Category: "Reduce"

When the Lights Make You Dizzy

April 26th, 2013
"It's like the 1900s all over again," said Phil Jones, green building expert. He was talking about lighting. Buying a light bulb hasn't come with so much uncertainty since the development of the incandescent market. Over time, the only significant additions to our options were the halogen and the fluorescent tube. Today, the options have grown, options themselves that are the midst of rapid improvement. While that has done wonders for energy efficiency, it presents a problem for consumers. Visit any store lighting section, and you'll find a ton of choices with little explanation as to what those choices mean.
The benefit -- and the confusion -- is even greater for commercial applications, because it usually takes a lot of lights to illuminate commercial space. Meanwhile, it is in your interest to dig in and move forward. Not only do today's bulbs last significantly longer and use less energy than the old ones, LEDs don't produce heat. That equates to lower air conditioning bills, allows for better insulation around fixtures, and more. Business or residential, here is a little advice: Learn a New Language Where we once bought bulbs based on watts, we must now buy according to lumens. Click here to learn why. Where we once bought just a bulb, we must now choose between: • Incandescent - electrical current heats a wire until it glows which is inside gas that is trapped inside a glass bulb. (Government standards are pushing us away from these, but the incandescent bulb has not been outlawed.) • Halogen - an incandescent that uses halogen gas to increase output and life. • Fluorescent - electrical current charges argon gas and mercury inside a tube. Compact Fluorescents (CFLs) are smaller tubes, curled into a compact bulb.
• Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) - a semiconducting chip emits light when voltage is applied. Multiple colors and wavelengths can be achieved. Application Matters Since LEDs don't emit heat, they don't melt snow. Since CFLs rely on heat to work, many do not work well outside at low temperatures. Since bulbs in either category vary greatly in brightness and color, each bulb must be matched to its intended purpose. For these reasons and more, you must consider what you want the bulb to do before you shop (task, security, ambient, or accent lighting). Color comes into play here, too. Rated low-to-high on the kelvin (K) scale, low numbers are warm and relaxing while high ones are cool and energizing. (This link is about auto headlights, but starts with a decent explanation and simple rendering of the kelvin scale.) Add in Controls On a different shelf are lighting controls, which also play a role in convenience and efficiency. A motion control turns bathroom lights on when occupied. Dimmers with sensors lower output based on daylight. Timers remember to turn outside lights off after the party ends. You can hire an electrician to ensure you are not putting a low-voltage application onto a high-voltage feed and that the chosen control matches the intended bulb. Consider Big-Picture Costs Sticker shock can accompany the dizzying array of choices. Still, avoid cheap bulbs, plain and simple. Poor CFLs will take forever to reach full brightness. You wont get the same efficiency and longevity with the low-priced version of any variety. Look for the Energy Star label, but avoid the one that says, "Energy Star Partner." Also, remember to consider the reduced utility bill and the reduced number of bulbs you'll need to buy when upgrading. Fewer maintenance hours are needed, too, for applications such as in commercial parking lots, where changing a bulb is no small task. The good news is prices are predicted to come down, especially on LEDs, as the market and the technology increases. Don't Forget About the Sun One of my favorite things about working from home is that I don't have to turn on any lights if I don't want to. My desk is positioned near a window, and there are only a few days when I need additional light. Nature's lighting is better than artificial for my mood, health, and eyes. Sunlight offers the best electric-bill savings because the most efficient light bulb is the one turned off. Hire Help While we're on the subject of efficiency, Pennsylvania's electricity suppliers are rolling out the latest batch of upgrade incentives, due June 1st, subjecting you to even more energy-saving options. Tune in to your supplier for more info. I expect that many will offer rebates and discounts for what's called a home or commercial energy audit. An audit is the best place to start if you want to know about the efficiency of your entire building. An auditing professional will look at your situation and turn his or her knowledge into targeted advice. Home audits cost a few hundred dollars before rebates. Commercial audits are usually priced according to square footage. The audit will reveal much more than lighting inefficiencies; it will consider heating, air conditioning, electrical hot spots, and any other large power drain on your bill. With incentives come scams, so be very careful about whom you hire. Make sure they are credentialed by a reputable engineering or contractor association. Look for an affiliation with a green building council, etc. If you only want a lighting evaluation, hire an electrical contractor to give you an upgrade estimate (often for free). In either case, don't forget to ask them which bulb you should buy for every kind of light in your home. I keep hearing media references to the fact that our energy-supply problems will not be solved simply by "changing a few light bulbs." But according to the Department of Energy, lighting makes up about 12% of our energy consumption and sometimes 40% of a commercial bill. So while we still have to tackle big issues such as transportation and heating, we can at least learn how to take advantage of today's lighting advancements without passing out from confusion. by Ruth Heil --- Still not satisfied? Click here for a comprehensive light bulb FAQ ----
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An Electric Hike in the Woods

