Monthly Archives: December 2008

Encouraging tenant efficiency

Here is my first, and fairly lame, attempt to communicate on energy efficiency with my tenants, I could have used more math to make my point, I could have used better rhetoric or prettier prose, heck – I could have talked with people in person – we live in the same building!! But here is the body of the notice I posted on everyone’s door:

In the spirit of the holidays I would like to give you a gift of $30 off of your January 2009 rent.

Part of this gift is possible because we managed to use about 20% less gas last month than average for the month – good work! As you may have heard, both Enstar and Chugach Electric costs are going up approximately 20% in the new year. I would rather not have to consider having to raise rents in the future to cover these costs, it would be preferable to save these costs up front by being aware of energy use. For my part, I am planning to install a much more efficient water heater in the near future. I am open to other suggestions you may have as well, I know some of the fridges in the units are fairly old. Other ways to save energy include keeping the heat turned down as low as is comfortable, turning the heat down a few degrees at night or when you are away for the day, keeping windows shut, shutting off water when not in use, washing clothes in cold, drying clothes on drying racks, and turning off lights when not in use. Please let me know if you have any water leaks/drips or other repair issues, as these can help us all save money in the long run as well. When monthly bills are below average, I plan to continue to provide rebates.

Parking and car-love; revisited

Background: My 4-plex currently has parking in the back yard – which is also the south yard. This takes up precious prime garden space and makes it impossible to fence off the backyard for safe child-play and quiet picnic space. In my perfect world, cars would have to park on the street and my whole lot would be car free (but have bike parking). Yes, I am being a sadisitic, high-and-mighty, non-car-owner. And I feel a bit hypocritical since during thanksgiving I had lovely people driving me all over town while my sister visited. In a more reasonable version of my world, the narrow strip of land between the street and my building (on the north side) could be the parking area, leaving the south yard as a car-free oasis of plants and frolicking kids.

From Google Maps, 2008

From Google Maps, 2008

So I’ve been emailing with a very helpful and nice person at the muni Land Use Department, and I can’t do what I want with the parking, because if you have anything bigger than a duplex, traffic can not back straight onto the road. I do not have enough space for parking plus staging. I also asked if I could charge for parking (see previous posts on this topic for more on why and how I would make this fair to car owners). Here is the full text of the latest response:

My apologies for not getting back to you sooner. We applaud your efforts to work toward a more pedestrian friendly city. Strategies applied by the municipality as a whole can only go so far. At some point we need to think on an individual property level and see what each resident can do to achieve these goals.

That said it is difficult at this time to implement some of your desired changes without new parking regulations. Some of your ideas are being contemplated in the Title 21 re-write project. The Anchorage Citizen’s Coalition is a good group to include when promoting your ideas.

As I mentioned earlier the Traffic Engineer is responsible for approving all parking and circulation plans. They have approved one way aisle configurations as long as they meet the current code. Required spaces cannot be compact. Charges for parking space use can only be done for users who exceed minimum time limits and the restrictions are still subject to approval by the Traffic Engineer.

Parking variances are an option. Variances however are generally limited to the minimum variance necessary to allow a reasonable use of the property. If there is a reasonable conforming alternative variances are generally not approved.

Credit cards are stupid

I’m upset at my credit union (Credit Union 1). I’ve had 2 real credit cards in my college days, and two years ago I opened a secured line of credit with my credit union to establish credit to buy a house. All of these worked that if I paid the balance in full after I was billed and before it was due, I was not charged a finance charge. So I had never been charged a finance charge. Two months ago I upgraded to a gold card, for those 4-plex emergencies. I got a small finance charge on my first month that I couldn’t figure out and argued them into reversing. I got one again this month. Turns out that I have to have a zero balance on a specific day (the 15th of the month), if I understand them correctly. So even if I receive my electronic bill on November 15 with payment due by December 10, pay my account down to zero on November 20th, I will be charged a finance charge on the average daily balance between Nov. 20 and Dec 15. That is BS!! I paid my bill! Anyway, although the finance charges have been tiny and it may be technically feasible for me to have a zero balance exactly on the 15th, it’s too much work and frustration for me. I have cut up the card and will go in and officially cancel it as soon as all my recent purchases have gone through. I don’t need it anyway. No more credit cards for me, I’ve got a mortgage to help me keep my stellar credit rating. I’m considering finding a new credit union, so any suggestions would be nice if anyone is particularly pleased with theirs. Has anyone else had this credit card experience? Is this truly the standard these days? If so then another reason that credit sucks! My credit union also bothered me by having a gas card give away when gas prices were high. How backwards! They should have been promoting gas savings by giving away bikes, preferably refurbished.

