Harvesting Wind Power: It’s Easier than You Think

As many of you may or may not know, harvesting wind power is actually quite simple. But due to its relatively young residential age, there are a lot of questions that builders and architects must answer before diving into the wonderful world of wind power.

Residential Design & Build recently published a great article on the subject matter.

Positioning

For optimal performance, the more open space the better, so the turbine can meet setback and permitting requirements and not conflict with public right of ways. (Be sure to check with your local zoning ordinances and homeowner’s associations to ensure you can in fact put up your own wind turbine). The American Wind Energy Association provides state by state rules for installing a wind turbine. Open space produces better wind quality. Height is also a primary factor – to be effective, a turbine must be set at least 30 feet higher than any obstacles within a 500 foot radius.

Ensuring that your site has the proper wind needed to efficiently and effectively run a small turbine is a large factor to determining is this is a product that you should install. The US Department of Energy has wind maps available to check the wind zones in your area. Obviously if your neighborhood doesn’t get enough wind, installing a turbine will not help. A general rule of thumb when determining if your site produces enough wind is if you can fly a kite above your house, you have enough wind to install a small turbine system.

Another factor is distance from the house. The actual electrical connection between the house and turbine isn’t a huge factor, but copper wire is expensive. The farther from the house, the more expensive the wiring becomes. Ultimately the positing of a turbine is up to the homeowners and their aesthetic preferences.

Fears about installing a Small Turbine System

There are a lot of myths and fears revolving around wind turbine systems – most of which are false. The number one complaint about wind turbines are that they are perceived to be detrimental to birds. This is simply untrue. Fear stems from the first wind turbine farm that went up in the 1980’s. Because it was the first, there were factors that weren’t taken into consideration and the farm was erected in a migratory pattern. The problem was quickly corrected and we are happy to report that bird related deaths due to wind turbines are almost nil. You probably hit more with your car or you squeaky clean windows than with a wind turbine.

Other negative implications against small wind turbines simply hold no truth. No water consumption, small land use and no emissions make this an environmentally sound way to produce natural energy for consumption. Lastly, is that pesky noise factor. Many are afraid to put up a turbine in fear that the noise will upset neighbors and keep them awake at night. At operating speed, the sound emitted by a turbine (like a whooshing sound) is usually masked by the sound of the wind itself.

But They’re Expensive

A residential turbine will typically run homeowners between $10,000 and $60,000, depending on the size of your home and how much of the home you want to power with the turbine. Typically a $10,000 system will power 20-60% of your home and a $60,000 system will power your entire home.

But before you go installing a turbine, make sure that your home is efficient. An inefficient home with a wind turbine may not reduce your energy savings by much – thus taking longer to return your initial investment. If your home is not energy efficient to begin with, you might want to take the money you would spend on installing a wind turbine and fix any leaks you have in your home first.

Tax Credits and Incentives

Energy related tax credits have boomed in recent years. Wind turbines were first included in federal tax incentives when the October 2008 Stimulus Bill passed. The first bill introduced for a small wind system of 100 kW covered about 30% of the total installed cost. That number has since increased when in February 2009 the cap was removed, creating major growth in the small turbine wind market. Under the new bill, it is a one-time credit, but any sale within the past 8 years from February 2009 qualifies.

In addition to federal tax incentives, those installing a small wind turbine system can also receive incentives through federal grant programs and most individual states offer loans, rebates and tax credits for installing a system. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency website helps you navigate potential financial incentives for small turbine systems.

All in all, if you are able to install a small wind turbine system at your home, don’t be afraid of it. The process isn’t as hard as one might expect, and your local installer is trained in site assessment and can make the process very smooth and enjoyable for you.

The Green Life Smart Life house is a perfect location for installing a wind turbine, but unfortunately the homeowner’s association turned down the proposal. According to them, a turbine would be “unsightly”. Little do they realize that a turbine large enough could actually power the entire neighborhood with the amount of wind produced by the bay!

Posted by: Lauren

Simple, White, or Ornate… The wedding can still be green.

Nothing says excess like a wedding. Amongst my group of 30-somethings there are a slew of brides-to-be planning away and most have opted for the path more extravagant and less eco-friendly. From the always-a-bridesmaid, never-a-bride blogger who cannot imagine the to-do-lists of a bride, the excess does become a bit overwhelming. But, it is refreshing to find that brides who are looking for more simple or simply more environmentally conscious options, have an equally long list of solutions from which to choose. Every last detail, from ceremony to the dress (did you know Project Runway winner Christian Siriano does indeed design ‘green’ wedding gowns, without the Kelly hue?), to the favors and invites, is offered in a number of classic, environmentally-friendly options when planning your nuptials.

