Green Building, Green Living
Sustainable Living in Western North Carolina
WNC Green Building
Green building makes sense and cents. The average savings generated from taking the initial steps to conserve energy will over time, compensate for building costs, then save on total energy costs. Plus, these energy savings reduce the demand on the general power grid, saving us all emissions from power plants.
If you are building a new home, great suggestions for going "green" include installing radiant heat flooring, using new technological advances in building materials such as photovoltaic shingles, and considering alternative energy sources to supplement or replace existing power sources.
A great example of a local project in green building from the ground up can be found in the 100-acre Wood in Weaverville. This property is managed by Gene Keil, a retired minister, who designed his home using active and passive solar building techniques to make his home energy efficient.
If you’ve decided to renovate, look into an energy audit to identify places on the home that could use updating for energy efficiency. Also, North Carolina is unique in that electric customers have the option to purchase for $4 a percentage their electricity needs from green sources. Tax credits are also available to those willing to go the extra mile to "go green."
Any of these techniques are available through NC State’s Solar Center, or through our local branch of green building here in Western Carolina. These organizations and centers provide great tips for the general public to increase energy efficiency while reducing their energy dependency on coal and oil. The University also offers North Carolinians the opportunity to participate in state-wide energy initiatives, giving everyone the chance to "go green." Several non-profit groups can also assist the homeowner in green building techniques. A primer on green building can be found at North Carolina Sustainable Energy’s website. Guides are also available from NC Healthy Built Homes for purchasing existing green homes, or finding green materials and other local incentives.
10 Ways You Can Live More Green
#1 Ghost Loads Haunt your Power Bill
Ghost loads, also referred to as “phantom loads”, don’t go bump in the night, but instead quietly and constantly devour small amounts of electricity night and day (ex: 7-20 watts). What are these mystifying “phantom loads?” The culprits are the AC adapters to our cell phones, cordless phones/answering machines, clock-radios, microwaves, TVs, DVD players, computers, stereos, etc. Rechargeable tools or kitchen gadgets that charge continuously while in their cradle should be charged only when needed and should be unplugged when not in use. The ‘instant on” feature of modern devices makes them always on and always consuming 5 to 20 watts, and AC adapters consume 7 to 15 watts while just being plugged in. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 75% of all the electricity consumed in the home is standby power used to keep electronics running when those devices are supposedly "off." One or two of these ghost loads is no big deal, but take a modern house with many devices and modern appliances and you have an errant waste of electricity. How much you might ask? How about the equivalent of a few extra light bulbs burning 24/7, and over the course of one year this can easily add up to a 1 Megawatt-hour. What does all this mean? If one were to eradicate these ghost loads, one could reclaim months of power back!
So here is how you can do it! To decrease these sponging, bloodsucking loads, simply put your household devices on power strips and turn off those power strips when they are not in use. A little up front cost and some forethought, and turning off the power strip will become one of your daily routines. You could eliminate as much as 80% of these phantom, leech loads. Depending on your electric utility rates, you could save $10 or more per month.
#2 The Compact Fluorescent & LED Switcharoo
Making the switch to the CFL is the easiest and the most well known thing you can do to increase your household energy savings and decrease your carbon footprint. The compact fluorescent light bulb, known as a CFL or energy saving light bulb, is the spiral looking bulbs that fit into standard sockets. Conventional incandescent bulbs cost 1/3 to 1/5 of the cost of CFLs, but use four times the electricity and often last only 750 – 1000 hrs whereas a CFL can last up to 6,000 – 15,000 hrs. This means that a CFL can last 8 – 15 times as long as a conventional incandescent. According to the Energy Information Administration, lighting accounted for approximately 9% of US household electricity usage in 2001. If widespread use of CFLs could save three-quarters to four-fifths of this, 7% of household electricity consumption could be eradicated right smack. CFLs have caught on since their mid-‘90s unveiling, and are available virtually everywhere, making them an accessible option for joining the “Green” bandwagon. What's more, CFL technology has come a long way since their birth, and they don’t flicker like they used to. However, they still contain 5 mg of mercury, which means throwing them out in the trash is a no-no. CLFs are to be added to the recycling bin.
Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, are another alternative to conventional incandescent bulbs and are being used more and more in public spaces and in private arenas. LEDs use 40% less electricity than high-pressure sodium bulbs, which are used in our street lamps and parking garages country-wide. LEDs can go five or more years with no upkeep whereas their counterparts, the high-pressure sodium bulb needs to be replaced every year and a half. Other types of LEDs are already at work in traffic lights, giant outdoor displays (like Billboards, sports stadiums, and the screen in New York City's Times Square), and even airports runways. Flashlights and other personal devices are also making the switch to LEDs. The transition to using LEDs is a smart bet and is well underway.
#3 Local Economy is Your Economy
Businesses use oodles of resources (time, money, space, inspection, retail, packaging, transportation, natural, etc.) to bring their products to the world. This is the same whether we are talking about food, furniture, clothing, or almost anything really. Supporting your local economy keeps your dollars circulating in your community and gives you something different, sometime that hasn’t been homogenized. Furthermore, if we are talking about local food, it is typically fresher and tastes better than food shipped from other places. Local farmer’s focus is naturally then to offer produce bred for taste and freshness rather than for shipping and long shelf lives. Moreover, it is really nice to know where your food comes from and how it is grown. This allows you to choose safe foods that are grown organically. So go with the old adage think globally, act locally, and buy local. So how does one find locally grown produce? Consult our Healthy Resources page.
#4 Share the Road with a Friend
Why be lonely when you are driving, instead share the road with a friend! In the U.S., where gas prices are significantly cheaper than most other places in the world, single-occupancy driving is the norm. Roads are becoming congested with cars, countless hours are wasted stuck in traffic jams, people travel greater distances from home to get to work than in the times of yore, and road rage is becoming a habitual occurrence for many people. Carpooling is a fantastic way to lessen the stress of these conditions, because it gives you someone else to talk to, and if enough people join in, traffic would decrease and diminish what is causing these problems in the first place. According to a U.C. Berkley study, approximately 14% of the greenhouse gasses that the U.S. emits, comes from transportation fuels. Obviously, the kind of vehicle and distance driven can have an enormous impact on greenhouse gas emissions. However, carpooling is a cost-effective, and relatively uncomplicated way for institutions and individuals alike to reduce their impact on the environment. It is a well known fact that air pollution is affecting our health and the natural environment. Every day people die prematurely from air pollution, and asthma is cropping up in our children at an appalling rate, not to mention respiratory illness, and decreased lung functionality. Research indicates that the worsening air conditions are directly related to all of this. And then if this wasn’t bad enough the government and other institutions spend billions every year to research and combat these atrocities. On the upside, some states have adopted Clean Air Acts, appealing to businesses and individuals with incentives to encourage less driving. The results have been staggering with millions of gallons of gas saved, reduction of tens of thousands of tons of air pollutants, and saving commuters millions.
#5 Save the Trees and Stamps
Unsolicited and unnecessary mailings create a staggering amount of solid waste and paper production and mail transportation leave a carbon footprint bigger than any shoe could fill. A few simple steps can go along way to curb the flow of paper into our waist baskets and landfills. First, go paper-less by managing your bank accounts and paying your bills online. Next, to avoid unnecessary trips to the bank, ask your employer to pay you via direct deposit. This will save gas, cut carbon emissions and you will get your money faster, which is sure to pep up your day. These steps should lighten the load on your mailbox and lengthen the lives of many of the 900 million trees that are turned into paper each year. To make even more of these trees happy begin purchasing more paper products made from recycled paper. Toilet paper, paper towels, printer paper and other paper products are available from recycled materials. Each ton of recycled paper purchased saves 4,000 kW-h of electricity, 7,000 gallons of water and enough trees to filter over 1000 lbs. of pollution from the air. Additionally, recycle the paper that you do use, and encourage your coworkers, friends and area businesses to do the same.
