March 21, 2008

7 Final Tips for environmental friendliness

This is the third, and last, in a series of posts about ways you can help the environment.

In the first post I discussed simple, free, things you could do today to change your habits and become more environmentally friendly.
In the second post I discussed purchases you could make when current things in your house need to be replaced.
Now I want to talk about the big things. The things that will cost you more, but which will make you very much more environmentally friendly.

1) Get a wood burning stove
A wood burning stove linked into your houses heating system is one of the cheapest and most efficient ways of heating water for warmth. Stoves come in all shapes and sizes and can be purchased from as little as £350 ($700). As with other forms of 'free' energy they need to be sized to the area they are providing energy for. A typical boiler stove would have a wood burning fire in the front providing 4Kw of heat to the room, 8.5kw to water and 12kw to central heating: enough to power 9 standard size single radiators. Remember with most stoves you need to use wood that has been dried for at least a year otherwise it will create deposits on the flue. In addition to that, the nature of wood burning stoves means that they do something known as a 'double burn' where they almost complete reduce all the atmospheric pollutants. So this is actually a very environmentally friendly way of burning.

2) Get solar panels
This is the one most people think about when it comes to making your house more environmentally friendly. Solar panels have been around for years now and they are more and more popular. Contrary to what you may imagine, you don't need to live in a place where there is year round sun to make these work although it does help if you're in a place where there is daylight for a chunk of the day (Northern Alaska, take note!). Solar panels work by transforming light energy into electrical energy through photo-voltaic cells. Put simply, they turn daylight into electricity. This electricity is free and non polluting and it can be used to power any electrical items you may have in your house.There are two main forms of solar cells in existence today, and these are; "solar electricity panels" and "solar hot water panels". The two different technologies allow us to either generate electricity for our homes or to heat the water we use.

3) Get a wind generator
We've all seen them, out in the middle of deserts, on top of hills (there's even a large one on the side of the motorway in Reading, England). Huge metal structures with blades rotating at various speeds harvesting the winds to make electricity. Not exactly the ideal thing to have in your yard or garden, right? Right!. However there are smaller domestic versions available with different ratings. A 2.5kw model could comfortably power a standard three bedroom house, a 6 kw model would be suitable for a 4-10 bed property while a 15 kw model could provide energy for up to six 3 bed properties. Many countries will provide funding to enable you to purchase your wind turbine. Of course turbines are not for everyone. if you live in an area with very low average wind speeds you will probably not benefit from one, and having a turbine directly on your roof or close to your house will lead to less than optimal usage of the wind (turbulence will reduce the effective power output), but if the conditions are right a wind turbine is a great thing to have.

4) Sell your surplus electricity back to the grid
The advantage of having your own electricity generation is that you can take any unused electricity and sell it back to the grid, this reducing the power consumption of oil burning power stations. The second advantage is that this will reduce your overall electricity bill by making you an energy supplier rather than consumer. This all sounds extremely well and good, but do bear in mind that at the moment - at least in the UK - the electricity suppliers will purchase your electricity at a rate which is considerably below the market rate they sell at. As more and more people move to this method of linking to the grid, the pricing paradigm will shift, but or now it's an income - but not a great one. Although it is better than nothing.....

5) Build an environmentally sound house from the ground up
This is the biggie! There are numerous examples of folks who have taken the plunge and designed a completely environmentally sound house. This includes identifying the optimal location, using recyclable materials, being completely self sufficient from an energy point of view etc. Some of the key points of this are: Zero-energy - houses are designed to use only energy from renewable sources. In addition to solar panels, tree waste can fuel a cogeneration plant (downdraft gasifier) to provide district heating and electricity. Energy efficient - build the house to face south to take advantage of solar gain, triple glaze it and ensure it has high thermal insulation. Water efficient - most rain water falling on the house should be collected and reused. Appliances can be chosen to be water efficient and use recycled water where possible. A "Living Machine" waste water recycling system can be installed. Low impact materials - building materials can be selected from renewable or recycled sources and located within a 35 mile radius of the site to minimize the energy required for transportation. Waste recycling - refuse collection facilities should be designed to support recycling. Doing all this is not, necessarily cheap (conservative estimates indicate something like a 5% premium over non eco-friendly items in the UK) but the savings in terms of daily running costs can be phenomenal. In one example, an architect built an eco-friendly house and was quoted as saying "... once he is living in the house (he expects it to be completed in October) the cost of heating the rooms should be about £50 a year — not bad when you consider that the house is 5,000 sq ft, arranged over three floors. His water costs are even lower, at £11, the cost of running the filtration system. Domestic hot water will cost a mere £15 a year."

6) Recycle your water
This can happen in one of two ways: "Rainwater Harvesting" which is typically defined as being water collected from roofs via traditional guttering, through down pipes to an underground tank(s). Delivered on demand by an in-tank submersible pump direct to toilets, washing machine and outside tap use. More than 50% of mains water can be substituted by rainwater. "Greywater recycling" is typically defined as being water from the bath, shower, wash hand basin. The ideal situation for ‘Greywater’ is in living accommodation where sufficient amounts are generated daily for reuse in toilets, washing machine and outside tap. Generally a rainwater harvesting system will feed rainwater from your roof into an underground tank from where it will be filtered prior to being pushed into your house for use in sinks, washing machines and bathrooms. A greywater recycler will then take that water, store it in an above ground tank where it flows through several filtration systems before being pumped back into your house for use in toilets, washing machine's, car wash and gardens. Systems like this are not cheap. Expect to spend an amount proportional to your needs, usage and requirements (i.e. if your house has 4 bathrooms and you have 6 kids your system will be bigger and more expensive than a single guy living in a house with one bathroom.

7) Think

This is probably the biggest of all the tips I've given you. It's very easy to make a few token gestures towards environmentalism "Yes, I recycle my bottles", "Of course i use energy efficient lightbulbs", but at the end of the day being environmentally friendly is more a matter of a mind shift than individual actions. Don't get me wrong, if everyone in the US, for example bought one energy efficient bulb from Walmart in a year it would definitely go some way towards reducing the electrical needs of the planet. But that is only a start. The population need to start having an environmentally friendly attitude towards everything. Car sharing, recycling, switching of unneeded lights, reducing power needs etc., should all be ingrained into people's psyche's. Until this happens the steps we are taking to help the planet are not going to be enough. People need to realise that things should change. As Benjamin Franklin said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results". If we continue to mine the earths natural resources, waste them unnecessarily, refuse to acknowledge the problems this is causing and still expect things to be fine we are seriously deluding ourselves. Likewise if we expect others to do the changing while we continue to pollute, waste and destroy then the outcome will still be the same.

The choice is in your hands.

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