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Monday, March 31, 2008

Out like a lion?

March is now over and it's been a pretty busy month on the blog. Traffic is up and there has been a lot of interest generated in the local media thanks to Earth Hour. I had my "No Third Bridge" letter read on the CBC on Friday afternoon, was called for an interview for the newspaper regarding Earth Day the same night (missed the call due to attending a great lecture by William Dalrymple), had the blog featured on a local news aggregator today, and my recent article about Irving fighting the Migratory Birds Act landed me as "official blogger" of a Facebook group dedicated to that cause.

So what's a guy to do? No time to rest on my laurels. It's already three months done in this project and I still have a lot to do. Blogging is one thing, but doing stuff is the point of this endeavour. Here's what's in the works for April:

  • Energy Audit in just a few weeks. Once that's done, I'm eligible for rebates and refunds on some of these projects, so expect to see some bigger work.
  • The spending challenge (limiting and tracking my spending) is now in week thirteen. Hopefully there will be some funds available for the first couple of projects as identified by the auditor. I'm thinking windows...
  • Still some water conservation items to tackle. Once the next water bill arrives, I'll be able to start tracking my improvements there and possibly start to get a little bit nuts about it. I suspect I will become increasingly difficult to live with...
  • I'm working on a weekly report card form that I can post at the end of the week to grade myself on measurable items such as transit usage, etc. Not sure how many things are trackable on a weekly basis, but we'll give it a go.
  • Even though I'm going to be using the bus as my primary mode of transportation, I testing my car's efficiency... It's a 15 year old Toyota that is still running very well... No need to replace it yet... or is it almost time?
  • Also thinking that it's time to finally create a custom look and feel for the blog... anyone want to help me create some custom graphics? I just know I won't have the time for it this month.

I'm currently reading both Ecoholic and Living Like Ed so there are all kinds of new things I want to try.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour is... Done!

We spent a cold two and half hours sitting by the light of 3 solar garden lights and three little candles. It was a fun evening as we listened to Jill Barber on CBC and had a rambling multicultural discussion about all kinds of different topics. We were all surprised by how quickly the first hour went by and when none of the neighbours turned their lights on right away, we felt compelled to outlast at least some of them.

So, turning off the main power switch for the house is a bit extreme, but it meant that everything was off. Leaving it for more than an hour or so might have had implications on the fridge and freezer, so maybe next we'll plan better and make more ice in advance or something.

For those who think that Earth Day isn't a big deal, certainly saving 20kW of power and about $2.20 is in fact no big deal. But to have four people sitting around enjoying each other's company without any computer or movie distractions on a busy Saturday night... that's something special. In fact, this might be the start of something a little more frequent than once a year.

Earth Hour is... Now! (Almost)

15 minutes to go and I'm starting the shutdown. We're throwing the main power switch and then going to listen to a concert on my crank radio under solar powered garden lights in a solar heated room. It's going to be fun!

See you on the other side!

Top Five Things To Do During Earth Hour

8pm tonight you are going to turn all of your power off. That means no tv, no movies, no internet! What are you going to do to survive for sixty minutes while you help save the planet???

Top Five Things to do during Earth Hour:

  1. Wind up that crank radio and listen to Jill Barber on Canada Live on CBC. It was a great concert at the Cohn and you'll be able to hear me clapping in the crowd (back in February).
  2. Light a candle and play a board game with your friends and family.
  3. Tells stories in the dark like you would do when camping or when the power goes out during a storm. Bring a guitar but leave the amp home.
  4. Go for a walk and take pictures of the parts of town in darkness.
  5. It's only an hour, but you could... you know... help keep someone warm.
Top Five Things Not to do during Earth Hour:

  1. Watch CNN's coverage of Earth Hour on your big screen TV.
  2. Spend 60 minutes in a high-watt tanning bed.
  3. See how many crayons you can melt in one hour on the electric radiator with the temperature cranked.
  4. Tumble dry one item for 60 minutes on high heat.
  5. Steal the surplus energy in the power grid for your underground lab to test out your new Death Ray Weapon.
What are you going to be doing? Leave a comment below!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mass Transit In Action

I know I've made reference to it a few times, but part of my footprint reduction is to take the bus as often as possible. It's been a little bit of a struggle initially, as I get used to the routes and their timing with respect to getting to work and class and then getting home at night. This week, I managed to leave my car at home four out of five work days. I'm starting to recognize faces on the bus, so there is definitely a healthy community of mass transit commuters.

