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Winterize Your Home to Reduce Heating Bills

Posted on November 10, 2016 by | Comments Off

insulationWinterizing a house is a two-step process that includes sealing the many gaps and holes that allow heat to escape and upgrading insulation levels. The two work together to stop different types of heat loss.

Step One: Air Sealing

Heated air rises and looks for ways to escape through the top of the house. As it escapes, the pressure difference pulls outside air through cracks around windows, doors and other areas into the house. You can save energy by interrupting the cycle and attending to the escape routes in the attic.

To work in an attic, wear long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, gloves, safety glasses and a hat. Be sure to take a flashlight with you. Caution: Once in the attic, walk on the ceiling joists only. The spaces between the joists will not hold you, and you may fall through the ceiling. You can also create walkways by placing boards or sheets of thick plywood on the joists.

Plug Large Openings First

Sealing large openings will provide the biggest energy benefit. Make sure the attic hatch or attic door is not only insulated but also has foam weather-stripping around the edges. Other areas to check include:

  • Dropped soffits. Soffits are often found in kitchens and bathrooms to hide ducts or pipes. If they are installed under the attic, they are often left open. If the attic is insulated, the soffit may be covered with a fiberglass batt. However, the insulation does not prevent air movement. To seal the soffits, remove the insulation and cover the opening with a sheet of rigid insulation board. Seal the edges with caulk and reapply the insulation.
  • Flues, chimney and pipe openings. There is usually a space around any type of pipe or chimney that comes through the floor of the attic. Seal the opening around masonry chimneys or metal flues from furnaces with aluminum flashing and high-temperature silicone caulk. Seal around plumbing pipes using caulk or expanding foam. Be sure the sealant you use is made for the material it will come in contact with.
  • Recessed lights. These fixtures provide a path for air and in some cases moisture if they are installed in a kitchen or bathroom under an attic. Standard recessed fixtures are difficult to seal, and doing it wrong can be dangerous. One solution is to replace the fixtures with Insulation Contact Air Tight (ICAT) fixtures. Unlike standard fixtures, these can safely be covered with insulation in the attic and are airtight.

Plug Small Openings

Apply caulk around electrical junction boxes that go through the attic floor. Once the attic is sealed, make sure windows and doors throughout the house are caulked and weather-stripped. If you have an unfinished basement, use caulk or expanding foam to seal where the house framing meets the concrete or block foundation. Seal around any pipes or wiring that goes through the basement ceiling to the floor above.

Step Two: Upgrade Your Insulation

Most attics contain some insulation. But there is a good chance that the insulation that is there does not meet current R-value recommendations. If you can see the tops of the ceiling joist, you need to add insulation. You can find the current recommendations here.

If you install fiberglass batts, place unfaced batts perpendicular to the joists to reduce heat loss through the joist. If you opt for loose-fill insulation, it is best to have a contractor apply the material because installation requires special equipment. The depth of the final application should be even throughout the attic.

No matter what type of insulation you install, be sure to keep it at least three inches away from recessed can lights if they are not rated for insulation contact. If there are soffit vents, install insulation baffles between the rafters. These provide a path for fresh air into the attic above the insulation. When used in combination with ridge or gable vents, they help exhaust moisture-laden air and ventilate the attic.

Fran Donegan is a DIY-for-the-home authority and writes on energy-saving tips for The Home Depot. Fran’s insulation tips are geared to provide you with numerous options for your home during the winter months. 

Posted in: Household tips

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Virginia Recycling Association Recognizes Newport News Recovery Operations Center

Posted on November 8, 2016 by | Comments Off

2016 Award winners groupThe Virginia Recycling Association (VRA) has awarded the Newport News Recovery Operations Center (ROC) with their annual Outstanding Government Agency Award.  This award recognizes a state or federal government agency, institution or non-profit organization that has developed and implemented a sustainable waste reduction and prevention program to include reuse, recycling and buying recycled products.

The purpose of the ROC is to capture unwanted material and recover, re-direct, beneficiate or dispose of the material in the most effective manner possible. The VRA award recognizes the center for the variety of services provided including recycling drop off, household hazardous waste and electronic waste collection, metal and appliance collection, and collection of leaves and woody material from which mulch and compost is produced for sale.  Additionally methane gas produced by the old Denbigh landfill is provided to the Denbigh Community Center and to Mary Passage Middle School as a fuel for their boilers.  The ROC also coordinates with schools and civic groups across Hampton Roads to provide recycling and environmental awareness education.

