Saturday, December 24, 2011

Safety and Visibility - Biking in Weather and at Night

Biking is by far the most fun way to commute when the weather is clear, but in the winter you may be biking in darkness both ways and the weather is more likely to be rotten. Safety and visibility should your chief concerns when choosing to commute by bike at night, in the rain or in temperatures below freezing.

Just the other day I took my first spill in years. It was a light rain, and I was going slow, but rounding a corner I crossed a crosswalk, and both wheels touched the painted line at the same time while I was leaning into the turn. Suddenly my tires, which had been gripping the road so faithfully, lost all traction and I found my face in the asphalt. I wasn't injured, but it was a shocking reminder that biking in weather is different: it requires more attention and caution.

I like to ride fast and hard, but when the road is wet you have to slow down, especially on turns: use the handlebars a little more and lean a little less. If the temperature drops below freezing, you can get ice on the road, which is the same problem but much, much worse.

Closer to the planetary poles, the days get awfully short in winter, and many people will find themselves going to work before sunrise and returning after sunset. If you bike, this essentially means biking at night both ways. Some states (Oregon included) have laws that require bike lights, but most urban cycling veterans will tell you to do much more than the legal minimum.

The more lights, reflectors and LEDs you have, the more likely a driver is to spot you before there is any threat of collision. Also, front and back lights are essential but having plenty of visibility from the sides will keep you from getting sideswiped in an intersection. Spoke lights can be as cheap as $5, and they create arcs of light when you are moving.

High visibility clothing and self adhesive reflectors are a must, no matter how dorky you look.  I like to wear layers that I can easily take off and stuff in a bag, so the vest my In-Laws got me is perfect.  

There will always be accidents. On our last trip to Seattle Courtney's family all admonished us with stories of a cyclist, covered in reflective gear, who was hit by a drunk driver in Kirkland recently. The one thing you can never control is the other people on the road, but the same is true in a car or on a motorcycle. It is best to cycle on routes that other cyclists use.  People only look for bikes when they are used to it, so the more there are on the road the safer it usually is.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Artistic Expressions of Waste

Check out this eerie and beautiful short film (about a minute and a half), a brief metaphor for wasted energy (via BoingBoing): Light, directed by David Parker.

Sometimes a poetic representation like this one can be more effective than repeating facts over and over.  Though, I have seen facts represented poetically on occasion as well, as in the work of Chris Jordan, who creates photographs of everyday objects replicated thousands or millions of times in artistic arrangements to visualize a simple fact such as how many plastic bottles are used in America every minute.

These simple pieces of art present the wastefulness of our society in a thought provoking manner, and don't carry the alienation of judgment.  Though I think it is implied that we should waste less, it is not explicit in a "you're doing it wrong" kind of way

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Changes to my iPinion Column

At the bequest of the editors of iPinion, my column there is undergoing some changes.  Instead of the lengthy, feature style pieces I have been doing for them, I will be contributing a shorter weekly column that takes a more conversational tone.  To kick off this new column, I write about Kicking Cars, and discuss the way that many Americans equate their cars to their personal freedoms.  Check it out here: Freedom at Last - Kicking Cars

Hope you enjoy the changes, and keep reading!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dreaming of Less Driving - Car Free Living

Eugene Area Bike Paths
Driving, as you probably already know, is not fun. Biking, on the other hand, is.  Driving is not relaxing, walking is.  Driving is not healthy (being essentially sedentary and stressful, it is about as healthy as a desk job), both walking and biking are.  I have been dreaming of driving less (or ideally not at all) for a long time, and slowly working to achieve that dream.

Now that Courtney and I live in a highly walkable neighborhood, in the middle of a very bike-able city, we have been seriously considering a car free lifestyle, and how we could drive so little that it would cost less to rent than to own.  There would be some bike related expenses (a Burley trailer, e.g.), but the revenue from selling the car would more than cover them.  We would need to plan any required car trips carefully in advance, and sign up for a benefits program with a car rental company (Eugene does not currently have an affordable flex-car program).  But mostly, we would have to get accustomed to building just a little more travel time into our daily schedule.

