Archive for Energy

Want to Kill A Watt?

Thanks to the good folks at SCARCE ( for this great tip:

Kill A Watt is a great device to measure how much electricity any power device is consuming.  Simply plug in your device to the Kill A Watt and instantly discover the amount of electricity consumed.  You’ll be amazed that even when turned off, many devices are still using energy.

Now, instead of buying one, you can rent one from many local libraries.

Libraries in DuPage County with a Kill A Watt to check out include:

Addison                  Bartlett                    Bloomingdale

Carol Stream           Clarendon Hills         Indian Prairie

Downers Grove        Elmhurst                  Glen Ellyn

Glenside                 Lisle                        Roselle

Villa Park                Westmont               Wheaton

Winfield                  Wood Dale

Forest Park Library rents them out too.  Does anyone know if Oak Park Libraries do?


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Ten Steps Toward a Greener New Year

Ten Steps Toward a Greener New Year

1.  Slay Vampires
“Vampire energy loss” from appliances in passive mode (the clock on your microwave) or standby mode (your DVR scheduled to record something) account for 5-8 percent of your home’s total electricity usage per year.  Slay energy loss by unplugging unused appliances.  Or get a Smart Strip surge protector, which shuts off electricity to dormant appliances.

2.  Detox Your Home
If you’re still not using green cleaning products, what are you waiting for?  If you want to avoid asthma and allergy attacks, carcinogens and toxic chemicals, it’s time to green your cleaners.  Still worried about high prices or the effectiveness of cleaners?  Then you need to stop into GHE, where you’ll get what you need–the right price and a clean home.

3.  Read the Labels
What does green mean?  Are you being “greenwashed” by big box advertisers?  Be sure to read the labels on your food, personal care items, and everything else.  Don’t be fooled by their trickery.  And if you have a question about something, call us!  We’re always happy to help.

4.  Remember Fido…
…and the cat, iguana, etc.  Pet food is often filled with ingredients that animals’ stomachs can’t digest properly.  Skin, behavior and other health problems are often caused by poor diet.  For cat and dog food, we highly recommend our friends at Sirius Cooks in Oak Park.  And we’re happy to provide organic dog shampoo!

5.  Use Pedal Power
We love twofers, and here’s another one: reduce your oil consumption and get fit by opting to use your feet instead of your car.  Map out days that you can walk or bike instead of drive.  Also, you can make life easier for pedestrians with some of our pet-safe ice melt.

6.  Let’s Take This Outside
A green home includes the outdoors too.  Are your fertilizers and herbicides toxic?  Are you composting?  Growing your own food?  Do you leave your sprinkler on and forget to turn it off?  Start planning a greener garden now: non-toxic soil enhancements, composters and rain barrels are all part of a non-toxic home!

7.  Trash the Trash
Can you go a year without garbage?  These folks did!  Composting, growing your own food, and conscientious consumption are a few tactics to help you trash the trash.  Oh, and are you planning on doing any remodeling?  You have lots of options here.  Before you rent a dumpster, check out The ReBuilding Exchange, Murco Recycling, RSI, Habitat ReStore and ReUse People.

8.  Share the Love
So, you’re a green guru by now.  Ready to do more?  Start a green team at work.  Join the green committee at your child’s school.  Help your neighbors detox their homes by being their green guru.  Remember the words of Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spiderman): “With great power comes great responsibility.”

9.  Give Green
This is the perfect time of year to think about your gift giving.  Does your co-worker really need another pair of fuzzy socks for Christmas?  Does your kid’s teacher want another porcelain apple?  Most of us really don’t need any more stuff.  Consider donating to a charity in someone’s name.   Support a local organization they support.  Or, The Humane Society, Heifer International and Habitat for Humanity make gift-giving with a cause very easy to do.

10.  Do Lunch
This one accomplishes a few goals.  Eat better, save money and reduce what you throw away by bringing your lunch to work and packing your kids’ lunches.  Guess who has lots of waste-free lunch supplies?  That’s right, we’ve got Snack Taxis, Wrap-N-Mats, Klean Kanteens, and much more!

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Summer Energy Advice

This helpful information comes from Peter Matuszewski from Green Envelope Construction.  Enjoy!

