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Last time we talked about ways to save energy overall in the winter.  This go-around, we’re going to focus specifically on heat since HVAC is the big spender when it comes to your monthly utility budget.

1. Like we mentioned last time, turn down your thermostat.  Every degree lowered below 70 saves you up to 5% on heating costs.  You can also set the temperature to go down (no lower than 55 though) while you’re away for extended periods of time – even to work – to save even more on the bill.   Don’t be afraid to wear a sweater and slippers in the house.  It’s winter anyway – make yourself feel cozy.  This is where a programmable thermostat comes in handy.  We have ours set to 67 in the morning (we find it makes it easier to leave the warm cocoon of the bed), 60 upon leaving for work (we have a dog), 65 upon returning for work (make sure to pre-plan for an hr ahead of when you actually get home so it’s warm by the time you get there), and 65 throughout the night until morning again (again pre-plan an hr for when you typically wake up).

3. Dial down your hot water heater.  Turn it back to 110 and start there (be aware, though, that some dishwasher require a higher setting – so pull out the manual).  If you find yourself needing more hot water at the end of the day (if you have a bigger family with more showers), turn it up 5 degrees.  Keep testing until you’ve found a setting that works.  The other thing to also dial down is the time you actually spend in the shower.  While not everyone can maintain the military standard of a shower in 3mins, try to keep it to the length of 3 songs.  Egg timers are a simple tracking method for this.  You can do it in the same way you do the water heater.  Time your typical shower, then resolved to cut off a minute every new instance.

2. Clean your furnace filters as frequently as required.  You’d be surprised how much energy this can draw.  Think of it this way: You get in your car in the winter and it’s cold.  You blast the heat to make it comfortable.  What if you put a fishing net over the outlets (normal/clean filter)? Doesn’t really change the flow.  Change the thin film to a cotton ball (dirty filter).  Even stretched out it’s affecting your transfer of heat in a major way.  You should also take the time at the beginning of the season to get your furnace serviced.

4. Seal leaks.  We brought this up last time and it’s getting brought up again for a good reason.  As my dad use to say, he “doesn’t care to heat the outdoors” and that’s basically what you’re doing if you are living in a poorly sealed home.  The same goes for windows – use pane glazing or thick curtains to shut out the night cold.  It might also be time to check your insulation.

5. Winter seems to be the season of cooking.  Let the oven continue to do the work for you.  When you’re done baking, TURN IT OFF, but also leave the oven door open until it’s lost most of its heat.  Obviously you should choose safety over finances, so if you have a little one in the home this may not be ideal.  Our first home was the space above a 2car garage and our winter cooking probably provided half the heat needed on those cold winter nights.

6. This seems like a no-brainer, but we’re still going to mention it.  Heat only the rooms you USE.  You’d be amazed the price savings when you aren’t heating that extra 2000 cubic feet of guest bedroom space.  The same principle applies to sleeping arrangements.  Unless you’re living somewhere in a gluttonous gas environment (and if you live on Earth, we know that’s not the case), it’s cheaper for you to use an electric blanket at night than to heat the entire space of the bedroom.  Or buy a down comforter and live like the nordic do.

7. When the fireplace is on, turn off the heat (or at least turn it down).  When the fireplace is off, remember to shut the damper.

What other ideas do you have?  We hope you’re feeling warm and toasty tonight and that these tips and tricks help you out through the winter ahead!

Category : Energy Efficiency | Energy Efficiency and Weatherization | Blog

As the temperatures begin – or continue – to dip, it’s important to make sure not only you are ready for winter, but also your home.  We’ve created a list of tips for winterizing your home and keeping the energy bill down.  If you follow it, you’ll hopefully have some more spending money for the holiday season.

