Archive for the ‘Green Living’ Category

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Paying for Power by the Hour

April 4, 2013

It must have been about 5 years ago that I signed us up for Ameren Illinois’s Power Smart Pricing.  Power Smart Pricing allows us to pay the going rate for electricity for that hour when we are using the power, rather than paying the going price for the day regardless of when we are using it.  In other words, some hours the price of power is lower than the daily price and some hours it is higher.  If I use electricity only during the high priced times and I pay the hourly rate then I’m going to be paying more than my neighbor.  But if I use electricity primarily during the low cost periods than I’m going to come in on the cheap side.

About 2 years ago I wrote about our annual power smart summary; well, it’s that time of the year again. 

The average Power Smart Pricing participant used 13,146 kWh, and saved $261.77; that was 35% of what they would have paid. Not too shoddy. I’ll admit, however, to feeling a bit smug. We used 5724 kWh over the course of the year, about 44% of the average participant’s usage.  The smallest amount was 282 kWh in April and the most was 946 in July.  Overall, we saved $259.35 over the retail price for a 79.7% savings.  Holy Toledo!  nearly 80% savings over what we would have paid at the typical rate!

Not only are we doing considerably better than the average program participant, we’re doing better than we did 2 years ago.  In 2010 we used 7191 kWh and saved only 18% – not bad, but nothing compared to 79%

Solar PanelsSo how are we doing it? We had Energy Star appliances and CFLs in 2010, plus we were very conscientious about  running the dishwasher, washing machine, and AC primarily at night.  The big difference is our solar panels.   The solar panels are generating power during the most expensive part of the day, and in the summer that can make a big difference.  Between careful consideration of when we use our energy-hungry appliances and generating electricity for our own use during the high priced hours, we are saving a pretty penny.

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A Blissmo Bonanza!

April 14, 2012

Once again I have been single-handedly stimulating the economy and keeping FedEx, UPS, and the postal service in business.

It has been a Blissmo kind of week.  I talked about Blissmo here. Long story short, I get a monthly box of eco-friendly goodies and e-mail offers on other good stuff. DSCF0212

I’m a born and bred middle class American with the culturally instilled propensity to buy things.  I also tend toward the cheap side, so I really don’t spend liberally and we do live modestly (really, we do).  Still, I also believe that the only way to convince corporate America that it is worth their while to produce environmentally healthy products is by purchasing them.

I love getting my monthly blissmo box and I always check out the offers, although I often don’t buy.  Still, the voucher offers are always a good deal (often something like $40 worth of products for $20 or thereabouts) and I had accumulated a few last fall.  I didn’t see anything I wanted to buy for gifts (not that there weren’t plenty of gift-worthy items, I was just done there) so I stashed them away in my blissmo e-mail folder until spring when I wouldn’t feel guilty about buying for myself.

And now its spring.  Over the last couple of days my selections have arrived.

Thursday was my big haul.DSCF0232  My blissmobox arrived as well as packages from United by Blue and Green Cupboards.

I bought Burt’s Bees products from Green Cupboards.  The local selection for these products has been limited of late for some reason. DSCF0231

United by Blue is an organization committed to cleaning up waterways.  I bought a citrine and silver pendant from them.  They sent me the cool blue marble gratis.DSCF0220

On Friday my last package arrived.  It was from Zhena’s Gypsy TeaDSCF0238I am enjoying a cup of Caramel Chair as I type this. Ahhh.

Oh, and in the blissmo box.  So far I’ve scarfed down the dried apples.  So sweet I had to check, but really no additional sweeteners.  My husband and I also DSCF0233made quick business of the roasted almonds with wild rosemary. WeDSCF0213 are going to have to track these down again!

I probably should mention that no one has paid me in anyway for my opinions.  I’m just really happy with this week’s green take.  When it rains, it pours.

 

Time for more tea.

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Bathroom Renovation: Green paint–green job?

April 8, 2012

The bathroom renovation is done – nearly – as I type this the door is off and still not painted.  But I think doors on bathrooms are overrated.  Actually, I just think that given I have no time now but will have more in about a month that the door may have to wait a month.  Until then we’ll either all continue to use the downstairs bathroom as we have for the past two and a half months, or I’ll put up a curtain in the doorway. [I haven’t yet because I’m afraid that if I put up the curtain we might get used to it and I might end up with a bathroom with a curtained doorway forever.]

Meanwhile, I thought I’d consider the re-do with a critical eye toward its environmentally friendliness. In some ways we did great, in others, we missed the mark.DSCF0207

Reusing: On the plus side we found a medicine cabinet at an antique mall.  We also reused our bathtub and toilet. On the other hand, we took out the old sink, and while I had intended to donate it to our local education foundation to be sold at their auction (the faucet set was worth a few pennies at least), my husband told the plumbers to take it.  I don’t know if they trashed it, saved the faucet or what.  We did donate the hardware and sell that at the auction.  Someone bought it too.

