As Local as it Gets
Yardening in Arlington
The compost - with a special concrete filling.
A tomato gets a transplant.
All planted and ready to grow (Bed #1).
Tomatoes and salad greens (Bed #2).
From seedling to garden jungle in a matter of weeks.
Rows offer the illusion of order and method.
1 ½ lbs of zucchini.
A late-season harvest: tomatoes, squash, beets, and everything else.
Summertime on a platter.
At the Windows on Water film series screening of Liquid Assets, DPW Director Mike Rademacher gave the audience an update on what the Town is doing to maintain our water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure. Thank you, Mike, for making yourself available to the communuity-we learned a lot.
Salt on the roads: Good for safety, bad for environment
By Sandy Bauers
At our last SA meeting there were quite a few stories about the uselessness of the NSTAR energy audits. I had one done about a year ago and was told that my house was pretty tight. I was skeptical because it seemed unlikely that the previous owner had done much to update the insulation and seal leaks and I was really ezpecting to be told that there were lots of things I could do to tighten things up. When Jeremy Marin from the A-HEET program came over to do an audit to evaluate my house to see if it was a good fit, I found out just how bad the NSTAR audit really was.
Jeremy spent the better part of 2 hours looking at both the exterior and interior problems and found that there were lots of leaks and things that needed to be addressed. The basement had lots of issues including gaps around the windows and especially around the foundation where it meets the first floor. There were gaps around the water spickets that had never been filled with caulk and lots of places where cold air could get up to the first floor living space. The forced hot air ducts had lots of leakage at the joints between sections and the hot water pipes weren't insulated either.
Jeremy thought the house was a good project for A-HEET and scheduled a blower door test. This revealed lots of additional opportunities to do air sealing on the first and second floors of the living space. One big source of cold air is the crawl space on the second floor. In addition to needing more insulation, there was no insulation under the plywood floor in the crawlspace and there was a big hole that openned directly into the roof allowing cold air to get into the crawlspace and then into the living space.
We're making plans to schedule the A-HEET event and I will be posting updates here to document what was done and how much improvement we are able to make.
UPDATE - 1-7-2010:
Jeremy arrange for a blower door test and it revealed lots of leaks that could be plugged. It took less than an hour to go through the house and identify all of the leaks. It is amazing how much different this was from the NSTAR energy audit. This really highlights how important it is to get a "real" audit complete with the blower door test.
The date has been set - Saturday, January 16th from 9am - 1pm. The materials are in the process of being purchased and collected. Jeremy will be doing some prep work in the crawl spaces a few days before the actual event.
UPDATE - 1-13-2010..
We're getting close now. Jeremy came over this morning to do some prep work in the crawl spaces. We decided that the insulation that was in the crawl space was adequate for now. I will wait until the spring and add some rigid foam insulation on the wall to the living space at that point. There was also some dampness that I'm going to look into (hopefully not a big roofing job) and also look into having some isonene blown into the space between the floor of the crawlspace and the ceiling to the living room.
All the materials have been purchased and I'm now preparing to get the food for the event lined up.
In order to get at the crawl apace I had to remove all of the boxes and bags that were in storage there which created the perfect opportunity to toss a bunch of old stuff! It's amazing how much stuff gets accumulated over the years.
UPDATE - Jan.22nd, 2010
The event was very successful. 31 volunteers showed up between 8 and 9am. They broke into teams and attacked all of the items that Jeremy had identified during the walk through and blower-door test. A team headed for the basement to tackle the leaky windows and doors, filling the gap around my foundation, wrapping the heating ducts, caulking the holes around pipes and the chimney. Another team headed up to the second floor to attack the crawlspace to add insultaion and to seal all of the doors to the crawl and closet spaces. Another team went to work putting gaskets behind all of the outlets and caulking around the bathroom vent. After 4 hours of work the moment of truth came - the final blower-door test. The baseline from the first test was 3100 CFM. After all the work was done the result was 2160, a reduction of 940 CFM or about 30%.
