Saving Our Planet

or

Going Green

Pam and I have become more and more aware and concerned about the deteriorization of the Earth. Whether you call it global warming, ozone depletion; whether you believe it's caused by man or a natural cycle, it makes sense to utilize as little non-renewable resources as possible and still maintain a comfortable standard of living.

In the past, I had done some minor things, such as recycling garbage, clothes line, etc., but with our increasing concerns, I decided to really get into it. We are somewhat limited in that we have an existing house and yard, but I've made most of the changes that are reasonable in a 50 year old house.

Some of the things you can do are practically free, some require a small investment with a quick payout, and some are rather expensive and may not justify themselves economically, but are good for the earth. We are trying to incorporate as many eco-friendly projects as we can that are within our budget (and a couple that are beyond our budget). I'm not sure how much of it is ecologically motivated, economically motivated, or just plain the right thing to do.

Click on any picture to enlarge

Solar Powered Clothes Dryer

This is a very cheap way to dry your clothes, and hardly a new idea. After the initial modest purchase of the dryer, it's free. The fresh smell from the clothes after sun drying is fantastic.

 

Compost Bin

For about $150 (Tractor Supply), you can buy a very sturdy compost bin to turn table scraps into wonderful fertile soil for your garden. We have a countertop bin in our kitchen that we put scraps in ($25, Bed, Bath & Beyond), such as coffee grounds, egg shells, vegetable leftovers, etc. It has a carbon filter in the lid, so it is totally odorless. When it is full, we transfer the contents to the large bin in the backyard.

 
Countertop Compost Bin
 
Compost Bin

Solar house power

The cost of solar energy has come down dramatically in the past couple of years. We have 32 photovoltaic panels on our garage roof to help offset the monthly electricity costs. In 2011, there is a 30% tax credit off your federal income taxes for installing solar power. In summer months, with the A/C running, our electric bill is about $45. During non-A/C months, we are off the grid. Our installation was done by Alternative Power Solutions of Houston, and we are very pleased with their work.

Also, at the time they installed the PV panels, I had them install two solar attic fans (one for the garage, and one for the house). It has a thermostat on it, so when the attic temperature gets above 77 degrees, the fan kicks on. Keeping the attic as cool as possible will lower your electric bill as much as 20%, I'm told.

 

Solar panels (16) on garage The other 16 are on the other side of the roof.

For solar production data, go here

 
Solar attic fan

 

 

Compact Flourescent Lighting

We have lots of lights, especially in our den and kitchen (22 for both rooms). At 65 watts per light, that's 1,430 watts. By converting to the compact flourescent lights, we now use 242 watts. Pam hates the squiggly white ones, but now they have soft white (same hue as tungsten) and a cover so you don't see the squiggles. This is another investment with an almost immediate payback.

 
Den
 
Kitchen

 

Tankless Water Heater and PEX Plumbing

We had to have our entire house re-plumbed because the galvanized pipes were rusted and giving brown water. Also, when the plumbers were changing out the pipes, they noticed some leaks already starting to appear. If we had waited a tad longer, it could have been a disaster. We decided to change to a tankless water heater. Conventional heaters heat up the water, waiting for someone to use it. During that time, there is energy waste as water cools in the tank and pipes. A tankless heater only heats the water as required. When you turn on the tap, the heater kicks in and heats the water as it is delivered. We also chose to re-plumb with PEX plastic pipe. Using copper or steel is considered non-ecological, but also, the PEX will not corrode and expands during a freeze. A central manifold lets the user turn on or off any run in the house. There is a valve for each cold water pipe and each hot water pipe.

To date, we have saved between 40% and 61% on previous year's gas bills.

