Living Sustainably

Aquaponics | Rain Harvesting | Composting | Other Green Products

Archive for August, 2010

Cleaner Air – CO2 Scrubbing with Algae

Are you trying to build a underwater habitat, or maybe a space station? Maybe you just want a cleaner indoor environment. You can build a CO2 scrubber with algae. This will remove CO2, produce Oxygen, and some types of algae (spirulina) are a high nutrient food source (as well as a fuel source).

Another way to produce oxygen (and hydrogen) is electrolyzing water, but it’s a very inefficient process.


Running Out of Water: The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve Our Most Precious Resource

Water is the world’s life source and essential to all living creatures. Although we live on the blue planet, only 3 percent of all our water is drinkable. Yet we’ve grown accustomed to using it with abandon – individuals consume about 80 to 100 gallons per day adding up to the equivalent of an Olympic sized swimming pool every year. By this decade’s end, when the world population is predicted to reach 8 billion, we will face severe shortages.

In this ground breaking and forward-looking book, Harvard professor Peter Rogers and former general manager of the San Francisco Utilities Commission, Susan Leal give us a sobering perspective on the water crisis—why it’s happening, where it’s likely to strike, and what puts the worst strain on our supply. They explain how water’s unique status as a renewable but finite resource misleads us into thinking we can always produce more of it. They introduce exciting new technologies that can help revolutionize our consumption of water and explain how different areas of the world have taken the helm in alleviating the burden of water shortages.

Rogers and Leal show how it takes individuals at all levels to make this happen, from grassroots organizations who monitor their community’s water sources, to local officials who plan years in advance how they will appropriate water, to the national government who can invest in infrastructure for water conservation today. Informed and inspiring, Running out of Water is a clarion call for action and an innovative look at how we as a nation and individuals can confront the crisis.


Water for Life

An excellent free booklet from Hesperian on how to obtain water, store it, and make/keep it clean.

This booklet provides practical guidance on the most important “how to” questions dealing with access to water. It highlights, among other issues, what can be done to make water safe for drinking and cooking, and how to protect groundwater resources, collect rainwater, and store water safely.


Landfill Gas: Fuel of the future?

Methane in landfill gas is 20x more potent as a greenhouse gas than much maligned CO2 (plant food). Landfills all over the world are emitting this gas (as do cattle). Although there are some attempts at capturing it as a fuel, many locations flare it, or ignore it altogether. The Bloom Energy fuel cell is one way to convert this gas into electricity, and engines can be modified to burn the gas as well (much less expensively than a fuel cell).

Biogas is produced by anaerobic digestion or fermentation of biodegradable materials such as biomass, manure, sewage, municipal waste, green waste, plant material and energy crops.

We have materials available to teach you how to produce (and use) this fuel in your own backyard at


Standing Seam Metal Roof with Solar Panels

A metal roof with built-in solar panels is the most energy efficient and longest lasting solar roofing solution. A metal roof will usually last in excess of 50 years, and solar PV panels usually last 30+ years with minimal loss of efficiency or or electric power production. The combination of the two creates a one-time green roofing investment that will pay for itself over time, and then it will produce free electricity. Such a smart combination eliminates the chance of roof leaks, since there are no roof penetrations, and gives a homeowner piece of mind and confidence in their green metal roof.

Why go with a metal roof, instead of asphalt shingles:

Why would you want to install PV solar panels with a metal roof, instead of installing it on the existing asphalt shingle roof? The answer is very simple; asphalt shingles last an average of 15 years, while your solar panels should last at least 30 years. That means that even if you install your solar panels over a brand new asphalt shingles roof, you will have to remove the whole solar system in 15 years, replace the roof, and then put the solar panels back onto the roof. With the installation costs of a solar PV system being about $2 per watt, and an average solar system size of 3 KW, you will have to pay an extra $6000 (in today’s dollars, before any inflation is calculated) to reinstall your solar panels, and another $1500-2000 to
remove the panels, so that the roof can be replaced. With today’s average solar system price of $9-11 including solar panels, inverter, all wiring, rack-mounting system, permits, installation, etc.), the removal and re-installation price amounts to about 25% of the total solar system cost.

