12 Eco-Friendly Tips for Living Smarter

Greener by the Dozen

Sure, you take out that blue recycling bin every week, but does that give you bragging rights as a card-carrying environmentalist? Frankly, there’s a whole lot more you could be doing. Technological improvements and federal, state and even local subsidies make some of these choices from Fairfield County and state businesses a no-brainer: You’ll start saving money almost immediately. Plus, the average American is responsible for the emission of approximately 6.6 tons of greenhouse gas per year. By reducing electricity use, producing less waste and making smart transportation choices, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency says we can each cut our emissions by 32 percent.

1. Help Green the Grid

The concept is confusing at first, but once you get it, you’ll want to be a clean energy consumer forever. We all get our electricity from one big grid, with most of the power coming from coal- or oil-burning plants (with nuclear part of the mix). If we pay a few dollars extra per month on our utility bill, the clean-energy companies that receive the surcharge will buy renewable wind and solar power to displace that coming from fossil fuels and nuclear, thus “greening the grid.”

Both Connecticut Clean Energy and Sterling Planet help utility customers in the state go green. Connecticut consumes electricity that is 36 percent natural gas, 31 percent nuclear and 11 percent oil (the rest is coal, hydro and imported energy). With Sterling Planet’s Clean Choice program, your mix becomes 33 percent wind, 33 percent small Connecticut-generated hydropower and 34 percent landfill gas. Opt to offset only half your energy use, and the added charge on your bill drops from 1.15 cents per kilowatt-hour to .575 cents. If 100 people in your community sign up with Sterling Planet, the town gets a free $20,000 solar system to install on a municipal building or school.

Community Energy is the leading wind marketer in the United States and plans to build a new wind farm in New England. Its NewWind program (half wind, half landfill gas) is slightly cheaper than Sterling Planet’s plan.

2. Switch to a Bright Idea

One of the best deals around is as close as your computer. Through a special arrangement between United Illuminating, Connecticut Light and Power and the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, utility customers can get great online deals on long-lasting, energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

The bulbs are available through the SmartLiving Catalog, which has both online and print forms. The subsidized prices are very attractive. A 19–23-watt Panasonic GenIV capsule bulb (producing the same amount of light as a 65-watt incandescent bulb) is $4.50 and has an estimated lifespan of 10,000 hours. Making just one such substitution will save you as much as $30 over the life of the bulb. If every American family replaced an incandescent bulb with a CFL, it would eliminate 90 billion pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal global warming gas. In general, CFLs last ten to fifteen times longer than standard bulbs and use only a quarter of the electricity.

SmartLivingcatalog.com; or to order by mail, call 800-527-4448.

3. Power Up with Solar

Norwalk now has its very own solar store. The Solar Shop is part hip café (complete with outdoor seating) and part serious solar retailer. Stop by its new storefront in the fashionable SoNo neighborhood and, while sipping a latte, look at the displays on everything from photovoltaics (solar electricity) to evacuated heat tubes (also known as solar hot water) and direct-exchange geothermal (which uses buried refrigerant-filled copper pipes to bring up the heat that resides deep within the earth). You can even pick up a $15 solar windmill (with blades spun by electricity from a small photovoltaic cell). It’s a battery-free fan with a power source 93 million miles away!

Proprietor Sam Vail is a can-do alternative energy guru whose work with Westport Solar Consultants has led to photovoltaic panels on a town fire station and Earthplace, the local nature center.

The Solar Shop, 1 Elizabeth St., Norwalk, 956-0562

4. Build for the Future

The new house at 122 Bayberry Lane in Westport, constructed by Barry Katz Homebuilding (Westport, 454-2941, katzhome.com), offers a rainbow of green features, from petroleum-free insulation and paint that’s low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to double-paned high-performance windows filled with argon gas, on-demand hot water without a continuously heated tank, geothermal heating and cooling, programmable thermostats, a green roof, Energy Star–approved appliances, and electricity from Sterling Planet.

All of these features improve indoor air quality and reduce heating and air-conditioning bills. Insulation and weather-stripping alone can reduce energy costs by 25 percent.

