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Take Charge of your Power Usage

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

A couple of weeks ago (in fact, just a few days before Christmas), I got an email from a company called Take Charge, who produce a couple of handy energy saving devices related to power consumption. They were offering me a couple of devices in exchange for a review.

Now, as somebody who is concerned about the environment and a user of perhaps more power than I would really prefer to be, this was a very appealing offer. The promise of the devices was to help control “vampire” power usage — that nasty, sucking sound as power is wasted away by devices that you aren’t even using.

However conscientious you may try to be about turning off devices and unplugging adapters when you’re finished using them, any thing that you need to remember is going to occasionally be missed. It would be rather nice to have a more sensitive power source, don’t you think?

I’ve been using the two devices that Take Charge sent me for about two weeks now — which seems like a fair amount of time to determine that yes, they do work as advertised.

The specific devices are the Smartstrip Surge Protector and the Wallmount Timed Charger Docking Bay. Each device serves a specific service which I’ve found handy.

The Smartstrip Surge Protector’s fancy feature is to use one “control” socket to dictate whether or not an additional five sockets are receiving power. As a heavy computer user, I’ve got my laptop dock plugged into the control socket and my extra two monitors, speakers, and adjustable desk plugged into the controlled outlets. When my laptop is powered down nothing else receives power – the speakers are silent, the desk is immobile, the monitors are dark. At the press of a button, everything charges back to life. It’s very convenient — reminiscent of using a switched powerstrip, but without the need to crawl underneath my desk…

The Timed Charger Docking Bay is a different type of device – targeted particularly towards items you need to charge, such as an iPad or tablet computer or a cellphone. My normal habit is to charge these things before I go to bed. This is certainly ideal from convenience, since I rarely use my phone while sleeping. However, it does mean that – at a minimum – my chargeable devices will be plugged in overnight. None of these devices require a full night’s charging to be fully charged, so this is definitely wasting some energy.

The Timed Charger is a very simple concept: you press a button, and it starts a timer, turning the outlets on for three hours. In three hours, my cellphone is fully charged, and my iPad regains about 70% of a charge — I may need to do some extra charging if I’ve totally drained the battery…but usually this is plenty. After three hours, the outlets turn off. Energy waste ended.

On the whole, these are simple devices which can have a long-term benefit to your energy usage. They’re unlikely to save you a massive amount of energy immediately — but they will definitely make sure that you’re actually taking some of the simplest steps towards saving energy in the home.

Definitely a nice Christmas present.

Post-script: Obviously, I received something for this review. Be assured that while I probably would not have thought to write this review without receiving the devices for free, this in no way influenced my perception of the devices.

Categories: Alternative Fuel

Sprint’s Reclaim: The green cellphone.

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

It’s not the first time that cell phones have come up on this site, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. With somewhere upwards of 100 million mobile phones being replaced every year, they’re a huge contributor to waste in the world.

Not only do cell phones waste resources, but they incorporate toxic heavy metals and large quantities of plastics to do it. A double whammy! Cadmium, lead, mercury, fire retardant chemicals, and, of course, PVC plastic. Our good friend, toxic enemy #3.

With all of these threats against the environment, it’s certainly good to see a phone popping up with an explicitly green message. The Samsung Reclaim, available from Sprint, isa significant improvement on the norm.

The phone claims to be 80% recyclable materials, with a casing which is 40% bioplastics — and which has eliminated all PVC. According to Sprint, the charger is 12 times as efficient as Energy Star requirements. (Of course, we all know that Energy Star requirements are far from the strictest guidelines.)

On the plus side, in addition to the environmental features already mentioned, the phone is pretty reasonably priced and comes with a $2.00 donation to the Nature Conservancy. On the negative side, the phone has very small number buttons which serve double-purpose as party of the tiny QWERTY keyboard. With no dedicated number pad, this particular device’s usefulness as a phone is a bit compromised.

As an environmental statement, it’s a great first step. As a phone…well, we’ll see. If you’ve got good eyes and small fingers, it’s probably going to work for you.

Categories: Alternative Fuel

What’s the environmental commitment of visitors to this site?

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

I’m always running a poll on this site, in hopes of gathering some information about attitudes and concerns about the environment from visitors to the site. Usually, these polls have a start date and an end date.

Of course, those end dates frequently sit for a long time before the poll actually stops running. This last poll ran over a year past it’s so-called expiration date. I was looking for information about the specific attitude towards the environment for visitors to the site, and due to the exceptionally long run time of the poll, I had more than 30 or 40 responses. Joy!

