Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Much Needed Break

Last weekend Amy and I took a much needed break from the rigors of home ownership to go for a hike along the Appalachian Trail in nearby Berks County. It was a wonderful reprieve from the endless project list that always sits in wait for us.

For anyone who hasn't visited this lovely spot, I highly recommend it! The views were gorgeous, despite the alarming lack of fall color. It's known locally as "The Pinnacle", and is located just east of Hamburg, only a few miles of I-78.

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My only suggestion is to arrive early (we started our hike at approximately 8:15am), as it is a very popular place. We encountered two groups of scouts, numerous school groups, and even a few through hikers that had come up all the way from West Virginia.

This weekend, we're looking to get back on track with some paint in the back bedroom, as well as finishing up some electrical work. We had a friend do a good bit of the work, including ripping out most of the remaining knob and tube. He also found evidence of old gas lines in the ceiling above the second floor, leading us to believe that this was the original source of light for the house. Pretty amazing what you can find out when you rip up a few floorboards!

Monday, October 15, 2007

On Being A (Low-Budget) Green Homeowner

As some of you know already, today is Blog Action Day! All over the globe, thousands of blogs are all posting on the environment, including my favorites Lifehacker and Zen Habits. So here I am, trying to find something profound to write about our planet.

I'd like to think we're fairly "green" as new homeowners go... but truthfully we'd like to do so much more. I would love to put solar panels on our roof, replace our aging hot-water heater with a nice tankless unit, put down renewable bamboo floors, and insulate our house to the point where not a single watt of energy is wasted. But practically speaking, that will never happen. Just as with most new homeowners, we find out budgets and our wits stretched to their end just trying to keep up; an unfortunate reality is that to be green means you have to spend money. Or does it?

10 Ways to Be Green (Cheaply)
  1. Recycle everything. I would like to think that everyone is doing the minimum at this point: cans, bottles, and plastic. But what about things like batteries, cell phones, and even construction waste? In our area, there happens to be a Habitat store that will accept old cabinets, furniture, even faucets or other fixtures. Why not try and find a location near you next time you rip out those old kitchen cabinets, or replace the 50's bathroom faucet? Need to find a local spot to recycle batteries? Check here. Cell phones? Here too. That's right, I'm talking to all you new I-Phone converts (of which I hope to be one soon. Ssshhh, don't tell my wife. :) )
  2. Decorate green. Do you really need all that cheesy holiday decor that either sits in tupperwear (or worse, ends up in the garbage) for most of the year? Personally, the only thing tinsel is useful for is making a nice rockstar wig for the cat. Instead, use some renewable decorations like pumpkins (if you want to be really responsible, you can keep your own self-replenishing patch going) or other plant materials like pine-wreaths or willow sticks.
  3. Low wattage light bulbs. We have them in just about every light in the house, and it has made a noticeable decrease in our electric bill. And with the newer technology available, the house doesn't look like the inside of an operating suite either!
  4. Use cloth napkins instead of paper. It will make you feel like every night is a special dinner! While you're at it, turn off the lights and use some candles. Your spouse will thank you!
  5. Use microfiber cloths in place of paper towels. I don't think we realized how many of these we go through until we stopped using them! The microfiber cloths are great; inexpensive, easily washed, and soak up more than those puny Brawny things.
  6. Turn on your ceiling fans. Yes, they are good for more than looking bad and collecting dust. Studies show that using these allows folks to raise their thermostats by three to four degrees, which can easily save 25% on your A/C costs. And don't forget to use them in the winter time as well. Just make sure you flip the switch to change the fan's direction; by reversing the blades, the fan will break up the stagnant hot air sitting at the highest point in the room.
  7. Break the bottle habit. No, i don't mean that bottle habit, though I'm sure your liver would thank you. :) Instead of drinking bottled water, buy a filter for your faucet and drink from that. We've been doing this ever since we bought the house, without any ill effects. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go get rid of the pink elephant romping around my kitchen.
  8. Install a programmable thermostat. Ours is set to come on at 6AM, off at 9, back on at 5:30, and off at 10pm (no comments on the early bedtime please). It has doubtlessly saved us a considerable amount of money; certainly more than the $25 it cost to buy.
  9. Dry your clothes with sunlight. We did this all summer, and the only thing missing was the "thump thump" of our Maytag (don't every buy one, but that's another story).
  10. Bring canvas bags to the grocery store. We always bring three or four with us, so as to avoid those awful plastic bags. The one exception is for meat, which I'll gladly excuse you for using plastic for (anyone ever tried to get meat juice out of canvas? ugh).

So there you have it! 10 ways to be green without breaking our ever-tighter "New Homeowner Budget".

How do you save our planet without breaking the bank? Share your wealth in the comments.