Fun in the Sun: Powering Your RV with Solar

Living in Portland, Oregon, the sun is not something we take for granted seeing how we average only 144 sunny days a year. When the sun does decide to shine down and grace us with its presence, we get out there and soak it up (with appropriate SPF of course.)

So I’m sure you can imagine the lack of sympathy I have for my friend, a pilot who lives in the Portland area, who due to the economy was recently transferred and is now based out of Los Angeles where they have on average 291 sunny days a year.  Even though he’s living in an RV in the LAX parking lot 3 weeks out of every month, I’m pretty sure I’d trade places with him, at least for a little while.

On his last visit home, we got to talking about life in the RV and the sudden demise of its generator. With a family at home in Portland and a second “household” (RV-hold?) in L.A. to support, he’s been looking into the most cost efficient way to power the RV appliances and miscellaneous gadgets like his computer and cell phone. He asked what I thought about going solar. Given there’s no shortage of sun in Los Angeles, especially on an airport tarmac, it seems like a no-brainer. I told him I thought it was a great idea, and here’s why.

First of all, solar panels are quiet, unlike a generator. Nothing can ruin the peacefulness and tranquility of the great outdoors quite the roar of a generator coming to life as campers start their morning coffee. In the case of my friend who’s living at an airport, I’m not sure the noise factor is as relevant, but if you’re using your RV in a campground, your neighbors will thank you.

In addition, solar panels require little to no maintenance (the occasional removal of bird “bombs” aside) and because there’s no gasoline, diesel or kerosene used as there would be with a generator, there’s no pollution or emissions generated, so mother nature will thank you, too! 

Some people may argue that solar panels are too expensive and noise and pollution benefits aren’t worth the additional cost.  However, today’s solar panels are really cost competitive. If you’re in doubt, consider this: a gas powered generator can run anywhere from $1500 – $3000 (or more depending on the size of your RV and energy needs).

For roughly the same price you can purchase an RV solar kit which comes with everything you need to get started including the panel, charge controller, inverter, roof mounts, and cables. And if you find you have greater energy needs, additional solar panels can easily be added.

Probably the biggest incentive for people considering a switch to solar is the substantial long term cost savings on fuel. Those having already made the switch estimate they save around $500 a year by not buying gas for their generator. So all things considered, assuming an equal life span of 5 years for both a generator and solar panels, you could see a total savings of nearly $2500 by installing solar panels on your RV. If you’re in the market to upgrade or replace your RV’s generator, consider going solar; by going green you can save green, too!

RV Solar Kits

Earth Hour 2009 Is Just Around The Corner

Earth Hour 2009 is just around the corner and it is an important day for you to voice your opinion and show what you stand for. If you are not familiar with Earth Hour, here is a brief history on the event: Earth Hour is an annual international event created by the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature/World Wildlife Fund), held on the last Saturday of March, that asks households and businesses to turn off their non-essential lights and electrical appliances for one hour to raise awareness towards the need to take action on climate change. It was pioneered by WWF Australia and the Sydney Morning Herald in 2007, and achieved worldwide participation in 2008.

In 2007, over 2.2 million households and businesses participated in the first ever Earth Hour in Sydney, Australia. Then in 2008, over 35 countries around the world participated as official flagship cities and over 400 cities also supported. Earth Hour 2008 was a major success, celebrated on all seven continents. According to a Zogby International online survey 36 million people participated in Earth Hour 2008. The survey also showed there was a 4 percentage point increase in awareness of environmental issues such as climate change, directly after the event.

The way Earth Hour works, is you shut off your non-essential lights and electrical appliances in your home or business for one hour on March 28 at 8:30pm (your local time). The effect will not be noticeable except via satellite, as the night falls across the face of the earth, lights will be switching off and visually casting their vote to take action on climate change and stop global warming. For more information on Earth Hour, check out their website at http://www.earthhourus.org

References: Wikipedia

 

Earth Sheltered Home: Green Building Construction Work Exchange

Do you want to gain valuable hands-on green building experience this summer? Do you want to learn all about building an earth sheltered home and experience life in an intentional community? This year, there are several natural building internship and work exchange opportunities at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeastern Missouri, an off-the-grid intentional community devoted to ecological sustainability.

