Category Archives: Energy Saving

Let There Be Light!

SDA Holiday Image 2012Tip of the Month – December 2013 

By Cynthia Ruzzi

Believe it or not, it’s already that time of year.  If you’ve taken your lead from the many retailers around town, you set up your holiday lights at Halloween, changed colors subtlety to match the Thanksgiving season and now you’re ready for the big finale.

While I’d rather save energy and the hours of untangling and hanging thousands of blubs outside my home to spend with friends, I don’t want to be known as the ‘Environmental Scrooge’.  So instead, may I suggest you trade-in your outdated incandescent holiday lights and ‘deck the halls’ with LED holiday lights?

Switching to LED lights used to mean a large initial investment, but checking the holiday aisles of the local home supply stores, I was thrilled to find that there’s a bigger selection than ever and the price is near parity with old energy-hog technology.  Of course the real savings comes from reducing your holiday energy costs.  As this year’s holiday advertisements rolled in, I noticed many stores offering trade-in and discounts on LED holiday lights.  Do a little legwork, comparison shop wisely and you’ll save yourself some green for your pocket. Also, don’t forget to look for sales after the holiday – it’s a great way to gain additional savings for your holiday wonderland.

Our friend Bob O., retired Director of Finance and Facilities, The Athenian School, graciously shared the following quick dollar savings calculation with us to demonstrate what can be realized by switching from incandescent bulbs to LED lights.

Say you put up 5 strands of 25 C9 6.6 watt holiday lights.  That’s 825 watts.  Let’s say you turn them on for 5 hours each day for 30 days.  At a total of 150 hours, that’s 124kWh. Now look at your last PG&E bill.  Do you see an average cost of 15 cents per kWh?  Let’s use that tier price for our calculations.  That would make the cost of the power for the traditional lights $18.50.  The 125 C9 .08 watt LED lights will cost you about $25 to purchase at OSH, Target or Home Depot and will cost $.26 cents for the comparable season.  A true carbon footprint calculation would include that the new lights have been manufactured and shipped using fossil fuels.  The price of the LED lights is a good indicator of the CO2 generated, so we can assume that half of it is for energy used in some form.  Bottom line is that the carbon footprint of the new lights may be covered in just one season of use by energy reduction at PG&E. That means the payback of your new lights is less than 2 seasons.

If saving green for your pocket or ‘doing good’ for the planet isn’t your thing, then consider that LED lights are more durable and safer to run than incandescent lights.  LED bulbs generate less heat improving the life span of your holiday twinkle.  You can expect LED light strings to last up to 100,000 hours – using our assumption above at 150 hours a season – your LED lights will outlast Santa! The limited heat output of LED bulbs that contribute to their lifespan also provide safer illumination.  Definitely worth considering as you trim your family Christmas tree this year.

Of course, there are advantages of LED lighting over traditional bulbs and CFLs beyond the holiday season.  While incandescent 100-watt bulbs have been phased out throughout the US, the cost savings of replacing these inefficient blubs in your home with LED or CFL is over 75% energy savings.  And the cost of LED bulbs have come down tremendously since last year.  You can now purchase a CREE or HALO LED replacement bulb for $7 and even replacement bulbs and trim for recessed cans for just $35.  PG&E has a simple efficiency chart online that shows the watts for different bulbs at various lumens (brightness) which can be found athttp://www.pge.com/myhome/saveenergymoney/rebates/light/products/index.shtml.

In an honest disclosure, I am not a big fan of CFL bulbs.  Each of these bulbs contains a small amount of mercury which means used bulbs must be treated as hazardous waste.  That means it is against the law to put these bulbs in your waste or recycling bins. Instead, please bring them to your local Ace Hardware or Home Depot that as a courtesy to their customers, will properly dispose of your residential CFL bulbs. Also, PG&E has a fact sheet, Recycling CFLs: What You Need to Knowhttp://www.pge.com/includes/docs/pdfs/myhome/saveenergymoney/rebates/factsheet_recyclingcfls.pdf including important information about proper clean-up procedures for broken CFL lights.  Please keep your family safe and follow these valuable instructions.