Even if a wooden ring and all-natural celebration is not quite what you are looking for, there are some eco-tips that can also serve as common sense reminders that will save guests and vendors from unnecessary hassle.

  • Website: Keep paper usage (and printing costs) down by aggregating all event information on one wedding site. It is a great reference for guests for all-things-wedding and offers great personalization options, including “story about us”.
  • Recycled Paper: Assuming digital invites is not an option, recycled printing materials (and ink) offer a great option. It’s a no-brainer for the environment and some materials offer their own stylized enhancement.
  • Confetti: What was once rice, became confetti and bubbles. If you do not want to break ritual but are concerned for the environment, look for water-soluble, biodegradable confetti. No harm done and no cleaning.
  • Transportation: Minimize the amount of driving guests do by planning mass transit between the ceremony and reception. In the city, you will save them $$ on parking, and create great group photo opps.
  • Registry: In addition to selecting items that complement your lifestyle, do not register for unnecessary items. Guests may be better served giving donations in your name.
  • Flowers: Locally grown flowers and bridal bouquets can still be gorgeous.

I thought I’d share my favorite web find – Great Green Wedding ideas and directory

Posted by: Katie

Natural Asbestos Is a Hazard, Too

footstepsYou may associate asbestos with insulation and other industrial uses. But asbestos itself is not man-made. It is a mineral that can be found in rocks and soil. And in its natural form, asbestos can be just as deadly as the asbestos in old buildings and auto brake pads.

The mineral asbestos crumbles into small fibers, and if these fibers are breathed into the lungs the result can be tragic. Asbestos exposure can cause mesothelioma, a particularly dangerous form of lung cancer, and asbestosis, a debilitating lung disease.

If there’s any good news to be found here, it’s that most naturally occurring asbestos is deep underground. If you’re into hiking and camping, in most parts of the U.S. you don’t need to worry about stumbling into a patch of deadly asbestos. Poison ivy is another story, of course.

There are exceptions, however, and the exceptions are of two types. There are a few places in the U.S. where asbestos is found naturally in surface rocks and in soil. The other danger occurs where asbestos has been mined or processed, resulting in the tragic asbestos contamination of communities.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) provides a map to locations where there’s a danger of exposure to surface or mined asbestos. As you can see on the map, some of these locations are near areas where people might go hiking or camping, such as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast states.

Other areas — see Georgia and Virginia in particular — are in fast-growing communities. People in those communities might be exposed to asbestos while gardening, or the family pooch might bring it into the house after digging holes in the yard. Mesothelioma can take 30 years to develop after exposure to asbestos, so if you live near one of the sites on the map don’t be complacent just because you haven’t heard of anyone getting sick.

In the case of natural asbestos deposits, it’s most important to leave it alone, because the fibers become airborne when the mineral is disturbed. ATSDR has an online pamphlet with asbestos safety tips for limiting your exposure to asbestos if you think it’s near your home. Tips include staying on pavement as much as possible, pre-wetting gardens before digging in the soil, and clean carpets frequently using a vacuum with a high efficiency HEPA filter.

The tragedy of Libby, Montana, shows us the worst that can happen where asbestos has been mined and processed. Libby was the site of a vermiculite mine, and the vermiculite was contaminated with asbestos. Although the mine has been closed for years, at least 50 new cases of asbestos-related disease are diagnosed every year in a community of about 3,000 people. At least 200 Libby residents have died of asbestos-related disease. The EPA recently declared Libby “public health disaster.” Asbestos-related diseases are extremely dangerous, and if you think you may have been exposed in the past, or if you develop symptoms of lung disease; see one of our nation’s top doctors such as Dr. Harvey Pass promptly.

— Barbara O’Brien

Can the energy efforts of a drowning paradise prompt worldwide response?

One of the smallest nations on Earth (3rd least in population and 4th in size, to be exact) has announced plans to become the first nation with zero carbon output and completely powered by renewable energy sources by 2020. Tuvalu is a coral island in the Pacific located mid-way between Hawaii and Australia that has over 2,000 years of history and today is home to approximately 12,000 inhabitants. At its highest elevation the low-lying nation measures just 14.8 feet above sea level (!) and, in the past 10 years, it has been threatened by rising sea levels. As the island has become increasingly aware of the detrimental effects of global warming and climate changes, it has refocused its energy efforts, taking advantage of its natural resources (wind and sun), in hopes of prompting a global movement.

Check out the island’s website. One of the most poignant quotes from the site:”We live in constant fear of the adverse impacts of climate change…The threat is real and serious, and is of no difference to a slow and insidious form of terrorism against us.”

