Tag Archives: global warming

Save Cash, Reduce GHGs and Save the Planet

Reduce energy bills, reduce GHG emissions, save the planet

Can you help save the planet and gain a dollar advantage at the same time? Are you concerned about global warming, air pollution or just your energy costs? Here is a list of things you can do to your home which can cost little and have excellent returns. The list starts from the least costly and is suitable for existing housing.

Typical costs are based on a specific Canadian location in Canadian dollars. They could vary widely. Do your own research and calculations.

Caulking, a cheap way to help save the planet.

Caulk everywhere there is any chance of air leakage

Number one. Caulk, caulk and more caulk. Whether you live in a heating or cooling climate, air leakage is a large energy cost. Caulking is cheap, typically a couple of bucks per tube. Watch for sales. Use paintable or clear product that is suitable for indoor or outdoor use. Fill every crack and space that has even a remote chance of air leakage. This has the added advantage of reducing hiding spaces for insects. If cracks are large, repair or stuff with a suitable material before caulking. Typical cost $10 to $50. The short course on caulking.

Angie changed the 312 furnace filter
Collin Anderson / Foter / CC BY

Number two. Maintain your equipment. Keep furnaces, air conditioners.refrigeraters and freezers operating at peak efficiency by cleaning heat exchangers and changing filters regularly. Anything that looks like a radiator and has a fan needs to be kept clean as well as any radiating surface. Use metallic tape to seal any leaks in ducting. Arrange furniture so that it has a minimal effect on heat distribution and does not block ducts. Do not install restrictive filters in an attempt to clean the air. They effect efficiency and can damage a furnace. Good maintenance reduces replacement costs. Typical cost for filters is about $25 for a year in colder climates. The best furnace filters to buy.

Keeping your furnace clean can help save the planet
Keep your furnace cleanslworking2 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Number three. Use less cooling or heating. Turn the heat or air conditioning as low as possible if no one is going to be home. Lower the temperature at night in cool climates and use more covers on the beds. Turn heating and cooling completely off if there is no possibility of freezing or other damage. You can do this manually or you can purchase programmable thermostats (or smart controls) that will allow you to raise or lower temperature just before you need it to prevent temporary discomfort. Typical cost $0 to $100. Learn more about thermostats.

Number four. Use less lighting. Make certain everyone in the house turns off lights when not needed. Replace bulbs as they burn out with lower wattage bulbs or replace high usage bulbs immediately with LED or CFL bulbs. Prices are still fairly high for more efficient bulbs but in

LED lights can help save the planet.

LED lights are the new efficient lighting.

many cases the payback time is very rapid. I just bought 4 Led bulbs. 2 were 6w to replace 40 watt and 2 were 10.5w to replace 60w incandescents. My total cost including taxes was $60. You can likely find them for as little as 1/2 that. Pretty pricey but I did a calculation for one much used light. At 6 hours use per day the LED would pay for itself  in 1.5 to 2 years. that’s a good investment in my book. Our electrical rate is $.08 right now and higher rates would effect a higher return. I am very impressed with the LEDs. They are practically instant on. The light is pleasant and at least as good at replacing incandescent as advertised. A 10.5 watt actually gives as much light as the 60w it replaces. Typical costs $0 to $500. I tried to find a good link to information about LED bulb. Everything I could find was outdated. Development in LED technology is proceeding at a lightning pace

Baths use a lot of hot water
Baths use a lot of hot waterwester / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Number five. Use less water and heat less water. Showers typically use much less water than baths. A shower can be installed in most bathrooms for as little as $200 if you do it yourself. A new bath spout with a flex hose and shower head along with a shower curtain may be all you need. A tub surround or tiling may be needed as well in other cases. A lot of energy can be saved by doing laundry in cold water and drying you clothes on an outdoor clothes-line when weather permits. A more expensive option is a front load washer. It is worth considering if you have a large family and are replacing your existing unit. When replacing water heaters, consider high-efficiency models. There is really not a typical cost here but some options cost practically nothing while others can run into the thousands.

