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Sunday, March 15, 2009


Green living: Recycling clothes, thrift shopping
By Dana Hull
Mercury News

Say “recycling,” and most people think of putting their old newspapers, soda cans and wine bottles out to the curb. But what about recycling your old clothes? Books? Household knickknacks? Empty garden pots? With the national economy in a downward spiral and everyone searching for ways to trim household expenses, being thrifty — and shopping at thrift stores — has never been more popular. “Normally when the economy tanks like this people only buy things they really need, like coats and children’s clothes,’’ said Geri Miller of Happy Dragon Thrift Shop in Los Gatos, in its 51st year. “But over Christmas, we saw higher-end things like silver and cut crystal, things people were buying as gifts, go right out the door.’’ And besides saving money, the environmental benefits of recycling are enormous. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, recycling reduces the need for landfilling and incineration, prevents pollution caused by the manufacturing of products from virgin materials, saves energy, decreases emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change, and conserves natural resources such as timber, water and minerals. So instead of throwing something in the garbage, recycle it. Take books to a used bookstore or see if your local library needs donations. Clothing can be sold at stores like Crossroads, which has two locations in San Jose, or donated to places like Goodwill and Salvation Army. Better yet, put up a notice on Freecycle, a burgeoning online service that matches free stuff up with people eager to take it off your hands. Based in Tucson, the Freecycle Network has grown to more than 5.7 million members in 85 countries. It began in 2003 when a guy wanted to recycle a bed but found out that local thrift shops didn’t accept beds because of health concerns. The bed was perfectly usable, so he offered it to some friends online. Today, the nonprofit organization estimates that the “circle of giving” keeps about 600 tons of stuff out of See ThRifTY, Page 2


By Holly Hayes
Mercury News

doug griswold — Mercury news illustration

Holistic approach: san Jose couple have their house tested to gauge ways to save energy, maximize comfort

Pauline lubens — Mercury news

jennifer Thomas, manager of a crossroads store in San jose, looks over some clothes. you can bring in old clothes for either sale or store credit.

Great places for families to learn, explore green wonders
Bay Area News Group

By Jackie Burrell

Steve and Beth Griffith and their family thought they were well on their way to living an energy-saving green lifestyle. Almost all of the light bulbs in their South San Jose home are compact fluorescents. They do laundry in the evenings to take advantage of non-peak electricity rates. They keep the thermostat down in the winter and use passive-cooling techniques to stay comfortable in the summer. The household has two hybrid vehicles. And when it came time to do some remodeling, they recycled an entire kitchen from a Menlo Park tear-down and trucked it down the Peninsula in pieces to reassemble in their 1971 tract house. What more could they do to soften their carbon footprint? Turns out, a lot. The Griffiths — who live under the same roof with 15-year-old son Aaron, 11-year-old daughter Annie and Beth’s mother, Nan Rasmussen — signed up to have just about every nook and cranny of their home scrutinized by Sustainable Spaces, a Bay Area company that specializes in what it calls a “whole house” approach to maximizing comfort and energy efficiency. The assessment provided them with a road map to a greener, healthier home. Some of the recommended changes were relatively inexpensive, painless things the family could start doing right away; some called for modest cash outlays. Others will require some

If you’re a Bay Area kid, chances are you will have gone on at least a dozen field trips to environmental education museums, waste management facilities or Online extra waterworks by the time you hit high Log in online school. You’ll have for more green met the Bat Lady, family fun talked to the bee trips, www. guy, planted seedmercurynews. lings with environcom. mentalists, and worked on waterfiltration projects with a visiting scientist or two. You’ll be a recycler extraordinaire. And you will know, without a doubt, what it means to “eat the rainbow.” But your parents? Those poor, deprived grown-ups won’t have done half that stuff. So here’s a roundup of great places for families to explore the wonders of being green, while having fun at the same time.

