maybe my dad was right after all

david22last night i went to the wise water expo, a small gathering of mar vista  residents (neighborhood in los angeles) in an auditorium at mar vista park. they had a few speakers lined up including a gentleman from los angeles department of water and power and ed begley jr. i had planned on writing a blog about how great it was and ways to conserve water but those will come at a later date. this one is about my dad.

last night, as ed begley jr was speaking (he was involved with the first earth day in 1970, so ed has been in the green scene for a long time), he said his wife made the comment about his efforts to cut costs around the house,  that he doesn’t care for the environment, that he is just a cheapskate. of course everybody laughed. then i found myself thinking about my dad.

now, my dad was by no means a cheapskate. i know us four children were raised on a limited income, but i also remember having every star wars figure and toy that were on the shelf. he was from a different time when things were, well, just different. he was born in 1929 in a small town saranac, new york and spent most of his time in vermont and new hampshire. he was a french canadian whose dad was born in quebec. my dad was one of eight children and he never went farther than the eighth grade because he needed to work to support the family. he served in the korean conflict (yes, war was never declared). he was a simple man and was a member of the teamsters for 30+ years, working mostly in the local areas of new hampshire and vermont. he was also active with the boyscouts.

i’m mentioning all of this because i think my dad was green without ever applying a label to it and here’s why;

1. keep the thermostat set at 68 degrees. that was the golden rule at our house in new hampshire. i remember those cold winter mornings waking up and trying to turn the dial even an 1/8 of an inch to maybe 70 degrees and my dad would turn it back to 68 and give a scolding at the same time. if we were walking around the house and we said “it’s cold in here”, my dad’s response would be to “put on a sweater”. we weren’t really allowed to go bare feet in the house in the winter time either, “get some socks on your feet” i’d hear as i would awake in the morning and come into the kitchen. we had an oil fired furnace, and it was about not using any more oil than we needed, about keeping the costs down. sounds like he was teaching us about energy efficiency, we just didn’t know it yet.

2. take shorter showers. i was always pretty good about taking shorter showers, but my brother derek was the one who liked to take his time. i remember vividly numerous times, my dad knocking on the bathroom door, shouting “that’s enough water” and soon after the sound of the water stopping. i remember at one point in my early teen years, something was broken on the hot water heater that prevented the whole tank from being heated and my dad refused to fix it because it naturally made for shorter showers. once your shower started to get cool, your time was up, as determined by the hot water heater. maybe we should all install smaller hot water heaters. that would conserve energy and water. pretty smart dad.

3. turn off the lights. i remember my dad always after us to turn off the lights when we’d leave the room or getting up in the middle of the night to tell us to go to bed (because we had to play one more game of golf on intellivision). he wasn’t telling  us to turn off the lights because it was good for the environment, it was so we would have a lower utility bill, i.e. conserve energy.

4. eat everything on your plate. it’s no secret that most of the waste in landfills is composed of food scraps and cnn wrote an article last year that stated that 1/4 of the U.S.’s food will get tossed into the garbage. it costs the U.S. 1 billion dollars annualy just to dispose of it. now, that was probably not in my dad’s mind when he was always telling us to eat everything on our plate. he just believed in eating what you take and don’t waste it. i remember one night, when i was probably 6 or 7,  at the dinner table i had a hot dog i couldn’t finish. he had no sympathy and wouldn’t let me leave the table until it was gone. he went in the living room and sat in his chair where he could still see me. i felt like i was there forever. my sister eventually rescued me and slipped a napkin to me that i was able to put the hot dog in.

