Is Solar Right For You?

5 Green Gifts Dad Will Love

Eco-friendly Tees & Totes

Drink Green

groovy mind

nature conserve

friendship bag

Is Solar Right for You?
Take a Home Energy Audit on SolarDay 2009

There’s another important “holiday” to celebrate this year on June 21st…Not only is it Father’s Day, but it is Solar Day. www.SolarDay.com will offer valuable information about the benefits of solar energy as well as events being held across the country to educate us about solar energy.

June 21st, the first day of summer, is a great time to give your home or office an energy audit to find out how much energy you are using, or losing.

When auditing your home, keep a checklist of areas you have inspected and problems you found. This list will help you prioritize your energy efficiency upgrades.

Locating Air Leaks

First, make a list of obvious air leaks (drafts). The potential energy savings from reducing drafts in a home may range from 5% to 30% per year, and the home is generally much more comfortable afterward. Check for indoor air leaks, such as gaps along the baseboard or edge of the flooring and at junctures of the walls and ceiling. Check to see if air can flow through these places:

  • Electrical outlets
  • Switch plates
  • Window frames
  • Baseboards
  • Weather stripping around doors
  • Fireplace dampers
  • Attic hatches
  • Wall- or window-mounted air conditioners.

Also look for gaps around pipes and wires, electrical outlets, foundation seals, and mail slots. Check to see if the caulking and weather stripping are applied properly, leaving no gaps or cracks, and are in good condition.

Inspect windows and doors for air leaks. See if you can rattle them, since movement means possible air leaks. If you can see daylight around a door or window frame, then the door or window leaks. You can usually seal these leaks by caulking or weather-stripping them. Check the storm windows to see if they fit and are not broken. You may also wish to consider replacing your old windows and doors with newer, high-performance ones. If new factory-made doors or windows are too costly, you can install low-cost plastic sheets over the windows.

If you are having difficulty locating leaks, you may want to conduct a basic building pressurization test:

1. First, close all exterior doors, windows, and fireplace flues.

2. Turn off all combustion appliances such as gas burning furnaces and water heaters.

3. Then turn on all exhaust fans (generally located in the kitchen and bathrooms) or use a large window fan to suck the air out of the rooms.

This test increases infiltration through cracks and leaks, making them easier to detect. You can use incense sticks or your damp hand to locate these leaks. If you use incense sticks, moving air will cause the smoke to waver, and if you use your damp hand, any drafts will feel cool to your hand.

On the outside of your house, inspect all areas where two different building materials meet, including:

  • All exterior corners
  • Where siding and chimneys meet
  • Areas where the foundation and the bottom of exterior brick or siding meet.

You should plug and caulk holes or penetrations for faucets, pipes, electric outlets, and wiring. Look for cracks and holes in the mortar, foundation, and siding, and seal them with the appropriate material. Check the exterior caulking around doors and windows, and see whether exterior storm doors and primary doors seal tightly.

When sealing any home, you must always be aware of the danger of indoor air pollution and combustion appliance "back drafts." Back drafting is when the various combustion appliances and exhaust fans in the home compete for air. An exhaust fan may pull the combustion gases back into the living space. This can obviously create a very dangerous and unhealthy situation in the home.

In homes where a fuel is burned (i.e., natural gas, fuel oil, propane, or wood) for heating, be certain the appliance has an adequate air supply. Generally, one square inch of vent opening is required for each 1,000 Btu of appliance input heat. When in doubt, contact your local utility company, energy professional, or ventilation contractor.

Insulation

Heat loss through the ceiling and walls in your home could be very large if the insulation levels are less than the recommended minimum. When your house was built, the builder likely installed the amount of insulation recommended at that time. Given today's energy prices (and future prices that will probably be higher), the level of insulation might be inadequate, especially if you have an older home.

If the attic hatch is located above a conditioned space, check to see if it is at least as heavily insulated as the attic, is weather stripped, and closes tightly. In the attic, determine whether openings for items such as pipes, ductwork, and chimneys are sealed. Seal any gaps with an expanding foam caulk or some other permanent sealant.

While you are inspecting the attic, check to see if there is a vapor barrier under the attic insulation. The vapor barrier might be tarpaper, Kraft paper attached to fiberglass batts, or a plastic sheet. If there does not appear to be a vapor barrier, you might consider painting the interior ceilings with vapor barrier paint. This reduces the amount of water vapor that can pass through the ceiling. Large amounts of moisture can reduce the effectiveness of insulation and promote structural damage.

Make sure that the attic vents are not blocked by insulation. You also should seal any electrical boxes in the ceiling with flexible caulk (from the living room side or attic side) and cover the entire attic floor with at least the current recommended amount of insulation.

