Create a workplace and residence that are friendly to your body and the environment? Of course. Everyone wants it. Yet nowadays the sheer number of green options, along with their initial cost outlay, can scare off even the most ardent tree hugger.
“What we really need are ways to provide green, sustainable structures that everyone can understand and afford,” says Tim Razzaq, founder of We Are Building Open Opportunity Structures Together, (WeAreBOOST.org.) And that’s exactly what Razzaq and his crew are doing.
Through a series of seminars and workshops throughout central Jersey, We Are BOOST is bringing practical sustainability discussions to business folk and the public — the next of which is to be held at the restaurant of a true green convert.
From their fresh herb garden in back to the energy efficiency techniques, Elizabeth Acevedo and Pedro Gomez, owners’ of Beanwood Coffee on Farnsworth Avenue, in Bordentown have made a commitment to the environment. We Are BOOST hosts its next seminar on Saturday, August 29, at 11 a.m. at Beanwood. The event features Ira Eisenstein of Strictly Business Inspections, 401 Crest Stone Circle, who will speak on green building techniques, and Chantay Harris, owner of Green House Environmental Services in Berlin, who will discuss sustainable maintenance. Cost: free. Visit www.weareboost.org.
Eisenstein brings an engineer’s practicality and an entrepreneur’s thrift to his energy saving solutions. Growing up in a six-story Brooklyn walkup, he quips, prepared him perfectly for his life as a building inspector who traipses continuously through structures of all levels. Eisenstein attended City College of New York, graduating in 1972 with a degree that covered electrical engineering and the burgeoning field of computer science.
Finding a ready market for his then-rare computer skills, Eisenstein helped establish systems in a series of firms including New York Life, Paramount Pictures, International Paper, and RCA. Later, as work dried up, Eisenstein got a job with an insurance company, learning as he went the trade of commercial inspector. “It wasn’t long before clients began asking me to privately inspect properties they sought to buy,” he recalls.
By 2003 Eisenstein formed Strictly Business Inspection, which today is a one-man, one-stop inspection for everything from mold, radon, structural soundness, and termites, to energy efficiency and audits.
Eisenstein bills himself as someone “providing nonstandard answers to standard problems.” Recently a client led Eisenstein into a cellar with a massive, old, asbestos-insulated furnace from which spread a web of asbestos-insulated pipes. The man had been quoted a cleanup and asbestos removal cost of several thousand dollars, during which time he would have to leave the house. Instead, Eisenstein had the man encase his pipes in wood frame and sheet rock. Likewise, the boiler was housed in an inexpensive sheet rock, insulated cabinet with a tight seal at the door. Total cost for a home handyman: less than $200. “It’s the same with green answers,” says Eisenstein. “You have to think.”
Attacking the source. No matter how high the Energy Star rating of your oil or gas furnace, changing the filters often and scheduling annual cleanings will save a bundle of bucks and BTUs.
Sizing might also be as important as efficiency numbers. “Most furnaces are designed to carry the peak load of the structure during the coldest weather,” says Eisenstein. “By getting a furnace that’s smaller and running it almost continuously, the rooms’ temperature stays relatively high and can less expensively raise the few degrees required to meet cold weather.” The larger furnace, resting more often, may have to begin its heating from a lower temperature, and thus burn more fuel.
To insulate pipes and ducts, or not to insulate, is always a question. Rule of thumb states that if you want a warm cellar, leave the pipes exposed. But if you want all that lovely heat going only into the upper house, insulate all the way to the radiator. “One of folks’ biggest losses comes from uncovered air conditioning attic ducts,” says Eisenstein. “Nobody wants to cool their attic, so insulate that sheet metal.”
Radiators tend to become unintentionally rendered less effective with time. Each coat of paint designed to spruce up that baseboard adds a remarkably efficient insulating layer, separating the room from the radiator’s heat. Keeping carpeting an inch away room baseboard radiators will also allow for required airflow.
In the room. “I am not a believer in suffering,” laughs Eisenstein. “You don’t have to set the thermostat to 60 degrees and shiver to achieve energy efficiency.” Ceiling fans blow the rising hot air down to body level, just as fireplace fans pass the fire’s heat into the room. For summer, nothing helps delay turning on the air conditioning as much as a large, in-ceiling fan.
There is no need to heat the entire house to that comfy level for sedentary times. Installing a tiny electric heater in the bed room or home office will keep you toasty at work or asleep, while the thermostat can be set lower for the house overall. Humidifiers also maximize the effect of both heat and air conditioning, as well as making the atmosphere more lung-friendly.
Plugging leaks. You might think you’ve got all the insulation spots covered, but see how you stand on Eisenstein’s “Major Insulator Neglect” list. Did you insulate the ceiling over the garage, as well as the rest of the house? The garage/inside wall? How about an inch think of solid foam over that plywood, pull-down attic door? Is that wonderful blown-in insulation more than 10 years old? If so, particularly with cellulose, it has probably started to sag down to the wall bottoms, leaving the top half of the walls frigidly hollow.
Double-glazed windows often provide a sticker shock as high as their insulative value. “For a lot less cash and the same protection, outfit your current windows with some outside storm windows, tightly fitting and well caulked,” suggests Eisenstein. The energy payback should come within two years. Sliding glass doors come in double, even triple panes, but look at the track. If it’s metal, you have a beautiful conduit of cold air into your building. Don’t replace the tracks. Rather, get some quarter-round molding and for a few cents a foot insulate that conductive metal, and decorate the track in one step.
Breathing green and clean. Once you have finally built yourself into an insulated thermos, every chemical you bring in tends to stay trapped inside — for good or ill. This indoor air is where seminar speaker Chantay Harris preaches her gospel of cleaning green for health.
Certain common cleaners are known to carry toxins, such as ammonia and chlorine bleach. “If the warning label says keep away from skin and eyes, keep it out of the house as well,” says Harris. Don’t think the fumes or trace elements of these poisons magically disappear from air and counters once you are finished scrubbing. If you have any doubts about any household material or brand, you can look up its properties on the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) website: www.ehso.com/msds.php.
“You cannot safely select according to brand or stated claims,” says Harris. “You must read the labels.” Look for terms like ph 7 — this is the approximate acidity level of water — which is very safe. Look for “Biodegradable.” There are amply effective soaps and cleansers that don’t permanently poison our water supply. Also, go with chemicals whose names you understand, such as citrus, vinegar, and baking soda. Harris washes all of her dishes in a simple, thrifty solution of baking soda and water, an excellent degreaser.
The old cotton dishrag has got to go, says Harris. Replace these germ-spreaders with a series of micro-fiber cloths: white for steel and chrome, blue for glass, red for all-purpose use. You might not see it, but things will be a lot more free of bacteria.
Some of these green fix-its actually might be fun. Others are onerous, but you’ll delight in the payback. And of course, there is the satisfaction that you are not passing onto your children a carelessly ravaged planet. The green revolution need not take place at your home in a single weekend. But like any journey, one step at a time covers a lot of distance.