SaVe YOUr Water
Conservation tips for your home, inside and out.

tUrn tO an expert
Retired SJSU professor Frank Schiavo offers basics steps to live a greener and healthier life. PAGE 7

long-term budgeting. The process began with an interview with the homeowners to uncover concerns and expectations. The Griffiths were unsettled by a spike in their PG&E bill following what they thought was an energy-wise remodel that upgraded the kitchen and added a bedroom suite for Rasmussen. The spacious suite has dual-pane windows — also purchased as recycled goods — but always felt colder than the rest of the house. They also wondered if they should replace their furnace, which was original to the house, and whether a tankless water heater would be more efficient. Like many families, they have a lot of energy-sucking electronics: flat-screen TVs, computers, stereos, cell phone chargers and the like. And looking ahead a few years, when they will need to replace the roof, the Griffiths wanted to know if their home was a good candidate for solar panels. But the Griffiths have adjusted their thinking about changes in their home as the economy has tanked. “We were going to wait to do the solar panels, to see where we might land,” said Beth Griffith, 43, a project manager at Apple. “But now, with the economy, we’ll be staying put. We’re thinking now that this is our forever house.” Armed with information from the interview, the technicians went to work. In a five-hour session last month, they used a variety of high-tech gizmos and low-tech tests to scrutinize the home’s insulation, ductwork, appliances, furnace, water heater — pretty much anything that contributes to energy use and interior comfort. Jason Bowers, a home performance specialist with Sustainable Spaces, explained the holistic approach that his company takes when doing what it calls a “GreenUP.” The whole-house assessment is a growing trend and has spawned California and national See hOME, Page 4

Water audit will help you conserve every drop at home
By Holly Hayes
Mercury News

WaterWorks at Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley
See LEARNiNG, Page 3

Explore the A to Z of H2O at the Lawrence Hall of Science’s new Wa-

With rationing a very real possibility this year, it’s time for all of us to get serious about cutting back on our water use. Yes, that means shorter showers, turning off the tap while you brush your teeth and tuning up your irrigation system. One painless way to start is by scheduling a free Water-Wise House Call, offered by the Santa Clara Valley Water District to Santa Clara County residents, or a free water audit offered by the San Jose Water Co. to its customers. In about two hours, a water conserva-

tion specialist will test all of your home’s faucets, shower heads and toilets. He or she will hunt down leaks, install low-flow shower heads and efficient faucet aerators and calculate how many gallons per day your household is using — which will be an important benchmark to know if supplies are curtailed. Outdoors — where about 50 percent of our water use occurs — your irrigation system will get a thorough testing and you’ll be given a recommended watering schedule for your garden. In most cases, the recommendation will be that you water early in the morning and cut back on how often you

water; most plants can get by with less frequent but deeper hydration to encourage healthy roots that can withstand drought. You’ll also receive literature on waterwise gardening and be encouraged to limit lawns and to install water-sipping, droughttolerant plants. Indoors, the biggest water guzzler is the toilet. Units manufactured in 1990 or earlier use 3.6 gallons or more — and as much as 8 — per flush. Newer models introduced after 1992 use 1.6 gallons per flush and are known as ultra-low-flush units. But the latest verSee AUDiT, Page 6

2S SUNdAY, MARch 15, 2009



Leela Tanikella, left, and her cousin Anusha Kuchibhotla brought in old clothes to sell at a Crossroads store. If the store likes your jeans and blouses, they’ll offer either 35 percent of what they’ll sell it for in cash or 50 percent in trade.
Pauline lubens — Mercury news

