Monday, May 24, 2010

Energy Audit Results

On Tuesday, May 18th, we completed an energy audit. By we, I mean Alex and I. She greeted the gentleman, Clarke, from MassSave who performed the actual audit. We have mostly CFLs, although not the fancy dimming ones. We're pretty energy efficient, minus the single-paned windows and carbon monoxide emissions from our heater in the basement. 

The heater puts out between 5000-6900 PPM (that's parts per million if you didn't know), which is terrible considering carbon monoxide levels shouldn't go over 100 PPM.  Our CO levels were between 4900-6800 PPM higher than they're supposed to be and above the legal limit. Our gas is currently shut off to the heater. At least we still have hot water.  Thank goodness it is not the winter or we would have been colder than we already were. 

It's been fun, ya'll. Catch you on the flip side. 

M. & A.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wanted: More Plots for Willing Gardeners

As I worked in my shared community garden plot this weekend—alongside a woman named Elisa who spoke with a Spanish accent and a man named Webb with white hair and glasses—I realized we were preparing the soil to grow more than just spring peas and summer tomatoes. After all the books and articles and blog posts I’ve read about the magic of community gardening, there’s nothing like actually experiencing it.

So different from the other ways I’ve grown food—on a larger, partly commercial scale at the Local Food Project at Airlie, and with a more individualistic approach in the backyard of our former rental house—vegetable gardening at a community plot emphasizes the fact that we all have the same basic needs. Whatever your background or situation, you have to eat, and many different kinds of people choose to meet that need by producing some of their own food on this shared land. Because there’s barely any boundary between plots, these diverse gardeners can’t help but rub elbows with one another. Conversations center around soil or plants or water or pests. Talk is simple, but rich. Chatter doesn’t last long because everyone wants to get back to work.

A lot of people want to get in on this experience, but can’t. Arlington has only eight community gardens and the demand for plots far exceeds availability. While Greg and I loosened soil and pulled out weeds at the plot we have no official claim to (remember I randomly made a new friend who wanted to share hers), a man wandered up who said he’d been on the waiting list for three years. Riding my bike along Four Mile Run this evening I caught a quick view of a carefully tended vegetable garden on the bank of the stream out of sight from the road. I pedaled away with mixed feelings—excited that someone had found land in an unlikely spot to grow their own food, sad that with the next big rainstorm all their hard work will be washed away, and frustrated that Arlington isn’t meeting the enthusiasm of citizens to get out and garden.

For my independent study this summer I’ll be looking at the relationship between urban agriculture and citizenship. I’m looking forward to reading, observing, and pondering, but my big scary, thrilling idea is to use what I learn at some point down the line to form a pitch to convince Arlington decision-makers why urban agriculture should be a priority for our area. We’ll see what happens!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


To change or not to change, that's the question....

Did my habits as an urban environmental citizen change over the past four months? Did I become more aware of my product consumption? Did I check food labels for things that were produced locally, regionally or organically? Did I unplug appliances, turn off lights and audit my energy usage?

YES, YES, and YES.

In terms of the four key aspects of sustainable urban living: food systems, consumption, transportation, and energy use, I believe that my eyes have been opened. It has been a terrific challenge, and I plan on continuing to monitor my input and outputs in terms of sustainable practices all summer long.

Energy Audit

We are excited to announce that we (Alex and I) are getting a FREE energy audit, hosted by the Commonwealth Challenge, Next Step Living, and MassSAVE
It is scheduled for 5/18/2010 at 1:30 PM.  I don't know how long this blog is going to continue, but I wanted to follow up to my previous "blogs".  

Over our last weekend of Dawn's class, we were able to meet Josh Lynch, who started the Commonwealth Challenge.  I am really excited to be a part of this!  

Friday, April 30, 2010

Final thoughts.

OK so for the last blog I am going to write the same one for both classes. I am right in assuming this is the last week we have to blog??

I thought I would share my overall final ideas for each class.

Overall I think I am more aware of my own actions and own energy consumption. I broke out the bike this morning and rode to the post office. I’m not sure its something I will do often, but hey it’s a start. In my continuing house search I look for things, such as energy star appliances, the windows, type of heat, and age of the building. I have planted a small 3 pot herb garden. Planted. I wish I could say I they were thriving, but they are not. I kind of feel bad that I bought them as I may end up throwing it out. But I tried. As for local food, I now understand the importance of buying local food, but still like when I started the semester, I can’t afford to eat in that fashion. From Dawn’s class I have learned the qualities it takes to be a leader, but I am still having trouble putting it all together. I still don’t know how to take the leadership skills I have learned and put it into a practical situation. I still find myself being judgemental in certain situation, when I know people are doing something that is not a good ecological choice. It’s frustrating, but perhaps it will come with time. Both of these classes have frustrated me that we don’t really look at things on a global level, we have been focusing on our own communities. But maybe that will be addressed next semester. Overall I have enjoyed sharing thoughts with everyone, and reading everyone’s blogs.