November 21st, 2012
I went on a hike last Saturday with 20 other outdoor enthusiasts. Members of the Appalachian Mountain Club convened with members of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network to enjoy a day on the trail while facing a totally unenjoyable issue: high voltage power lines. The story, I soon discovered, was layered with as many ups and downs as the premise for the hike itself. There are winners and losers in its past, and there will be winners and losers in its future. It is one more chapter in America's perpetual fight over that humans have felt connected to, land that electricity providers need in order to connect humans to their product. Our journey took us into the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. This public treasure encompasses 70,000 acres around my favorite river, the Delaware, where it snakes between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It's a major vacation destination for hikers, paddlers, mountain climbers, bicyclists, campers, anglers, honeymooners, families, etc. Besides the beauty of the exceptional-quality river, the scenery is most spectacular where it has cut a 1200-foot-deep gap through the mountain. It's the kind of scene you must witness in order to appreciate. Since our mission was different than the typical sightseeing adventure, I had little time for photography and no time to seek out a scenic vista. (You can get a rough idea of the area via the small collection of photos found here: Despite my lack of pretty visuals obtained, protecting the visual experience was exactly why we were hiking that day. First we "circled up" in the gravel parking lot to get a briefing from Riverkeeper's Citizen Action Coordinator, Fred Stine, who came up with the idea for the excursion.
He wanted people to see what the Gap looked like so they could better understand what was at stake. Two power companies – PPL in Pennsylvania and PSE&G in New Jersey – are planning to expand their presence in the park via a utility corridor they've owned since before the park was created. Via a line on a map, Fred showed the group the location of the pathway. It was almost perpendicular to the cut the river had made through the mountain. He explained that a 230-kilovolt power line is already there, seen only where its wires hang across the river or when you are in the right-of-way's direct vicinity. The new 500-kilovolt power line, however, would need to be significantly higher. The new one would reach far above the treetops, affecting every vista within ten miles, including ones from the famous Appalachian Trail as it crosses the ridge of the mountain divided. The width of the necessary right-a-way cut would also increase, meaning a larger slice through the forest. We were there to see the before scene and to imagine the impact a line of that size would make. This was my first group hike since girl scouts. Our leader, Cathy Frankenberg, called for two volunteers – one to "lead" and one to "sweep" – essentially determining who would be the engine and who would be the caboose.
We counted off to learn our group total so no one would get left behind. Then, twenty-one pairs of boots and four paws set off, crunching through the Autumn leaves.
The air was crisp. The sun was out. And unlike the whining and silliness that accompanied every troop hike in my childhood, this one was filled with focus, appreciation, and a general sense of importance. Other than a few uphill climbs and a litter of fallen branches, the trail was fairly easy. There was only one spot where the group had to duck, one by one, through a maze of limbs attached to a large, recently fallen pine tree, courtesy of Hurricane Sandy. Once everyone had passed, two of the hikers retrieved handsaws from their packs and stayed behind to reopen the trail in true mountain-club style. The rest of us plodded on. We were surprised that we hadn't encountered more blockades, given the windy violence that had recently come to these woods. I found it nice not having to worry about reading a map; all I had to do was follow.