  1. The first no-brainer is to turn down your thermostat when you’re out of the house.  You can either do that manually each day, or purchase a programmable thermostat that you can set to make sure the house is back to your preferred temperature when you get home.
  2. Install low-flow shower heads to reduce hot water waste.
  3. Check your windows, doors, and any other holes (think cables, vents, etc) for drafts and use caulk or weatherstripping to seal them.  You can use incense, long matches, or anything that will create smoke to check for the air movement caused by leaks.
  4. Seal leaking ducts with metal tape.  You can hire a vendor to check for leaks and seal these if you think it might be too hard to do yourself.
  5. Close any dampers connected to stoves or fireplaces when not in use.
  6. Check your insulation in your attic, exterior walls, and crawl space (if you have one).  If there are spaces lacking insulation, or lacking sufficient insulation, it’s time to consider beefing it up.
  7. If you don’t have newer, energy-efficient windows, install a plastic film (available for purchase at most home improvement stores) on the inside of all windows.  This will help not only keep the cool out in the winter, but also help regulate heat in the summer.
  8. Change your furnace filter, if you don’t already do it regularly.
  9. Check fixtures and appliances to ensure that they are as efficient as possible.
  10. We know you love holiday lights, but try to keep the usage to a minimum.  You’d be amazed how much energy they use.
Category : Energy Efficiency | Energy Efficiency and Weatherization | Blog

As we mentioned before, if you currently have a home energy monitoring device – like the current cost powersave envi – there are plenty of othersoftware sources for analyzation out there.  Google Powermeter also provides a list of other partners who can pick up the analysis where they left off.

If you’re getting ready to take the leap into a home energy monitoring device, here’s the lowdown on 3 products to look into:

1. GE Nucleus – tracks usage in kwh and shows estimated money spent (based on prices you plug in).  Will adapt to the smart grid that the govt is looking to install and connects easily to the computer with provided CD (must have Adobe Air 2.3 or newer – free).  It doesn’t need to be installed into your main electrical box, but simply plugs into any outlet and monitors electric currency data.  They also plan to have an app for smartphone monitoring while away from the home ready for public use later this year.

**It is, however, currently only available to utilities so you need to contact your utility company to see if it is available in your area. GE will have the Nucleus available for nationwide purchase soon.

2. TED (The Energy Detective) – 2 residential models: 1000 series and 5000 series. 1000 obviously has less features, but still collects realtime data at a 10kw minimum.  The 5000 series has more bells and whistles, with an application for smartphones for realtime tracking at a 1kw minimum.  Both systems require being installed to the electrical mainframe of your house.  You also then plug a reader into the outlet near your computer so that the data can sync with your PC.  They also have a list of other third party apps available to analyze your usage.  The basic 5000 series product costs $199.95, and the 1000 series costs $164.95.

Energy Joule – made by ambient devices, this little cutie plugs into an outlet and changes color based on your energy usage or price increases based on heavy loads.  It’s only available for people who are customers of Consumer Powerline right now but hopefully it will expand as time passes.

Hope this has helped and you begin your challenge of decreased energy consumption on the right foot.  Check back soon for our next look into something good for the home.

Category : Energy Efficiency | Blog

…or it’s lack thereof.

As some of you might have heard, Google has decided to discontinue its service of “Google Powermeter” for a variety of reasons, which they explain here, mainly being that it did not take off as quickly/well as they expected or would have liked.

We mentioned the uses of Google Powermeter here and here as a tool to track, analyze, and hopefully curb electric usage.

The good news is that Powermeter is not a product being discontinued, but a source of analyzation, so if you have one of the actual products – like the current cost powersave envi – there are plenty of other software sources for analyzation out there.

It is unfortunate that Google is no longer supporting this service, but from a business standpoint it is understandable.  Their objective was to “raise awareness about the importance of giving people access to data surrounding their energy usage.”  I can see why they think they didn’t succeed wholly, because it’s not necessarily a topic of conversation or an institution in everyone’s household, but I do think they had an effect.  Things that change how mainstream works tend to require more time to impact and what they began was a trickle effect, quite a feat in this bad economy where every dollar is important.  As they mentioned, studies show that the average person can and will lower their electric usage by 15% if provided with the tools or ability to monitor their usage.  The White House is even looking at the possibility of introducing smart grid technology nationwide. So yes, Powermeter is out, but it served its purpose.

For those of you with home energy monitoring devices, or those looking into getting one, check back for the next blog post – a follow-up on the latest and greatest devices and software available.

Category : Energy Efficiency | Blog

Or: What else you could be doing with it

Bill Bryson’s latest work At Home has a good section in chapter 12 “The garden” about lawns and how they came about, and I feel it is worthy of a bit of back-story for this blog.