The more I do in this footprint reduction lifestyle change, the more I realize that everything I do is about improving the quality of my life, not taking something away. By taking the bus, I know I'm doing something about taking a car off the road and the associated carbon emissions and waste from being a one-person in the car commuter. But that almost doesn't matter... I enjoy taking the bus, seeing new people, passively buzzing along without having to worry about icy road conditions (even now in late March!), deep axle snapping potholes, burning $30 of gas a week, or finding a parking spot!

I find have a bit more awake time before arriving at work and I'm able to use the time to plan my day, do a little bit of meditation, or just feel like a part of a bigger community. Did I mention that I'm saving about $30 a week in gas and reducing the associated CO2?

As a small-to-medium-sized city like Halifax continues to grow, improvements to this system are essential. There is no need to be considering additional bridges or tunnels into the downtown core when only about 10% of people use the available transit system. In fact, more people walk to work! How do we change the car culture when 75% or more of commuters use their cars to get to work daily?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Earth Hour - The countdown is on!

Earth Hour is less than 48 hours away! Things are gearing up and people are getting ready to shutdown. I haven't decided yet, but the hope is that I will simply throw the breakers for my whole house for the hour. What are you planning to do?

In other updates:

  • We've reached our first milestone! So far, Lower Footprint has raised enough money to cover the expenses related to an energy audit. The next big milestone will be enough funds to finance a solar water heater. That's after the energy audit though!
  • Welcome Nevada! I don't think I've celebrated this one yet. We've had at least one visitor from the South West desert state, as well as South Africa, and a number of other places around the world. Still no one from Manitoba though! Where are you Winnipeg?
  • As the sunny days get a bit stronger, the solarium is pumping out good heat for the rest of the house. Sure, it's still only about 19C in here, but the thermostats are set at 13C and the rads are not clicking in anywhere near as often. It hit 32C in the solarium today and probably within in a month, I will be talking about over heating the room.
  • After a not so stellar week last week, I've bused it to work everyday this week except Monday. With the possible exception of Monday evenings (when I stay downtown until about 10pm), it's actually a lot easier to bus it, than to drive.
  • For you music fans out there, I'm happy to report that Halifax is in the midst of another concert announcement frenzy. Leonard Cohen sold out 5 shows last week and Bob Dylan tickets go on sale on Saturday... somehow I managed to get mine already! Woohoo! It's going to be a busy month of May.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

...Is being planned for 2016.

So my early reports were confirmed in today's newspaper.

Plans are in the works for another bridge or tunnel to South End Halifax by 2016 at a cost of $1.1 Billion dollars. Couple that price tag with an increase in construction costs, environmental impacts, maintenance, and interest on financing, and then how much does it really cost? I'm no expert, but I'm willing to bet that one could make a state of the art upgrade to our transit system that would be less expensive and probably would recoup money over the long term. More buses, more hydrogen/hybrid buses (apparently 2 are coming), and restrictions on one person per car during peak times would start dealing with this uncontrolled traffic growth. Maybe something like London's restrictions would be appropriate.

The article even suggests appropriation as the likely way that this bridge and its approaches would get started. That's probably the good news. The houses bordering the "cut" in South End Halifax house some of the wealthiest people in the city. Are they going to give up their backyards and limited traffic area for on-ramps and daily commuter congestion? I have a sneaking suspicion that the wealthiest people in Halifax won't be part of the city's next Africville.

Anyway, it's fun to scoop the local paper by 12 hours... :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Third Bridge...

I have no intention of making this blog a breaking news forum, but I just heard that the Halifax (HRM) City Council is at this hour considering a presentation about building a third bridge (or a tunnel) between Halifax and Dartmouth. This is necessary because our existing bridges (7 lanes in total) are reaching capacity. Once again, it would appear that rather than figuring out how to manage and reduce traffic and carbon emissions, our planners are ignoring the environment in favour of adapting to higher levels of traffic.

Don't ask me where the increased traffic is supposed to park.

The problem with growing your traffic infrastructure to meet increasing demand is that demand will eventually grow to fill the increase in capacity. What next? A fourth bridge? Why not actually address the underlying issue: people need to find a way to get to work. It should be cheap and convenient. It should be comfortable and accessible. It should get you to where you need to go, including being able to do the things you'd normally do, like stop for groceries on the way home, or hop cross-town for a meeting in the middle of the day. A good transit system with lots of capacity can do that. Why don't we grow that infrastructure?