ThrifTy |  Try to recycle 
or Freecycle old clothes
Continued from Page 1
landfills every day. Each city in the Freecycle Network has volunteer moderators and an e-mail group or listserv. Among the recent offers on Freecycle San Jose, which has 937 active members: butter cookies and a cat-care book, a used full-size mattress, a Toro Greenmaster 500 mower. Meanwhile, other people are seeking Bubble Wrap, a Foreman grill, and coffee supplies. So the next time you need to buy something, see if you can find it for free, or make an effort to try to buy it used. Buying used saves on a lot of fuel associated with packaging, transportation and shipping costs, and keeps items from taking up precious space in landfills. When it comes to clothing, there are many options all over the Bay Area. Berkeley-based Crossroads Trading Co., founded in 1991, has created a niche by trading in recycled clothes. You can bring in old clothes for either sale or store credit; if Crossroads likes your jeans and blouses, they’ll offer you either 35 percent of what they will sell it for in cash or 50 percent in trade. It’s a great way to make a little money while cleaning out your closet, but be aware that “buyers’’ are usually interested in name-brand, current fashions. Crossroads has two stores in San Jose, as well as Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland. The company says Americans dispose of more than 4 billion tons of worn clothing and textiles annually. “When you buy clothes used, the clothes are already made,’’ said Crossroads marketing coordinator Kathy King. “You don’t have to make it all again, and you’re saving a lot Contact Dana Hull at dhull@mercurynews. of textiles from going into the landfill. That com or (408) 920-2706. really affects the environment.’’ Another favorite Bay Area haunt for the thrifty is the annual White Elephant Sale,, which benefits the Oakland Museum of California. The legendary sale at an Oakland warehouse is always held on the first weekend of March, and features 17 departments — from kitchen items to furniture, electronics, and clothing — filled by donations from the public. A fleet of Oakland Museum Women’s Board volunteers works year round to sort and price donations. Many volunteers are elderly women who were children during the Great Depression. Jane Renoir, 87, is the co-chair of the sewing department. She says a lot of people go to the White Elephant Sale to buy fabric so they can make their own clothes and household items at home. “Sewing machine sales are brisk,’’ said Renoir. “And we’ve sold a lot of bolts of fabric to people who are making their own drapes.” I have to admit a personal obsession with the White Elephant Sale. I donate a pile of things to the sale every fall, and when spring rolls around I always go to the sale. The bargains are so great that I stock up on books and clothing for my 2-year-old son. I even buy clothes a few sizes too big, knowing that he’ll grow into them next year. “The clothes are flying out of here,’’ said Sheri Guthrie, the co-chair of the children’s department. “The average price on clothes is $2, and we sell four pairs of socks for $1.’’ So if you’re looking for deals and want to help the Earth at the same time, do some spring cleaning. But as the pile of clutter grows, make an effort to recycle or Freecycle it. You won’t regret it!



SUNdAY, MARch 15, 2009


Learning |  Green field trips  the entire family can enjoy
Continued from Page 1
terWorks exhibit. In this traveling Canada’s Science North museum exhibit, families can explore water cycles, watersheds and issues of sustainability through hands on activities. Follow water through the pipes of a house, play water pinball, and track the antics of Walter the adventurous water molecule as he evaporates, rains and freezes on the big screen of the Water Theater. The exhibit runs through April 19. Lawrence Hall of Science, Centennial Drive below Grizzly Peak, Berkeley; (510) 6425132; Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets: $6-$11. with 1.7 million native plants, to its environmentally sensitive architecture and dizzying array of rainforest, coral reef and other animal habitats, San Francisco’s newly rebuilt academy offers a treasure trove of environmental lessons. But start your visit by grabbing tickets to the Morrison Planetarium’s popular 30-minute movie “Fragile Planet,” which sets the mood for lessons in biodiversity and sustainability. Note: The only down side to the museum’s reopening is that everyone wants to go. So purchase tickets ahead of time, arrive early and head directly for the planetarium to get free show passes. Even better: A family pass ($159) admits two adults and all children or grandchildren 18 and younger, for a year — and you can use the express entrance. California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco; (415) 379-8000; www.calacademy. org. Tickets: $14.95-$24.95. Free on the third Wednesday of every month.

Coyote Point Museum for Environmental Education, San Mateo

Like Walnut Creek’s Lindsay Wildlife Museum, Coyote Point offers a heady mix of wildlife and environmental education, with daily docent-led activities in the Environmental Hall and various classrooms, as well as special events. The latter includes environmental summer camps for all ages, Spring Break Explorer Days, April 6-10, and an Earth Day fest April 18, featuring new green technologies, coastal cleanup activities and the chance to get up close and personal with local wildlife. Coyote Point Museum, 1651 Coyote Point Drive, San Mateo; (650) 342-7755; www Open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays noon to 5 p.m. Tickets: $3-$7; the first Sunday of every month is free.

The Kids’ Garden at Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose

The Bay Model Visitor Center, Sausalito

Teeter over San Francisco Bay and gaze down at Angel Island at the Bay Model Visitor Center. This one-of-a-kind, 3-D hydraulic model of the bay and delta simulates the passage of ocean tides and river currents from Sacramento and Stockton to the Golden Gate Bridge. Built by the Army Corps of Engineers and used as a working laboratory from 1957 to 2000, this cool, 11⁄2acre expanse lets visitors track the ebb and flow of salty, fresh and brackish H2O. You can schedule a special tour for groups of 10 or more, but families are also welcome to stroll through on self-guided explorations — and it’s all free. Bay Model, 2100 Bridgeway, Sausalito; (415) 332-3871; bmvc. Open Tuesday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free.