The results don’t demonstrate a lot of surprises, however. 39.2 percent of visitors are highly concerned but not active outside their own homes and 31.25 percent are concerned but now they could be doing better in their daily lives. Bang – that’s 70% of the visitors to the site. On the peripheries, the rest of the poll takers were pretty evenly split between active environmentalists and people who either intend to do better later or who apparently ended up on the site completely by accident.

See the results.

I was glad to see that the smallest voting category was actually those who intend to do better later, in fact. As the adage goes: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

The next poll is on bicycle commuting. I’m giving up on posting an end date. I’ll close the poll eventually, but what’s the point of listing a date if I’m just going to ignore it?

Categories: Alternative Fuel

Poll Results: Public Transit or Bust!

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

Well, to be entirely frank, I’m more than a little disappointed by the responses to my poll concerning public transit. While there was a decent percentage (nearly 25%) who were perfectly willing to spend over 10 hours a week on the bus, there was an even more significant percentage (over 30%) who were unwilling to spend more than 25 minutes a day.

I’d like to think that these people misunderstood the question, since 25 minutes a day is, in fact, only 12 &12frac; minutes per trip — far less time than the average work day commute — but I suspect this is, at least, not entirely the case.

This is certainly a time when I wish that I had programmed comments into this web site, so I could gain some insight into the thought processes of these voters. Is it because they are actually unwilling to make use of any fossil-fueled system, perhaps? That’s possible, although perhaps improbable. Is it because they are simply unwilling to dedicate the time to public transit when they can more easily and more conveniently use their own private vehicle? That’s certainly the more common attitude in the United States, but I don’t actually know that much about the people who voted in this poll. As a result, I just don’t know.

Regardless, the perspective is fascinating. The next poll, hopefully, will expose a bit more information about the people who visit this site. Rather than an opinion poll concerning a green topic, I’m moving slightly aside to ask a simple question: who are you?

View the poll results.

Categories: Alternative Fuel

The Myriad Forms of Alternate Energy

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

The need for renewable sources of energy is critical. Energy use skyrockets, fossil fuels gradually disappear, and we (Americans, especially) cross our fingers and hope that our way of life might continue. The huge concerns about the polluting nature of fossil fuels has become subsumed by the concern that fossil fuels have or will soon become an energy sources which is simply unavailable.

The problem of peak oil is the biggest concern of the moment. In brief, it’s the reality that as oil supplies diminish, the work required to extract remaining oil increases. As a result, we expend more energy resources to acquire more energy resources. So the question isn’t “how much oil is left?” Instead, we have to ask how much oil we’ll need to use in order to extract the remaining resources.

But this isn’t an article about the peak oil crisis or fossil fuels: it’s about alternative energy sources.

Following a recent article describing an idea to use children’s playground equipment for energy production in Africa, the obvious conclusion comes to mind: why just Africa? There’s a huge focus on providing renewable energy resources in areas such as Africa largely because we can’t readily afford to divert fossil fuels into those communities. They can’t afford to buy it, and we can’t afford to give it away.

But, in the long term, we won’t be able to afford our own existing resources. This idea, taking an existing tool (or toy!) and using it for energy production is extremely sensible.

Although it’s unlikely that children playing could produce enough power to keep the grid afloat (although I’ve known some children with a lot of energy,) children are far from the only way that our day-to-day activities could be converted into power production. Take the gym. Many people, as a result of their day to day sedendary office jobs, dedicated a portion of their available time to exercise. Why couldn’t a stationary bike be a generator?

Finding alternate energy sources isn’t just about creating gigantic wind farms, solar energy factories, or finding new way of extracting fuel from grass (an inherently flawed idea, as it is.) Renewable energy needs to be about finding ways of minimizing our daily energy use and finding whatever ways we can to create other energy sources.

We haven’t yet found a single fuel source which is as efficient as fossil fuels in the sheer generation of energy – and it may well be that we never will. Finding numerous small resources and personal energy generation may be the only sustainable path.

Categories: Alternative Fuel

Poll Results on Garden Watering

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

So, I’ll freely admit that this poll was very, very, very late in ending. Scheduled for an October 1st, 2007 close, I just closed it today — January 30th, 2008. I will confess that this is not exactly an admirable ability to maintain a schedule!

On the plus side, running the poll for an extra four months did provide me with a bit more data than I might have otherwise expected. With 70 votes, I feel that I have at least some vague sense that the results were accurate.

