Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

November 15, 2010

Review: Cool It — Made Me Think, Twice

Category: Climate Change,Green Reviews – Tom Harrison – 9:10 pm

Cool It


I saw the movie Cool It based on the book of the same name, by Bjørn Lomborg. You should either read the book or see the movie.

And then you should think a little. Actually, think a lot, for this movie is very clever, I think.

The movie is well-crafted, if not as slickly produced as movies such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. In particular, Cool It presents a different take on climate change than Inconvenient Truth. It is convincing — skipping between scenes of the youthful Lomburg in his Greenpeace days, to his canonical assertion, which is that to fight climate change, we’re spending our money the wrong way, and efforts to date have been largely ineffective and fantastically cost-ineffective.

But something did not seem to quite “add up” to me. That’s when I started thinking again.

September 16, 2010

Review: SodaStream Gets Fizzy Water Right

Category: Green Reviews,Household,Organic & Local Food – Tom Harrison – 2:42 pm

sodastreamI continue to be stunned when I am at the market and see people buying bottled water, soda, flavored seltzers and other such products. They are heavy. They use plastic or aluminum containers. They are expensive. In short, a huge waste of resources at every level. And if you like soda (pop) it’s the same deal.

So make your own seltzer and soda at home — it’s easy, convenient, and saves money, and may also be good for the environment.

Not Your Dad’s Old Seltzer Bottle

I used to buy flavored seltzer in one liter bottles — lime, orange, and other flavors and fizzy water (no sugar). Then I recalled that when I was a kid, my dad had a seltzer bottle — one (CO2) charger would make a quart — a while back, I bought a Liss Soda Siphon and would regularly order packs of 10 chargers in the mail — I think they were about 50 cents a liter, which compares favorably to the 99 cents a liter at the store.

But the big wins: no bottles to lug, and as much water as you needed when you wanted it (as long as you keep chargers on hand). And no bottles in the landfill or to recycle. It was a reasonable solution, but after a year or so, a couple of the parts on the bottle started failing so that gas would leak out. I could usually make it work, but it was always a bit of a hassle to make a new batch. I think repair parts are available, so it’s still a pretty good option. (more…)

August 8, 2009

Philips Halogena Review: Same Light, A Little Less Energy

Category: Green Reviews,Household,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 12:12 pm

philips-halogena-r20Philips “Halogena” bulbs are not CFLs — they are incandescent bulbs that use less electricity than standard bulbs, and they work exactly like the bulbs they replace. They claim to last about 20% longer, also. Halogena bulbs cost more, about $3 more, per bulb in my case.

I could see no difference in performance compared to incandescent: they start instantly, have nice bright light at full power, nice warm light as they dim, and they dim continuously with no buzzing, the bulb looks the same and fits.

I would have preferred to use CFL bulbs: compared to standard incandescent Halogena bulbs use about 1/3 less electricity; CFLs use 4 to five times less. CFLs also last a great deal longer, even than Halogena’s modest 500 hour improvement. So Halogena are an incremental improvement.

But as per the mission of this blog: saving energy and conservation is a matter of a lot of small steps that add up to big, big savings. (more…)

August 2, 2009

Green Review: Sunsetter Awnings Keep Heat Outside

Category: Green Reviews,Household,Tips – Tom Harrison – 8:42 pm

awning-halfopenYesterday I installed two awnings over our south-facing bedroom windows — they look good, let you see out, are adjustable, and the SunSetter brand seems to be very high quality.

Keeping your house cool in the summer (with minimal, or no air conditioning) boils down to three things:

  1. Don’t Add Heat from the Inside — cook on the grill, turn on the bathroom exhaust fan, keep the lights off
  2. Don’t Let Hot Air from Outside In — shut windows, doors, and seal the drafts and leaks that let hot air in
  3. Don’t Let Convective or Radiant Heat from the Sun In — insulation, low-E glass, blinds down … and outside shades

We have had exterior shades on some of our windows for several years now and they work great. They’re nothing more than big rolling window shades, but it’s key that they are outside, not in. Normal inside window blinds are good — they don’t let the sun that has already come in, get further than it has, and can reflect some of the heat back. But even in that pocket of air between the shade and the window, you’re allowing the sun to heat up the air in your house.

Exterior shades or awnings, however, do the same thing as window shades, but the heat never gets inside the house in the first place. We use both, and it has really made a difference. (more…)

July 25, 2009

Review: Chimney Balloon Saves Money, Conserve Energy, Simply

Category: Companies,Energy Audit,Green Reviews,Save Fuel,Tips – Tom Harrison – 4:48 pm

chimney-balloonAfter our recent energy audit found drafts in a number of places in our house, and even though the damper was closed, one of the biggest was the chimney — the auditor recommended a “chimney balloon“. It’s a good, simple product, and I can tell that it works beautifully. The maker claims that you can save almost twice it’s cost annually: a good way to reduce heating bills.

The chimney balloon is an inflatable bag, available in various sizes to fit inside your chimney. A tube and valve on the bottom allows you to inflate it so that it conforms to even the roughest, oddest shaped chimney interiors. The inflating tube is detachable, so there’s nothing visible when installed. The balloon is made of a tough, durable plastic. It can be easily removed as needed (but don’t forget to before lighting a fire!) and just as easily reinstalled. The cost is under $50, and their web site has a lot of great and helpful information on how to choose the right size.

