Residential Space A creative outlet during residency, turned ongoing virtual soap box

The tub now drains!!  1

Posted on June 25th, 2009. About Conservation.

…and I did not have to use Drain-O or another toxic chemical formula to do it. Check this out.

The water had been draining more slowly by the day, troubling me as I faced the decision: living near Puget Sound, home to whales, salmon, and other amazing wildlife, did I really feel right about pouring toxic chemicals down my drain to clear the blockage? I have in the past, but the four years of living in Seattle had finally gotten to me – the guilt was too much. Surely there was a way to clear this in a non-offensive way.

I went to the internet for advice. Universally, sites encouraged me to clear the blockage mechanically. I unscrewed the plug in the tub to find grating beneath it, and yes – there was a lot of gross stuff that I will not describe, but definitely a proximal blockage. I tried bending a coat hanger to get through the metal slats to break it up and dislodge it, but I only retrieved about 20% of it. I thought maybe I had destabilized it, and perhaps it would clear now just with water. After running water through it, things still drained slowly, and nothing budged.

Next, a website suggested something interesting – pouring 1/2 cup baking soda down there, waiting 15 minutes, and adding 1/2 cup vinegar. Hmmm…okay, I thought, picturing the experiment in fifth grade with the volcano “erupting” as a result of this chemical reaction. BUT IT WORKED. After giving the reaction a few minutes to work, I then poured water down the drain, and it very rapidly disappeared. Mission accomplished. And two months later, the drain is still beautifully clear!

True Green Home  1

Posted on June 25th, 2009. About Conservation.

I just finished the brief book/monograph, True Green Home: 100 Inspirational Ideas for Creating a Green Environment at Home. It included some interesting points about how to conserve environmental resources (ie, energy, water) at home in daily life. Some points I had not previously considered:

  • The concept of “gray water” and reusing it around the home. The idea is to take water that has been “used” (ie, shower or bath water) that should not be used for drinking water, but can potentially be reused for purposes where perfect water is not required, such as watering a garden or yard, or recirculating it to the toilet for flushing. Redirecting this water seems reasonable from a conservation standpoint.
  • Unplugging electronic devices when leaving for a prolonged period – ie, unplugging digital clocks, computers that may be in standby mode, etc. The authors go further to say that, when leaving for a vacation, empty the fridge, unplug it and leave the door slightly ajar. I don’t think they are implying that we should throw away perfectly good food to do this, but perhaps over a 1-2 week period prior to leaving for a trip, consuming the food in the fridge such that it would become empty as one is leaving town. It is quoted in the book that a fridge with a freezer uses ~1,800 kWh/year (an average family uses ~11,000 kWh/year – so the fridge consumes a significant amount of a family’s household energy). Other tips for reducing the fridge’s energy use include keeping the coils behind it clear of dust and debris for more efficient cooling, making sure the temperature setting in the fridge is not so cold that temperatures are near-freezing, and ensuring that the door seals properly when shut.
  • According to the authors, a typical bath uses ~70 gallons of water, versus 20 gallons for a shower. Just thinking about these numbers, if one switches from a daily bath to a daily shower, the amount of water saved totals 18,250 gallons.

Anyway, an interesting and quick read with many bullet points about being a better environmental steward in the home.

Food Conservation and Sustainability  0

Posted on January 16th, 2009. About Conservation.

This is the third of my recent diatribes on conservation recently, and it pertains to something about which we all care: food. In a society where we can easily find desired food items at our local supermarkets, at times we may forget what is required to raise the food, harvest/slaughter it, package it, and transport it for sale. The environmental impact can be huge. Again, if millions of people began to make small changes, the impact could be enormous.

  • Try planting a small garden: One of my fondest memories from my childhood is of growing vegetables with my family out of buckets, followed by an upgrade to a garden in the backyard. Bucket tomatoes evolved into a garden rich with carrots, radishes, cucumbers, more tomatoes, and even corn (before the raccoons ate most of it). We all hear arguments about “buying locally” in an effort to avoid the high energy costs of shipping food long distances. While this is a good first step (and I love local farmers’ markets), food grown in your backyard does not require ANY oil to transport. Honestly, this is one reason I am so psyched to move from a condo to a house in the near future – so that I can plant a garden and teach my son the wonders of seeds germinating, flowering, and producing fruits and vegetables. What a fantastic way to teach children about nature and science while producing some locally grown food of your own! In addition, it baffles me that we have millions of acres of land in this country used only for “lawn” purposes – using a lot of water to keep grass growing on land while producing nothing other than an ascetic pleasantness. I’m not advising for people to defy their homeowners’ associations, but considering a small backyard garden is a way to make this land more productive.
  • Use the entire chicken: Gabriel’s nanny, Rachel, introduced me to the concept of this, something previously foreign to me. Basically, after roasting a chicken or a turkey, and picking the meat from it, boil down the carcass in some broth, and this produces a chicken or turkey stock. This stock can then be used to make other meals, so it’s double the use. Animals require energy and resources to raise as food sources, so we should probably be using each one to the greatest degree possible.

This may be it for a while regarding conservation posts. As other points arise, I will add them in future writings, but I hope people will feel free to tack on comments with other suggestions. Thanks!

Further Thoughts on Conservation  1

Posted on January 10th, 2009. About Conservation.

I will continue my list here regarding action items for better conservation. Please refer to this post for the initial conception of this series.