You can read more about the event and about A-HEET in an article posted by Bob Sprague on YourArlington.Com.
New Links to East Arlington Liveable Streets website and rss feed have been added to the site.
I've added a link to their website in the "Links" section of our site under "Town of Arlington Websites".
I've also added a link to their rss feed in the "newsfeeds" section of the website" under the "Other Local Organizations" category.
We should do the same for other local related organizations as well.
Natick approves zoning change for clean energy businesses
This is an article from the Metro West Daily News about Natick approving changes to its zoning codes.
As part of the Green Communities Act, we are advocating for Arlington to adopt the zoning stretch codes. Marc Breslow will be presenting to the Arlington Board of Selectmen on Dec. 14th.
Stay tuned for more details.
I purchased a new tool for creating templates and had to try it out on our website. I built the new template around our logo but wanted to crate a template that would be lighter in feel and add a dropdown top menu. I hope you like the new look and feel. I'll be making some adjustments to the menus and organization of things.
I wanted to share my spring project with everyone through the blog. I'm in the process of building 2 new raised beds on what has always been my large grassy lawn. I have always planted a garden to grow vegetables in a plot next to my house. I've done pretty well with that plot but last year I decided that the sunniest part of the yard should be tapped for more garden both to grow more vegetables and to reduce the amount of space that was covered by otherwise unproductive grass.
I'm now putting my plans into action. The plan is to add 2 4X8 foot raised beds. I've purchased the lumber (18 4X4 by 8 ft. untreated fir fence posts) and I've also ordered a Juliana Mini 3 green house for my seedlings, etc. I'm also going to setup a composter which is something I've also been meaning to do for some time now. I'm planning on using the "Square Foot Garden" method. (I'll provide a link to the site shortly). This method uses a amixture of 1/3 each compost, vermiculite, and peat. There's no "soil" involved. This method divides the garden into 1 foot squares rather than planting in rows.
As I build my beds and greenhouse I will post pictures and more details about what I'm learning along the way.
Stay tuned for more details....
Lots of progress to report. I've now purchased all of the materials and constructed my raised beds. I purchased 4"X4"X16' fir fence poasts for the beds. I got the lumber at Cambridge Lumber. For the amount of lumber I purchased delivery was free.
I purchased corner brackets and mending plates to connect the lengths of fir together to form my two 4'X8'X1' boxes. I treated the wood with pure tung oil combined in equal parts with citrus solvent to help it penetrate the wood and dry more quickly. The coats dried in a few hours.
I purchased peat, vermiculite (coarse), and 5 varieties of compost to start things off. These three ingredients get mixed 1/3 each to product the growing medium. I put a layer of cardboard in the bottom of the boxes to kill the grass and weeds while letting the water drain through the bottom when saturated.
I used eyelets to connect nylon chord to mark the 1'X1' squares (square foot gardening) and planted my first bunch of plants. I will be getting the second box into production this weekend.
The boxes cost about $150 per for the materials. The soil mix cost quite a bit as well and I will add some details when I get a chance along with pictures.
I haven't had a chance to dive into the other piece of this project which is to assemble the leanto style greenhouse that I am putting on the side of my house.
In the meantime, I also decided to replace my traditional lawn with a "no-mow" lawn of fescu grasses....I'll write another blog on this as I get going on it. The basic idea is that the new grass will be over-spread on top of the current lawn. The fescue grasses will crowd out the old grass and the weeds. It will provide a nice looking and feeling lawn but require very little water and no mowing!
More to come...
Hot, Flat, and Crowded is essential reading
Thomas L. Friedman has hit many nails on the head in his analysis of what this country needs to do to deal with global warming, population growth, and the expansion of the world's middle class. This book is the current selection of the Arlington Democratic Town Committee Book Group. All are welcome to attend the discussion of Hot, Flat, and Crowded on Sun., Jan. 4, from 3 to 5 at Ken Larsen's house at 4 Frost Street. Please contact Ken at 648-5332 if you have any questions.