However, I became uneasy when Cathy instructed the lead to "stop at the power line." My experience was always that a power line was a thing to run from; standing under one would make my teeth buzz. But when we arrived, I realized the voltage was not strong enough to do that. I never noticed any noise or discomfort. The clear cut in which we were standing WAS ugly, its scar extending beyond the horizon, but it seemed that there, on the New Jersey side, short vegetation was growing beneath the lines, unlike many of the Pennsylvania clear cuts I'd seen. At least it could serve as shrub habitat.
We waited for everyone to catch up, and then Fred stepped up again to describe what the new lines would look like. A few of my fellow hikers responded with some great questions.
Q: Why do the new lines have to be so high? A: Safety regulations Q: Could they bury the lines instead? A: Yes. Q: Why don't they? A: It's very expensive Q: Do they really need the increased capacity? A: Uncertain. 2011 reports said yes; recent reports aren't so clear. The claim is that it is needed to increase reliability for the PJM grid. Q: What about alternative routes? A: The others have been ruled out for various reasons. We posed for a group photo (not shown) and then moved on. As we began moving again, sighs of frustration now combined with the sound of crunching leaves. We walked on for a while when eventually I heard someone say, "Oh there's the abandoned house." As we advanced, a white wooden structure appeared, and the closer I got, the bigger it got. It looked like it had once been a beautiful home, larger than anything I'll ever own.
It had a certain decay-covered elegance, like the kind of place that could have been used as a horror movie set. A second, less impressive home appeared on our right, an empty foundation on the left, and metal scrap pile in the middle. Operable earth-moving equipment and a functional trailer sat next to rusted vehicular shells. One hiker bravely walked up to the smaller house to peek inside. I heard her say, "there's still furniture in there."
The group circled again. Fred described the cause of the abandonment; it was not by owner choice.
After two killer hurricanes in 1955, the inhabitants were forced to sell (along with hundreds of others) when Congress set into motion the building of the Tocks Island Dam. The plan eventually fell through, shelved after vocal opposition successfully painted the questionable flood-control project as a bad idea. In 1975, the 40 miles of river previously slated to become a reservoir turned into a national park instead, and although the result is an environmental conservation success story, bitterness still drips from the evicted families who had called this land home for generations. My heart was heavy with the endless divide over land use that dated back to the very day these states united. I tried to imagine what it would have been like to live in this picturesque spot, tucked deep into our six-mile hike, with a gorgeous view of serenity. But we were looking at a scene halted in time: two homes, spread apart. Nature was taking back the land and demolishing the structures; the human imprint was faded.
However troubling was the thought of owners being kicked out of such a remote place, I wondered if such remoteness would have survived history's suburbanite explosion? Could we fairly assess the scene in terms of the alternate reality, the one where the land would have remained privately owned? Fred spoke of the generations who were there, living off the land, but would time have changed their livelihood just as it has the rest of us? And will those angry landowners ever know how cherished this place has become to those who journey here because they cannot find this kind of serenity where they live? Do they know how good it is to escape the hotels and shopping centers and parking lots to come to a place that might otherwise have become hotels and shopping centers and parking lots? Do they know the impact of their forced contribution? Might we not do well to acknowledge them for their "donation?" As we walked away from the area in silence, the biggest question remained: since they were not allowed to continue providing for themselves on this