In re: Aerogels the next home insulation?

Dr. Peter Tsou of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory once said, “you could take a two- or three-bedroom house, insulate it with aerogel, and you could heat the house with a candle. But eventually the house would become too hot.” So why haven’t we all been spraying our building’s with the stuff? Unfortunately, for the past 75 years the stuff’s been way too expensive, but that’s all about to change.

via Aerogel Becomes Affordable as a Home Insulator | Apartment Therapy Unplggd.

Forget global warming or environmentalism there are some simpler reasons to conserve energy in our houses, simply saving money.  If you check out the video in the above post on Aerogels from Aspen Aerogels I think you’ll be impressed.  Now I know not everyone gets excited about R values, but this stuff is crazy cool hopefully it continues to drop in price .

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In re: Box wine going upscale?

ITALY’S Agriculture Ministry announced this month that some wines that receive the government’s quality assurance label may now be sold in boxes.

Op-Ed Contributor – Wine in a Box Protects the Environment and Saves You Money – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com.

Box wine should become mainstream (i.e. put good wine in it) as it is a practical way to transport and serve wine by the glass, this article hints that for various reasons this may be just around the corner.

In re: overpacked? Brooks Brothers order a bit wasteful.

So a bit ago I ordered some new work shirts from Brooks Brothers online during a big sale they had (their non-iron shirts are amazing). Anyway I also ordered a replacement pair of the little knotted string cuff links (the only kind I’ll wear generally, a more casual and cool looking I think , just be careful of them coming apart — hence the replacement. I assumed when ordering they would throw the little things in with my shirts as they are tiny, so I was a bit surprised when a seperate box showed up. Now having read consumer reports back page I have seen my share of wasteful packaging and too large boxes, but considering a small envelope would have held the knots I was a bit surprised by the box. I just wonder how the packers of the box can’t figure out a better way, oh well.

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In re: Should I buy a used Geo Metro?

So those of you who know me know that I am all for high gas prices.  Yes you read that right, HIGH GAS PRICES, see I said it again.  Why?  Am I nuts?  Well since I was lobbying earlier for a $1 a gallon gas tax (on the coat tail of an article by Thomas Friedman a year or two ago) we have had exactly that kind of increase in fuel and the market response has already shown why we need high gas prices if we are to remove our dependence on oil from less than savoury sources (no offense Saudi Arabia – okay none taken).

I know several individuals who are now either using public transportation or carpooling something they would not have thought about just a year ago.  The increase in ridership (10% over last May here in Columbus) will of course allow expansion and improvement of mass transit, which in turn snowballs to allow further ridership.

One other effect?  Well besides SUV sales suffering and the rise of the Hybrid, there is the more low market response of scooping up Geo Metros, formerly the butt of jokes and now the hot ticket item that used car dealers can’t keep on their lots.  Actually for really green people a Metro (used – they aren’t made anymore) are better for the environment then a hybrid when you factor in the huge environmental toll making that new car and battery takes (apparently 100,000 miles is what it takes before you undo the toll of manufacturing and pass into the ‘Black’ environmentally w/ a Prius) whereas the Metro has long since overcome its manufacturing debt.  see story in the Dispatch

Of course a lot of these hot to trot people may be forgetting that the Geo Metros 40+ mpg that they are lusting after are computed with the old EPA numbers (i.e. numbers so fictional you needed to be drafting behind a semi with a strong tailwind to get close to).  US News has a good article telling you why buying a Metro today is a stupid idea (one of them is the car wasn’t that safe)

“The federal government altered the formula it uses to calculate gas mileage last year.It’s easy to compare old and new numbers — the EPA has already done it for you, publishing the older numbers alongside the new, revised numbers on its website.  So let’s look at the mileage of that 1992 Geo Metro. According to the old formula it should have managed a combined mileage rating of 38 mpg. That’s not far below the 46 mpg of the current Toyota Prius, just like the Mercury-News claims. According to the revised formula, however, that 1990 Metro should actually manage only 33 mpg — 13 below the Prius. That’s not nearly as impressive. In fact, it’s nearly the same rating as many current small cars.”  US News

(Oh and as a side note, I did just get a new car and it wasn’t a Metro, went with another VW Jetta, not the best fuel mileage, but the appeal of the 4 cylinder turbo and the fact i put on less than 8,000 miles a year steered my decision…)

In re: High Cost of Free Parking

freep.jpgI finished up Pillars of the Earth the other day and instead of starting in on another page turner (Pillars was just such a book, despite the topic of being about the building of a cathedral the book moves really fast and you get pretty taken into the back stabbing, the rivalries, and the crazy politics that existed circa 1100). Anyway I have a huge stack of books that are awaiting to be read and for some reason I have a lot of non-fiction in that stack (I think I should be reading more fiction, it moves quicker) but I’ve been meaning to get into  The High Cost of Free Parking. by Donald Shoup of UCLA (first mentioned In re: is free parking bad?)

