Sunday, January 1, 2012

Hot days

Today the temperature is forecast to reach 40 degrees Celsius.  Most people I know, nearly all of them, would complain about the heat and not do much because of it. Sure, it's not nice to be warmer than you like and not being about to escape it, but most people I know also sit in air-conditioned homes, cars, offices, shops, cinemas, etc.    Fact is, it's only going to get hotter, and instead of relying on stuffy, sickly air-conditioning to keep you happy, learning to deal with the heat will be more valuable in the long run, and less power intensive.

I think this is a good opportunity to take a moment to consider how you might be able to make the situation better.  Review your surroudings. Could you reduce the heat gain in your building?  Major steps could be to increase insulation, add eaves over windows, replace single glazing with double glazing, paint the roof white.
Some minor steps could be increase shading to windows, heavier curtains, external blinds, umbrellas.  Close blinds and curtains before the sun gets too high.  Try to cut out glare reflecting off outside surfaces.  Close rooms off that aren't going to be used.

When the sun has dropped, open up the house.  It may be still 25 degrees outside, but if its 30 inside some cross ventilation will be helpful.  Open up windows and doors fully and try to get any breeze to cross through the rooms.  Windows higher up will let out hot air that has risen.  A fan may assist blowing out the hot air.

Think about ways to keep cool before turning on the air-conditioner.   Fans to move air about make you feel cooler. Wet towels to cool the face, hands and feet.  Lighter clothing, lots of water and moving less.

Personally I follow what the animals do. I prefer to be outside, in an open and shady spot where I have fresh air and can feel a breeze, even doing something to distract me from the heat.  Inside with or without air-conditioning is too stuffy and makes me lethargic, and then nothing gets done.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Renting is not the end of the world

Despite being a renter all of my adult life, I have not let this hold me back from making changes around the home to reduce my environmental impact.
Most landlords are pretty accepting of minor changes, so long as you're paying. It pays off for the renter as it can reduce your service bills.
In most of the places I've rented I've used temporary measures to make my living quaters more comfortable.  For a north-facing living space without eaves I bought an umbrella to put up on hot days to block out the sun. Combined with a flyscreen "blind" over the double doors allowed the breeze into the house but not the insects.  The blind also allowed the cat to come and go as he pleased.
In our current abode I have put curtains up over all the north facing windows, with the landlords permission. This is additional to venetian blinds.  We've let the bush in front of the living room grow to cut out the sun and visibility from the street. 
In addition to the venetians & curtains in the spare room, which has north facing glass slidng door with no eave, I've added a bamboo blind externally for the hot days.  
Here the umbrella has come in handy to give additional shade on hot days to my worms and herbs (and the bbq chef!)
In every house I have taken with me removable filters that reduce the flow on your taps.  These are easy to install if you have a wrench to remove the existing tap head. Be careful not to scratch it though, use a cloth if necessary.  Often you can also find free new showerheads from your local council. Either way, not such a big outlay even if you leave them behind.
Having a bucket handy next to the shower, and next to the sink for washing vegetables/rising means I can either top up the toilet cistern or use on my herbs.  I also keep my watering tank under the overflow from the hot water heater.
We have a south facing courtyard with 2 storeys on 3 sides, so I don't have a lot of sun here to work with, but this suits most herbs, lettuce and my chillis have taken off. 
On the balcony I get sun, but sometimes too much, so I move the pots around on hot days.  I also forget to water out here during the week, so I set reminders on my computer diary.
There are more ways than one to adapt your temporary home.  Some may cost a little, but they can also be removable so you can take them with you when you go.  Each building is unique, so if you're stuck for ideas ou can yseek some advice from the Glass INUiT.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Carpet, is it worth it?

I was reading a blog by someone who is building their house as sustainable as they can afford, and the issues they had with choosing a carpet.  There aren't a lot of environmentally friendly options in Australia, from my experience as a commercial and residential architect.  Sure a lot of companies use sustainable materials where possible, reduce their production impact, and have started take-back schemes. The latter is great, but only works if the company is still around in 20 years, and previous owners pass on to new ones the company details for when they eventually rip it up.
Carpet is also driven by trends, so old styles can look dated and may never get purchased.
Carpet cleaners use nasty chemicals, natural materials in carpets can stain, glues may be used for installation. It goes on.

