The Green Town Los Altos 2013 Drive Less Challenge is history and the environment is the biggest winner. Residents challenged themselves to drive less and make it a lasting habit. Children in the community formed new friendships walking, wheeling, and carpooling to school.
Oak Avenue school took top honors as the Greenest Elementary School and Blach scored the Greenest Middle School Title. This year’s simplified format encouraged community members to review their transportation habits and make a personal pledge to use green alternatives for some or all of their trips to work, school or about town. Over 170 individuals pledged to drive less over the two-week period, a 15% increase over last year’s event. Over 60% of those reporting said that they had met or exceeded their pledge goals and many plan to continue using their newfound green transportation modes.
This years new focus was our youth. Green Town recruited parents and schoolchildren in the district to compete for the title of Greenest Elementary and Greenest Middle Schools Read More
GreenTown Los Altos was well represented at the “2013 WEST Summit and Showcase of Solutions” Thursday, May 23, hosted by Sustainable Silicon Valley, WEST stands for Water, Energy, Smart Technology, all critical elements necessary to drive sustainability regionally and globally.
I think the Governor nailed it when he said, “If we don’t change, 5 years from now it’s over,” a comment picked up by the Mercury News. As citizens, now our challenge is to hold him to it.
The meeting was excellent and the location of NASA Ames Research Center was truly inspired. If we can get to the moon we should be able to tackle climate change – right?
It started with the usual grim run down on where we are going off the tracks:
- The CO2 Hockey Stick, just this month spiking above 400 ppm. It has been verified 23 times now, so it is as close to indisputable as such scientific numbers can get. Waleed Abdalati, Director Earth Science Observation Center at the University of Colorado, looks at the graph and says, “If this was a company’s stock performance we would say what an opportunity – buy it, it’s going up, up, up.” The climate change deniers look at it and say, “Oh, I don’t know, it’s all cyclical.”
If we can get to the moon we should be able to tackle climate change – right?
- Jim Hansen talked. Yes, that Jim Hansen, former Head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. His message – we have already burned over half the fossil fuels we can without truly disastrous consequences. His solution is the carbon fee with the dividend returned to all legal citizens. He projected about $2000 per person. This levels the playing field for all forms of energy.
- Anthony Barnosky, Professor, Dept. of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley, noted that climate change is only one part of the damage being done to earth’s life support systems. There is also population growth and pollution. He says we are on track for a major extinction event. Earth has had these before (remember the dinosaurs went bye bye about 65 million years ago). Such an event means 75% or more of the existing multi-cellular life forms disappear. As he put it – look around you and note that 4 out of every 5 living things you see will be gone.
Enough with the grim news already. So why don’t more people seem to care?
Banny Baberjee, Associate Professor and Director, Stanford ChangeLabs, talked about short term and long term benefits. Climate change is too distant – there are more immediate concerns that always take priority. We seem to have three choices – growth (economic prosperity), social issues (solving poverty for example) and environmental issues. The dilemma: You can have two, not three – take your pick. So the environment gets dropped.
The speakers did get into solutions. The way we grow our food, more efficient use of our energy, more bicycling (Google wants all of its employees living in Palo Alto to be able to safely bike to Mt. View), restore marsh lands, allow utilities to use adjustable voltages (it’s technical), impose higher standards on our producers (Walmart had done this), build developments adjacent to public transit, and much more. There is no silver bullet, but there is silver buckshot.
In the afternoon there was a very fun presentation of specific proposals by groups. A panel then passed judgement and gave each “contestant” a score. It was very “Shark Tank” like. The winners were a couple of guys who came up with a cheap portable toilet. Yep, it got down to that level, but in places like Haiti this is important. They don’t have water for toilets, or sewer systems even if they had the water. I’m not certain about the climate change potential here, but it was innovative.
I liked the presentation by Craig Lewis, Clean Coalition, on local generation and distribution of electricity. This has some real energy efficiency potential as well as introducing resiliency. He is testing the concept in five demonstration projects in order to prove it to the satisfaction of his customers – the utilities.
The Cool Cities challenge was presented by David Gershon. Yes, that David Gershon, author of “How to Lose 5000 Pounds in 30 Days.” They will select three early adopter California cities to demonstrate the methodology and then scale it throughout California and beyond.
A presentation aimed at inspiring young people to take action on climate change was the Green Ninja. This is an effort by a San Jose State team that targets the sixth grade. They have developed short films and accompanying lesson plans that use the adventures of the Green Ninja as a mascot, unifying theme.
There were many other presentations with good and interesting ideas – so there is some hope!
The day concluded with remarks by State Senator Jerry Hill. His told us, “We need to step up. Too many people think someone else will take care of it. Some even think the government will do it.” That brought a laugh from the audience.