Sufficient attic insulation can go a long way toward saving the planet.
This attic obviously does not have enough insulation for cold climates.zieak / Foter / CC BY

Number six. Increase attic insulation. In many heating or cooling climates, attic insulation up to about R60 is cost-effective. Have a look. If you have less than 16 inches of insulation you likely have room for improvement. Although a bit of a pain, do it yourself installation is not difficult. Adding 10 inches of loose fill insulation to a 1000 sq. ft. attic can cost under $700. This is an increase of about R30. 

Insulate your basement for heating efficiency..
Insulate your basement for heating efficiency.Paulgi / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Number seven. Basement insulation is important and inexpensive if the space is unfinished. Often neglected is the at the top of walls between floor joists. Insulate to at least R20 and pay close attention to sealing against moisture on the inside. There are several different possible methods of insulating this area with wide range of efficiencies and cost. Necessary in any cold climate but probably not effective in a hot climate.

To help save the planet use use energy efficient windows when replacing.
Choose energy efficient windows when replacing your old ones.Joe St.Pierre // Joestpierrephoto.com / Foter / CC BY

Number eight. Replacing old windows and doors with new and more efficient ones. This is one I don’t recommend for energy-saving reasons alone. It is very costly and the payback is long. However, if you are replacing for appearance or for functionality, use at least a double paned glass with low E coating. Vinyl or wood frames allow the least energy transfer.

These last two may be out-of-order but costs can vary from very little to very much so I have placed them at the last. They are not always a possible solution in all situations

 Orient your house to take advantage of the sun or shade
Foter / CC BY-SA

Number nine. Consider your home orientation to take advantage of natural, passive heating or cooling. This is easier with a new house, but use of awnings, heavy drapes or cross ventilation can be effective with older homes.

Trees can go a long way towards saving the planet
Trees can go a long way towards saving the planetblmiers2 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Number ten. Use trees for shading and wind breaks. They also tend to lower the temperature in their immediate vicinity on hot days. They have the added advantage of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The result is stored carbon and released oxygen. In my area winters are very cold and the prevailing winds are from the north and west. I would plant evergreens to the north and west for windbreaks and deciduous trees to the south for summer shade while allowing sun through in winter. Varieties require careful consideration. Planting large trees can be very costly but  some varieties grow rapidly and can be used while waiting for slower growers to mature. Time is rather irrelevant here as it is the future we are trying to save. Facts about trees.

You can do your bit to reduce greenhouse gas emission and pollution while padding your pocket at the same time. It doesn’t matter if you believe in global warming or not. The cost of fossil fuel and thus energy is bound to escalate in the future, perhaps rapidly. The Idea that recoverable reserves have increased due to technology is misleading. Oil prices have increased 10 fold in recent years in spite of increasing production. We may not be in danger of running out soon, but costs are increasing rapidly.

You may notice that I have not included any alternative power options in this post. That is because it is pretty complicated, especially in our northern climate. Regulations for connecting to the grid vary widely as well. The economics requires a detailed study for each situation. It deserves a post of its own, and I don’t feel qualified to write one, until I have completed a lot more research.

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Climate Change, Environment, Resource Conservation

If you are a regular reader of this blog you may be confused as to where I stand on climate change, the environment and conservation of resources. Perhaps I can clarify my thinking just a bit. This might be a little difficult because my normal state is confusion.

Climate change may effect the way we live.
A Guy Taking Pictures / Foter.com / CC BY

On conservation of resources, I am a hawk. One thing is certain. Many of the  natural resources we depend on for daily living are from finite, non renewable sources. Many are already becoming harder to find and as a result expensive. Prime examples are petroleum products, many metals,  water, and arable land. Another bloggers outlook.

