Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

December 6, 2010

Step 2: Insulate, Step 1: Stop Drafts

Category: Energy Audit,Household,Save Fuel – Tom Harrison – 1:38 pm

Failed attempt to seal my whole house fan

My First Attempt: Failure (Blue = Bad)

A while back, I had an energy audit and found that my house leaked like a sieve — a condition that left our efforts to insulate, replace windows, replace the gas burner and so on all waiting for me to wake up and smell the … fresh outdoor air.

The audit pointed out where the drafts were. We sealed. We caulked. We foamed. We had all of the identified problems addressed, mostly. And then (as a favor) our energy auditor returned and did a re-test, and found places we had missed. By “we” I mean “I’.

Holey Hole, Batman!

Insulated and Sealed Better Second Time

B&D Thermal Leak Detector: 62 Degrees

The whole house fan was one big remaining hole that I proudly asserted having fixed for $20 — I had built a box out of insulating foam board. I had put a nice cover over the fan, box corners sealed with duct tape, and made a nice seal between the cover and the floor. But the follow-up blower-door test showed: it was still a big hole in the house. By that winter, I knew — I could put my hand up and feel the cool air tumbling down from the attic. For another $8 I fixed the rest of the problem this fall. (more…)

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…)

July 8, 2010

Air Conditioning: 100 Percent Efficient (Minus Travel)

Category: Climate Change,Observations – Tom Harrison – 1:25 am

It was 97°F in Boston this week, and we didn’t turn on the air conditioner. Or fans.

That’s because we’re not home. We have vacated the heat of the city. Where we are, it’s a little chilly at night. We have the ultimate luxury. It’s not a central air system. It’s not a super-insulated house. It’s a very small, spartan cottage, on the water of Penobscot Bay in down-east Maine, which I share with my sisters.

My mom, who is in her 80’s lives here in Deer Isle, Maine, year-round, and visited tonight. She was born in Baltimore, and as we discussed the heat wave along the East Cost (consistent with the predictions of climate change), we asked how people managed to tolerate the heat in Maryland in the 1930’s. She said that her rich friends all got out of town and headed for the ocean. (more…)

August 14, 2009


Category: Editorial – Tom Harrison – 9:20 pm

Earlier this week, Mark Mondik wrote a post on the TerraPass Footprint blog regarding population. The post itself is remarkable for its measured and rational observations about the topic of over-population, one that has, through the course of modern history, raised the specter of many horrible things. Do you remember Charleton Heston in Soylent Green?

But what I found even more remarkable is that, over these last four days, the comments, now 37 of them, are all civil. Not all are in agreement, and there is a discourse raising several different points. But the comments are all respectful, honest, thoughtful and well-meaning. (And while TerraPass is up-front about their lack of tolerance for abusive or off-topic comments, none have been deleted — I subscribe by email, so you know when that happens).

I was cheered by this remarkable achievement in Internet history, and have hopes that it may herald a new era of civility.

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…)

May 19, 2009

Energy Audit: What We Learned

Category: Energy Audit,Household,Save Fuel,Take Actions,Tips – Tom Harrison – 12:27 pm

We recently had an energy audit for our house and learned a lot, including:

  • The most of the corners of the house were never insulated the first time
  • Our bulkhead door leaks like a sieve (maybe that’s why I can see light through it :-)
  • The attic door and whole house fan let in a lot of air
  • The chimney damper is pretty useless in terms of insulating
  • Air pours into our basement through the sill and old windows
  • Most of our windows still need to have caulking around the edges — air is getting in
  • All the leaks result in a complete air exchange about once every 70 minutes in winter

How the Audit Worked

There were two parts: a “blower door test” and an infrared camera inspection (the actual reports are linked below). (more…)

April 4, 2009

Simplicity: Cast Iron Skillet Beats All

Category: Conservation – Tom Harrison – 5:08 pm

skilletTheresa and I have been married for a while now, coming on 15 years. During that time, we have had a lot of pots and pans. I’ll talk about our frying pans.

We started out with a cast iron skillet that I had owned since the year after I graduated from college. My Mom taught me about how to season a cast iron pan so food wouldn’t stick.

Then as we got more money (still “dink”s — dual income, no kids) we went upscale, buying Calphalon. These are anodized aluminum — solid and thick, with steel handles solidly bound on. These pans were the ones used by chefs in real kitchens (more…)

January 18, 2009

Home Energy Projects for 2009: Request for Comments

Category: Conservation,Energy Audit,Household,Sustainability,Take Actions – Tom Harrison – 6:52 pm

I have several household energy reduction projects in mind and am hoping to get some advice about which one I should take on first. I am considering:

  • Tankless (on-demand) Hot Water Heater
  • Foam Spray Insulation combined with Energy Audit
  • Geothermal Heat Pump
  • Solar (PV or Water Heat Assisted)

I have a lot of questions about which ones make sense, how to tell which one is best, how much they’ll cost, and how to measure all of it. (more…)

August 15, 2008

Windows XP Standby and Hibernate Problem (Update 5/2009)

Category: Conservation,Little Things,Save Electricity,Tips – Tom Harrison – 11:24 am

No Standby

No Standby

In June I wrote about how I had solved my problems with windows XP not going into stand-by or hibernating. That post is a good overview of the problem, with suggestions on how to diagnose and narrow down the problem. There is also a good thread of comments there.

Judging from the traffic I have been getting on that post, it seems that many others are having the same standby issues as I. And there are some other standby solutions I have found since then. I’ll try to keep updating this post, and I encourage anyone with other findings or questions to comment.

Update History

  • (edited 9/7/08, added test methodology)
  • (edited 9/9/08, added suspected Google Reader issue and 5 minute test period)
  • (edited 9/14/08, results of testing free utility, Smart Shutdown — it works! It used to work :-( )
  • (edited 10/21/08, some XP SP3 Hibernate problems and possible solutions)
  • (edited 11/17/08, added firmer “shut down everything first” to test procedure)
  • (edited 11/18/08, added “verify manual standby works” to test procedure)
  • (edited 12/13/08, clarified case where iTunes causes problems
  • (comment #17 on this post, 1/1/09, Java QuickStart
  • (comment from other post, 1/29/09: Symantec AV suspected
  • (comment from other post, Installation of SP3 kills hibernate option; see below)
  • (comment from other post 2/26/09: Adobe Type Manager causes Keyboard error entering standby, confirmed by Microsoft)
  • (additional bolding of some other solutions in comments, 5/22/09): Spamblock Plus, VOIP connection, MSN, others suspected.


April 15, 2008

eRedux: making “act locally” a lot easier

Category: Cool Sites,Take Actions,Technology – Tom Harrison – 9:01 am

eRedux is a new site providing resources that are aimed specifically at getting things done locally. Maps and charts of carbon footprint by state, regional and local level are available. US Government and other sources of local data are grouped together by zip code with links to various resources right there.

But what I think is especially cool is that there’s a town, county, and state blog that members post entries in, comment on, and communicate with each other.

I just made a post soliciting people in Newton, where I live, to help me get my new green site (that still has no name yet) off the ground. I really like this idea and hope it can grew and be successful.