Metro Transit is pretty good. I rode to work and back today, in roughly the same amount of time it would have taken me to drive - about 25 minutes.

At the risk of becoming VERY unpopular, perhaps HRM should consider closing a bridge to single car traffic. Allow carpooling, allow buses and taxis. Instead of a new bridge, let's put some good parking and some express buses at the bridges heading toward downtown. That would fix the traffic problem and save us the tens or hundreds of millions needed for a new bridge.

Time for a reality check.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Story of Stuff

Happy Easter to all and I hope everyone has been enjoying their long weekend!

Not many updates this last week as I'm in the final days of my school term with all of the requisite assignments and due dates. Trying to stay on top of all of that and make room for doing my eco-projects. All in its time, right?

Anyway, today's post is a teaser for The Story of Stuff. I think this is an important video in that it raises some issues about our consumption levels. I've been actively tracking every penny I've spent since January 6th, so I'm learning about my personal consumption in a big way. It is surprising where the money does go. Maybe I'll post a graph tomorrow... can't you wait????

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day

It's the original day for going Green! Since this year's St. Patty's Day was mired in controversy because it fell within Holy Week for the first time in decades, I think we missed an opportunity to re-brand the whole day as one for CF bulbs instead of green beer and riding mass transit instead of kissing the blarney stone. Oh well. Is there a way to power your computer with the hangovers in the office tomorrow? More planning for next year.

Monday updates:

  • Lots of new visitors! Welcome Regina! That leaves only Manitoba and the Territories! Send the URL to someone you know in Winnipeg!
  • Still waiting for someone from Nevada. Send it along. New visits from Portugal and Germany. Guten tag, Jill!
  • Lots of interest thanks to the great results from my latest power bill. Keep Digg'ing the articles you enjoy so others can see them as well.
  • Good progress on the 25kW Challenge. Remember that I can always use your support to further my projects!
  • I've been chatting with my friend Jason in NB about his wickedly low power bills. Hoping that my energy audit uncovers something huge that I've missed. His bill for the last while was MUCH lower than mine.
  • Also talking with some cool folks in NYC and environs about their upcoming project. Wishing Gus and friends a lot of luck and will help in any way I can. I'll link once their blog is up and running.
  • Don't forget about Facebook! Come join us there as well.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Electricity Update

When I installed my programmable thermostats back in January, I expected to see some modest change in the amount of electricity I used over the coldest and darkest winter months. With three of the main rooms in the house (bedroom, tv room, and living room) now on programmable thermostats and many of the electronics in the house on power bars that cut off a lot of the phantom power (aka vampire power), I was hoping to see something real almost right away. Well, this morning the bill arrived by e-mail.

Comparing November - December 2007 to January - February 2008 saw a 9.4% drop in total daily electricity use, despite the fact that it was dramatically colder during the latter months and my house is heated by electricity. This represents an overall savings of 1205 kWh - that's more than 1 MEGAWATT! Granted, electricity is still pretty cheap, so my total cash savings is only about $128 (over two months), but that still means all three thermostats have paid for themselves with enough left over for any power bars I would have had to buy if I didn't have them laying around. Since I'd also converted a number of bulbs to CF, this would have helped the savings as well.

This encourages me a lot as return on investment (ROI) is the way we can justify the high initial cost of buying CF bulbs, thermostats, solar heaters and so on. Knowing that these items will eventually and actually pay for themselves means that I've made a good investment and will be likely to put more money into it as time goes by!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Water Use Calculator

I found this handy water use calculator at a BBC website (via EcoToolbox). Have a look and see how your household stacks up. The graph it produces at the end will give you a pretty good idea of what area you should focus on. Even with some of the changes I've made, the big users are still toilets and showers. Maybe it's time to start researching composting toilets?

Speaking of composting, I'm thinking of building a compost system for the house. We use the green bin pretty well now and it has cut down on the amount of waste we generate overall. The more I read about it though, I'm beginning to think of my waste as a commodity that I'm giving away for free. The design I have in my head is one with screened drawers. The last one I built was made from four wooden pallets, but that was for our country property, not for city use. This one would need to be much more contained, but still big enough to hold my autumn leaves... suggestions?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Earth Hour Canada Update

Some news in my e-mail about Earth Hour:

Canada leads in Earth Hour momentum!

Earth Hour is gaining huge momentum in Canada! More than 60 cities across Canada are taking part, encouraging their businesses and residents to participate and show support for action on climate change. Canada is also leading the world in sign-ups at earthhour.org!