Our stewardship of the environment requires our utmost diligence. Keeping our surroundings clean, healthy and pleasant is essential for our quality of life.This does not mean I am unwilling to accept change, whether natural or caused by human presence.

Sea levels may rise as a result of climate change
Theophilos / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

A more complicated issue is climate change, or more specifically, global warming. Do I believe global average temperatures are increasing? I definitely do, at least in the short-term (using thousands or millions of years as the terms of reference.) Do I believe human activity is the cause? Yes, at least in part. Natural causes may be part of it, but our numbers are so great that the impact on our planet is profound.

A much bigger question is what the results of warming will be and if we can effectively do something about it.

Scientists are predicting anything from mild results to catastrophe. Alarmists such as Al Gore or David Suzuki, are virtually predicting the end of the world. I think their crystal balls are cracked.

Climate change puts coastal cities at risk.
Climate change puts coastal cities at risk.Werner Kunz / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

A scientist can safely predict outcomes when they have past observations or positive experimental results for reference. For example it is pretty safe to say the world will end as a charred ball when our sun expands in a few billion years. An astronomer can look back over billions of years and see billions of examples of a star’s life cycle. Of course, the assumption still has to be made that no other catastrophe will happen in the meantime, and It really doesn’t matter if the prediction is wrong. What about the science.

Our climate is so complicated, and the earth so large that no laboratory experiment can have much relevance. Even computer models have little chance of true accuracy. There are too many assumptions in the data used and even tiny errors can make huge differences over long periods or large scenarios. I suspect that many predictions reflect the modelers bias.

The other problem, is that there is little past experience to draw from. We have no examples from the past of similar planets with over 7 billion people. In fact changes are happening so fast that we have little chance to analyze or even digest them. In my lifetime, earths population has increased from approximately 3 billion. There were many dire predictions for the future when I was a youth. Almost none have come to pass, although, a few still might..

Climate change, will it cause more flooding.
Gregg Jaden / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

I do not believe quick, effective, action can be taken by governments outside of encouraging less use of products with a large carbon footprint and helping industry to lessen emissions. Drastic action could have unforeseen effects and most certainly would be harmful to economies. I do think that markets will effect an answer as more people demand clean power and cleaner transportation. Alternatives are rapidly becoming less expensive.

  A tax on carbon  would supposedly encourage industry and people to use less carbon producing energy. I don’t think it would have any effect, except to increase the cost of subsidies to poor people. The income of richer people simply seems to increase as the cost of living increases. The key is to reduce the need for fossil fuel. 

Energy is already a huge cost to industry. Reducing cost increases profit. Profit is the reason for industry, so it follows that industry already has a big incentive to reduce energy usage. It seems that incentives to further reduce consumption would be more effective than taxes and be less damaging to economies.

Cap and trade policies could be a little more effective, but how do you apply them to the whole world? They only effect consumption by increasing the cost of energy. “Grandfathering the privilege to pollute would take money from low-income consumers and give it to the predominantly wealthy shareholders of energy companies.”  This is a quote from a document advocating cap-and-trade. There are dangerous assumptions here. I don’t think low-income individuals are the biggest consumers, it is pretty obvious the wealthy are. Shareholders of energy companies are often pension plans and funds, the beneficiaries of which are usually lower or middle-income people. Of course this is by our standards. Low income to us is quite rich to much of the world. Once again, the key is to reduce the need and the desire for polluting products.

You may not be aware that large amounts of cash are given out as subsidies for the use of fossil fuel. Don’t blame the developed nations entirely here. It is emerging nations that give direct subsidies (about 480 billion,according to the IMF,) mainly so the poor can afford fuel.

Upper Kananaskis Lake, Kananaskis Country, Alberta
Beautiful Albertamadlyinlovewithlife / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Some seem to think that curtailing oil sands operations would be beneficial. It probably would only hasten the depletion of conventional oil and perhaps encourage the development of more harmful sources. Opposition to pipelines is another tack that some seem to take. Again this leads to far more dangerous and more carbon intensive forms of transport. The Bakken oil produced from North Dakota is seen as an alternative to Alberta oil sands. This actually may be more harmful. Much of the produced gas from this field is flared due to a lack of infrastructure to collect it. Burning it produces carbon emissions and any that escapes unburned contains considerable methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas. Alternatives are not always as benign as they seem.