Explore the wonders of a real working garden created specifically for children at the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. Wander among the fruits, vegetables and herbs, and get grubby discovering the life cycles of flora and fauna when the Kids’ Garden reopens April 4. In addition to daily gardening and science activities — planting seedlings, for example, or making newspaper seed pots — the museum will host a “Spring Green Day” on April 11 from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Most of the exhibits in the museum, including the PG&E-sponsored Current Connections on electricity and energy conservation, are geared toward younger children, but its cutting edge BioSITE scientific research program on the Guadalupe River involves high school students too, and scores of middle and high school students participate in the Summer of Service ecological and community service projects each year. Hungry? Check out the make-your-own pizza cafe where you, too, can eat the rainbow with toppings that include red tomatoes, yellow peppers and green broccoli. Children’s Discovery Museum, 180 Woz Way, San Jose; (408) 298-5437; www.cdm. org. Open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets: $7-8.

California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

Reach Jackie Burrell at jburrell@ For more great family-friendly activities, visit the www. From its undulating, living roof carpeted


Sunday, March 15, 2009     san  jose  mercury  news



Sustainable Spaces, a self-styled "home performance retrofitter," audited the San Jose home of Steve and Beth Griffith to find out how they could make their home safer and more environmentaly friendly. Here's what they found out about their home, which they recently expanded from 1,284 to 1,856 square feet, including tips for just about any Bay Area homeowner:
PROBLEM: The 38-year-old furnace is too powerful, producing 64,000 BTUs per hour, when this house needs only 28,400 BTUs per hour. SOLUTION: Install 95% efficient furnace with a programmable thermostat. PRICE: $5,688*


Top six steps to efficiency
PROBLEM: Asbestos, which can cause cancer, is used to seal the furnace and the air ducts in the Griffiths’ house. SOLUTION: The asbestos should be removed by trained professionals and replaced with non-toxic sealing material. PRICE: $1,512* (asbestos removal only)

Andrew Dunn, home performance technician, talks with homeowner Beth Griffin in the kitchen

PROBLEM: The house’s new addition is always colder than the rest of the house. The new heating ducts that lead to this room do not match the original duct system, causing unequal heat distribution throughout the house. The proper ductwork should be much larger at the furnace and get smaller toward the end, creating enough pressure for hot air to travel to the most distant rooms. SOLUTION: Replace old ducts with appropriately sized ducts and a more airtight system. PRICE: $5,730*

PROBLEM: Outdated air filtration system. SOLUTION: Replace the air filter with a high-efficiency air filtration system, up to 40 times more efficient than standard furnace filters. PRICE: $713*

PROBLEM: Even though air leakage is not a major problem in this house, stronger seals will reduce the influx of polluted outdoor air pollution and improve energy efficiency. Some of the points where leakage occurs are around the recessed can lights in the ceilings, at vent pipes that exhaust to the roof and around electrical outlets. SOLUTION: Seal areas where air leakage occurs. PRICE: $1,520*

Common air infiltration points
Ducts: 15% Floors, walls, ceilings: 31% Electric outlets: 2% Fans and vents: 4% Fireplace: 14% Plumbing: 13% Doors: 11% Windows: 10%

PROBLEM: The recommended R-value (thermal resistance) for attic insulation is R-30 or greater. The Griffiths’ is R-17.9. SOLUTION: Replace with blown-in cellulose with an Rvalue of 35. If using fiberglass instead, it should make contact with every surface being insulated, leaving no air spaces. PRICE: $5,060*