Sustainable Danville Area hopes the joy of connecting with your family, friends and neighbors over simple meals and activities will light your holiday season and all the days of the New Year.  Please follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sustainabledanville.com or visit us at www.sustainabledanville.com.

When two wheels just aren’t enough.

Sustainable Danville Area Tip of the Month – September 2013

By Cynthia Ruzzi

I started a new job back in March.  It’s the first time I’ve worked within miles from home and I love it!  Instead of commuting down I680 for hours, I can now walk or bike to work…but it hasn’t really worked out that way.  First, I rationalized that I needed to get comfortable with the work culture and appropriate office attire.  I was thrilled to learn that my office building has showers and lockers and this motived me to commit to ride my bike at least three times a week.  I did keep my commitment for Bike-to-Work, but it honestly took more time to pack my clothes and change at the office then it did to peddle down the Iron Horse trail to my destination.  I have other excuses too – ‘It’s too cold in the morning’, ‘It’s too hot in the evening’, ‘I have too much to carry from the store’ and ‘I have friends to meet’.  But the number one excuse for not walking or peddling to work more often is Eddy, my EV!

Eddy is my electric vehicle.  To be specific, Eddy is a Nissan Leaf with LEAF standing for ‘Leading, Environmental, Affordable, Family’ car.  Guess this is true with over 30,000 on the road in the US. I count an open air Jeep, a few BMWs, Hondas, Toyotas and a Porsche amongst the autos that have moved me through years of driving, but I’ve never named a car before.  However, I love this car!

I was on the wait list for the first units delivered back in 2010, but I waited because we just didn’t need a new vehicle when my number came up. Waiting gave me lots of time to research and test drive alternative EVs and review my driving priorities.  Let’s start there.

Create a pattern of your daily driving habits.  When considering an EV, you have to get past ‘range anxiety’. This is the concern that you’ll run out of electric ‘juice’ before you reach your next charge station.  The average Northern Californian commutes 20-30 miles each way to work. While work proximity isn’t an issue for me, we do have a hybrid for longer weekend trips.  During the week most of my trips are local and rarely on the highway.  While the US Environmental Protection Agency official range for the 2013 year Leaf is 75 miles, I’m getting 95 miles between charges. And in a pinch, I can extend Eddy’s range by tapping into one of the many Chargepoint or Blink charging stations popping up in convenient places all over the East Bay.   

Buy a car that fits your driving habits. The Tesla S is a beautiful car whose luxury features make the top Lexus model look like an economy car.  However, given the limited time I spend behind the wheel and the Tesla price tag reaching past $70K – I would be paying over $13 per mile to glide in style. 

Buy a car that fits your cargo needs. Eddy seats five like clowns in a toy car.  However, two adults and a very large dog can be very comfortable around town.  Eddy’s large hatchback trunk has extra depth unlike the Ford which retrofitted the Focus and ‘stole’ trunk space for the batteries.

Don’t be fooled by plug-in hybrids.  My husband wants a Chevy Volt.  However, the Volt only goes 38 miles on an electric charge before reverting to driving on premium gas and getting only 35 city/40 highway as a hybrid. Perhaps this is a great trade-off for somebody if they only have one car or they have unpredictable driving habits. However, I’d put my money on a Prius III getting 50 miles a gallon on regular gas over a Chevy Volt if I’m driving to Sacramento or beyond. For more information about electric vehicles and fuel economy, visit http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/taxevb.shtml  

Save a dollar and use smart energy. Eddy doesn’t have a tail pipe so there’s zero pollution in motion.  However, since we ‘feed’ him twice a week from the PG&E grid and their energy is only 33% renewable, there is still pollution from PG&E firing coal plants for our power needs.  I’d love to add solar to our home, but we are energy conservative, and thus, we have only seen a $20 bump in our electric bill per month. So for now, I am content that our EV saves me a trip to the gas station, an additional federal tax credit of $7,500 and another $2,500 from the State of California for purchase of an electric vehicle.  And this makes up for not burning smart energy of my own – on two wheels.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News

 

Let There Be Light

Tip of the Month – December 2012 By Cynthia Ruzzi, President

Could that be the inspiration for the many holiday lights that fill our community throughout the season?  Or perhaps it’s just our resistance to the daylight savings time change, plunging us into the dark an hour earlier each winter evening.  Whatever the reason, the post-season electric bill is probably the one gift you wish you could return.