Carport of the Future
We have some experience with this already, as we have been biking and walking as often as possible since we moved last April.  A little over a month ago, we began keeping a log of how often we actually use the car.  So far, the car has been used approximately 2 times a week, and most of those trips could have been avoided with better planning.  About half occurred when we were running late and decided to drive to save a few minutes.  For the rest, it was logistically easier to use the car (though it would have been possible to make other arrangements for most of them).  So basically, most of the time it was laziness or carelessness that led us behind the wheel, which leads us to conclude that if the car just wasn't there, we would be forced to plan better.

As long as we can combine several trips into a day and hold our automobile use down to about two or three days per month, renting a vehicle for those trips is actually much less expensive than paying insurance and maintenance on a vehicle (we pay the gas either way).  We also get the added benefit of always driving a car in perfect repair, and having the option to choose more fuel efficient vehicles as soon as they are available.  In fact, it might not be long before rental companies are offering electric vehicles.  In a way, this means we can vote for the most efficient vehicle as often as possible.

There a number of problems that having a car seems like the best solution to, but car ownership brings a whole mess of problems of its own.  By avoiding the need for a car as much as possible, and renting on the few occasions that it is really necessary, we hope to avoid all of the problems of car ownership, save money on insurance and maintenance, and reduce our carbon footprint all in one fell swoop.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The $8 Bike Rack - How to Secure Your Bicycle on the Cheap

Challenge: find a secure way to lock up our bikes on the cheap.  Since Courtney and I moved into the smallest house ever, we can no longer keep our bikes inside.  We think they make a pretty tempting treat just hanging out in plain view, so we decided to invest in a rack.  Unfortunately, a good rack is very expensive, and a cheap rack is not worth the price tag unless you have additional layers of security (e.g. bikes are already inside a garage).  So we decided to hit up our local go to "DIY on the cheap" shop, Bring Recycling.  After some deliberation and a lot of poking around, here is what we came up  with:

1 staircase handrail
2 concrete masonry units
1 mess of bailing wire

Total price tag: $4

After a quick trip to the local hardware store, we also picked up a bag of Quikrete, $4.  I think you can see where I am going with this.  We combined these simple ingredients in a pan coated with butter, put it in our easy bake oven for 15 minutes, and this is what came out:

Seriously, though, it was almost that easy.  As you can see, we used some cardboard boxes left over from the move to create little forms around the CMUs, put the handrail in the CMU and stuffed the bailing wire in around it (so you can't just take a sledge to it), poured in the Quikrete and let it set.  The result is heavy as heck and can't be defeated without some tools and some time (but even the best racks can be defeated with the right tools and some time). 

So there you have it, instant bike rack, $8 and about 2 hours total labor (plus 24 hour cure time).  It is not the most secure solution ever, but it will deter the average thief pretty effectively.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

iPinion Update: Avoiding the Next Mass Extinction - Out Today

In my latest piece for, I discuss the recent IPSO report which indicates that we may be headed for the first ever global extinction event caused by human beings.  Or really, caused by the activities of any one species.  I was not particularly shocked by their conclusions -- I have been following most of the research that they sited for their report -- but I was a little surprised by some of the response.  Many people are completely dismissive of this report, perhaps because they just can't imagine that our actions could have such a huge impact.

In this latest column, I lay out the fundamental facts behind a few of the major contributing studies, and discuss some well documented strategies for trying to stop this mass extinction event.  Avoiding the Next Mass Extinction
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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bicycle Security: how to protect your green commuting investment

A common instance of theft: the bicycle frame ...Image via Wikipedia
Commuting by bicycle is one fun way to reduce your transit related carbon footprint, but theft is a huge problem in any metropolitan area.  Proper bike security is a must for the urban cyclist, and there are a few simple best practices that everyone should know.