Checking a wall's insulation level is more difficult. Select an exterior wall and turn off the circuit breaker or unscrew the fuse for any outlets in the wall. Be sure to test the outlets to make certain that they are not "hot." Check the outlet by plugging in a functioning lamp or portable radio. Once you are sure your outlets are not getting any electricity, remove the cover plate from one of the outlets and gently probe into the wall with a thin, long stick or screwdriver. If you encounter a slight resistance, you have some insulation there. You could also make a small hole in a closet, behind a couch, or in some other unobtrusive place to see what, if anything, the wall cavity is filled with. Ideally, the wall cavity should be totally filled with some form of insulation material. Unfortunately, this method cannot tell you if the entire wall is insulated, or if the insulation has settled. Only a thermographic inspection can do this.

If your basement is unheated, determine whether there is insulation under the living area flooring. In most areas of the country, an R-value of 25 is the recommended minimum level of insulation. The insulation at the top of the foundation wall and first floor perimeter should have an R-value of 19 or greater. If the basement is heated, the foundation walls should be insulated to at least R-19. Your water heater, hot water pipes, and furnace ducts should all be insulated. For more information, see our insulation section.

Heating/Cooling Equipment

Inspect heating and cooling equipment annually, or as recommended by the manufacturer. If you have a forced-air furnace, check your filters and replace them as needed. Generally, you should change them about once every month or two, especially during periods of high usage. Have a professional check and clean your equipment once a year.

If the unit is more than 15 years old, you should consider replacing your system with one of the newer, energy-efficient units. A new unit would greatly reduce your energy consumption, especially if the existing equipment is in poor condition. Check your ductwork for dirt streaks, especially near seams. These indicate air leaks, and they should be sealed with duct mastic. Insulate any ducts or pipes that travel through unheated spaces. An insulation R-Value of 6 is the recommended minimum.

Lighting

Energy for lighting accounts for about 10% of your electric bill. Examine the wattage size of the light bulbs in your house. You may have 100-watt (or larger) bulbs where 60 or 75 watts would do. You should also consider compact fluorescent lamps for areas where lights are on for hours at a time. Your electric utility may offer rebates or other incentives for purchasing energy-efficient lamps.

How'd You Do?

Once you make your home or office as energy efficient it's time to start thinking about a solar energy system that will protect you against further increases in energy prices. And, where applicable, your solar system allows you to feed the energy you don't use from your solar power installation back into your local utility power grid for even more energy savings on your energy bills.

Think: Energy Independence!

Solar Day 2009 will be celebrated across the United States on the first day of summer, Sunday, June 21 this year.

John Reed, Director of Elevator Communications, LLC explained the need for this new annual celebration of American energy independence through the adoption of solar energy installations and policies, stating “while oil prices have recently declined, the party’s over for cheap fossil fuels, forever. Sooner or later we’ll be looking, again, at $4.50 a gallon gasoline and we need to focus on steps we can take, as individuals and businesses – to permanently reduce our need on fossil fuels and the environmental hazards of greenhouse gases.” Reed adds, “The new Obama administration provides us with a fresh start to dramatically grow the solar and green energy we need to meet our energy needs.”

This information was compiled from government sources by Elevator Communications, San Francisco, CA.

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5 Green Gifts
Dad Will Love

Bicycle Chain 4 x 6 Frame
From Resource Revival

Made from recycled bicycle chain with an easel back/stand. Stands or hangs vertically or horizontally. $37.95. Other sizes and gift ideas available at www.ResourceRevival.com.

Solar Hybrid Flashlight
From GreenerCountry

Features Super Bright 1-Watt 2X LED. 11 continuous years of burn time on LED or 22 years of burn time when in the on position only at night. 8 hours charge in sunlight or room light will provide up to 16 hours of continuous light - can be charged over and over again. Holds a single charge for over 3 years and comes fully charged. Does not need to be stored in the sun - throw it in your glove box or drawer and three years later, just turn it on!

Back up battery has a 7 year shelf life. Roll it up in a sleeping bag and forget you own it - turn it on 7 years later; then simply put it in the sun or room light for a day and have a 3 year solar charge again.

Features power source indicator lights - red light is charging, yellow light is solar power, and green light is back up battery power. Treat it like a regular flashlight as it is always ready to go because it's always gathering light (recharging). You won't need to replace batteries that cause landfill pollution.

Hybrid Solar Lite is 100% water proof up to depths of 80' and it floats! Extreme temperatures do not affect the light - very durable and guaranteed for life. Comes in black, yellow and camouflage. $20. Order at www.GreenerCountry.com.

Folding Bike
From Trophy Bikes

For the dad who is a camper or commuter…check out this folding bike. "A GREAT BIKE--WHICH HAPPENS TO FOLD" -- is how the inventors of the Swift describe this 20" folding bike. It's fast, has good riding qualities and offers the ability to customize rider position with all sorts of handlebars. It's one of the few folders which can work for riders over 6'4"--yet many shorter riders dig it too.

