Move Over Letterman. GreenTown’s Top 10.

Top Ten Reasons to Replace Your Lawn with Native Plants

We can start with the benefits that replacing lawns with at least some native plants has to all of us and bracket that with it being a fantastic way to blunt the drought. Less water. Less maintenance. The benefits are numerous and here’s more specifics:

Native gardens can make you a neighborhood stuperstar!

Native gardens can make you a neighborhood superstar!

1. Healthier Creeks. Fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are top polluters in our creeks, killing aquatic life and spreading disease. Lawns should be at least 50 feet away from waterways but even at that distance, these pollutants will still find their way into our creeks.

2. Less Storm Water Runoff. Deep roots of native plants and trees surrounded by mulch retain more water onsite than turf, and substantially more than synthetic turf.

3. More Free Time. Lawns can take as much time to manage as vegetable gardens, and what do you harvest? Grass clippings, blech! Native plants don’t require fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides and benefit only from annual or semiannual pruning. Not sure about how to maintain your landscaping? Hire a Certified Green Gardener.

4. Save Water. Lawns require more water than our climate can provide. Irrigation of lawns accounts for the largest single use of residential potable water, water that may have been transported hundreds of miles to your home. Reducing our draw of water from the Delta and the Sierras helps maintain their ecosystems.

5. Save Money. All the mowing, fertilizer, herbicides and irrigation of lawns cost a lot of money. Native plants need substantially less effort and money to maintain.

6. Cash for Grass. Santa Clara Valley Water District will pay you up to $2000 to replace your lawn. Contact SCVWD or your water company for details.

7. Good Bugs, Not Bad Bugs. Mosquitoes in our dry summer? There must be a lawn nearby. Frequent watering creates tiny pools just right for mosquitoes to breed. Native plants attract good bugs and birds, ones that eat mosquitoes and other pests.

8. Biodiversity. Other than hardscape, there isn’t a more inhospitable surface to biodiversity than the monoculture of lawns. With your excess time and money freed up from lawn care, buy yourself binoculars. You’ll be amazed with the variety of birds, insects and wildlife that native plants attract. Native wildlife evolved with native plants and they depend on them for survival.

9. Less Greenhouse Gases. Manufacture and transportation of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and mowers has a substantial carbon footprint. Transportation, pumping and treatment of water requires energy. When you save water, you also save energy!

10. Smart Choice. Landscaping with plants that are native to our climate is a smart choice. If you want soft areas for kiddies to roll in, native grasses come in all three flavors: seeds, plugs and sod.

Questions? Contact Kit Gordon .

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Inspiring Action Has A Benefit: Gratitude.

Every six months, in November and May, with Kathleen Santora at the helm, GreenTown Los Altos pulls together a team of people to orchestrate one of our most rewarding events: the ReCycle Bike Drive.

GTLA 3.14 recycle tk u joseIt’s really simple. You have a bike you don’t need, use, want or are looking to give away but don’t know where to go. The ReCycle Bike Drive is the place. We’ll tune it up and find someone who will appreciate it, more than you realize. In fact, we can pretty much guarantee you will make someone smile.

GTLA 3.14 recycle tk u juan

At the last ReCycle Bike drive, we collected >50 bikes and gave them to students in our local community, particularly at Los Altos High School and Castro Elementary.  All the students were grateful for the generous donation, as you can see from the notes they wrote. Sunday, May 4 is our next ReCycle Bike Drive where we collect bikes, spruce them up, do an inspection, and fix any issues before giving the bike to a deserving student.   Over the past 2 years we have collected almost 200 bikes.
GTLA 3.14 recycle tk u jackie

GTLA 3.14 recycle tk u danielThanks to those volunteers at the semiannual event and people like you, who help someone smile.

Need more motivation to give? Below are thank you noted written by some owners of last year’s bike drive. If you gave, this is for you. If you haven’t, it feels so good, you’ll want to help collect the bikes (OK, we’re projecting, but we can always use the help!).

 

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Call for Entries: GreenLight Film and Fashion Festival

Think you have the next great 5 minute video idea? Now’s your chance to strut your stuff, Greenlight Film and Fashion Festival call for entries: deadline Fri. March 28.

