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Archive for Monday, June 21, 2010

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Easy green: Fast summer projects will make your home more energy-efficient — and save you money, too

North Lawrence residents Tom Mersmann and Robin Gingerich have taken a few steps to make their home more energy-efficient, which they say has cut their bills by 25 percent.

North Lawrence residents Tom Mersmann and Robin Gingerich have taken a few steps to make their home more energy-efficient, which they say has cut their bills by 25 percent.

June 21, 2010

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On the street

What kind of “green” updates have you made around your house?

An energy-efficient water heater.

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Mersmann and Gingerich also installed five rain barrels around the house to cut back on water usage.

Mersmann and Gingerich also installed five rain barrels around the house to cut back on water usage.

The addition of awnings on the south and west sides of the house have helped keep Mersmann and Gingerich’s upstairs room cooler than before.

The addition of awnings on the south and west sides of the house have helped keep Mersmann and Gingerich’s upstairs room cooler than before.

Learn more

Find out more you can do for your home by getting involved with the Lawrence Sustainability Network’s energy interest group. Call 917-9344 or e-mail altairfour@hotmail.com.

Check into the tax advantages of new windows, doors and insulation. You can go to www.energystar.gov for more information.

The green and lush days of summer are here.

And Robin Gingerich and husband Tom Mersmann are enjoying the heat from the confines of their North Lawrence home — a place that has yet to use its air conditioner in 2010 despite quite a few sweltering days.

“I’m not a person who likes to be uncomfortable,” Gingerich says. “So, when we first started talking about trying to save energy, which is important to us for a lot of reasons — environmental and financial — I was like, ‘Well, I can’t give up air conditioning.’”

They didn’t kill the air conditioner, but rather they decided to take small measures to make sure it wasn’t such a taxing proposition to stay cool. Little changes like putting up awnings and using an exhaust fan have helped the couple cut their energy usage 25 percent since they first began making improvements a few years ago. Doug and Shirley Hitt of Lecompton have made similar easy changes and cut their energy consumption by a third over the past four years.

“We did intentionally record our kilowatt hour usage over four years and then did some things — just the most simple of things — to see what effect they had,” says Doug Hitt, who says he added CFLs, turned down his water heater, put down the shades and installed a programmable thermostat. “I feel like we didn’t do anything that cost us a lot of money. ... But maybe what people could take away from that is that little things really mean a lot.”

So, why not take advantage of a warm weekend or two to change some of those aforementioned little things? What you do to your abode this summer might make it so green that it pays off for dozens of summers to come.

Here are some of the easiest green summer projects as suggested by Eileen Horn, the city and county’s sustainability coordinator; Linda Cottin, owner of Cottin’s Hardware, 1832 Mass.; Rich Wenzel of the Lawrence Sustainability Network’s Energy Interest Group; and Asa Collier, owner, Blue Sky Wind, Solar and Home, 920 Mass.

• Fill in the gaps. Check your windows, doors and exterior walls for cracks and fill them with caulk. You can also add weather stripping or add storm windows and doors.

• Redecorate. Spend a day repainting a room with low- or no-volatile organic compound (VOC) paint, which create a better indoor air quality. Add a dimmer switch, swap out your old bulbs for CFLs and add thermal-lined drapes to eliminate drafts.

• Plant a tree. Planting trees near your home can keep it cooler in the summer and still allow the sun to help heat your home in the winter. Cottin says this is a great way to keep your house cool and help the environment, while adding to your home’s curb appeal.

• Add a clothes line. An efficient and cheap way to get clean clothes is to invest in a clothes line. They cost less than $100, says Cottin.

• Got fans? Use them! Using fans when you are home, rather than letting the air conditioner kick on, is a big energy saver. Just having air moving through a room can cool off a person significantly, say homeowners Mersmann, Gingerich and Hitt.

• Drain and filter. Drain your hot water heater once a month to keep build up from making it inefficient, says Wenzel. Also, change your furnace filter every three months to improve its efficiency.

• Insulate, insulate, insulate. Spend time insulating your copper water pipes, your hot water heater and even your garage door. Similarly, check your level of insulation in your attic and find out if you have insulation in your walls. Also, Horn notes that Aug. 1 is the day weatherization grants become open to area residents — if you qualify, you could get help paying for insulation, as well as storm doors and windows.

• Attic airflow counts. It’s not just how insulated your attic is, it’s how cool it is as well, especially this time of year. Collier says adding solar-powered attic venting can lower the temperature in your attic 50 to 60 degrees — making things much easier on your air conditioner.

• Find time for timers. Add a timer to your hot water heater and look into installing a programmable thermostat that you can set to keep you from wasting energy when you’re not at home or happen to be sleeping.

