How to buy and live green–by John Raleigh

Today the Green movement is still in transition but many elements have become mainstream, primarily due to global warming. Ironically, in the 1970’s environmentalists were more concerned about global cooling from pollution and not global warming from CO 2.

It is popular to ask these days: "Do you believe in Global Warming?" This is as provocative question, like asking do you believe in God. It is a polarizing question. Implying that you are either an environmentalist or not. Or you either believe man made pollution can affect the climate or not. Unfortunately there is misinformation and hypocrisy on both sides of the issue. There is a religious type zeal on both sides that has alienated a lot of the general public.

Whether you believe the Earth is warming or not, there are major governmental plans to increase the cost of energy use, control fossil fuel use, and promote alternative energy. In fact, in the Bay Area, we are already penalized, with extra fees or fines, for over use. Water rates are 5 times higher for large users compared to basic. In fact a house with a irrigated half acre lot will cost 10 times more for water (in the summer) than for a house in Sacramento (they have no meters) and a thousand times more than an Agricultural user for the same size area. PGE rates for electricity are $.36/KWH for the higher tier user and only $.11KWH for the basic user. Indiana electricity users pay $.06/KWH (one sixth of what a homeowner in a 3000sf home would pay in the Bay Area and half of what a basic users pays/KWH). We also pay about 10% more for gasoline and diesel and about 50% more for natural gas than the lower cost areas, like Texas. Nationally, a carbon tax or a cap and trade tax is proposed in Congress. In the Bay Area we already pay a tax because our rates are more than double the National rates. If the carbon tax is fair, the coal burning states like Indiana would pay more and we would pay less. More than likely, Congress will come up with a plan that makes us all pay more.

What can YOU do to reduce global warming and live GREEN?

There are voluntary plans of action that will save energy, decrease use of foreign oil, and save you money.

Below, I’m providing a list of things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint, live greener, and make you feel good about helping save the planet or just ways to save money. One list shows inexpensive things you can do, and the other shows more expensive ways. If you just try some of the inexpensive suggestions, you can save 20% of your energy and water usage. A 75% reduction in you energy and water usage is possible if you try all of these suggestions. Carbonfootprint.com will help you measure your usage of energy and water. Using their calculator will help you figure out what are the most effective ways to save resources and money.

Inexpensive things you can do:

Here are some inexpensive ways, some specific to the Bay Area, to save energy, water and money:
– Use CFL light bulbs, motion sensors, unplug energy vampires like TV’s, computers and chargers;
– Buy local, sustainable, green products, shop with your own cloth bag, only buy what you need;
– Recycle, buy recycled or used products, support Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and/or support your local farmers markets;
– Buy a programmable thermostat set it at 68 in winter, 78 in summer. Turn the heat/AC off when you are sleeping;
– Cut down on unnecessary car trips. When you get to your destination, park in the first spot you find. Don’t drive forever to find a closer parking space;
– Use public transportation, use a rental car service like Zipcar and you can eliminate one or all the cars you own. Even an inexpensive car can cost $5,000/year to own and maintain.
– Walk or bike to school or work. Live near your job.
– Live in a concentrated dense urban area (Most Europeans live in cities and use half the energy we do)
– Use less water, drink tap water not bottled, plant local drought resistant plants instead of lawns, or let your lawn dry out in the summer. Pumping water uses massive amounts of energy.
– Vacation locally. Take 1 long vacation instead of several short ones and save a lot of driving.
– Use low VOC paints. Paint your roof white with special roof paint
http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jul/15/business/fi-cool-roof15
– Chalk and seal your house
– Buy or rent a smaller house
– Use regular instead of premium gas (try it, if the engine doesn’t ping it’ll run fine). Don’t wait to warm up your engine. Modern cars don’t need a warm up.
– Change your oil every 15,000 miles, like the manufacturer says, not every 3,000 miles — like in the old days
– Set your pool pump to run at night–7 hours a night in the summer and 1 hour in the winter. Buy a pool cover
– If you have a new PGE smart meter, do your laundry at night, and use only cold water. Lower your hot water heater temperature to 110 degrees.