The stock model shown here is the Xootr SWIFTFOLDER ($679) and has an 8-speed derailer setup, medium width tires and comes in Silver or Royal Blue. To find out more, contact Trophy Bikes (Philadelphia, PA) at 215-222-2020 or visit them online at www.TrophyBikes.com.

Corona Light Glasses (Set of 4)
From YAVA Glass

These eco-friendly glasses are made from recycled Corona Light beer bottles. Each glass is individually flame cut and polished to give you a smooth finished rim. Specifications: 4 inches tall, holds 8 fluid ounces, clear color. Other brands are also available, visit YAVA Glass at www.Etsy.com.

Garden in a Bag
From Its Only Natural Gifts

King of the herbs, basil is a favorite among many cooks for its incredible flavor. The sweet tasting miniature leaves are ready for use straight off the plant. No chopping or mincing required. It will take 3-5 days for your seeds to germinate. You should be able to start using the leaves in about 6 weeks. Certified Organic. Other plants and option are available, including parsley, oregano, mint, cilantro and florals as well at www.ItsOnlyNaturalGifts.com.

 

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Local Designers Help Kids Create and Sell Original Line of
Eco-Friendly Tees and Totes

Students from the Citizen Schools afterschool program at the Isaac Newton Middle School in East Harlem recently launched an original line of eco-friendly tees and totes designed by the students themselves.

Through Citizen Schools, a national education program that launched in New York City in September 2008, New York designers Shien-Ru Tsao and Chez Bryan Ong, volunteered to teach a group of middle school students about their profession. Since September, Tsao and Ong, along with about 250 other New York professionals teaching various subjects, have worked with the students one afternoon a week. As part of the Citizen Schools programming, students and volunteers explore a wide variety of careers and topics from financial literacy to video game design to law through apprenticeships run after school. In this case, Tsao and Ong have been teaching lessons on sustainability and entrepreneurship; how to design, develop and market a product. “Working with the students has been extremely inspiring,” said Tsao. “Bryan and I were overcome by the talent and conviction of these budding artists. Soon after our first class, we knew we wanted to do more. What was meant to be a volunteer project has now evolved into a Social Entrepreneur Venture.”

During the fall semester, students created artwork for the design of eco-friendly tote bags made from plastic bottles and other recycled materials. This semester, students have designed a set of fashionable, eco-themed tee shirts to further the line of Project 116 products. The full line of products available are listed at www.project116.com. Tee shirts sell for $14 and the totes for $18. A portion of the profits from tote bag and tee shirt sales will go to Citizen Schools to support more hands-on learning projects for New York middle-school students.

“This class is teaching me about the Earth and how it is important,” said Netch-ti Nekht Bates, age 13. “I like this class because it tells you about serious information and how to express it in a picture on a product."

Citizen Schools is a leading national education initiative that uniquely mobilizes thousands of adult volunteers to help improve student achievement and bridge the achievement gap by teaching skill-building apprenticeships after school. At 44 middle schools in seven states across the country, Citizen Schools programs blend these real-world learning projects with rigorous academic and leadership development activities, preparing low-income students for success in high school, college, the workforce, and civic life.

Citizen Schools New York launched at four New York City middle schools in September 2008. The program currently serves about 350 students in Brooklyn and East Harlem and has engaged approximately 250 volunteers. Learn more about Citizen Schools’ programs, results, and plan to advance the after-school field at www.CitizenSchools.org. For New York specifics, visit www.CitizenSchools.org/newyork/index.cfm.

Project 116 is a socially-conscious effort providing youth creative outlets to initiate positive differences in their lives and those around them. For more information, visit www.Project116.com.

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Drink Green – Greentopia Picks America's Top 6 Green Soft Drinks

Summertime will soon be upon us and there’s nothing better to quench your thirst on a hot summer’s day than an ice-cold beverage, right? Not so fast! What’s even better is an ice-cold beverage that also gets high marks in sustainability, of course. So, how do you know which drinks are keeping it kool with the environment? Well, that’s what Greenopia’s newly launched 2009 Beverage Guide is for. The beverage ratings project used Greenopia's popular 4-Leaf rating system to disclose the environmental impact and health-effect characteristics of 23 of America's most popular mass-market beverages.

According to the Greenopia independent study, the most eco-friendly beverages widely available to Americans are varieties bottled by Honest Tea of Bethesda, MD. Honest Tea was the only mass-distributed, retail beverage to earn the coveted Greenopia 4-Leaf Rating, out of twenty-three tested drinks. The rest of the lineup includes:

2nd Place: Steaz

3rd Place: Santa Cruz Organic Sodas

4th Place: Tazo

5th Place: Blue Sky Organic

6th Place: Izze

This was an independent study conducted by Greenopia's Research Staff using an extensive list of test criteria including beverage container, ingredient analysis including product toxicity, supply chain, sustainability reporting, green building design initiatives, and history of environmental violations. The criteria data were gathered, calculated and analyzed using Greenopia's proprietary lifecycle eco-cost methodology. www.Greenopia.com.