Click here to learn more about the services offered by the Newport News Recovery Operations Center.

This is a guest post by Dan Baxter, Business Recycling Coordinator, with the City of Newport News Public Works, Solid Waste Resource Recovery Unit.

Posted in: Beautification, Reduce reuse and recycle, Uncategorized

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Don’t Let Your Neighborhood Go to the Dogs!

Posted on November 4, 2016 by | Comments Off

askHRgreen-PetWasteStation-HomepageSlideDon’t let your neighborhood go to the dogs! offers free pet waste stations through a regional grant program. If your Hampton Roads neighborhood/HOA/community association is ready to make scooping the poop a priority, then you’re invited to apply. Pet waste stations encourage residents to pick up after their pets by making it easy and convenient to do so. They are also one small thing a community can do to help keep our local waterways clean.

Scooping the poop is not only important for a clean neighborhood, it’s important for our local waterways. When pet waste is not picked up, it becomes a major source of pollution in our water. Rainwater carries nitrogen and bacteria from pet waste into our storm drains and directly into our rivers, lakes, and streams. This excess nitrogen and bacteria transform the water into a cloudy, green, foul-smelling mess that lacks oxygen and becomes an aquatic dead zone. The same pollution is responsible for beach closures, fishing restrictions and warnings on eating local seafood. Installing a pet waste station is one easy way to combat water pollution in your community.

The grant program is open to any neighborhood, community group, or property management company with the ability to install and maintain the pet waste station. To apply online for a free pet waste station, click here. Supplies are limited, so apply today!

The pet waste station grant program is made possible, in part, by funds generated from the sale of Chesapeake Bay license plates. Learn more at

Posted in: Outdoor tips, Pets, Waterways

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Hurricane Matthew, Rising Tides, and Regional Resiliency

Posted on November 3, 2016 by | Comments Off

Photo 2

Disgruntled flooring after the waters receded.

Anyone who has done major home renovations recently is likely aware of the concept of “floating floors.” DIY-ers can quickly and easily transform a space by clicking together planks of laminate, vinyl or wood over their existing floors and revel in the beauty they’ve created. These floors are great, theoretically, and overall I was pleased with the outcome when I installed them in my own home in 2012. There is, however, a very significant downside to floating floors: they literally float. So when Hurricane Matthew floods the interior of your house with a foot of water and you’re trying to gather essentials in order to evacuate your neighborhood, you have to dodge planks of laminate as they float merrily past you down the hallway.

Photo 1

The morning after Hurricane Matthew & my flooded Corolla Eco.

I live in the Windsor Woods area of Virginia Beach. My neighbors and I earned the depressing distinction of being the worst hit street in the state of Virginia and it’s still evident weeks after the floodwaters receded. Personal belongings are stored in metal cargo containers in people’s yards as they remove and replace large chunks of their homes. Most of the “trash” has been hauled away, but large “No Scavenging” and “Residents Only” signs still welcome folks to our street. We share construction tips and power tools and sympathetic ears and wonder whether we’re better off rebuilding our homes on stilts. Will another flood wash away all of our hard work?

Photo 3

We will rebuild!

It’s tempting to want to take out our anger over our recent misfortune on inaccurate weathermen or unprepared municipalities, but the reality is that our world is changing. Sea levels have risen 14 inches since 1930- placing more and more developed areas at risk for recurrent flooding. The sinking of our area’s land is exacerbated by the overuse of the Potomac Aquifer, which is experiencing such significant pressure decreases that it is shrinking and compacting beneath us. These trends show no sign of abating and thus, as we put our homes back together we must ask ourselves, “What can we do?”

Support Infrastructure Investment

The infrastructure beneath our feet is the unsung hero of our region’s resiliency. Support your city or county’s investment in infrastructure maintenance and improvement. And, be a storm drain steward yourself! It might be easy to rake grass clippings and leaves into storm drains, but these debris cause clogs and cleaning up after those is NOT easy. 