Welcome filmmakers!
Greenlight 2014 offers a fun new challenge for filmmakers. Your 5-minute or shorter video must address one of the following topics using comedy, animation, drama, fiction, documentary, clay-mation, stop-motion or a combination of film genres and techniques.

Entry categories are: middle school, high school and open (all others).

$1000 in prizes will be awarded.

Films or video submittals must be 5 minutes or shorter, or a 5-minute excerpt of a longer film. Potential film producers must choose from 1 of the designated environmental topics listed:

1.      Role models

2.      Lessons from the past

3.      Changing climate change

4.      Be the inspiration

5.      Environmental justice

6.      Pick a law

7.      Pollution and health

8.      Who is exposed?
For more details about submitting your short film or video, visit
midpenmedia.org/greenlight-2014All film entries will be judged by a panel of experts in various related fields. Finalists will be announced at the festival in Cubberley Community Theater.

Eco-Fashion Designers
Make something new from something old!  Reuse is one way to reduce waste which conserves resources.  The purpose of the eco-fashion show is to promote the idea of reuse:  take used clothing or any used materials and making them into a new, wearable fashion. Re-fashion is gaining in popularity as more people adopt a more sustainable lifestyle by reducing waste, reusing and recycling. 


How to participate in the GREENLIGHT Fashion Festival:

Register for the Festival

1. Take a photo of the materials you will use in your re-fashion design. Remember, your eco-fashion must be made of at least 80% of used materials.

2. Create your new fashion. You, or someone you may choose, will be modeling the fashion on stage during the awards ceremony.

3. Take a photo of your finished fashion.

4. Submit your photos by going to Midpenmedia.org/greenlight and click on Submit.

For fashion show questions contact lacey.lutes@cityofpaloalto.org, or call (650) 329-2434.


The Film Festival will be broadcast live on local TV stations.
Locals, friends and family members are welcome to attend the Festival. It will be held on April 24, 2014, 7:00 – 8:30pm. Admission is free!

Do research, be creative, have fun and enter the 2014 Greenlight Film and Fashion Festival!

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Master Gardeners’ Fast and Easy Drought Tips

Santa Clara County’s Master Gardeners offered up fast and easy tips for conserving water and with the drought upon us, well, we think you may want to see what you can do to help the problem for us all:

1. Prioritize Your Plants: first, determine which plants are most susceptible to water stress. High on your watering list should be plants that are valuable in terms of replacement cost, prominence in the landscape and enjoyment.

  • High Priority- trees and shrubs (especially those that are young and planted in an exposed site). Large, mature shade trees and shrubs can be left alone unless the drought is severe and the trees begin to wilt, or the root systems have been recently disturbed.
  • Medium to high priority- perennials, fruit and nut trees, small fruits and vegetables; turf that is less than one-year old.
  • Low priority- annual flower and herb plants, ornamental grasses, established turf. These are relatively inexpensive and easily replaced. It may be difficult to keep large beds of annuals adequately watered during a drought

2. Apply 3-4” of mulch around plants to keep weeds down, conserve soil moisture and moderate soil temperatures. Make sure the mulch is 3-4” away from the trunk/stem of the plant to prevent rot. Mulching minimizes evaporation of water from the soil surface, reducing irrigation need by around 50%.

3. Control weeds around shrubs, vegetables and flowers. Weeds can out-compete cultivated garden plants for water and nutrients.

4. If purchasing new plants, research those that are low water users. All plants require water to become established (CA Natives included) but there are some that are bigger water guzzlers than others.

5. When possible, add organic matter (compost) to your soil. This will improve the water-holding capacity during dry weather and promote good drainage during wet weather.

6. Irrigate early in the morning. Less water loss occurs from evaporation and wind drift in the morning because of cooler temperatures and less wind.

7. Use a broom to clean driveways, sidewalks and steps. Using a hose to push around a few leaves and scraps of paper can waste hundreds of gallons of water.

8. Don’t fertilize or, if you do, do so with a low nitrogen fertilizer. Fertilization stimulates growth and increases water needs.

9. The type of soil you have largely determines how often you should water: Clay soils may only need to be watered once during a given period while sandy soils may need two or three waterings during the same time.

