Welcome to Green Boot Camp

Welcome to Green Boot Camp blog, a 52-week program to help you become a greener you in 2008. This is the companion blog to The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal).

Monday, June 30, 2008

Week 24--Blowing Cool Air Around

Last year I wrote an article for All You magazine on how to green every room in the house--and save money in the process. That article appeared in the magazine just in time for Earth Day, but it never appeared online (or I would provide a link). In researching that article, I learned a lot of interesting things, but there is one piece of advice that really resonates now that it's summer. It's the notion of using ceiling fans to cool the inside of your home without having to lower the thermostat.

Now I realize that on most home makeover shows, the first thing that these designers usually get rid of is the ceiling fan. In fact, I would feel confident says that the designers on "Trading Spaces" are no fans of ceiling fans. (For fun, check out this "Trading Spaces" fan site called No Ceiling Fans. Very cute.)

It's true that some ceiling fans are ugly, but you know what? If you're trying to live a greener life, ceiling fans are quite handy.

For starters if you can change the direction of the blade rotation, you can suck up the hot air during the summer and then push down the hot air during the winter. Also, while a ceiling fan may not actually cool a room, the act of the breeze going across your skin will cool down your body. (The breeze helps to evaporate sweat, which cools you down automatically.) That means that on a hot day you could get away with raising your air conditioning to, say, 74 degrees, and then if you add in a ceiling fan, the room feels way cooler to you.

Some experts estimate that using a ceiling fan can help you save up to $500 a year on heating and cooling costs. Plus, ceiling fans use very little energy, and they don't cost too much either to buy and install. (Look for Energy Star-rated ceiling fans.)

So this week on Green Boot Camp, as the mercury rises outside (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), I'd like you to think about how you can using ceiling fans to keep your home cool. If you've got them, use them.

(Quick note: if it's been awhile since you last turned on a ceiling fan, give it a good dusting before your power it up. If you skip the dusting part, you're going to send dust particles flying around your room.)

If you don't have any ceiling fans, you can use a box or portable fan to help make a room feel cooler. Only problem with a fan that's not overhead--it might start blowing stuff around on you, which could be very frustrating.

Keep in mind that ceiling fans cool the body, not the temperature in the room, so make sure you turn them off when you leave a room. Leaving them on will only waste energy (albeit small amounts of energy) and won't make the room any cooler for when you return.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Week 23--Acting Shady

Today is another 90 degree, summer day, and though I just returned from the food shopping, I didn't have to turn the car's air conditioning on at all during my drive home. Why? Because I managed to park my car in a shady spot. This allowed my car to remain cool even though I was in the store for almost an hour and the mercury was pushing 90.

The same shady principles apply to your home. If you've got shade trees planted on your property, you know what I'm talking about. They usually allow your home to remain cool even when it's boiling hot outside. If you don't have shade trees and you're looking to redo your landscaping, then think about planting some deciduous trees on the southern and eastern sides of your home-- the sides that get the most sunlight during the days.

FYI, deciduous trees are those that lose their leaves when the weather gets cooler. Evergreens, on the hand, stay green all the time and don't lose their leaves, thus their name ever green.

Having deciduous trees in your yard not only helps your home to stay cool during the warm-weather months, but, when they lose their leaves in winter, they help with temperatures, too. That is, without their leaves, these trees let more sunlight get to your home and can help warm things up without turning up the heat.

If you don't have any of these shade trees to work with, then you can create shade by closing shades, curtains and blinds during the hottest parts of the day. This way your home won't bake when it's hot outside, and you won't have to crank the a/c to cool down a room that's burning up from sunlight.

So this week on Green Boot Camp, I'd like you to think about ways that you can create "shade" to keep your home and car cooler. On sunny days try to close up the house so that the sun can't get in and the cool air can't become warm air. Similarly, when you have to run errands, find a shady spot to park your car so it will stay cool while you shop. Of course, finding a shady spot may mean that you have to park further away from the stores than you'd like, but it never hurts to squeeze a little extra exercise.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Week 22--Fix Any Water Leaks

Today in the mail I received a newsletter from my local water authority, and in it, there was a small article on 10 ways you can save water. Many of these tips I knew about already, such as running the dishwasher and washing machine only when you have a full load, and doing things like taking shorter showers. Two tips caught me by surprise, because they were all about leaks. I had no idea how much leaks could wreak havoc on a water bill.

