Category Archives: Sustainable Shopping

Save Water, Time and Money – Part 3

by,

Rob Rutledge

City sustainable development concept illustration

Another step deeper in the exploration of SmartSprinkler controllers:  again, the goal is to save water, time and money but not have a dead lawn or landscaping.

By focusing on the residential products, since I don’t have 24+ zones, I get down to a list of a few manufactures whose products I will choose from. Rachio, RainMachine, and Cyber Rain (residential). The Cyber Rain controller has some good functionality, but its price tag of $500 will eliminate it from further consideration since competing products are $200 or less and provide virtually the same functionality. Several municipal water systems offer rebates up to $100 for WaterSense controller, which helps lower the price, but not enough to bring $500 units back into consideration. Rachio and RainMachine both have very good reviews on Amazon, which is important as there is nothing quite like getting feedback from hundreds or thousands of existing customers. Additionally, both controllers have open APIs that allow for IFTTT (If This Then That) control and therefore access from devices like Amazon’s Echo (a.k.a. “Alexa”). Alexa is by no means a smart home controller, but until I take that leap it is nice to be able to control my devices all via voice.
It appears as though you can’t go wrong with either of these controllers. The RainMachine controller offers control from the unit itself, which could be helpful. It also has the option to not use its cloud service. However, Rachio recently released its 2nd generation controller which very clearly address feedback provided by customers. In addition, they are taking steps to ensure customers are happy with their purchase, and publicly standing behind their product will make the difference for me to give it a try. I have no doubt that even with extensive research, I may need some post sales support, and that gives Rachio at edge for me. After installation and usage, I will report back on progress.

Save Water, Time and Money – Part 2

by,
Rob Rutledge

http://s3.amazonaws.com/digitaltrends-uploads-prod/2014/06/Screen-Shot-2014-06-04-at-3.15.24-PM.png

Smart Water Control – iPhone

Continuing the exploration of Smart Sprinkler controllers:  The goal is to save water, time and money but not have a dead lawn or landscaping.

There are many Smart Sprinkler controllers, and many definitions of what makes a sprinkler controller ‘smart’.  For instance, simply attaching a moisture sensor or rain sensor may qualify for some definitions of a Smart Sprinkler Controller.  However, I would like to think we can do better than simply attaching static sensors.  Therefore, I will limit my evaluation to those controllers that get weather data wirelessly and allow for control via mobile phone and computer, as well as allow for more intelligent watering by inputting landscaping and/or sprinkler information.  After all, I would like to think that better decision could be made rather than just automating the same binary decision of watering or not watering.  The final requirement is for the smart controller to adhere to the watering limitations of my water provider.  With these in mind, I return to the extensive list of Water Sense Smart Sprinkler Controllers.  Since most, if not all, of these controllers involve using the service associated with the controller (other than RainMachine which has a hybrid option), it seems as though there should be some consideration of the stability of the company.  After all, it would be unfortunate to make the investment in time and money to acquire and setup the controller, only to have it revert back to a normal controller or worse stop working all together due to the company providing the service going out of business.  Several of the companies are private, which limits the amount of due diligence that can be performed, so instead I will use longevity and multiple product offerings as a proxy for stability.  This is, of course, flawed.  But the best that can be done without extensive effort.  This only eliminates one that I thought looked intriguing, Skydrop.

 

Save Water, Money and Time – Part I

by,

Rob Rutledge

dreamstime_s_26939355

Part I

My water usage and associated bill is about to go up.  It happens every year.  In the next several months, my water bill will more than double, costing me an extra $40 or $50 each month.  I want to continue my Smart Home exploration of options, but not necessarily limit my options if I come across something even easier than smart home solutions.  For instance, the vast majority of my extra water usage is based on maintaining the plants and grass around my home.  I will focus on this aspect of water saving for now, but I also realize there might be some options to further reduce my water usage inside my home.  Although we have already used low flush toilets, low flow shower heads and better dishwasher usage.  Thankfully there is good information to leverage through programs like Water Sense, an EPA program that certifies products which save water, from 20% to 50%.  The technology portion of Water Sense narrows down the discussion to the areas that are of most interest to me, the sprinkler related savings opportunities.  Again, I need a criteria to go about selecting what options I want to explore.  I will use the same criteria as I am using to curtail electricity usage:

  • Easy to understand and install myself
  • Proven benefit for my environmental impact
  • Financial benefit of reduced monthly bills (at least during the summer)

Given those criteria, there are two options that seem most appropriate to explore.  Rotary Spray Heads (Nozzle), and Smart Spinkler Controllers.  The Rotary spay heads deliver water in a stream instead of a mist and therefore reduce lost water due to evaporation and wind blowing the water where it isn’t needed.  Smart Sprinkler Controllers use better information about your landscaping and external factors (like weather forecasts) to make better watering decisions.  Rotary Spray heads are valuable, but not nearly as interesting to explore here as Smart Sprinkler Controllers, so that is what I will focus on here.

 

Smart Home & Smart Investment? Part 3

Part III

by, Rob Rutledge

Ecobee Thermostat (ecobee.com)

Ecobee Thermostat (ecobee.com)

Nest Thermostat (nest.com)

Nest Thermostat (nest.com)

 

Furthering the journey towards a Smart Home, both the Nest and Ecobee thermostat optionshave very good reviews, and both have very cool technology behind them.  As an example I could adjust my home’s temperature while I am out of the house from a convenient app on my phone. The price of both is about the same (within $10).  It will come down to how I want to use them, and what will work best for my specific situation.  For instance, both have a motion sensing capability, and both will learn from how I adjust the temperature.  The motion sensing capability is particularly interesting to me as I only need my home to be cooled if I am currently using it, not while I am at the grocery store or out for a walk.  The challenge is that when I am at home, I often work from my office for hours at a time and that is not where my thermostat is located.  While I could schedule a walk by my thermostat every so often, that does not fulfill my desire to use technology to make my life easier rather than more complicated.  The EcoBee has a solution built in with remote sensors that I can place in different locations of my home.  That can provide the added benefit of helping keep the temperature consistent throughout the home.  I don’t have that issue with my home temperature, but I do want the motion detection of the remote sensor to eliminate having to walk by the thermostat or risk it thinking I am not home and trying to save some energy at the expense of my comfort.  Therefore, I will give the Ecobee a try and let you know how it goes.

Food as Fuel

by,

Liz Rutledge

dreamstime_s_37124190

You’re probably thinking this is a blog post about bio-diesel.  Well, it’s not…not this time, at least.  A good friend of mine who is busy and travels for work a lot recently challenged me to take on “Food as Fuel”.  The challenge is to create a meal plan of sorts such that said friend can eat 80% food as fuel and 20% food as a social activity.  Because my friend travels so much, I can only really assist with the home times.

I have always loved food.  My mother tells me that I ate green onions in my high chair.  I have always eaten my veggies without being told to and I have been vegetarian.  I took a nutrition class in college and was a weight loss counselor for a time.  I am passionate about food.

Not everyone loves eating their greens, which is why I think the green smoothie was invented…to mask the taste and texture of spinach, kale, collard greens and other green foods that some people don’t like in their most natural state.

I have started a quest to analyze daily recommended nutrition and come up with solutions that make life easier and maintaining our health more sustainable.  My quest, potentially much to my family’s chagrin, will include making easy “fast food” that fuels us and nourishes us.  I will include investigation in to the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” as well as when organic is important in general.

Solutions will include not only green smoothies, but also mason jar salads, mason jar pancake mix and burgers made up of so many foods, they may very well be all you need on your plate.

Suggestions are welcome, so feel free to comment!

Smart Home & Smart Investment? Part 2

Part II

by, Rob Rutledge

SmartHome 2

In previous years I raised the thermostat temperature as much as I could to remain comfortable during the day, which reduced the need for as much air conditioning.  At night, when weather gives us the opportunity, we open all windows and sleep with minimal clothes.  There are so many other options to reduce to need to cool, such as using the environment’s own changing temperatures.  Using shades to shield from the heat of the sun and opening shaded windows as soon as the temperature outside is lower than inside temperature.