Canada’s own, Nelly Furtado, multi-platinum Grammy and Juno Award-winner has signed on as the first Canadian Earth Hour Ambassador. As an Earth Hour Ambassador and an advocate for the environment, Nelly Furtado [right] will play an acoustic concert at the Earth Hour community event in Toronto, starting at 7:30 p.m. This lights-out event will be as carbon-neutral as possible – including powering the event with green, renewable energy from Bullfrog Power.

You can sign up for Earth Hour no matter where you live! The whole thing takes place at 8pm March 29, 2008.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Energy Star Ratings

I went to a presentation today as part of Dalhousie's Green Week on Energuide Audits and Energy Star ratings. It was sparsely attended, but it was good fun. The presenter was from Conserve NS and I have to say, the small group of us that were there were definitely keeners. As a result, we got to share some of our experiences measuring electricity usage and cutting back on water. Good to know I'm on the right track.

Other quick notes:
  • New visitors to the blog from Alaska, The Netherlands, Sudan, and Pakistan. Welcome all! Still waiting on Nevada. Invite someone you know in Vegas to pay us a visit!
  • Have you subscribed yet? Click the subscribe link at the bottom of this page.
  • Many new people at the Facebook group. C'mon over and chat!
  • Lights out Challenge at Risley Hall today. Couldn't find a switch for the lobby lights though!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Just Jiggle It

As I continue to look for some options on reducing my water usage, I saw mentioned on a few sites that instead of installing a retro-fit to a toilet tank or letting urine mellow, you can simply jiggle the handle after you flush normally. This causes the rubber flap to close prematurely, thereby saving you upwards of half a tank of water.

I tried it today and it worked quite well. It may take some practice to both remember to do it and to get the timing right, but it seems like a $0.00 fix. Sounds about right to me.

In other news:
  • P.E.I. is now on the list. Welcome visitors from Charlottetown!
  • I have to make a point of starting my car tonight. I haven't driven myself to work in a week. Between hitching rides and taking the bus, it's been a great seven days!
  • Lights out challenge happened today in Shirreff Hall, one of the buildings I manage. Seemed to go well. Tomorrow is Risley Hall.
  • Check out this article on how to talk to a Climate Change Sceptic.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Irving launches constitutional challenge of migratory birds act

While the purpose of my blog isn't necessarily to share news items, this one was sent to me tonight and I think it's worth posting.

Big oil and big forestry bring the anti-environmental fight to the courtroom. The message appears to be that you can do what you want for the almighty dollar. If you get caught destroying heron nests, fight it in court. If it looks like you might lose, fight the legitimacy of the law.

Shame on the Irving Companies. Boycott anyone?

Irving launches constitutional challenge of migratory birds act
Last Updated: Monday, March 10, 2008 | 9:50 AM AT
CBC News

J.D. Irving Ltd. is challenging the constitutionality of Canada's
Migratory Birds Convention Act.

Lawyers for the New Brunswick-based company have filed a notice of
motion alleging the act is too vague.

Continued at:

Various Monday Updates

It was a busy week last week and I didn't get to finish all of my water related challenges, so I'm going to keep going with them this week. I did some bill comparisons and it looks like I'm using a fair bit of water still, perhaps a bit lower than average, but still a substantial amount. Must keep working on it.

I also did some quick investigations into the 100-mile diet. Rough conclusion: I'm not ready for it yet. With projects at work and school and the fact that it is still March in Nova Scotia means that I'm going to have to study a bit more to figure out how to do it well. Regardless, I am going to be trying to incorporate more local items and less take-out food into my diet. There is talk of a local food cookbook going around Dalhousie this week. I will try to get my hands on one.

I spent a whopping $12 at Home Depot yesterday on materials for my second Pop Can Solar Furnace. While Spring is just around the corner, I'm pretty sure a few days of heat to get us through to the summer will still be beneficial. More sun now will also help! I will post pictures and perhaps video of the build when it happens.

Looking at the blog's stats and I'm pretty happy. We've had visitors from 22 different countries and many parts of Canada and the US. Some people have joined the Facebook group as well! The challenge to you this week is to help me fill in the gaps in my Visitor Map. Please share this blog with someone you know in one of these areas:

  • P.E.I. or Manitoba
  • Alaska or Nevada
  • Anywhere in Africa, Asia, or Europe
That's it for today. More to post this week as things get going!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Green Week 2008 - Events Listing & Schedule

Thought I'd drop a plug for the Green Week happening at my university next week. Can't wait for a few of the talks that I hope to get to.