Home | Living  comfortably, and  saving energy
Continued from Page 1
trade associations of contractors who focus on overall building performance. “We approach the house as a system. You can’t make a change in one part without it having an impact on another,” Bowers said. Bowers quickly assessed that the remodeling project and addition — which boosted the home’s original footprint from 1,284 to 1,856 square feet — was having a bigger impact on the whole house than the Griffiths realized. The 38-year-old furnace, located in the unheated garage, still had plenty of firepower to supply the home’s heating needs. But the original ductwork was another story. When the addition went on, new ductwork was connected to the old stuff, which changed the heat distribution throughout the house. Rasmussen’s room, in particular, was getting just a fraction of the warm air compared with the other rooms. “The size of the room, the fact that it has three exterior walls and the fact that it’s not only farthest from the furnace but also nowhere near the thermostat are all contributing to the lack of comfort in that room,” said Bowers. “The front of the house is heating up much more quickly than the rest. That back bedroom just never has a chance to heat up at all.” The insulation in the ceiling of the addition, which the Griffiths installed, also was deemed inadequate. Ceilings in the rest of the house have blown- or poured-in loose cellulose that settles over time to create a cozy barrier to heat loss; the addition has fiberglass batting in the ceiling that is unevenly attached to the framing, allowing air leakage. Bowers had other bad news to deliver. The plenum on the furnace — the sheet metal box that acts as the central manifold for other ductwork to connect to — was covered with asbestos. And the old, leaky ductwork was connected with asbestos tape. Asbestos was widely used in buildings — in insulation, roofing, flooring and ceiling materials, among other things — before being banned in the late 1970s. “We see a lot of this,” Bowers said. People who are consistently exposed to asbestos are at a higher risk to develop lung and other types of cancer. “Asbestos is dangerous when it frays and becomes airborne.” Removing the asbestos was recommendation No. 1 on Bowers’ list for the Griffiths. Replacing the ductwork with an airtight system came in at No. 2. Replacing the aging furnace, adding a programmable thermostat and a high-efficiency pleated air filtration system, however, are things that Steve Griffith wants to put on the back burner, at least for awhile. “I know it’s old and we need to replace it,” said Griffith. “But if we have more than enough BTUs in the existing furnace, maybe phasing in some of these things makes the most sense right now.” Bowers said the new ductwork could be installed to accommodate a new furnace when the family is ready. “It wouldn’t be perfect at first, but it would be better,” Bowers said. “I love the phrase ‘road map,’ ’’ said Griffith, 47, who teaches kindergarten and is devoted to recycling. “Some contractors come in and give you a bid for all this stuff and it’s just scary. Huge bids just turn you off. I like that we can phase in these changes.” Other upgrades recommended by the Sustainable Spaces team included sealing areas where warm air is escaping to the outdoors, including around the numerous can lights in the ceilings, plumbing pipes that exhaust to the roof and electrical outlets. The team also suggests that new blown-in cellulose insulation in the ceiling of the addition would boost energy efficiency. An on-demand tankless water heater — as green as they can be — really doesn’t make sense for a family of five living under one roof, Bowers said. “They use a lot of gas to get water heated from 50 degrees, which is about the temperature it enters the house from the street, to 120 degrees for your shower,” Bowers said. “It’s like a jackrabbit start in your car. It wastes gas.” But the old 40-gallon water heater, with its minimal insulation, should get the boot. Bowers recommended a new highly insulated 50-gallon water heater with a demand circulation pump. The pump is activated by push buttons in the kitchen and bathrooms and moves hot water to sinks and showers quickly when they are about to be used. “You get hot water without wasting any water or energy,” Bowers said. Also on the list: a new Energy Star-rated, frontloading washing machine to replace the aging 1992 Kenmore top-loader in the garage — again, saving water and energy. What about all those energy-hog, always-on electronics? “The numbers add up pretty quickly over the course of a year when you can lose two to three kilowatt hours a day to this stuff,” said Bowers, who suggests the Griffiths plug their computers, TVs, modems, game consoles, phone chargers and other toys into power strips so they can be turned off when not in use. Bowers described one model that comes with a remote so the power strip can be activated even while it remains hidden behind furniture, like a bookcase or media center. DVRs, which must stay plugged in so they can record programs, get plugged into a separate outlet. Another model turns the TV into a “master plug” so that when you turn it off, everything else goes off, too. And solar? That’s another project for down the road. “We like to tell you which steps you can take to reduce your electrical use first, and then have your home analyzed for solar,” Bowers said. “If the solar system is sized appropriately for your use, you get the maximum benefit without generating too much energy. You don’t get to sell it back to PG&E. It’s basically a donation.” Contact Holly Hayes at or (408) 920-5374.