This is an article in Forbes magazine about Bakken flaring which uses some identical arguments to many I have heard defending oil sands emissions.

The developed nations, with the USA and Canada leading the pack, use by far the most fossil fuels and produce the most carbon emissions per capita. That means we could have the most effect on an individual basis. I firmly believe that we should make every effort to reduce our personal use of energy. That goes further than just driving less or building more efficient homes. It means an overall reduction in our acquisition of consumer goods. This would also be damaging to economies. Perhaps that could be countered by more investment by governments, and industry, in alternative energy sources, and in carbon capture and storage..

Arctic scenery may alter with climate change.
Alessio Mesiano / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Crude oil has largely been singled out as a villain in carbon emissions. The fact is that several other industries have huge impacts. Coal fired power plants seem to be often overlooked. Sad, since their emissions are more localized and more conducive to carbon sequestration or storage. Since this was written, governments have begun to target coal plants by mandated closures.  Cement plants are similarly huge emitters. The real villain, though, is our own individual excessive use of energy. 

In the words of the late Jacques-Yves Cousteau ” Overconsumption and overpopulation underlie every environmental problem we face today.” Well we are certainly the villains in overconsumption and need to address it. Third world countries are where most of the population increases are coming from. Some, such as China are trying to address this problem..

Do I think there is effective action that can be taken by governments? In a word, no. That doesn’t mean that I think we should not continue trying to reduce our impact. It means that I think we would be well advised to prepare for changes that may happen. Build stronger houses that are more energy efficent. Gradually move human occupancy away from flood prone areas and away from coastlines at risk from rising sea levels. Use more renewable resources to replace non-renewable. Clean up our world through personal commitment. Plant trees. Plant a garden. And, most importantly, use and waste less of everything.

A climate change strategy.
Many rewards in planting a garden and it aids the environmentvanherdehaage / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The beauty of this approach is that it does no harm. It is a personal choice that should not create enemies or even create discomfort for your neighbors. If the dire predictions turn out to be wrong, then no harm has been done and less valuable resources will be consumed. If enough people followed this route, carbon in our atmosphere may be reduced or at least increase at a slower pace.

Living with fewer toys or less possessions does not mean a lower standard of living.

Do I walk the walk? I am trying, but I know there is room for improvement. I only wish I had done more, sooner. I don’t buy tickets to see jet setting celebrities who use more than their share of resources to tell us what we are doing wrong. Many have increased their wealth by crying wolf.

If you agree with most of this article, please share it. If you disagree with any part, or have suggestions, please comment. I can still learn, even at my age.

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A Sustainable Lifestyle

The environment is our individual responsibility and the adoption of a sustainable lifestyle by each of us is the only plausible way to reduce our impact through industry and population.

“How can we have an organic agriculture or horticulture and manage our landscapes to sustain themselves over generations on one hand, then consume goods from industries managed in ecologically damaging ways on the other? It’s pointless designing an organic garden and then buying a gas guzzling car or building a house from concrete and steel, when we can use local materials with less embodied energy”. A quote of (Maddy Harland | Wednesday, 23rd January 2013) in Permaculture.

I would add. How can we boycott or protest the actions of industry while not living a sustainable lifestyle ourselves. How can we, in good conscience, engage in civil disobedience and action against government policies that we encourage by our own lifestyle choices. How can we expect industry and government to do differently from our own example.

