Go Green With These Green Grilling Tips.

Is grilling good or bad for the environment or is it at least better than cooking in the kitchen? It depends on how you cook, what you cook & the clean-up. Check out these green grilling tips.

Even with July 4th in the rear-view mirror we have several weeks of good grilling weather ahead of us.  For those who like to tailgate and aren’t afraid of snow, grilling holds year-round appeal.

Is grilling good or bad for the environment?  Is it at least better than cooking in the kitchen?

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You have four basic grill options: gas grills (natural gas or propane), electric grills, charcoal grills (using briquettes or “lump charcoal”), or grilling on a wood fire.

Cooking indoors or out, natural gas is a clean and efficient way to cook and more environmentally friendly than using electricity. Grilling with gas is also more energy-efficient than an indoor oven, since ovens take time to preheat.

In most cases, both charcoal and wood are less eco-friendly than your indoor gas or electric range.

When we grill or look to eat outside, we often include paper napkins, paper/plastic plates and perhaps the good ‘ole Red Solo Cup.

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For those looking to stay green, forget the red (Solo or any other disposable cup) and consider the same plates, cups you use for inside cooking.  Yes, it may feel less like a picnic-but the chemicals and by products used to produce paper and plastic cups are in no way more environmentally friendly then doing dishes.

What to eat?

If you insist on being a carnivore consider chicken.  It takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce four half-pound hamburgers. So opt for chicken over beef, and vegetables over chicken.  (By and large we agree…what good is a BBQ without some red meat?  For today though we’re talking about the environment, not the best cut of meat.)

If you have the grill fired up anyway, cook enough for multiple meals.  Cook up extra veggies or meat to ad to salads for another day.

The Clean up:

Lets see.  You already decided against disposable plastic spoons and forks.  We used lean cuts of meat, prepared lots of left overs and used environmentally friendly cooking fuel.  Time to clean the grill.

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Simple!  Make a paste using baking soda and water.  Attack the grill grates while they are still warm and clean up will be a snap.

Now it is time for a nap!

For help in putting this piece together we looked to:

Huffington Post

Grist.org

 

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How the Federal Government Supports Energy Efficiency at Home

While federal programs certainly have their detractors, energy efficiency programs initiated by the Federal Government have been largely successful.

State or local governments have traditionally taken the lead when it comes to implementing energy efficiency programs for homeowners. Building codes, new construction incentives, home energy ratings, land use ordinances and energy efficient mortgages are decided upon and implemented by state and local governments to help curb the collective energy use of its residents.

Even in Maine where the Efficiency Maine program has been the subject of much controversy, programs administered by quasi-governmental agencies are very popular.

Meanwhile, the conversation in Washington, DC has largely leaned towards topics such as the Keystone XL Pipeline and high-level goals regulating efficiency in industry. While not unheard of, Congress has rarely had the opportunity to narrow the focus to the specific needs of homeowners and landlords in the debate.

While the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) reports that residential and commercial (excluding agricultural and industrial) greenhouse gas emissions only make up 12% of the total U.S. greenhouse gas output pie, that’s still 817 million metric tons of CO2. To put that into perspective, 1 million metric tons is roughly equivalent to the same physical mass as one million small cars. So, that’s the mass of 817 million Toyota Corollas worth of greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere every year by houses, apartment buildings, stores and restaurants.

A Bill in the Right Direction

Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, have been working for years on bipartisan energy efficiency legislation. This April, they celebrated a significant victory with the passing of a bill that would create a voluntary program for landlords and tenants to improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings, mandate that large electric water heaters be run in a highly energy-efficient manner and require federal agencies to perform energy-use assessments on commercial buildings that they lease.


United States Environmental Protection Agency sign on the Clinton building
United States Environmental Protection Agency sign on the Clinton building

The Department of Energy’s National Appliance Energy Conservation Act is a small slice of the broader energy efficiency measures that the senators have been hammering at since 2011, but both Senators Shaheen and Portman are pleased with the recent victory and see it as a large step in the right direction.

“On the bill’s merits — creating jobs, saving consumers money and reducing pollution — it was never a hard sell,” Ms. Shaheen said. “The tough part was convincing Washington to not play politics with a good idea.”

Mr. Portman said, “Our targeted energy efficiency bill has garnered widespread support because of a simple fact: It is good for the economy and good for the environment.”