Ah, summer has finally arrived – the longer days, the BBQs, and the hot, hot upstairs. For many homeowners, the summer heat bearing down on our homes is just a standard part of the season. A standard we accept and usually counteract by pushing a little harder on the thermostat. That nice cool air comes at a price. Each month, very promptly and with devout regularity, ComEd sends us our electric bills, that, at no additional charge, makes our hair stand on end. There is plenty homeowners can do about it. Let’s consider that every cooling degree below 78 results in about a 4-5% increase in our electric bills. So leaving our thermostats four degrees higher and taking the following easy steps can decrease our electric bills significantly, while maintaining or improving our comfort substantially.

Ceiling Fans

Something as simple as a ceiling fan can lower the ambient room temperature, the temperature your skin feels, by as much as four degrees. For the summer months, we want to be sure that the fan is spinning counter-clockwise, in order to destratify the room’s air. Running fans alongside the A/C is a smart and simple practice.

Major Appliances

Running the dishwasher and the dryer at night is another way to reap energy rewards. The benefits here are two-fold. Most utility companies have expensive peak hour rates and cheaper night rates. Washing and drying our clothes and dishes at night can take advantage of these rates (The old clothes line doesn’t hurt either). Additionally, most evenings tend to be cooler, so the heating effect that dries our clothes and dishes puts a lesser heat load on the air conditioner. Similarly, when bathing, switch on the bathroom fan to vent out the moist air.


Lighting and shading affect our electric bills in curious ways. In most homes southern and western windows let in a significant amount of sunlight. This is referred to as a solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC). The heat load that this sunlight puts on our home and air conditioners is significant. Older windows have a very high SHGC, so they admit large amounts of unwelcome heat during summer months. Shading windows with canopies, curtains or plants, can cut down on a great deal of unwanted heat.

Our lamps also place a heat load on our homes. As an added benefit to consuming less wattage, CFLs burn significantly cooler than incandescent lights. If your home has lamps that use halogen bulbs, put your hand near them after they have been on for a few minutes and notice how hot they are. If you consider what that heat is doing to the cool air that is blowing in from your air conditioner, you just might feel a big upward tug in your pocket. Try to minimize the usage of these lights whenever you can.


If on scorching days your upstairs rooms are hot, hot places, chances are your home has poor attic insulation and is lacking ventilation. This heat enters our attic through the roof and presses down on our ceilings, warming the rooms below. In addition, heat naturally rises, leaving lower areas cooler. This is why most upstairs rooms are hotter. Attic insulation is one of the smartest investments any homeowner can make. Looking past the effect insulation has on gas and electric bills; insulation and ventilation keep the heat out of our homes in the summer months and keep our families cool and comfortable beneath. As a rule of thumb, if your attic is hotter than the weather outside, you should consider more insulation and attic fans. Ideally, our home’s attic should always be the same as the temperature outside.

Air Conditioner

Lastly, let’s look at the A/C unit itself. This is a magical device. We press a button and our home begins to spew hours and hours of cool comfort. Having visited hundreds of homes over the years, my team is always struck by the neglect of a home’s mechanicals. I understand the neglect of attics, basements, and crawlspaces, but why we would write off something that costs us almost as much as half a car, I will never understand. Regular maintenance is well worth the investment of $100-150. Maintenance can notably extend the unit’s life past the factory warranty and avoid homeowners the stress and cost of unexpected failures. If you are handy and feel comfortable with the work, you can do the following yourself and save some future energy: change out the filters every 60 days, ensure that there is a proper level of refrigerant, make sure all electrical components are not corroded and the all wiring looks to be in good shape, check and clean the evaporator and condenser coils, and oil the motors as needed. Two last money saving tips: make sure the cover is off of the unit before you call for maintenance and never turn the air conditioning off and then back on in less than five minutes. This will short-cycle the compressor and can trip breakers, blow fuses, or cause permanent damage to the unit’s compressor. Do not wait until the hottest part of the day to turn on your A/C unit. A small run early in the day to freshen everything up is recommended. If you consider how long the unit has been asleep, you probably don’t want it to run a marathon fresh out of bed.

There is room for improvement in every home. When we consider how much we pay to keep our homes cool and our families comfortable, many of these tips can become a natural fit as we work them into our everyday habits. These time honored energy tricks will help your home feel more like an ice box, not the like an oven, and just maybe, help a few polar bears stay cool too.