Here's my favorite review of what I feel is an essential-to-read book.
-- David Landskov
from Washington Post | September 7,2008
A Climate for Change
Tom Friedman says Americans can prosper by "outgreening" everyone else.
Reviewed by Joseph S. Nye Jr
Sunday, September 7, 2008; Page BW03
HOT, FLAT, AND CROWDED
Why We Need a Green Revolution -- And How It Can Renew America
Farrar Straus Giroux. 438 pp. $27.95
Like it or not, we need Tom Friedman.
The peripatetic columnist has made himself a major interpreter of the confusing world we inhabit. He travels to the farthest reaches, interviews everyone from peasants to chief executives and expresses big ideas in clear and memorable prose. While pettifogging academics (a select few of whom he favors) complain that his catchy phrases and anecdotes sometimes obscure deeper analysis, by and large Friedman gets the big issues right.
Almost a decade ago, in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, he celebrated the arrival of "globalization." Three years ago, in The World is Flat, he warned that borders, oceans and distance no longer protect us from the information revolution that is leveling the global economic playing field and relocating our jobs. Now he updates and expands this diagnosis by showing how population growth, climate change and the expansion of the world's middle class are producing a planet that is "hot, flat, and crowded." Unchecked, these trends will produce dangerous instability; but Friedman remains guardedly optimistic that we can stave off this nightmare, particularly if the United States changes its wasteful energy habits. In this important book, Friedman says we can survive, even prosper, by going green.
Of course, rousing a full-bellied nation, groggy from decades of energy overconsumption, is no small task. As the current election debate reminds us, the United States has proven inept at developing a serious energy strategy. Our approach, says one expert quoted by Friedman, is "the sum of all lobbies"; we have energy politics rather than energy policy. In the aftermath of 9/11, George W. Bush ignored calls by Friedman and others for a "USA Patriot Tax" of $1 per gallon on gasoline. Instead, the president offered tax cuts and urged us to shop. Rather than stimulating the economy to move toward fuel-efficient vehicles and renewable energy, we became more dependent on China to finance our deficit and Saudi Arabia to fill our gas tanks. Americans wound up paying even more for gas in 2008, but we enabled OPEC to be the tax collector instead of using the revenues ourselves. Friedman calls this a "No Mullah Left Behind" policy and quotes former CIA director Jim Woolsey: "We are funding the rope for the hanging of ourselves."
Friedman believes we need to become "green hawks," turning conservation and cleaner energy into a winning strategy in many different arenas, including the military. ("Nothing," he writes, "will make you a believer in distributed solar power faster than having responsibility for trucking fuel across Iraq.") We should stop defining our current era as "post-Cold War," he says, and see it as an "Energy-Climate Era" marked by five major problems: growing demand for scarcer supplies, massive transfer of wealth to petrodictators, disruptive climate change, poor have-nots falling behind, and an accelerating loss of bio-diversity. A green strategy is not simply about generating electric power, it is a new way of generating national power.
Incremental change will not be enough. The three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for the New York Times scoffs at the kind of magazine articles that list "205 Easy Ways to Save the Earth." In the 1990s, global carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.1 percent annually, and many nations (not including the United States) signed the Kyoto Protocol to try to curb those emissions. But from 2000 to 2006, growth in CO2emissions tripled to 3 percent per year.
Friedman cites an estimate by Royal Dutch Shell that it typically takes 25 years for a new form of energy to capture 1 percent of the world market. Shell predicts that if we do things right, renewable energy will provide 30 percent of global needs by 2050, but fossil fuels will still provide 55 percent. Friedman says we need to do better than that. "Carbon neutral" is not ambitious enough; companies and institutions should seek a "carbon advantage" over rivals. This will require innovations in clean energy; greater energy efficiency (including the use of information technology to create smart grids and smart buildings); and a new ethic of conservation. Friedman argues that rather than costing too much, such initiatives can create investment opportunities, new jobs and global leadership for the U.S. economy. Here one wishes he had provided more evidence from some of the pettifogging academic economists.
