Monthly Archives: November 2008

Washing dishes by hand

There is a surprising amount of info on the dishes by hand vs. dishwasher eco-controversy on the web. Of course it really all comes down to specifics of the method just like the cloth vs. disposable diaper issue…
Anyway, for those who don’t own a 2.5 gallon (9 liter) per wash energy star dishwasher, here is my method for washing dishes ecologically by hand with less than 1 gallon of hot water:

-Take the largest dirty dish/pot you have (usually for me a 2 quart/liter pot, sometimes a big soup bowl) and squirt in a small squirt of eco-friendly dish detergent (I buy mine in a 5-gallon pail and refill small containers and use it for everything from hair cleaning to laundry as well)

-fill or partially fill container with warm water. It doesn’t have to be super hot unless you have some nasty thing you are trying to kill – out of the ordinary.

-wash dishes, rinsing with a small amount of cold water from the tap (not left running). You could fill a small clean container with rinse water, but I don’t.

-if I use a particularly small bowl for the wash water, I sometimes need to refill it before the sink-full of dishes is all done. This almost always ends up being a total of less than a gallon of hot water for a sink stacked high.

It helps to not cook and eat greasy foods – these foul the water more quickly and take a hotter temperature to get really clean. It helps to not eat a lot of meat because then you don’t have to worry too much about salmonella etc.

Any other methods? There are plenty out there that are all good for various families and the specifics of use in the house!



Have I mentioned that the lowest cost solution with my waste hauler is to pay for up to 3 32-gallon trash cans per unit (or a total of 12 such cans?) This is the basic service. I can also get tipper carts in variable rates. Though the 32 gallon tipper cart (one per unit needed) is the lowest volume I could choose, the cost is more than the basic service option – by a small amount. I have chosen the basic service, but I only provide 4 32 gallon cans (plus recycling which I take myself). Only 2 to 3 of the 32 gallon cans are ever full each week on trash day. I have talked to the hauler, and though they are applying to the regulatory board to change some things and make it easier to waste less, recycle more, apparently not much will happen to solve my woes. It is illegal in Anchorage to not have trash service. So two ‘units’ (either 2 single family neighbors or units in a multiplex) can not get together and pay for only one service. This is a bit of regulatory craziness. Yes, it keeps people from avoiding the cost for their garbage and just finding a public dumpster to put it in, but it doesn’t allow the obvious solution for my eco-plex which would be to allow me to choose to rent a single 96 gallon tipper cart for the entire building. It would be cheaper for me, less work for the collectors, and take up less space on my lawn. The costomer service guy was understanding but not encouraging here.

Also, unfortunately, recycling rates are going down the tubes here – not for people choosing to recycle, just for what actually gets recycled from the drop off center – the backhaul on the ships to demand centers in the lower 48 and the current commodities prices and recession are making it uneconomic to actually recycle what people drop off. They have already stopped accepting plastic bags and films, which sucks. I already try to not consume extra packaging etc in the first place, but it is hard while living in the city. We have on-again, off-again local recycling of glass and newspaper (into secondary uses like sand-blasting material out of the glass and blown insulation out of the paper) so hopefully that will continue. We need a way to keep prices of unrenewable commodities (like metals, oil, etc) high during economic downturn to prevent this kind of non-productive environmental backsliding. Carbon taxes would be good. Any other ideas?

DIY lows and highs

Two successes and one flop this weekend. I have given up on our tub diverter. I have invested a lot of time and careful attention and silicone into making it work, and I’ve decided it was designed in an era when a bit of water coming out the faucet and going down the drain while you were showering was no big deal. I’m going with my father’s excellent suggestion of putting in ceramic disc/cartridge faucets so that they won’t leak and need replacement washers/o-rings in their life time. This is wise because tenants do not let you know when there is a small drip. I know this because everyone agrees on this and also because, 2 years ago when I had a small drip in my kitchen faucet it took me months to get around to telling the landlord. I also believe that, although I am sure I could do this work myself, that I will hire someone to do it for me (probably a friend of Gil if he has time). Mostly because I am sick of fiddling with this faucet.

My successes were putting up my photocell-13 watt CFL outdoor light fixture (satisfying, but not challenging – the hardest part of this was tracking down the screw driver and finding the correct breaker in the box to turn off the power. Even I can twist little white and black and green wires to their match and twist on a wire nut…) and dying my ratty old duvet cover a beautiful, artsy looking sun-smattered greeny-blue. This last trick saved me from buying a $120 organic cotton duvet cover from the store. Yes, good to support green and fair business, but I am so not a good consumer. I guess RIT dye and Safeway get my money this time – all $18. I dyed the cover in my canning pot on my gas stove. At first I had the pot hanging over the counter, which turns out to be particle board – now partially singed particle board. So my smoke detector works. Then I had the stove going for a couple of hours doing all this with no vent on and apparently some gas was escaping combustion because my CO/gas alarm also went off. It read “gas” not “CO”, but it couldn’t have been too explosive because the flame was still on on the stove with no ill effects. I did make my boy run downstairs and stand in the open doorway while I opened every window, turned off the stove, and turned on the bathroom fan. Oh well, I needed a little excitement 🙂 I’ll run the bathroom fan next time I use the stove for a while, or crack the kitchen window. Someday I will get a range hood with vent.