Pre-19th century lawns were for estates and institutions (read: lots of $$$$).  People either scythed and gathered the grass nonstop or paid for a shepherd to manage sheep that would eat the grass.  Either way it didn’t look great and cost a lot.  Then, in 1830, a one Edwin Budding created an early version of the lawnmower.  A behemoth of a contraption made out of cast iron that…needless to say, didn’t go far.  A couple different people and side inventions later (namely a drive train on a bicycle and steel), a more lightweight, easy-to-use version was created and the phenomenon stuck.  By 1875 the lawnmower was a mainstay in the household appliances and well-cut lawns were the sought after look.  It became the “in” thing to have a manicured lawn because it showed you had so much money that you could frivolously use your land for looks instead of food.

“Today for many people gardening is about lawns and almost nothing else.  In the United States lawns cover more surface area – 50,000 square miles – than any single farm crop.  Grass on domestic lawns wants to do what wild grasses do in nature – namely, grow to a height of about two feet, flower, turn brown and die.  To keep it short and green and continuously growing means manipulating it fairly brutally and pouring a lot of stuff on to it.  In the western United States about 60 per cent of all the water that comes out of taps for all purposes is sprinkled on lawns.  Worse still are the amounts of herbicides and pesticides – 70 million pounds of it a year – that are soaked into lawns.  It is a deeply ironic fact that for most of us keeping a handsome lawn is about the least green thing we do.” (my italics)

Man, I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel HORRIBLE.  So, this post is dedicated to the OTHER things you can do with your “lawn”:

  1. The obvious choice is gardening.  The idea of victory gardens, started in WWII, is coming back in a big way.  People are become more aware of where things come from and the pesticides an trucking involved in getting fresh veggies.  And, let’s face it – they’re tired of maintaining something (a lawn) that doesn’t provide anything for them in return…besides more maintenance.  Obviously depending on where you live, the types of things you can grow vary based on temperature and sun, but most places can grow herbs and tomatos or peppers at minimum.  If you have a good new england summer you can get in one rotation of corn if you plant by the end of may at the latest.  Just think…all you have to do is walk outside to grab the veggies, fruits, and seasonings for dinner!  This obviously brings up an issue of animals, as new england is not lacking in them.  The New England Wildflower Society has a few tips on “bambi-proofing” your garden that can be found here.  Treehugger also has a slideshow of beautiful and edible plants that go beyond the average veggie and fruit.
  2. Native species.  Getting into specific types of grass species gets far outside the boundaries of our training and background, but suffice it to say that native is better.  Many people have been working fervently on re-introducing native grasses after so many years of bringing things over from other countries (think Bermuda grass, though ironically not originally from Bermuda either) with bad results.  Buffalo grass and sheep’s fescue are two of the more hearty native species, although there are many being created as mixes of native varieties.  The NEWFS also has a good blurb on the sustainable background of native species.
  3. Wildflowers.  What woman doesn’t love coming home to flowers every day?  Well, maybe not all women, but it certainly beats coming home to have to mow the lawn!  Intermixing with native species, or completely re-seeding with wildflowers is becoming  a popular choice.  There are a variety of places that make wildflower seed mixes, as well and wildflower/grass mixes for the new england climate: New England Wetland Plants, New England Wild Flower Society, and New England Natural.
  4. Drought resistant. Ironically most native species, like the buffalo grass and fescues, are drought resistant.  Think about it. Before we got here and decided we wanted to give the grass a hair cut and water it religiously…it was all on its own.  And the native species that we know about and still have available – are still available for that reason.  They thrived ON THEIR OWN.  The USDA is currently looking into creating hybrids that are more drought-resistant, so keep an eye on that for future re-seedings.

So there you have it.  Four different things you could do with your lawn area besides mow and water it every week.  Let us know: what are you going to do with that extra time/money/water?

    Category : Green Building Tips | Blog

    Summer growing season is amping up in most of the country, and hitting the peak in the northeast.  As many people move to growing their own fruits and veggies, they also need water to help them along.

    Good news.  Making your own rain barrel is as easy as you think.  First you need to find a barrel sizeable enough to meet your watering needs.  We recommend around 50gal; more if your garden is more than 10 plants (incl flowers).  These can be found at food vendors (think pickles) or other commercial entities.  Just make sure that they didn’t once hold something harmful to you or your plants.


