Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


December 13, 2010

Why Is My Refrigerator Running When It’s Colder Outside?

Category: Economics,Household – Tom Harrison – 12:02 am

Steam Heat

Baby Its Warm Outside

Last week, it was colder outside than the temperature inside my fridge and freezer … but the fridge kept running — why can’t it use the cold air from outside? And while I am asking questions, why do I need a humidifier in winter while exhausting that nice, hot, humid air from our showers outside with a fan? Or, that nice hot humid air from the dryer — big plumes of hot air into the icy cold? It smells nice, too.

Our homes and their appliances are dumb as stumps. Or, is it us?

To be sure, the bathroom exhaust fan is not a simple problem — there are indeed times when that which is being exhausted is, um, best left outside.

But the clothes dryer — if you put in a dryer sheet, you’re sending nice smelling, warm, humid air outside (and, by blowing air outside through one hole, it is replaced by sucking in cold, dry, outside air through some other leak or hole). The fridge is even more perverse: 20°F outside, and the motor is running? Huh?

Afraid To Be Too Smart

Of course the reason for these inefficiencies is simply that adding smarts to appliances increases complexity, and that increases cost. (more…)

November 8, 2010

It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature (Irony Exemplified)

Category: Fun – Tom Harrison – 10:09 pm

Do you recall this prescient (if completely misguided) ad?

This ad from the 1970’s had it all about right. It’s not nice to fool mother nature.

I have recently read Beyond Smoke and Mirrors and am now reading Four Fish (both in Kindle format, of course) and if there’s anything to be learned, it’s simple: it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. I recommend both books, and will try to find time to say something more than “you should read them” soon. Until then…

(What “delicious” irony that Chiffon Margarine, laughing in the face of Mother Nature herself was hawking a product similar to butter, made of corn oil. Oops — we now think it’s far worse for our health than the butter it was trying to fool Mother Nature with. And in a related news item, Mother Nature was recently rushed to the hospital suffering chest pains.)

May 10, 2009

Clogged Drain? Plumber’s Snake Better Than Drano

Category: Household,Tips – Tom Harrison – 1:13 pm

clogged-drainOur bathroom tub and sink drains regularly start running slow, and I regularly go the the hardware store and buy some drain cleaning product, like Drano, Plumber’s Helper and others. I regularly pour this caustic or acid liquid down the drain, following directions carefully. It never works the first time, so a second application is needed, and usually that works enough to get me another few months. Rinse, repeat.

Recently, I got a professional strength cleaner that was “virgin sulfuric acid”, had a bottle that was wrapped in a plastic bag, was covered with warnings, skulls-and-crossbones and instructed not to get it on anything organic, or even metals. It was labeled “Environmentally Responsible”. Hmm. I wonder if pouring stuff like this down the drain is a good idea? I did anyway … and it didn’t work either.

I knew better — when I was in college, and for a few years after, I was a carpenter, then worked in real estate management. Real plumbers don’t use the liquids, they use a plumber’s snake. But you don’t have to have a fancy one that plugs in — I have had a hand-cranked snake for years, and it takes some effort, but works great. (more…)

October 3, 2008

Start a Walking School Bus

Category: Fun,Household,Save Fuel,Take Actions,Tips,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 12:49 pm

A walking school bus is a simple idea. One or two parents sign up to be drivers, routes and times are set, and every day, our kids walk along to school.

An industrious parent in my daughter’s elementary school organized ours. She found leaders and started four routes last week; I have been “driving” one. We have about 10 kids in our route, and I think the others do as well.

Of course all I care about is that it’s “green” :-) But there’s so much more.

It’s convenient for parents — they just drop their child at a stop at the appointed time and say goodbye.

It’s fun for the kids. Friends who didn’t know they lived close to each other have met. Several kids who were a little uncertain at first are having a blast.

It’s painless for the driver. (more…)

May 18, 2008

Forget numbers: just make the next change that occurs to you

“The single most important thing we can do is …”. Drive less? Conserve? Change a light bulb? Eat vegetables? Invest in technology for new forms of energy? Cap and trade? Install solar panels? Gas tax holiday? Save the polar bear? Which one is best? Which has the biggest impact?

I say “none of the above”. The single biggest thing we can do is anything … now.

The change you do make is the one that has actual value. The ones you don’t make are just vapor. (more…)

April 19, 2008

Lawn Aerator Shoes, Electric Mower, Organic Fertilizer, Water, Bike

My lawn is beginning to turn green. Several years ago I realized that I could have a green lawn, with very little effort, much less energy used, and no smell or nasty chemicals. Oh, and I also saved a ton of money.

Lawn Aerator Shoes

It’s hard to say if aerating my lawn by walking over it with spiked plates strapped to my shoes was helpful. It was not hard to do, involved a very small cost for the shoes, and did not result in noise or stench from gas-powered equipment. All I know is, my lawn was nice and green for the last several years.

Rechargeable Electric Mower Review

The electric (battery) lawn mower is awesome. It is quiet, effective, and has way more juice than I need to mow my suburban lawn. It doesn’t stink, and charges in a short time, after which it’s ready to go for the next time I need to mow. I highly recommend a battery electric mower for anyone inclined to get rid of their gasoline model. It’s a better change for the environment, too (gas mowers, like most small gas motors, are terribly inefficient and spew forth great amounts of greenhouse gasses.