You may not opt for all these features when building a new home or considering a retrofit, but just a few of them will make a difference. Even without any new equipment, you can save 2,000 pounds of annual CO2 emissions by turning down your thermostat two degrees in the winter. And if you’re considering solar panels, it’s nice to know that Connecticut residents are now eligible for subsidies through the state’s Clean Energy Fund that cover as much as half the purchase price and drastically reduce your payback time.

To find a green builder in Fairfield County or elsewhere, visit the Sustainable Sources Directory at directory.greenbuilder.com.

5. Love Your Carpet

Did you know that indoor air is three to four times worse than outdoor air because of off-gassing from chemically treated furniture and, amazingly enough, your carpeting? These largely petrochemical fumes are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and their buildup can cause headaches, dizziness, watery eyes and respiratory problems in the short term. Over the long term, VOCs have been linked to nervous system damage and cancer. You can create a healthier interior with carpeting made from natural materials, and you can banish chemical-intensive carpet cleaning from your home.

Traditional carpet cleaners can contain harsh, fume-emitting chemicals such as formaldehyde, disinfectants, pesticides and lye, and they’re applied on the floor, where small children spend much of their time. Family-owned and -operated DMS Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning serves most of Fairfield County and uses only natural cleaning products from Bi-O-Kleen. Its truck-mounted steam-cleaning equipment comes to your home.

DMS: Stamford, 322-3333; Darien, 656-4442; Norwalk, 846-0084; Westport, 454-4367

6. Stop the Turf Wars

Spend an hour mowing your lawn, and that little gas engine will produce as much pollution as thirteen hours of driving and contribute to global warming as well. There’s also the problem of noise. That incessant buzzing may be the sound of summer for some people, but for others it’s a persistent annoyance.

Global Cooling Landscaping, a division of Westport Home and Property Maintenance, solves both problems by mowing Fairfield County lawns (from Fairfield to Greenwich) Leave It to Beaver style, with hand-pushed reel-type mowers. The Fogel family, operators of the enterprise, points out that the modern reel mowers cut the grass sharply without pulling up divots or scalping the lawn.

“There’s a lot of overkill in this business,” says Richard Fogel. “Some people use huge machines for tiny lawns. Especially for waterfront property, people should think about doing this because you don’t want all the pollution and runoff to go into Long Island Sound.” The exhaust from all those mowers settles and is absorbed by the already oxygen-challenged waters of our coastal waterway. Fogel describes the cost as not dramatically different from what a standard landscaper would charge.

Global Cooling Landscaping, 3 Cedargate Lane, Westport, 227-4048

7. Join the Green Party

Natural Neighborhood brings green products right into your Fairfield County home. Founded by Norwalk resident Rosie Haas (who calls herself an “enthusiactivist”), Natural Neighborhood allows consumers to browse through the extensive product selection at her website, ranging from oatmeal lavender soap from Vermont ($4.25) to organic tomato and basil sauce ($7).

Rosie, who has an infectious enthusiasm for her work, also arranges Natural Neighborhood home parties that bring the products right to your block. Your job is to collect friends and neighbors, and hers is to entertain with countless green tips as well as new foods, cleansers, hair-care products and pet foods to try.

An offshoot, Fundraise Naturally, is designed to help organizations generate revenue by selling green products.

Natural neighborhood, 877-366-8282, naturalneighborhood.com and fundraisenaturally.com

8. Boost Your Shower Power

Consider this: Your shower accounts for more than 20 percent of home water use. A low-flow head ($5 to $7) can cut that use by two-thirds. And the beauty of it is that you’ll hardly notice the difference in water flow. To save even more water, get a shower head with a built-in cutoff switch for use while you’re soaping up.

It costs a few dollars and takes only a few minutes to install, but a low-flow shower head can save a Fairfield County family of four hundreds of dollars in energy costs per year (as well as thousands of gallons of water).

Alsons’ solid brass Incredible Head with a shutoff valve is available from many places online or locally at Sachs Plumbing Supplies, 200 Richmond Hill Ave., Stamford, 325-1355.