10. Avoid runoff and puddling by spacing out, or cycling, irrigations. Let the sprinklers run for 10 minutes then shut them off for 10 minutes, allowing the water to absorb into the ground.

Another good source for tips can be found on a Los Altos Patch post, citing Sheri Osaka’s 10 tips to save gallons of water.

Do what you can. Every drop saved is one we can all tap into later.

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Rain Dancing Between Your Drought Tolerant Plants

by Kit Gordon

The best way out of this drought is not a rain dance but a change of behavior. Get a landscape rebate by switching your lawn to low water plants. Or just let your lawn brown and replant a beautiful biodiversity garden with California native plants next fall. Grow your own fruits and vegetables with a reuse system. Attend our June 4, 7pm greywater seminar at the Los Altos Library to get all the facts about greywater systems. The Santa Clara Valley Water District will pay you $100 to install a laundry to landscape system.

Get out and enjoy the rain! Just think, if you only had installed that rain catchment system… GreenTown will host a rain catchment seminar in Fall 2014.

Questions? Contact Kit Gordon

medreservoirlevelesfeb4.jpg

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Styrofoam is History in Los Altos!

Four years ago, a group of GreenTown Los Altos volunteers started canvassing local restaurants to join the GreenTown Co-op in order to offer the more environmentally friendly compostables for take outs and left overs. The idea met with limited success for a variety of reasons.  Mainly, most business owners did not want to change their current practice.  GreenTown’s team realized that until there was a town ban on Expanded Polystyrene (Styrofoam), the task of changing behavior would be a tough uphill battle.

Flash forward to Jan 14, 2014

On Jan. 14, 2014 the Los Altos City Council voted to ban EPS from restaurants, retail shops, and events starting July 4, 2014. The second fourth of July where the Council has shown its forward thinking by enacting policies supporting “freedom” from old school, environmental killing, products.

The approval of the EPS Ban marks a great change in behavior within Los Altos.  Already 2/3 of the restaurants do not use EPS in their business operations and the other third just have 1 or 2 products that need to be changed to a compostable product, 6 of the 9 retail establishments sell EPS material on the store shelves and none of them foresee an issue with removing these products. Most vendors at events have anticipated the ban and already have compostable replacements lined up.

Within a short period of time, our town is changing behavior regarding environmental issues.  To think single use plastic bags and expanded poly styrene are soon to be relics of the past, opens up a new world of creating sustainable behavior for a better earth.  A change everyone connected with GreenTown Los Altos is happy to see.

For more details about the EPS ban, check out the San Jose Mercury News and Los Altos Town Crier articles for related news articles.

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Drought’s Silver Lining: Solar Panels Look Hotter Than Ever

Homeowner Joseph Adler had been in his Cuesta Drive home for a year, when he and his wife toyed with the idea of doing more than just a “standard” energy upgrade of better insulation and installing LED lights. With double pane windows already in place, along with a good furnace, solar panels seemed like the way to go.

They chose a company with a unique business model: one that uses volunteers, not employees, for actual installation. The non-profit company, SunWork, uses professional staff for planning, getting permits and managing all aspects of the installation. In addition, a team of volunteers works on the installations.

Project manager, Matt Thompson, on the left, with the two volunteers, Hamid Saadat and Tom Kabat. Photo credit:  Mike Balma

Project manager, Matt Thompson, on the left, with the two volunteers, Hamid Saadat and Tom Kabat. Photo credit: Mike Balma

Who are these volunteers? Men and women with better than average mechanical skills who either want on-the-job training, are curious about the process or simply want to be involved with an environmentally conscious company.  Thus, SunWork, a non-profit that works on small systems with an average electric bill of under $130 per month, can pass those savings through to their customers.

According to Joseph, his cost was about $3/watt, compared to a more typical price of $4.50/watt.  After the tax credits, Joseph’s cost was closer to $2/watt.  Based on his family’s energy consumption, that means he will have free energy in just 6 years, paying only the PG&E grid connection fee of <$5/month, which is why he insists, “It is irresponsible not to put in solar panels in this area”.

Mike Balma, Development Director of SunWork noted, “We have installed 15 solar systems in Los Altos with more on the way.  Los Altos now has the highest number of installations for us.  We recently completed our 100th system and we appreciate the local support from our volunteers and from homeowners in moving to a renewable energy future.”