Last month, I got an email from the U of O Transit Group about precisely this issue, in which a former peace officer and current Bicycle Coordinator at the University of Maryland Transportation Services expressed very clearly everything I had ever heard about good bike security.  After asking his permission, I have decided to post what he wrote almost exactly (with some omissions, he describes in detail why certain lock types are not very effective, and that is information that we don't need to be spreading through the inter-tubes).  This info will be particularly useful for anyone who has just switched, or is considering switching to commuting by bike.

So here is what John Brandt has to say about bike security [stuff in square brackets = my commentary]:

I thought I'd weigh in on the conversation about locking bicycles because I may have some experience and/or information that some of you might not.  I was a cop from 1980-2010 and ran a police bicycle unit and a crime prevention unit for a lot of those years.  I was also on a cut-team that was responsible for removing demonstrators that locked themselves to things.  Lastly, my college is inside the Washington D.C. “beltway” and we’re not too far from Baltimore, either.  As a result, our bike theft problem may be more severe than for many of you.  Regardless, I believe that as gas prices rise and biking becomes more prevalent, the problem will become greater for all of us.  I apologize for the length of my comments, but I hope I can help some of you.

Here’s what we’ve found about cable locks:
·         3/8” to 5/8” cable locks (coated or uncoated) just plain don’t work as a primary locking device.  Thinner cables are even more worthless.  Cables can be a good device for preventing opportunistic, walk-off thefts, but if your bike is out of your sight, they’re practically worthless.  Don’t believe any hype from manufacturers or dealers about how “their” cable is stronger or better than all the “others.”  They can all be easily beaten in four ways (two by easily concealable tools):

  [Specific methods omitted at John's suggestion]

Cable locks are a nice secondary lock, when used with a u-lock.  Most thieves won’t bother defeating them just to steal your front wheel (unless it’s REALLY pricey).  There are just too many unsecured front wheels lying around on bike racks.

Here are the key facts we’ve found about u-locks:
·         You generally need power tools to defeat a u-lock and that makes them less likely to be attacked, but they’re not a perfect solution to bike theft and the bike owner is still their own worst enemy when they don’t use the lock properly.
[Specific methods omitted]

·         U-locks are only as good as what you attach them to and how you attach them.

o   The best you can do is to lock your u-lock through both wheels, your frame, and a substantial bike rack.

§  Almost no one does this because they don’t want to take the time to remove and replace their front wheel.

§  When you do this, all this stuff in the u-lock makes it very difficult, even for bike thieves who use ‘spreader-tools’ to defeat the u-lock.  There’s no room to get any tool in the right place without damaging what you’re trying to steal.

§  In 30 years of police work, I’m unaware of ANY bike ever stolen on my campus if it was locked with a u-lock, through both wheels and the frame, to a real bike rack.

o   If you attach your u-lock through your frame, but not any wheel, your bike can still be ridden off if what you’re secured to can be defeated.

§  People ride around with u-locks hanging from their frames and handlebars all the time.  Cops don’t pay any attention to this.

o   If your u-lock is through your bike frame and at least one wheel, your bike is less likely to be stolen than almost any other bike around.  Every other bike is easier to steal and get away with so that’s where the thieves go. 

§  To be honest, I accept this as my best compromise on my campus.

o   If you choose to include only one wheel in the u-lock, putting a cable through the other wheel also makes your bike more trouble to steal. 

·         Yes, an old model of Kryptonite u-lock could be defeated with a Bic pen, but I’m unaware of any new u-lock model that has this particular flaw.  Yes, I’ve seen the video on the web. [link here, it's pretty nifty!]

·         Yes, you probably can freeze them in liquid nitrogen and then shatter them with a hammer, but I’ve never heard of it actually being done and the ability to transport and use liquid nitrogen is WAY beyond our bike thieves.  If yours are this sophisticated, I think you’re better off banning bicycles on your campus except inside secured and monitored facilities.  If you have a video-link of this lock-defeating method, I’d love to see it.

