Archive for the ‘Saving Electricity’ Category

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BeingGreen: Staying Warm & Cool Without Electricity: Part 2.

April 10, 2009

Even though I conveniently forgot to do this one last week (warning: Script Frenzy will ruin your life, kthxbai), I decided that there was no way I was going to let this Friday pass without wrapping up this topic.  So here I am.

In the last article, I covered various methods for staying warm without eating up your electrical bill.  Now I move onto a greater challenge: staying cool.

The reason I view it as a greater challenge is because, unlike heat, your body does not produce coolness.  You have to get it in from the inside.  More accurately, you achieve it by removing heat from your body.  Wearing cool clothes helps with this process, via the same method that allows it to make you cold in cooler weather, but only if the air is sufficiently cool.  If the air is warmer than you, you’re going to end up absorbing heat no matter what you wear.

So how do you stay cool?  Well… there are a few options.

  1. Stay hydrated.  Sweat, though unsightly and often malodorous, is your first line of defense against heat.  By sitting on your skin, it helps to suck heat out from your body and… er… I’m not entirely sure where the heat goes.  I only know that it works.  Drink an adequate (not excessive!) amount of water so that your sweat glands have something to secrete.
  2. Eat/drink cold stuff.  Ice water, ice cream, and frozen fruit will all suck heat from your body (and taste darned good in the meantime).  Just watch out for the sugars, and don’t overdo it.  The only thing worse than being hot is being hot and sick on sugar or water.
  3. Go to your shower – or your kitchen sink – and spray down your hair.  As mentioned earlier, water sucks out body heat, and there’s no better place to lose it than your head.  In addition to your head’s basic heat-loss properties, your hair will trap the water and keep you cool for a longer duration of time.
  4. Take a cool shower or bath.  This method has been employed by both animals and humans for as long as there have been animals and humans with temperature-regulation problems (or pretty close, anyway) and for good reason.  Take the sweat effect and magnify it, and you’ve got what a bath can do for you.  If you don’t have access to a bath, or don’t want to use the water, wet a cloth and wipe down your face, your chest, and behind your ears.

Finally, there are a few common-sense tips that you can follow to make sure you don’t pick up excess heat:

  1. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes.  These will help to reflect heat away from you while trapping any cool air you might accumulate.
  2. Stay indoors as much as possible.  I know; who’d have thought it’d be green to avoid nature?  But it’s easier to get and stay cool in a controlled environment.  Go outside where it’s hot, and you end up reabsorbing heat, which means you have to get cooled down all over again.  (Pool parties are excluded.)
  3. Wear shoes only if you’re walking on a hot surface.  If the surface is cool, it’s better to lose the shoes and let the heat leak out through your feet.

That pretty much covers it… and it’s about twenty-five minutes until midnight, so it’s off to bed for me.  Adios.

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BeingGreen: Staying Warm & Cool Without Electricity: Part 1.

March 27, 2009

Well, it’s not exactly winter or summer, but a recent cold snap has brought to light a particular topic: how to stay warm (or cool) without using large quantities of electricity.

It’s human nature, of course, that when we get too hot or too cold we try to fix it.  And it’s human nature to look for the easiest method possible, which generally amounts to cranking up the thermostat.

And there are, as usual, a few problems with that.  For one thing, a single temperature is rarely suitable for everyone; someone’s liable to be too hot or too cold.  For another thing, air conditioning uses power, which costs money and has environmental impacts.  While it isn’t often feasible to lay off the air conditioning entirely (especially here, where temperatures can reach >100 degrees in the summer), you can usually reduce its running time and still keep warm fairly well.

To that end, I present Part 1: Staying Warm.

The first step is a big, looming one, of the kind that might terrify casual greeners, but is fortunately a one-time procedure: removing any window drafts.  This is best done when the outside air is cold, since cold drafts are very easy to detect when the house is warm; it may also be possible when the air is hot.

You should first go through your house, turn off all fans, and close all windows.  Make sure that they are tightly sealed, with no visible cracks; any window that cannot close fully should be noted as faulty and replaced.  Once the windows are tight, check for invisible leaks: stand in front of the window and feel around for patches of cold air or cold breezes.  Move around if necessary, and consider asking another person to double-check.  Any windows with leaks should also be replaced.