From recent coverage in the New York Times

Partisan gridlock will surely continue to play a role in the debate over Senators Portman and Shaheen’s broader goals, but for the time being this move is being celebrated by both parties.

What Does This Mean for Homeowners?

Starting in April, all newly manufactured water heaters have to be more efficient. Homeowners will see higher energy ratings on all residential gas, electric and tankless water heaters. The goal is to cut down on emissions and save billions of dollars in energy costs.

A residential water heater is the second largest consumer of energy in the home, right behind your heating and cooling system. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, heating water accounts for about 18 percent of energy consumption in households. Any improvement to a water heater’s efficiency is going to pay dividends in monthly utility bills, but the upfront cost will be up to 35% more expensive. Also, plan for a slightly larger tank in your basement, as the new and more efficient models are larger.

Tankless or even solar water heaters are also an option for those who don’t want to make room for the bulkier new appliances. Tankless heaters don’t have water storage containers, but instead heat water on demand, so hot water never runs out. Because they are already more efficient than heaters that use tanks, the new standards do not apply but they cost about three times more than regular heaters. Along with the monthly savings on your bill, tankless heaters last about three times longer than the average 8 to 10 year lifetime of heaters that use tanks.

The U.S. EPA’s ENERGY STAR Program is a great resource for homeowners to better understand where to find building and lifestyle inefficiencies and the products and incentives available to increase the efficiency of their home. ENERGY STAR was established by the EPA in 1992, and consumers can find a multitude of resources on the program’s website to help them navigate product choices and practices to help make their home or business more efficient. It also provides information about state and federal incentives to help push us all to more energy efficient choices.

As Senators Shaheen and Portman work to hammer home more federal legislation to increase energy efficiency both on an industrial level and at home, tools are available to make smarter and more efficient decisions for our homes and businesses. It’s better for the wallet and the environment.

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Green Living Energy Savings

Keep cool with these 10 AC-free hacks

Does the idea of relying on an air-conditioner to keep cool get you hot? Here are some tips to keep cool, save a buck and keep the old air conditioner in storage.

According to Google, it’s going to cost you $300 over the course of the summer to run one air conditioning window unit. So which room do you choose? The bedroom? Your home office? The living room? Does your entire family huddle around this loud, dripping machine when summer is at its peak? Is there always someone in the house complaining it’s too cold?

The reluctant truth is, our grandparents survived without air conditioning, especially in New England. With a few common sense actions and a teeny bit of willingness to forgo optimum personal temperature at all times, you too can save some money and do a little bit more for the environment.

So what is your survival plan?

  1. Go CFL or LED. If you needed (another) reason, here it is. Incandescent bulbs waste about 90% of their energy in emitted heat. While CFLs and LEDs might only make a small difference in the temperature of your home, you’re also saving (more) electricity.
  2. Let the air in. Open up those windows at night. If you live in a noisy area, use a fan for white noise — it’s still more efficient than that AC unit. And if you live in the country, bask in the primal sounds of sleeping with the crickets and peepers. They will sing you sleep.
  3. Close the blinds. The early morning air is some of the coolest you will feel all day, but once that sun has broken the horizon and temperatures begin to climb, shut it down. Your home has captured what it can for cool air, so now trap it inside by closing windows and pulling blinds. It may seem counterintuitive, but your late morning/afternoon self will thank you.
  4. Grill, baby, grill. Stay away from the stove and get fireside. Cranking up a giant appliance to 350 inside the house is no way to end the day.
  5. Feel the freezer burn. Go ahead and stick those fresh cotton sheets in the freezer for a few minutes before turning in. Then enjoy a freshly made, pleasantly chilled bed.
  6. Get creative with air flow. If you thought fans were just for blowing in, think again. Turn your window box fan around and suck all of that hot air out. If you choose juxtaposing windows, the hot air will be sucked out and cooler air pulled in. Try different arrangements to figure out what works best in your home. If you’re lucky, you may even achieve the gold standard — a cross breeze.
  7. Go old-school. Place a large bowl or roasting pan of ice in front of the fan. The breeze will pick up the cool air and send it your way. Yes, people used to do this pre-AC and yes, it works!
  8. Down a quart? Fill ‘er up. Drinking water throughout the day gives your body the tools it needs to stay cooler through perspiration. Yes, your body is designed to sweat a little.
  9. Take a cold shower. It’s refreshing, saves energy, and studies show it can even make you an all around more productive person.
  10. Unplug. Disconnecting (not just turning off) electronics at night will bring the core temperature of your house down and save electricity.