Insomnial remorse

beforeafter These images help explain my insomniacal mind ravings last night. Why did I have insomnia, which is unusual for me? Hmmm. I had a beer. I left the blinds open which let in street light. The dryer started squeaking loudly at 11pm. Gil got up to go work in his studio as he usually does at night. I remembered I forgot to put out the garbage. Worry and anxiety – was that a product of being, against my will, awake in the middle of the night or the cause? They always go hand in hand. I worry a lot, but I am also a happy person. And my worry helps me to fix things and get things done – so not useless.

More importantly, maybe, what ran through my head? I went through the normal commitment-phobia, ‘what-ifs’ and ‘what-am-I-doings’ that often keep me untied and on the move. I worried that I am not truly happy in the city and should find a way to live ecologically in the woods (as I have always dreamed), I worried that I will nickel and dime myself with small repairs – like the photos above of my siding repair (actually that just took time, not new money as I only used a pair of tin-snips, some aluminum flashing and other stuff I already had lying around. Thanks, dad, for the snips.) Obviously now I need to fix or replace the dryer. I’m working on the ceiling in my bathroom – almost all patched, will paint soon. The point is that all these things are probably necessary, but distracting from the bigger efficiency moves I’d like to make – like better wall insulation and appliances (yes, I could upgrade the dryer, or better yet chuck it for drying racks – but new dryers are not a top priority efficiency move and my current populous would probably revolt at forced drying racks.) I worried further that it was ludicrous to upgrade the efficiency of an old building. The walls could be all rotten inside already. I just read that one should be careful about adding rigid insulation to the outside of a wood frame building, as I thought of doing, because that could trap moisture in the walls. I longed for the simple days of simply renting from others that could worry or not about such things.

Luckily, a new day has begun and things do look brighter, somehow. I can still take a new direction any time I want, no need to feel trapped or rush decisions. Even if the walls are slowly rotting and everything is decaying around me, I can still raze the place to the ground in 10 years and start over right (once I win the lottery…). If I choose to. For now, I’m remembering that I have a terrific metal roof, a great boiler, and no reason to fear for the structure other than age. It is my chosen challenge to find a way to work with in my means to make the best choices I can to create a cozy, ecological home and community. It’s not a fairy tale, it’s messy real life and it’s ok. One take home message is that material goods degrade (including the body); saner by far to place your ultimate happiness elsewhere.

Bicycle love

I want a bike generator. I google this topic all the time. It seems I can buy plans to make my own, I can find free explanations on how to make my own, or I can buy a prefab that either incorporates a normal road bike or is a stand that will take one. Of the last kind, Gobal Inheritance offers the stand and parts, minus bike, for about a $1100 suggested donation plus shipping (the good cause being their advocacy work). It includes a battery. Another site will let me buy the stand/generator or even a device to charge cell phones while I bike on the road! Their stand set-up is on the order of $600 when I get the attachments I want, but not a battery (which is not necessary for directly powering electronics, though the included voltage controller pretty much is). They will also sell me just the generator for like $50 or so, and I can make my own stand or peddle machine.