(Note: It is possible that, no matter how thoroughly you check, some leaks may go undetected.  The only way to discover these is to sit in front of the window for long periods of time, employing whatever methods you usually use to keep yourself at a comfortable temperature, and note if you are unusually cold anywhere.  Cold feet are a sure leak detector.)

(Second note: All leaks may not be in the windows.  Floors, ceilings, skylights, and vents can all let in cold air.)

Once you’ve completed Step 1 – or if, for some reason, you are incapable of doing so at the moment, but would like to save on electricity anyway – you can tackle the remaining steps, which are mainly small things you can do to increase your personal heat without warming the entire house.

  1. Wear footwear.  If you’re like me, and are usually more concerned with keeping your feet cool than warm, this can be a problem.  If you don’t want to track dirt around your house on your shoes, it can also be a problem.  The best solution I’ve found is to keep a pair of fuzzy slippers on hand and wear them when I’m really cold.
  2. Wear enough clothes.  Sweaters, longjohns, and the like can all be extremely useful, though it can be time-consuming and annoying to pile on the layers.  A warm, fuzzy bathrobe makes a good quick fix, and withstands a considerable amount of cold.  Frigid hands benefit from gloves, though you’ll want to leave the fingers off when you type.
  3. Drink warm fluids.  A cup of hot chocolate or coffee in the cold can be very soothing.  If you have it in a ceramic or glass mug, keep the mug around; it stays warm well after the drink is gone and can used to warm cold fingers.
  4. Acclimate yourself to cooler temperatures.  Start reducing the thermostat setting a little bit at a time, allowing yourself to adjust to each setting before you move it down again.  You may never get to a point where you really feel warm in lower temperatures, but you should find it easier to get and stay that way without cranking up the heat.

Of course, staying warm at work or in bed is a slightly different matter than during the day in your own home.  Some of these tips can be carried over, but some situations will require improvisation.  You’ll need to employ your own ingenuity to deal with these situations as they arise.

Good luck!

(Stay tuned for Part 2: Staying Cool.)

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BeingGreen: Fluorescent Lighting.

February 13, 2009

There’s not a lot to be said about fluorescent lighting, really.  Sure, in the old days it was pretty complicated; you had to get these special fixtures to hold these ENORMOUS glowing tubes and they made this weird artificial light that flickered a lot.

Well, the light still looks funky, but newer bulbs no longer flicker, and now you can get them in sizes that fit standard light sockets.

This is quite possibly the second easiest green thing you can do.  It’s very simple: go to town, buy fluorescent lightbulbs, take home and use to replace any lightbulbs that have burned out.  Fluorescent lightbulbs have several advantages over incandescents: they last longer (assuming you treat them well), they’re brighter, and they use less energy to operate.  Plus they come in really interesting shapes, which is significant if you get kicks from staring at lightbulbs.  (It DOES leave a neat shape in your vision, but it can be damaging to the eyes.  Don’t do it.)

The one thing you have to watch out for: mercury.  Fluorescent lightbulbs contain significant amounts of mercury, and so should not be tossed in the regular trash, as explained by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

“[Regular] disposal methods can lead to a release of elemental mercury into the environment through breakage and leakage and ultimately contaminate the food chain.”

A bit ironic that the most energy-efficient lightbulb of our time is also the most potentially toxic, but if you take care of your bulbs properly it’s well worth the mercury use.  To do that, you need to find a hazardous waste disposal facility or a recycling center that services lightbulbs.  The EPA pulls through again with their Where You Live page, which tells you who you can contact in your area to find out about disposal facilities.

It’s no accident: at least a third of the effort you put into being green, especially at first, will go into recycling.  It can’t be helped.  People go through tons of garbage every day; it all has to go somewhere and the landfill is not the way to go.  Though I understand the need to use and dispose of garbage in our daily lives, I hope that if people start taking responsibility for the things they throw out they will become more aware of the huge impact that they are making.  I also hope that some day it will become less of an effort for people to be green than to clog up the earth with tons of junk – because, in all seriousness, it’s the only planet we have, and no matter who you are or what you believe in, there’s a very real chance that your great-great-grandchildren will have to live in it.

tl;dr: RECYCLING IS GOOD.