 
Tankless Water Heater
 
PEX Manifold

Rainwater Harvesting

We have recently installed a rainwater harvesting system, which collects rain water from the roof and sends it to a 5,000 gallon cistern. When we need water (potable and non-potable), a pump sends the stored water through a sediment filter, a carbon filter, and a UV filter and into the house or sprinkler system. For about 10 months out of the year, I don't need any city water. However, when the tank water runs low, the city water automatically kicks in to satisfy the demand. This is an expensive project, and the payout is probably 7 years or more. However, the city is under a state mandate to come off of the well water retrieval (because of subsidence) and water rates are expected to climb over 40% over the next few years. The water from the harvesting system is a lot purer than city water.

I primarily use the stored water for sprinkling my lawn. The harvesting system acts like a bank. Rainwater is stored until watering is needed again, and then used to water the lawn. Otherwise, water from the roofs would be drained into the streets and the storm sewers.

 

Reuseable Grocery Bags

The plastic bags that they give you in the grocery store take 10,000 years to disentigrate (so I've read). Why not take your own bags into the store and have them fill your groceries in them? Europeans have been doing this for centuries. And, some eco-minded stores, like Whole Foods, will give you a 10 cent credit for doing it.

 

Natural & Biodegradeable Cleaning Products

Somewhat more expensive, but good for the environment.

 

City Recycling

This year, the City of Houston finally got serious about it's recycling program. Before, we only had a small bucket that we could place restricted items in for collection. Now, paper, glass, tin cans, hard plastics, etc. can be sent to the recycle center. It is amazing that the recycle can is full every 2 weeks, and the true garbage can is almost empty.

 

Vegetable Garden

I've read that vegetarian is a Sioux Indian word for "Bad Hunter". I'm not much of a vegetable eater, but Pam says fresh veggies from the garden are far better than store bought ones. I try to grow organic vegetables by not putting insect pesticides on the plants and also using organic, (soon to be) composted soil. Here is my new garden for spring. I have a separate herb garden for basil, oregano, etc. The herb garden is close to the kitchen for easy access when cooking.

 

Spring, 2011 garden.

Same garden, 2 months later, click here

For vegetables harvested, click here

 
Spring, 2011 Herb garden

 

 

 

 
Solar Yard Lamps

The lamp to the left is a lamp post that I've had in the yard for quite some time. It used to have electricity running to it, and the light burned all of the time.

I replaced the light with a solar light and a photo cell to come on at dusk. It's not very bright, but allows you to see the nearby surrounding area.

My master plan is to have the lamp attract flying insects, and the bats from my bat house will do their duty. That should allow me to have an organic garden because the bats will eat all of the insects

 

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Garden solar lamps

 
Herb garden solar lamps

 

 

Other small attempts at saving money and the planet

Timer on the atrium fountain that turns it off at night

Unplugging appliances (such as cell phone rechargers and cordless drill rechargers) to prevent Ghost Loads

Setting the AC thermostat to 79 degrees (26 Celcius) in the summer (unless one of us is having a hot flash) and 68 (20 Celcius) degrees in the winter.

Ceiling fans in den, bedrooms and office.

Gutter Rain Tubes. Made totally out of recycled plastic milk cartons.

We make chicken, beef, and shrimp stock from leftover bones and shells. Far better than store bought, cheaper, and less wasteful.

We can all of the tomatoes from the garden that we don't eat fresh. With this year's great harvest, that should be enough to not buy any canned tomato products for the rest of the year.

Cut all of the plastic loops that 6 packs of soda come with so that animals will not get caught in them and choke to death or drown. Click here.

We keep dead batteries and CFL bulbs in a paper sack in the broom closet until we have enough to take to the recycle center. CFL bulbs contain mercury.

We receive all monthly billing invoices online and also pay online to reduce Post Office paper delivery. Also, stock notifications are received online.

We contribute to several eclological charities, such as The Natural Resources Defense Council. We don't think that traditional churches are focused on the environment.

I discontinued my subscription to the Houston Chronicle two years ago, and I haven't missed it one bit. I admit that my prime reason was their biased reporting, but I have not only saved a lot of money, but also I haven't had to throw away tons of paper. I get all of the news I need from the internet and television.