Monday, February 1, 2010

Amp Up Your Shower

One challenge with being environmentally responsible is that folks think they need to sacrifice something to accomplish the goal. It needs to cost more, or taste bad, or be less comfortable. That makes it even sweeter when you can "go green" and roll with a whole list of advantages.

My wife has disliked our shower for some time. It didn't have the pressure she wanted. I was under the impression that altering water pressure was a task both expensive and potentially futile. Boy was I wrong. A Google search and 10 minutes were all I needed to learn that you can get shower heads that not only amplify your water pressure, but are low flow as well. I was intrigued.

Amazon's product descriptions teach me that the water is aerated to add zip and this can be had for 1.85 gpm, which even beats the 2.5 gpm heads installed in new construction these days.

I selected the Delta 75152 Water Amplifying Showerhead.
The reviews were good and the price was low, so it was worth a shot. Installation took about 5 minutes once I picked up some Teflon tape from the store (less than $1).

The styling is fine, the price is good, and the pressure is improved, although I still don't think it is capable of washing elephants. Best of all, my wife approves. It isn't often that you find a product that can make each morning a little better, pay for itself in short order, and help out out earth.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Doing my part - Green Beer

No, this isn't about beer on St. Patty's day. I recently started home brewing beer with a friend of mine. I never really thought about the green side of it until today, when I received the following in an email newsletter I get:

This may not have occurred to you, but as a homebrewer, you are playing a sizeable role in protecting the environment. That's right. Belive it or not, homebrewing and the environmental movement are quite compatible. For one thing, brewing your own beer cuts down significantly on the wasteful packaging associated with store-bought beer. It also saves fuel and curbs pollution yielded by long distance transport of beer. Furthermore, as your own brewmaster, you have the option to choose healthier, eco-friendly brewing ingredients.

By brewing your own beer, you are saving the transportation miles involved in shipping those store-bought beers all over the place - from warehouses and distribution centers to grocery stores - then to your home and back to the recycling center. Beer is heavy and is transported across the country and around the world on a regular basis. If you make it at home, it is transported from the fridge to your hand - not much of a carbon footprint there!

When it comes to packaging, homebrewers can collect glass beer bottles at home and from friends, or even pick up a few at the recycling center, sterilize them and reuse them over and over, getting much more than just one use from them before they are recycled.

If you really get into sustainable beer brewing, you can grow your own hops and other ingredients needed to produce your beer, making it even more environmentally friendly since the ingredients are being produced right there at home. There is also a fantastic sense of pride that comes along with knowing you crafted your beer from the ground up.

Not only is making your own beer eco-friendly, it can be very cost-effective, depending on how much and what kind of beer you regularly consume. If you plan on brewing regularly, you'll benefit by purchasing some ingredients in bulk if you're not growing them at home.

It does make sense, and I get delicious tasting beer for the price of swill beer to boot.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Reduce, Reuse, Regift

No, I'm not going to suggest you give folks some of your used stuff as a gift, even though I wish that were more socially acceptable. I'm going to build on an idea Ian had last week.

The idea is great. Reusable gift bags are better than 1-use wrapping paper. Even better is a bag that can be used all year long. Ian's idea is to give gifts in reusable tote bags, like those you get from Target and your local grocery store.

Tweaking that idea a bit, I figured the bags we have are already red and green. Why don't we decorate them a bit and really have a winning idea? With all the cold and snow, it gave the kids something to do. After the presents are out, the decorations come off and you have a great bag. Bonus is that Target had these bags on sale for 50 cents which is even cheaper than the typical gift bag.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Snow Blower Needed

Last winter was the first that my husband and I owned a house, so it was also the first winter that we were solely responsible for clearing snow from our driveway and sidewalks. Of course it was also one of the most active winters for snow so our one big shovel and a mini car/kid shovel got an excellent work out. We decided that never again would we only be able to clear one half of our driveway before our hands started to freeze in a gripped position, and this year we caved and bought a snow blower.

Snow blowers are as bad as lawn mowers when it comes to spewing fumes and junk into the air, so I wanted to make the best choice possible and that meant going electric. In most cases, electricity from power plants is created from cleaner burning than the gas and oil in a lawn mower or snow blower and in our case, we have a wind energy purchase agreement with our provider, so the amount of energy we use is then generated from wind farms, although the energy we receive may not be from the wind farms.

I know that our friends, family, and neighbors will laugh at us, but who couldn't use a little laugh every once in a while? We bought the Toro electric snow thrower and had two opportunities to try it out already.

And the verdict? It is a significant upgrade from shoveling! I cleared our drive way of 1-3 inches of snow in 10 minutes once I determined the best way to avoid running over the electric cord. That right there is the reason we got it and I am so happy. Of course it isn't perfect, and if you already own a gas powered snow blower, the Toro electric would probably feel like a significant downgrade. It's all plastic, so it's pretty light. This is good for me, but again, not if you're used to a metal blower. The two biggest downfalls for us is the need for an electric cord and the snow chute where the snow gets thrown out. Being tethered by a cord means that we have to stop and reroute the cord to reach both of our sidewalks (we live on a corner), but this still takes less time that shoveling. The chute is something we will be working on to modify. It theoretically has three positions to direct the snow, but once the blower is started and the snow comes out, the chute defaults to almost straight up. It still moves the snow, but now it's at the whim of the wind and sometimes backfires in our face.

And now for some action shots of my husband trying out the Toro for our second round of snow clean up. Look at that Toro go!

