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Consider Adding Insulation this Fall

Posted on August 16, 2017 by | Comments Off

insulationAdding attic insulation is one of the most cost-effective home improvements you can make. But it is not part of many homeowners’ to-do lists because many homes already have some insulation in place. Unfortunately, the amount they have is not enough to take full advantage of the energy-saving capabilities of attic insulation.

How Do I Shop for Insulation?

Recommended insulation levels are based on climate. You can find the recommended R-values for your area by checking here. Insulation amounts are listed in R-values rather than inches. R-value indicates the material’s resistance to heat flow. The higher the number, the more resistance. Insulation products have their R-values listed on the product packaging so that you can compare one product with another.

You will see that the table lists R-values for both uninsulated attics and those that have a few inches of insulation already in place. Most homes will fall into the second category. In general, if you can see the tops of the ceiling joists, you need to add more insulation.

Do-It-Yourself or Do-It-for-Me?

Insulating an attic is one of those jobs that is trickier than it looks. Most homeowners fail to see the connection between insulating and air sealing, which is the plugging of openings that allow heated or air-conditioned air from the living area to escape to the attic. And there are a lot of openings, including those created by flues and chimneys, ducts, electrical and plumbing lines and recessed light fixtures. Many are hard to find, especially if there is some insulation in place. Insulation and air sealing work together to make an attic energy efficient, because each technique stops a different type of heat flow.

Attics that are uncluttered can be insulated with fiberglass or rock wool batts or blankets. But if there are obstructions or unusual angles, you may need a loose-fill material, such as blown-in fiberglass or cellulose. These require special equipment and should be left to a professional contractor to ensure even coverage and a consistent R-value throughout the space.

Another area that may require a pro’s expertise are recessed lights that have their housings in the attic.  Old style “can” lights should not be covered with insulation. A contractor can set up safe ways to block the insulation as well as other alternatives.

Installers also need to consider ventilation. The attic space above the insulation should be ventilated so that any moisture laden air that makes its way from the living space to the attic is exhausted to the outside. There are a few ways to obtain adequate ventilation, including using a combination of ridge and soffit vents. But if the airflow is blocked because the insulation is installed incorrectly, condensation could occur, leading to wet insulation, which is worthless, or structural damage. Discuss your ventilation options with a qualified insulation contractor.

Installing attic insulation saves energy and money, but only if it is installed correctly.

Guest blog submitted by Fran Donegan, a DIY-for-the-home authority who writes on energy-saving tips for The Home Depot.

Posted in: Energy Saving & Cooling, Household tips

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Suffolk School Takes Recycling Beyond The Bin

Posted on June 30, 2017 by | Comments Off

The Recycling Club at John Yeates Middle School in Suffolk is impressive to say the least. The club formed in the fall of 2016 when the school received an askHRgreen.org environmental education mini grant to start a recycling program. Made up of 12 students, with guidance from teachers, Ms. Sabrina Hayes and Ms. Lauren Rubash, they have been busy rolling out and managing the school’s recycling program. They have also given a recycling presentation to a manager at a local fast food chain that isn’t currently recycling, they’ve raised funds for their program, and now they are managing and maintaining a school garden complete with compost area and a rain barrel. Assistant Principal Dr. Wendy Van Housen has been instrumental in all of these activities, including applying for the mini grant. For her leadership and efforts, Dr. Van Housen won the askHRgreen Environmental Action Award back in February. As the Regional Recycling and Beautification Committee representative for Suffolk, I stopped by the school to see the newly-installed garden and catch up with Dr. Van Housen as the students are out on summer break.

JohnYeatesBefore&AfterDr. Van Housen and the school principal, Dr. Shawn Green, led me to their beautiful new courtyard garden. It was very impressive, and when Dr. Van Housen showed me how it looked before the makeover, I was curious to know how they did such a wonderful job in the middle of a busy school semester. 

As part of the school’s Earth Day (week) celebrations, Dr. Van Housen reached out to two businesses known for their community involvement, Lowes and Smuckers. She asked them for help with rejuvenating their school courtyard which she referred to as, “an eyesore.” The manager of Lowes, Steve Poole, agreed to help with the project by supplying tools and lending 12 employees. In addition, they supplied 400 bags of soil, 300 bags of mulch, and 200 bags of marble rock. More than 30 planks of wood were cut to build benches and lay the foundation for a rock path. Smuckers manager, Keith Hightower, also agreed to help and organized 9 employees to join the effort and contributed Chick-fil-A lunches for everyone involved. It took only two days to turn the courtyard around, installing three raised beds, a variety of benches, and a composting area. A remarkable team effort! 

JohnBYeates4Now that it’s built, The Recycling Club is managing and maintaining it. They are already harvesting cucumbers with peppers, carrots, and tomatoes on the way. Over the course of the summer, some of the teachers and supporting staff will help with maintenance until the students return. Dr. Van Housen told me how the cooking teacher had already visited the garden to teach the students about fresh food and in the new school year, there will be plenty of opportunities for other teachers to use the garden as a learning experience. Next year, they are planning to begin composting, install their rain barrel, and paint the benches with their school colors.