The book is really and is clearly more academic in nature and in its audience (it is probably half footnotes). The topic though is stunning and one that I really feel is compelling, the fact that parking in this country is zoned in such high quantities and the fact that on 99% of car trips people park for free. This doesn’t sound bad except that in reality the cost of all this parking is priced into everything else and this just further encourages people to drive since they already essentially paying for it (for example if you walk to somewhere you are still charged in your purchases for the parking lots – and cities copying each other have zoning that requires huge amounts of parking – meaning that even at peak demand you’ll find spots). Again if we all drive no one really loses out, but everyone driving all the time is the problem, some people want to walk and having everything based around free parking spreads out cities, encourages sprawl and I assume I will learn causes many other problems. I’ve only read a few pages of the hefty book, but already it seems like it should be required reading for politicians and urban planners.

In re: Plastic Bags

  • By cutting 100 million plastic bags a year San Francisco will save 1.5 million litres of oil, and eliminate 4.2 million kilograms of carbon dioxide….
  • 180 million: Roughly the number of plastic shopping bags distributed in San Francisco each year.
  • 2 to 3 cents: Amount each bag costs markets, compared with anywhere from 5 to 10 cents for a biodegradable bag.
  • 4 trillion to 5 trillion: Number of non degradable plastic bags used worldwide annually.
  • 430,000 gallons: Amount of oil needed to produce 100 million non degradable plastic bags.

(See SF First to Ban Plastic Shopping Bags)

You may have seen some of Live Earth today, or at least heard about it, pushed by Al Gore and his celebrity friends. The concert event that is going on on each continent trying to raise awareness about global warming. Now you may have your own opinion of these kind of events, for one I tend to be a bit cynical as you may know and the whole routine of shouting to the crowd “you are part of history” is always a strange thing, at least I think, this constant touting of where an event that is ongoing will be in viewed in history. Now once again, I am all for having events to raise awareness of the environment, but I question where this event today will be the thing that starts more large scale change.

Anyway, back to what I was starting with plastic bags, (the whole Live Earth is about small things) and plastic bags may seem small, but as you can imagine they take a huge toll on resources. The other day in Costco’s newsletter (page 16-17) I saw a poll on whether we should ban plastic bags for the whole country, which San Francisco has done and now Oakland as well. Now, for one you may know that Costco for one doesn’t use plastic bags (to save them money) and probably because those 8 gallon jugs of mayo wouldn’t fit in a bag anyway. Well it reminded me that for a while I have been meaning to buy reusable grocery bags and also I glanced at the story on SF which wasn’t able to put a deposit on bags or a tax due to a federal law, so they banned them. I say good idea, when I lived in Switzerland you either got free really small thin bags (think produce bags) or you could buy for pretty reasonably a pretty durable paper bag that was reusable, every now and again I’d forget to bring bags and buy some more reusable and the system worked really well (you also bag your own groceries which really sped things up as they have a second bay for the next person to start getting checked out while your bagging).

So why ban them? (The bags have already been outlawed in South Africa, Taiwan and Bangladesh. Ireland imposes a plastic-bag tax.) Couldn’t we come up with a market system to get rid of the, or to reflect the impact they have on the waste stream, the environment, our reliance on foreign oil to produce them? We could go that route, but while some of you federalists may not want the gov’t telling you what kind of bag to use, or not use, it seems to me a simple fix one way or the other we should do something about it (although I need to get out and practice what I am saying).

In re: Off, but still wasting energy

I read awhile ago about a UK push to make illegal those little standby lights that are on so many devices today (red light showing the dvd player is plugged in, but off See Times UK). Apparently these little lights which alone may not use a lot of power, together waste lots and lots of electricity (estimate 8% of the UK power – which means lots and lots of CO2 emissions). The NY Times has a good article about just how much energy all our devices waste when they are plugged in, but not on (ever noticed how your cell phone charger is warm if left in the wall but your not charging your phone? thats because its wasting power). See Putting Energy Hogs in the Home on a Strict Low-Power Diet.

” I THOUGHT I was pretty good about energy conservation, but it turns out that I’ve been a bit of a hypocrite. I drive a reasonably fuel-efficient car, I work at home so I don’t use fuel to commute and I am replacing incandescent bulbs in my home with energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs…Indeed, the Department of Energy estimates that in the average home, 40 percent of all electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off. Add that all up, and it equals the annual output of 17 power plants, the government says.” NY Times


house_off.jpgOne idea to help that might be a bit far off for some folks is a power off button for your house, where everything that can off is turned off (so your fridge, smoke detectors, clocks, etc. stay plugged in, but everything else is off, no more leaving your lights on upstairs as you hit one ‘on’ button on your way in – in Europe hotel rooms often have this requiring your room key to activate the lights).