If you have sun on your roof, what are you waiting for? We may have a dearth of water, but the sun is still coming on strong and that translates to savings you can literally bank on.

 

 

 

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Stop Dripping! Whip Your House Into Drought Tolerant Savings

Drought Declaration : Here’s what you can do.

Unless you live under a rock, you know that California is in an unprecedented drought. Gov. Brown has asked for an immediate 20% reduction in water use. The drought is so dismal, that even a miracle March will not affect this year’s supply, which means status quo on water is history and every Californian needs to take action to produce lasting sustainability for our state.

Our economy and environment depend on our ability to use this precious resource wisely. In Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, 50-70% of water use is used on irrigation of plants that are not suitable for our environment. The most egregious is turf.

“People need to live within their hydrologic reality,” said Barbara Vlamis, of AquAlliance which exists to “defend Northern California waters”.

Landscape conversion programs are the best means of water conservation. Santa Clara Valley Water District Directors, Brian Schmidt and Linda LeZotte, recommend doubling water conservation rebates to encourage sustainable behaviors. Residents can receive $4000 or more for replacing turf with more California friendly landscapes and upgrading to efficient irrigation systems.

Beautiful pallets of climate suitable plants are possible for replacing lawns. Residents around the state are realizing the multiple advantages of native plants over the monoculture of turf: less water, less maintenance, less creek-polluting fertilizer, greater biodiversity, greater sustainability for all. Don’t be the last water-waster on your street with a lawn.

Water supply and treatment is very energy intensive. Over 30% of the energy used in California is specifically to move and treat water. Conserving water results in energy conservation and reduced green house gas emissions.

Water Conservation Tips Abound

GENERAL

  • Never pour water down the drain when it can be reused (eg: used to water plants or garden or for flushing toilets.)
  • Repair dripping faucets by replacing washers.  One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year.
  • Check all plumbing for leaks and have any leaks repaired by a plumber.
  • Retrofit all household faucets by installing aerators with flow restrictors.
  • Install an instant hot water heater on your sink, running water until it’s hot wastes water.
  • Insulate your water pipes to reduce heat loss and prevent them from breaking.
  • Install a water-softening system only when water minerals may damage your pipes. Turn the softener off while on vacation.
  • Choose appliances that are more energy and water efficient.
  • Check your well pump periodically. If the automatic pump turns on and off while water is not being used, you have a leak.
  • Avoid purchasing recreational water toys that require a constant stream of water or installing ornamental water features (such as fountains) unless they use re-circulated water.
  • Consider rainwater harvesting where practical.
  • Contact your local water provider for information and assistance. Sign up for a Water-Wise House Call to learn more about water conservation.

YARD CARE

  • Plant native and/or drought-tolerant grasses, ground covers, shrubs, and trees. Once established, plants adapted to your local climate do not need water as frequently and will survive dry periods without watering. Small plants require less water to become established. Group plants together based on similar water needs.
  • Install irrigation devices that are the most water efficient for each use, such as micro and drip irrigation, and soaker hoses. Use subsurface or Netafim systems for lawn areas.
  • Use mulch to retain moisture in the soil and keep soil cool. Organic mulch also improves the soil and prevents weeds that compete with landscape plants for water.
  • Check your sprinkler system frequently, adjust so only your landscape is watered, not the house, sidewalk, or street.
  • Repair sprinklers that spray a fine mist. Most misting issues result from a pressure problem, properly regulating pressure in an irrigation system will prevent misting.
  • Check sprinkler systems and timing devices regularly to be sure they operate properly and do not leak.
  • Raise the lawn mower blade to at least three inches or to its highest level. A higher cut encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system, and holds soil moisture.
  • Plant drought-resistant lawn seed. Reduce or eliminate lawn areas and replace with climate suitable plants.
  • Avoid fertilizing your lawn. Applying fertilizer increases the need for water.
  • Turn irrigation down in fall and off in winter. Water manually in winter only if needed.
  • Invest in a weather-based irrigation controller—or a smart controller. These devices will automatically adjust the watering time and frequency based on soil moisture, rain, wind, and evaporation and transpiration rates. Check with your local water agency to see if there is a rebate available for the purchase of a smart controller.
  • A heavy rain eliminates the need for watering for up to two weeks.
  • Check the soil moisture levels with a soil probe, spade or large screwdriver. You don’t need to water if the soil is still moist. If your grass springs back when you step on it, it doesn’t need water yet.
  • If your yard requirez watering, do so early morning or later in the evening, when temperatures are cooler.
  • Water in several short sessions rather than one long one, your plants will better absorb moisture and avoid runoff.
  • Use a broom or blower instead of a hose to clean leaves and other debris from your driveway or sidewalk.
  • Avoid leaving sprinklers or hoses unattended. A garden hose can pour out 600 gallons or more in only a few hours.
  • In extreme drought, allow lawns to die in favor of preserving trees and large shrubs.