Reduce Impervious Surfaces and Install Rain Barrels

Increased development and urban sprawl are contributing to the hardening of our shorelines. Do your part to reverse this trend by planting shrubs and tall grasses on your property and opting for gravel or pervious pavement when constructing driveways and walkways. The more hard surfaces you have on your property, the less rainwater can be soaked-up during a storm, and the more water that will flood our streets. Installing rain barrels at your downspouts is also a great way to prevent extra water from flowing toward storm drains during rain events (and is a great source of water for your plants during dry periods).

Support the Region’s Sustainability Research Initiatives

Hampton Roads is the second largest population at risk of the effects of sea level rise and scientists and engineers in our region are tackling the problem head on. For example, the newly formed Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency is facilitating research and education about sea level rise and developing adaptive planning for coastal communities. HRSD’s Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow (SWIFT) is addressing land subsidence by proposing to replenish the Potomac Aquifer with up to 120 million gallons of purified water a day, which hydraulic modeling suggests may reduce the effects of sea level rise by up to 25 percent.

Watching your floors float away and your neighborhood struggle to rebuild after a natural disaster is disheartening. There are very few bright sides to the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew; hopefully, acknowledgement of our region’s vulnerabilities and a push toward positive change will be one of them.

Guest blog contributed by Molly Bertsch, Community Educator with HRSD.

Posted in: Keeping storm drains free, Waterways

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Living the Dream in a Tiny House

Posted on November 2, 2016 by | Comments Off

About 3 years ago my husband and I were trying to upgrade from our 950 square foot townhouse to a larger house.  Due to issues with the house, the deal never went through, but it gave us a chance to really look at what we needed and wanted.  When we first heard about tiny houses, like most people, we automatically said “We can’t live in that.”  But after further thought about the living space we realized we only use a fraction of the space in our townhouse, and here we are trying to move into a larger house.  Why?  It became important to have enough time and money to do the things that matter the most to us.  Some of those things are traveling, outdoor activities, eating healthier, reducing our waste and energy needs, and recycling more.  Having to work less to enjoy our life and always having a roof over our heads are just some of the automatic benefits that come with a tiny house lifestyle.  So, after a couple years of research on building structures, alternative living, watching YouTube videos of other crazy people, and a lot of downsizing, we were finally ready to take the plunge into building our own tiny house.

Back Exterior

Back Exterior


Front Exterior

Front Exterior

In March 2015 we placed an order with Leonard Trailer to custom build our trailer frame with our very own specifications. It was hard finding a manufacture that does this.  Once we had the trailer we wasted no time building it.  It took us 6 months from start to finish.  The house is a standard 2×4, 16 on center construction just like you would find in your very own home, but bolted down to the trailer with over 50 1/2 diameter bolts securing it to the frame.  Once the structure was built we sprayed closed cell insulation in the walls, roof, ceiling, and under the trailer subfloor for its high insulation value, rigidity, and moisture resistant features.  We wanted a roof that we could eventually capture water with, so we got a local sheet metal fabricator to bend us a 30 year standing seam metal roof.  The outside is 2 mm thick vinyl siding with a faux stone bottom to give it a better appearance and also help out with insulation.  We have an outdoor storage area built onto the tongue of the trailer that also houses our water heater.  



We enter the house through full size French doors that bring you into the living room, which is above a raised subfloor with large access doors for storage.  We welded a metal spiral staircase to save space and to avoid having to use a ladder to enter the sleeping loft, which houses a queen size bed.  Take two steps down and you will enter the kitchen area that is actually bigger than our townhouse’s kitchen.  We built a copper range hood to go along with the full size double basin copper sink.  Our stove/oven is a piezo ignited propane Dickenson marine stove and the refrigerator is an apartment sized unit.  In the bathroom we have a combo washer/dryer unit, small vanity/sink and a 32×32 shower with low flow fixtures.  We have a composting toilet with a urine diverter, which really is not bad at all.  The flooring is beetle kill pine that was shipped from Montana (my home state).  We also added a full water filtration system so we could be off the grid if we wanted and we are looking into getting solar panels for all of our electrical needs.  But right now, we are just enjoying living in something we know we built and can call home forever with our Great Dane, Blue!

Guest blog submitted by April Cooke, a Procurement Specialist at HRSD who doesn’t just talk green, she lives green! 




Living Room and Blue.

Living Room and Blue.

Posted in: Going Green, Reduce reuse and recycle

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