The vast majority of visitors to this site, unsurprisingly, water only when necessary or exclusively water their private organic vegetable gardens. I smaller percentage (20%) are still dedicated to maintaining an attractive lawn, although they may cut the occasional corner. This percentage, notably, is exactly the same as the bottom segment — those who apparently maintain rock gardens.

Nothing earth shaking in those results, given the probably audience for this site, but still interesting to see!

The next poll is now operating, and expected to run through April 30th, 2008. (No, I mean it.) The question for this quarter: How much time are you willing to commit to public transit, knowing that it is frequently less efficient than your own vehicle?

The question is a bit loaded; it depends on the assumption that your public transit scenario is, in fact, less efficient than personal driving. This is only sometimes true: it depends on where you live and where you’re going. I know that, for myself, it’s pretty much always a significantly greater time commitment to ride the bus. But I have also lived in places where the opposite was true!

But the key question isn’t actually about how much time you actually spend on the bus (or other public transit) it’s about how much extra time you’re willing to spend for the sake of the environment.

Categories: Alternative Fuel

Poll Results on Garden Watering

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

So, I’ll freely admit that this poll was very, very, very late in ending. Scheduled for an October 1st, 2007 close, I just closed it today — January 30th, 2008. I will confess that this is not exactly an admirable ability to maintain a schedule!

On the plus side, running the poll for an extra four months did provide me with a bit more data than I might have otherwise expected. With 70 votes, I feel that I have at least some vague sense that the results were accurate.

The vast majority of visitors to this site, unsurprisingly, water only when necessary or exclusively water their private organic vegetable gardens. I smaller percentage (20%) are still dedicated to maintaining an attractive lawn, although they may cut the occasional corner. This percentage, notably, is exactly the same as the bottom segment — those who apparently maintain rock gardens.

Nothing earth shaking in those results, given the probably audience for this site, but still interesting to see!

The next poll is now operating, and expected to run through April 30th, 2008. (No, I mean it.) The question for this quarter: How much time are you willing to commit to public transit, knowing that it is frequently less efficient than your own vehicle?

The question is a bit loaded; it depends on the assumption that your public transit scenario is, in fact, less efficient than personal driving. This is only sometimes true: it depends on where you live and where you’re going. I know that, for myself, it’s pretty much always a significantly greater time commitment to ride the bus. But I have also lived in places where the opposite was true!

But the key question isn’t actually about how much time you actually spend on the bus (or other public transit) it’s about how much extra time you’re willing to spend for the sake of the environment.

Categories: Alternative Fuel

Why Subscribe to Print Magazines?

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

Although you can’t really say that online publications have completely taken over the serial market, it’s fair to say that the inroads towards fully electronic availability of publications are deep and sprawling. Recently, the final print issue of the moderately venerable publication InfoWorld contained an interesting article regarding the the environmental damages caused by the world of paper production.

Magazines and newspapers have long been amongst the chief users of paper, producing publications which are, sadly, frequently produced with the expectation that most copies will be discarded within the month.

The reason that this subject comes to mind right now is because I’ve been tagged in a meme currently circulating in the web development community which asks participants about the print magazines they subscribe to.

I was tagged (or invited to participate) by Miriam Loraditch, one of the proprietors of Solas Web Design and an avid birder and environmentalist. In her own post, she states:

The question this puts to us, then, I believe, is whether there is anything that could possibly be important enough to print in a magazine or catalogue that would justify the loss of the boreal forest and the birds that depend on it for their lives. For me, the answer to this question is an obvious one, but each of us has to reckon with the consequences of our choices in our own way.

This isn’t to say that online publications are entirely void of environmental irresponsibility, and I’m not prepared to make a scientific comparison between the environmental expenses of physical publishing and online publishing.

However, I’m not willing to commit both sins.

So, for me, the answer is one. In point of fact, there is one magazine which makes it’s way to my door — a gift subscription. One can’t easily prevent the offering of gifts; but it is a reasonable and responsible solution to request they be given in an alternate manner. Many publications have an online subscription option; ask the gift giver to provide you with that online subscription instead.

Magazines are, in fact, a place where a single individual can make a huge impact on the world. By making the shift from six magazine subscriptions to zero, you can conceivably make a change to the number of pages of paper used and shipped across the country which numbers well into the thousands. If you imagine a single weekly publication of 100 pages, for example, you’ve already accomplished the savings of 5,000 sheets of paper. This is a worthwhile accomplishment. Every bit counts.

In the long run, however, quality news depends on a strong, paying subscriber base. Don’t scoff at paying a fee for a quality online news source — yes, you can probably get information online for free. But this ultimately leads to a cascade failure: if no organization can afford to get direct news, nobody will report it.

