Rain Barrels Save Water and the Environment

What’s happening in California provides further evidence that water is a limited resource. Overuse not only hurts the environment. It also hurts those who live in it. According to a Tampa Bay Times article, rain barrels can be an effective solution for conserving water.



Choosing the Right Rain Barrel


Choosing the Right Rain BarrelYour best choice depends on your budget, space, and to a lesser degree, your sense of style. Whether you search online or head to your local gardening shop, you should find a good selection available. Be careful to check the measurements of both the barrel and the space it will occupy. Prices typically start at more than $100. If cost is an issue, you can find directions for creating your own at DIY Network.



Placement of Your Rain Barrel


Placement of Your Rain BarrelSince a typical summer rainstorm can easily fill most rain barrels and cause overflow, make sure you place yours in an area that can effectively drain water – without ruining your home’s foundation in the process. Some barrels have overflow spouts allowing you to direct the drainage.


Be careful not to block a sidewalk or frequently used area. A full rain barrel can be extremely difficult to move.



Using Water from a Rain Barrel


Using Water from a Rain BarrelThe captured water needs to be easily accessible. In most cases, this will mean dunking a watering can into the barrel. If your barrel has a spigot, make sure a reasonably sized can will fit underneath the valve.



Safety Precautions


Safety PrecautionsIt’s important to have some type of screen closure covering the top of your rain barrel – preferably one that latches. The goal is to keep mosquitoes out and children safe. Don’t create an environment where mosquitoes can lay eggs, or children could endanger themselves. You’ll find additional safety tips here.



No Effort Is Too Small


No Effort Is Too SmallEven a little water collection is better than none. Returning groundwater to the ground – while bypassing our overworked sewage system – is a win-win for the environment and its inhabitants – especially those who like to flush their toilets frequently.


Stars in the Fight Against Climate Change

As global warming and climate change continues to be an important issue and an increasingly prevalent part of the American conversation, here’s a look at some of its main activists.



In Hollywood


In HollywoodWhile there are too many Hollywood stars to name that are devoted to this issue, one stands above the rest because of his recent Oscar win as best actor. Leonardo Di Caprio has been acting for decades and finally won the grand prize this year. But he devoted almost all of his acceptance speech (broadcasted to the masses) to a message about climate change: “Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.” Watch the whole speech in the clip below.



In Washington, DC


In Washington DCSen. Bernie Sanders shares Leonardo’s view. Of the 2016 presidential candidates, he is by far the most dedicated to this issue, calling climate change “the single greatest threat facing our planet.” His solution? To invest in clean energy and create millions of jobs. In contrast, Donald Trump tweeted in 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Here’s a recent NBC News story that gives an overview about how all of the presidential candidates feel about global warming and climate change.



Around the World


Around the WorldOne of the leading organizations that’s fighting climate change is 350.org, with an emphasis on uniting activists from around the world and implementing grass roots initiatives. One of its biggest fights in the U.S. was against the Keystone XL pipeline. According to Moyers & Company, 350.org was named for “what climate scientists say is the safe concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — 350 parts per million (ppm). (We’ve now passed 400 ppm.)”


If you want to join the fight, here are some simple things you can do from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.


Wonders of Recycling: Plastic-Bottle Homes

According to EcoWatch, Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year. So it’s good to know that there are now initiatives around the world that are building houses out of plastic water bottles.



Recycled Home Sweet Home


Recycled Home Sweet HomeEcotech developed the technique to build solid walls out of water bottles. The bottles are filled with sand and stacked sideways, then bound together with mud or cement. TakePart’s article reports that the structures are “well insulated, incredibly strong (20 times stronger than brick), fire resistant, and even bulletproof. A typical two-bedroom home with a toilet, a kitchen, and a living room requires 14,000 plastic bottles and costs a quarter of what a conventional house would.”



Community Initiatives in Developing Countries


Community Initiatives in Developing CountriesWhile the price is right, there is still much effort required by many people to collect bottles and fill them with sand. But the technique has proved to be successful in many developing countries with large homeless populations. Ecotech projects have organized clean-up campaigns and recycling drives within communities.


Locals also help to fill the bottles with sand and those who are unemployed and handicapped are trained to do the construction. In addition to homes, Ecotech has used water bottles to build everything from schools and community centers to water tanks and urban benches.