Landfill fodder: Also on the negative side was all the wall, floor, and ceiling material that was sent to the landfill.  The room was gutted.  The floor truly did need to be replaced, and frankly the ceiling tiles were in pretty bad shape also, at least some of them were.  I think to be up to code the walls around the tub would have had to have been replaced also – and now that’s 75% of the room.  I think one wall did stay intact though.  The carpenters built a second wall out a few inches from the original to make room for the plumbing.  Which reminds me.  All the old plumbing and any other metal was recycled.

Insulation: The exterior walls needed to be insulated.  On one hand insulation is an eco-friendly plus.  On the other, I put absolutely no thought into insulation and so the typical bats of fiberglass were installed.  In hindsight I should have considered something along the lines of recycled denim or sheep’s wool

Flooring: A plus, however, was the flooring.  No way was I having DSCF0210a vinyl floor.  Eco-friendly alternatives included linoleum, wood, tile, and bamboo.  Linoleum turned out to be impossible to find in our neck of the woods.  Wood and bamboo would require vigilance and lots of polyurethane to keep it protected from moisture – no easy feat in a bathroom. So that left us with tile.  We ended up with tile that looks remarkably like hardwood.

The paint:  We lucked out there, which suggests that green consciousness is going mainstream.  I just went to Menards and bought paint, Dutchboy Platinum, semi-gloss.  I kicked myself for not going down the road to Sherwin Williams and buying their low or zero VOC paint, such as Harmony.  But, it turns out that Dutchboy Platinum is not so bad.  I noticed that it was not especially smelly, and a little research shows that it is designated a GreenCert product.  GreenCert products are “designed and manufactured taking steps to reduce environmental impact and to meet or exceed the most stringent regulatory requirements.”  Perhaps it is greenwashing, perhaps it is a truly eco-friendly step forward. It certainly makes me feel less guilty.

Painting Tools: I did pick up some green paintbrushes and roller covers called Earth Tones. They are made from recycled and renewable resources, such as recycled polyester fibers and bamboo.  We probably already had enough paintbrushes around the house, but I like to pretend that my purchase is a vote for green products.  The roller covers we needed and I’m tickled they were from recycled materials.

Now, according to Amazon, the painters tape I used, Painter’s Mate Green, (it is green colored) is actually environmentally friendly because of its water and rubber based adhesive.  Other companies use some percentage of recycled paper in their masking tape.  I don’t know that the definitive comparison has been done among masking tapes.  But once again I’m encouraged that anyone is paying attention to the environmental impact of painter’s tape.

Paint Stripper: As I mentioned, the door is not up yet.  It was in pretty bad shape, especially on the bathroom side, and so I’m stripping it of its many coats of paint and repainting it (with the probably relatively green Dutchboy Platinum paint).  Stripping could be truly environmentally evil, but strippers are going green also.  My husband was instructed to get as environmentally friendly a stripper as he could find and he found Ready Strip.  From all evidence it’s a non-toxic, environmentally friendly paint stripper.  Of course the paint and old finishes your remove with it aren’t environmentally friendly… Still, it’s better than buying a new door.

Miscellaneous Odds and Ends: It is nearly inhabitable.  It is kind of hard to put the old towels in the new cupboard – but I’ve been pricing new organic cotton towels and the old ones will have to due for awhile.  A shower curtain was a necessity.  The rod is metal and the curtain is cloth.  Not the organic linen I was considering, in fact, it’s polyester, but it is at least fabric and not stinky vinyl.DSCF0201DSCF0197DSCF0196[I love the handheld shower and glass block wall. I don’t know that they are especially eco-friendly, but I don’t think there is anything eco-unfriendly about them either, and I just wanted to show them off.  By the way, see the fancy strip of diagonal tiling – the carpenter and I came up with that, it actually serves a purpose.  The bullnose tiles were slightly narrower than the regular tiles so the joints weren’t going to match up in the corners, therefore, we needed a decorative strip to separate the two sections.  I like it.]

Overall, I’d give the bathroom a B on environmental friendliness.  Given the last time we redid a bathroom, 10 years ago, I didn’t give eco-friendliness a moment of consideration (i.e. vinyl floor, fiberglass shower, and your basic high VOC paint), it is a definite move in the right direction.  And now that I know you can buy environmentally friendly painter’s tape, well, my projects are bound to get greener and greener.

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More pictures because people have been asking for pictures.  See the cabinet at the far end of the room – the carpenters made it for me.DSCF0195 It’s plenty roomy.