Front wheel is locked with U-lock but the rest...Image via Wikipedia
Here are the most common locking mistakes we see:
·         Locking only the front wheel allows the thief to steal an unsecure front wheel from a similar, nearby bike and attach it to your bike.  You’re left with your front wheel and your lock.  Someone else, nearby, has a bike, but no front wheel. [!]

·         The front fork is not a frame element.  If you lock your bike through the front fork, the thief will remove the bike from the front wheel and pull the fork up and out of the lock.  The bike and wheel are then re-connected and they ride away, leaving your lock, alone and empty, on the rack.

·         If you lock your bike at an inverted-u rack, but the rack has become loose in the ground, the thief will just pull the rack out of the ground to free your bike to steal.  Trust me, they’ll put the rack back in the ground and hope to get more bikes off it in the future.  If you have this style of rack, please check them occasionally.  If you see someone shaking one of these racks, they’re probably a thief, trying to break a new rack loose for future use. [!!]

·         If you lock your bike to something other than a bike rack and whatever you’re locked to can be defeated easily, don’t expect your bike to be there when you return, unless you’ve run your lock through at least one wheel.

o   Thieves just rip bicycles up and off of most landscape items. 

o   If your lock fits over the parking meter head, they can just lift your bike off the meter (or sign post).

o   Wrought iron is actually quite weak at each weld-point; you may not even notice that it’s already broken and bends easily.

o   Chains that stretch between bollards are horrible.  The chain can usually be cut or just pulled out from one end and every bike along that chain is now loose.

o   Arms and legs of decorative lawn or patio furniture are easy to separate.  Our thieves then push them back together so they look secure for the next bicyclist.

Antivolvélo7Image via Wikipedia
 Of course, most bike thefts could have been avoided if the owner had just run their u-lock through at least one wheel.  Thieves don’t want to CARRY a bike away, this attracts unwanted attention, they want to RIDE it away and blend in with every other nearby cyclist.  This is why I say that encouraging bicyclists to use a u-lock through their frame and at least one wheel is a compromise that I’ve decided I’m willing to accept.  They may not be willing to take off their other wheel each time they lock their bike, but it only takes a moment more to make sure you include one wheel with the frame as you lock up. 

In the past few years we’ve given away hundreds of u-locks and sold hundreds more at wholesale cost.  The theft rate for bicycles on my campus has dropped dramatically, but the remaining thefts still have one thing in common, around 93% (it varies) of them were only using cable locks.  Many of the remaining thefts were unsecured bikes taken from inside buildings, cars, etc.  I’m aware that there are probably other factors that reduced the theft-rate, like CCTV cameras, the economy, etc.  I can’t factor those into the equation, but it seems obvious to me……lots of good racks and lots of u-locks =  less theft of bikes.

I know, I didn’t address component or parts-theft, so here are a few thoughts to ‘minimize’ that problem:

o   If it can be removed without tools, it can be easily stolen; fix that:

o   Change your seat post quick release to a bolt; how often to you really adjust your seat height.

o   You can replace wheel quick releases with bolted axles (yuck) or with locking mechanisms ($$), or you can put a fat zip-tie on the spoon to hold it tight against the frame or fork.  It’s not perfect, but it makes it harder to open the spoon.  If you carry tools to do road-repairs on your bike, you should have something that can pop the zip-tie if you get a flat.  If not, you can still fix the flat with the wheel still on.

o   Lights?  Buy lights that bolt or screw on, take them with you, or buy cheap enough to not worry about the loss.

o   Computer?  Pop it off and take it with you.  It’s unlikely that a thief wants your old model, but why tease them or provide a target for a vandal?

o   Panniers or other bags?  Take them with you or switch to a courier bag.

