Living Sustainably

Aquaponics | Rain Harvesting | Composting | Other Green Products

Make Crockpot soap in 24 hours

Ever wanted to make your own soap? Thought it was too slow or complicated? Here’s a fast and easy method using a “hot process” in your typical crockpot. A cheap digital scale for about $15 and you are in business!

All-natural soap is actually surprising easy to make. 12-18 big bars of organic soap are made with ingredients that cost less then $10 .


What is an Off Grid Power System?

Most of our installations are for clients who want to live in remote locations where the Solar ROI can be immediate. These locations are either not served by the electrical power grid, or poorly served with frequent outages, due to weather or other reasons. Some of these systems are mobile, as in boats and RV’s.

While adding solar to an on grid home is certainly doable, and admirable, it’s an expense not easily justified, as the grid is typically very cheap to install and hookup. However, there is a monthly electric bill, and prices are not known to decrease, or even stay static, but increase over time.

An off grid home is insulated from grid outages, and increasing energy costs. A remote home which would require power to be brought in from long distance can show an immediate Return On Investment (ROI), the the cost of the solar power system is typically less than the installation charge to bring the grid in. Remote property is typically less expensive than property serviced by the grid, offering more opportunities for savings.

An off grid power system typically consists of Solar Panels and/or Wind Turbines, but also may include micro hydro and generator systems. The charging sources fill battery banks with regulated power for 24/7 operation, even when the sun or wind is not in operation. The batteries can power low voltage devices directly, and regular household appliances though AC Inverters.

Conserving power by using energy efficient appliances, and time shifting heavy loads to times of generation, can greatly decrease the total cost of the system by reducing the size of the system needed. This process does not mean reducing services. An off grid home can have the vary same conveniences and services of an on grid home, just done in slightly different ways to meet the power and financial budget of the owner.

Off grid power systems can be professionally installed, or homeowner installed, and may qualify for state and federal rebates and incentives, improving the ROI even further.

For free information on how to design and build your own off grid power system, rain water harvesting, and other off grid tech, see


Green Mortgages: An Overview

There are cost effective mortgages for (a) homes that are energy efficient and (b) property owners who want to make their current property energy efficient. Energy Efficient Mortgages or Green Mortgages provide homeowners the opportunity to borrow money for upgrades to energy efficient levels in their properties. Renovations can include:

  • Repairing or replacing the current chimney

  • Installing passive or active solar technology

  • Installation of a tankless water heaters

  • Installing double paned windows

  • Installing a modern HVAC systems

  • Installing insulation

The idea is to encourage eco-friendly living spaces that use fewer resources for cooling and heating. Fannie Mae, the Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Veteran Affairs have green mortgage programs. Freddie Mac offers projected utility savings by taking upgrades into the equation when establishing loan amounts.


While details may vary depending on mortgage lenders and companies, there are three distinctive types of green mortgages.

  • Conventional EEM
    Offered by lenders selling properties to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Borrow up to 15% of the property’s appraised value to upgrade green levels

  • Federal Housing Administration EEM
    Borrow up to 5% of property value or $4,000, whichever’s greater. The maximum on the loan is $8,000

  • Veteran Administration EEM
    For past and present military personnel. If purchasing an existing property, allowed green upgrades of up to $6,000, regardless of property value


If your home is currently energy efficient, financing could be approved. Approval will also depend on the inspection rating. If the property needs some upgrades, improvement cost must be determined before contacting a lender. After an initial consultation, they’ll suggest a licensed energy rater to inspect the property. The rater will present a report in the form of a Home Energy Rating System, or HERS, which is provided to both homeowners and lenders. HERS costs between $300 and $800 and usually includes:

  • Rating of property as is

  • Recommendations for upgrades

  • Estimated pricing, savings and life of upgrades

  • Estimate of property’s rating after upgrades

  • Before and after estimations of property’s annual energy costs


Green mortgages are not second mortgages since it is rolled into a current mortgage and the owner continues making one payment. There are green mortgage with discounts on fees and/or interest rates for energy efficient certified properties.


A green mortgage is an excellent way for homeowners to save money in the long term and an incomparable way to change one’s footprint. You can get credit for existing eligible utilities. They also provide peace of mind to you, your family and your guests as you all benefit from a healthier environment.

Brentt Taylor is a staff writer of For 18 years of existence, the website has been providing news, articles and finance-related tools that aim to help consumers create smart financial decisions.


Off grid refrigeration

There’s a number of methods of refrigeration for the off gridder. Some are more efficient than others, so I’ll attempt to provide the options, and the pro’s and con’s of each.

Standard house fridge:

This is your typical electric fridge, found at any home improvement store. The Energy Star versions are very efficient, and typically consume about 1 kWh / day, depending on size. A 2000+ watt inverter is often necessary to handle start up loads. These fridges have are fairly noisy, compared to other types. These can cost several hundred dollars or more depending on size.

Absorption propane / electric RV fridge:

Propane fridges are very common in both the RV, and the off grid environment. Although they often can run on electric as well, they are quite inefficient in this mode, and if run on propane, require combustion of an expensive fossil fuel, but one that stores almost indefinitely. Many off gridders start with this method until enough solar can be installed to run a normal fridge. Quieter than a compressor fridge, some make virtually no noise (pilot light), others have a tic tic ignition and a whoosh of the flame. Air quality and humidity are a concern in unvented applications, in propane mode. These units are commonly in the $1000 range.