While I’d like to recommend you consider saving the energy and hours of untangling and hanging thousands of blubs outside your house, I don’t really want to take the chance of becoming known as the ‘Environmental Scrooge’.  So instead, may I suggest you trade-in your outdated incandescent holiday lights and ‘deck the halls’ with LED holiday lights?

Switching to LED lights can mean a higher initial investment, but the real savings comes from reducing your holiday energy costs.  As this year’s holiday advertisements rolled in, I noticed many stores offering trade-in and discounts on LED holiday lights.  Do a little legwork, comparison shop wisely and you’ll save yourself some green for your pocket. Also, don’t forget to look for sales after the holiday – it’s a great way to gain additional savings for your holiday wonderland.

A quick search on the Internet points to a multitude of cost savings models demonstrating what can be realized by switching from incandescent bulbs to LED lights.  Most comparisons start with the assumptions that the average home holiday light display contains at least 500 light bulbs (a conservative estimate for some spirited neighborhood competitors), that the light strings are turned on from sunset to bedtime (6 hours per night), and that the season lasts a minimum of 30 days.  In the average holiday light string each incandescent bulb (C7) uses 6 watts.  When we compare the LED bulbs usage of .08 watt each, it’s not hard to imagine the savings boost for your holiday decorating fever.  So not to completely bore you with the price of kilowatt hours in the PG&E 3, 4 and 5 tiers, let me just say that the larger your holiday light tradition, the more dollars there is to save.

If saving green for your pocket or ‘doing good’ for the planet isn’t your thing, then consider that LED lights are more durable and safer to run than incandescent lights.  LED bulbs generate less heat improving the life span of your holiday twinkle.  You can expect LED light strings to last up to 100,000 hours – using our assumptions above at 180 hours a season – your LED lights will outlast Santa! The limited heat output of LED bulbs that contribute to their lifespan also provide safer illumination.  Definitely worth considering as you trim your family Christmas tree this year.

Of course, there are advantages of LED lighting over traditional bulbs and CFLs beyond the holiday season.  While incandescent 100-watt bulbs have been phased out throughout the US, the cost savings of replacing these inefficient blubs still in your home with LED or CFL is over 75% energy savings.  PG&E has a simple efficiency chart online that shows the watts for different bulbs at various lumens (brightness) which can be found at http://www.pge.com/myhome/saveenergymoney/rebates/light/products/index.shtml.

As a honest disclosure, I am not a big fan of CFL bulbs.  Each of these bulbs contains a small amount of mercury which means used bulbs must be treated as hazardous waste.  That means it is against the law to put these bulbs in your landfill or recycling bins. Instead, please bring them to your local Ace Hardware or Home Depot that as a courtesy to their customers, will properly dispose of your residential CFL bulbs. Also, PG&E has a fact sheet, Recycling CFLs: What You Need to Know http://www.pge.com/includes/docs/pdfs/myhome/saveenergymoney/rebates/factsheet_recyclingcfls.pdf including important information about proper clean-up procedures for broken CFL lights.  Please keep your family safe and follow these valuable instructions.

Sustainable Danville Area hopes the joy of connecting with your family, friends and neighbors over simple meals and activities will light your holiday season and all the days of the New Year.  As ‘tradition’, there will not be a forum in December, so that we can devote time to our loved ones.

We hope to see you next year, when The Danville Library and Sustainable Danville Area host a three-part speaker series, FOOD FOR THOUGHT, to nourish your spirit, feed your mind and body and help the environment. For more information, please visit us at www.sustainabledanville.com  and on Facebook.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News

 

MOW NO MORE

tip of the month – august 2012

By Cynthia Ruzzi, President

My family has always been grateful for the ‘dog day afternoons’ of August.  Sure to be filled with hot, sunny skies its’ time to leave lawn chores behind and head to the beach.  For years, we made sure to lighten our burden by following prudent grass growing techniques to make our escape easier and less guilt ridden.