Check out these pictures from InspirationGreen.com to see plastic-bottle homes, offices, buildings, greenhouses, and other structures in Honduras, Bolivia, Africa, Serbia, Taiwan, Argentina, and Tokyo. There’s even a picture of a bottle wall constructed in the world-famous Morimoto restaurant in New York City. It was made with 17,400 plastic bottles!



More Plastic Facts from Eco Watch


Before you go, here are a few more surprising facts about plastic.


  • Over the last 10 years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
  • Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.
  • The production of plastic uses around eight percent of the world’s oil production.
  • It takes 500 to 1,000 years for plastic to degrade.

Get the complete list of facts here.


Cool Roofs

Made of reflective paint, tiles, or shingles, a cool roof can stay more than 30 percent cooler than a standard dark roof by reflecting more sunlight and absorbing less heat. So it can help you lower your air-conditioning costs and conserve energy. Pretty cool, huh?



Cool Benefits


Cool BenefitsWhen many buildings in a community have cool roofs, it can lesson what is called the “urban heat island effect,” which is the phenomenon of buildings soaking up the sun’s radiation and then re-radiating that heat after sundown. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lowering the amount of energy used to cool buildings “reduces local air temperatures; lowers peak electricity demand, which can help prevent power outages; and reduces power plant emissions, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and mercury.”



Cool Savings


Cool SavingsMany types of cool roofs are the same price as standard roofs and some utility companies offer rebates. Beyond that, you’ll enjoy savings from a lower air-conditioning bill year after year. You can also receive up to $500 in a federal tax credit for a cool roof. Learn more about this federal tax credit.



Cool Roof Types


Cool Roof TypesThere are many different cool roof systems for both existing and new roofs. They all use thick coatings with reflective pigments. Some also offer restorative features and water protection. The Cool Roof Rating Council is a nonprofit organization that was created to conduct third-party tests and give accurate ratings on cool roof systems. You can search their online Rated Products Directory to compare options and find the cool roof that meets your needs. Check it out – it’s free!



Cool Walls, Too


Cool WallsYou can also use reflective paint on your exterior walls to cool your house – especially if you live in a warm climate. These “cool paints” are on the Federal Energy Management Program’s Promising Technologies List, which prioritizes technologies that help save energy but are underused.


3 Great Energy Conservation Websites for Kids

If you’re passionate about conserving energy and protecting our planet, one way you can help is by teaching the younger generation about energy conservation. These fun, interactive websites were created especially for kids and are filled with information about energy conservation. Pass on these links to the kids in your life.





energystar.gov.kidsFrom “The Quickest Ever Slideshow on Global Warming” to fun facts, this colorful site is filled with engaging activities and information. To show kids how they can save energy every day, it features a typical kid’s bedroom with interactive stars on items (click on “You Can Make Big Changes”). When you click on different stars, a window opens up to show how you can save energy with that particular item. Another neat feature is a section for parents and teachers (click on any internal page to see the gray “Parents & Teachers” tab on the bottom of the right side of the page) where you can download games and activities.





eia.gov.kidsThis website from the U.S. Energy Information Administration also acts as a resource for teachers, providing a whole range of energy lessons across all subjects and grade levels. In addition to giving all the basic information on energy, it offers a wealth of games and activities, including riddles, puzzles, and quizzes. Kids can learn about the latest adventures of “Energy Ant,” who travels all over the country on different energy field trips.





epa.gov.climatechange.kidsThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers “A Student’s Guide to Global Climate Change” on this informative website. Kids are invited to go on climate change expeditions around the world where they watch videos to learn about different issues and complete challenges. They’re also invited to calculate their own emissions with an interactive calculator. These are just two of the exciting experiences that help kids learn about climate change, its effects, and ways they can save energy to help stop it.


Report Shows How Ultra High-Definition TVs Drain Energy

You wouldn’t think that one little word, ultra, would make such a big difference. But it turns out that going from a High-Definition (HD) TV to an Ultra High-Definition (UHD) TV does make a difference – a $1 billion difference according to a new report from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).