land, how was it fair that such rights would be expanded for a power company? I've always been careful about calling for government to become a property owner, forever nervous about "public" land's exposure to special interests and changing regimes. Yet, private citizens have continually proven themselves irresponsible when it comes to land use, ripping through every harvest as if theirs are the only mouths to feed, rarely leaving an untouched seed for the future. Sure a few, scattered parcels have been left in their natural state, but they cannot provide wildlife habitat, rainwater absorption, carbon sequestration, or the scenic beauty the way a national park can. In the end, unpopular decisions to set aside large, federal blocks of land to preserve their natural features for generations has yielded immensely popular sanctuaries, sanctuaries from human whims. And there was the fundamental theme I found as I trampled through serenity in a herd. Meanwhile, I found an easy companionship in this group of strangers. We swapped ideas, exalted opinions, and understood each other's intentions. There would be time later to come back and walk slowly, quietly, peacefully, in the reflective style I normally prefer, but Saturday was about people. Saturday was learning about people making sacrifices in order to protect a place from people. When time came for lunch, everyone agreed that we'd prefer to find a rest spot near the river. That required a little off-trail diversion, but I was happy to do so because that meant I could finally catch a glimpse of my wide, quiet friend, the Delaware.
Had there been any wildlife present, our noisy approach scared it away. Still I could imagine a Bald Eagle scouting from a high tree, a scene not unlikely around this waterway filled with healthy fish. But the hike was already running behind schedule; there was no time for bird watching, only eating.
I did snap a few photos, though, after I finished my sandwich.
I noticed later that the photos I took included wooden pieces of Nature that never survive in the sterile American backyard – a rotten evergreen surround by its sprouted offspring...
the aged hardwood (my bench for lunch)...
an upended root ball from a long ago fall.
Soon enough it was time to regroup, count off, and head for the end.
When we reached the fallen pine tree, we passed it this time with ease, applauding the cutting work of the two men. Another irony added to the day: a trail cleared by man for walking to stop a trail from being cleared by man for power. We arrived back at our starting point about four hours after we had begun. There in the gravel parking lot of Millbrook Village, we circled up and counted off one last time. Everyone had made it back alive. Fred left us with a plea: to tell the story of our hike, to let people know that even though Delaware Riverkeeper and others were fighting the expansion in the courtroom, we hikers needed to raise awareness among the others who loved the scene. We needed a vocal opposition to successfully paint the questionable project as a bad idea, given Northeastern America's dwindling supply of uninterrupted scenic vistas, given the 70,000-acre promised to protect the organic beauty of this place, given the past sacrifices made on this very spot, given that this narrow swath of land gives so much to so many visitors, given that it should not be too much to ask that corporations step aside, to make a sacrifice, to come up with an alternate plan.
I took a hike in the woods on Saturday with 20 other outdoor enthusiasts to see this place for myself. Along the way I got to meet a few of its fans. I gained a greater appreciation for the work that the Delaware Riverkeeper and its partners are doing to protect my favorite river as well as the experience for those who walk the nation's favorite trail, the Appalachian. Yes, the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area is a megawatt interconnection on which humans depend, but it plugs us in to something far more powerful than that which an energy company could generate.
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This Week's Small Step: Try Another Vehicle