Long ago we stopped using synthetic fertilizers because they are a threat to the bay as they wash down storm drains. Of the 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms vital to our ecosystem and others are toxic to birds, bees and humans, htttp://beyondpesticides.org/lawn/factsheets/30health.pdf .   Additionally, these chemicals are formulated to stimulate a lot of grass growth quickly, demanding more water and even more mowing! Using organic products and grass clippings that work with the soil and feed the lawn slowly over the season makes for less work.  Every spring until after Labor Day, we’d set our lawnmower blade higher to leave our grass at least 3 inches long after each ‘haircut’. The taller grass shaded the surface of the soil preventing crabgrass and other weed seeds from taking root, helped conserve water and thus, encouraged deep root growth to allow our lawn to become more drought-tolerant.

When my youngest son shared EPA statistics learned in his high school AP Environmental Science class about gas powered lawnmowers representing 5% of the US air pollution before 1997, we had our excuse to look for alternatives.  Unregulated for emissions until the late 1990’s, gas powered garden equipment emit high levels of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide – in other words pollution in your backyard. In fact, the EPA states that a new gas powered lawn mower produces enough air pollution in one hour as 11 new cars each being driven for one hour. http://www.epa.gov/air/community/details/yardequip_addl_info.html

The solution seemed apparent after a trip to the local hardware store where my husband ‘oohed’ over the latest ‘push’ mowers that definitely are not your father’s lawnmower.  Touting high-grade plastics, lightweight metals, precision blades that rarely need sharpening and promising the cutting of grass cleanly and evenly, we were almost there.   And then, the water emergency of 2009 hit us.  EBMUD penalized any resident that didn’t cut their water usage by twenty percent.  Given that we were already using an on-demand water heater, a high efficiency washer and dryer and a foot peddle that controls the water faucet in the kitchen sink to turn off the water when not needed, it was up to our garden to give up ‘it’s drink’.  This only made sense since more than 30 percent of all urban fresh water is used for watering lawns.  Imagine how much is wasted because of inappropriate timing, dosage or misdirected sprinklers.  I went outside and explained the situation to the grass and plants, “Look guys it’s been lovely, but you either flourish on once a week watering or be composted”.  More than half the garden made it, including my favorite rose bush, now entering its 32th year of precious yellow blooms.  However, I needed replacement for the other half of plants and the ‘California Golden’ lawn.  Luckily that’s when I came across an EBMUD program to convert my garden grass to a native plant landscape.

The EBMUD rebate program (extended to December 31, 2012) provides up to $500 dollars to help transform your lawn into water permeable and drought-resistant landscape.  Converting our front and back lawns through the EBMUD program was very simple.  The first step is to measure the lawn area you want to convert than complete the application form which can be found online at https://www.ebmud.com/for-customers/water-conservation-rebates-and-services/watersmart-residential-lawn-conversion.

The best time to start the physical work of the project is mid-to-late September since new plants will benefit from the approaching winter dominancy and rains.  However, August is the perfect time to start the design process by familiarizing yourself with drought tolerant plants that will thrive in your microclimate.  A wonderful resource is EBMUD publication Plant and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates of the San Francisco Bay Region.  EBMUD also has a resource list of bay area nurseries, demonstration gardens, classes and books where you can learn about and view native plants.

As part of the lawn conversion program, an EBMUD representative will meet with you both pre and post-conversion.  The representative shared great resources and explained that using the process of sheet mulching would spare us the hard work of tearing out the lawn.  Sheet mulching is a layered mulching system that suppresses weeds and in the case of a lawn conversion, grass.  This process also made it possible to plant over 60 small plants in the front yard in one afternoon – alone.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Death of My Lawnmower: One Homeowners’ Journey to Replacing Our Lawn, visit https://sustainabledanville.wordpress.com/save-water-and-energy-with-a-lawn-conversion/.   And if you’re not quite envying our mow-free weekends, then consider this watering guide for water smart tips for landscape: http://www.ebmud.com/sites/default/files/pdfs/WateringGuide_0.pdf

Remember to visit us at www.sustainabledanville.com and on Facebook for more tips, information and upcoming events, like:

Kathy Kramer of Bringing Back the Natives has organized a series of fall events including two workshops on how to sheet mulch your lawn and install native gardens.  Dates: September 16 in Livermore and October 21 in Lafayette and Concord.

Read more at the Bringing Back the Natives website.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News