• Capture the rain. Hooking up a 50-gallon rain barrel can cost about $100, but the savings in water can be huge — and handy. Mersmann says adding rain barrels has helped him both save water and keep his vegetable garden going during dry spells.

• Got more time? Do the research on things you can't do yourself. Spend an afternoon checking on blown-in insulation, energy-efficient appliances and green solutions like tankless or solar water heaters. Also, check into the tax advantages of new windows, doors and insulation. You can go to www.energystar.gov for more information. Also, for more ideas on what you can do to green your home, contact Wenzel and the Lawrence Sustainability Network’s Energy Interest Group at 917-9344 or e-mail altairfour@hotmail.com.

Comments

clopaycrowd 3 years, 9 months ago

Do like me and get a "green" garage door from Clopay, everybody! You'll love them:

http://www.clopaydoor.com/green.aspx

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jhwk215 3 years, 10 months ago

Our air conditioning was out for 2 weeks and we relied on a fan in every room to cool us down. They didn't help at all! the house was still scorching hot and the fans were running 24.7

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headdoctor 3 years, 10 months ago

I have tried the solar attic fans that are roof mount and will probably not ever use one again. The gable mount ones are much better but are to expensive for the better ones and the cheaper ones don't move enough air to operate a shutter panel correctly which is a must for a gable mount fan. The roof mount type are cheaper but require a much larger hole than a standard roof vent and provide your home with intermittent roof leaks during blowing rain.

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Pywacket 3 years, 10 months ago

If people would refuse to buy houses in areas where there are snooty homeowners' associations, those associations would have to ease up their regulations. If you're already stuck in such an area, it can't hurt to try to get the rules changed. Maybe some of your neighbors feel the same way and would love to have clotheslines and rainbarrels. It can't hurt to take a little poll and see how everybody else feels.

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ooophelia 3 years, 10 months ago

I second the Westar WattSaver program. The installer was SUPER nice and professional, and the thermostat they put in is amazing.

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macon47 3 years, 10 months ago

INTERESTING THAT WALMART IS NOW ONE OF THE GREENEST COMPANIES THAT SHOULD CHAP ALOT OF BUTTS HA HA

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Momofallboys 3 years, 10 months ago

I was told we weren't allowed to have a clothes line. I'd love one though! Maybe I'll just put one up anyway!

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Richard Heckler 3 years, 10 months ago

What in the world happened to the clothesline?

Did they become NOT acceptable in some circles?

All of that free solar and wind drying....... smells so good too!

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Jimmy 3 years, 10 months ago

Westar Energy will come to your home and install a free programmable thermostat for free! What I love about it is that I can adjust the settings online.

http://www.westarenergy.com/corp_com/contentmgt.nsf/publishedpages/wattsaver%20landing

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kernal 3 years, 10 months ago

Most Homeowners Assocations CC&R's were written before the green movement and made no allowance for compost heaps, rain barrels, outdoor clotheslines and limit the size of vegetable gardens etc.. At least in western states rain barrels are now allowed as long as they meet certain requirements which are unrestrictive for the majority. Can't very well tell residents they can't have rain barrels when there are water use restrictions in place!

I want a clothesline! My mom dried clothes that way for years until she and my dad moved into their new home where no one had a clothesline. I'm pretty sure I can slip in an unobstrusive compost barrel and maybe a rain barrel, but the clothesline would definitely be noticeable.

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Ken Lassman 3 years, 10 months ago

A screened in porch with a fan has become one of the favorite rooms around here. Skeeters no longer are a problem, and the fan makes it a whole lot cheaper than running the AC. Cat can't get the birds, either!

I agree about cheap clothes lines. I took some electric fence wire I had laying around, hammered together a post on one end of the deck and strung the line around a nearby tree on the other end, using a piece of 2 X 4 on the opposite side of the tree to wrap the wire around the tree without it digging into the bark. I used stuff I already had and it works as good or better than any commercial product.

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GardenMomma 3 years, 10 months ago

"Add a clothes line. An efficient and cheap way to get clean clothes is to invest in a clothes line. They cost less than $100, says Cottin."

The clothes line I bought was around $10. The clothes pins were about $2. I strung the line up between the deck and the tree. Didn't cost anywhere near $100.

The wooden clothes line prop probably cost more, but it's a 2" x 2" x 8' stick. That was left over from a construction project here so I am not sure of the exact cost, but I doubt it was much.

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LogicMan 3 years, 10 months ago

"Add a timer to your hot water heater "

Or better to just eliminate your "hot water heater", since apparently the water is already hot?

A timer on [cold] water heater might make sense, but only if the water heater is electric. Most around here are natural gas.

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