To accomplish the nations lofty goal, estimated to cost $20 million, its government is working with e8 – an association of 10 different energy firms – to find, evaluate, and implement the various phases of the plan. The first step of the plan  was initiated more than 14 months ago and has already been quite successful. By placing solar panels on the largest football stadium on the island, Tuvalu is now able to supply 5% of the electricity needed by its capital city of Funafuti and has eliminated the need to import more than 17,000 tons of resources from neighboring New Zealand.

If you’ve followed the progress of Green Life Smart Life, you are well aware of the challenges to achieve a LEED-H certification, that will one day (hopefully) move forward to achieve net zero… This is one home. How an entire nation will accomplish this will be impressive. Will the rest of the world follow the Tuvaluans lead?

Posted by: Katie

Third Wind Turbine in Portsmouth Fuels Gusts of Civic Pride

Earlier this year, GLSL documented the installation of a major wind turbine aimed at taking the municipal buildings of Portsmouth, RI off the grid and ultimately using the blades to spin a profit. Equally motivated by eco and bottom-line awareness, Hodges Badge, a private, Portsmouth, RI based company with roots dating back to 1920 and annual sales topping $10 million recently installed the third wind turbine in Portsmouth.

Unless you’ve been to a 4H fair or Westminster dog show recently (both Hodges customers), you may not have realized the market for ribbons, trophies, medals and other award deliverables. Hodges Badge is a worldwide leader in the manufacture of these products and many more with awards they’ve created presented on six of seven continents (sorry Antarctica) and a staff of close to 150 employees. Forward thinking has always been a strong suit, now more so than ever.

According to a blog post on the company’s website:

 “After several years of research, Hodges has decided that it is time to move ahead with a project that will not only generate 100% of our power using the wind but be a great step to help the environment… Although construction of the turbine would be at least a year away we are still excited at the prospect. In its lifetime (25+ years) the turbine will reduce CO2 emission by 10,000 tons and return at least 30 times the energy required to manufacture it. That’s pretty substantial.”

For more information on wind turbines go to The Wind Energy Association website.

Posted by: Nick

Abby’s Blog: Kids Helping the Earth – Moving and Donating

This is the week we move. My parents sold our house on Middlebridge to prepare for our move into the new house.  We are temporarily moving into a condo my parents own until our house is finished so my mom was insistent that we clean out our toys and determine what we had either outgrown, didn’t like, was broken and what we just didn’t play with anymore. Let me tell you this is a lot of work.

My mom and I started with organizing all my toys (and my brothers). All of our toys come with a lot of pieces and my mom thought that if we made piles and found all the pieces then we’d know what toys were in good shape and what toys were broken or had missing parts. This meant we had to find stuff in my room, Max’s room, my doll room and our playroom. This took FOREVER and was so BORING. But I did find two Barbie shoes and Sleeping Beauty’s crown. Once the pile of broken toys was assembled we then took all my favorite toys and put them in my toy chest so they could move with us to the condo. This part was easy, except when my mom kept saying “We can’t take everything.” I did decide to take my Bitty Baby and most of her clothes; my Barbie princesses and Thumbelina; my walkie talkies; my dress up collection; my Dash game; and of course my animals.

Once we did that, mom started packing. I consider myself lucky that I didn’t end up in the boxes. My mom was pretty insistent that I donate some toys that I had gotten too big for or that I just didn’t play with. When we were all done I had a bunch of boxes and baskets that were getting packed away but I also had three big bags of toys that are going to the Salvation Army.

Going through your toys is a good way to help reduce and reuse. I take good care of my things so when I donate them other kids get things that are brand new to them.  And same thing for me, over the years I’ve gotten hand me downs that have ranged from a kitchen set to a bike, and now I get to share them with someone else. You can do this too!

Posted by Abby age 6

Green Mattresses

If you’re truly going green, it should, if possible, be a 24/7/365 thing, right? You want to make a full, holistic commitment to the cause.

Of course, you have to sleep sometime. So, for the earth’s sake, why not explore the world of green mattresses?

Traditional mattresses, even when they’re super-comfy, are full of chemicals that are harmful to the environment.

The mattress industry is all over this. No doubt they see green as a great marketing opportunity as much as a matter of environmental responsibility. Which makes the mattress industry much like other industries these days (and that’s a good thing!).

You now can acquire an organic latex mattress through many venues, both online and at retail.

One company, Quilting Inc. of Plain City, Ohio, has even registered the URL www.greenmattresses.com. The site has a ton of information and certification about its line of organic mattresses.

FloBeds of Fort Bragg, Calif., offers The Green Mattress. You can read about it here.

MyGreenMattress is another company that offers 100 percent all-natural latex mattresses.

But what if you are allergic to latex? At least one company, Keetsa, makes a mattress with eco-friendly memory foam!

So if your old mattress is beat, or if you just want to make a change by voting with your dollars, your green mattress selection is large and readily available!

Posted by Joe Paone