20
September

Timberland Earthkeepers: Sustainable and Comfortable

I just returned from the Timberland store at the Kittery Outlets with two beautiful pairs of new shoes. I’d written an article on carbon labels for Environmental Leader two years ago so I knew to look for the Earthkeepers line of shoes as soon as I walked in the door. They are Timberland’s “green” shoes complete with a carbon rating system know as Green Index™ .  I found a great pair of brown shoes and while I chose to not purchase one of the Earthkeepers options because I didn’t like the sneaker type soles on a dress shoe, I was impressed with the recycled/recyclable packaging and message I found inside the box.

Timberland

I was on my way to check out, happy to score a pair of $110 shoes for 79 bucks, when the sales person swooped in for the upsell. “If you spend more than $100 you’ll get another 20% off.” How could I resist?

I considered buying some clothing but decided to take a look around the store first. I am glad I did because I discovered the latest incarnation of the first Earthkeepers I ever owned, the Chukka. They had my size and because they were Earthkeepers, they my heart. I am so impressed with Timberland’s commitment to our natural world. And I was excited to learn that they are now in round two of working to reduce the impact of their products. The Earthkeepers 2.0 Collection is made so that at least 50% of each product can be recycled. Just drop them off or mail them to a Timberland store.

To top everything off, being a resident of New Hampshire means that Timberland is a local company. From their early days in Massachusetts, to their time in the Newmarket mills, and now with their current world headquarters in Stratham, Timberland has developed into a true a New England icon known around the world. Because of the sustainability and comfort that Timberland offers, today I did something I’ve never done before: purchase two pairs of shoes during the same shopping trip.

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13
September

Edible Landscaping on the Down Low

TomatoesAs summer turns to fall, I am thinking about what I can do over the next few weeks to prepare my yard to be sustainable and healthy next spring. I recently read an article about Wade Landscaping on Seacoast Online. (You can read it here but you’ll have to sign up for a free account that gives you access to ten articles each month if you don’t have a paid account.) One of their suggestions is that to really make the plantings around your home special, use native species but also consider vegetables and herbs. This is something my wife and I have been doing since we moved into our home in 2007 but until recently we needed to keep it on the down low.

We live in an association that was built in the 1990s and when we moved in our covenants stated that vegetable gardens were not permitted. My best guess as to why this was part of the agreement to live here is that some people feel a garden in someone’s front yard can look like a bunch of weeds if it is not maintained properly. My wife and I both grew up with gardens and know that if weeds are around, the vegetables won’t produce like they should. We were confident that if we chose to ignore the rules, we could keep our garden neat and clean. But we also moved in next door to the Board Secretary, a  very nice person but not someone we wanted to taunt with a full fledged vegetable garden.

After discussing it for a few months, when May rolled around we decided to plant tomatoes, basil, and collards throughout our backyard. We didn’t do too much to hide them because it is difficult to see behind our house from the street. We put the collards along the foundation near the back of the house as if they were shrubs and planted the the basil and tomatoes between the perennials. It worked well and we enjoyed some of our favorite produce. The collards really amazed us by providing beautiful leafy greens well into December and coming back strong every year since we planted them. We also continue to enjoy the many “volunteer” tomatoes plants that grow up from the seeds of the tomatoes we miss during our fall cleanup.

In 2012 the restriction on gardens was lifted and we put in two raised beds. They provide us with plenty of fresh produce but we continue to gather our collards and some of our tomatoes from the plants we put in six years ago. If you haven’t already, I hope you give planting vegetables, fruits, and herbs in your gardens a try.

 

 

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26
August

Sustainable Landscaping

As my wife and I wonder what to do with the lawn in our backyard, which is currently a mix of clover, crab grass, prickly lettuce, creeping ivy, and a little grass, I have begun researching sustainable landscaping. Google helped me out by adding “for dummies” to the end of my “sustainable landscaping” entry. I went with the wisdom its legions of servers provided and found Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies, part of the now classic For Dummies series. There are several free preview download’s that make me want to take it out from the library. Or maybe even buy it because the detailed table of contents that starts on page 3 and goes to 14 shows that the book holds a tremendous amount of information.

LadyBugAttackI know the basics: focus on native plants but capture runoff to water those plants that need it, installing hardscape features that provide a pleasant areas but don’t require perpetual resources, and work to keep soil in place. But I’m learning more about other pieces of being green in my yard.