9. Bring Your Own Bag

If you think it comes down to “paper or plastic?”, you’re asking the wrong question. There is, in fact, ample ammunition on both sides. The production of plastic grocery bags from non-renewable polyethylene plastic consumes 40 percent less energy than making paper bags. But in landfills, paper bags decompose in a month, while plastic could still be around in 1,000 years. Paper bags are heavier and use up more landfill space but are much more likely to be accepted for curbside recycling.

The best response to all this is to bring your own reuseable cloth bags when you shop. Whole Foods, with a store in Greenwich, one planned in Darien and as new owner of Wild Oats in Westport, credits patrons five cents for every bag they haul on their own. Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, with stores in Fairfield, Westport and Darien, sell low-cost cloth bags — emblazoned with their respective logos, of course.

Trader Joe’s: 2258 Black Rock Tpke., Fairfield; 400 Post Rd. East, Westport; 436 Boston Post Rd., Darien; Whole Foods Market, 90 E. Putnam Ave., Greenwich

10. Get the Natural Look

Hair Shop Sono and Pure Salon in Greenwich are Aveda Concept Salons, which means they exclusively offer Aveda hair care, skin care and makeup — all based on the very green Minneapolis-based company’s pure flower and plant essences. In Norwalk, facials ($100) are customized to your skin type and combine cleansing and hydrating with “balancing body and mind.” Back treatments ($70) include exfoliation, a deep massage and masque therapy. For the scalp, there’s a thorough massage with aromatic essential oils combined with a treatment for damaged hair ($75).

In Greenwich, an elemental nature manicure is $40, and a custom facial with a botanical mask is $90. A soothing massage with lavender oil is $100.

Hair Shop Sono, 129 Washington St., Norwalk, 866-2032; Pure Salon, 144 Mason St., Greenwich, 625-4515

11. Buy Greener Greens

Our fruits and vegetables should be issued passports: They’re better traveled than we are. On average, the apple or cauliflower you buy at the local supermarket has covered 1,500 to 2,500 miles before it reaches your table. Some 898 million tons of food are shipped around the planet every year — four times the amount in 1961. Some Americans are saying that “local is the new organic” — it’s not enough that produce be grown without pesticides or genetically modified ingredients. It should be raised by local farmers, too.

Fortunately, Fairfield County has fully embraced the trend that’s seeing local farmers’ markets spring up everywhere, like mushrooms after a spring rain. Connecticut’s Department of Agriculture counted no less than twenty in Fairfield County during the 2006 season (in Bridgeport, Danbury, Darien, Fairfield, Georgetown, Greenwich, New Canaan, Newtown, Norwalk, Shelton, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston and Westport).

Visit one of these markets, and not only will you find vine-ripened produce from local farms (some, such as Easton’s Sherwood Farms, in the family for hundreds of years), but it’s likely to be bursting with flavor because it was picked that same day. And prices are often surprisingly reasonable.

Connecticut department of Agriculture: go to ct.gov/doag and search for Fairfield County Farmers’ Markets; Sherwood Farms, 355 Sport Hill Rd., Easton, 268-6705

12. Electrify Your Ride

Today’s car buyer has a range of environmentally friendly choices, from an ultrasleek $100,000 battery-powered electric sports car with head-snapping acceleration (the Tesla roadster) to diesels that run on cleaner low-sulfur fuel (the Mercedes E320 Bluetec), natural gas and ethanol-compliant vehicles, and hybrids that get more than fifty miles to the gallon. With a $1,500 kit, you can convert yesterday’s smelly and polluting diesel car to run on pure vegetable oil (with a smell similar to French fries). Also worth considering are economy-minded 35-mpg fuel sippers such as the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris.

And dozens of familiar car models are now available for little or no extra money as Partial-Zero Emission Vehicles (PZEVs), which are as much as 90 percent cleaner out of the tailpipe than conventional models. Connecticut has PZEVs because we’re one of eleven states that follow the California emission mandates. But you have to ask your dealer; they’re not likely to volunteer the information.

The Connecticut Fund for the Environment (cfenv.org, 787-0646) — a leader in pushing the state to adopt clean car laws — can explain it all to you.

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