We need to step up. Too many people think someone else will take care of it. Some even think the government will do it.
The final speaker was NASA Astronaut (ret.) Col. “Bo” Bobko. He told us, “Earth really is a small place from 190 miles up. It looks like a Christmas ornament and just as fragile.” That’s a final thought that we should always keep in our minds.
Kids who care about climate change rap, “One Bottle at a Time (Save The Fishes)”
We had some entertainment just before our lunch break – a rap by two guys from Redwood High School called, “One Bottle at a Time (Save the Fishes).” This environmentalist found it very cool.
One Family Sheds Light on Switching To LED Bulbs
By Charley Pow
Inspired by people reducing their electricity usage, we wanted to do more. Years ago we replaced our incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights (CFL), but we still have many halogen ceiling lights. We like the light from halogen bulbs, but compact fluorescent light (CFL) or light emitting diode (LED) bulbs generate less heat and use less electricity so we decided to make the change. Here’s our experience.
First Trade Off: Not All Bulbs Are Alike
Which bulb to use? We want an R20 bulb (a reflector bulb that’s 2.4” across) that behaves like the halogen bulbs we have, except that the replacement is more energy efficient.
We asked GTLA members and read online reviews. Three GTLA members responded, each recommending a different LED bulb. We also read online reviews, summarized below:
- TCP LED bulbs: Mixed reviews, the bulb is shorter than a halogen bulb.
- Satco LED bulbs: No online reviews.
- EcoSmart LED bulbs: From Home Depot, these had some good reviews with photos showing good light coverage. Some reviewers report radio frequency interference (RFI) that can interfere with remote controls for a garage door opener.
These LED bulbs cost about $20 each. In time you recoup the bulb purchase price because an LED bulb uses 1/6 the electricity of a halogen bulb. Based on reviews, R20 CFLs take too long to brighten so we didn’t try any.
And The Winner Was….
First we purchased the 3000K EcoSmart LED bulb from Home Depot. We wanted a warmer, 2700K (Kelvin, the rating scaled used for visible bulb lighting warmth) bulb, but EcoSmart doesn’t have an R20 bulb in this color. Trying the LED bulb, we saw it had a whiter light than a halogen bulb.
The EcoSmart LED bulb disperses the light as evenly as the halogen bulb. RFI isn’t an issue — the remote control for our garage door worked fine in the garage, about 30’ from these bulbs. The LED bulb takes about a second longer to get bright than the halogen bulb which we found acceptable.
After living with the EcoSmart bulbs, we decided that the 3000K light didn’t fit with the room’s warmer lighting, a mixture of fluorescent, CFL, and halogen bulbs. We moved them to a bathroom where the whiter light doesn’t feel so stark, and they’re okay there.
Then we tried FEIT 2700K LED bulbs from Costco for $12 each. The color looks like a halogen bulb, it casts a wider beam of light than a halogen bulb, producing more glare around the room, a minor issue. No RFI interference with our garage opener. We kept the FEIT bulbs in the kitchen.
We use these lights an hour a day, so based on the cost of electricity, we’ll save $2.50 a year per bulb. The reduced energy cost will pay for the purchase price in 6 years. A higher daily usage would take less time, and more expensive bulbs would take more time.
Our estimate was calculated simply: 42 watts/hr x 1 hr/day x 365 days/year x $.16/kw-hr / 1000 watt/kw = $2.45/year.
Other Factor To Consider:
Cost of electricity of part of the savings equation when it comes to LED bulbs. Consider the dollars paid upfront versus absolute dollars over time.
At face value, LEDs are more expensive than any other bulb on the market. But are they really? Consider this.
If a Halogen bulb cost $14.95, and an LED cost $32. In absolute dollars it’s more expensive. But if the halogen lasts 1.5 to 2 years and the LED lasts 10 years or more, the overall expense makes it 1/5th or less the cost, depending on usage and the bulb you choose.
Add in the savings on energy and there’s no reason not to “switch”, no pun intended, to LEDs.
A Bike Route Paved With Leisure, Learning and Tips
GreenTown Los Altos hosted a Native Garden Bike Tour Sunday, May 19, through Los Altos and a corner of Mountain View. Led by Gary Hedden and Margie Suozzo, the leisurely 8-mile ride had 6 stops to see, and learn about, native and drought tolerant yards.
Taking off from the Lazy Foot Chicken Ranch next door to Egan Jr. High, first stop was, a bake sale and fundraiser held by “A Living Classroom” allowing riders to “carb” up on cookies while checking out the historic one-acre property’s wonderful garden and chickens.