A properly installed standing seam metal roof will easily outlast any asphalt shingles roof by 3 time or more, and it will also outlast a warranty period on any solar panels. When your solar panels get old, and start producing less electricity than what they were designed for, you will have an option to either keep the old solar panels or install the new ones (as a side-note – average efficiency loss of a solar panel is 0.5% per year or 10% over a 20 year warranty period). All your infrastructure will already be in place, and you can simply swap the old solar panels for the new ones. You may also have to swap the charge controller / inverter. In 20 or 30 years, as technology progresses, the efficiency of solar panels and inverters will be much higher, and the cost per watt will be considerably lower. At the same time you will still have your metal roof, performing at 100% efficiency – being leak free and beautiful, that is.

Installing solar panels on a standing seam metal roof

Solar panels can be attached to a standing seam metal roof in two different ways. One is to use a thin film Solar PV panel laminated inside the pan of a standing seam metal roof – a so called solar metal roofing concept, when solar panels are integrated with the roofing material. The limitations of solar metal roofing include lower efficiency (per sq. foot or sq. meter) of the solar PV laminates. Therefore you would need double the roof area to get the same number of kW of a solar system. Also the size limitation of each solar PV laminate (18 feet long panels) make it impossible to install them on roofs with a roof run of less than 18.5 feet.

A better way to install solar panels onto a metal roof is to use S-5 clips or mounting brackets, specially designed to add adequate strength and support of rack-mounting systems installed on standing seam metal roofs. S-5 clops are made of cast aluminum blocks, with stainless steel tightening screws. S-5 clips are attached to the ribs or locks of a standing seam panel, and provide great pullout ratio, meeting and exceeding Miami-Dade county building code requirements for wind uplift.

Image of Solar Metal Roofing s-5 clamp

S-5 Solar Panel mounting clamps allow for a quick and inexpensive installation of the solar rack-mounting system. Solar panels can be attached directly to the clamps, or to horizontal / vertical rails. The overall cost of such solar racking system is reduced from about $1 per watt, to about 50 cents per watt, or less. Also, you do not have to worry about any roof leaks, as there are no roof penetrations, and all mounting hardware is attached to the ribs of the metal roof panels.

You can also get a double tax credit for your solar roofing installation – Your first tax credit would be a 30% tax credit for solar panels, and and another one – up to $1500 cool roof tax credit. An average cost of metal roofing materials will exceed $5000 per roof, so you will be able to get a full 30% cool roof tax credit. With today’s metal roofing prices for steel standing seam ranging from $15000-20000, a $1500 tax credit will save you about 7-10% off your lifetime metal roof.


Power vs. Energy

Once again it’s time to address this recurring issue, as many scammers are taking advantage of the confusion over this issue. A critical piece to designing your own power systems is knowing the relationship of amps multiplied by hours to get amp hours (ah). Likewise, amps multiplied by volts = watts, which multiplied by hours equals watt hours.

Why is this important?

Let’s say you have a 100 watt solar panel. If you are in sunny California, and receive 5 full sun hours daily, that panel can provide 500 watt hours (wh) daily into your loads or batteries. Not 100 watts per hour, which is a bogus term designed to confuse the unaware consumer. Unscrupulous wind turbine companies and “free energy” advocates like to use this “smoke and mirrors” method to mislead people.

Amps (and Watts) are a measurement of Power, Amp Hours (and Watt Hours) are a measurement of Energy. You pay the Power company for Energy (kWh). Confused even more? Read more at


What is Humus?

Humus is organic matter that holds moisture, keeps soil loose and well drained, and supports micro organism activity. All these benefits mean good plant growth. Adding compost and mulch builds humus, eliminates the need to use chemicals (provides nutrients and discourages pests), and reduces the need for irrigation.

For further info:


Replacing our Camper Lights with LED’s

We finally found 12v RV LED lights that have the same brightness and color as our normal 194 incandescent bulbs. These are warm white, not the harsh blueish white LED’s that prevent us from reading because of glare. They use 1/5th the electric, and don’t produce the heat the 194’s produce, so the light fixtures do not turn brown. They passed the wife test, so I’ll be replacing all the lights over the next few weeks.