BONUS:

While eating ice cream may seem like a natural plan for a hot day, counterintuitively, drinking a hot cup of tea can actually help to lower your body temperature and trigger your sweat glands.

These quick tips are effective ways to keep your cool when temperatures soar up over 80, but it’s also helpful to keep the long-view in mind. Consider investing the money you will save to plant trees and vines around your home, or installing awnings over windows. While $300 may seem worth it in the hottest months, remember that collectively we can make a big dent in excessive energy use.

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Green Living Business

4 Strategies for Starting a Company Recycling Program

A huge portion of the country’s waste paper comes from offices, so starting a company recycling program is a great way to reduce waste and encourage environmentally conscious practices. This could even be a selling point to potential employees who want to work for an environmentally-aware company.

A huge portion of the country’s waste paper comes from offices, so starting a company recycling program is a great way to reduce waste and encourage environmentally conscious practices. This could even be a selling point to potential employees who want to work for an environmentally-aware company.

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Here’s a look at strategies to get you started.

  • Start small. If your municipality offers single-stream recycling, then you may not need to worry about separating cardboard from plastic or glass. But if your recycling must be separated, then your employees may get overwhelmed by separate receptacles for paper, soda cans, plastic containers, compost and more. Start with paper—which likely makes up the bulks of your company’s recyclables anyway—and once employees get into the habit of recycling paper, add additional receptacles based on your company’s recycling needs. If your company uses a lot of printer ink, you might recycle ink cartridges. Or if your employees drink a lot of soda, consider bins for recycling cans (or put a soda-maker in the break room, so they can make their own soda without piling up disposable cans).
  • Make it easy. Some staff members are unlikely to recycle if it requires a hike down the hall or to another floor (though on the other hand, more zealous recyclers might even take recyclables home if their office doesn’t support recycling!). Remove this potential obstacle by placing recycling bins in easily accessible areas. Some companies even place a paper recycling bin at every employee’s desk so it’s just as easy to recycle paper as it is to toss it.
  • Get employees (and others) involved. Employees who are passionate about the environment can champion the program to their colleagues or even serve on a recycling committee to discuss recycling plans. Employees who aren’t as gung-ho about recycling might need more encouragement. Consider incentives such as a friendly competitive where the department with the least amount of trash over a given time period gets a prize. Or reward everyone with a pizza party with the proceeds from soda can recycling. But don’t assume the materials you gather for recycling will magically migrate to the recycling plant. In an Inc. magazine article, Seth Goldman, founder of Honest Tea, mentions how janitorial staff combined recycling and trash into one bag until he notified them of the company’s office-wide recycling program. Some buildings already have recycling programs your office could use.
  • Show appreciation. Thank employees and reinforce positive behavior on a regular basis. You can do so through your company newsletter or create a monthly or annual award for employees who go above and beyond in recycling efforts. If you can quantify the amount of material you’ve diverted from the trash (so many pounds of paper, for instance), that’s a great stat to share with employees or in press materials.

For more information on starting an office recycling program, check out the EPA’s resources for green workplaces and the Mother Nature Network.

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Business, Green Living Business

What Does It Take to Get LEED Certified?

For any business that cares about sustainability, the environment, or making the world a greener place, having its facilities LEED certified is a great way to do their part.

If you’re in the midst of a new construction or renovation and are considering LEED certification, here’s a primer on how to successfully complete the process, and why it’s worth considering.

Why Take the LEED?

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, and is essentially a green building certification program for building projects. In order to earn a LEED certification, the project earns points based on the environmental impacts and human benefits of using particular building practices. There are different levels of certification depending on the number of points earned, and as a business owner, you must choose the type of LEED program that best fits your construction project. Your choices are:

  • Building design and construction (BD + C)
  • Interior design and construction (ID + C)
  • Building operations and maintenance
  • Neighborhood development
  • Homes

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To get certified, you must earn 40-49 points; silver certification requires 50-59 points; gold needs 60-79 points; and platinum is for those that earn 80+ points.

 

If you need some bottom-line motivation as to why it’s worth going through the process and expense of becoming LEED certified, three key points to keep in mind include:

  1. LEED-certified buildings cost less to operate, reducing energy and water bills by as much as 40 percent, as per the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
  2. LEED buildings have higher air quality and more comfortable work spaces for employees, creating a healthier and more comfortable environment that can increase productivity.
  3. Over 60 percent of corporate leaders believe that sustainability leads to market differentiation and improved financial performance, according to USGBC.

