of plastic goes a long way. Since this is my first winter in this house, I found that some of the original windows could use a little help keeping the heat in and the cold out. Plastic sheeting to the rescue!

Since window kits cost upwards of $15 for a few windows, I bought a roll of plastic (I think it's vapour barrier) and two rolls of tape for about $20. This should be enough for years of window covering, more if I reuse any of it.

Tackling the draftiest rooms first, I was able to dramatically reduce heat loss. I still have one window to tackle. Maybe a good project for today!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Project: Energy Audit

I booked my home energy audit today through Clean Nova Scotia. I have to wait until April, so if you've been stalling on booking yours, go for it now. It's about a two month wait! It also costs $150 to have the audit done, but it will be well worth the money!

Once this inspection is done, I will get a report that outlines where I can make improvements and I will have 18-months to qualify for any rebates that are available. Time to start pricing that solar hot water system!

I'll report more as this will be an ongoing project. Step 1: Book the Audit - Check!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bottled Glacier Water? No thanks.

I was driving to Yarmouth on Friday and my traveling companion bought some stale Nibs and some luxury, glacier-made, bottled water. After reading about the high cost of bottled water, I had some basic information so we chatted about it for a bit.

Since my green kick started, my water cooler in the kitchen has been unplugged. Tap water is fine for my coffee.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Green TV: Living with Ed

Part of this project involves doing some pretty mundane things or sitting in rooms that are, well, cold most of the time. I find it easier to bear some of the growing pains of the project by watching a little inspiration. Living with Ed chronicles the environmental projects of Ed Begley around his home:

TV and movie actor Ed Begley, perhaps the greenest man in Tinsel Town, rides his electric car to the Academy Awards and powers his home with the sun and his stationary bike. But Living with Ed and his environmentalist passion isn't always a walk in the park for wife, Rachelle. This first-of-its-kind reality green show chronicles life with an earth-friendly fanatic with humor and heart.

You can call this celebrity Green TV as I know that Ed's pockets are much deeper than mine. It is fun to watch some of the projects and practical realities of taking this whole thing to the next level. I might not be ready to peddle for my toast just yet.

Check out the website and the dvd - loaded with great tips. The show airs on Sunday night on HGTV.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Pop Can Solar Furnace

I first read about the pop can solar furnace a few days into the new year. Since this was a relatively easy project, I decided to give it a try in my solarium.

The sun room on the corner of my house isn't especially well insulated, but it does heat up pretty quickly when it gets sunny - often as high as 20C even if it is below 0C outside. I figured if this device worked at all, I could open the sliding door on sunny days and let the free heat spill into the house.

As you can see from the pictures, the build was a little crude, but it used only recycled materials that were on hand and paint that cost about $7. It took about three hours to make, with two helpers working for an hour each cutting the bottoms out of cans.

Since it's been installed, it has been helping to heat up the area and any day that is sunny, the solarium gets to about 25C. The shallow angle of the panel means it isn't working as effectively as it could, so the next one will be built in one of the south-facing windows.

Since the interior of the house is set for about 15C during the day, the solarium boosts it to 19-20C on a sunny day just by opening the door. The next major part of this project is to install a passive duct or solar powered fan that will push the warm air in without having to open the door. If anyone knows of a decent design for a room to room stratification trap, please let me know!

Energy Counting

Did you know that you can get an energy metre from your local library for free? In Nova Scotia you can, thanks to Conserve NS.

After a two or three week wait, I now have one taking measurements all over the house. So far, it has confirmed two things:

  • Electronic devices use a lot of phantom power. Switching them off by using a power bar can save $20 a year per tv/dvd set. More if you turn off the satellite or cable box too.

  • All of my "luxury" items like tv, computer, and so forth are minor. Combined, I expect them to represent about 10% of my annual spending on electricity. Heat and hot water account for the vast majority of it.
This means my next investigation will be for solar hot water heating or pre-heating. I'll post about my solar heating project soon.

Don't want to wait? Buy a Kill-A-Watt at ThinkGeek and support this project.

A little catching up to do

I have a little bit of catching up to do because I'm already about a month into my new year's resolution of lowering my footprint in 2008 and I haven't blogged any of January at all. I'll get to those projects and pictures as soon as I can. But better to get started now.

So here's the deal: I've decided to make reducing my footprint a serious part of my life in 2008. I can't say I will be the model eco-citizen or anything, but I am going to do some interesting things, make some interesting changes and mistakes, and maybe learn a few things along the way. I know a lot of die-hards or armchair critics will take issue with some of the choices I make, but my goal is not to satisfy them or hold myself up as the gold standard. I plan to make as many positive changes as I can without unnecessarily changing my lifestyle. Another way of saying that is that I plan to make incremental, sustainable changes, not changes that will be like fads or diets, here today and gone tomorrow.

I also have a little catching up to do in general. I have a typical, heavy consumer lifestyle and I realize how far I have to go. So, until I muster the courage to live in a yurt and grow my own food and clothes, this will be record of my efforts.