Archive for the ‘footprint’ Tag

2011 Summer Project: Energy Audit   1 comment

Every summer I do some kind of environmental self-audit or equivalent on a rotating schedule (with interruptions). I started doing this back in 2001 when I was first living on my own after college. I was originally inspired by two things. The first was my participation in a college-wide trash sort. It was the university’s way to prove the effectiveness of measures to promote recycling. So they got a bunch of volunteers, gave us Tyvek suits, gloves, and face shields, and sent us into a room with large sorting tables where bags of garbage from all over the campus were placed for us to sort through. In the end they measured the weight or volume (I don’t remember) of recyclable material for comparison with previous measurements. I was crazy enough to be one of those volunteers. And I learned a lot about American’s trash habits, most of it sad. (That’s a story for another day, though.) The second source of inspiration was a class that I took in which we did one week audits of our direct water and energy usage. These experiences made me realize how useful it is to actually measure and not just guess when it comes to something you want to improve, in this case my “global footprint”. Not only can you be surprised by the results, but it also means that you have a way to see progress, which feels really good.

So that first year I started by doing my own trash sort. I saved all of my trash for a month and then took it down to my mom’s house at the end of the month to sort and weigh. Kitchen waste got weighed throughout the month so that I didn’t have horrible smelling garbage to sort through. The following year I attempted to do a water use audit, during which I realized that human return flow is not insignificant. In 2003 I evaluated the ingredients my personal care products for potential exposure problems. 2004 was when I moved to Sacramento and in the upheaval skipped a year. In 2005 I was able to do my first direct energy use audit. It was quite involved, with me reading my gas and electric meters four times a day on weekdays (when I woke, left for work, returned from work, and went to bed), and before/after any major changes on weekends (like turning on the dryer or taking a shower). I was trying to figure out how to determine my baseline electric and gas usage, as well as electrical demand of the various electrical items in my house. That was mostly not successful. I did get a pretty good estimate of the baseline, though. Since that was also the year I went without air conditioning all summer that baseline does not include air conditioning or winter heating, so it’s what I would consider a true baseline: the measure of phantom energy and structural demand.

This year’s energy audit should be a little easier. I got a relatively comprehensive energy audit done on the house, and I bought a Kill-a-Watt monitor. A Kill-a-Watt monitor is a monitor that plugs into a socket and then measures the electricity usage of anything that you plug into it. This way I’ll actually be able to directly measure how much electricity is consumed by my computer, the TV, the refrigerator, etc. I’ll be using this blog to help me work through this energy audit throughout the summer.

It is worth noting that this is really only a partial energy audit, since I can only measure direct usage. I can’t measure my portion of communal energy usages like municipal (street lights, traffic lights, etc.) or commercial (lighting in my office, air conditioning in the grocery store, etc.). Nor can I measure/estimate the embedded energy in my water, food, and various stuff that I use/buy.

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Posted July 25, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, energy use

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A Garden Is A Small Piece of a Larger Whole   Leave a comment

One of the exciting things about being a homeowner now is that I get to design the landscaping! This being me doing the planning, however, means that the process of designing a landscape is more involved than “that’s pretty, lets plant it”-type planning. In my world I’m not just designing a personal garden because it is not just a few few square feet of ground, instead I am designing one small part of a larger world and my decisions can make a difference in that world.

Obviously the landscaping has to fit and support our lives, needs, and desires. We want increased resale value, spaces to relax, beautiful views, shade, an area for eating and entertaining, an awesome herb garden, a vegetable garden, fruit trees, minimized watering and maintenance, and practical spaces like clothesline, solar oven, composter, rain barrels, and place for the garbage and recycling cans. This is where most people stop in their planning, but our yard isn’t just something that affects our lives.

Our garden affects the environment around us because it is part of it. The same climate and geology that shapes the native landscapes around us influence our garden, and a garden has the ability to influence the world around it. While as a society we have used water and other inputs to force landscapes to diverge from the native forces, there is a cost to that which is becoming greater and more apparent. Likewise we have brought plants into new areas where sometimes they become invasive weeds, crowding out the native plants and animals.

  • Landscaping that needs more water than what is natural for a region means that much more water acquired, treated, and transported, with all the losses and energy consumption along the way, and may reduce water available for other uses.
  • A yard that releases little to no stormwater to the storm drains means more water infiltrating the ground, and less water transporting sediment, oils, metals, pesticides, herbicides, and animal wastes into surface water bodies.
  • Landscaping that provides shade on a hot day reduces the cooling load and therefore energy needs of the house and electric grid.
  • Landscaping that includes lots of flowers encourages pollinators and can help gardeners and local farmers out, as well as reduce the need for harsh pesticides.
  • A garden that provides vegetables and fruit reduces food-miles. Although I am also considering that my purchases at the farmers’ market support “local” agriculture and farmers’ livelihoods so I don’t necessarily want to grow the fruits and vegetables that I can easily purchase at the farmers’ market.

A garden may be an individual thing, but it is also important to keep in mind that it is not independent of the larger systems that surround us, and that while it may be small it can have an effect, good or bad.

Posted June 7, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, environment, gardening

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