    You should also purchase a brass spigot with hose hook up, a secondary double sided hose hook-up, a hose (if you don’t already have one), and a durable screen.  You’ll also need a (power) drill and drill piece that is just smaller than the diameter of the spigot.

    First step is to edit the outside of the barrel (if you care what it looks like). First construction step is to flip the barrel upside down and drill a hole – as straight as possible – into the side about 9-12″ up.  Then screw in the spigot, sealing it with some waterproof glue or caulk. Some people use washers between the barrel and spigot, but you don’t have to.  You should also drill a hole about 6″ from the top and attach the plain hose hook-up here.  This is where your hose should be hooked to when not using it, as it provides a release for water before creating overflow issues.  With the hose attachment you can also ensure that the water goes where you want it to.

    Flip the barrel back over right side up  and drill any number of holes in the top. You can do one big one or a bunch of little ones using the same drill bit.  If you make a variety of little ones, just be sure to make enough to account for normal downfall in your area.


    Tip the barrel back over to get the shavings out. When it is placed right side up again, lay the screen over the barrel mouth and then screw the lid back onto the barrel, securing the screen.

    Your barrel is now ready for use!  If you are feeding it under a gutter, you may have to cut some of the vertical length out if you want it to directly flow into the barrel.  You can then re-attach the bottom L piece so that it sends it onto the barrel top.  If you live in a New England home without gutters, then watch your home during a rain and see where the most water comes down.  You’ll also want to consider where this water will be used the most.  You can then place your barrel here, just keep in mind that it will not fill as quickly as those with gutters (but it will also have less drain-screen issues).

    Enjoy your new source of water!  Be sure to check the screen after heavy rains to make sure no new leaves are blocking water access into the barrel.

    Category : Green Building Tips | Product Review | Blog

    As summer begins to take full effect, many homeowners start paying much more attention to their lawn.  Fertilizing, re-seeding, mowing, watering. Just thinking about it makes us tired, and when it comes to watering – it makes our wallets hurt!

    What if you could plant a grass that, after it’s first growing season, didn’t need to be watered (except in extreme drought) and didn’t HAVE to be mowed? No twice a week, or weekly nights spent out mowing when you could be at the park or having fun with the family.  No daily waterings.

    Wildflower farms has a grass seed called “eco-lawn”, which has been in production and available for household use for the last 10+ years.  It is a blend of 7 fine fescue grasses that grow into a thick turf that can thrive in a variety of soil types, even dry or infertile soils.  The grasses are able to live in those conditions because of the deep roots inherent to their properties.  In hard clay the roots can grow up to 9″ deep, while in sandy soil that depth can reach 14″. This allows the grass to pull water and nutrients naturally from a much greater area of soil.


    Eco-lawn is quick to germinate, but slow-growing once solidified.  Over the course of a full growing season, if left unmowed the grass would be 9″ long, but because of the thinness of the blades it falls over the a carpet-like look at a height of 4″.  If you are still wanting the “classic cut lawn” look, however, it will only need to be mowed once a month to a height of 3-4″.

    From a sustainability standpoint, this is the first major incentive.  Lawn mowers drink gas like a child does koolaid.  The EPA states that “operating a typical gasoline-powered lawn mower for one hour produces the same amount of smog-forming hydrocarbons as driving an average care almost 200 miles under typical driving conditions.” Just think of all the places you could’ve visited, adding up all of those miles, instead of mowing the lawn!


    The second, and yet equally great, issue from a sustainability perspective is the lack of watering needed for the turf to continue growing.  While the seeding/germination process is similarly intensive to common grasses, once the turf has passed its first growing season successfully it only needs to be watered during times of extreme drought.  Think of all the money, and WATER, you will save by cutting out the 3+/wk waterings!  Wildflower Farms provides a chart, which can be seen here, of the cost effectiveness of eco-lawn compared to normal lawns.

    Northern USA should plant in the beginning of May or around Labor Day if considering switching to eco-lawn.  The seeds germinate best in cool temperatures (55-77), morning dew, and occasional rain.  Their planting chart based on location can be found here.


    If you decided that you would like to convert your lawn to an eco-lawn, the steps you take are similar to any other lawn conversion process.  You should first eliminate any weeds and remove debris.  If the home is new construction and grass has yet to be planted, then you should rototill the site at a dept of 3″, rake smooth, and then spread a weed-free organic compost 1/4″ deep.