However, there are times that I am not at home, or that our two story house is only used on one floor even though both are being air conditioned.  Remembering to turn off the air conditioning or raising the temperature every time is not easy or convenient. Some type of smart thermostat might be a solution to help further reduce my electricity bill while allowing me to remain comfortable. Upon further exploration, there are two front runner options.  The Nest and EcoBee thermostats appear to offer some options to help reduce my usage.  Back to my selection criteria, it appear as though I could install either myself.  The environmental impact seems to be positive from various viewpoints, including that many utilities are currently offering rebates for both of these thermostats, sometimes for up to $75.  Although there is a cost upfront for either of these thermostats that will not pay back for some time, even with the rebates there seems to be the promise of a reduced monthly bill, which is not unlike many other environmental options from solar panels to LED light installation.  Besides, there might even be energy savings year around, rather than just the summer, which is an added bonus.

The Smart Home: Part I

by, Rob Rutledge

Smart Home

Diagram of a Smart Home

As winter fades away, I am drawn to the question of this summer’s weather.  I suspect it will be hot, based on the relatively mild winter.  That means that the money I saved in heating bills this winter will be extracted from me in the form of electric bills to run air conditioning on sweltering days this summer.  Water bills will increase to keep our lawn at some minimal level of existence and nurture our vegetable garden.  What should I be doing now to help offset these increasing bills and have the added benefit of convenience?  I have heard about the promise of a smart home.  Is there some technology out there that will allow me to save money on a monthly basis and make my home more livable, or at the very least not increase the maintenance of my home?  As I think about the options, it gets even more complicated.  There are multiple competing technologies that provide very similar benefits.  Light control options alone take the form of light switch replacements, light socket replacements, or smart LED lights directly.  The underlying technology also varies, although a few front runners, may make this an easier decision soon.  The range of solutions can be overwhelming, and because of that there are options for home controllers, hubs or brains that will help coordinate all of these devices in a central location.  I am not sure I am ready to take the full dive into smart home yet, or that I could even afford it.  How can I decide where to start with a smart home option that will also reduce my carbon footprint?  I need to use a simple criteria to determine what to explore first:

  • Easy to understand and install myself
  • Proven benefit for my environmental impact
  • Financial benefit of reduced monthly bills (at least during the summer)

Upon examination of my monthly summer bills, the largest upward swing is in electricity and water.  Electricity is driven almost exclusively by air conditioning and water usage is driven by yard maintenance.  Electricity bills are much higher than water bills, so I will focus on that first.

An Interview: Jay Treat from SolarCity

An Interview with Jay Treat from SolarCity

Jay Treat

by, Liz Rutledge

I had the pleasure of interviewing a representative of SolarCity last month.

Liz:  “When is a good time to go solar?”

Jay: “The best time to go solar is right now. The sooner you go solar, the sooner you start saving money and making a positive difference on the planet. People are already spending money every month for electricity – we make it easy for them to shift that money into building equity in their house. It’s the difference between renting electricity and owning it. That’s a concept people have never had the opportunity to get their minds around before. But, if I’m a homeowner, I know what it means to rent and I’ll choose owning every time.

Of course, the overall goal is to reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible. This can be done by swapping out appliances for more energy efficient ones, swapping incandescent light bulbs for CFLs or LEDs, insulating your home, for example.  But, not everyone has the luxury of being able to do all of these things immediately. However, if these energy saving measures are instituted, customers will generate a credit balance of energy in their solar bank account, but all of the energy they create contributes clean energy to the grid.”

Liz:  “We’ve been told our house is ineligible for solar panels.  What are some of the limiting factors?”

Jay: “The construction of a roof (pitch, orientation) and shade from nearby trees all impact eligibility – whether or not solar is an option.  Sometimes, the type of roofing material used poses a challenge…for example, if your roof is cedar shake, Spanish tile, slate, or t-lock shingle, it’s not viable for either the company of the customer to install solar panels.  Of course, with cedar shake and T-lock shingles, the homeowner will likely replace their roof within a few years anyway and typically, people move from those types to composite shingles. Then, they’ll be able to go solar. We can only mount solar panels on 40-50% of homes because of these various factors.”

Liz: “How much electrical usage can a customer off-set with solar energy?”