Lastly…….here’s the additional advice we should give to everyone………..please, please, please…….register your bike with somebody, record your serial number somewhere, be able to give a detailed description of your bike, and always report it if it’s stolen.

P.S. If you’re a bike thief, please forget everything you just read; there’s just no way to beat any bike lock.  Find another profession.  There’s no profit in stealing bikes because the cops recover EVERY bike and arrest EVERY thief; EVERY time.

So there you have it folks, the definitive guide to bike security.  Or at least a good gloss.  One last note, John also told me via email that in any good talk about security, one should mention environmental security.  In other words, lock your bike in a place that is well lit and frequented by pedestrians.  Even a fast bike thief will be a little wary of working on a lock in broad daylight, with lots of bystanders.  Also good is any area patrolled by bike cops, they tend to be more savvy about bike security and suspicious bike behavior, and their presence can deter theft.

Recap: U-locks are good, cable locks only good as backup/ component protection, and any lock only as good as the rack you are locking to.  Don't let thieves make saving the planet harder, secure your bike, and Ride On!
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

From iPinion - "Making Markets Free"

In my latest article on iPinion, Regulating Freedom - Making Markets Free, I explore the complex relationship between rules and freedom.  Economics has traditionally taught us that a free market is one that is unregulated, but can a system with no rules ever really be free?  Check out this latest installment in my series on Sustainability and Economics.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Living Small and Walking Tall - The Big Move

Moving is never easy, but when you choose to move into a smaller space it is nearly impossible.  Courtney and I, in an effort to put our money where our mouths have been, have opted to move into a home that is half the square footage of our last place, in a neighborhood that is vastly more pedestrian friendly.  Let me repeat that: HALF the square feet.  We now share, with our two dogs and two cats, a 550sq.ft. two bedroom home just west of Amazon Park, which has a Walk Score of 91.

You may think that we are crazy to willingly, and not for monetary reasons, choose to live in a much smaller space (and some days recently I would be inclined to agree with you).  But the fact is that most of us, by far, have much more space than we need.  As you may remember from my Dream of Less, we have been thinking about fitting our lives into less space for some time.  The goal is to find out how much space we really need instead of constantly trying to "upgrade" to a space which is bigger than the last.  This time, we upgraded to a home that is better and smaller, so we are really getting a lot more for our money.  Why would we endeavor to do this you ask?  Aside from forcing us to pare down, keep less junk, live more simply, etc. there is a primary environmental motivation: smaller spaces consume less energy, by far, than larger ones.  The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (or DEQ for short) recently published the results of a long study on housing types, and living small was on the top of their list of ways to reduce your carbon footprint.  To take a look at the whole report, click here.  A few other quick take-aways from the report: carpet has the highest embodied energy of any building material and sharing walls, whether in a duplex, townhouse, or apartment, drastically reduces your carbon footprint.

As you can imagine, the process of paring down to fit in a space half the size has been pretty intense.  It began weeks before the move, as we went room by room through the house, measuring furniture and emptying storage spaces to sort what we would keep and what we could fit.  About a hundred Craigslist posts and one garage sale later, we thought we had done a pretty good job.  As we began to bring our stuff into the new place (with much needed help from Courtney's parents, who came down to Eugene just to give us a hand), it quickly became clear that we had not done nearly enough.

We are now about 80% done getting rid of stuff and fitting in the new space, and as soon as it is presentable (currently there is at least one half empty box per room, except the bedroom which is actually coming along quite nicely), I will post some pics with explanations of what we did to fit our oversized lives into this undersized space.

That may sound like a lot of unnecessary stress to you, but there are two things that have made it not only bearable, but actually quite rewarding: one is the sense of elation and freedom that comes from getting rid of something after deciding that it is not adding any value to your life.  On the day we had our garage sale, some kids who came by regularly to request the presence of our dogs in the common area came to pick over our wares.  Courtney made a decision in that moment about a box of toys that she had been carrying since her childhood.  They served no purpose in our life right now, but she couldn't bare to just drop them at Goodwill.  She brought out the box and one by one gave her teddy bears and trinkets to the kids as a kind of reward for exercising our puppies so many times.  Everyone involved was quite pleased with the outcome.