 

For example, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) began in crop fields but has become an important part of backyard sustainability. The process begins with identifying the problematic bugs in your area and designing your garden with plants that don’t attract them. You can also encourage, and even introduce, beneficial insects, such as lady bugs. The Northeastern IPM Center’s site has a resource library and the US Fish and Wildlife Service of Chesapeake Bay offers a convenient PDF to get you started.

I’ll be back with more information about Sustainable Landscaping as I learn more. Have a great end of summer!

 

 

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5
February

London Travels: Smart Electricity Use

RoomKeyCardI’m providing consulting and training in the UK for two weeks. I typically come here once a year and always enjoy being abroad in such an easy to navigate country. I also love experiencing how different nations and cultures around the world develop new ways to be smart about the environment. So, I was happy to see that in order to turn on the electricity in my hotel room, I first had to insert my key card into a slot just inside the door. This is not a new technology for hotels but because it remains uncommon in the US, I think it warrants a review.

The key, literally, is that when I leave the room and remove my card from its slot, the lights go out. The TV stays on, which surprises me. Maybe it allows someone to hold down the fort and watch some TV while their partner runs out for supplies. But all the lights shut off and the HVAC system stops. This prevents me from leaving the lights in the bathroom on all day or having a cleaning staff leave lights on so it creates an ambiance when I enter the room. What a classic win-win situation. The environment benefits because the demand for energy is reduced and the hotel wins because they have a smaller utility bill.

Let’s take this into the home. After ten years of walking upstairs to turn off the bathroom lights after my partner has left them, I would love to know that when the last person leaves our house for the day, all lights would be turned off. Not to mention the stove and TV. Again, win-win.

HotelRoomKey

There are some ways to begin bringing this technology into your home. The Energy EGG was invited by a UK software engineer last year and is currently being sold in the US. And here’s an article that discusses whole house energy switches.

Enjoy and let me know if you decide to use this technology in your home.

 

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30
November

CFL and LED Bulbs Conserve Energy, Resources, and Money

CFL Bulb

While it is always a great time to invest in CFL and LED light bulbs for your home, if you are selling or buying a house, it makes even more sense. The energy, resource, and monetary savings over time are measurable and provide sellers with a positive selling feature and new home owners with an easy project that has high a level of ROI.

The extra cost of a CFL bulb, about $2 to $3 more than the standard incandescent, only takes a few months to re-cooperate. Using the math from TheDailyGreen.com, a home owner’s sustainability guide from Good Housekeeping, a 60 watt bulb that is used six hours a day costs $16 annually when the rate is $0.12/kWh. A CFL bulb’s operating cost is only $3. 40, which is a yearly savings of $12.60.

LED lights remain more expensive than CFLs but are gaining in popularity because of their soft, warm light. The savings are not seen until the increased bulb cost is covered, which happens after about three years but that makes the $40 per bulb price tag easier to accept. LED lights also boast no mercury, unlike CFL bulbs which do contain a small amount of mercury and are not the first choice for many parents.

LED Bulb

To make the process of switching out your light bulbs more attractive, Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) offers a variety of rebates. Whether you choose CFLs, LEDs, or a combination of both, replacing the light bulbs in your house will save you money and be a nice feature for people interested in buying your home when you are ready to move.

 

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14
November

Let’s Generate Some Noise II: Lesson Learned

Today I met a longtime resident walking around my neighborhood. She was out with her dog and I was out with mine so as they visited we talked about the weather. She told me that last month just before Super Storm Sandy hit, she learned something interesting.

In her garage she had a new generator and was waiting for the electrician to come and install it.  He was scheduled to arrive on Halloween, two days after Super Storm Sandy was supposed to make landfall in coastal NH.

Let There Be Light

So, with a generator in her possession and an electrician on the way, my neighbor assumed that she would be OK. “Even if Sandy hit us and we lost power, the electrician should have been able to hook up my generator two days later and I would have power again.”

But when she called the electrician to confirm that he would be able to complete the work after the storm, he told her it would not be possible because he needed power to complete the installation. This makes sense when I stop to think about it but if  I had a generator ready to be installed, an electrician scheduled, and a storm headed my way, I might think I was going to be OK.

The lesson my neighbor learned is that if you purchase a generator, make sure to have it installed before the power goes out.