JohnYeatesAfterIt is amazing to think that a year ago the school did not have a recycling program or a recycling club and now they are looking to harvest rain water and begin composting. Before I left, I asked Dr. Van Housen if everybody at the school was recycling to which she replied, “Many students are recycling but not everybody just yet; however, everybody is aware of recycling. The school is making progress and we are excited to encourage our students to think about their environmental impact.”

 Blog post contributed by Wayne Jones, Litter Control Coordinator with the City of Suffolk.

Posted in: For educators, Gardening, Going Green, Lawn and landscape, Reduce reuse and recycle, Uncategorized, Using water wisely

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Composting: A Lazy Gardener’s Guide

Posted on June 13, 2017 by | Comments Off

If you’re an avid gardener, you’re probably familiar with home composting. The premise is simple; mix kitchen scraps with a bunch of leaves or straw in a bin to make a rich, organic fertilizer for your plants. It’s green! It’s economical! It’s easy! Or so they say.

I love home-grown vegetables. Specifically tomatoes, because I’ve found the ones available in grocery stores to be nothing short of inedible. I’m also known to grow epic corn, eggplants, artichokes, lettuces, kale, cucumbers, potatoes, watermelons, zucchini, blackberries, herbs and green beans. The point is this: I’m good at growing things. The secret to my success? Good soil and a laid-back (bordering on lazy) attitude. Unfortunately, home composting using a bin requires a certain level of attention to detail that just doesn’t jive with my “lazy gardening” philosophy.

Here’s how bin composting works:

1. Choose a bin. You can purchase a simple pre-made bin from a garden center or spring for a more expensive tumbler. You can even make your own from a large lidded trash can. I made my own by drilling a bunch of small holes in a hefty green trash can to let oxygen in.

2. Layer nitrogen-rich green waste (grass clippings, fruit and vegetable waste, flowers) and carbon-rich brown waste (dead leaves, sawdust, shredded paper).  Each later should be about 2-4 inches thick. Make sure green waste from your kitchen is always covered by green or brown waste from your yard to keep it from attracting critters.

3. Turn it at least once a week. The decomposing microorganisms responsible for turning your waste into fertilizing compost need oxygen to survive, and turning the pile allows air to circulate and speeds things along. A tumbler makes this step easy (you just rotate the side handle a few times) but you can also use a pitchfork or shovel.

4. Be patient. Compost is ready to use when it no longer looks like raw materials and instead like rich soil. This may take a few months!

Once I completed my homemade compost bin, I was ready to roll. I kept dead leaves and topsoil nearby to sprinkle on top of any food scraps, mixed it up every week, threw in a bunch of worms to help out the decomposing microorganisms, and got… grubs. Lots and lots of grubs. So I dumped Trial 1 onto the lawn (the neighborhood songbirds had a heyday) and tried again. I figured I didn’t have enough brown waste, so I added more leaves and shredded paper and less food scraps. The result? More grubs. It was gross. And most of my food scraps were still completely recognizable! Ever the optimist, I tried again. Unfortunately, the third time was NOT the charm and I was once again thwarted by those pesky fly larvae.

Maybe my homemade compost bin was ineffective. Maybe I didn’t add enough leaves or have the right brown-to-green-waste ratio. Maybe I didn’t mix it enough, or mixed it too much. Maybe I wasn’t patient enough (this is likely true). Who knows. The point is, after three tries and way more grubs than I ever want to see again, I gave up. I figured I’d just have to be one of those people who buys fertilizer from the store each year.

My compost bed in early spring is ready for action!

My compost bed in early spring is ready for action!

A few months after quitting composting, I was dealing with the remnants of an ill-fated attempt at growing acorn squash and thinking to myself “I wish I still lived in Troutville and could just rake all this stuff into the woods.” And then, a light bulb! Just because I live in the city now doesn’t mean I have to use a bin to make compost! Like my country brethren of yore, I could just rake it into a pile, dump some dirt on top, and let nature do its thing. So I dug a hole in one of my raised beds, added the vines and exploded acorn squash, topped it with dirt, and went on my merry way. A few weeks later I dug the spot back up and found rich, beautiful soil. It was a Lazy Gardening miracle!

 

3 weeks post food scrap addition and looking lovely.

3 weeks post food scrap addition and looking lovely.

Two years later and that raised bed is my own personal dirt factory. It’s active about ten months out of the year (my commitment to sustainability doesn’t go so far as to dig through ice in the winter) and produces enough compost to fertilize all my produce and fill the small sinkholes in my yard. I add fruit and vegetable scraps, thin cardboard, shredded paper, grass clippings, leaves, dead plants, tea bags, spaghetti… pretty much anything biodegradable that isn’t meat or cheese. I literally just dig a hole in the ground and bury stuff. I don’t worry about layering brown and green waste, adding earth worms or mixing it; I just let the bugs and microorganisms in the soil do their magic. As a family of four, our big black curbside trashcan is rarely half-full and I’m able to avoid the dreaded clear plastic yard waste bags most of the time. All in all, it’s been a great success.  But I have learned a few things:

  • It turns out this method actually has a name: Trench Composting.
  • Although you can get away with burying large food scraps in your compost pile (I bury our jack-o-lanterns whole after Halloween), it does take longer for them to break down. So cut your kitchen scraps into small pieces if you’re in a compost-creating hurry.
  • The key is to success is ADEQUATE BURIAL. This gives easy-access to worms and microorganisms while repelling flies, ‘coons and other varmints.