Human Oil Addiction causes oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

As many of you know from my last post, I am really concerned by this BP disaster in the Gulf Coast region. As I type, I am thinking about the jet fuel used to bring me to Boston to study environmental issues. This seems really counter-intuitive for me personally. I know that we do not have a model in which I could get to New England faster than a plane, so I must not focus too heavily on this discouraging fact.
I just wonder if Americans will even flinch at the 5,000 barrels of oil a day spewing into the ocean, deemed a potentially huge ecological disaster by experts. Will surpassing the Exxon Valdez spill make us think about our consumption? Or will we just ignore it? I don't think we have a choice this time; oil is already lapping onto our Gulf shores.
I have challenged myself to walk everywhere feasible, ride a bike or my moped for intermediate distance trips, and demand carpooling for longer trips. Most of my friends, who never talk about environmental issues, have taken to shifting their thinking in consumption.
I am amazed by how many people have responded positively in my quest to spread the "green" word. My fear of being ostracized for my opinions and values have vanished. If just talking about environmental concepts have already changed family and friends' behavior on even a small scale means that there is real hope for the planet and humans. Change is possible; Recently I gave a very short seminar at the college that employs me, and many of the facts that I rattled off to the crowd still surprise me. The United States makes up less than 5% of the world population, yet we consume around 27% of the world's resources. This means that WE have to be the leaders in reducing consumption. This also means that WE can incredibly reduce the impact humans have on our finite and amazing planet.
I charge everyone to not drive their personal automobile for ONE day. If you cannot do this for a whole day, at least lump all of your trips/errands into the least amount of driving as possible. I know that folks who work, have children, or is a nanny cannot simply go even half a day without driving, so any attempts to reduce use will help. There has to be a way to stick it to companies like BP, because charging them with cleanup costs isn't going to even dent their quarterly profits.
The domestic off-shore drilling program has been halted in light of this catastrophe. I am personally very happy; domestic drilling, whether in the Gulf Coast or in Alaska, will not solve much. What can be produced is almost laughable compared to imported oil, not to mention the fuel won't even hit the market for a while. Does giving a drug addict product made in the U.S.A. rather than product made outside the States make them any less addicted to drugs? Not at all. So why haven't we taken the same approach to transportation and fuel sources? Because we are addicted to a drug called convenience. I am one of those hooked, and even when I want to stop, it calls me back again...
I refuse to believe the oil pipe leak was just an accident; the Earth is trying to tell us something with every hurricane, earthquake, forest fire, and yes, even oil spill that occurs.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

eQuest Energy Model: Update 1

Using eQUEST energy modeling software, I was able to accurately predict the energy use of my apartment, and shared wall apartments, in my multi-family dwelling. Here are some glimpses of the process.

Note: I finished this project while watching tonight's Cambridge City Council Meeting broadcast on "City TV". City Councilors are celebrating the ribbon cutting of a new library, while many Boston neighborhoods are reeling after the recent news that four public libraries will be closed in September and others will face budget cuts. 

I digress.

Here are some screen shots from my study:

My Home Location in Cambridge, MA
eQuest has a built-in "wizard" that guides the software user through the modeling process. I chose the simple wizard, which included 50 windows, each requiring entry of several data points. Some of the input data help to define the following:

- Gross floor area
- Partition Layout
- Roof Construction
- Exterior Wall Construction
- Interior Wall Construction
- Above and Below Grade Rigid Insulation
- Window Type
- Window Locations
- Exterior Window Blinds, Shades
- Unit Counts
- Occupancy Duration (day only, night only, 9-5, etc)
- Office Equipment
- Laundry Loading
- Interior Lighting Intensity and Type
- HVAC Equipment Type
- Ventilation Type (Mechanical/Passive)
- Miscellaneous Equipment Loads
- Seasonal Thermostat Setpoints
- Weather Region

Typical eQUEST Window "Building Footprint"

 Typical eQUEST Window "Building Envelope Construction"

Typical eQuest Window "Exterior Windows"

I'll spare you the other 47 data input windows. Some of the data has a significant degree of uncertainty, which results in considerable error. Take for example the rating and existence of insulation. I had to assume an R-value for the existing insulation. I assumed R-15 insulation in the exterior above ground walls and in the ceilings. I also assumed that the building was constructed without underground rigid insulation. 

Another abstract input was the 'infiltration rate' of the the building facade. This is the rate at which air moves through the building envelope (i.e shell). Leaky buildings have high infiltration rates, tight buildings have low infiltration rates. Infiltration is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM). After doing some research, I picked an infiltration rate that a bit higher than the average, due to the age and observed draftiness of my apartment. If I were to hazard a guess, the infiltration rate is probably higher than the conservative value input.