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Even though the room is much bigger now, there isn’t much open wall space near the tub and it seemed silly to hang towels clear on the other end of the room.  So we hung one towel bar above the other.  My son and husband get the top bar; my daughter and I get the bottom (it’s a height thing).

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My husband and I got this marble topped cabinet at an auction when we first moved to town.  It is perfect in the bathroom.

The only thing I haven’t taken a picture of is the toilet – in this picture of the table the toilet would be where I’m typing.  You’ve seen toilets.  It’s white. 

And a final p.s. – since I started this post I have put a coat of paint on the door and while the family was away I took shower.  Love It!

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Happy Recycling Day

November 15, 2011

Today, November 15th, is America Recycles Day (which apparently follows National Recycling Week – who knew?).  It makes no nevermind to me because everyday is recycling day in my world.

What I wanted to share, however, was this very neat, very informative, info-graphic from reusethisbag.com.

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Bliss with Blissmo

October 26, 2011

Somewhere I stumbled over blissmo and blissmoboxblissmo_logo_hp.

Blissmo offers organic and eco-friendly products at substantial discount (there is a special every couple of weeks).  I’ve ordered a couple of items.  One I can’t talk about because it’ll be someone’s Christmas present, the other was a %50 discount for purchases of $40 or more from Abe’s Market.  Yummy goods.

The blissmobox is a different deal altogether.  It is a monthly box filled with organic and/or environmentally friendly items.  You buy a subscription and for roughly $20 a box of goodies gets shipped to you.  There are a couple of themes to choose from (and they change each month), so your box is likely to have items you want or need.

blissmobox oct11Last month I chose the tea and snacks box. It came just as I was running out of my favorite teas at home – and now I’m a happy little camper.  I received three boxes of teas by Zena’s gypsy tea – Vanilla Orchid Darjeeling black tea, Peach Blossom oolong, and Tropical Garden green tea.  The tea’s are  organic, fair trade, and delicious.

Along with the teas were some granola bars, chocolate covered espresso beans,  a cookie, and dark chocolate.  Dark chocolate with cocoa nibs – if the teas weren’t blissful enough the chocolate pushed me right into nirvana.  The chocolate is from sweetriot and I enjoyed every nibble.  As for the other items, my assorted food allergies kept me from eating them, but not my husband – they seem to be gone now.

My next box will be shipped soon and this time it is the Bath and Body Bliss box.  I can only imagine what will be in it, but I can imagine a blissful bath with a cup of tea.

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A Ton of Carbon

April 18, 2011

Which weighs more?  A ton of carbon or a ton of feathers? 

In just over 4 months we have saved a ton of carbon from blowing around in the atmosphere.  April 14 2011 lower 9In fact, by approximately 4:30 p.m. on April 14th we’d saved 2,163 lbs., give or take a few, from spewing forth from the coal plant to the west.  April 14 2011 upper 0

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m rather looking forward to the April electric bill.

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Saving Money on Electricity

March 18, 2011

Our family takes part in a real-time pricing option offered by our utility. PSPblog-blueOrangeAs a customer enrolled in Power Smart Pricing the amount we pay for electricity varies hourly.  Generally customers pay one price regardless of when they are using the power.  With real-time pricing we pay the cost of the energy at the time we’re using it  – sometimes it is higher than the average price and sometimes lower, but with some knowledge we can save by using more electricity during nonpeak times and less when it’s at its priciest.

At this time of year there isn’t much variability, for instance, today the cost of power ranges from 1.8 cents per kWh to 3.9 cents.  In the summer, though, on a very hot and humid day, the price can vary from a few cents to 10 or 11 cents per kWh and during periods of high demand can spike over 13 cents per kWh.  When that is going to happen, I receive an e-mail from Power Smart Pricing warning of the high costs.  Last summer was relatively mild and never spiked over 13 cents, but the previous summer it happened numerous times.

Yesterday I received my annual report of our power usage and savings, as well as the average participant’s usage and savings.  In 2010  we used 7,191 kWh which cost us $668.03.  At the present standard rate that would have cost us $814.23, so we saved 18%.  Not too shoddy.

How do we compare to the average participant?  We rock!  Ms. Average Power Smart used 13,387 kWh, spent $1,278.30, which would have been $1,466.52, so saved 12.8%.  In July and August, Ms. Average Power Smart actually lost money, I assume by running the AC at peak times and paying the peak prices.

How did we do so well?  Do we have a tiny house in which we swelter in the summer and sit in the dark all winter?  No.  Our house has about 2400 square feet of living space – 11 rooms.  We did replace the windows in our 90+ year old house about 12 years ago but I am pretty sure air blows right through the walls.  In other words, there is room for greater efficiency. 

