Heat loss… energy waste… and a bill to break the bank.

thermostatThis post was inevitable.  And it felt like a punch in the stomach when I received our latest home heating bill… $533 and the intense sensation of wanting to vomit.

Eighteen dollars a day to NOT shiver and shake in our home.  Not only does this hurt the wallet, but it wastes energy… and then has that ugly snowball effect of what excessive energy consumption creates: excessive air pollution.

There are plenty of things we can do to cut back on our usage, from properly insulating our homes, to replacing windows and doors, to purchasing a more efficient system, but these can be expensive choices.  If they aren’t an option for you, there are still inexpensive and even cost-free changes that can be made:

Close the damper on your fireplace – leaving it open is equivalent to leaving a 48 inch window wide open in your home all winter long!  It can amount to hundreds of dollars in heat loss.  Also consider glass doors as opposed to screens.
Adjust the thermostat – just one degree lower in the winter can save 3% on your usage.  That adds up over a season.
Open blinds and curtains in the daytime and close them at night – the sunlight can help warm our home and covering windows in the evening can help insulate them.
Actually USE storm windows – make the time to add that extra layer of glass and it’s like you have triple panes.heat-loss-logo
Heat only the rooms you use – shut the door, close the vent and say ‘no heat for you!’
When you’re away from home for an extended period, turn down the thermostat – this is a no-brainer, but sometimes we all forget.  If you have a programmable thermostat, use it!
Forget vent fans – a kitchen or bathroom vent fan can expel enough warm air to fill a whole house in only ONE hour!
Do the “feel test” – feel around windows and doors.  If you feel the cold coming in, the heat is also going out.  Buy some weather stripping.
Arrange furniture away from heating ducts and exterior walls – it allows for better circulation of heat.
Replace your air filter and clean vents and ducts – too much dust build-up prevents the heat from even reaching your rooms.
Cover floors – hardwood and ceramic can be beautiful but it actually cools a room.  Add area rugs, even if only for the season.
Reverse ceiling fans – heat rises, so run them for a 5-minute blast and re-circulate the warm air.

If you want to know all things energy-related, visit the U.S. Department of Energy but in the meanwhile, if you’re feeling the urge to vomit like I am, turn some tips into actions!

A better way to recycle boxes?

It seems like we are constantly winding up with boxes in our household.  Something gets purchased and shipped, and voila… another box that has me feeling guilty.  (I won’t even begin to discuss the guilt of those boxes that arrive packed full of shipping peanuts and bubble wrap or are obnoxiously overpackaged.)

box-cycleOne of my best friends, Kev, recently moved from the west coast, and he and his partner, Will, spent a small fortune buying moving boxes, then labored over what to do with them afterward.  Another friend’s husband nearly loses sleep over all of the boxes at his work that wind up in the trash on a daily basis.

But what if there is a better way?  Well, there is.  A relatively new site Boxcycle.com is working hard to help us find boxes we need and sell those we don’t.  You can search for boxes in your area or list boxes that you are willing to part with, before they have to hit the recycle bin.  And isn’t it the most environmental choice to reuse rather than recycle?cardboard-boxes2

I absolutely love this idea.  It’s the exact reason eBay, Craig’s List and Freecycle are so successful, but with a very environmental, targeted offering.  You can actually buy and sell boxes, so yes, there is a cost involved, but isn’t that a win-win situation? You can buy them for much less than brand new, and you can sell them and earn a little money if you have some to get rid of.  And the environmental impact?… well, it keeps them out of landfills and in that beloved “reuse” category.

It would be great if business owners and employees would get in on this action. Imagine NOT driving past a dozen dumpsters a day and seeing them overloaded with cardboard boxes!  And if you’re moving and need boxes, do a search.  If you just need boxes, do a search!  If you have a bunch to sell, get them listed!

So send your unneeded boxes on an adventure.  In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the places you’ll go!”

10 ways to make your car green… without paint!

gmc-envoyAs we try to be as green as possible in our daily lives, one thing we sometimes forget about is our car.  I’m a mom and I drive (gulp…) an SUV!… guilty as charged, green officer!

I admittedly love it and I’m not likely to go out and buy a new car anytime soon, but I have found steps that we can take to see that we have less impact on the environment, no matter what we drive.