Iowa Passenger Rail

A few weeks ago I attended the Iowa Passenger Rail Advisory Committee meeting held in Ames. The meeting included updates from cities like Dubuque, Quad Cities, Iowa City, and Des Moines as well as legislative updates from Iowa DOT members and an Amtrak representative. The general consensus is that there is a lot going on with rail right now, but most are trying to figure out how the new administration will affect opportunities. The most interesting part for me was the discussion with the Amtrak rep. He shared that their ridership has increased for the past five years, but usually at only 1 million passengers per year. In 2008, their ridership increased by 3 million for a total of 29 million passengers. The best part about that statistic is the fact that no new services (new rail lines) or frequencies (additional runs on an existing rail line) were added, yet every passenger rail line saw an increase which has never happened before.

We talked a lot about how states can position themselves for matching funds and the best way to set up a successful partnership with Amtrak. The best strategy right now seems to be to partner with Illinois which is currently pro rail and has doubled passenger rail funding. This would add rail access to Chicago from the center of the state, entering at the Quad Cities, and the northern part of the state, entering at Dubuque. I don't know how much I am able to share publicly from the meeting, but I did find the existing Amtrak line across Iowa from the Iowa DOT's site.

One thing that was clear during the meeting was that now is the time to pressure our state legislators about passenger rail. It is currently one of their priority items, but it was stressed that it needs to be pushed as one of the top priorities for Iowa to get its foot in the door and start receiving some of the funding coming from the government. The next meeting will be held in February and I'm sure all involved hope to learn more about passenger rail plans from our new administration.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bus Adventures

Six months ago I posted about my husband and I giving up one of our two cars and depending on public transportation. A lot of things have happened since then so I thought I would post an update along with some recent thoughts.

This past summer the city I live and work in experienced a historic flood that devastated too many people. My company's building was affected which means my transportation route changed to fit my new location. Our public transportation department was also affected, and although they have done a great job adapting, everyone who uses the system had to adapt. In spite of the tragedies, I was excited about testing my commitment to one car living and trying out how most of the riders use the system by transferring routes. Doing this initially doubled my commute to and from work, and since my husband dropped me off and picked me up from my bus stop, it extended his work day by an hour. Since the department lost several buses in the flood, they were on limited route rotations meaning the buses only came once an hour. Luckily the time my first bus came was reasonable, but it meant that I had to bust my butt on mornings that I was tempted to sleep in a bit and catch my normal "second option" before the flood. My extra hour on the bus didn't bother me much since I saw it as more time to read books, watch podcasts, and listen to music, and eventually I found robot mode in the morning to get me out the door. Unfortunately it put some unforeseen frustration on my husband who has to mold his day around my bus.

Recently the transit department revised the schedules in the afternoons to help heavy routes get to the transfer location on time (we have a collect and disperse model). This extended my evening commute by fifteen minutes, not too bad considering what I had already adjusted to. Then there was last week.

My husband had some work related, but not work required gatherings he wanted to attend out of town. Since his company had not asked him to participate we could rent a car ourselves or I could get myself to the bus without him. Being stubborn, I chose the latter. We walked the 1.2 miles to get to my bus stop and found that it took us 40 minutes at a leisurely pace. I found that I could make it in 26 minutes when it is dark and I'm cold.

Wednesday evening rolled around and was when I would first experience getting home without a pick-up, from my usual bus stop (there is one closer, but not ideal. See below.). Everything went smoothly, but I decided to not go with that plan the rest of my days surviving alone. First of all, there is only a "sidewalk" on one side of the street, which happens to be the opposite side that I am dropped off on. There is an underpass for a golf course that spans both sides of the four lane street, however, there are no lights under there since no one is golfing at night, and who in their right mind would be walking in a world with cars? There was no way I was going to test my luck even in our relatively safe town. So I played frogger and past the first test on my trek home.

Next I noticed that there were only two or three street lights the whole 1.2 mile walk home. Again, our city is pretty safe, but come on! The sidewalk was very uneven and I would have really appreciated some light to help out. The last part of my journey before my neighborhood was the worst. Once crosses the last main intersection there is no sidewalk and no lights at all, and to top it off with a cherry, there is no shoulder, just a steep slope. I was walking toward oncoming traffic like we are taught, but I learned that this really only benefits you if the cars see you coming. You know they are getting close when you are blinded by headlights while you hope that you don't misstep, roll your ankle, and end up in the sidewalk-less ditch.

Of course I made it home the two and a half days that I was commuting completely solo, but I made adjustments to catch the inconvenient closer bus which provided residential streets with sidewalks for more of the walk home. So by the end of the week, my total commute to work was 1.5 hours and my total commute home was 2 hours. Two hours in a city with the population of 160,000! Two hours in a city that takes 30-45 minutes to drive across! I would expect this in a large city like Chicago, New York, or D.C., but Cedar Rapids, IA? Ridiculous.

There is a point when stubbornness becomes stupidity and I found that last week. I am not going to break my commitment to a one car lifestyle, because I am lucky enough to not experience this every day, but on my long trips home all I could think about was the people that do. How can you do anything besides get to and from work with a system that takes so long and stops running at 7:30? How can you pick up your kids or be there for their basketball games? The simple answer is probably that you can't and that is sad, but the worst part is that most people would suggest getting a car to solve this problem for someone. I have the option to buy a car and I have the option to move to a city that feeds my public transit obsession, but for now, I have two and a half years to help Cedar Rapids see something better than a two hour commute home. I can't recommend public transit to people who would experience what I did, but for those that would have a ride lasting 30 minutes or less, I'll start with you.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Emotionally Break-even

Kelley Blue Book has a nifty new green section of their site. I normally don't dig web based calculators, but they have a nice tool where you can enter your current car, your desired green car and it will tell you how long it will take to break even. Even better, they let you input additional dollars per month that you'd like weighed towards breaking even, emotionally.

This is going to blow my green cover (yes, I drive an SUV), but here's a calculation I did.

This again points out to me that I don't drive enough miles to make fuel economy my #1 vehicle decision point. I guess that's why I still have an SUV :)