Jay: “Typically 60-80%. But the swing can be 0 to 100%, of course.”

Liz: “Why not 100%?”

Jay: “The offset is determined by two factors: the homes’ usage and the roof. The roof mostly because of shade or roof space/construction; obstructions (like sky lights, vents, gables, chimneys, evaporative coolers, etc.) all can impact offset.  But, other factors like the size of a family (which increases usage just because there are multiple people in multiple rooms) or whether you have two hot tubs and two freezers in your garage – your usage is going to be sky high).” The panels are always only going to produce so much and offset a fixed amount, regardless of usage.

Liz: “How long do solar panels last?  What happens to old solar panels when they’ve reached their end of life?”

Jay: “Solar panels typically have a 25-year warranty. But, they almost always last longer than that – there are still panels from the 1970’s that are generating energy. But, when they reach their end-of-life, they will be re-purposed.  SolarCity is opening a million square foot facility to produce solar panels, the largest on the planet (the first of several) will soon be opening a factory in Buffalo, NY.  It will be for panel manufacturing, but will also re-purpose old panels.  For the older and different technology – (that SolarCity does not use) called solar thermal technology, the copper can be removed and reused.”

Liz: “What’s the story with SolarCity?”

Jay: “SolarCity was created July 4, 2006 – the date is no accident – Independence Day – independence from fossil fuels was and is our goal.  It was founded by Lyndon Rive and his brother, Pete, bothcousins of Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla), who is also our chairman.  We have 350,000 systems across America, last month we booked 21,000 new customers so the total is increasing quickly.”

Liz: “Why have you chosen this career path?”

Jay: “I have always felt a deep connection with nature.  When I was a kid in Minnesota, I would run around in the woods for hours.  I developed a gratitude for nature and a passion for doing right by the planet.  Sometimes, I would witness dumping of garbage in the woods and was aghast.  I just couldn’t believe that someone would treat nature that way. We only get the one planet. When I learned I could contribute directly to making the air cleaner, the future brighter and save people money, I was hooked. We’ve got three kids and they are already having a different experience than we did as children and I want a bright and healthy future for them as well. Of course, people like to save money, so even if the planet is not a concern, solar still makes sense and I make a living. It’s a win across the board.”

To learn more about SolarCity and/or get a quote on getting your solar on, click here (full disclosure, I am an Ambassador and will also personally benefit financially if you choose to go solar – and you can too!):

share.solarcity.com/sustainablethree

You can get rewarded for referring others to SolarCity by becoming a Solar Ambassador, too!

For some exciting news about why it’s critical to support renewables, check out this article featured in the Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/03/16/this-key-rule-of-economics-and-the-environment-just-failed-again/

Collectively, renewables are making a difference and as a planet, we’re trending in the right way!

 

imrs

 

Restroom Rehab

Mary-People-Towels-paper-towel-waste-20121

Mary Wallace of People Towels with paper towel waste.   
The average person uses 2,400 – 3,000 paper towels at work, in a given year  
(Image: People Towels)

When you go to a public restroom, does it ever bother you when paper towels are tossed on the floor?  Or, when someone leaves the water running?  Or, even worse, doesn’t flush?  Does it bother you that the business is using paper towels to begin with?

Do you do anything about it?

When I find paper towels on the floor of a restroom, I pick them up and put them in the trash can/rubbish bin…before I wash my hands.  Then, after I wash my hands, I use my paper towel to wipe down the counter and then throw my paper towel in the trash can/rubbish bin.  I did this once at a restaurant in Australia when we were living there.  I think I embarrassed my girlfriend, but I probably spent thirty seconds picking up what must have been 20+ towels off the floor and putting them where they belonged.  I said to her “I always try to leave a space better than I found it.”

If the water is left running, I turn off the tap.  Clean water is a precious resource that most of us take for granted.  In many countries, people have to walk miles to retrieve clean drinking water. Appreciating how fortunate we are by not wasting our natural resources will make them last longer.

When the toilet hasn’t been flushed, I use my foot to flush it.  If too much waste builds up in a toilet, it causes clogging issues and then businesses have to call in professional plumbers who may have to use harsh chemicals to clear the clog.