Update: 6 more units coming in this week, courtesy of

Get these fantastic 12v LED’s for your home or vehicle / camper at


Solar Power On The Go – FreeLoader Pico

I received a FreeLoader Pico the other day, and I put it to work charging my cellphone while on the go. It does a fantastic job of that, but I wondered what else I could use it for. Ah, a power source for my Arduino Microcontroller. It does a great job of that as well. No more looking for power connections, I just set the small solar panel with integrated Li-ION battery in the sun and charge. A bargain at $30.


Little St. Simons Island’s Organic Garden and Vermiposting

In 2008, Little St. Simons Island’s garden received organic certification from the USDA. Since then, the island’s vermicomposting and 3-bin composting systems have worked overtime to generate the rich “black gold”/compost that has resulted in a fertile garden delivering fresh vegetables and herbs served to the island’s guests. Amy Shuster, Little St. Simons Island’s gardener, and the island’s team of naturalists invite guests into the garden to learn how easy (and stench-free!) it truly is to incorporate composting into the everyday home.

Vermicomposting Background

The cool temperatures, particularly the milder late fall, winter and early spring temperatures in the American south, pave the way to perfect conditions for active composting systems. Calcium deposits from Red wiggler worms contribute to the rich soil produced through vermicomposting and are deposited at optimum pace during the cooler months. The cooler temperatures result in increased rates of reproduction; therefore, food is broken down more quickly and efficiently with additional worms who are responsible for eating the microorganisms that break down the food. Food waste is a major component in landfills and releases detrimental methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The EPA reports that Americans throw away 98 billion pounds of food waste each year which equals more than 25% of the food we prepare! For example, a family of four generates on average one pound of kitchen scraps each day.

These simple steps to creating an at-home vermicomposting system will turn kitchen scraps into rich “black gold,” not only giving the disposal a break, but also reducing greenhouse gases all while creating fertile soil, the foundation for a successful garden!

Vermicomposting 1-2-3

1. Select a worm bin. A popular plastic vermicomposting unit is Can O’Worms which can be found at several online retailers. Benefits of this system include the enclosed tiered system (which greatly helps to reduce odors) and a tray at the bottom of the unit designed to trap the highly sought after “vermicompost tea.” This unit features three trays in which the worms work through the trays processing waste and depositing their castings on the lower level. If you’d like to make a system at home with materials in hand, a ventilated plastic bin (such as a recycling bin) works well. Guard ventilation holes with netting to prevent worms from escaping.

2. Purchase red wigglers or red worms which are packed in peat and can be ordered from various online sites.

3. Gather your bedding materials. Cardboard, torn into small pieces, and shredded newspaper are ideal materials. Avoid glossy paper from newspaper inserts, magazines, coated cardboard and shredded office paper as these may contain toxins harmful to the worms.

4. Moisten bedding materials with dechlorinated water (to dechlorinate: allow jugs of water from the faucet to sit out in the open for 1-2 days). Slowly add water to bedding materials until materials become damp, simulating the feel of a wrung-out sponge. If possible, add garden soil to your bedding materials at this stage. The worms will benefit from the gritty texture and the microorganisms introduced by the soil will expedite the breaking down of scraps.

5. Place bedding in bin and add worms. Allow bin to be exposed to light during the first hour to encourage worms to burrow into soil as they escape the light. Cover bin and set aside for 2-3 days before adding scraps, allowing the worms to nestle into their new home. When kept happy, worms can turn kitchen waste to rich compost in 1-2 months.

6. Store bin in a cool and convenient location, ideally between 55-80 degrees F.

7. Spread scraps around bottom tray, cover with bedding materials and allow the worms to work! Ideal scraps include raw vegetables, coffee grounds, egg shells, fruit, and cereal.

Little St. Simons Island Background

Virtually untouched for centuries, Little St. Simons Island is a barrier island off Georgia’s coast that features seven miles of pristine beaches, cottages for just 32 overnight guests, ancient maritime forests, tidal creeks and shimmering marshes. The island offers a rare combination of complete privacy in an unspoiled wilderness with the genuine Southern hospitality of the island’s attentive and knowledgeable staff. Accessible only by boat, Little St. Simons Island retains that charm and unhurried pace of coastal living where time is measured only by the rise and fall of the tides. –