Categories: Alternative Fuel

Toxic Plastic 3 – Turn Over the Bottle and Look!

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

Guest author Miriam Ellis-Loraditch spends half of her time birding, and the other half acting as the CEO of Solas Web Design.

I strive to keep my home environment as natural as I possibly can. We eschew as many big commercial products as possible, knowing that this is step one to avoiding many toxins. However, shopping ‘natural’ or shopping ‘organic’ is no guarantee that you’ve weeded out the bad stuff. For about a year now, I’ve been using Giovanni Tea Tree Triple Treat Shampoo, because I was impressed by its short list of ingredients and claims of using organic botanicals. No animal bi-products, no animal testing. I thought I was making a good choice.

And then I learned about Toxic Plastic 3.

You’ve probably heard of Toxic plastic 3 by its other name, PVC, or Vinyl. PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) is considered by many experts to be the most dangerous, carcinogenic plastic ever created by man. It cannot be recycled. It will sit in our landfills until kingdom come, emitting carcinogenic chemicals into the air, water and soil. And despite the studies showing the incredible toxicity of this substance, the FDA approves it for use in the packaging of our food, our health care products, and our medicines.

Where will you find Toxic Plastic 3 in your home?

Turn over any plastic container you have around the house. If you see a ‘3’ or a ‘V’ stamped into the plastic,
you are holding PVC in your hand. As you’ve guessed, I found that ominous ‘3’ on the bottom of my organic Giovanni shampoo. You will find it on products manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, and Sesame Street bath products. Emeril’s Salad Dressing, ACT fluoride rinse, and a host of other health and food items are packaged in this plastic. The carcinogens leach into the products they contain, resulting in your eating PVC and lathering it into your hair, teeth and skin.

Children’s toys feature rampant use of PVC. A child chewing on his rubber ducky in the bath is being exposed to levels of cancer-causing chemicals which have led to such items being banned in
many European countries. Yet, here in the U.S., you will not even be told that the toys your children play with, the shower curtain in your bathroom, or the pipes under your house contain PVC. PVC
causes cancer and kidney damage, and when burned (as in the case of a kitchen fire or house fire) it results in long term respiratory damage.

Greenpeace has written some excellent articles regarding finding alternatives to PVC for your home, and more than 50 environmental groups in the U.S. are currently petitioning numerous stores to stop selling vinyl-containing products. Unfortunately, as with so many consumer product hazards, PVC vinyl continues to receive scant media attention, despite its well-documented harmfulness.

Make the first step toward ridding your home of PVC

Look for the ‘3’ or the ‘V’ on any plastic or vinyl product in your house. PVC products are often somewhat rubbery and flexible, but not always. PVC gives off a distinct chemical smell (you know, that new shower curtain/new car smell). What you are smelling is toxic gas being released when you open up a new PVC-containing home product. Even if you don’t find a ‘3’ or a ‘V’, but are concerned that an item in your home might contain PVC, please contact the manufacturer to ask. Because our government continues to authorize the use of toxic PVC in the manufacture of homes, cars and products, you are unlikely to be able to completely avoid exposure to it, but you certainly don’t need to have it in your shampoo or in the toys your children are playing with. Your first step is to dispose of offending items, and when buying plastic is essential, to choose an alternatively numbered substance. If you’d like to do more, visit Greenpeace for further information.

Categories: Alternative Fuel

The Fuel Tax Poll: Funding Sustainable Energy.

January 5, 2017 • joedolson

Well, this site must be growing: this poll experienced more votes than any previously! With 13. Hey, 13 votes is enough to have some kind of interesting spread in the results.

Most people were in favor of reasonable taxation, as I expected. A surprisingly high number of votes were in favor of paying whatever tax it took: 4 people voted for this option. All in all, only 1 lone person was unwilling to pay a tax on gas specifically to benefit the environment.

Well, bollocks to them.

Next poll:

Now, I’m conducting a poll on 3rd parties. This isn’t a question of whether you personally support these 3rd parties, or even embrace the notion of a change from the bipartisan system. However, I’m curious what chance people think each party has of succeeding in becoming a strong enough party to compete with the Democrats and the Republicans.

There are dozens of 3rd parties. For the sake of my sanity, I’ve only listed what I think are the five most substantive alternative parties – and only those with a liberal vein.

For more about the various 3rd parties, you could visit Politics1.com, or look them up on Wikipedia. However, online information on politics is one of the areas most likely to be heavily biased – so if you really want to delve deeply, you’ll need to do a bit more research. Try your local library.

Categories: Alternative Fuel