Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Quiz: Best and Worst Recyclers

1. Which of the 15 largest US cities has the highest recycling rate?

A. San Francisco
B. Chicago
C. Philadelphia
D. New York

2. Which city has the lowest?

A. Jacksonville
B. Houston
C. Detroit
D. Indianapolis

3. What is the national average for recycling?

A. 22%
B. 32%
C. 42%
D. 52%

4. What is Montgomery County’s rate of recycling?

A. 22%
B. 36%
C. 43%
D. 55%


Friday, July 18, 2008

Energy Audit: Easing Up to the Reality Check

This week I got an incredibly detailed analysis of my home’s energy failures from my energy auditor. Apart from the air infiltration rate (bad), he told us things we knew–that the insulation in the crawlspace under the kitchen was not working well and that overall it is a leaky house. He also told us things we didn’t know--like that we have a pretty inefficient air conditioning system. Most importantly, what I had asked for and what we got was a list of priorities and some description of how to go about addressing them. Since it’s an old house, NOTHING is easy to fix, but it was helpful to have an idea of where to start. I don’t yet have an estimate for fixing up our cold kitchen floor but that’s my priority, and luckily, it is our auditor’s priority, too.

He also had a number of suggestions about sealing our air conditioning duct connections, attic insulation, and hard-to-reach closet spaces. Interestingly, replacing the fridge and the air conditioning system with energy efficient models were pretty low on the list. Now, the question is: how much will it cost to make some progress on the list? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Tour de France is in France, Not Bethesda

Last weekend my dog Tramp and I took a ride on the Capital Crescent Trail to check out what we’ve been hearing about intrusive speed limits and rumble strips in the Bethesda area. (You can validate my biking credentials by checking out this link to my husband and son’s blog on their amazing bike trip.)

We went at prime time (Sunday morning), a period when I ordinarily avoid this part of the trail because of the confluence of strolling families, dog walkers, joggers and bikers, but this time we joined right in. I must say that I was quite blown away by the behavior of some of the bikers I saw on the trail. Folks were drafting in crowded areas, expecting other bicyclists and pedestrians to move away. Only about a quarter of the folks who passed me (burdened with a small poodle/schnauzer mix in a dog carrier, I was not going that fast) had the courtesy to give me advance warning with a word or a ring that they were at my side. A number of bikers completely failed to slow down when confronted with a group of slower movers on the trail. I know that the Washington Area Bikers Association (WABA) is upset with the new park rules, so I encourage them to help encourage biker courtesy. Does anyone have any similar experiences or suggestions about how to make the trail a safe place for everyone?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My Energy Audit Experience

We had a crowd troop through my house last Saturday to point out all its energy flaws. What I learned was this—expect the unexpected (they peered into messy closets),–-and clean out the fireplace. (Apparently they did a blower test at the home of another local elected official who had not done so, thereby covering the interior of the home with ashes.) We were surprised to learn the fireplace is not the energy leaker we thought it was. And we sure didn’t expect to have the auditor mediate a long-term marital dispute. Turns out, you can keep the radiator cover (my win) but you have to put holes in it to allow heat to circulate better (my husband’s win).

It is not unexpected that for an old house we have complex problems. The auditor from Green Home Blue Sky is coming by for a second look and to consider some of the options. I’ve asked for a list of what we should prioritize. Should we spring for a new fridge to replace the inefficient (and partially dysfunctional) old one, or should we sink money into getting insulation into the crawl space under the kitchen, which is always cold in the winter? How much destruction do we need to perform to get insulation in our finished attic, and is it worth the trouble? Would it be better to plug up all the holes the air conditioner and cable installation guys made in the cellar? Do we need to replace the 18-year-old air conditioning system?

We’ll see how much we can afford and what gets us the most bang for the buck. And, importantly, we need to know who can perform the repairs the way they should be done. I freely admit that in my home we like to think that we are better at our jobs (writing, law and policy) than we are at home maintenance. As a result, we are totally dependent on expert advice rather than our own talent and ability.

So stay tuned. And share your stories.