The Path to LEED

The first steps of the LEED process can be completed online, beginning with registration. You’ll have to submit a registration form and your flat registration fee of $1,200, which will open your LEED Online account. The certification fee will be based on the size of the project and the rating system under which you register, with pricing beginning at $2,750. Naturally, the higher the level of LEED certification you’re trying to achieve, the more expensive it will be.

From there, you’ll be able to access various tools, and given step-by-step instructions on the documentation you’ll need for your application. If you’re working on BD+C and ID+C projects, you will have the option to split the LEED review, in which you will submit your application in two parts: one for design credits, and the other for construction credits.

Once you’re ready to begin working on your project, be sure to choose professionals – from engineers to consultants to architects — who are LEED-accredited to ensure that the job gets completed according to LEED specifications, recommends the National Resources Defense Council.

All in all, investing in a greener business will have long-term benefits, can help you operate more efficiently, and will set you apart in the eyes of your customers and clients. LEED certification is a proven path toward sustainability.

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Green Living Energy Savings

How to Choose an Energy Efficient Ceiling Fan

On a normal summer day, no other household appliance consumes as much energy as the much-loved air conditioner. All the more reason to not forget about the humble ceiling fan.
A mid-size ceiling fan set on high for 12 hours per day costs just over a penny per hour in electricity or just about $3.50 per month

Air conditioning units, even the newest, most efficient models, occupy the top spot of the American energy consumption pyramid. On a normal summer day, no other household appliance consumes as much energy as the much-loved air conditioner — or even comes close. Roughly 25% of an average monthly electrical bill is consumed by a running air conditioning unit.

Now, consider the humble ceiling fan. A mid-size ceiling fan set on high for 12 hours per day costs just over a penny per hour in electricity or just about $3.50 per month. Even your curling iron uses more energy.

Three numbers to consider when shopping for a ceiling fan

Now that you are considering a ceiling fan to save money, you may as well consider an energy efficient one to further lower your household consumption. There are three numbers on the side of the box to look at:

  1. Airflow or CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute): Air flow, whether you’re talking about duct systems, bath fans, or ceiling fans, is measured in cubic feet per minute, usually called simply cfm. The higher the number, the more air is moving.
  2. Electricity Use (watts): Energy usage can be a bit confusing, but it’s important to remember that a watt is the unit of measurement for the rate of energy consumption. If the ceiling fan you are looking at includes a light, that will not be included in the electricity use rating to better allow an accurate comparison of the fan mechanism.
  3. Airflow Efficiency (or CFM/Watt): Efficiency is generally measured as output divided by input. In this case the output is airflow or CFM, divided by electricity use or watts

So what can we gather from these three numbers? You want high airflow or CFM with low electricity use or watts. Therefore, the higher the airflow efficiency number, the more efficient the fan. Other factors to consider are the size and height of the room. Energy Star provides an installation guide to help you choose the best size and mount for your ceiling fan. General rule of thumb is, get the biggest fan you can.

You have successfully installed your new ceiling fan. Now what?

As with any appliance, you have to know how and when to use it to get the best bang for your buck. In most homes in the U.S. ceiling fans don’t actually save much energy at all, but that’s not to say that they can’t. For all of the reasons that this article has laid out, ceiling fans can be a great money and energy saving tool, but you have to understand how and when to use them. Here are the rules of the road:

  1. Fans cool people, not rooms. The most important rule of using a ceiling fan to save energy is to turn it off when no one is there. The goal is to make your room feel cooler, allowing you to skip the AC. Ceiling fans don’t actually change the temperature of the room that much, but the circulating air does make the person inside the room feel cooler.
  2. Use the fan year-round. A ceiling fan set to run counterclockwise in the summer provides a cooling breeze. In the winter, reverse the motor to clockwise (most ceiling fans have this feature) for a gentle updraft, forcing warm air hiding out near the ceiling down. And don’t forget to adjust your thermostat to really realize these savings.
  3. Apply for a rebate. Energy Star often partners with appliance manufacturers to further incentivize use of energy efficient products. These savings can come in the form of federal tax credits or product rebates. As you continue to make improvements to your home, this website is a helpful tool to discover savings.