Now, after all my research, it seems that the perfect use for a bicycle is, well, transportation! I mean, I can easily displace a quarter gallon of gas or so with a pleasant commute through town (or a more harrowing one this time of year – but still fun). What do I really want my generator/pedal power machine for? Ideal uses for bikes, other than transport, are to directly power mechanical devices such as blenders, grinders, lathes, etc…but sadly I almost never use these devices. I occasionally blend, but not enough to justify the space taken up by a bike. Usually I use a mocahete (granite, mexican mortar and pestle) for small grinding projects. I could also pump liquids (like water) with peddle power, but this is also not really a need for me, as I don’t, at least yet, have a big rain catchment/irrigation set-up for my yard. So I’m looking at generating electricity. Probably, it seems, at around 40 watts sustainable. Only enough to directly power an efficient laptop or lesser device. So I am probably going to use it for charging my cell phone and watching movies on a laptop. Direct use is most efficient, but I’m considering that it may be most convenient to charge a battery and then watch movies or power LED lights later. So, in my dream world, I would connect the pedals/transfer belts/generator to the front of a sofa – perhaps 2 sets for movie watching with a friend. Although this would not be the most biomechanically ideal peddling position, I wonder if it would be enough to offset the 30% loss from battery storage if I were to pedal from a more awkward-to-watch-movies-in position?

But, I have more projects than time, and perhaps more money than sense (not a huge amount more…). So maybe I will purchase a ready made stand, start charging batteries in my shed, and hook up a laptop to watch movies. We’ll see. I’m infamous for wanting things and never coughing up the dough. I am sorta sad that no one makes a nice, compact, perhaps recumbent, peddle power machine…as far as I can tell. Please post comments if you know of any technologies in this direction, have any experiences with peddle power, etc. I have ridden two demo peddle power bikes that light light bulbs, and it wasn’t easy. I think I remember two CFLs at maybe 20 to 40 watts total (depending on which ones they used) being about the limit of my sustainable power generating ability.

As I work on the master plan for the 4-plex, a common area with peddle-power movie watching set up would be a feature. This is very long range, as it requires the addition/renovation to a much larger common area than I have.

Global Day of Action for the Climate

In celebration of tomorrow, which is Global Day of Action for the Climate, I recommend to you two brilliant, and worthwhile videos to watch (although I’ve already emailed them to the majority of my viewers 🙂 )
This one is very quick and catchy
This one is precise, artistically and scientifically rich, but very understandable

Enjoy and take action!!

I have used one of the plethora of online carbon footprint calculators to find that my building accounts for 28 tons of CO2 emissions per year. My personal footprint is about 7.3 tons (almost half of which is from my share of the building energy use assuming (simply and not totally true) that each resident uses an equal amount of energy). I buy greentags to offset about 8.3 tons per year. I would rather not cause those emissions in the first place. My greentags support wind development. I know of others for other renewable energy development and for tree planting. Anybody know of greentags to support efficiency measures? Of course, no reason to buy those until I’ve already spent the money to upgrade my own life as much as possible! Which is an argument against the wind greentags in the first place until I’ve done everything I can in my own life. I’m contemplating a plan to be carbon neutral in 10 years or somesuch, like various other entities. Such a plan would be fairly easy if I let myself off the hook by buying greentags. Instead I’d like to concentrate on my own efficiency first.

Purchase in my neighborhood!

I was just reading about the Enright Ridge Urban Ecovillage in Cincinnati and I had a thought: any of you reading this that live or want to live in Anchorage and are interested in green community – purchase a property along 30th ave between Spenard and Arctic! There are at least 3 to choose from, if I remember the ‘For Sale’ signs correctly. Some are ugly or big, all are multifamily, but they should be relatively affordable. Remodel to suit yourself – make a shabby, small 4-plex into a beautiful, green, townhouse-style duplex if you need space. No one to make footstep noises above you and the shared wall will save energy! Then, when we’ve more or less taken over the block we can work together to make it a happy, green neighborhood – produce our own newsletter, put in a sidewalk, a park, put parking in one spot and gardens in another, become a non-profit, plant lots of trees, buy energy saving devices in bulk, start our own coffee shop or natural food store or whatever, share our experiences…the possibilities are endless!!