Second, the ability to walk to everything has been a constant source of joy.  We now live across the street from a butcher shop that carries only meat from local, sustainable farms (as well as some provisions like artisan cheese, olive oil, beer and wine, both local and from afar).  We are literally next door to a fantastic cafe and deli, which serves delicacies rarely seen on the west coast like knish and bialies.  On our block there is a sushi restaruant, a hardware store, a high end kitchen store and, should we ever feel the urge, a knitting store.  Just around the corner is a very well reviewed veterinary office, a bicycle supply and repair shop, and a few more boutique shops.  Within a 10 minute walk is a dog park, a Market of Choice (like Whole Foods with Ralph's prices, for those not from Oregon), a liquor store, and more restaurants than we could eat at in one week, ranging from McDonalds (which are not likely to frequent) to Rabbit (which we wish we could afford to frequent more frequently).

Living where we do, on the edge of a residential/ commercial zone change, being able to walk to everything, makes both of us immensely happy.  We have moved from having to get in the car, for some reason, almost every day, to going for four or five days in a row without starting the car once.  I have been promoting small living and car free living for some time; I have been dreaming of having less space and using less energy.  Now I really feel that we are beginning to live the dream.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Nuclear Energy is Not a Sustainable Solution

Internationally recognized symbol.Image via Wikipedia
The debate on nuclear energy as an alternative to coal has gained momentum in the aftermath of the catastrophe in Fukushima. Despite the fact that the damaged nuclear reactors are not yet contained, and it may yet take weeks of hard work to get the cooling systems running again (Reuters), proponents of nuclear energy are already claiming that this disaster is proof of how safe fission energy generation is.  The strongest proponents of nuclear energy these days are some of its earliest enemies: environmentalists.  Curbing carbon emissions, the argument goes, is more important than anything else, and nuclear power is supposedly carbon neutral.

Claiming that this disaster (which now seems to be leaching extremely radioactive water in every direction) proves the safety of nuclear energy is quite simply absurd.  First of all, it is premature since the extent of the damage is yet unknown and the disaster is by no means over.  Furthermore, it grossly downplays the role that luck had to play in the narrow avoidance of a meltdown (not to diminish in any way the hard work of those involved in containing the disaster).  As Elizabeth Kolbert argued quite elegantly in "The Nuclear Risk," The New Yorker, March 28 2011, the simple fact is that nuclear energy generation has never been as safe as we have been pretending.  In reality, we have been extremely lucky so far, and we are ourselves only one or two natural disasters away from a nuclear catastrophe of horrific proportions.  Amory Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, provides an excellent case against nuclear energy in this guest post on Green Tech Media, focusing on safety as well as financial feasibility.

Even setting aside the safety argument, however, nuclear energy does not make sense on a purely carbon emissions basis either.  First off, nuclear is not carbon neutral: all nuclear power plants must be backed up by another form of generation, because they require backup power to avoid a meltdown during any generation downtime.  The embodied energy in a plant is also significant, and is many times more than wind generation.  Still, considering only these factors the carbon emissions per kwh are minuscule compared to coal based plants.

But there is one simple fact that really shoots the net carbon emissions of nuclear energy through the roof: nuclear waste is a powerful weapon.  My father in law was the first to point out to me that military organizations around the world burn massive amounts of fuel in their efforts to secure nuclear waste and track down any waste which has evaded security efforts.  In any honest assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear energy, we must consider at least some portion of the emissions of the military. When one considers that the US military alone burns about 395,000 barrels of oil every single day moving people and materiel around the globe (and the number one thing by weight that they move is more fuel), that contribution is clearly significant.