5. conserve gas. i remember when i turned sixteen, my dad wanted to give me his 1977 baby blue chevrolet monte carlo. i had been working since i was 14 at the local dog track so i saved some money and decided i wanted to buy my own car because i wanted to make my own rules (which didn’t really work). i just remember my dad always going on about the car is just to get to work and back. it’s not for joyriding or wasting gas. where i grew up in hinsdale, nh, there was nothing to do but drive around. there were 40 kids in my graduating class and no stop light in town. but he insisted that i just drive it to work and back (of course i was 16 at the time and thought he had it all wrong and i didn’t listen then).

my dad passed away in 2002.  i always knew i inherited the creative gene from him. he was always helping me make cool things for school. in the 3rd grade, he cut  two dinosaurs out of plywood and helped me paint them green, they were a t-rex and stegasaurus. one year, for halloween, he made me a mickey mouse whole head mask out of chicken wire and paper mache, all from scratch. in the seventh grade, he helped me build a castle out of sugar cubes. it’s kind of funny for me to be sitting here now calling myself a green architect. truth is, green has been around a long time, it just never had a label. i guess my dad’s words sunk in there someway or somehow. thanks dad.

energy audit: a look at your electric bill

my electric bill
my electric bill

let’s talk about your electric bill. an average size home in america consumes between 600 to 900 kWh per month. this will obviously vary depending on what part of the country you live in (and what is considered average), but it’s a good starting point. let’s break that down even further because i believe when we have an understanding we can relate to, we’re more apt to make small changes that can have big impacts, both on the environment and in your wallet.

i’m going to work with the 600 kWh usage per month and use that as a basis for our understanding. if we divide 600 kWh by # days in a month, 30, that would mean we are consuming 20 kWh of electricity per day. let’s assume we’re paying .14 cents per kilowatt hour (the rate will vary by area but generally will be between .10 and .14) so we’re spending $2.80 per day on electricity for our home. that will give us a bill of about $84 per month. if you’re consuming 900 kWh per month, your bill will more likely be $126 per month.

one note: make sure you read your electric bill correctly. it will be either based on one month or two months, just make sure you know which one and adjust your figures accordingly.

SO, you’re now looking at your electric bill and you say, “oh yeah, i see, my bill is about $100 per month and that fits within the average so that must mean i’m doing good and can keep doing what i’ve been doing all along.”  does this sound like you? let me clear up one thing here, AVERAGE DOES NOT EQUAL GOOD. just because everyone else in the country is averaging $100 a month electric bill, doesn’t mean you should too. there are simple ways to get that down. and we’ve all heard them, turn off lights when not in the room, replace bulbs with compact flourescents (which i’m not a fan of, that’s another article), run the air conditioner set at 78, to name a few.  even if you knock it down $10 a month, you’ll save $120 per year.

let’s put all of this in perspective. i live with my wife and two young boys in a modest, 1 story 1500 s.f. older home. we moved in this past january and i’ve been looking at our bills since we moved in. our power is supplied by los angeles department of water and power. we get a bill from them every two months and it covers solid resources fee, water servce, and energy service (electric). our electric bill averages about 650 kWh per billing cycle, that’s for two months. SO we are consuming 325 kWh per month, well below the national average. we aren’t doing anything special either. we have a mixture of incadescent bulbs and compact flourescents. the most important thing we do is to not leave lights on around the house and turn off lights when we leave the room. we also haven’t run the air conditioner yet and rely on opening doors and windows instead. i’m sure at some point we will turn it on this summer, which may push us into the 400+ Kwh range, but we’ll see. one important note here is that our stove, dryer (electric dryers do cost more to operate than gas dryers), and furnace are heated via natural gas.

assuming you pulled out your electric bill for this exercise, you should have been able to locate how much you are using per month, then how much you use per day, and finally how much you are spending on electricity per day. just having an understanding of this will prove beneficial to you. i have found that once we have an understanding of something, we tend to pay better attention to it. the less we understand something, the more likely we will pay less attention or ignore it altogether. did i mention my wife is a psychotherapist?

think twice before reaching for that air conditioner button

ball-fan
modern company's ball fan

any way you slice it, air conditioners are electricity hogs. they are the suped up SUV version of the appliances in your home and they consume large amounts of electricity. whole house air conditioners can use anywhere from 15 to 25 kWh (kilowatt-hours)  of electricity per day (assuming about 4 hours of usage). at 14 cents per kWh, that’s about $3.50 per day. considering the average home consumes about 20 – 30 kWh per day, 4 hours of  air conditioner use almost doubles the daily consumption to a whopping 55 kWh per day. now you’re at about $7.00 a day for electricity.