Solid State Peltier Fridge:

These small units really are more of a cooler, and are big energy hogs. They are typically electrically reversible, so can also be used to heat food. Very quiet, the fan is the only moving part. They run on dc, so no inverter necessary, just direct connection to battery. They typically cost about the same as a similarly sized dorm fridge, around $100 or so.


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.


Two Buckets on a Mission

Is it possible two cheap plastic buckets can help reduce global malnutrition?

Sounds crazy, but there’s some amazing technology that can be created by combining two cheap 5-gallon buckets along with some other low cost or free materials. The result is a low cost foolproof system of growing food.


Five Great Reasons to Replace Your Dry Cell Battery Supplies with Rechargeables

By Aaron Fowles, Corporate Communications Specialist
SANYO North America Corporation

Each year, more than two billion household batteries are disposed, and that number only represents those that are sent to landfills. The impact on our environment from discarded dry cell batteries can be catastrophic over time, polluting our world’s ground soil and water supply, resulting in health hazards to humans, plants, and animals.

The amount of chemicals and/or metals in batteries can be staggering. For example, a car battery has almost 20 pounds of lead in it and 16 ounces of sulfuric acid. (Source: “The Effects of Non-Disposable Batteries on the Environment”, by Jason Petrina, Editor and Publisher, Article Click)
As our society continues to heavily depend on battery supplies to power many common electronic devices, such as digital cameras and flashlights, the need for efficient and ecologically responsible battery use has become paramount.

Therefore, replacing traditional dry cell batteries with rechargeable batteries offers a number of important benefits, highlighting meanings of “eco”, economical and ecological, simultaneously.

1.A typical dry cell battery lasts only as long as its life cycle, limiting the use to one time only. Rechargeable batteries can be recharged and reused more than 500 times. In fact, there are some rechargeable batteries out there that can be charged again 1,000 or more times.

2.Buying dry cell batteries that can only be used once is typically less expensive upfront, but that cost increases dramatically over time. Thankfully, budget-minded supply managers know rechargeable batteries allow hundreds of cycles per battery, making the cost per unit go down over times used, resulting in hundreds or thousands of dollars in cost savings each year.

3.Rechargeable batteries last longer, with one rechargeable battery taking the role of multiple batteries each time it is recharged and reused. The reusing of resources minimizes impact on the environment. Batteries, which contain a number of metals including mercury, aluminum, and nickel, pollute groundwater and soil when not disposed of properly. Also, if you look close enough, you will see that most rechargeable batteries are recyclable.

4.Rechargeable batteries are more convenient. This is counterintuitive because the traditional image is that they don’t come pre-charged and that translates to inconvenience. The way rechargeable batteries work has improved remarkably and deserves attention. They can come pre-charged today, are usable right out of the box, and can be recharged and used again tomorrow and the next day. If you don’t use them right away and decide to charge and store them, some batteries, like SANYO’s eneloop batteries, keep 85% of their charge after sitting on a shelf for one year.

5.Today’s rechargeable batteries are extremely powerful, particularly when powering digital cameras, computers and other power-hungry devices. Rechargeables can deliver solid performance and reliability, as evidenced by the recent developments in stable voltage opening up longer use of each charge.

If you have been sitting on the fence or are looking for something that you can do to start down the path of sustainability, rechargeable, re-usable batteries are a great place to start.

SANYO North America Corporation, a subsidiary of SANYO Electric Co., Ltd., markets and sells energy- and environment-related products in North America including a variety of commercial and consumer solutions such as rechargeable batteries, digital imaging devices, biomedical and health-related equipment, HVAC equipment, home appliances, etc. SANYO is also the world’s largest manufacturer of rechargeable batteries. For further information on SANYO, please visit


E.U.’s EuP (energy using product) Initiative

The E.U., a bureaucracy that perhaps even overshadows our own, set a date of July 6, 2007, to put the directive in place. Its goal is “establishing a framework for the setting of eco-design requirements for energy-using products [EuP].”

EuP will require manufacturers to calculate the energy used to produce, transport, sell, use, and dispose of almost every one of its products. It will require that the manufacturer go all the way back to the energy used when extracting the raw materials to make its product, including all subassemblies and components. And in time, it will set limits on a product-by-product basis of how much energy can be used in a product’s entire lifecycle.

Part 2

This will actually be a cool thing, if there is a rating on each item, so that you could compare two washing machines, and see the total lifecycle “cost” (an item with a 400 has more impact than a similar item with a 350?). The cost (manpower, etc.) of implementing such a process could be horrendous.


WVO Conversion Class, Oct. 2nd, Falls Village, CT

Did you know you can run your diesel on used fryer oil? Yes, that stuff the restaurants throw away is actually fuel. Want to learn how to do it? We will be giving a class on converting diesels to run this clean burning renewable fuel on Oct. 2nd at 9am, at TEVA in Falls Village , CT. It’s an all day class. The total cost is $50, and participants will be able to get hands on conversion experience. Bring a set of wrenches or socket set. We plan on having 4 different vehicles there for conversion. We will also give a quick introduction to the biodiesel processor on site. Also check out the companion manual, Sliding Home.

Pictures on our new photo album at

Please pre-register ($15) so we know how many people are coming, the other $35 is due at the door.

Drop us an email for details on the class, or for your own wvo conversion kit or biodiesel processor. Make your own fuel for your vehicle, generator, or heating oil furnace. WVO Conversions start at $850 for a passenger car and can cost as much as $2k for a large truck. Processor kits start at $375.