    If converting a lawn from a different grass type, you can either kill the current grass (and then either plant over top of it or remove it and re plant like new construction), or you can overseed onto the current grass.  If killing you can use either organic or non-organic herbicides (the non-organic tend to take longer), mow the dead grass as short as possible and then rake hard before seeding.  Overseeding into existing lawns can be done, but it takes longer to fully switch, requiring yearly re-seedings for up to 4-5 yrs.  This time can be cut down, however, if you re-seed in both spring and fall.

    When you reach the seeding process, you want to achieve 15seeds/sq. inch or 25/sq. inch if wanting extra thick grass to help keep out weeds.  Gently rake the seed/soil mix so that they are just barely covered and then roll the lawn with a lawn roller.

    During the germination process you should water every day for 3wks for about 20-30 minutes, or the time needed to make the soil moist up to a depth of 1″.  After 3wks, cut the watering back to every two days for 2wks.  (only water if it’s not going to rain)  The germination process typically takes 7-14 days and will take 4-6wks before it arrives at a hight of 4-5″ and is in need of it’s first trim (if you prefer a manicured lawn).  Once the grass has solidified after its first growing season, as mentioned earlier, it need only be watered during extreme droughts.  If this case arises, remember that it is better to fully saturate the ground for this type of grass than to provide frequent light sprinkles.

    Below is a video of a customer installation and review of eco-lawn at their home (a redsox fan it seems!).  If you are interested in converting your lawn, eco-lawn can be purchased either online or at 8 retailers in Mass or 1 in NH.

    Eco-Lawn home review

    Category : Product Review | Blog

    Permeable paving units are another option when trying to provide solid surfaces for vehicle or pedestrian traffic, while also managing stormwater issues onsite without having to create swales or retention ponds.


    Hastings Concrete checker block gives you the stability of concrete and the porosity of grass combined.  The concrete design has a steel reinforcing that provides the capability of the surface to hold cars up to and including fire trucks.  Each 4sf piece also gives a surface area of 75% grass.



    Hanover Architectural Products makes a variety of permeable paving units, from porous blocks to open paver grids.  They currently offer four options: Aqua-Loc, EcoGrid, and two options for a 4×9 paving brick.  The Aqua-Loc paver itself is not porous, but provides over 10% open space on installation, making it capable of filtering 7-8″ of rain per hour.  It can also be installed mechanically to save time and money, as well as be used for moderate vehicle traffic and almost all versions of pedestrian traffic.  The two 4×9 paving options provide less open space (about 7%) but give more solidarity to the ground structure and meet ADA standards.  The EcoGrid paver is the most permeable option Hanover provides, at an open space rate of 39%.  The paver still provides the ability for moderate vehicular traffic while allowing water to filter through the grass-filled voids.


    Pavestone Grasstone also has an open paver system similar to EcoGrid and the checker block that allows for vehicle traffic while providing space for stormwater filtration.

    There are obviously a variety of pavers that work well for installations wishing for grass, these being only the tip of the iceberg.  The important thing to look for, if choosing this type of paver, is the structural capabilities of the paver and requirements needed for the project.

    Category : Green Building Tips | Product Review | Blog

    While porous concrete and asphalt are quite similar in their effectiveness and how they work, there are enough differences in their makeup that it is worth discussing them separately.  We covered the concrete version last week and today we will cover porous asphalt.


    As mentioned, porous asphalt works similarly to porous concrete.  Both are based on a void structure like a rice krispie and require subbase layers that were mentioned in the concrete post.  The main difference comes in the physical act of making and laying the porous layer.  The asphalt mixture is harder to create than the concrete version, but is easier to install.  While we couldn’t find any specifics on why, it is more than likely due to the petroleum-based binder that is used in asphalt mixtures, so it is important to choose a binder mix that is appropriate for your climate.  This petroleum binder will also become tacky during summer heat, swelling and making the voids smaller.  It will also provide less aid in preventing heat island effect compared to its concrete counterpart due to its darker color trapping more heat, but this also means it will speed the melting process in winter months when the heat is needed.  The concrete version, however, requires less nighttime lighting because its color reflects more light naturally.