Source: Sustainable Spaces

Average residential gas use
Hot water: 28% Heating: 57% Cooking: 8% Clothes dryer: 8%
Note: Numbers are rounded Source: Sustainable Spaces

The new kitchen is salvaged from another family’s teardown.

Windows and doors in the addition were recycled from a teardown.

Windows are dual pane.

Ceiling fans in all rooms.
*Sustainable Spaces estimation for repair or replacement in the whole house. Note: Schematic drawing

More ‘green’ tips
• Set refrigerators to 37 degrees and freezers to 3 degrees. • By refrigerator with automatic moisture control. • Defrost freezer regulary.

Some parts of the house have skylights. Family does laundry in the evening, at non-peak electricity rates. Almost all the light bulbs are compact fluorescents.

Artificial grass


Use microwave ovens more often, they cook faster, using one-third the energy of conventional ovens to cook the same food.


Use pots with “sandwich bottom,” when cooking in a stove. It is a good heat absortion. Also use cover pot to save heat. Only preheat oven when absolutily necessary and use air circulation in oven if available.

Family has two hybrid vehicles.

Use dishwasher only when it is full and use energy saving cycles.

TV, radios, stereos, computers, monitors ...

In the summer, windows are kept closed during the day and open at night.

• Turned them off on the switch, don’t leave them on standby. • LCD and plasma TVs use less energy than regular TVs. • Cell phone charges use energy when plugged in, unplug when not in use.

Ceiling fans
Turn off when you leave the room, because it does not lower room temperature.

Other recommendations
PROBLEM: In most homes, electrical consumption falls into the category of lighting and some major appliances like refrigerators, computers, hot tubs. The Griffith family already replaced almost all the light bulbs with compact fluorescents. Now it’s time to replace the old appliances with Energy Star appliances. They have an old washer and dryer; if they choose to replace only one it should be the washer, because energy-saving technology has improved much more in washers than in dryers. SOLUTION: Replace the old washer, which uses about 900 kWh per year, with a front-loading Energy Star washer that uses about 300kWh per year.

Griffith family’s ‘green lifestyle’ so far...
Compact fluorescent vs. incandescent
Wattage Lifespan Estimated retail cost Annual energy cost Annual energy consumption Mercury in bulb

Lower thermostat

Reducing heat by 2 degrees can save 6 percent of your household’s annual carbon dioxide emissions.

Water heater

Set hot water heater to about 120 degrees and wrap it with an insulation blanket.

Compact fluorescent


PROBLEM: Phantom loads or vampire loads refer to electronic devices that consume energy even when turned off. Over the course of a TV’s life, 70% of the power it consumes will occur when it is off. SOLUTION: Plug electronic devices into power strips that can be turned on and off when not in use. Some power strips come with a remote control and can be activated even when hidden behind furniture.

Typical phantom loads
Electronics Kilowatt hours per day

PROBLEM: A small amount of carbon monoxide was detected in the house. This can be from rusted, clogged exhaust pipes, chimneys, poorly vented heating systems. SOLUTION: Have heating, cooling systems inspected annually. A low-level carbon monoxide detector is also recommended. Most carbon monoxide detectors don’t go off until they detect 100 parts per million, but negative side effects can occur with as little as 20 parts per million.

The Griffiths planned to have solar panels installed in their home. Sustainable Spaces recommended that, before going solar, the family first reduce its electrical use. Less power consumption would mean the family could meet its power needs with fewer solar panels, saving them money.

13 watts 6,000 hours $3.50 $2 28 kWh 4.4 milligrams

30 watts 450 hours 50 cents $11 131 kWh 131 milligrams

Note: Based on $0.086 electricity rate per kWh and usage of 6 hours per day Sources: Energy Star, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Energy, Florida State University, Venture Lighting

PROBLEM: The family wants to save energy by replacing the old 40-gallon water heater with a tankless water heater. Sustainable Spaces doesn’t believe it works for a family of five: “They use a lot of gas to get water heated from 50 degrees, which is about the temperature it enters the house from the street, to 120 degrees for your showers.” SOLUTION: Get a highly insulated 50-gallon water heater with a demand circulation pump. The pump moves hot water to sinks and showers quickly when they are about to be used.