Ultimately, nuclear energy is not a good solution, short term or long term, to climate change.  The risk to human health in the form of potential radiation and weaponization is always downplayed by nuclear advocates, and the carbon footprint is never accounted for properly.  None of the arguments for investing in nuclear energy will stand up to rigorous scrutiny.
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Paradox of Value

In my second piece about Sustainability and Economics for iPinion, I take up the popular economic puzzle of the Paradox of Value.  Simply Stated: why are necessary things like water given such low market value when apparently useless things like diamonds command such high prices?

Find out why and what implications this has for the sustainability movement here: The Paradox of Value
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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Column for iPinion

Since iPinion has upgraded to the new ".us" domain and significantly improved its functionality, I no long feel the need to repost my column at this here blog.  Instead, I will be making short "update" blog posts designed to point you to the latest columns as they run on the other site.  Like this one!

My latest contribution to the iPinion syndicate is the featured piece this week!  Economics and Sustainability, this will be the first is a series of discussions about the colorful relationship between these two complex concepts.  In this first installment I attempt to explore how traditional economic models deal with systems that may be unsustainable (spoiler: not well).
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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

GreenSwitch: The Vampire Power Slayer

Standby IndicatorImage via Wikipedia
Whether you call it vampire electronics, phantom loads, or standby power, appliances which draw power when they are "off" can account for a significant chunk of your home energy bill.  GreenSwitch LLC, a California based company that operates nationally and internationally,  provides a service that can help you dramatically reduce your vampire power use at home, at work, or in any building with significant standby power loads.

Essentially, GreenSwitch is a home automation product, which allows the home owner to control what appliances are getting power and when.  GreenSwitch differs greatly from other home automation systems in its extreme simplicity, however.  Instead of a complicated remote control or internet based control interface, there is a single physical switch that you flip when leaving the house or going to bed that cuts power to all vampire electronics.

The switch uses a wifi signal to control specialized outlets in your house, cutting power to anything plugged in at that point.  You can get a remote control as well as the master switch for more precise control, if you are a tech geek like me, but even the most devout Luddite will be comfortable with the master switch option.

Another difference with GreenSwitch is that their product looks very similar to conventional wall fixtures.  The unflattering design and bulk of some other systems will likely turn away the consumer with an eye for design, but GreenSwitch is very low profile and blends right in with the old fashioned wall outlets.  In fact it is designed to fit into the existing outlet boxes already installed in your wall.

The specialized outlets and switch have a tiny, minuscule standby power draw, which is an order of magnitude smaller than most TVs, Computers, DVD players, VCRs, etc.  When you have several of these appliances plugged into the same outlet, the energy savings really pile up fast.  This means, however, that not every outlet in your house should be replaced, just those with a heavy standby power load.

One customer who installed GreenSwitch and got a hot tub in the same month said their energy bill went down significantly afterward.  Considering the huge energy load that a hot tubs heating element can generate, that is quite an endorsement for the GreenSwitch system.

But GreenSwitch is not just for the home.  It is also an ideal solution for small businesses with high power bills.  Most business energy solutions are for large scale operations, but businesses in mid sized offices are frequently playing very close to the margins financially, and saving up to 30% on your energy bills can have a huge impact on positive cash flow.  Particularly in offices with scores of computers and printers, vampire power can be a huge drain.

Basic packages start at $415 for home kits, which includes a simple thermostat control as well.  That may seem like a pretty steep buy in, but with energy savings from 20-35% (by their reporting), installing GreenSwitch could pay for itself in a matter of months (depending greatly on where you live).

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Clean+Green - a Miracle Cleaning Product for Pet Owners

I don't use the word miracle very often.  Truth be told, I didn't really believe in miracles until recently, when I got a package in the mail containing these two aerosol cans of Clean+Green cleaning products [legally, I have to disclose that they sent me free samples to review their product].  Even upon inspecting the cans, I was skeptical, especially since the directions instructed me to spray the mess and then do nothing, no wiping no blotting, nothing.  You can imagine, then, why I use the verbiage of a religious experience when I first had an opportunity to use this brilliant product and it worked better than anything else ever.  And when I say that it worked, I mean I didn't do a thing, the product literally did all of the work.