This week in Green Boot Camp, I want you to check on any leaking faucets or toilets in your house, and get them fixes. You know the ones I'm talking about--the shower head that seems to be constantly dripping or the toilet that never shuts off. Here's why I want you to fix them: a leaky toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water each day. And that leaky faucet? Over a year you could have just had 2,000 gallons of water go down the drain!

Don't think you have any leaks to worry about? Well, go look at your water meter (assuming you have public water) and, when nothing in the house that uses water is on, see if the meter is still spinning. If so, then you've got a leak because the meter shows you that water is running from a tap or toilet somewhere in the house. You may be able to sleuth out and fix the leak yourself, or it might be time to call in a plumber.

One of the things we've done in our house that helps a little bit with leaks and it helps to reduce our water consumption is this: we've "faked out" our toilet bowl into filling with less water in the tank. That is, we put a couple of big rocks and bricks in the toilet tank so that they take up space and, therefore, it takes less water to fill the tank and trigger the shut-off valve. The toilets still flush fine, and this way if I do have a small leak in the toilet, hopefully less water will be leaking out since there is less water in the tank to begin with.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Week 21--Go Low Flow

Now that we're almost into the warm summer months, people are going to be thinking about water. Of course, we're all keeping the flooded folks in the Midwest in our prayers, but in other parts of the country, soon enough they'll be dealing with searing heat and droughts. And with droughts come water conservation.

This week and next in Green Boot Camp, I'd like you to nip your water usage in the bud by adopting certain water-saving practices. In Week 21, here's what I was thinking: if you haven't already done so, now is a great time to install a low-flow shower head in all of the showers in your house.

Did you know that the average shower head pushes out 2.5 gallons of water per minute? That means that in one, 10-minute shower, you've washed 25 gallons of water down the drain and, really, what do you have to show for it? Low-flow shower heads, on the other hand, have water coming out at 1.6 or 1.7 gallons per minute. That can add up to a significant savings during your average 10-minute shower--16 to 17 gallons of water used versus 25 gallons.

When looking for a low-flow shower head, go with those that try to mimic the "water fall" of the water-guzzling shower heads. Some ways that these shower heads do this is by having the shower head send out bigger water droplets or deliver the water in a more condensed spray so if feels like you're getting more water than you actually are.

While you're at it, I would recommend putting aerators on your sinks and faucets as well. These also cut down on the amount of water that can come out whenever you turn on the water.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Week Twenty--Give Away What You Would Normally Throw Away

Recently, I renewed my love affair with Freecycle. Earlier this week I wrote in my Lean Green Family blog about how I turned to Freecycle as a way to find landscaping plants without having to spend any money doing so. Truth is, I was saving money, and I was saving plants for getting tossed in a dumpster.

Four tiger lily plants, one lilac bush, one Rose-of-Sharon tree and one St. John's wort shrub later, I've got all the plants that I can fit in my front garden until we move some other stuff around to make a second flower bed. In the meantime I helped out one family that needed shrubs removed so they could install a fence, and I saved two plants from their imminent demise in the trash. This person had gone on a Home Depot shopping spree but never got around to planting these two flowers I took off of her hands. Unbeknownst to her, they were slowly choking to death in their pots. You should have seen the roots when I transplanted them!

Getting back in the Freecycle mode inspired me to do some cleaning out of my basement to see if there were any items I might have stored down there that I could bless someone else with by giving it away to free. Boy, did I.

I found enough bubble wrap to fill three large garbage bags, and gave it a way to a fellow Freecycler yesterday. Today I'm waiting on another Freecycler to pick up seven flattened moving boxes that I've got left over from my move last year. If she doesn't show up, I've got two other Freecyclers on a "waiting list" for the boxes.

I'm due to thin my magazine collection, so this weekend I plan to tackle that pile. And, instead of just tossing the magazines in my recycling bin, I'm going to post something on Freecycle and see if there's a magazine junkie out there that might enjoy reading these magazines.

What this is all leading up to is this week's task for Green Boot Camp (even though I'm posting at the end of the week and a week late--sorry!). I want you to take some time and figure out items that you normally would toss in the trash or put in recycling, and see if you can't give them away to someone else. You can join your local Freecycle group, put up a posting on Craigslist or just send out a mass email to the people you know through the parent-teacher group at your kid's school. The idea here is to keep these items out of the waste- and recycling-stream for as long as possible.

Maybe you want to go on a hunt in your basement like I did or look through your book collection and see if you might have some titles to donate to your local library. Let me know what you come up with and what you were able to give away--and how.