Monday, September 9, 2013

Net Zero

Is it possible to completely remove our impact on the environment around us? Net Zero is the concept of having zero impact.

Even though the concept is simple there are differing definitions commonly used. Each with a different view of what it takes to reduce our impact. 

Energy consumed = energy produced
For each type of energy, consumed = produced
Carbon neutral: the carbon footprint = 0

For our purposes we will be using the concept of energy consumed = energy produced. To me this definition says that atleast in theory its possible to live off the grid even within an urban, on grid location. 

There are many different areas where this equation of balancing resources can be applied. 

Energy consumed = energy produced
Water consumed = water acquired onsite
Food consumed = food produced

When trying to balance out the net zero equation there are really only two variables, either produce more, or reduce the amount used. In general the later is your best option. There are many simple ways to reduce the resources we use. Sometimes it becomes very difficult to produce more. Lets use electricity as our example. It's simple to just turn off the lights, but more costly to add another photovoltaic panel. 

In my families case we are using a house that is attached to the grid, but also are producing energy. At times we are taking from the grid, other times we are contributing to the grid. We have a net metering agreement with the power company. If we can balance our equation then the power bill will be only $5, the fee for being attached to the grid. 

That's our goal, to be completely net zero. For now we constantly monitor the resources we use compared to what we produce. From this we find ways balance our Net Zero equation by first, using less, and second, producing more. 

Please comment with your ideas. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Do you know why the order of these three simple words is important?


Step one is to reduce waste at its source by taking steps to eliminate its production completely. It takes energy and resources to produce everything.  The best way to eliminate waste is to not produce it in the first place. This can be done by:

Understand the difference between needs an wants.  This simple understanding when followed can be the biggest key to reducing waste.

Avoid disposable goods, such as paper plates, cups, napkins, and razors. Throwaways contribute to the problem, and cost more because they must be replaced again and again.
Buy durable goods - ones that are well-built or that carry good warranties. They will last longer, save money in the long run and save landfill space.


There are some things that we just can't eliminate there need completely. In this case we can work to get multiple uses out of it. The same energy is used to produce the item, but the much more use is received.

Reuse products for the same purpose the were originally created for. 
Reuse products for a different purpose than their original creation. Be creative. The more creative you can be the better your chances of keeping resources out of the landfill. 


I consider this actually to be a last resort. Recycling does help keep resources from going to the landfill, but energy will again need to be used to turn it into a usable product. Each time a material is recycled the material becomes less and less of quality. Down cycle is term often used for this process of a material loosing quality through recycling.

Recycle everything you can. Check with collection centers and curbside pickup services to see what they accept, and begin collecting those materials. These can include metal cans, newspapers, paper products, glass, plastics and oil.
Buy products made from recycled material.

By following the three steps of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, not only are resources beong diverted from the landfill, but resources are used more efficiently. There are limited resources at our disposal, and the better they can be used the more sustainable our future is. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Sustainability Experiment

We are at an incredible moment in history. Society has learned many ways to tear the world apart. We have also learned how to take care of it. History has taught us much about how past cultures lived sustainably, and today's technology gives us an added edge to make it happen in the present. A sustainable world is within reach. That's why it's time for a little experiment.

We will see how sustainable of a home we can create starting from an existing home.  Throughout this process we will outline the good, and the bad of the process. The goal will be an understanding of how close we can get to a sustainable, Net Zero home.

We will gauge how well we are doing based on a series of criteria. Resources used compared to resources produced is the basic concept.  If there's something you think we should add let us know. We want this to be an open dialogue that can help us all live more sustainably.

As always, please comment.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Not So Big House

The Not So Big House book series by Sarah Susanka brings to light a new way of thinking about what makes a place feel like home - characteristics many people desire in their homes and their lives, but haven't known how to verbalize. How big is Not So Big? Not So Big doesn't necessarily mean small. It means not as big as you thought you needed, but designed and built to perfectly suit the way you live.