Friedman is skeptical of treaties, and he argues that "a truly green America would be more valuable than fifty Kyoto Protocols. Emulation is always more effective than compulsion." He makes a good case that "outgreening" other countries would contribute to America's soft power as well as our hard power. "We are still the city on the hill for many Chinese," he notes, "even though they hate what we've done at times at the top of the hill." But the problem of China could overshadow what we do at home. In 2007, China surpassed the United States as the world's leading emitter of carbon dioxide. Chinese argue that on a per capita basis each of their citizens is responsible for only one-fifth the emissions of an American, and that developing countries should not have to cut back until they reach rich countries' CO2levels. This is a formula for global disaster. As Friedman says, "Mother Nature isn't into fair. All she knows is hard science and raw math."
China uses coal, a particularly CO2-intensive fuel, for 70 percent of its commercial energy supply, while coal accounts for a third of America's total energy. China builds more than one new coal-fired power plant each week. Coal is cheap and widely available in China, which is important as the country scrambles for energy resources to keep its many energy-intensive industries running. But Friedman does not deal with the issue of cleaner coal in China, and no amount of renewable energy in America will solve the problem. At the rate China is growing, a Chinese switch to renewables will come too late.
What can the United States do about this security threat? The bombs, bullets and embargos of traditional security policy are irrelevant. A 2007 report from the International Energy Agency urged a cooperative approach to helping China and India become more energy efficient. In other words, to promote our own security, the United States and other rich countries may have to forge a partnership with China, India and others to develop a full range of creative ideas, technologies and policies to prevent dangerous climate change. This requires a reframing of what we think of as national security and a more inclusive strategy than we have had in the past. If we finally move in that direction, Friedman will deserve some of the credit. ·
Joseph S. Nye Jr. is University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard and author, most recently, of "The Powers to Lead."
Originally posted March 14th, 2007
A couple overheard on the bus in Arlington discussing the recent Globe article about a family trying to become independent of their car by using their bicycles: &amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;…even with panniers…how much can you carry on a bike?…&amp;amp;amp;amp;quot; In response to their skepticism about being able to do their weekly shopping by bike I offer this alternative.
I received this BicycleR Evolution trailer as a holiday present this year and I have been loving how well it works for me. It weights very little, attaches to the bike extremely easily, is very stable and rides well behind the bike, and carries up to 100 lbs. I use it to go to the grocery store and can easily fit 4 full-sized paper bags full of groceries. Since I do not drive this trailer has made my life much easier. Before I got the trialer I went to the store frequently and had to consider very carefully what items to purchase and how many in order to fit everything in my bike bag on my rack and in my backpack. This often meant that I had to forgo sale items because I couldn’t fit 3 of something. Now I can go to the store and shop normally with confidence that I can fit everything in my trailer. You can find lots of variations on bike trailers including flat-bed trailers that will haul up to 300 lbs. You’ve probably seen the baby trailers on the bike path. Here’s a picture of my configuration.
Link to BicycleR Evolution’s webs
Originally posted on May 4th, 2007
I just installed a new EarthPC at work. The EarthPC uses the 80+ power supply to reduce energy consumption and meets the new EnergyStar 4 standard. So far I’m very impressed. In addition to being green (not the case which is black) the system is the quietest I’ve ever come across. I had to place my hand on the machine to feel the vibration to make sure it was running.
The EarthPC is being produced and sold right here in Boston by Tech Networks of Boston (http://www.techboston.com) which is located in South Boston across from the Andrews T stop.
In addition to desktop PCs they also have green servers. While other PC manufacturers are beginning to release EnergyStar 4 compliant PCs, servers that meet the spec are not available yet. Servers account for huge energy use in businesses and being able to move to less power hungry machines could reduce energy costs tremendously.I’ll add to this blog article
Originally posted on March 17th, 2007
This past fall, we had a pellet stove installed and we really like it. It’s an insert to our fireplace that burns small pellets made of compressed sawdust. It heats the living room and most of the downstairs very well. We still use our regular furnace and radiators, mainly for heating upstairs. But if you leave the stove running for several hours it does a pretty good job of heating the whole house.