POOL

  • Install a new water-saving pool filter. A single back flushing with a traditional filter uses 180 to 250 gallons of water.
  • Cover pools and spas to reduce evaporation of water.

BATHROOM

  • Consider purchasing a low-volume toilet that uses less than half the water of older models. Note: In many areas, low-volume units are required by law.
  • Install a toilet displacement device to cut down on the amount of water needed to flush. Place a one-gallon plastic jug of water into the tank to displace toilet flow (do not use a brick, it may dissolve and loose pieces may cause damage to the internal parts). Be sure installation does not interfere with the operating parts.
  • Replace your showerhead with an ultra-low-flow version.
  • Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily. Dispose of tissues, insects, and other similar waste in the trash rather than the toilet.
  • Avoid taking baths—take short showers—turn on water only to get wet, lather, then on again to rinse off.
  • Avoid letting the water run while brushing your teeth, washing your face or shaving.
  • Place a bucket in the shower to catch excess water for watering plants or flushing toilets.
  • Check for toilet leaks. A drop of dye in the toilet bowl should remain for hours. If the color dissipates, then there is a leak. The seal between the tank and the bowl can degrade in five years. Replace as needed.

KITCHEN

  • Operate automatic dishwashers only when they are fully loaded. Use the “light wash” feature, if available, to use less water.
  • Hand wash dishes by filling two containers—one with soapy water and the other with rinse water containing a small amount of chlorine bleach.
  • Clean vegetables in a pan filled with water rather than running water from the tap. Reuse that water in the yard or for flushing toilets.
  • Store drinking water in the refrigerator. Do not let the tap run while you are waiting for water to cool.
  • Avoid wasting water waiting for it to get hot. Capture it for other uses such as plant watering or flushing toilets or use the stove or microwave to heat water.
  • Avoid rinsing dishes before placing them in the dishwasher; just remove large particles of food. (Most dishwashers can clean soiled dishes very well, so dishes do not have to be rinsed before washing)
  • Avoid using running water to thaw meat or other frozen foods. Defrost food overnight in the refrigerator or use the defrost setting on your microwave oven.
  • Start a compost pile as an alternate method of disposing of food waste or simply dispose of food in the garbage. (Kitchen sink disposals require a lot of water to operate properly).

LAUNDRY

  • Operate automatic clothes washers only when fully loaded or set the water level for the size of your load.
  • Use a front load model that is water and energy efficient.
  • Install a greywater laundry to landscape system.

List adapted from FEMA.

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Goodbye Incandescent, Hello LED

Goodbye Incandescent Bulbs

Incandescent light bulbs are essentially being phased out by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.  And, in California, if you do any home remodeling or new residential construction, Title 24 Building Energy Efficiency Standards will affect your lighting choices. So, sooner or later, you will have to face the challenge of what to do about the old lighting in your house.

Old-fashioned incandescent bulbs were easy to deal with. If a 60-watt bulb burned out, I just bought a new 60-watt bulb. I had a good sense of how much light that would put out. Manufacturers offered some variations in color such as soft white, bright white, daylight, etc., but these were relatively easy to understand.