Dalhousie University's Green Week is coming up next week - starting Monday, March 10th with a whole slew of events! Please find at the following links, both the EVENTS LISTING and SCHEDULE for Green Week 2008:

Events Listing

Events Schedule

We're also part of the Light's Out Challenge. Tuesday in Shirreff Hall and Wednesday in Risley Hall. Turn off your lights and computer for one hour.

Who's Your Eco-Hero?

I've been coming across an awful lot of green blogs and press and such about some fantastic people who are doing some great projects. People like No Impact Man, Vanessa at Green as a Thistle, and so many others.

I was thinking that I could feature an Eco-Hero every now and then on the website and then do a comparison between them. This would eventually generate an award of recognition from Lower Footprint.

You can nominate your Eco-Hero now by leaving a comment here or on our Facebook discussion group. I'm also interested in what categories you think are important for comparison purposes. Let me know!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Got Facebook?

Lower Footprint is now a group on Facebook. If you're already on Facebook, join the group, join in on the discussion, and share your stories of green-powered change however big or small!

Water Project Update

I thought I'd share some of the ideas that I've received for my Water Conservation project this week.

  • Dpatel recommends I try the yellow water approach in my toilet, flushing only before I go to bed.

  • Elasticsoul recommends insulating the hot water tank and re-routing grey water (water from sinks and showers) to the garden

  • Dw1ght had a whole list for me:

    Concentrate on the 5 BIG water uses in the home: Turf, Toilets, Showers, Laundry, Dishwashers!
    1. If you irrigate turf, stop it! (I don't. NS gets enough rain)
    2. Replace toilets with HET models that use less than 1.3 gallons per flush (working on it)
    3. Replace shower heads with 2.0 gallon/per minute heads. Turn off shower flow while lathering hair and body. (working on it, <5 minute showers anyway)
    4. Replace standard 45 gallon/ load clothes washer with new 20 gallon per load model. Only wash full loads. (doing it already)
    5. Do not rinse dishes before loading into dishwasher. Scrape the dishes with a spatula into garbage pail. Do not use garbage disposal. Only wash full loads. (yup - check)

    Do all these things and you will reduce water use by more than 35%.
  • Finally, my cousin Frank recommended an interesting approach:

    Just an idea - but with multiple toilets in the house, why not use 2 bottles in one so it goes super low flow and restrict that one to number 1 only - that way - little water and you don't have to let it mellow.
So I thought that was a pretty good idea, but I think I need to come up with a good sign to post above the toilet, or risk some plumbing issues. Any funny ideas? Here are my two:
  • Sh*t Happens, but not here.
  • We're #1! Take your #2 somewhere else.
Post your funny ideas in the comments section!

Finally, here's a list of similar recommendations from Natural Resources Canada. They pretty much say the same thing as Dw1ght, so we're looking in the right direction. Time to go gather some water displacing bottles.

PS: Next week is Green Week at Dalhousie. Here's the line-up of events on the Green Week 2008 Facebook group.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Project: Water Water Everywhere

This week, I'm going to be starting my water challenge, aiming to reduce the amount of water my house uses for everything. Compared to some statistics I've seen,I use a reasonable amount of water, so gains might not be that dramatic, but as with everything, a little bit helps.

While I'm a bit loathe to consider the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" philosophy, I know there are at least two ways to reduce the impact of my flush. First, I'm going to reduce the size of my toilet tank by displacing water with a 1 or 2 litre bottle inside. That will be the first step. With four toilets in the house, I'm also going to check to make sure none of them are leaking by using food dye.

At some point in the future (perhaps via the 25kW Challenge), I will replace some toilets with low-flow, efficient models. Hopefully with ones that include a two-flush option... one half-flush for the aforementioned "yellow" variety and a full-flush for the other.

Apparently, Ed Begley gives these toilets away, so if he and Rachelle are ever in the neighbourhood or want to come to Nova Scotia for a visit, I'd happily take them on a tour. Consider this an official invitation!

Of course, the rest of the week will bring other related projects. I need to check my shower heads, look for leaky faucets, and the rest. Have you done a water audit? Let me know what else to check!

In other news, I wanted to thank everyone for their support of the 25kW Challenge to date. Keep it up!

Also, I'm looking at doing the 100-Mile diet for a week... Maybe next week. Could be a way to learn some new tricks or lose some weight... Not sure how to manage the coffee part of it though. Does locally roasted, fair trade count for anything???