You can learn all about natural building and earth sheltered homes this summer by helping to build an earthbag dome. Dancing Rabbit member Jeff is currently building an earthbag building, and he’s seeking construction help for the 2009 building season.

You will have the opportunity to experience earthbag construction, cob, earthen plasters, and living roofs. Jeff’s earthbag home will feature all of these natural building materials and techniques.

Work exchangers will also have ample opportunity to experience community life and life off-the-grid at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, and basic living expenses and food are all provided for.  Experienced builders and avid learners are welcome to apply.

Check out Jeff’s call for work exchangers at his earth sheltered home and green building construction work exchange page.

Ways to Prevent Global Warming While Traveling

Travel, and the human thirst for it, presents a tough problem to people like you who want to take bold steps to reduce their impact on global warming. Here, we’ll discuss how your long-distance travel contributes to rising global temperatures, and steps you can take to reduce your emissions when traveling.

Traveling is a huge problem because, despite huge leaps in technology and sustainable systems for transportation, none of them exist yet on a large scale. At present, nearly all transportation is powered by fossil fuels such as coal and oil, which spew co2 emissions into the atmosphere and cause it to warm our planet.

In 2006, nearly half of all co2 emissions from fossil fuel were from the transportation sector alone. That’s a pretty important fact about global warming! Whether you travel by train, bus, subway or plane, you are almost guaranteed to be sending emissions into the air with your ticket.

Unfortunately, it seems that we humans need to travel in order for our society to work. How else will we get to that conference half-way across the country by Tuesday?

Luckily, for a lot of circumstances it is possible to eliminate the travel altogether! There are numerous technologies out there right now for live voice- and video-conferencing, designed specifically for businesses in mind.

How To Reduce Your Travel Emissions

Are you traveling for pleasure? Then your best bet is to take the train or bus if your location is far away. One of the absolute worst ways to get yourself there is by driving alone! You should always make sure to carpool if you are using a personal vehicle, and use the most fuel efficient vehicle available. If you think you’ll need more than one vehicle, then pitch in and get a single larger vehicle such as a van. You’ll get more fuel efficiency per person that way.

If you do have a car for any sort of travel, you should definitely check out this simple and amazing fuel saving device. It is guaranteed to increase your mileage by a whopping 10 miles per gallon! Better for you, better for the environment. Also, be sure to check out our other tips on how to green your car .

At all costs, you must avoid taking planes. Their exhaust is heavily laden with greenhouse gases, and worse, they get inserted directly into the most sensitive area of the atmosphere!

The best way to travel long-distances is, hands down, by train. This is also one of the best ways to prevent global warming that you, personally can take. You will get far more fuel for your dollar, and the bonus of having a relaxing, auto-piloted ride to your destination. While train travel in the United States is not up to par with Europe, it is still an inexpensive and enjoyable way to travel to almost anywhere in the nation.

Are you feeling like taking a serious long-distance travel emissions cut? Depending on the area in which you live, and the caliber of your will, you could feasibly hang-glide long distances to your destination. It may sound ridiculous (OK, it probably sounds ridiculous), but with a current record distance of 517 km (321mi.) in one flight and one day, and a few hours of enlightening views, could this be the future of human travel? This author hopes so.

You can find out more about fuel efficiency of various methods of transportation here .

Make sure not to forget about the energy you use at the hotel, campground or wherever you stay. If you plug things in, you are already contributing to further emissions. One great way you can avoid this is to use a solar charger to keep your phone, ipod or computer up and running- and completely emissions free.