We bought the pellet stove from Energy Unlimited in Wayland. I also expect that we’ll be buying fuel from them.
So far this year, the stove has been our primary heat source although we do use our gas furnace regularly. Our bills and gas consumption have gone down significantly– on the order of 30%. Of course, we’ve had to pay for pellet fuel which cost $300 for a ton and $50 for delivery.
We keep up the pallet in the our garage because the pellets need to stay dry. We’ve burned through the first ton and are ordering a second ton now.
In terms of labor, you have to carry the 40-pound bags of pellets in from outside, obviously, and pour them into the stove from the top. We have been emptying the ashes out every two weeks and using a vacuum to clean it out thoroughly. We throw the ashes on the compost. We’ll also have to get the chimney checked regularly and the stove cleaned professionally.
My biggest concern with the stove so far is getting the fuel. Pellets were not available around here last winter. And getting a second delivery from our supplier has been delayed a couple of times. Places like Home Depot also sell pellets, so that’s another option. I’m told that getting high-quality pellets are important.
The stove itself cost about $2200. Altogether, the stove, installation, and delivery of ton of pellets costs over $3000.
It gives off a dry heat, blown out with the fan and it’s really nice having a fire going. Before we rarely used the fireplace, because it was so wasteful, heat-wise. You can’t smell smoke outside when the stove is burning like you can when you burn wood in a fireplace.
In theory, wood pellets are a renewable resource, although I don’t know about ours for sure. We get them from a lumber company which has set up a subsidiary to make pellets from its sawdust. In general, it seems environmentalist give pellet stoves good marks as a heating option.
See more here at Grist.org.
Originally posted March 17th, 2007
You can compost any raw vegetable matter, from apple cores to grass clippings and leaves, and coffee grounds too. Leaves can be shredded with a lawnmower, or else they tend to mat down and take forever.
The Arlington Dept. of Public Works (located on Grove St.) has compost bins at reasonable prices, and information. I compost year-round — in winter I just throw my vegetable refuse on top of the heap in the bin and it sits there until the compost organisms wake up and go to work on it in the spring. I have also composted eggshells and even a few lobster shells, and they don’t seem to have hurt my compost. I have a plastic trash can next to my compost bins, and when the compost in the bottom part of a bin seems ready, I transfer any uncomposted stuff from the top part to the other bin and sift the compost from the bottom through “hardware cloth” with 1/2 inch mesh into the trash can so I have a ready supply of compost when I need it.
Martin LaMonica adds:
One of the first things we did when we moved to our house in Arlington was build a compost bin and it continues to serve us well. All vegetable matter goes in there–veggies, yard waste, etc.–and comes out compost a few months later. Be careful to keep any animal parts out (with the exception of egg shells and apparently lobster exo-skeletons, as noted above). It’s important to cover what you put in there with leaves or other non-food material. In the fall, we keep a yard waste bag full of leaves to pile on top of deposits during the winter. Also important is moving stuff around–a pitchfork does the trick–to help the composting process.
Links on composting:
Originally Posted March 27th, 2007
Scott Smith shares his experience of an extensive energy-saving effort.
Spending our first winter in our &quot;new&quot; house, which was built in 1870, was a bit of a surprise.
While the house is generally in very good repair, and has been extensively renovated over the years, we were surprised how much we were spending on gas for heating. After receiving the Keyspan Gas bill for December, I knew something needed to be done. The house is about 20% larger than our previous house, but the gas bill seemed more like twice as large as we had been used to. Part of this is clearly the ever-increasing price of fuel.
I immediately scheduled an energy audit from Keyspan. Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones becoming sensitized to the high cost of staying warm in the winter, so the auditor was not available until March 8. In the meantime, I started doing some research, and found several projects to take on in the meantime. Here’s a list of things that I did:
1. Insulate heating pipes - My basement has probably 300 feet of copper and iron pipe carrying hot water to the radiators throughout the house. Almost none were insulated. I began to start wrapping them.