Hello CFLs…Er, Not so Fast

When compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) became widely available in the mid 2000s, they promised greater energy efficiency and overall lower cost. Enticing! But homeowners like me faced frustrating challenges selecting bulbs that performed in a customary fashion. Simply replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs often meant turning your home’s warm, pleasant lighting into what looked like the lighting in a gas station bathroom!  Suddenly, the lighting was too bright, too white, or too blue or it flickered, took too long to light up, did not work in cold temperatures or was not really dimmable. Trial and error along with multiple trips to the hardware store were required to get a satisfying solution.

Not only was the purchase process for CFLs more complicated but so was disposal. Fluorescent bulbs contain the toxic chemical mercury. This means that when my frisky cat knocked over the floor lamp and a CFL broke, I faced a hazmat cleanup process. I was supposed to remove people and pets from the room, turn off any forced air heating or AC, open all the windows and clean up the broken pieces while holding my breath and without using a vacuum.

The Good News – LEDs to the Rescue

When I first discovered LED lights that would fit into the standard E27 base, the price was exorbitant. So, once the price dropped to just under $20, I decided to buy just one to replace the 100 watt bulb in my bedside lamp.  I bought a 10.5 watt, 800 lumen lamp with a pleasing 3000 Kelvin color rating. This is supposedly only as bright as a 60-70 watt incandescent bulb but somehow it provides plenty of light for my middle-aged eyes to read by and only uses 10.5% of the energy used by the bulb it replaced!

LED lighting (using light-emitting diodes) is ultra-efficient, can cut energy use by more than 80% and lasts more than 25 times as long as conventional incandescent lights. The good news is that the cost of LED bulbs has fallen by more than 85% since 2008 and is expected to continue to drop, according to Tal Mashhadian, owner of Lite Line Illuminations. Most LED bulbs carry a warranty of at least 5 years.

Would LEDs be a better solution than the CFLs? Would I have to replace my ceiling- and wall-mounted light fixtures to use them? What is the lighting really like? So, I was pretty stoked to hear what Tal would have to say about the new LED lighting options at our recent event at the Los Altos Library. His presentation, Q&A and show-and-tell enlightened the inquisitive audience. For those who missed the presentation, here are some of the highlights.

How LEDs are Different from Other Bulbs

LEDs are more of a “lighting package” than a bulb. LEDs differ from incandescent and fluorescent lights in three very important ways:image3 shedding light

  1. They are not omnidirectional — Since light output is more focused, the placement of LED chips and the use of reflectors are important parts of the lighting package.
  2. LEDs are sensitive to heat – When LEDs get too warm, their light output degrades. A heat sink is needed in order to absorb excess heat and ensure optimal performance.
  3. Colors of LEDs are created by phosphors – These phosphors may cover the LEDs themselves or included in the diffuser that is part of the lighting package.

Most LEDs do not require special handling for disposal (although you should check their packaging for instructions).

How to Choose the Right LEDs

There are three main features to consider when selecting LED lighting:

1. Lumens – This refer to the amount of light emitted.  Here is a handy table shared by Tal.

lumens and watts

2. Color Temperature (Kelvin) – This is a measure of how “warm” or “cool” a light looks.

Kelvin scale
3. Color Rendering Index (CRI) – This is a measure of how accurately colors are produced by a light source in comparison with natural light. It’s expressed as a percentage where higher percentages are closer to natural light.  This is an important feature to consider when selecting light for viewing artwork.

All light bulb packages sold in the U.S. are required to carry the Lighting Facts label. This carries information on the light output (lumens) and color temperature (Kelvin) but does not require an indication of the CRI. Since color perception is somewhat subjective, Tal recommends testing out the lighting yourself or visiting a showroom where you can judge how colors appear.

Lighting Facts 2

Do I Have to Replace My Fixtures?

To my surprise, it turns out that I don’t have to completely replace my recessed lighting. In some cases, I could just replace the bulb itself. For example, I could choose to replace the MR16 halogen bulbs in recessed fixtures with a 10 watt LED. However, I would have to be careful to choose LEDs that have adequate heat sinks. (Tal recommends products by Soraa). Another option is to screw in a new canister to the existing halogen fixture.

For the R30 cans that I had installed 14 years ago (and which now contain dimmable fluorescents), I could leave the housing in place and replace the cans themselves.  This might cost $40-$90 per can. However, I could do it myself and would not have to recut the holes in my ceiling. (Since I have a few dozen of these, I think I’ll wait.)