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Green Living Energy Savings

5 Steps to Making Your Historic Home More Energy Efficient

We New Englanders love our squeaky old farm houses, Capes and captain’s houses. Making them energy efficient and reducing energy costs will make them all the more enjoyable.
Originally built in 1880's this home has undergone a number of renovations. Many windows still need replacing as well as upgrading the insulation.

We New Englanders love our squeaky old farm houses, Capes and captain’s houses, and taking care of our historic homes is nothing short of a labor of love. But it’s not just about the hard work. While the carbon footprint of maintaining and inhabiting an old home is less than building a new one, the expense of heating, cooling and lighting these beloved structures can be nothing short of menacing.

There is also our own, personal energy use to consider. All residential buildings in the US use more energy than all commercial buildings combined. While we love our drafty fireplaces and single pane windows, none of us are looking to guzzle up the resources often required to make a New England winter manageable. That said, building a new and tightly sealed home can emit up to ten times more C02e (carbon dioxide equivalent) during construction than rehabbing an old one. So, while cutting household emissions can clearly make an impact, if your goal is to be the best global citizen you can be, older is better.

Enter home performance. An energy efficient home isn’t just for new construction. There are many ways to keep the charm and originality of your historic home while also saving a little fuel, a little electricity and potentially a lot of money.

Historic Homes are Different

There are considerations to make before moving forward with creating new efficiencies in your old house. It is important to remember that your 1800s home was constructed using different techniques than what contractors practice today. For example, if your home is a pre-1850s structure, its bones are likely post and beam instead of the more modern balloon framing. This will be important to consider when updating your insulation.

Another major consideration is temperature regulation and moisture levels. Historic homes were not built with the same static, comfortable temperature expectation as today. If you were cold, you put on a sweater. If you were hot, you opened a window. Thicker walls provided some insulation, keeping the home warmer at night and cooler during the day, but in general, air was allowed to move more freely throughout the structure. Adding insulation to your old home without considering the house as a system can cause moisture to accumulate and mold and rot to form.

Thanks to south-west facing windows-the sun provides some warmth and added natural light.
Thanks to south-west facing windows-the sun provides some warmth and added natural light.

The best thing to understand about owning an old home is that you live in a structure that has served well for 100, 150 or even 200 years. The charm of your home is not only an aesthetic consideration, but also an environmental one.

Now, to improve your historic home’s energy efficiency

It is important to be considerate of your surroundings as you move towards retrofitting your home. Old homes were designed to utilize their natural surroundings for temperature control. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this project. Here are some first steps to having an energy efficient historic home:

  1. Get an energy audit. This is the first step to identifying leaks in your home. While many states offer free energy audits, it may be worth the expense of going to a professional when dealing with a 100 to 200 year old home. They will go beyond some of the more obvious energy upgrades and provide a complete roadmap for moving forward.
  2. Air seal. But not too tight! This is a one-step to significantly improving your home’s energy efficiency. Identifying and sealing the holes and cracks in your home’s exterior, doors, windows and even attic floor will make a huge difference. Sealing up these cracks can often be a DIY project. Energy Star offers a comprehensive DIY guide to get you through. During this project, keep the house-as-a-system approach in mind and work to strike a balance. The house still has to breath to avoid mold and rot.
  3. Keep it simple. Cut down on drafts by closing curtains, plasticing your windows in the winter, closing your fireplace damper and using door snakes. These methods may be simple, but they are cheap and surprisingly effective.
  4. Establish climate zones. Old homes are often comprised of many rooms. As winter approaches, identify which rooms you aren’t using regularly and consider shutting them down for the season. If you have an air-conditioned home, consider the same in the summer. Placing these rooms on separate thermostats will allow you to further control the climate.
  5. Consider a programmable thermostat. There are many options of varying cost out there, but the overall goal here is to decide what temperature your house should be at certain times during the day, and stick with it. The Nest thermostat seems to be getting the best reviews lately, but there are several options.

These are some basic, first steps you can take towards improving your historic home’s energy efficiency. Should you choose to get a professional energy audit, they will go deeper into your house’s needs and its possibilities, addressing big-ticket items like your furnace, windows, basement and attic, and even the possibility of purchasing renewable energy to power your home. There are a multitude of resources out there for homeowners with regard to sourcing contractors, DIY projects and even tax credits.

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Green Living Energy Savings

Beat The Heat-With Efficient A.C. use.

Did you know 2/3 of all U.S. Households have air conditioners? Here are some tips to keep cool and keep costs down

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