Use the cruise – hitting that little button can increase your mileage by 15%, simple as that.
Plan errands – at the start of every week, plan what you need to accomplish and where you need to go.  Batch together the errands that are in the same area and get ‘er done, all in one fell swoop!
Maintain it – a well maintained vehicle actually saves gas and creates less pollution because it runs more efficiently.
Keep your tires properly inflated – this also affects fuel efficiency and emissions.
Use drive-thru car washes – it’s the only option during snowy winter months (unless you want to risk getting frozen to your driveway!) but car washes are more water efficient. If everyone took just one car wash over washing in your driveway it would save 8.7 billion gallons of water annually!
Clean out your trunk – all that extra stuff you’re carting around in the back (dear husband, this means YOU!) adds more weight and reduces your fuel efficiency.
Avoid idling – did you know this consumes more fuel than when you’re actually driving, so don’t warm your car for 15 green-car2minutes and shut it off when you can.  Skip drive-thrus… they’re an “idle nightmare”, and (contrary to belief) restarting it does NOT use more gas.
Keep speed steady and stop flooring it – this is the reason cruise control is more efficient and flooring it for just one second actually causes a burst of CO2 emissions equal to 30 minutes of normal driving.
Stay the speed limit – for every 5 mph over 60 it’s like paying 20 cents more per gallon of gas because it burns faster.
Consider telecommuting for your job once a week – if it’s possible and you never asked your employer, consider it… they may say yes!  Other option, carpool with a local work pal.

If you’re looking for a new car, the EPA offers a guide to the best car choices to meet your needs.  But in the meanwhile, just use the tips above to make your car greener… and don’t worry about the green paint… no one needs to look like they’re driving a brussel sprout!

“Disposable society”: Crying over spilled milk

First, I will let you know that this is a bit of a rant… but I am (almost) literally crying over spilled milk.

Before our daughter started school this year, I was very conscious to buy her plenty of environmentally-friendly lunch supplies so she wouldn’t have a bunch of disposable junk to throw away at the end of each day.  Yesterday, she came home from school and announced that she spilled her milk at lunchtime. I assured her that accidents happen and not to worry, but she was mostly upset because “the lunch lady” threw away her bottle… yes, the one that I had purchased!

When our daughter asked where it was, “lunch lady” said she threw it away because “it was on the floor.  Your mom will get you a new one.” Huh?  Has she heard of soap and water?  I’m wondering at what point it seemed appropriate to throw away her milk bottle when it was clearly not a ‘throw-away’ and had a large, blazing, hot pink, custom-made label with her name on it!

But this is what we’ve come to.  Unfortunately it seems like we have become an increasingly disposable society.  The knowledge that “things” are always AT our disposal leads us to assume we can always “toss and replace.”  (Man, our great-grandparents would be pissed!)

I wanted to drive to school and whack “lunch lady” in the head, to be perfectly honest… then get in her purse to recover some money to replace it… (okay, not really, yet I AM really, really annoyed!).  And I guess this was just an eye-opener and another reminder that we have such a long, long way to go.

I think far too much of what we buy these days is disposable, with a single-use purpose… we over-consume, we over-spend and it is horribly harsh on the environment as a result. Even with high-priced items (electronics, appliances, etc.) we are lead to believe that we should “just buy a new one instead of repairing it.”  For pete’s sake, you can even buy an intentionally disposable camera!

When did all of this happen?  I have no idea, but I know how… manufacturers and marketing, with an (un)healthy dose of consumerism!  And now, we’ve become far too accustom to having “disposables at our disposal!”  I doubt this will ever change… it’s already gone too far and it’s rolling like a freight train.  All we can do is take control of our own decisions and choose not to be a part of the problem.  And hopefully persuade others to follow our lead. Good luck to us… it sometimes feels like an uphill battle.

So, there it is… I feel much better now!  Thanks for indulging me.  Now I need to get back to making a new label that reads: “I am not a disposable bottle, LUNCH LADY!”

Bad kitty! You’re “litter”-ing the landfill!

We’re dog owners.  And I’m picking on the kitties… but there are definitely reasons for concern.

I have talked about proper disposal of doggie-doo so I’m not being biased.  But common kitty litter is a major source of landfill waste and it’s bad news, because it doesn’t biodegrade and pollutes groundwater.  Plus it often contains silica dust, a known carcinogen. And would you believe that, annually, two MILLION tons of used kitty litter finds its ways to landfills… to sit… and pollute for a very, very, VERY long time.

In college, I did have a kitty for a brief, fleeting moment (until we were busted by our landlord and then kitty was off to my Dad’s for new residency) but just like so many cat owners, I used a store-shelf brand of those “mined”, non-renewable, clay-based products that jam every grocery store in the country.

Sadly, these common products are a danger to the environment, our water sources, your cats and us!  I’ve researched biodegradable, non-toxic alternatives made of natural, renewable and recycled contents.  Here is a list that comes highly recommended, for the safety of everyone:

Cat Country – made from organic wheatgrass fibers
Feline Pine – made from renewable yellow pine
Good Mews – made of recycled paper fiber
Swheat Scoop – made from naturally processed wheat
World’s Best Cat Litter – made from whole kernel corn

So, although I’ve found that you can be a cat owner AND environmentally-friendly, I’m not sure I’m going to run out and buy a cat.  Our daughter would certainly love it, but while she’s squealing “hello kitty!” I’m sure our dog would say “well, hellooooo kittyyyyy!”