After completing the data input, the software generated this model:

eQUEST Building Model

Then the software generates a energy consumption report based on weather data for Boston downloaded automatically from a Department of Energy database.
The report looks like this:
Baseline Design Electric and Gas Consumption
My first impression is that the report is within the ballpark. I'm going to compare the result with the actual electricity/gas consumption. The tricky step will be asking my neighbors, the other occupants of the multi-family dwelling, for their electricity and natural gas bills. Update 2 will include an analysis of the electric and gas consumption predicted by the eQuest Model contrasted with the actual building use. It would also be valuable to change data inputs, such as the insulation R-values, and see how the predicted energy use is affected. Another idea is to calculate kWh and btu per person, then compare the consumption with that of a typical single family household. 

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

No idling, please!

Today I went to pick up my 'kids' from school.

I pulled into the carpool lane and noticed that all of the Mommy-SUVs/Nanny-sedans were shut off and silent. New signs dotted the pick-up lane, quietly screaming "NO-IDLE ZONE".

New regulations stating that it's illegal to idle your car vary from state to state. This is a big conflict in our family since some people (aka, me) have had the wrong impression that idling the car uses less gas than stopping and restarting the car. Actually, idling the car for just ten seconds uses more gas than turning the car off and on again. This is the most simple and easy way to save money, gas and keep our air clean and our kids free from asthma.

Constructs and Criticism

I have been following the British Petroleum oil disaster that happened recently, and it is getting pretty scary how much human demand is seriously screwing things up. I mean, I don't want to turn into one of those super angry environmentalists that burn out early, but this is just getting ridiculous.
So, I made up my mind that in order to take a "small step" in becoming a better ecological citizen I need to boycott BP gasoline. That was until a good friend of mine I hadn't seen in a while called me up and begged me to drive to Cincinnati to spend some time with him. Now, as an environmental leader, is it the best use of my remaining fossil fuels in the gas tank to drive 80 miles to see a high school buddy? Probably not. I told myself that seeing a long-time friend was worth that little over a quarter tank, so I made the trek north. I hadn't yet noticed that my tank was sitting at exactly over a quarter tank left. As I reached the Cincinnati city limits, I hear the empty tank warning beep and the light come on the dash. "Time to get gas," I thought to myself. I literally drove in circles trying to find a gas station, cussing myself for not filling up before hitting the interstate. When I finally found one, I became very irritated and almost ashamed: the only available gas station within safe distance of my car not running out was none other than British Petroleum. Angry that I felt I had no other choice, and mostly angry that I could have prevented this whole situation by paying better attention to my car. Or better yet, angry that I chose to spend my time driving to see a friend rather than staying home and saving gas (and possibly tackle the mounting laundry pile).
I pull up at the pump, slam my car in park, ripped the keys out of the ignition, and slammed the door even harder as I got out to fill up. As I stood there pumping gas I realize that while I have this righteous attitude about BP's practices, I am currently contributing to the reason why the spill happened in the first place.
Earlier, I felt helpless and stuck in the social construct that aids in the perpetuation of society's "downward spiral." Post-epiphany, I see that all I had to do was stay in Lexington in order to do my part in curbing the addiction. I didn't have to drive to Cincinnati, I didn't have to forget gas before I left after I decided to go, and certainly didn't have to drive a vehicle (truck) that uses that much fuel in the first place.
What I learned from this experience is that while it was fun to see an old friend, it may not have been worth the internal moral struggle. How does one go about their daily lives without getting bent out of shape? How do I go about seeing people in my life (much LIVE your life) without conflicting with my attempted behavioral changes constantly? I preach the importance of not staying upset all the time, but I cannot help from simmering about the things that bother me personally.


I started a do-it-yourself home energy audit, with the help of Alex. We've been tackling a small bit at a time.  Most of the bits are easy and cost nothing, like evaluating the apartment. 

The first, and albeit easiest, task was to change light bulbs. CFLs are relatively expensive at $5.00 a piece... but they come in nice little recyclable packaging. They also come with their own recylcing kit!

I'm hoping to see changes in our energy bill...  


More to come after the weekend...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Beekeeping article from Boston Globe

I came across an article in the Boston Globe dated March 17, 2010 titled NYC abuzz: Board makes beekeeping legal. Beekeeping is now legal in New York City! Many would have to keep their beekeeping labors a secret. NYC was known as one of the many cities who's health code banned beekeeping and listed honeybees as hazardous creatures. Beekeeping is legal in Boston and Cambridge and has always been a popular trade in Massachusetts. If you are interested in keeping honeybees and live in the Boston area contact the Norfolk County Beekeepers Association. They offer classes for $50 or so during January.