The word 'aerosol' in the last paragraph may scare some people, as CFCs which deplete the ozone have been used as aerosol propellants in the past.  But please, do not be alarmed, because CFCs are not the only effective propellants.  In fact, the folks at Clean+Green use nitrogen as their propellant, which does not deplete the ozone, is not a green house gas, and has no toxicity at all.  Nitrogen is already the most abundant element in our atmosphere, and spraying it out of a can has just about exactly zero impact on the environment.

The packaging of this product is almost entirely aluminum, which is not only 100% recyclable with very little loss or degradation of materials, it's vastly more energy efficient when recycled than when produced new (it has been estimated that recycling aluminum takes 5% of the energy of producing it from bauxite).  The remaining components are plastic, which is also recyclable (though less awesomely so).
[Update: I assumed the packaging was aluminum.  In fact, it is a pretty new and exiting process for making tin free steel aerosol cans, which is lighter (more fuel efficient to ship), made from two solid pieces with no welding (reducing the need for copper and water in manufacturing).  Steel is still 100% recyclable with almost no loss or degradation to the product in the recycling process.]

The most impressive thing about this product, however, is not that it works miracles with pet waste and odors, nor that it comes in recyclable packaging or uses nitrogen as its propellant, no.  The most amazing thing is that the cleaning agents are completely non-toxic as well.  No chlorine, no ammonia, no alcohol, no oxidants, it is not bleach based or enzymatic in nature, it is not even perfumed (aromatic compounds can irritate some people, especially those with severe allergies).  Everything that goes into this cleaner is biodegradable, and completely safe for pets (who have a tendency to lick interesting smells on the floor), kids, and the environment.

So in short, if I was prone to using a star system, this product would get as many as I can give.  It handled multiple different kinds of pet stains and odors from my dogs and my cats, leaving no residual smell or stains in carpets or upholstery.  We even tried it on an old ink stain on a sofa, and to our utter shock and amazement, it reduced the visibility of the stain significantly (they don't make any claims about ink though, so don't hold me or them to that).  Marry that performance with a non-toxic, biodegradable product packaged in recyclable materials, and you have one great, green product that I am happy to promote.  In shorter: Clean+Green is one of the best cleaning products I have ever used.
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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Looking Back and Forward after a Long Break

I am returning to my blog after another unplanned absence, and so I have been looking back over my posts to date.  I have been doing a lot of Dreaming of Less, and thinking about how to buy Nothing New.  But sometimes more is more, and something new is necessary.  A few green products have been brought to my attention in the past few months that I feel are really worth highlighting, and I intend to write them up in the coming month.

As important as it is to reduce the amount of new stuff that you buy, you can never eliminate the need for new stuff entirely.  So endorsing good, green products is an important part of promoting a green life style.  With that in mind, this February I will seek out as many great green products as I can, and promote them shamelessly.  Several have already fallen in my lap, one or two companies even approached me to write about them, but it was during my month of Nothing New, and so I decided to shelve it.  Since the holidays led right into starting a new job as a part time teacher for the Northwest Energy Education Institute (I am teaching a class on LEED), those products stayed on the shelf much longer than I had originally anticipated.

Being a teacher, by the way, is much harder in some ways and much easier in others than I had expected.  This is my first time teaching a class at an accredited college (NEEI is part of Lane Community College's Science Department), and I find the work to be incredibly engaging and fulfilling.  I also haven't dug this deeply into the text of the LEED rating system since I was first studying for the exam, so it has been a great way for me to further master this complex system.  I also really relish the notion that I am helping to shape an emerging group of green professionals.

Just wanted to let all my readers know that, although I am sorry I have been neglecting this blog for a while, it was for a good cause.
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