Ultra Costs


Ultra CostsBasically, that would be the additional annual cost to U.S. viewers’ utility bills if everyone switched to UHD TVs without the energy-efficient bells and whistles. However, there are some UHD models, such as those that are ENERGY STAR certified, that are just as efficient as the HD TVs. But since there are no regulations in place enforcing those efficiencies for all of the UHD TVs, there are many that use almost one-third more energy on average.


“The national energy and environmental consequences of the transition to UHD TV will be profound unless the TV manufacturing industry devotes sufficient time and resources to improve the efficiency of the TVs brought to market,” explains senior scientist Noah Horowitz, director of NRDC’s Center for Energy Efficiency. “The good news is that there are steps consumers, manufacturers, and policymakers can take to make sure our newest-generation televisions are not needlessly wasting energy.”



What Consumers Can Do


What Consumers Can DoIf you’re thinking about buying a UHD TV, the simplest thing you can do is buy an ENERGY STAR certified one. You can shop using filters on the Find and Compare Products section of ENERGY STAR’S website. If you already own a UHD TV, make sure to enable the Automatic Brightness Control. If your UHD TV is connected to the Internet, turn off the quick start feature, which will stop the standby power from being used, which can add up to considerable energy use. There are probably other electronics and appliances throughout your home that are also drawing unnecessary energy. To learn more, read “Save Energy by Slaying Vampire Power.”


Shining Innovations for LED Lighting

New advanced products and lower prices continue to make LED lights a no-brainer for conserving energy. One new standout bulb is the 9.5-watt Cree LED Soft White, a 2016 Top Ten Reviews Gold award-winner, which lasts for up to 22.8 years! For just $7.97 a pop! The manufacturer, Cree, made Fast Company’s list of Most Innovative Companies 2015 for its breakthrough LED lighting technology.



The Incandescent Light Bulb’s More Energy-Efficient Twin


The Incandescent Light Bulb’s More Energy-Efficient TwinCree’s new 9.5-watt LED Soft White looks just like a traditional bulb. It fits into standard-size outlets. And it operates just as a traditional bulb would – lights immediately in all directions and dims without buzzing. But it uses up to 84% less energy, which earned it the trusted ENERGY STAR certification. Cree chief marketing officer Betty Noonan explains, “As a company on a mission for 100 percent LED adoption, we take pride in being risk-takers and disrupting the lighting industry with breakthrough, innovative products.”


To see how much money you can save with Cree LED bulbs, check out their savings calculator.



Dazzling Impact


Dazzling ImpactThe U.S. Department of Energy’s 2014 LED adoption report shines a light on just how impactful LED lighting can be to saving energy and money:

“Annual source energy savings from LEDs in 2014 were approximately 143 tBtu (equivalent to a cost savings of about $1.4 billion), but would have approached 4,896 tBtu (saving $49 billion) if all applications had switched “overnight” to the best-available LEDs.”


Indeed, more and more communities around the world are adopting LED lighting. For example, according to CleanTechnica, India is replacing all of its street lights with LED ones in the next two years. The projected annual savings of switching the 35 million street lights is “9000 million kWh of electricity annually, worth over $850 million.”



For even more bright ideas, see how you can save energy with solar lights, too.


SolePower: Making Strides for a More Energy-Efficient World

Similar to AMPY, SolePower is another new offering in the realm of wearable technology that turns your movement into power for your smartphone. With SolePower, simply walking generates power through a shoe insole (“EnSole”) that hooks to a charger (“PowerPac”), which is easily attached to your shoelaces. You can charge your mobile devices through the PowerPac’s USB port.


How It Works


According to SolePower founder Hahna Alexander in an interview with Smithsonian, SolePower holds a unique position in this growing field of energy harvesting technology: “One hour of walk time with a pair of EnSoles provides 2.5 hours of talk time on a smartphone. There is no personal power generator on the market that can match both the EnSole’s power output potential and low-profile and seamless integration with the user’s natural motion…every step you take is a step closer to a full battery.”



Multitasking At Its Finest


Multitasking-At-Its-FinestWith SolePower, you can get some exercise, create power to charge your smartphone, and help conserve energy all at the same time. It’s no wonder SolePower made BuzzFeed’s “27 Reasons It’s the Greatest Time to Be Alive.” That’s one of the more lighthearted articles covering SolePower. It also garnered attention from the likes of Popular Science (winning one of the magazine’s coveted 2014 Invention Awards), Forbes, The Huffington Post, and dozens more. (See all the press coverage here.) It was enough to earn SolePower $60,000 in just 45 days on Kickstarter.com and thousands of pre-orders.