In the very first chapter Sarah says “What…I suggest is that when building a new home or remodeling an existing one, you evaluate what really makes you feel at home.  In other words, concentrate on, and put more of your money toward, what you like rather than settling for sheer size and volume.”  This sums up for me what is at the heart of this book and the lesson it tries to impart on current and future homeowners.
Throughout the book Sarah takes us on a journey from one beautifully designed home to another explaining all along the way that our idea of the “modern home” is essentially a den of wasted and unused spaces that were never meant for modern living or entertaining.  She offers us an alternative that is the Not So Big House ideal of homes designed with purpose, designed for THE homeowner not A homeowner.  Again, Sarah says it best: “The Not So Big House offers a way to bring the soul back into our homes, out communities, and our society’s fabric.  The house of the future will be Not So Big – and an expression of who we are and the way we really live. 

The sustainability experiment - September 2013 - The base line

We have decided to use September as our base line month. We have done this for a few reasons. September is a fairly neutral month. Reduced heating and cooling loads. Daytime is equal to nighttime. During the day we use a significant amount of daylight to light the house, but during the evening we need to use electricity from the grid. 

Here's the data:
Electricity produced: 170 kWh
Electricity purchased from grid: 220 kWh
Total electricity used: 390 kWh
Gas used
Water used: no data
Water collected: none
Food produced: none produced onsite. 50 quart jars canned. This came from neighbors trees who allowed us to use their surplus. 

If you have a metric you would like to see us track, please comment and I'll start tracking it. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Personal Finance

Step 1

$1,000 Emergency Fund

An emergency fund is for those unexpected events in life that you can’t plan for: the loss of a job, an unexpected pregnancy, a faulty car transmission, and the list goes on and on. It’s not a matter of if these events will happen; it’s simply a matter of when they will happen. 

This beginning emergency fund will keep life’s little Murphies from turning into new debt while you work off the old debt. If a real emergency happens, you can handle it with your emergency fund. No more borrowing. It’s time to break the cycle of debt!

Baby Step 2

Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball

List your debts, excluding the house, in order. The smallest balance should be your number one priority. Don’t worry about interest rates unless two debts have similar payoffs. If that’s the case, then list the higher interest rate debt first. 

The point of the debt snowball is simply this: You need some quick wins in order to stay pumped up about getting out of debt! Paying off debt is not always about math. It’s about motivation. Personal finance is 20% head knowledge and 80% behavior. When you start knocking off the easier debts, you will see results and you will stay motivated to dump your debt. 

Baby Step 3

3 to 6 months of expenses in savings

Once you complete the first two baby steps, you will have built serious momentum. But don’t start throwing all your “extra” money into investments quite yet. It’s time to build your full emergency fund. Ask yourself, “What would it take for me to live for three to six months if I lost my income?” Your answer to that question is how much you should save.

Use this money for emergencies only: incidents that would have a major impact on you and your family. Keep these savings in a money market account. Remember, this stash of money is not an investment; it is insurance you’re paying to yourself, a buffer between you and life.

Baby Step 4

Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement

When you reach this step, you’ll have no payments—except the house—and a fully funded emergency fund. Now it’s time to get serious about building wealth. 

Investe 15% of your household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement plans. Don’t invest more than that because the extra money will help you complete the next two steps: college savings and paying off your home early. 

Why shouldn’t you invest less than 15%? Some people choose to invest a small amount, if anything, because they want to get a child through school or pay off the home in a hurry. But the kids’ degrees won’t feed you at retirement. 

Read more @

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Greenest Building - The One Already Built

This groundbreaking study published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation concludes that building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction. Moreover, it can take between 10 and 80 years for a new, energy-efficient building to overcome, through more efficient operations, the negative climate change impacts that were created during the construction process. However, care must be taken in the selection of construction materials in order to minimize environmental impacts; the benefits of reuse can be reduced or negated based on the type and quantity of materials selected for a reuse project.

This research provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the potential environmental impact reductions associated with building reuse. Utilizing a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) methodology, the study compares the relative environmental impacts of building reuse and renovation versus new construction over the course of a 75-year life span. LCA is an internationally recognized approach to evaluating the potential environmental and human health impacts associated with products and services throughout their respective life cycles. This study examines indicators within four environmental impact categories, including climate change, human health, ecosystem quality, and resource depletion. It tests six different building typologies, including a single-family home, multifamily building, commercial office, urban village mixed-use building, elementary school, and warehouse conversion. The study evaluates these building types across four U.S. cities, each representing a different climate zone, i.e., Portland, Phoenix, Chicago, and Atlanta.

The Greenest Building.pdf