(Note: It may be possible that incandescent lightbulbs have already been phased out of the market by this point.  I haven’t been lightbulb-shopping in some months, so if they have it is without my knowledge, much like the time they phased out VHS’s.)

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Green Friday: Cutting Vampire Power.

January 9, 2009

Here we go: the first installment of what I hope to be a weekly… what do you call it?  Newsblog?  Blog letter?  Blewsletter?  Just… definitely not the last one.  I’ll go with “educational blog entry” for now.

Despite all the big, shiny words I used in my article a few days ago on being green, what it means to me, and the fact that we all should be doing it, the phrase “going green” still puts images into my mind of funny-smelling hippies in grass huts.  Well, obviously this isn’t going to work.  Very few people I know how to live like that, and methods to genuinely green yourself in your lifestyle seem to be few and far between.

Fortunately, in my time on the Internet, I’ve encountered a few methods – some of which are just as overwhelming as the green movement itself, but many of which are easy to do with just a few adjustments to your daily routine.

One of the very basics is cutting vampire power.

I touched on vampire power in my entry “Being Green: A Primer”, and now I’m going to expand on that.  (Most importantly, I’m going to explain what the heck it means and what you can do about it.)  Vampire power, sometimes called “phantom power”, is the electricity being used by an electronic device that is supposedly inert.  Like your Wii, after you turn it off.  See the little orange light on the front?  It’s a helpful indicator that the Wii isn’t completely shut down.  Rather, it’s in “standby” mode.  It’s not doing any actual work, but it’s utilizing electricity to keep it in a semiconscious state so that the next time you turn it on, rather than waiting for the machine to boot up you can go straight to processing.

If your Wii is anything like the one around here, it – well, for that matter, all of your power-hogging electronics – gets a decent amount of traffic during the day, so I’m not going to insist that you unplug it every time you get done with it.  But any time your family won’t be able to use it – at night, for example, or while you’re away – you should definitely pull the plug to keep it from sapping electricity.  The same goes for any other electronics: DVD players, computers, and any other non-critical device that is constantly running a little light or seems to boot up unusually fast.

Unplugging goes a bit beyond undercover power use, though.  Anything that you don’t actually need to leave running should be unplugged or at least switched off.  If you, like me, have a bedroom clock that never seems to be set right, either set it to the correct time or pull the plug*.  And while it may seem prudent to leave your TV running to ward off burglars, it may save more money in the long run just to invest in a burglar alarm**.

Lights are another energy-draining bear.  It probably goes without saying that nightlights – those cute little shaped thingies that you stick directly into the wall socket – are a considerable power waster, so unless you absolutely cannot sleep without its reassuring glow (try it for a few nights), take it out of the wall.  Also shut down any unnecessary¹ house lights, including your porch light, and any decorative lights you may have up¹¹ (such as Christmas tree lights).

At this point, you’ve probably got all your critical systems shut down.  The house is still, dark, quiet and maybe a little scary.  There’s still a bit more that you can turn off, though, if you want to go the rest of the way.  Plug-in clocks with a battery-based memory system can be unplugged, as can chargers for fully-charged electronics.  (Some of them don’t really pull power unless the device is charging.  If in doubt, feel the adaptor box after it’s been plugged in for a while; if it’s warm, take it out.)  Going beyond the nighttime realm, heated waterbeds may be unplugged during the day (provided they don’t get too cold; you might like to do some testing).  Christmas lights that you don’t get around to taking down until June should at least be shut off after the first of January.

The benefits of all this aren’t quite as apparent as those of other green efforts, but they are certainly there.  Cutting down on your power helps simply by reducing demand, leaving more energy out there for other to use.  It helps to reduce environmental impact, by cutting down on the work done by coal or nuclear power plants.  And of course there’s the part that you’ll really like: it cuts down on your power bill.  You might say that, in a way, you’re getting paid to do this stuff every night — and how cool is that?

*I’ll be doing one of those today.  Haven’t decided which one yet.

**The usefulness of leaving your TV running is questionable anyway.  It becomes pretty obvious after observing your house for a few days that no one’s actually using it.

¹Unnecessary house lights do not include those used to ward off burglars.

¹¹You can green these a step further, by replacing old-fashioned Christmas lights with LED lights.  Having tested them personally, I can honestly say that these look very Christmasy and otherwise festive.