July 27th, 2012
It's exciting to hear people talking about alternatives to the combustion engine. Battles are waging over who can come up with the best alternative while even the trusty gasoline motor makers are back to touting fuel efficiency now that consumers see the benefits of buying a less thirsty car. Sadly, advancements have gotten hung up on infrastructure. The powers that be are fighting over which technology should replace the gas pump. But why try to find one solution for 300 million people? Why not empower each of those 300 million to come up with their own alternative, whether they want to try brand new inventions or stick to old-fashioned wheels? Many Americans already own a non-vehicular mode of transportation. They're stuffed into garages and storage lockers, brought out only when it's time to recreate. What if we tried putting those possessions to use as transportation? We won't know until we give it a shot, so for this week's One Small Thing, I say:

Try Another Vehicle

Maybe it's a quick jaunt to the bank. Or a visit to a neighbor. Or if you're really serious, a trip to work. One time in the next week, see if you can complete a task -- one that you would normally do with your car -- using one of those non-motorized (or lightly motorized) recreational vehicles your already have. Such as a bike...
a canoe...

a golf cart...

a sailboat...

a little wagon...

or a big wagon...

Any alternative you can think of, one that's already been invented, one that is anything but a car.
The Write Beat's "One Small Step a Week" series offers suggestions for simplifying life in order to slow down, reconnect with Nature, and live in a way that is in better harmony with our surroundings. Back to Basics home page

This Week's Small Step: Stick a Jug in it

April 13th, 2012

Where would we be without water?

Liquid water is second only to oxygen on the scale of importance when it comes to that which we need, in constant supply, to keep our bodies running.

Even though it falls from the sky, drinkable water is not an endless resource. The demand on the supply grows with each new person added to the population, each new home built, each new industry launched, each new garden dug.



If we plan to stay alive, then we best offer appreciation to the fact that our bodies need water as much as blood (which also consists mostly of water).

Any grateful person would never intentionally waste a life-giving substance. For instance, we wouldn't flush perfectly good food down the toilet. Nor would we dispose of anything we expect to need or want in the future. How about money? Your iPod? Your son's cherished goldfish, still alive? Flushing away our favorite things? That is exactly what we do with each trip to the outdated bathroom.

At between three and seven gallons per flush, old-model toilets are water gluttons, turning water into nothing more than a means to transport waste. Thankfully, today's WaterSense toilets don't use nearly the volume as the old ones did, weighing in at about one-and-a-half gallons per flush instead.

However, it doesn't always seem prudent to rip out a perfectly working toilet just because it is old, especially when you consider how many old toilets exist. Financially strapped, some of us may not be able to afford the expense, and if we try to upgrade with a cheap model, the new commode will likely need to be flushed multiple times to work, undoing the intended conservation strategy. Others cannot rely on their landlord to make repairs, let alone replace things that still work. Then, some of us are simply unwilling to throw out our favorite throne.

So for anyone who has an old toilet they just can't part with, here's what I suggest for my next One Thing:

Stick a Jug in it.

Even though your old toilet was designed to carry away waste with at least three gallons per flush, it really never needed that much to do the job. Quite often, we can modify the design without impeding the function. We can simply shrink the open space in the holding tank to reduce the volume required to fill it.

Here's an easy way to do that -- simplified for those who would never otherwise concern themselves with the operation of a toilet:

• Finish drinking and wash one, gallon-size milk jug

• Throw a few rocks into the empty jug (to add weight and reduce buoyancy)

• Fill the jug with water and replace the cap


• Turn off the toilet's water valve.


• After the next flush, when the tank is empty, lift of the tank lid and set the jug in the space, away from the chain and moving parts


• Turn on the valve and let the tank refill

• Go wash your hands

From this point on, you will use 1 less gallon of water per flush, or 5 gallons per day (on average) or 1,825 gallons per year. I put a jug in my toilet at least 10 years ago (you can tell by the ugly condition of it in the photo above) and have since saved 18,250 gallons (minus one to fill the jug).

Of course, pay attention for awhile. If for any reason your toilet does not operate properly as a result, remove the jug. You can try a smaller item, like a brick or two, anything that will consume the space otherwise taken by water.

Like anything else, if your toilet leaks, by all means fix it. And if you really want to save water and are in a position to upgrade, do that too. The new models work better than the original low-flow toilets. And preferably you'll recycle the porcelain, however a recycler may be difficult to find unless your community has a program in place.

(Wondering how much water your toilet uses? Click here for a formula to figure it out.)

Finally, pour yourself a tall, clean glass of water, raise it as a toast to the Earth for its gift, and drink it down completely, remembering how important the liquid is to your health and your survival. Stay near a toilet though, 'cause you'll probably have to pee in about 20 minutes.

The Write Beat's "One Small Step a Week" series offers suggestions for simplifying life in order to slow down, reconnect with Nature, and live in a way that is in better harmony with our surroundings.