TV VCR Microwave Stereo Electric stove Wall cube power supply TOTAL

672 336 192 192 336 240 1,968

Sources: Home Power Magazine, Sustainable Spaces

Sources: Sustainable Spaces, Associated Press, McClatchy-Tribune, Mercury News research

Griffiths’ home assessment process
Andrew Dunn, a home performance technician with Sustainable Spaces, runs a diagnostic tool called the blower door test to measure airtightness and locate air leaks in the Griffiths’ home. A highpowered fan — attached to a panel that is stretched taut over the front door — is connected to pressuresensing devices that indicate how much air moves in and out of the structure. Sealing leaky spots will reduce energy consumption and make the home more comfortable.


A Balometer is lifted up to each of the home’s heating vents to measure the amount of conditioned air that is flowing. After entering separate calculations for each vent, a computerized model will show that the home’s aging ductwork is not delivering warm air in equal amounts to all of its rooms.


One of the easiest ways to dramatically trim electrical usage is to replace incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, like the ones shown here. Some of the latest versions have the familiar shape of incandescent bulbs and can be deployed in spotlights and recessed lights as well as lamps and other fixtures.

You never know what you might encounter when climbing into an attic cra wl space. Jason Bowers, a home performance spe cia Spaces, is careful to don a list with Sustainable special mask to protect himself from breathing in dust, asbestos, fiberglass or other particulates.


Bowers uses an infrared cam temperature of the interior era to measure the These calculations help the walls in the Griffiths’ home. performance of insulation technicians judge the in the walls.



6S SUNdAY, MARCh 15, 2009



Water conservation tips
Fix those leaks! Leaks allow water — and your money — to go down the drain. To help detect hidden leaks, turn off anything that uses water and see if your water meter is still moving. If it is, there could be a leak somewhere. For assistance on becoming more water efficient, sign up for a free water-wise House Call by calling (800) 548-1882. Customers of San jose water Co. should call (408) 279-7900. Install water-efficient devices such as high-efficiency toilets and high-efficiency clothes washers. The Santa Clara Valley water District has rebates for these; call (408) 265-2606, ext. 2554 for more information. The district also hands out free low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators, as does the San jose water Co., at its offices at 110 w. Taylor St., San jose. Only run your washing machine or dishwasher with full loads. Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth and shaving. Take shorter showers. Taking a five-minute shower with a low-flow shower head can save 10 percent, or about 50 gallons, for a typical family of four. Make sure toilet flappers have proper seating; flappers that do not seat properly waste a lot of water. Water your lawn only when needed, generally once every three days during the summer. Check sprinkler timers and reduce watering times if necessary. Adjust watering schedule for each season. In fall, unless it’s very hot outside, you can reduce your watering time by half. By December, you can turn off your irrigation system completely. Consider installing a weather-based irrigation controller, also known as a “smart controller.” These gizmos adjust watering automatically based on plants’ needs and daily, local weather. There are rebates offered for many of these devices; check with your water company for details. Check sprinkler heads, valves and drip emitters once a month. Make sure heads are aimed correctly (no matter how much you water it, concrete will not grow). Water in the early morning. Many irrigation experts feel the best time to water is between midnight and 6 a.m. because evaporation is kept to a minimum. Apply a layer of organic mulch around plants to reduce moisture loss and keep weeds down. Ask your local nursery for the types of plants that will save you water. water-wise plants can be beautiful as well as practical. There are rebates available to homeowners who replace lawns with drought-tolerant plants. Can’t bear to lose the look of a green lawn? There are synthetics made from recycled materials that look surprisingly real and never need water. When planting, group plants together according to their water and sun needs. Use a broom to sweep off pavement. Using the hose to wash down sidewalks, driveways, and patios wastes a lot of water and money. Use a spray nozzle with a shut-off handle on your hose so water doesn’t flow continuously. When planting on a slope, create basins around plants. Use shorter watering times to avoid runoff.