View of the Utah Copper Company open-pit mine workings at Carr Fork, as seen from the railroad, Bingham Canyon, Utah  (LOC) Mining for resources has a negative impact on local ecology.
Environmental impact of resource extraction. A copper mine in UtahThe Library of Congress / Foter.com

I would wager that, no matter how environmentally conscious you are, you still have a lot of room to improve. There are likely many ways that you can reduce your foot print. Some are easy and minor, but others would require major lifestyle changes.

The richer nations use the most resources and generate the most pollution and waste. Poor countries, on the other hand have alarming birth rates and poor practices of land use.The simple weight of numbers leading to desertification and other environmental damage.

The current environmental catch phrase is climate change. Global warming is really the issue, but the wording is not nearly as frightening. Everyone seems to be afraid of change but nobody wants to take responsibility. It is easier to blame industry and government.

So is global warming real? It certainly appears to be. It is less clear what the effects may be, how fast they will happen, and how damaging they will be. It is also arguable as to what can be done, if anything, to stop or slow the warming.

A coal power plant produces considerable carbon emissions and other pollutants. Much of the coal is produced from open pit mines, creating more damage.
A coal-burning power planteutrophication&hypoxia / Foter.com / CC BY

What is the cause? There seems to be a correlation between the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and average global temperatures. It follows that human beings, by their use of fossil fuels, may be part or all of the cause. It may also be that most of the warming trend is from natural causes, but I don’t think there is any doubt that humans are having an effect.

What would have happened if there were no humans on the planet? Well, it is probable that the earth would have followed past trends and gradually warmed to a peak and then cooled. The end result would have been another ice age. Each successive ice age would likely be more severe as the geological activity of the earth lessens. The question is, are people causing a catastrophe or simply delaying the next ice age.

The real question is far more personal. What is the effect going to be, on ourselves, on nations or on the human race as a whole? More severe storms may cause a greater loss of life and more property damage. Rising sea levels may inundate large portions of some nations such as Bangladesh or the Maldives. Large scale migrations and border conflict could be the result. Habitat may be destroyed and extinctions of wildlife may occur.

Polar Bears Play fighting. Polar bears are one species at risk from global warming.
A species at riskFoter.com / CC BY-SA

My own feeling is that, although we may be terrified of change, we can adapt to any changes that may occur. Whole cities can be relocated over a period of a century or so. We can build our shelters to withstand much fiercer weather. Agricultural zones may change but there is little evidence that production would be reduced. Already the corn belt seems to be moving north. A much greater variety of fruit can now be grown in the north as a result of milder winters and the development of hardier varieties. The time span may not be long enough for some other species to adapt but it is almost certain that the niches will be refilled by different species.

Most scientists seem to agree that human use of fossil fuels, leading to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, is the root cause of global climate change. I am not so sure. Scientists have a poor record when it comes to predictions. You only have to read past issues of science magazines to see this. Science fiction writers often do better. What is pretty obvious is that drastic action to curb CO2 emissions could lead to greater social upheaval than the effects of climate change.

Does that mean we should not bother to reduce our burning of fossil fuels. A most emphatic NO. Fossil fuels are a diminishing and finite resource. Already they are getting difficult to find and more expensive to produce. Petroleum products and coal are such valuable resources for other uses that future generations may question why we would burn it so carelessly.

Diesel and gasoline engines in large trucks use a lot of fuel. ATV engines produce a lot of pollution and careless use can create damage to ecosystems.
Fuel burnersDiamondBack Truck Covers / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

The real culprits here are not industry or governments. It is you, me, our friends and neighbors. Our insatiable demand for bigger, better and more is unsustainable and may leave our grandchildren a world of want. It is up to you and me to change the way we live. We have to learn to use less.

You may wonder where I am going with this in a blog that is primarily about building yourself a house. Well it is also about building smaller, more efficient and less costly. It is about building stronger houses with a longer useful life. It is about choosing designs and materials to lessen environmental impact. It is about reusing material and appliances to lessen the strain on our resources.

There are many significant factors to address. I intend to further discuss the choices in design, materials and construction methods in future articles. In particular, their environmental impact.

 

 

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