I set the mowing height to 3 inches, which is pretty long but still makes for a nice, lush lawn. Better yet, this means I mow very infrequently, and there’s plenty of room for the clippings to fall in between. All that nice organics material falls back into the ground, traps moisture, and I don’t have to rake or bag clippings. The lawn also grows more slowly, so in the last few years, I mowed maybe 8 times total.

Best Organic Fertilizer for Your Lawn

Because most of the organic material is going back into the lawn as compost, you need very little fertilizer, and maybe no weed killer. The lawn is robust enough to keep down most of the weeds (I do pull a few dandelions and crabgrass by hand, but not a lot). So a little organic fertilizer in spring is enough to give the grass a great boost.

Don’t Water Your Lawn Too Much

Last year, I didn’t use my underground automatic sprinkler system at all. This was not a great idea, since it was a very dry summer; I should have watered a few times. As a result, I now need to resurrect one patch of lawn, and I am pretty sure our shrubs and flowering trees would have been more able to fend off pests with just a little watering.

The grass itself does better if you cut it long (see above). The beds do well with mulch, but still, a little water when needed goes a long way.

On the bright side, my water bill went way (way!) down. Keep an eye on the moisture level of the soil, and water only when necessary. Two years ago, I needed no extra water; last year I should have given a little. It depends.

But watering every day, or other day, or more is totally unnecessary, and incredibly expensive. A lot of water once every few weeks (if nature doesn’t provide) is much more effective.

Best Landscaping Services

It’s a little work, but doing your own landscaping and gardening is good exercise and very easy if you follow some basic rules.

I no longer have any gas powered equipment. I shoveled my driveway all winter, eschewing the snow blower in favor of a good old shovel. It snowed a lot this winter, and it wasn’t that hard.

I especially hate the whiny leaf blowers used by landscapers, mainly. They are noisy, smelly, useless, and terrible in all ways. Just rake! It’s far better for the lawn, too.

Ride a Bike To Work

I am back on my bike again, commuting to work, now that the roads and weather are more benign. It’s good for my muscles, and good for the environment, and reduces congestion, and takes less time. And my wife likes what it does for my legs.

There are many, many small ways you can upgrade from the old way of doing things we never though about. These are just a few. What changes have you made?

November 17, 2007

Raking Leaves (with a Rake)

Category: Garden,Little Things,Observations,Rants,Tips – Tom Harrison – 1:01 pm

I just spent an hour raking leaves from our front lawn. My daughter came out and helped. She jumped in a few leaf piles. Now she’s out riding her bike. We could have hired a landscaping contractor (so: consider how this little trade-off reflects not just our energy problems, but a rather large social issue).

Here are some benefits: (more…)

October 29, 2006

Bicycle Commuting: Gear List for Safety, Warmth, Fun

Category: Conservation,Fun,Save Fuel,Take Actions,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 3:14 pm

I have written several other posts about my change to commuting to work on my bicycle. Here are some details, both in the gear that makes it possible and the conditions that make it feasible for me.

I am a gear head. Always have been, always will be. Some of the first gears I fiddled with were on a bike; first a 1-speed, then my older sisters’ 3-speed, then a 10-speed which I bought with my own money from my paper route. You don’t hear things like that much these days — what kid has a paper route anymore?

So it was a natural for me to take my road bike that I had bought probably 15 years ago and trick that puppy out as a “commuter bike” with the gear, gadgets, tools and gizmos “needed” for my daily commute. Here’s my list, neatly organized into Safety, Warmth, and Fun. Then, some comments that make my bike commute safe and possible. (more…)

The Things you See, Hear, and Smell from a Bike

Category: Conservation,Save Fuel,Take Actions,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 10:54 am

My bike commute to work is a lovely ride. My path takes me along the Charles River. I have seen the beauty of the New England autumn unfold, the crews one their morning rows, the Boston city skyline, the hustle and bustle of Harvard Square. Oh, and yes, Boston drivers really do suck. But when my head is down, I have noticed a few other things, too. Tire pressure, for example. (more…)

September 10, 2006

Bicycle Commuting Review

Category: Conservation,Fun,Save Fuel,Take Actions,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 8:09 pm

Now that my office is in Cambridge, I have been commuting by bike, about 6-1/2 miles one way. I have found routes that are smooth, on side roads or roads with a good margin, and figured out how to cross major intersections safely and quickly. The ride takes about 1/2 hour each way. And yes, it can be lovely.

This may be the first real means of incorporating exercise into my daily post-children life: it’s possibly faster to ride than drive, and it’s great to feel like I am getting in shape. But I also think this is a good additional step to reduce the amount of fuel I use.

I also bought various items for the bike including a flasher for the rear, a light for the front, some new wider, grippier, and tougher tires, and a very bright jacket. I still drop off my daughter at school in the morning, and pick up her and my son in the afternoon. My new office space has a shower and I have worked out the logistics of clothing and so on. I don’t think the cold or rain of Fall or Spring should bother me, but snow and ice will likely cause me to try public transit.

So now my car commuting is only a couple miles, twice a day for pickup and drop-off. (more…)