We have our share of vampire power eaters too.  We tried plugging the t.v. and computers into power strips to be shut off each night and found them to be more trouble than they were worth, especially the t.v. which would need several minutes to reset all the stations every time power was reestablished.  As for the computers, and I am not condoning this, I notice the kids leave their computer not only plugged in but turned on much of the time because it takes so long to boot up (it’s old and slow, much like their mother).  The only power strip that does get clicked on and off has the stereo and my laptop connected to it.  I’m pretty good about switching that off at night.  My point being, we aren’t a family of over-the-top energy conservers,we do our share of energy wasting.

So what are we doing right?  According to an energy usage tool on the utility website, most of our electricity goes to lights, appliances, and the cooling CFLsystem. 

LIGHTS.  Lights are easy, we try to turn them off.  We aren’t obsessive; my husband turns off lights I’ve left on, I turn off lights he has left on, we both turn off lights the kids have left on (and maybe the kids turn off lights too although I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that happen). 

Oh, and 95% of our lights are CFLs.  I know, I know, they’re too blue, they come on too slow, they’re ugly.  I paid a few bucks more and  got lights with covers that make them look bulbish for fixtures where the light shows, such as the ceiling fan. I buy lights that emit soft white light(I first bought bright white – oh my, too harsh! they are now relegated to the basement and garage fixtures), and I rarely notice the light warm up period anymore, in fact, I think only some of the bulbs need to warm up. I can count a few lights in the house that are incandescent.  One is the fixture at the top of the stairs, it’s original to the house and the CFL’s shoulders just won’t fit in it.  Others are in the stove and refrigerator and CFLs can’t be used in those places; they don’t tolerate the extremes in temperature. 

APPLIANCES.  stove and fridgeAnother big energy user in our home are the appliances.  We redid the kitchen 5 years ago and along with that came all new kitchen appliances, energy star, of course.  It makes a difference, especially for the refrigerator.  (Want to know how much you could save by replacing your refrigerator?  There’s a calculator for that.)  When we were first talking to a consultant about solar panels and she was reviewing our electricity usage she asked if we had an energy star refrigerator, which we did, “Ah, that explains your low numbers.”

How we use the appliances matters also.  Obviously the refrigerator is on all the time, but we try to run the dishwasher and washing machines late at night, especially in the summertime when daytime prices are high.  In the summer I hardly ever use the dryer, hanging my clothes to dry instead (except socks and underwear, those get dried because all those individual pieces make me crazy!) [And of course, I only run full loads in the washer, or adjust the water level if I’m running a smaller load; and I use a cold water wash and rinse, again except for socks and underwear, and in this case towels and sheets too get warm or sometimes even hot water.  See, I’m not fanatical.]

AIR CONDITIONING. Finally, the AC.  OK, in the name of energy savings we probably tolerate higher heat than some, but I am not a glutton for punishment either. If it’s too warm at night for fans and open windows to cool things down (say, over 70 or very humid) then I use the AC.  I started using a system that I’ve not seen suggested elsewhere, but based on the energy use data, isn’t hurting us and maybe helps.  I crank that AC up (or is it down? –it’s on anyway) during the night with the thermostat set at 64 (it’s warmer upstairs).  The thermostat is programmed to reset to 75 at 6 a.m. so no AC during the day until the house warms up. But even on the hottest days it takes until well into the afternoon before the AC comes back on, sometimes it doesn’t come on at all. Here’s my logic:

  • I can’t sleep when I’m hot and it’s always hotter upstairs where the bedrooms are so the AC is going to be on anyway.
  • It’s easier to cool off a house when it is cooler outside rather than when its hotter.
  • prices are lower during the middle of the night so running the AC at night is cheaper than running it during the day.

This runs counter to most of the AC suggestions I’ve seen to set it at 78 and keep it there.  Occasionally I’ve seen advice to set the thermostat higher at night on the theory you’ll sleep through the warmer temps (whoever came up with that idea is clearly not a woman of a “certain age” with a quirky internal thermostat of her own).

SOLAR PANELS. Many of you know we have a solar panel system generating electricity for us now too.  They have been at work since December 11th and certainly didn’t generate a significant amount of electricity during the last part of 2010.  I need to save this year’s summary and compare it to next years for an idea of the photovoltaic contribution.  So far, mid-December to mid-March, not big solar months in this part of the world, we’ve generated about what our household uses in one month.  Even at this rate they will take a big bite out of our utility bill.

All in all we’re apparently doing pretty well on our electrical energy efficiency and with real-time pricing, even without the solar system, we’re saving money to boot.  You might check with your utility for a similar program.