My retired compost bin serves a new purpose

My retired compost bin serves a new purpose

 

If bin composting works for you, that’s great! But if you’re like me, have failed at it repeatedly, and have the space for a food scrap burial ground (a.k.a. Trench Composting) then try out my Lazy Gardening method. Your tomatoes and trash can will thank you.

Guest post submitted by Molly Bertsch, HRSD Community Educator.

 

 

 

Posted in: Gardening, Going Green, Household tips, Lawn and landscape, Outdoor tips, Uncategorized

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Four Ways to Green Your Business

Posted on June 10, 2017 by | Comments Off

Green_business_suit_shutterstock_215636905More than likely you recognize that it’s important for everyone to be more eco-friendly and help to preserve the environment. But you may not have adopted green measures into your business. Most business owners have enough on their to-do list without leading environmental initiatives or spending profits on solar panels. However, companies that go green have some advantages in public relations, tax credits, and sustainability. Here are four simple changes you can make to your business to become more environmentally-friendly.

Upgrade Your lighting
Look into ditching the traditional incandescent and fluorescent bulbs and using LED lights. They’re slightly more expensive upfront, but they last far longer and use much less electricity than conventional lighting. Over time, you’ll actually save money, and keep those old bulbs out of the landfill. You might even look into upgrading to a smart lighting system that uses motion sensors and timers to automatically turn off lights when they aren’t needed.

Recycle Everything
Recycle as much as possible. If you don’t have one already, consider starting a company program for separating recyclables from trash. There are also any number of products made from recycled materials that you could be using every day, such as boxes, packing materials, toner cartridges, paper, electronics, and even furniture. Reusing and buying recycled goods puts less demand on the environment and generally saves you money. 

Green Cleaning Products
Maintaining a clean office is important not just to impress visitors, but to kill germs and stop the spread of illness that could cripple productivity. Unfortunately, many of those commercial products use harsh chemicals that could be just as harmful, especially if they build up on work surfaces or permeate the air you breathe. Cleaning with products that have lower levels of chemicals and more ingredients that naturally occur in the world can be a huge step in reducing your impact on the environment. Green cleaning products like these are healthier and sometimes entirely biodegradable, so you can be assured of a workspace that’s safe as well as clean.

Learn the Regulations
Green policies are not only the right thing to do, they are becoming a matter of legal obligation. Companies that improperly dispose of hazardous materials, risk worker health, or have polluting emissions may be subject to fines or even criminal charges. While every company is different, it’s essential to be familiar with and follow all environmental regulations for your industry to make sure your company is headed in the right direction.

It’s true that a single company won’t be able to change the world alone, but millions of people working together will become a movement driving change. The only way for that to happen is for you to set an example for both your customers and employees.

Guest blog contributed by Kara Masterson, a freelance writer from West Jordan, Utah. She graduated from the University of Utah and enjoys writing and spending time with her dog, Max. Kara works with environment-conscious education programs like the Vermont Law School to help promote green business practices.

Posted in: Going Green

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Naturally Deter Mosquitoes from Your Yard

Posted on April 12, 2017 by | Comments Off

Mosquitoes in the GardenAs the world average temperature rises our winters are becoming milder and summers hotter. This phenomenon is one of the main reasons why mosquito populations are growing so rapidly. Mosquitoes live longer and also breed at a quicker pace in warmer climates. Add that to the naturally wooded areas and waterways that make up Hampton Road and it’s mosquito paradise which is why you should know how to control mosquitoes, and how to do it in an eco-friendly way.

One of the most common mosquitoes in Virginia is the Asian Tiger mosquito, which is notorious for spreading such diseases like Zika and West Nile viruses. So it is very important to know how to prevent their breeding.

Since these mosquitoes like to breed in small, watery spaces, it is very important that we pay extra attention to how we store our trash. Cleaning up litter will not only decrease the number of mosquitoes in your area but will also be beneficial to the environment as a whole. Also, don’t keep any standing water around. Mosquitoes need standing water to breed, so leaving even the smallest capfuls of water standing in your yard will provide mosquitoes more space for breeding. Simply turn over any containers that might collect rain water, clean your gutters and use products like mosquito dunks if you have a pool or rain barrel, so mosquitoes don’t start breeding in your yard.

You can also try planting mosquito repelling plants in your backyard. Plants like citronella grass, marigolds, mint, and lavender to name a few are great at deterring mosquitoes. And they also look great, so on top of having additional mosquito protection you will also have a beautiful garden.

Mosquitoes have been and probably will always be a problem once summer arrives. But you can lessen this problem with these few simple, eco-friendly mosquito control methods.  

Guest blog contributed by Karen Thompson, owner and main editor of InsectCop.net.

Posted in: Gardening, Lawn and landscape

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