Unless you bike to your destination, or take an electric vehicle powered from renewable sources, you will almost certainly have excess carbon emissions. It is important that you off-set these emissions so they do not further contribute to the potentially disastrous effects of global warming in the future.

As always, make sure that you share these helpful tips with your friends and family! It is only when we cooperate and work together to reduce our emissions that we can hope to stop global warming!

More Ways You Can Take Action:

Check our our blog on how to green your travel!

Take advantage of one of the easiest ways to help prevent global warming .
Find out how to green your car to save money and mileage!

 

Passive Solar Design Can Help Stop Global Warming

There are many ways to prevent global warming through building more energy efficient homes. Conventional houses are large, poorly designed, and inefficient, and the manufacturing and construction processes are big contributors to global warming. Perhaps more important is how much energy is spent heating and cooling homes throughout the changing seasons.

However, passive solar design is a home design approach that promotes maximum energy efficiency and can dramatically reduce the amount of energy that goes into maintaining a comfortable living space.

Passive solar design

You can lower your energy bills with a passive solar home that is designed for maximum energy efficiency. One of the most important design elements in efficient natural buildings is passive solar construction. Passive solar homes feature intelligent design considerations that can dramatically decrease the need for active energy heating and cooling systems — or, in other words, you will spend less money on heating and cooling.

In effect, passive solar homes stay cooler in the summer, and warmer in the winter with lesser need for air conditioning and heating. First and foremost, passive solar homes are oriented towards the sun (which is the south in the northern hemisphere) and feature large south-facing windows that let in a wealth of sunlight in wintertime (when the angle of the sun is much lower) and help warm up a space. With the proper calculations and other considerations (like large roof overhangs), direct sunlight is prevented from entering in summertime, keeping a room cool and comfortable.

Thermal energy can be stored in a masonry or earthen floor or cob wall, or even in large drums filled with water. After all, concrete, stone, earth, and water are all superior heat storage mediums when compared to air.

You can dramatically reduce your carbon footprint living in an efficient passive solar home. To learn more about passive solar home design, check out this link.

Build Your Own Compost Bin with Shipping Pallets

One of the easiest things you can do to limit the amount of trash you produce is to compost your food waste. It requires little initiative, and you will benefit from the rich compost resulting from the breakdown of your kitchen scraps. The only thing you really need to do is create a suitable bin for your soon-to-be compost. Thankfully, there are alternatives to the overpriced, plastic compost containers that some garden supply stores hawk to customers. You can make your own using recycled shipping pallets for less than $20, or even free if you have some of the few necessary supplies.

How to build a compost bin

Here are two different sets of instructions on how to build your own inexpensive compost bin from reclaimed shipping pallets:
How to build a $15 shipping pallet compost bin
Pallet compost bin

Why to build with shipping pallets

Here are somestatistics about the production and waste associated with shipping pallets:

Approximately 40% of all hardwood harvested in the U.S. is for making shipping pallets
About two-thirds of pallets are used only once before being thrown out
1/4 of all wood in landfills is from used pallets

Why not put some of those shipping pallets headed to the landfill to good use? You can easily find shipping pallets around your town or city—try contacting supermarkets, warehouses, and other businesses that receive regular large shipments.

Happy composting!

 

Save Energy by Cooking with an Insulated Hot Box

You can save on your home energy consumption and a few precious dollars on your monthly bill by integrating a simple insulated hot box into your cooking. A hot box (also known as a hay box) provides an efficient solution to cooking food without the excessive use of your stove top or oven. Best of all, you can make a hot box for free, with very simple, recycled materials that you probably already have lying around your house.

What is a hot box?

Essentially, a hot box is an insulated box. The box can be just that: a cardboard box, or even a large cooler. The more important element is the insulation, which can be anything ranging from polystyrene foam board cutoffs, to straw, to towels, to shredded newspaper, or even sleeping bags.

How to make a hot box

1.) To make a hot box, find a large cardboard box (one that will be large enough to house several inches worth of insulating material on all sides, and your favorite cooking pot).