First stop at Jim Evans’ home in Mountain View gave a glimpse of a 12-year old yard with a lot of sun exposure. Although the California poppies are finished, the yard is still loaded with color. The Cleveland sage at the front is especially dramatic. Jim says fall pruning is the biggest job, otherwise it is easy, “One can go weeks with little to do [in a native yard].”
Second stop was Rob Weltman’s. His garden is only 2 years old and with its shady location features plants like currant, monkey flower, columbine, grasses and various ground covers. There are also several varieties of the versatile manzanita.
Charley Pow, member of the California Native Plant Society, explained a little bit about the drought-tolerant “xeriscape” at the new Packard Foundation. Last year he blogged about it, with photos, definitely worth reading.
Next stop, Ruth Troetschler’s home. A long time advocate of native plants, Ruth has an extensive garden with so much variety – and why not, she has lived at her home for over 50 years! Her yard and garden are an ever changing and delightful work in progress. Key plants are ceanothus, woolly blue curls, Cleveland sage, desert mallow, columbine and several varieties of buckwheat, such a variety there’s color every month of the year (with a little help from non-natives).
Last stop was back at Egan to see the Living Classroom’s native educational garden. Living Classroom is a K-8 program at Los Altos and Mountain View public schools that teaches children about the joys of gardening and a whole lot more with connections to biology, math, and even history. Vicki Moore, Living Classroom founder, discussed the goal of the garden at Egan, which was to represent several different plant communities, including a wide range of native plants ranging from shade loving vine maple, creek dogwood and coral bell to sun loving (or at least sun tolerating) ceanothus, sage and manzanita. This is a demonstration garden with many of the plants labeled, so well worth a visit if you’re considering going native.
One final GreenTown thought – with all the demands on the California water supply it really does make sense to – go native, so read the tips below to get started.
Tips For Planting A Native Garden
A good looking native landscape does take some planning, but help is out there. Here are a few resources:
- The California Native Plant Society (CNPS): The local chapter provides loads of information plus photographs of all of the gardens that have been on its tours with a detailed description of each here.
- Water-Wise Gardening in the Bay Area: This is a very visual resource by the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency of gardens and plants that can be used for native and drought tolerant landscaping in our area. Click here for more info.
- Local Nurseries with Native and Drought Tolerant Plants (mentioned on the tour): Yerba Buena Nursery; Summerwinds Nursery; Common Ground Palo Alto; Suncrest (in Aptos – wholesale only); CNPS/Hidden Villa Native Plant Sale (held in the Spring).
Rebate for Replacing Grass with Natives and Drought Tolerant Plants
Replace your lawn with natives and drought tolerant plants and get “cash for grass” from the Santa Clara Valley Water District ($0.75 a square foot up to $2000).
Sunset article on water management.
Packard Foundation plant list with photos.
Los Altos Environmental Commission website click on “Landscaping with Natives.”
GreenTown Los Altos visited the home of the future – and it looks great!
Sold just two weeks ago, in one day, this passive-inspired modern home located in north Los Altos, designed by Modern House Architects and built by Clarum Homes was made available for a special GreenTown visit.
Sean Misskelley, Director of Construction, led the tour. For Sean, “a passive home is simply a building that employs a set of advanced building technologies to achieve extreme energy efficiency. Energy consumption is reduced by 90% or more compared to that of conventional homes.”
Sean told us about an owner in Danville who brought in his PG&E bill last year for the month of May. “Look, it’s only $43. In my old home it would be $400!”
When asked how Clarum does it – the answer was pretty long. There are a lot of things that contribute – but the key things are enhanced insulation, greatly reduced thermal bridging, a virtually air-tight building envelope, high performance windows and a heat recovery ventilation system.
Does it add to the cost? About 5-6% to the hard construction costs, according to Sean, but it pays for itself with lower bills, increased comfort and healthier air. Because the house is tight, it needs a system to bring in fresh outside air – the heat recovery ventilation system. This house exchanges the air nine times a day. The fresh air coming in is filtered so it is very clean and it is heated (or cooled) by a heat exchanger using the old air going out. This process is surprisingly efficient and recovers 94-95% of the heat.
That’s how you get a $43 PG&E bill, clean air and a nice comfortable temperature all at the same time.
When asked if the building code requires this – the answer was a resounding “no!” Los Altos has a GreenPoint Checklist that promotes energy efficiency, but nothing as comprehensive or demanding as this.
We have seen the future and it is energy efficient, comfortable, well-built, healthy, conserves water and uses sustainable building practices. Sounds like the way to go, doesn’t it!
By the way, the current exhibition at the Los Altos History Museum, “A Place to Call Home,” has a section on the future of sustainable development. Check it out.