    Maintenance for pervious asphalt is very similar to that of the concrete version, requiring an annual or bi-annual cleaning.  During winter months it will also need to be maintained with plowing and salting (no sand!).  It is important to note that for both the porous asphalt and concrete, studies have been done to show that only 25% of the salt needed for normal pavements is required for porous ones.  It is also worth knowing that if 99% clogging were to happen (rare with regular maintenance), water would still pass through at a rate of 10 inches/hour, still more efficient that most sands and soils.

    Category : Green Building Tips | Product Review | Blog

    While pervious concrete was first used over 100 years ago, it has taken until recent years for it’s application to become more commercially mainstream.  Thanks to the sustainable trend in building practices, and organizations like the EPA and USGBC*, it is becoming a more widely used material.

    Pervious concrete is made of aggregate and a paste of cementitious materials and a specific amount of water.  There is little to no sand found in pervious concrete because it inhibits the ability for the paste to leave voids. Think of it like a rice krispie treat.  The paste is the marshmallow filling that attaches to the aggregate (rice) while not filling in the holes between.

    pervious 1

    Typical flow rates for pervious concrete are 480 inches per hour or 5gallons/square foot/min.  This means it is both more economically and more environmentally smart than regular concretes because it allows stormwater to filter through its layer back into the soil, recharging groundwater levels immediately.  The open pore system also greatly reduces heat island effect caused by impervious concrete.


    The economics side of this means that because of this immediate filter and removal it drastically reduces – if not entirely mitigates – the need for retention ponds, swales, or other stormwater management systems.  This not only lowers the overall cost of the project, but lets you use the land which would have been swales more efficiently for building use – something which becomes very economically obvious if swales are replaced by rentable offices or apartments.  It could also remove any stormwater impact fees that government agencies are starting to implement from the project costs.

    Pervious concretes are typically seen as parking lots or other pavements, sidewalks and paths, and residential roads/alleys/driveways.  Increased study of its composition in recent years, however, has seen it also implemented as tennis courts, foundations for greenhouses/hatcheries, patios, low water crossings, slope stabilizations, zoo floors, artificial reefs, swimming pool decks, seawalls, and noise barriers (it has very good acoustic properties).  Places in Europe have even used it for load-bearing walls.

    Because of the makeup and the faster drying time, the entire process is done on-site, which means the ingredients can (and should) come from a local source, helping the local economy.  This also makes it more easily adaptable to different regions.

    Due to the fact that its main uses are still for locations where there will be interactions with cars, questions about what happens to oil and other liquids arise.  Because of the way the pervious pavement forms, however, instead of pooling the liquids, it acts as a filtering device.  The oil which might leak from a car is filtered through the voids in the surface.  It does not merely run through like water, but attaches itself as a layer on top of the hardened edges of the void.  Natural bacteria and fungi then break down the oil.  Studies have shown that up to 99% of oil introduced in this way will be biodegraded.

    While pervious concrete is not typically used for high traffic locations, like main roads or places where heavy semis will maneuver, the normal composite used can safely hold 3000psi – the weight of a fire truck.  Special mixes can be made that allow it to hold more, and the introduction of subgrade aggregate also increases its strength.

    The rice krispie treat look also aids vehicle traction, especially during inclement weather.  The porosity ensures the filtration which also eliminates spraying and pooling of water.  Because of its more rugged surface, however, it is important to know that it shouldn’t be used where highly abrasive machinery will be used – like a snow plow that digs all the way down to concrete surface.

    asphalt_vs_concrete.htm_txt_snowy pervious (2)

    In general, a smaller amount of shrinkage during drying occurs and the minimal cracks that might occur have no effect on the structural integrity of the concrete.  In colder climates, the implementation must be designed so that the voids would not ever become fully saturated.  This is typically achieved by putting in 8-24″ of sublayer rock.

    Pervious concrete can last 20-40 years with little to no maintenance, compared to other concretes or asphalts which continuously need resurfaced.  The main source of maintenance is the prevention of clogging the voids through annual vacuuming and/or pressure washing.

    *The use of pervious concrete is listed as a “Best Management Practices” by the EPA and will help achieve LEED credits SS-C6.1, 6.2; SS-C7.1; WE-C1.1; MR-C4.2, 4.2; and MR-C5.1, 5.2.

    Category : Green Building Tips | Incentives/Tax Rebates | Product Review | Blog