For some of the halogen fixtures in my house — like wall sconces with unusual halogen bulbs — I am going to have to wait for LED replacements.

Interesting Innovations and Fun Facts

  • There are new LEDs on the market that have the ability to become warmer in color when they are dimmed.  One manufacturer calls this “sunlight dimming.”
  • LED “light strips” are available and can be purchased by the foot (~$25/foot). These are very cool and can be cut to any length.
  • The smart technology in LEDs makes it possible to integrate all sorts of functionality into lighting systems – e.g. a daylight sensor that could automatically dim or brighten a lighting system.
  • The amount of power used is so little, that it would be technically possible to use Cat 5 wiring (i.e. twisted pair wiring as used in Ethernet cables) instead of standard Romex.
  • LEDs do not emit UV radiation (as do incandescent bulbs) that can fade fabrics.

Caveat Emptor

Tal advised us to watch out for some potentially misleading information:

Tal Mashhadian, owner of Lite Line Illuminations

Tal Mashhadian, owner of Lite Line Illuminations

  • More watts does not necessarily mean brighter light.
  • Lighting efficiency of LEDs is measured differently than with incandescent or fluorescent bulbs.  The correct measure for LEDs is lumens/per watt.  A greater number is more efficient.
  • Be aware that packaging describing watt usage (e.g., “only uses 8 watts”) does not necessarily describe the power used by the LED itself. It could represent power consumed (and possibly wasted) by other components of the lighting package. Lumen output per watt is the correct measure of efficiency.
  • Tal recommends investing in light fixtures and lighting where the specifications have been tested and validated by independent labs.

He also pointed out that, if the LED’s heat sink is not adequate, the color of the light can shift over time. LEDs with better heat sinks might be more expensive but it can pay off in the long-term.

Time to Say Goodbye to Old-Fashioned, Energy Hog Light Bulbs?

Is it time to kiss both your incandescent and fluorescent bulbs goodbye?  You can probably start doing so economically and develop a plan to gradually phase in LEDs. If you are remodeling, you may have no choice but to go with LEDs.  And the good news is that there are many great lighting options out there.  It’s worth visiting your local showroom to check out the solutions.

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Los Altos Approves Climate Action Plan

Good news!

The Los Altos City Council unanimously approved the Climate Action Plan at the council meeting Dec. 10, 2013.

This culminates a two year effort, but Zach Dahl, Senior Planner, cautioned us, “Now the hard work begins.”

It's official!

It’s official!

The plan has over 40 specific measures that will bring the city into compliance with the California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), a landmark bill that requires the state to roll greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020.  A good chunk of the reductions will occur because of changes made at the state and federal levels, such as fuel efficiency standards, energy efficiency standards, and an increase in renewable energy produced by our energy suppliers.  That still leaves some work for Los Altos.

Multiple benefits

The actions Los Altos will take were selected to provide benefit beyond greenhouse gas emission reductions.  The bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure will be expanded.  This will be good for people who want to get out of their cars, provide healthy exercise and produce less greenhouse gases.  Building regulations enhancements will improve energy efficiency and the City will expand its outreach about energy efficiency options.  This will save us money in the long run with lower energy bills and produce less greenhouse gases.  Public charging stations and pre-wiring for electric vehicle (EV) charging will encourage the adoption of electric vehicles, which with zero tail pipe emissions, means cleaner air for us and our children.  Water conservation measures will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions (pumping water takes energy) and planting more shade trees will capture carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas.

Monitoring and reporting

The council took an active interest in making sure we meet our target.  They asked for a mid-year report rather than waiting until the end of 2014.  They asked for a detailed progress report after two years, rather than waiting until 2018.  They offered a number of suggested enhancements that will be incorporated in the implementation phase.  The next step according to Mr. Dahl is to assign the measures to the lead departments within the city and the departments will then develop a plan and a schedule.  The Environmental Commission will develop a web site dashboard so everyone can track our progress.

Thanks to the Environmental Commission and the City Council for great progress in our fight against global warming! Want to read the Plan?  Here’s the link.

For more information, contact Gary Hedden, GreenTown Energy Program Chair at energy@GreenTownLosAltos.org.