2. Weather strip doors - The two doors on the front of my house were not well sealed. I sealed them with various kinds of weather stripping.
3. adjust storm windows - They are almost brand new, but were not well adjusted, such that large (several mm) gaps were present at the bottom side of many of them.
4. mortite windows - I sealed the gaps around all of the older windows with mortite, a kind of rope caulk made for this purpose.
5. gaskets on outlets and switches - Outlets and switches on outside walls can leak cold air into your house. Foam gaskets can be easily put in to reduce this flow dramatically.
6. turn down thermostats to 55 at night - Nobody (including my always-cold wife or 3 and 5 year old daughters) complained when I adjusted the thermostat downward at night. A programmable thermostat can be used to warm the house automatically before you get up.
7. seal cracks in foundation and around basement windows - This helps keep the basement warmer, and reduce the cold air coming up through any cracks in the floor and along the walls.
8. close rooms that aren’t in use - Our dining room isn’t used all the much (and never at night) so we began closing off the room when it’s not in use. This room tends to be a bit colder due to lots of windows, so closing the doors keeps the rest of the house warmer.
9. turn down water heater to &quot;warm&quot; - Our water heater was turned up much too high. The warm setting on most HW heaters will provide water at 115-120 degrees, which is fine for our needs.
10. reflectors behind radiators on exterior walls - Radiators that are installed on outside walls should have reflectors along the wall to ensure that the heat goes into the room rather than heating the wall. These can be made from aluminum roll insulation available at places like Home Depot.
Although it’s difficult to be sure due to weather variability, these actions seem to have cut our bills by about 15%. Given that most of these actions need only be done once, their cost ($400-500) will be recouped in the first year. After that it’s money in the pocket.
On March 8, the auditor arrived. This particular auditor, though contracted by Keyspan, works for Honeywell. He doesn’t sell anything, so I believed that he could be objective, and nearly everything he said seemed quite logical and reasonable. He was pleased to see all the actions that I had been already taken.
However, the big stuff remains, which the auditor dutifully discovered. Specifically:
* He found an opening along the wall in the second floor ceiling that allowed warm air to go directly to the attic. He recommended sealing it with expanding foam. He also estimated that this crack was costing me $300/year! Wow.
* He pointed out that the chimney damper was open (behind glass doors) and recommended closing the damper and/or blocking the flue with an inflatable device. An open or leaky damper is like an open or very leaky window.
* He checked all walls for insulation, finding that only about 25% had any insulation at all. Blowing insulation into the walls would cost $2000-$3000, but would cut my heating costs by more than $800/year, he estimated.
* He recommended adding electronic ignition to my boiler, rather than relying upon a pilot light. This would cost $300, save $124/year.
* He recommended considering a tankless water heater, which are more efficient as well as having other virtues.
* He recommended that I insulate my basement ceiling and attic floor. Cost: $700, savings $380/year.
* He recommended that I finish insulating my hot water pipes. He quoted a figure of $1.50 per foot/season for 1&quot; copper pipes, and for 2&quot; iron, $2.50-3.00. That adds up fast.
* Keyspan rebates/Federal Tax Credits:
$300 for tankless HW + $300 tax credit
There are also loan programs, at no and low (3%) interest available for making these sort of improvements, so you really shouldn’t miss these opportunities, even if the bank account is presently a bit low.
Overall, I highly recommend getting an energy audit. If you don’t heat with gas, I believe you may be able to get one from N-Star. It’s a great way to learn about your home and what you can do to improve its efficiency. You’ll save money, be
June 20th, 2008
Check out this video from CNN about a family in Pasadena, CA that has been practicing all kinds of interesting urban homesteading techniques and has learned to live off of their 1/10th of an acre lot in Pasadena….
and a link to their website
They’ve got some really interesting appliances like a bicycle powered grinder and a solar oven…Just goes to show you what you can do.