This attitude could propagate out to other areas of our lives.  For instance, pretty much every day, I pick up litter on the way to drop off my daughter at school.  Doing this makes the walk more pleasant because “it doesn’t belong” there…it belongs in a trash can/rubbish bin/recycle bin.

SustainableThree Ways You Can Make a Difference:

  1.  If you visit a restroom with paper towels, take the time to put ones thrown on the floor into the receptacle.
  2. Wipe down counters, turn off running faucets, flush toilets.
  3. Even better, if the business uses paper towels, make a request to their owner/manager that they install sensor dryers that automatically release air if you put your hands in front of the sensor, but doesn’t waste energy at other times.

“Although contradictory claims abound on this topic, a 2007 life cycle analysis by the Climate Conservancy found that using a hand dryer produces fewer climate-changing greenhouse gases than using paper towels.”  ~”Cloth vs. paper vs. dryers: How to be clean and green when you wipe your hands”  (By, Tom Watson, Pacific NW Magazine, The Seattle Times

BONUS: Tweet this!  https://twitter.com/SustainThree/status/702576748907528192

There are other options to using paper towels or air dryers.  Here are a few:

People Towels

http://www.peopletowels.com

Here’s a great little article:

http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/paper-towel-alt-25875

More details on the topic:

http://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/cloth-vs-paper-vs-dryers-how-to-be-clean-and-green-when-you-wipe-your-hands/

 

 

To Dishwasher or Not?

by Liz Rutledge

Girl loading plate into dishwasher

© Fotosearch.com

In 2000, I did something not most people do.  I read my dishwasher’s user manual…cover to cover.  I wouldn’t have thought that doing that would have such an impact on my life, but it did. I learned how to properly load a dishwasher and learned it so well, I can load any dishwasher now and pack it to the gills and the dishes (pretty much, mostly) always come clean.  It saves time, water, energy and detergent to have this important skill.

The most important thing to know is that you do not need to clean your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher.   If you’re trying to be more green, this is simply wasteful.  Most dishwashers today are energy efficient and designed to save water.  They are also very efficient at cleaning dishes – if you know how to load the machine.

Having said all that, I learned it is important to get STARCH and EGG off dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.  So, scraping rice, bread crumbs, pasta and such off before putting dishes in the machine helps.  Also, rinsing egg yolk off with cold water is important so it doesn’t get cooked on by the machine.  Just a quick rinse gets most pasta, egg and tomato sauces off to the point that the energy and water efficient machine can take it from there.

Then, if dishes are loaded so the water can get to them, they come clean.  So, the art is in the loading.  Dishwasher user manuals come with a diagram, but the gist is…load glasses, bowls, etc. face down towards the sprayers.  More dirty dishes should be near the middle of the spray jet fan.  Glasses and dishwasher-safe plastics should be on the top rack and plates, cutting boards, pots and pans should be on the bottom.

As for detergent, Trader Joe’s dishwasher tabs get a good rating on EWG.org’s web site and do a good job.  Seventh Generation’s powdered dishwasher detergent works well.  You don’t need super strong detergents to get the dishes clean.

Here are more suggestions on detergents from EWG’s web site:

http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2012/12/greener-holiday-dishwashing-ewg

Two ways to save extra energy are to run the “eco/light” cycle and skip the heated dry.

If you want to get into the nitty-gritty details about how much water and energy is used, I’d recommend reading this article:

http://www.treehugger.com/kitchen-design/built-in-dishwashers-vs-hand-washing-which-is-greener.html

Except that she’s using Cascade and Rinse-Aid products, I find this video helpful:

http://lifehacker.com/the-proper-way-to-load-your-dishwasher-for-the-cleanest-1284209586

The tip about running the water to hot and the disposer (to clear the drain) before starting the dishwasher is a great tip which I do because it helps the dishwasher do a better job.  I disagree with her about sharp knives.  I put them in the top rack, sharp side down and they come clean and don’t get damaged.

Some say to hand wash dishes to improve immunity.  It can also be meditative to wash dishes by hand.  Personally, I do a bit of a hybrid as there are always dishes that need to be washed by hand…like delicate glasses and some pans that simply do not fit once the dishwasher is loaded.