I can tell that the chimney balloon works because it has solved an annoying problem for us already this summer (more…)

May 3, 2009

WaterSaver: Save About 10% Per Flush, Even with Low-Flow Toilets

Category: Green Reviews,Household,Save Water,Tips – Tom Harrison – 2:07 pm

Actual Size: 2-1/4 Inches

Actual Size: 2-1/4 Inches

A reader sent me a gizmo (in a regular envelope) that saves almost 10%, each flush, called the WaterSaver. It’s a small bit of plastic, costs $5, and installs in a matter of seconds (no, really). On a low-flow toilet, that’s about 1/3 cup of water per flush.

I was skeptical. For one, my toilet is the kind that make people hate low-flow toilets. It sometimes doesn’t work in, eh hem, certain cases. We have lived with the toilet’s shortcomings for a while. So anything that might reduce efficacy further seemed like a bad idea.

But I put in the WaterSaver anyway, just as a test, and measured. The simplest way is to measure fill time. Before installation fill time for my toilet was a bit less than a minute; afterward it was about 52 seconds. After three flushes, I calculated that I used about 10% less water. I rushed off to write this blog post, but was distracted by reality. That was four months ago.

But is my forgetfulness is the ultimate endorsement of this product. (more…)

February 12, 2009

Low Flow Shower Head Review: HighSierra FCS Works Great

Category: Companies,Economics,Green Reviews,Save Water,Tips – Tom Harrison – 4:32 pm

HighSierra FCS-200 Low Flow Shower HeadI have spent the last several weeks testing the HighSierra FCS-200 water saving shower head; it costs about $25, provides a great shower experience, uses only 1.5 gallons per minute (GPM) and I highly recommend it.

I have now done five low flow shower head reviews so far (sorry, no nude shower scenes in this one) and the HighSierra wins hands down on price and is a strong contender for the best feeling shower of those we have tried.

A water saving shower head can help you conserve water, and in particular hot water which means you’re also save energy.

The other very good water saving shower heads I tested are larger, and considerably more expensive. Don’t be deceived — the HighSierra model might look like those really cheapo, painful shower heads that they put in locker room showers. But HighSierra’s clever low flow design makes it really a totally different beast. Simple is good; the manufacturer claims that it is less likely to become clogged with mineral deposits, it’s very small, and solidly built.

Here are some criteria I use for water saving shower head reviews: (more…)

December 13, 2008

Technology: TiVo and Netflix Save Energy (and kill Blu-Ray)

Category: Companies,Green Reviews,Tips – Tom Harrison – 5:14 pm

Good Picture (borrowed from Slashgear)

Good Picture (borrowed from Slashgear)

This week, TiVo (finally) was able to make Netflix movies available on demand, and this is going to save energy. It’s also going to kill Blu-Ray, which is the new DVD format for watching movies in high-definition (and for which you need a new $400 DVD player.)

Netflix is a great service, which by now everyone probably knows about — they pretty much single-handedly killed numerous movie rental chains just by being easier and better. You pick movies from a web site, and they send them to you in a special envelope that you use to return them when you’re done watching. TiVo is also a great service that allows you to watch TV on your terms (far better than the horrible “TiVo-like” DVR services offered by cable and satellite providers).

Netflix recently started making some of their movies available over the internet, on demand. But you needed a special player. More recently, you could use an XBox as that player, and there are even a couple of Blu-Ray players that are “Netflix capable”. But now, TiVo (HD models only), and that’s the best. (more…)

November 18, 2008

Review: Save Water, Energy with Shower Professor Digital Timer

Category: Companies,Green Reviews,Household,Save Water – Tom Harrison – 12:42 pm

My Favorite

Simple and Inexpensive

Water and energy are scarce resources; here’s a good way to conserve a little of both: a shower timer.

There are three kinds of shower timers I could find: fancy models that actually shut off the water flow, egg timers that run for about 4 minutes, and digital countdown timers. I have found a good, inexpensive choice: The “Shower Professor”.

The first type of timer is fancy: it installs between the shower water spout and the shower head and actually shuts off the water after a set period of time. They cost about $150 or more. This seems like an expensive and rather excessive method.

I tried using an egg timer. They are cute and inexpensive (around $4) but pretty limited. For one, they are set for about 4 minutes, which is the recommended time, but some may prefer an extra minute or so. I also found the model I got hard to read. In the end, I would forget it and stopped using it.

Two models of digital countdown timers are available. Both have a digital display, are water resistant, have a suction cup, and a few buttons. One made by Ripple Products in Australia has several colorful designs (star, duck, etc) for about $20. A new company (that contacted me and provided a free sample) called Shower Professor is similar, and is only $12.98 including shipping.

(And, I just noticed that TerraPass sells one called the Half a Teaspoon Shower Watch for $30) (more…)

September 14, 2008

Two More Big Electricity Savings (Thanks, Apple!)

Category: Conservation,Green Reviews,Save Electricity,Technology – Tom Harrison – 7:22 pm

Apple\'s Time Capsule

Apple's Time Capsule

Do you have a computer that runs all the time to be a “server”? If so, you’re a geek like me. But you’re also using more electricity than I bet you know. In fact, I calculate I will save $160/year in electricity expenses by replacing my PC with Apple’s Time Capsule.

We have a Windows PC setup in our broom closet. It holds a bunch of files; our pictures, digital music, backups, and other stuff we all use. It’s also a shared printer server. Finally, it runs a bit of software that works with several “Squeeze Boxes” that let us play our digital music on the kitchen radio, and in our living room and outside patio. There’s a small monitor, keyboard and mouse which are needed when updating the machine. We also have our wireless network router in there.

The only problem: when all of this stuff is on, my Kill-a-Watt meter shows that it uses 108 Watts of electricity. And it’s on all the time. No wonder the closet is so hot!

Apple to the rescue! (more…)