It’s Easy to Go Greener at Home

Apr 16, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill A stainless steal water bottle, canvas bag, cloth napkin and compost made from kitchen scraps.

Establishing a healthier, more sustainable household can be simple, and inexpensive. This message was at the core of a presentation by Ben Cilley, an instructor at the Ocean County Vocational Technical School, at one of this spring’s Science Saturday presentations at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences.

When LBIF board member and science committee member Rick Bushnell asked him to lecture at Science Saturday – weekend workshops that address various ecological issues – Cilley chose to discuss going greener at home, a subject he’s covered in environmental science classes, and something about which he is just naturally conscientious.

“I think this topic is easy for people to apply to their own lives,” he explained. “Anyone can go home today and make their home and their lives more sustainable.”

As Cilley made a point to mention in his presentation, the waste management hierarchy – reduce, reuse, recycle – purposely places reduce first. “People think recycling is the goal,” he noted, “but using less is actually the goal.”

Cutting back on the amount of waste we create can be as straightforwad as avoiding certain products, like single-use plastic bottles and individually wrapped slices of cheese. Use cloth napkins instead of paper. Bring reusable cloth bags to the grocery store, and mesh bags for produce.

Cilley pointed to Lauren Singer, a New York City resident who can fit five years’ worth of garbage in a 16-ounce mason jar. In her blog “Trash is for Tossers,” Singer provides tips for reducing waste. In a recent post, she stated, “Living a life with less (or even free of) waste doesn’t happen overnight. It requires changes in your daily habits and thought processes to go from tossing waste straight into a trash can without a second thought, to carefully composting, recycling, opting out of using certain wasteful items, and introducing new waste-less items and products into our lives. In short, it’s a process.”

As Cilley remarked, “I think people have misconceptions about composting” – it’s too involved, it takes too long, it smells bad. “There have been a lot of advances in compost bins,” he explained, and there are plenty of different types of composters to buy or to build.

Green America, on its website greenamerica.org, explains, “Composting your organic waste at home is … a win-win-win situation. You win by turning your kitchen scraps and yard waste into a great fertilizer for your garden. Your pocketbook wins, because that fertilizer is free. And most importantly, the planet wins because your organic waste doesn’t get transported to a landfill, where it will decompose anaerobically and release methane, a flammable greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”

Greener cleaning products, as Cilley noted, are also healthier for both people and the planet. The market now offers more non-toxic options, or homeowners can turn to, for example, the vinegar sitting in a kitchen cabinet. “Vinegar is a great glass cleaner,” said Cilley. Meanwhile, he added, “No one’s exactly sure what chemicals are in Windex, and they won’t tell you.”

He also noted, “A lot of people use chlorine bleach, but that stays toxic for a while. Hydrogen peroxide is just as toxic, but sunlight breaks it down quickly.”

Simple practical choices for a more eco-friendly home abound – dry laundry outside on the line whenever possible, install a rain barrel, switch to energy-saving compact fluorescent light (CFL) lightbulbs – but Cilley also wanted to utilize part of his presentation to “give an update on some new technologies.

“There are a lot of new and emerging technologies, and in five years we’ll probably have a lot more. Think about smart phones now versus in 2005. They’re always making something better.”

Cilley discussed solar panels, which have undergone numerous improvements in technology and efficiency since they first entered the market. Many people, though, seem still to hesitate to install the panels, for various reasons: they’re unattractive to some; incentives have vanished; they’re pricey; homeowners aren’t sure whether to rent, lease or buy them outright, and they don’t know which companies they can trust.

To address that first concern, Tesla has introduced a glass tile solar roof that “complements your home’s architecture while turning sunlight into electricity,” as the website, tesla.com/solarroof, explains. “With an integrated Powerwall battery, energy collected during the day is stored and made available any time, effectively turning your home into a personal utility.”

From street level, a home’s solar roof looks just like a regular roof. The company is currently taking reservations for the product, which entails an entire roof replacement. While the elegant look may attract homeowners, the cost may be prohibitive for many.

Cilley also mentioned passive solar – using sun to heat air space in a house or to heat water in black glass tubes on a home’s roof – versus the active solar, a la solar panels, in which the sun’s radiation is converted to electricity to power a home’s systems. Cilley said his parents’ residence in New Hampshire utilizes passive solar, and their water is heated to 100 degrees even on an overcast day in December.

Geothermal heating and air conditioning is another eco-option that Cilley said is possible on LBI, but it has a high upfront cost. However, homeowners with geothermal do save a lot of money in the long run because of reduced energy costs.

And, finally, Cilley discussed using phase change materials (PCM) for insulation, which, he noted, is “not too readily available, but it’s a really good idea.”

Consider an ice cube, said Cilley. As a PCM heats up, it changes, just like that ice cube, to a liquid state that absorbs and stores heat. As it cools and becomes solid, it releases the heat. Used in a building’s walls, this would help maintain temperatures naturally.

There are, clearly, many different steps one can take to green a home, from the easy and economical to the cutting-edge and costly. Might as well start with the former. 

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

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