TRUE “GREENY” ways to save the Planet

Now, if you are a TRUE and dedicated "Greeny", dry your laundry on a clothesline and try the following things:
– Plant your own vegetables, herbs, and fruit trees. In a smaller garden only plant lettuces, herbs, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and dwarf fruit trees. Many vegetables can be planted that grow in the winter rainy season that will require little or no watering. Examples are lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, spinach. Because domestic water is so expensive, squash, corn, melons, potatoes, cucumbers, beans and other water hungry plants are more efficiently grown commercially and are not cost effective in a home garden.
– Compost, buy organic food (conventional fertilizer and pesticides use a lot of energy), raise your own chickens, put in a beehive.
– Eat less meat. Beef takes 2500 gal of water/pound to produce. Animals produce methane and use more water and energy than plants to produce the same amount of calories.
– Use gray water for yard irrigation. Take 2 min. showers. Share bath water. Turn your pool into a water retention cistern.
– Use energy saving tips from the Government
http://www1.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/pdfs/energy_savers.pdf
– Measure your carbon footprint: http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx or http://www.nature.org/initiatives/climatechange/calculator/
– Sustainable living info http://www.recycleworks.org/greenbuilding/index.html

Somewhat expensive things you can do to help the Planet

– Buy a hybrid or electric car (Pay off time is 10 years – probably longer than the car will last)
– Buy or build a passive solar house or install Photovoltaic active solar panels (Pay off time is 8-10 years);
– Replace your windows with dual pane or better (Pay off time is 10-25 years);
– Insulate more or put in a thermo barrier in attic (Pay off time is 3-5 years);
– Attic fan for cooling, Reversible ceiling fans can help heat and cool (Pay off time is 1-3 years);
– Remodel with "Green" certified products (Pay off time is 10-20 years);
– Solar and/or on demand hot water (Pay off time is 5-10 years);
– Solar pool heater (Pay off time is 3-5 years);
– Buy "Green" appliances, plumbing fixtures and HVAC (Pay off time is 3-8 years);
– Replace your lawn with an artificial lawn (Pay off time is 5-10 years);
– Invest in new clean technology companies;
– Buy carbon credits

Should you go solar?

I have solar panels(5KW) on my roof in Redwood City(they cut my electric bill from $4000/y to $800/year). Solar is not cost effective if you currently use less than $250/m($3000/y) for electrical only(not including gas). The min. PGE charge is $.11/kwh for the first 300kwh/month. Their charges for the higher tier usage go up to $.55/kwh( and are increasing at 8%/year). People that use lots of power(mainly homes over 2500sf) will use a lot of juice at the higher rates and will save the most money. I recommend REC solar, but get at least 3 bids. I hear a 5kw system now costs $16,000 after all the incentives and tax credits. If you don’t want to buy you can "lease" a system and give most of the savings to the solar generating company.

Solar only works cost effectively for a few houses. The most efficient house will have a SSW orientation of at least 400 sf of available roof. The ideal roof pitch is 4:12. The Solar people will give you the estimated efficiency of your system in their computer generated bids. My roof is almost ideal and gets about 95% of the power of a perfect orientation. If your layout ends up with only a 50% efficiency then obviously you’ll have to pay double to get the same power as a perfect roof orientation. If you have a flat roof the panels can be put on frames in the right orientation. Don’t install solar over a tile roof–it will leak. Don’t put solar on any roof more than 5 years old(you want the roof to last longer than the solar panels-25 years or more). Solar roof shingles are an attractive alternate to panels but cost more and are less efficient.

The big problem in SF is fog. When the clouds come over my house, whether it if fog, high overcast or rain clouds. My system will go from generating 3900 watts down to less than 1200 watts. Basically fog will knock down the power generation by 75%. Also in the winter you’ll get about one half the daily power output as in the summer(figure16 of sun hrs vs 8.)

A 5kw system like mine only puts out about 4kw of actual usable power(because of line loss, panel inefficiency, inverter conversion loss) for a perfect roof orientation at the perfect time of day(10-2pm). The best my system ever yields is 3.9KW.

If you really want solar buy the right house orientation, or one with a flat roof, have REC solar give you an estimate on performance rating during due diligence and get an accurate estimate of number of foggy, rainy or overcast days(the Solar companies estimates may be wrong because SF micro-climates are hard to figure.)