now, that may not sound like much, but if you’re running your air conditioner everyday, that will be an additional $105 on top of your normal electrical bill (the average monthly electrical bill in the US is about $95 for around 900 kWh of electricity). multiply that by 4 months and that is an additional $420. it adds up, especially when you don’t pay attention to the time your a/c is on or your electricity bill. so here are a few tips that may help you limit the time your a/c runs;

1. turn up that thermostat to 78 degrees. “wait a minute, what??? you mean you want me to turn my thermostat UP to 78 degrees? i thought i am supposed to turn it down for my a/c. that means my air conditioner won’t even kick on until it gets warmer than 78? i like my home to be an ice box. i prefer a nice chilly 64. i like to run my air conditioner 24/7, i can’t sleep otherwise. but i admit, i don’t like the $500 a month electrical bill.” i hear you but i challenge you to give it a try. even if you do it for a few days, you’ll save electricity and money. check out this cool website that shows you the cost of your thermostat setting when deviating from 78  http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/energy/sponsor/save-money-save-energy

2. use those ceiling fans. “but i don’t have ceiling fans installed in the house and i don’t really like those combo things at home depot.” ugly ceiling fans are no longer an excuse, check out the modern fan company’s selection of cool, modern fans. the ball is my favorite. you’ll pay for the cost of the fans and installation in a few seasons by limiting the use of the a/c and turning these guys on instead.

3. use a programmable thermostat. along with a setting of 78 degrees, a programmable thermostat will help you limit the amount of time your a/c stays on, thus reducing your electricity bill. your savings in one year can pay for this nifty unit (it works great for the heating in the winter too).

4. open those doors and windows. “but it’s hot outside, why do i want to open the doors and windows.”  a simple concept that has been around since the beginning of time,  called passive ventilation. if you open your doors and windows, you’ll create cross ventilation and bring an airflow into your home. along with your ceiling fans, you can really start move that air around your house. this doesn’t mean you’ll never have to use your air conditioner again (unless you live near the beach), but it will help you limit the use of your a/c unit. as i mentioned earlier, every little bit helps.

5. seal those ducts. if your ductwork is in the attic or in the crawlspace under your house, have them professionally sealed and tested for leaks. the ductwork is moving that cool air through the house and you don’t want it leaking into the attic or in the crawlspace (or anywhere else for that matter).

6. eat lots of otter pops. a nice frozen treat that will help you feel cool on hot summer days,  http://www.otterpopstars.com/

california going greener

david22california has long been a trend setter  for the rest of the country and many states look to california for guidance on setting up many of their own rules and regulations. here is an article, from the associated press,  that i hope grabs the attention of other states’ legislators,  california’s committment to go a deeper shade of green. one particular point that caught my eye was this one:

“But there will also be costs: Cars could become more expensive, and Californians can expect higher electric rates as utilities increase their use of renewable energy. Homes built with energy-efficient materials could also prove more costly, as could gasoline reformulated to release less carbon dioxide.”

i thinks it’s a great idea the utility companies will be increasing their use of renewable energy, but it sounds like this may be an increase in cost to the consumer. one way to create a win win situation is for the homeowners to make sure their existing homes are as energy efficient as possible (window leaks are sealed, weather stripping around all exterior doors is installed, dual pane windows are installed, to name a few).

for homeowners considering a major remodel or new construction, it’s even more important (as well as an exciting opportunity) to consider designing and building the most energy efficient home possible, including properly sealing the exterior envelope with foam and insulation, using energy efficient windows with low e and argon filled glass, planning for open spaces to allow for natural ventilation, and planning for overhangs that keep the sun out in the summer but let the sun inside in the winter. the above items, when properly designed into the project, will add little overall cost (assuming a major remodel), but will go a long way in helping your home become more energy efficient.