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10
November

Let’s Generate Some Noise

Home Generator

Despite all the noise it makes, I would not give up my home generator because when the power goes out, I want to make sure my family has a warm home. We moved into our current house in the fall of 2007 and we have lost power every year since. 2012 has been different because we have only been without electricity for a few hours. Thankfully Superstorm Sandy left us more or less alone. But had the power gone out, we would have been OK. After greeting trick-or-treaters in my driveway last year because of the three days outage we experienced just before Halloween, I decided to follow the lead of most of my neighbors and invest in a generator.

As many people do, I found myself looking for a generator after being without power for two days. Not surprisingly, every store I called had sold out only hours after the electricity had disappeared. In the end I purchased one on-line and it was delivered several weeks after our power had returned. Then I bought a manual transfer switch, which controls which circuits I can run during an outage, and hired a local electrician to install the generator. He did a great job and made sure I knew how to operate the system safely. The most important piece I need to remember is to turn off the main power switch where is comes into the house before I flip the manual transfer switch and start my generator. This is crucial because if I don’t I will be pushing electricity from my house into the power lines in my neighborhood and putting utility workers at great risk.

Residential Generator Hookup

I am happy to not have the hum of my neighborhood’s generators lulling me to sleep this evening. But the next time we lose electricity, I will be ready to generate some noise and enjoy the din because I know it means my family is safe and warm.

 

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30
October

Goodbye Popcorn Ceiling, Hello Clean Look

No salt and butter needed.

Yesterday as I carefully maneuvered the window screens out of the windows and into the basement before Hurricane Sandy hit NH, I took a moment to admire the smooth and bright finish of my ceilings. Last winter my wife Victoria and I scraped the “popcorn” off every ceiling in our house except for the vaulted ceiling in our studio. It was a huge project but well worth the time, effort, and money. While textured ceilings can be attractive and reduce noise, we found that without the popcorn our ceilings look much cleaner and  each room appears slightly taller.

A few months after moving into our house in 2007, Victoria and I began talking about someday removing the popcorn from our ceilings. We had both heard it was a terribly messy job and should really be done before we had moved in. With plenty of other projects in need of attention, we decided the ceilings should wait.

Last fall, after four years of living with twenty year old wall-to-wall carpeting throughout the first floor, we decided that our children, Jessa then 7 and Will then 5, were not quite as likely to make a colossal mess as they had been and that it was time to look into wood floors. And knowing that the carpet was going to be ripped out when the floors were put in allowed us to rethink the removal of the popcorn ceilings.

I looked like this guy after each scraping session.

Ten minutes after I agreed that it was the best time to scrap the ceilings, Victoria had a step ladder out and was going to work. We made sure to move and/or cover furniture and while it was certainly a dirty job, the freedom of not having to worry about creating a mess on the floor was wonderful. During the many evenings and weekends that we worked to spray, scrap, and wipe down the ceilings, we let many gallons of water and many pounds of popcorn drop onto the floor below. Once the ceilings were clean and prepped,  we were able to paint them without being concerned about drips on our floor.

If you have popcorn ceilings and are not thrilled with them, you have some options. Local contrators would be happy to help you remove the texture but you can also watch some videos and consider scraping some ceilings yourself.

 

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29
August

Adult Tree House

I’ve been dreaming of living in a forest canopy for several years now. Not like a primate but like a human. I envision a complex of buildings at different heights off the ground. Windows throughout that allow clear views into the natural world outside. And large balconies that invite everyone who visits to find one of many sitting nooks and snuggle in to enjoy the world from 30 feet up.

Check out this tree house in LA. Not as remote as I might like but once inside I am sure the views into the surrounding greenery provide an escape from the concrete of southern California. Click on the pic for more info.

Re-Nest Adult Tree House from Green Style

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2
June

Document Your Green Home’s Savings

Documenting the savings you enjoy because of the sustainability minded products you’ve installed in your house can make your home more attractive to eco- conscious buyers. People looking to purchase a new home often have many questions swirling in their heads about schools, taxes, commute time,  appliance and system updates, and annual operatating costs that can be overwhelming. Giving potential buyers an insight into what they can expect to pay for utilities because of your green improvements will  help answer a couple of these questions.

Ideally you should be able to show the change between before and after you installed a new system. This has several advantages, including that it can be another feature that adds legitimacy to your asking pricing, and it also let’s the buyers know what the costs will be for  similar sized homes that do not have green features.

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