2.) Next, simply line it with your insulating material. If you’re using straw or foam board, you might consider getting a second, smaller box to put your pot in to keep things dry and tidy.

3.) Finally, put your pot in the fully insulated hot box, and make sure to cover it with some extra towels or insulating material. (If you have some sleeping bags, you don’t even need a box: simply wrap your pot in the middle of a bag or two.) Remember: the more insulation, the better! It’s important to keep the heat in.

How to cook with a hot box

Hot box cooking works best for things that cook slowly over time, like grains or beans, or even soups and stews.

For example, to cook rice, first let the rice boil for five minutes (which is enough time for the heat the fully penetrate the grains) on your stove top, and then throw the pot (covered with lid) in the box. Check back in another two to four hours. Your cooking time may vary (it all depends on how well insulated your box is), but expect your food to finish between two and four hours, depending on the food item.

Hot boxes are no-brainer solutions to cut back on energy consumption, without spending anything extra!

Growing Perennial Vegetables Saves Time and Offers Greater Bounty

Most gardeners are familiar with the yearly toil of creating and mending garden beds, starting seedlings, transplanting, watering, and harvesting their favorite vegetables. It’s a lot of work. But unfamiliar to many gardeners are perennial vegetables—vegetables that do not require annual plantings, and provide fruit, leaf, and shoot year after year without constant replanting effort and energy inputs. Most familiar is perhaps asparagus, but there are dozens of other perennial vegetables, and taking advantage of these varieties will save you time and energy throughout the years, in addition to promoting a healthier garden ecology.

Permaculture: less work and more rewards

Permaculture, or ‘permanent agriculture’ is a design methodology (for gardens and even buildings, too) that mimics the patterns, relationships, and balance found in natural ecosystems. Permacultural gardens stress the use of perennial plants because they do not require constant replanting (which can upset soil), and they take less energy to maintain and provide greater bounty for the effort it takes to get them established. Food forests, an extension of permacultural design, are intelligent gardens that group different layers of trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs, designed so that each plant benefits from all of the others.

Gaia’s Garden is an excellent introduction to permaculture theory and gives practical information about how to design your own ecological garden. A more in-depth resource is Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke.

Strawberries, rhubarb, and asparagus are some of the more common perennial plants grown for their edible fruit. However, there are many more than just that. Depending on where you live, you can you grow a bustling array of vegetables that will continue to provide food for your table during their long lifespans. Thankfully, Eric Toensmeier has detailed over 100 different perennial vegetables in his obviously-titled Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, a Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles. This resource gives detailed descriptions of many lesser-known perennials and provides maps for US-based gardeners to determine if their area is appropriate for each variety.

The True Facts About Global Warming

Looking for the real facts about global warming? Find out some important true facts about global warming that you need to know!You may have found that there is a lot of “confusion” over the facts about global warming– especially online. It's true- there are a lot of global warming deniers out there on the internet who distort scientific claims and promote half-truths. Thankfully, there are also well-known, documented and referenced facts about global warming that are impossible to deny.

The Simple Facts

The most important fact to know about global warming is that it is a reality. We know it is real because it is a measurable process that we can see through the lens of science. From samples taken from cores of ice in the arctic to records of temperatures around the world from over a century ago, you can clearly see for yourself that global warming is an unfortunate reality.

Second, it is alarmingly clear that humans are causing the problem. There is virtually no denying this, and I challenge you to dig behind the claims of anybody who says otherwise. All top climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change, and that we are accelerating the problem through our production of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Here is a great list of common arguments from global warming skeptics for you to reference if you meet a global warming denier- or if you are one!

Climate Change: Destroying Earth As We Know It

Global warming is happening right now, and the consequences will only worsen as we wait. It is not some far-off fantasy future. The average global temperature has already risen 1.3 ° F since the beginning of the 20th century. Sea levels have risen 20cm in the past century due to human-caused global warming, and that figure is expected to accelerate in the future. It might not sound like much, but this rise has a profound effect on coastal areas. Many countries like the Maldives already have plans made for when their country will be completely submerged by water- a direct result of human-caused climate change. The only way we can stop changes like this is to use emission-free energy sources and stop producing CO2.