Sweat and snow

gas-usage-with-notes It finally really snowed yesterday. I got home after an evening of fun at 8pm and someone had stolen my snow shovel. I guiltily went to work to get the plow truck, but luckily it was in use, actually plowing the work parking lot like it is supposed to! So I borrowed a work snow shovel. Man I am out of shape. Not that it was that hard, just tweaked some of my body parts with the lopsided nature of the job. I need to sign up for a yoga class, or maybe fencing again! And I think I will bite the bullet and purchase a brand new, not previously used, shovel with ergonomic handle from the store. I hear they really do work to save your back. Better than fossil fuels in the plow truck, which I’m sure I will one day resort to. I am at this point not maintaining the west drive around the house (just the east one) and only maintaining 6 parking spaces even though cars have been parking on the frozen lawn and the side (generally guests of the tenants I believe).

Above is the monthly gas usage of the building over the last 4-years. As with most of my visuals the last couple of days, I credit Andy Baker of Your Clean Energy with the plotting! So now I have something to measure against. Until I change out appliances or install solar panels or do massive tightening and insulating projects, it is mostly up to occupant behavior. So I need to roll out the plan that any month we come in below the average I’ll kick back the money saved to all of us. How to divvy though? Per bedroom? Per person (that favors us with 3)? Per adult? Per unit? Per rent amount? I think maybe per bedroom – since the two bedrooms are twice as big to heat as an efficiency, and has twice the occupants (that is counting an efficiency as a 1-bedroom, not as a 0 bedroom).


OK, so I succeeded in removing my diverter assembly in the tub and replacing all the washers/o-rings/bonnet packing/what have you, and cleaned it and reseated the seat and replaced it all with plumber’s grease where plumber’s grease should go and plumber’s goop where plumber’s goop should go. No dice. Still water out the tub spout while the shower is on. I’m looking more carefully into how it works, and I think I’ll have to measure distances inside the seat area to see why the part of the stem that is supposed to block off the water to the tub is not doing so when in the shower mode. Sigh. I’m hoping I can rig something – a bead of silicone or an extra o-ring? Might just have to bite the bullet and install a whole new faucet set.

Here is a picture of my excellent sun exposure; courtesy of Andy Baker – at least this is good! Andy risked life and limb to get to the center of my slippery, icy, metal, south roof too! Click on the picture to see it bigger and read all the words on it – basically the horizon is projected onto the device’s face and areas blocked off can be compared with the sun’s path over time to figure out how much solar exposure the spot actually gets over the year.

Solar, baby, solar!

Andy Baker of Your Clean Energy came over and assessed my solar hot water heating potential on Saturday. I have great solar exposure, as I suspected. The sticking points will be where to put 240 gallons of storage (the current boiler/hot water area is quite tight and hard to expand), how I will route the piping, and whether or not the panels will stick up above the zoning max of 35′ for my R-3 zoned lot. Oh, and money 🙂 Nothing unsolvable, so maybe by this time next year I’ll have 50% over the year solar hot water!! Yay! I’ll get a whole report with equipment recommendations, economics, etc. And pictures I can put up here.

While he was in the boiler room I slipped the low flow aerators on Unit 4’s sinks and checked the shower head – printed right on it it says it is 1.6 gpm – yay, already efficient!! AND, my boiler is new and good. 82% efficient, and Andy says it is a great boiler. You can get more efficient, but they become much more complicated and hard to work on. I did a back of the envelope calculation (ok, it filled the whole back of a piece of paper – involving U-values and areas for studs and windows and walls and…) and got that the max output of the boiler is about 3% higher than my building’s coldest day needs, so it seems to miraculously be sized very well too! I estimated the air infiltration rate, but if I get a blower door test anytime soon (with my home energy rebate thingy) then I can plug that in better.

Still haven’t fixed our tub faucets – we bought the correct size faucet wrench, but the bolt is just too tight and stripped already. I’m taking home my big ol’ pipe wrench from work (used normally to open split spoon samples while drilling to investigate soils) and hoping that works. Also bought pipe insulation, but haven’t yet found where the hot water pipe runs to insulate it (gotta saw into the wall in the closet behind the tub); also a photo-cell outdoor fluorescent (4-pin) light fixture to turn off automatically during the day.

Home heating efficiency assesment

For the math minded I found this nifty little calculation to estimate the efficiency of your home heating.

1) Gather your heating bills and figure out how many Btus you use to heat over a year. Conversions for fuels can be googled. In my case I looked at a gas bill provided by the last owner that had a chart of therms of natural gas (or ccf’s) used over the last year. I added that up then subtracted the amount used for hot water and cooking (though some of this heated the place too – but that is second order). I estimated this amount by taking the average summer usage (when not heating) and multiplied by 12. My final result is about 1500 therms to heat per year…multiplied by 100,000 Btus/therm I get 110 Million Btus (significantly above the national avg of 50 MBtu/home – but then it is a 4-plex and this is Alaska).

2) Divide this number by both your heated square footage and your area’s Heating Degree Days. you can get your heating degree days here or elsewhere on the web. I got Anchorage’s off the Alaska Engineering Design Information System website. There exist charts that show the whole country. In the end I get 5.2 (110 million Btus divided by 2740 sqft divided by 10454 heating degree days).

3) compare. 2 is a very efficient home. 6 is an energy hog. I am near the hog end! Which is exciting, because I get to make lots of improvements, and not surprising because it is an old building.