  • Reusable bags: When Evan and I moved to Seattle, as we were packing up the old house in the Carolinas, we had, literally, hundreds of plastic grocery bags stuffed into a “bag holder.” It had honestly never occurred to me to: A) reuse any of these hundreds of bags at the grocery store, or B) obtain a cloth, reusable bag for shopping. We are a society of consumption and disposal, and until recently most did not give much thought to what happened to non-biodegradable waste. About a year-plus ago, we purchased ($0.99/each) “green bags.” It started with two, and then of course we forgot them the next time we shopped because we were not used to bringing our own bags to the store. Eventually, we ended up with six of them, and over 2008 it is a habit to bring two bags with us to the store. It’s finally second nature. The Worldwatch Institute estimates that Americans use approximately 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. Some estimates suggest an energy requirement of 430,000 gallons of oil to produce 100 million bags. In addition, while some places are able to recycle them (it is possible, but difficult to do so because of the surface filmy texture), less than 20% actually get recycled, while the rest end up in landfills. Some would argue that paper bags do not carry these problems, but the deforestation would be a concern here. For more information, this is an interesting site, which cites helpful numbers; and here is an article about San Francisco’s efforts to ban plastic bags. Seattle made an attempt recently to begin taxing plastic bags, but some thought it was an undue financial burden on lower-income folks. I suppose I don’t think $0.99/bag for a few bags is a huge expense or burden. The bags we purchased a year ago are still in good shape. If it really is such a hardship, perhaps the city could provide them with their first two bags, and from there out the tax applies.
    • Here’s another thought: for those already bringing their reusable bags to the grocery store, why not bring them to the mall as well?
  • Use reusable coffee cups: Along the same lines, why not cut back on waste in this way too? I’ve read arguments over whether the amount of energy required to make a reusable cup really offsets the energy that goes into a paper of foam cup. I suppose my concern is cutting down on the amount of waste. Plus, it keeps those disposable plastic lids from accumulating so quickly in our landfills. Another benefit: Starbucks will give you a $0.10 “cup discount” for using your own cup.
  • Try cloth napkins: Keeping with the theme of cutting down on waste, not to mention cutting back on tree usage, try giving cloth napkins a go. Reusable, and usually not dirty enough to warrant washing them more than once each week (for those about to protest – how many times do you use a towel before washing it?). I found this blog post interesting in pondering which napkin is the correct one.

Thoughts on Conservation  2

Posted on January 5th, 2009. About Conservation.

Moving to the West Coast three and a half years ago (has it really been that long?!) altered my perspective on many issues, perhaps the most significant being that of the environment and conservation. I always cared about the earth, of course, and considered myself a good environmental steward, until I realized how much I was not doing to conserve resources, and recognized what I should be doing to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable waste accumulating on this planet. Some of it seems so obvious now, but three and a half years ago it was not intuitive to me.

In the spirit of the New Year, I have compiled a brief list of things individuals can do that, when done collectively, have the potential for a large, positive environmental impact. I will start with a few topics here, and expand to others over the coming weeks, but these are easy-to-implement practices that I am convinced can make a huge difference.

  1. Stop drinking bottled water: I have not looked favorably on bottled water for several years now, mostly because I thought it was a rip-off to pay dollars for a liter of water likely the same in quality (maybe worse as the standards are not as strict as the standards cities must meet for their water). Then, I heard an interview with the mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico on NPR approximately six months ago, which sent me reading more about this. He discussed his intention of saving the taxpayers of his city thousands of dollars by banning the purchase of bottled water for city-sponsored events and at City Hall. In my own research, I discovered a study from Geneva citing that 1.5 million TONS of plastic are used each year to bottle water. No difference in the quality or the composition of bottled water and tap water exists. This article nicely summarizes the negative environmental impact of bottled water – that to meet the demand for bottled water in the United States alone, 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce the plastic bottles holding the water. This does not include the oil required to ship these bottles across the globe to their final destinations. Then, one should take into account the amount of energy involved in recycling these bottles; and if they are not recycled, they sit in landfills with nowhere to go. My suggestion: keep a cup or bottle at your desk at work, and refill it during the day from the tap. If you feel so inclined, write to your representatives and senators in D.C. suggesting that bottled water not be supplied with our tax dollars. We’re in an economic downturn at the moment! It makes both environmental and fiscal sense to use common sense here.
  2. Get off of junk mail lists: Some may be thinking, Yeah, that would be nice. It’s realistic! Not only would receiving less junk mail annoy you less and waste less of your time, but it will help to conserve our forests. This is an interesting website with stats related to the negative environmental impact of junk mail. Briefly, the site cites that nearly 100 million trees are used each year to produce junk mail, that each American adult receives approximately 41 pounds of junk mail annually, with 44% going to the landfill unopened. The company charges a small fee for getting your junk mail reduced for a five year period. However, with effort and patience, you can also do this yourself. This website explains how. Perhaps the easiest way to start is by opting out of credit card applications. Calling 1-800-5-OPT-OUT is the way to accomplish this.
  3. Try walking: If your desired destination is a mile from your home, why not walk there? Not only will this conserve gasoline, but in the age of hypertension, diabetes, stroke, etc, it’s exercise built into your day! Walking the 1.5 miles to work may take me 25 minutes, but it would take 10 minutes in the car anyway, plus time spent looking for parking. Then, tack on the daily parking fee that even employees must pay, and the question becomes – why not walk to work? It’s refreshing, it’s exercise, it’s time spent listening to the Zune, and it leaves the car at home.

Until next week!

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