Powering the Future: Energy Harvesting


Powering-the-FutureSolePower and AMPY are just two start-ups who are making breakthroughs in this field, and there are many more on the horizon of this seemingly science fiction world. But according to Wearable Technologies, “energy-harvesting wearables have been around for many years. Automatic watches have been converting the energy from arm movements for a while now and Seiko has even invented an electromagnetic generator that powers its quartz watches by its wearers’ physical movements.” The difference now is that our devices are more sophisticated and require more energy to run, so some of the innovations in the future will be focused on solar cells, thermoelectric harvesting, and piezoelectric harvesting. If I lost you at “solar cells,” you’re not alone. For the complete explanation of all of this fascinating technology, check out “Energy Harvesting for Wearables.”


Energy-Efficient Clothes Dryers Make a Big Impact

​According to the EPA, dryers use more energy than any other appliance in a household. This coupled with the fact that dryers are in 80 percent of American homes means more efficient dryers could make a huge impact on saving energy. While advancements in washers have resulted in dramatic drops in energy use over the years, more energy-efficient dryer options have only recently become available. Early in 2015 the EPA announced that new Energy Star-certified dryers were available across the U.S. from major brands like Kenmore and Maytag. These dryers are at least 20 percent more efficient than conventional dryers but most are comparable in price.

The EPA provides a pretty compelling snapshot of the energy-saving possibilities:


“If all residential clothes dryers sold in the U.S. were Energy Star-certified, Americans could save $1.5 billion each year in utility costs and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to the electricity use from more than 1.3 million homes.”


The specifications for Energy Star-certified dryers are set by collecting information from a number of different groups, from manufacturers to the U.S. Department of Energy. Most of the dryers meet the requirements by shutting off when clothes are dry, which is detectable through advanced sensors. Some of the Energy Star-certified dryers boast energy efficiency that surpasses conventional models by up to 60 percent. These dryers’ advanced technology use heat pumps to recycle the hot air.



Find An Energy Star-Certified Dryer


Find An Energy Star-Certified DryerThe Energy Star website has a page where you can learn about all of the certified dryers. The page makes it easy to shop, from the ability to filter your search and compare models and their features side by side. The site also has a number of other helpful tools in your search for an Energy Star-certified dryer:


Store Locators – where you can find Energy Star-certified dryers in your area
Special offers – find rebates and other special offers in your area
Video – watch the “Ask the Expert” video about Energy Star-certified dryers


If you’re not in the market for a dryer at this point, you can still take the Energy Star pledge and learn about other ways to save energy in your home.


Become an Energy Conservation Advocate

There are endless ways you can be an advocate for energy conservation, from simple, energy-saving tasks that you can do every day to spreading the word to family and friends by, perhaps, sharing this blog. (Please do!) But there’s also a lot you can do at the government level and there’s an organization in Washington, D.C. called Alliance To Save Energy (ASE) that makes it easier than ever to get involved.



Explore ASE.org


Explore ASE.orgLog onto ASE.org, go to the Get Involved page, and click on the Take Action box. There you’ll find information on important initiatives that you can contact your government officials about, whether it’s your congressmen, governor or state representatives. Each initiative has a page with the pertinent information and statistics surrounding it, making it easy to understand. You’ll also find a “Legislator Lookup” box on the right side of the page that lists all of the legislators in your area and their contact information.


The ASE also provides several ways for you to stay informed. Alerts about the latest initiatives and how you can help can be emailed right to your inbox. You can also sign up to receive the latest news on issues that are important to you. Their News and Resources page gives you access to their newsroom, blog, energy conservation issues that are trending on social media, and much more.



Energy 2030


Energy 2030You can also learn more about their grassroots approach, Energy 2030. They’ll be visiting a total of 12 states throughout 2015/16 to drum up support for their energy policy recommendations. Energy 2030’s goal is to double energy production in the U.S. by 2030. Their mission also aims to lower energy costs, create jobs, lower imports, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


So check it out and up your game on energy conservation. ASE makes it easy to become a part of the movement. You may even be able to eventually call yourself a bona fide activist. Mother Nature thanks you in advance.