This Week's Small Step: Visit a tree, and be

April 5th, 2012

Few insults bother me more than the term treehugger -- not for the one being insulted, but for the one who is foolish enough to think the concept is derogatory. Consider what we get from trees (lumber, paper, energy) outside their enormous scientific role in Earth's live-giving systems (air, water, land). To any intelligent person, it should quickly become obvious that the trees on this planet most certainly deserve to be hugged.

Plus, I dare anyone to stand at the base of a giant redwood and stop their spirit from fluttering in awe. Who can walk through a park as lovely Trexler Memorial Park in Allentown (more below), where the trees have been properly loved and maintained for more than 100 years, without recognizing the place inspires because of the trees that are there?

Cityscape or country forest, trees stand silently around us all day, every day, and therefore we tend to hurry past them without a thought to their existence -- or their role in ours.

So here's this week's One Thing:

Visit a tree,

and be.


You don't have to hug it.

You can lean on it, climb it...


sit under it...


gaze at its canopy...

or lay a single hand on its trunk and close your eyes.

What matters is that you visit it with attention focused on the tree. Acknowledge that you are in its presence, if only for a short while.

Of course, the bigger the tree, the more intense the energy, but even tiny seedlings can have a special place in a person's heart depending on how it came to be growing where it is.

Sitting or standing still for a moment is half the battle during our busy lives. After that, I'm honestly not sure what it is about a tree that yields so much power over my mental state. I have some theories.

Here are few reasons why I think they inspire so:

Trees live longer than I on average; I cannot imagine all that an old tree has witnessed in its lifetime.

Still it wears its wrinkles with pride.


Trees are more patient than I, rushing not to the beat of some paper calendar, but to natural signals instead.


They exist despite unfavorable odds...


They contribute to others even after their death...


They capture the wind with a sound that cools my mind...


They display grandeur with humility...


And they are simply and stunningly beautiful.


Trees are a treasure on a long list of things taken for granted because, whether we acknowledge them or not, they are still going to be there. And despite how many we've lost, their population seems endless.


Trees do not base the quality of their existence on our recognition. All they ask is that we don't cut them down, crush their roots, hack into their shell, or rip off their leaves. So giving recognition and gratitude to a tree does nothing to its self esteem, as far as I know, but it sure can do wonders to mine. Like any grateful practice, it forces me to move my thoughts away from "what is missing from life" toward "what has been found."

I do not shrink from the treehugger label; I welcome it. At that defining moment when my life reaches its end, I suspect all my hopes will mirror what I find when I am at the base of a tree: to have made a positive impact and to have lived with graciousness, harmony, and humility.

Standing in the presence of a tree is a small step that can offer a heavy dose of healing medicine, whether you are ailing or not. And the next time someone calls you a treehugger, be sure to say "thank you."


Photo locations in order:

Climbing tree: Trexler Memorial Park in Allentown, PA

Sitting tree: My friend Ernie relaxes at Spring Gulch Campground, New Holland, PA

Canopy tree: This could be anywhere, but it was taken in Green Lane, PA

Wrinkled tree: Trexler Memorial Park, Allentown

Seasonal tree: My backyard in Green Lane, PA

Surviving tree: Near Mt. Olga, VT

Woodpecker tree: Deep Creek Lake, Green Lane, PA

Cooling trees: Wharton Forest, NJ

Grand tree: Trexler Memorial Park, Allentown, PA

Beautiful tree: Trexler Memorial Park, Allentown, PA

Many trees: Jim Thorpe, PA

Found tree: Trexler Memorial Park, Allentown, PA

See Hike #6 at this link to learn more about visiting Trexler Memorial Park in Allentown.

The Write Beat's "One Small Step a Week" series offers suggestions for simplifying life in order to slow down, reconnect with Nature, and live in a way that is in better harmony with our surroundings.