#6 Let Nature In
The vast majority of the average American’s 25-ton carbon footprint comes from their homes. To lighten the load without a complete remodeling job or new house, consider trying some of these easy emission saving tips. Open the window in the summer instead of running the AC. Consider a window fan, which can blow hot air out in the afternoon and cool air in at night. Raising your thermostat a few degrees in the summer and lowering it several in the winter can save a ton, literally, on heating and cooling costs and will likely make you feel healthier as well. Minor home revisions such as caulking and weather-stripping windows and doors, re-insulating wall and ceilings and switching to more efficient appliances, showerheads and toilets will all go a long way toward lowering emissions and can save significant money on your energy bill. These may seem like significant changes, but they are easier than they sound and you will get added benefit of helping to protect Mother Nature.
#7 Plastic Smastic
Cashiers have been asking the “paper or plastic?” question for well over a decade now, but the use of plastic bags, now over 500 billion per year, continues to rise out of control with no end in sight. While paper is obviously the better answer to the above question, many people have taken bag waist reduction to another level by brining their own bag shopping and to the supermarket. Alternative to plastic and paper include bags made from canvas, cloth or other biodegradable plant based material. These bags come in many sized and most are strong enough to handle all your shopping needs. When you do dispose of them they will decompose quickly, unlike plastic bags that take nearly 1,000 years to biodegrade and emit harmful toxins in the process. To encourage patrons to carry their own bags Earth Fare in West Asheville makes a donation to an area charity for every bag saved by people bringing their own.
#8 Teach Your Clothing to be More Green
Having “green clothing” is all fine and dandy but the real environmental impact of clothing is determined by the way you wash and dry your clothing. Ditching laundry altogether would relieve the environment but leave us all walking around dirty or naked and WNC winters are only one reason why that is not going to happen. We all have clothes, bed sheets, and towels that must be washed for the good of mankind and these articles are quite the environmental burden. The good news is there are ways to decrease the impact your laundry room has on the environment. First, use warm water instead of hot, and do a few big loads instead of many small ones. Buy the most efficient washing machine you can (check the Energy Star rating), and use a clothes line rather than a dryer. A more efficient washer uses less water and the old fashion way of drying increases the life of your clothes and cuts down on energy consumption, CO2 emission, and lost socks. Additionally, you should not use dryer sheets or fabric softeners. They contain harmful chemicals and dryer sheets do not biodegrade in landfills. Lastly, be very careful when choosing your laundry detergent. Most common detergents have harmful chemicals, such as Chlorine and NPE chemicals. Try to avoid these and you will be doing yourself and the environment a favor.
#9 Don’t let Your Wallet Be Washed
We as a society have become more conscious of the things we buy and labels have become a great way to have easy access to the specifics of those objects. For example many people want to know the amount of calories in a cookie, or the gas mileage of a car, and the battery life of a new camera before purchase. The same can now be done for energy-efficient appliances, with Energy Star ratings, a product of The Environmental Protection Agency. The up front cost of going with a more efficient appliance is more, but the cost to power them is significantly less. In the commercial sector, for example hotels, Energy Star labels are cropping up. These commercial buildings, with the Energy Star Label consume 1/3 or less than their counterparts and at home, with Energy Star Appliances, one can expect similar results. Since almost 1/5 of greenhouse-gas emissions are from Commercial Buildings, they should get on the bandwagon and we as conscientious citizens should do the same.
#10 Check Your Head
Lastly, and most importantly, to live more green you must change your mindset. If you are the typical American, which many Ashevillian’s are not, this is a huge leap in outlook, attitude, and approach to life. It is hard for people to grasp this concept, but less is more. Living simply, consuming less, and sharing more is a better way of life. It allows you to lead a more balanced existence not to mention a more natural one. It also makes room for those things that are most important in your life, like your family, friends, and personal, spiritual, and cognitive development. So remember, consume less, live more, and lead by example.