Living Sustainably

Aquaponics | Rain Harvesting | Composting | Other Green Products

Archive for March, 2014

Coconut Coir, Say Goodbye to Peat Moss!

coconutPeat Moss is a common material used for gardening, but it’s not sustainable, mining is damaging to the environment and it’s acidic.

The Dirt on Peat Moss

Does Peat Moss Have a Place In the Ecological Garden?

We use recycled coconut fiber, called coir, a food industry byproduct. As such it’s sustainable, less acidic, and performs better for the myriad of uses we need:

1. Cover Material for Composting Toilet
2. Worm Composting Bedding
3. Mulch and soil additives
4. Upholstery Stuffing

There’s a great tutorial for using Coconut Coir at The Real Garden.

We get ours at Amazon with free shipping, and are very happy with the results. It comes in 11 lb. compressed bales (expands when hydrated) for $22.


The Return of the Green Trust Rain Water Harvesting System

rainbarrelkitThe Green Trust Rain Water Harvesting System is back! Our tested and approved rain barrel kit for turning your plastic barrel into a source of water for gardening, flushing, even drinking (with the DIY Berkey Water Purifier)  is back in stock!  We have used this ourselves and it’s a great way to obtain water for general use or emergencies. Works with rectangular downspouts.

Comes with our DIY Water Systems eBook package!

See at


Coal-fired boilers will go cold in days as Ball State continues conversion to geothermal

Coal-fired boilers will go cold in days as Ball State continues conversion to geothermal
Nearly 70 years after Ball State University installed its four coal-fired boilers, school employees are shoveling in the last few lumps of coal. In just a few days, the boilers will go cold as the university embraces renewable energy with world’s largest district closed geothermal energy system.
Jim Lowe, director of engineering, construction and operations, will be there to watch the historic event. He’s overseen the $80 million geothermal project — consisting of 3,600 boreholes to the system that heats and cools 47 buildings on campus — since the first hole was drilled in 2009.
“It has been incredible to witness the progress over the last few years,” Lowe says. “I think we’ll realize the full extent of the changeover from consuming about 36,000 tons of coal a year to renewable energy when the two smoke stacks come down in 2015.”
The work to be completed includes finishing the system’s south borehole field, modifications to the South District Energy Station to accommodate the two new 2,500-ton heat-pump chillers, hot and chilled water distribution looping, and modification of the remaining buildings (predominately on the south side of campus) to accept the geothermal connections.
Lowe notes that when the system is complete next year, the shift from fossil fuels to a renewable energy source will reduce the university’s carbon footprint by nearly half while saving $2 million a year in operating costs.
The Earth’s ability to maintain a constant temperature supports the thermodynamic principle for the geothermal system’s operation. A ground source heat pump coupled with a vertical closed loop piping system uses the Earth as either a heat source, when operating in heating mode, or a heat sink, when operating in cooling mode.
Phase 1 was completed in 2012. It consisted of two borehole fields, construction of the North District Energy Station and connecting buildings on the northern part of campus to the new distribution system.
“When costs began to escalate for the installation of a new fossil fuel burning boiler, the university began to evaluate other renewable energy options,” Lowe says. “This led to the decision to convert the campus to a more efficient geothermal-based heating and cooling system.”
Federal and state officials have endorsed Ball State’s foray into renewable energy. The U.S. Department of Energy provided a grant of $5 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Indiana General Assembly authorized nearly $45 million in state capital funding for the first phase. In 2013, the Indiana General Assembly authorized a $30 million cash appropriation for the second phase.
The project has caught the attention of universities and communities across the nation. Lowe is sharing information about the university’s new operation with others who want learn how they, too, can benefit from a geothermal system.
“The geothermal project provides research opportunities for faculty, and by creating a sustainable university, we can provide a learning environment for students,” Lowe says. “This project further demonstrates that we practice what we teach.”
Contact information
Jim Lowe may be reached at 765-285-2805 or
Marc Ransford
media relations manager
Ball State University
Muncie, Ind .47306

Affordable Solar Starter Kit

solar kitSo you want to get started in solar, but don’t know where to start? Here’s an inexpensive ($190, delivered) quality starter kit. 100 watts of monocrystalline solar which could generate between 250-500 watt hours daily (up to 8 hours on  laptop, or get two to run a dorm fridge), depending on your location and weather conditions. Comes with a 30 amp charge controller so you can add more solar panels, wiring, and a mounting kit. Add a battery and a inverter to get your journey started. Great for learning how solar works, science fair projects, and a building block for a larger system. You can go off grid as you build your system, taking more and more devices off the grid, a device or a room at a time. Once you have the starter kit, you can add more panels. Make sure you get additional mounting brackets and cables for your expansion. The 30 amp controller can handle 3 solar panels, so get another starter kit for your 4th panel, etc.

DIY Solar Installation Tutorials