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Local Trend Watch

Local Trend Watch
10 Ways Oak Parkers are Going Green

  1. Zero Waste Lunches. Several area schools have received funding from the DCEO to create zero waste lunch days.  This gets parents in the habit of packing lunches with reusable containers and composting food waste.
  2. Rain Barrels. Last summer’s successful “Roll Out the Rain Barrels” campaign (League of Women Voters) put rain barrels on the map—literally.  Residents are more aware of storm water management and water conservation, and rain barrels have become rather commonplace!
  3. Composting. Outdoor bins and piles, vermiculture indoors, whatever suits your fancy.  30% of what we throw away is food waste—unless you compost.  Make better use of your kitchen and yard waste by composting.  The result is nutrient rich—and free—compost for your yard!
  4. Gardening. Food mileage and eating locally are front line issues today.  Many people are returning to the Victory Garden movement by planting veggie beds at home and participating in community gardens.  This is a great way to save money and to know exactly from where your food is coming.
  5. CSA’s. To go further into the localvore movement, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.  Your participation helps fund small farms and ensures you’ll have local, organic produce all summer long.
  6. Energy Incentives. Take advantage of federal tax incentives that expire at the end of 2010.  Insulation, alternative energy, doors, windows and more are covered.
  7. Greener Gatherings. We’re nearing the season for block parties, graduations, and family reunions.  Throw parties with paperless invitations, reusable or compostable plates, cutlery and cups; recycle and compost.  The possibilities are endless!
  8. Shopping Locally. Now, more than ever, local businesses are depending on you to help them thrive.  For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures.  If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays here.  Spend it online and nothing comes home.
  9. Cutting Out Cars. Consider biking/walking one day a week.  Reduce your carbon footprint, save on gas, and get in shape!

10.  Getting Organized. Many groups exist in and around Oak Park to
support your efforts.  Interfaith Power & Light is a group of different congregations who are active in greening their communities.  Power of 10 is involved in greening Oak Park. Area schools and PTO’s have wellness and/or green teams.  Start or join a green team at work and in your faith community.  Start a green block in your neighborhood!  Attend Earth Fest on April 24, learn more about the work of the Environmental & Energy Advisory Commission, and get involved!

Upcoming Events
More information about all of these events can be found in the Events section at All of these events are free, unless otherwise noted.

4/17: Great Paint Exchange

4/19: LEED for Homes 101: An Introduction to USGBC’s Residential Program

4/20: Green Tuesday: OPRF Community Foundation Sustainability Vision

4/21: Home Energy Reduction Workshop

4/22: Earth Day 40th Anniversary

4/24: Oak Park Earth Fest

4/27: Green Tuesday: What’s New in Waste

4/29: Renew. Refresh. Reconnect.  Bring a necklace or bracelet that you’d like to refresh.*

5/6: Create a Cocktail Container Garden*

5/9: Kids’ Activity: Create an Ecosphere*

* Denotes a charge for participation.

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Illinois ENERGY STAR® Appliance Rebate Program

Save Energy
Save Money
Go Green with ENERGY STAR Appliances!

The State of Illinois is pleased to announce the Illinois ENERGY STAR® Appliance Rebate Program, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

This program provides incentives for Illinois consumers to replace older appliances with specific residential ENERGY STAR qualified appliances, water heaters, and HVAC equipment. The new appliances must be purchased in Illinois through participating retail stores or contractors.

Illinois’ program will be rolled out in two phases:

• Starting January 31, 2010, consumers can get point of purchase rebates on qualifying heating and cooling equipment through participating HVAC contractors and water heaters at participating retailers as long as funding lasts.
• Point of purchase rebates on ENERGY STAR qualified clothes washers, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers and room air conditioners will be available for items purchased from participating retailers during April 16 – 25, 2010.

For further information on this program, please visit the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opporunity’s website here.

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No Furnace, No Problem

From Charles H. Mead’s website, check out this amazing video on our friend and colleague, architect Tom Bassett-Dilley, and his hard at work at a passive house in Oak Park.

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Cash for Caulkers

How did almost a month pass by without a new post?  Sorry!  Soon we’re all going to be hearing more about Cash for Caulkers–President Obama’s new stimulus plan for weatherization contractors.  So here’s some brief info on the program: click here.

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