150,000 people die every year as a result of global warming that you likely contribute to- one of the hardest-hitting true facts about global warming around. These deaths result from droughts, floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters connected to a changing climate. 150,000 is a huge number of people- but you can help reduce it. Below, you can find some really powerful ways that you can help stop climate change right now.

You Can Take Action Against Global Warming

There are a lot of ways that you can take action to reduce your impact and help with global warming prevention. Start by checking out the top ten ways to prevent global warming. However, the best way to combat global warming is to act right now and reduce your emissions by visiting the neutral existence eco-store and learn how you can dramatically reduce your footprint- You'll save money and, more importantly, save lives.

Sources

True Facts on Global Warming: A Cooler Climate
Wikipedia: Global Warming
How to Decrease Your Carbon Footprint

Growing Veggies in the Snow

It’s cold out there…Brrr.  The likelihood is, in most parts of the country, the cold has frozen everyone’s resolutions for a greener 2009.  But now’s the time to get moving, especially for those who have made a commitment to eat locally this year.

If you’re truly concerned about the distances foods travel to your table, you need to get down and dirty – literally.  You can’t get any more locally grown that a garden in your back yard, or somewhere on your property.  And while it may be hard to imagine beautiful growing vegetables with all that snow, start thinking now about where you’ll be putting that garden.  It’ll be time to till before you know it.

Winter is the time to start planning your summer vegetable garden.  Go on line, or get some catalogs from companies like Burpee and start considering what you want to grow.  If you’re new to gardens, you might want to start with some research at your local library on the different types of gardens and how they work.  You’ll also want to start observing your yard to find out where plants will get the most sun and grow best.

Think now about what you want to plant in that garden.  How about some herbs to spice up your cooking?  Some – like basil, parsley, rosemary – are easy to grow.  You can even plant them in containers on your porch to save room in your garden for things like fresh tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, zucchini and peppers. It’s amazing what you can grow in your own garden under the right circumstances.  Watermelon, any one? 

But getting back to winter.  If you want to plant certain items, it’s important to research their germination dates, so you know when to plant them.  Germination varies for every plant, even for various types of the same vegetable, so be careful. Some vegetables can take quite a bit of time from plating to eating.  Don’t disappoint yourself by waiting too long to get seeds or seedlings in the ground.

Something else you’ll want to start now to create a healthy, environmentally friendly garden: compost.  If you’re not already a composter, you’ll want to be if you choose to grow some of your own food.  Composting is one of things many tend to think of as a major undertaking. It’s not.  You don’t need a fancy bin for the backyard.  You can make your own, or even go without one.  When done correctly, compost should not cause an odor problem or invite pests.  Just know that without a fancy bin, you’ll have to go out and turn the heap from time to time.  Bonus – its good exercise.

Those counter top composters with the carbon filters are nice. But you really don’t need that either.  Find a container with a tightly fitting lid, and some room for it under your kitchen sink, and your ready to go.  From time to time, empty the container to your main compost heap in the yard, turn the heap once in a while, and soon you’ll have some nice dark soil to apply to your garden for nutrients.

The trick to compost is a balance between carbon sources and nitrogen sources.  The ideal ratio is about 30:1 in favor of carbon. Carbon sources are things like coffee grounds, egg shells, and fruit wastes, in addition to leaves, pine needles, straw, newspaper, and wood chips.  Nitrogen sources are items like manure, weeds, garden waste and grass clippings.  Don’t use food wastes like meats and fats. For complete instructions on composting, check in with your local agricultural extension office.

Remember, most farmers markets aren’t in full swing until mid-summer, but you can get moving on your commitment to eating locally right now.  Feeling warmer yet?