I believe the best option these days may be to have a hard floor surface, such as concrete or bamboo floorboards so you get the benefit of thermal mass, and add rugs! Rugs are great, moveable, washable, add warmth and colour.  They can be made in small communities, purchased from fair trade organisations and keep quality handmade skills alive!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Unhealthy Foods

Often we forget about what we're putting into our mouths, because we get hungry, have cravings and often need to grab something to eat fast. 
If you can spend a little time to learn new habits it will be rewarding. By spending time, I mean do a little research on alternative foods and ways to cook.  The first time you go to the shop to buy something new, look at what is made from and where it was made. The next time you go back you will already know to just grab the better item from the shelf.
Not sure about switching from cheap vegetable oil for your cooking? Well bigger supermarkets now have alternatives that will make you feel so much better - look for rice bran oil, coconut oil or ghee.
Realised your margarine or spread contains a lot of things you don't like - think about returning to plain butter - and watch out for those that say they're spreadable butter but add more than just cream to make it soft.
Here is an interesting blog on the subject.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fair@Square - Fair Trade

Looking forward to this festival, to learn more about how to buy fair traded products.

There are many items people really don't think about much, that mean the people growing, making or supplying the products get a really bad deal and unfair pay.  If they bought a product with the fair-trade logo would mean the producers and makers would get a much better deal:
I now refuse to buy chocolate, coffee, tea or cotton without this logo.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


2 or 3 small items (like a magazine, a bag of chips, a t-shirt, a new dvd, etc.) can be carried in the hand easily to your car/home/office.  
You don’t need the bag to carry your lunch & chopsticks from the shop. Soft drinks are designed to be held in the hand not in a bag.

Some of us cart around handbags that could easily accommodate a small re-useable & washable bag.
Say no thanks or I don’t need a bag before, during or after they give it to you. It saves the retailer money too.
Do you know plastic is made from oil – more plastic can help push up the price of petrol!

‘Greenhouse emissions can be cut by reducing plastic bag use

A 2006 Australian Bureau of Statistics article revealed that the nation consumes approximately 6.9 billion plastic bags, or 36,850 tonnes of plastic, each year, which equates to just under one bag per person per day.  Although requiring less energy than a paper bag to manufacture, recycled plastic bags and fabric bags such as calico compare more favourably.  If one person using 520 plastic shopping bags per year switched to calico bags they would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 3.6 kg in a year.’ 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Too many people

Interesting documentary on recently, by Sir David Attenborough, about the growth of human population and it's impact on the earth.
I couldn't agree more, there are too many people on this planet to live sustainably.  At the rate we're growing there won't be much left for the human race to use and enjoy - water, land, biodiversity.  This is my main reason for not having my own children, and it is a hard topic to bring up with all my friends and family who want the enjoyment of spawning and raising their own kids.

My question to them is, do you want to bring children into this dying world, especially when your having a family makes such an impact?  Harsh I know, which is why I've never asked one of them this question directly.
Their answer may be, why do I have to forfeit having kids to save the earth, when there are so many people in third world countries having large families?  Shouldn't they abstain?
Every person has the right to have their own child, it is the most natural thing on earth so why should someone be denied the right.

As Sir David pointed out, education is the key. The underprivileged should be given access to education and to basic medical facilities, to improve their knowledge and reduce birth rates.  Absolutely, every person should also have this right.

But I do not believe this will solve the issue. The rate of consumption in the rich countries is appalling, and could be better utilised. However the more people with access to consumerist society, the increase in use of our natural resources.  There are too many rich people in this world, this is the problem

Sometimes I get mad, although I am not maternal I have given up the pleasure of having kids to reduce the human population, and put my life's work into improving our environmental impact, but not for myself, for the greater good of people and all those that do get to enjoy raising children, and their children and so on.  Yet these people who will benefit from my actions, do they care?