Friday, January 18, 2008

To Grind or Not to Grind? That is the question.

Early in my tenure as an environmental stewardship manager for a large production builder, I suggested a green feature that would actually reduce the base cost to build a home. The response to my suggestion was stunningly negative. The room filled with chuckles and head wagging along with stiffening body language from construction managers.

What I had said was, “If our base home did not include a garbage disposal, the home’s green score would be higher.”

Why is a green score higher without a garbage disposal? Organic matter going down the drain into public sewer system will require increased amounts of water, chemicals and energy to treat. If it is going to a septic system, the organics cause a more rapid buildup of scum and sludge layers according to the EPA.

My naiveté in the realm of warranty call back was glaringly evident to the construction managers. Apparently there is an entire generation of home dwellers who are unaware that one cannot send food scraps down the drain without first grinding them up. One of the main reasons for new home warranty call back is operator error caused by clogged drains in homes that have no disposal.

If you have a garbage disposal, the goal for a greener lifestyle is to use the disposal sparingly and compost all vegetation scraps. (Did you get the part about don't put food scraps down the drain if you have no disposal?)

Here is a good article from Consumer Reports on this topic:

Friday, January 11, 2008

It's Not All Feel Good Green

Going green isn’t all feel good. There’s a lot of guilt wrapped into my green living initiative, even to the point of my considering I should throw in the towel as a green person because I can't seem to get it right. This morning I threw in the carrots.

I’m musing on the porch again. After posting a couple of notes with real information about how to identify green windows and where to recycle foam packing peanuts, I’m down to mulling the bad feeling I had when I opened the lid on my composter today and poured from a pot containing baby carrots and water.

On December 24, the little orange babies were absolutely beautiful in my buffet. By December 25, those remaining were back against wall of the refrigerator, stuck staring at the back side of the big turkeys and hams that had entered after them.

A week later, motivated by resource appreciation more than appetite, I placed the baby carrots into a pot intending to steam them back to their original vibrancy. I barely covered them with water.

But, truthfully, I haven’t been in the mood for cooked carrots, so they stayed in the pot as a reminder at each meal. Cooked carrots never happened. This morning there was a foamy white froth on the water. I dismissed the idea of carrot wine and headed out to the compost with the pot.

I feel shame. My own laziness is the first reason, but I know it’s not only me and it’s not only about carrots. We buy more than we will eat. We find having too much food becomes a hassle to use efficiently. It takes effort to find someone with whom we can share it, so we defer action until the foamy white froth or velvety green coating appear and ultimately we toss it.

Perhaps this is my day of reckoning. I feel like I’m lining up for an all new “Stop Wasting” New Year’s resolution.

It’s time to leave the porch, but lest you think I’ve set my tone for an emotional bummer of a day, there is a silver lining in my view. The baby carrots are returning from whence they came. At least I'm composting. How about you?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Green Window Voodoo

During December’s holidays I got behind on reading the paper, choosing instead to grab just enough news headlines to stay “aware”. Consequently, I missed an article on a local green building project featuring “special windows.” When people ask about the cost of green building, windows are a good example of where the difference in cost could be great or small. Today somebody called me about it.

“It said they’re using special windows in affordable houses,” my friend relayed enthusiastically. Special windows? Several features contribute to a window qualifying as “green”. What’s the voodoo that makes them special and what makes them affordable?

I retrieved the article from the online archives and found the feature my friend was referring to described “special windows that filter the sun’s rays.” That’s a clue, but not an answer unless you know why the sun’s rays are a factor. Control of the sun’s radiant heat for energy efficiency is the issue.

Heat moves toward cold so whether you want the heat to be inside or outside, the windows must do a job. Reflection of the sun’s heat during the cooling season is an attribute that makes a window green, while retaining heat inside when temperatures are cold outside is the heating season feature. These aspects are measured as solar heat gain and heat transference. You want windows with good rating in these aspects.

Coatings added to glass reflect heat and are more effective than just tinting to keep out the sun’s radiant heat. Tinted glass may or may not be coated, but even tinting alone is better than clear. In Florida, radiant heat from the summer sun coming in through windows is the greater energy efficiency concern. The measurement of the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC ) is the specification that matters most in south Florida. Coated and tinted windows cost a little more than clear glass, but they are affordable and they will make a difference in your energy bill.

Where climate turns very cold, measurement of heat transference is key and the measurement is called the U-factor. Windows with double or triple panes of glass that have inert gas between the panes are highly efficient in maintaining indoor temperature against freezing outdoor temperatures. But, if you’re adding double paned gas-filled windows to your home in south Florida, you’re paying a lot of money for a feature that will take a long time to recoup the added expense.

Whether you are building a new home or looking to replace windows in your current home, understanding the key elements of solar heat gain and heat transference will help you make the right decision. The Florida Energy Efficiency Code sets minimum requirements for SHGC and U-value. Even so, you should review the window specifications and confirm your product by looking at the label on the windows you buy. “Special windows” will help you toward owning a green home.