Audit |  Advice to conserve at home
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sions, known as high-efficiency toilets, use 1.28 gallons per flush or less. Lift the lid of the tank to find out when your toilet was manufactured; the date is stamped into the porcelain. Santa Clara County residents can receive up to $125 per toilet for replacing old, high water-use toilets that use 3.6 gallons per flush or more with new high-efficiency toilets. To see a list of approved models, go to The amount of the rebate cannot exceed the cost of the toilet, and you must be pre-approved before you make the purchase. There also are incentives in the form of rebates to upgrade irrigation systems, replace lawns with drought-tolerant plants, replace older washing machines and install new water softeners. If you schedule a water audit, you’ll also get all sorts of literature, including a handy “Practical Plumbing Handbook,” published by the California Urban Water Conservation Council, information on setting up drip irrigation systems, a couple of publications from Sunset magazine about watering the garden and a guide to various kinds of mulch — which when applied correctly can help your soil retain precious moisture. Contact Holly Hayes at or (408) 920-5374.

if you’re interested
The Santa Clara Valley water District’s web site has a wealth of information about conserving water at Likewise, the San jose water Co.offers tips and tricks for lowering your water use at www.

Sources: Santa Clara Valley Water District, San Jose Water Co., Mercury News reporting


Bay Area expert offers everyday tips to live greener and healthier lives
computer. The refrigerator is the biggest energy user among appliances.


Sunday, March 15, 2009    7S  

Editor’s note: When we went looking for easy things readers can do to live greener lives at home, we turned to a San Jose expert: retired San Jose State University professor Frank R. Schiavo. Schiavo is a pioneer in harnessing the sun to heat and power his home, including using a southfacing sunroom and a watertank lined wall to capture and spread warmth during the winter months and insulate the home during the summer. We could go on, but let’s let Schiavo offer his own advice: By Frank R. Schiavo
for the Mercury News

Water and water heater:

Frank Schiavo

Surprise — the biggest energy user in your house is in your garage. If you drive a gas-powered car it typically uses more energy in BTUs (or energy units) per month — any month — than your monthly PG&E energy use in BTUs. So you can realize significant energy savings simply by changing your personal behavior when it comes to your car: n Combine your trips for shopping and errands into a single loop instead of many singles. n Use public buses, light rail and/or Caltrain for work commutes and other trips. n Carpool, bike or walk if public transportation won’t work for you. To be smart about energy savings, start with the most cost-effective methods and work your way down a list to more expensive ones.

n Adjust the thermostat on the water heater gradually over a few days until it heats water to 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit. n Take short showers. Baths require lots of hot water. n Install low-flow shower heads. n Purchase a solar waterheating system. n If you have a swimming pool, cover it overnight to keep the heat in.

Online extra
See the full list of tips from Frank Schiavo at www. .

Heating and cooling:

n Set thermostat to 67 degrees. n Dress warmly in cold weather. n Install a programmable thermostat for your furnace. n Change filters at the start of winter and again three months later. n Weatherstrip doors and windows. n Install a high-efficiency furnace (80 to 90-plus percent efficiency) and insulate

n If you have an extra refrigerator in the garage or outside, get rid of it. n If you have an older the house (R30 attic, R19 in refrigerator (10 years to 15 walls and under floors — R years) replace it. in insulation refers to ther- Go solar to power mal resistance when heat your home: travels through it). n Make your own elecn Install thermal curtricity from the sun with a tains. n Replace single-pane photovoltaic system. The windows with double-panes. state of California offers a ren Add a passive sun room bate program administered along the south-facing walls by PG&E. You can receive $1.55 per watt of installed of your home. system. Additionally, there is a federal tax reduction of Lighting and 30 percent on the net cost of appliances: the system, after the state n Shut off your televi- rebate has been taken. This sion and computer more fre- tax credit has a rollover proquently. You can survive. vision. In addition, the cities n Wash dishes by hand in of Palo Alto, Santa Clara and one sink, rinse in a sink-sized San Francisco have genertub in the other sink. Use ous incentives for photovolrinse water to irrigate land- taics — in some cases higher scaping, garden and trees. than what California offers. Dry dishes on a wooden Check with your own city to rack. find out about their incentive n Use appliances at night programs. at off-peak demand times. n Install a clothesline or Frank R. Schiavo is a retired use an indoor wooden rack professor of environmental for drying laundry. studies at San Jose State n Replace incandescent University. He continues light bulbs with compact solar and energy consulting fluorescent bulbs. for homeowners and opens n Purchase “Energy Star” his solar home for free applicances — refrigerator, tours. Nearly everything in washer, dryer, dishwasher, this article can be seen at water heater, television and Schiavo’s home.


8S Sunday, March 15, 2009


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