Site search


Archives


Categories




Help Cambridge Win the Georgetown Energy Prize

Last month I attended the first meeting for block captains to help get the word out about Cambridge’s efforts to win the Georgetown Energy Prize. The prize is $5 million that Cambridge could win for city energy projects, but we’re in competition with cities all around the country — 49 of them. Each city conducts energy projects and outreach (both residential and commercial) in an attempt to reduce energy use citywide over two years. For the first year (2015), the city focused on municipal projects and business outreach. These tend to have longer timeframes than smaller residential projects. This year they’re turning their attention to residential outreach. At the end of 2016, cities will be judged on how much their energy use has been reduced (25% of the total score) and the methods they used to obtain that reduction (75% of the total score). This is why it’s so important for us all to get involved — engaging everyone in the city can help us win the prize as much as reducing energy can.

Here's our competition

Here’s our competition.

For people interested in reducing their home energy use, the first step is to have a Mass Save home energy assessment. Cambridge has partnered with Next Step Living to do outreach (sign up here), but you can also call the main Mass Save number (866-527-7283) or use another home performance contractor, if you prefer. Whichever you choose, during the 2-3 hour home energy assessment you’ll get no-cost instant savings measures installed, like LED light bulbs, faucet aerators, showerheads, and smart power strips. I think these are worth the time on their own, but you’ll also get recommendations for deeper measures, like insulation, air sealing, heating systems, etc. and information on rebates available for them. And don’t think this doesn’t apply to you if you’re a renter — get the instant savings measures installed, then present the report on other measures to your landlord to see if they want to make the investment.

Even if we don’t win the Georgetown Energy Prize in the end, our efforts will help save ourselves money and energy, and improve the comfort and value of our homes. It’s win-win.

How to Recycle a Refrigerator

A few weeks back we replaced our old refrigerator with a more energy efficient (and shinier) one. But what to do with the old one? Because it was still working, we could take advantage of the Mass Save refrigerator recycling program. It’s designed to ensure that inefficient refrigerators aren’t kept in service, but instead recycled responsibly, and offers a $50 incentive to do so.

refrigerator_recyclingUnfortunately, the experience wasn’t great for me. The first issue I had was with scheduling. The program has online scheduling, but only offers three options at a time. So I chose a pickup time and then scheduled my new fridge delivery around it. But that fell apart when my new fridge came with a dented compressor and we had to get a replacement. Suddenly the back-to-back schedule that we’d set up didn’t work, and the old fridge wasn’t picked up until a couple weeks after the new delivery. There also weren’t any weekend times available, so one of us had to stay home from work for the pickup. (Thanks, Jason!) And the worst part…the program doesn’t pick up from a third floor. We had to move the fridge to the driveway ourselves, which wasn’t fun without all the right equipment. All in all, it wasn’t the best way for me to recycle my refrigerator.

So I looked into others. These include:

  • Municipal recycling – My city, Cambridge, offers pick up and recycling of refrigerators. You have to pay $25 to apply for a permit and leave the refrigerator on the curb on the appropriate day with the doors removed.
  • Retailer recycling – The EPA’s Responsible Appliance Disposal program partners with retailers, as well as utility energy efficiency programs. (Mass Save is part of this, too.) Home Depot, Sears, and Best Buy are all retail partners. Since we bought our new refrigerator from Home Depot, that would probably have been the easiest. They charge $15, and offer delivery to/removal from the third floor.

In sum, if you live in a 1-2 story house, I’d still suggest giving Mass Save’s refrigerator recycling a try. If not, I’d go with one of the retailers partnered with the EPA or your local Department of Public Works. They’ll cost you a few bucks, but they’ll likely be easier, and you can still rest easy knowing your fridge was recycled properly.

Food Scrap Pickup in Cambridge

The last few weeks I’ve been helping get the word out about the new food scrap pickup program in Cambridge. A pilot program with just 500 residents was done last year, and this year they’re expanding it to about 5,000 residents on the Monday trash pickup route. I’m so excited that this includes me! The original pilot area ended one street over from my house, and I’ve been so jealous. As a consolation prize, the city has had a dropoff point a few blocks away at Danehy Park. I’ve been walking my food scraps down there (sometimes), but this is so much more convenient that I’m already being better about collecting them.

It's a lovely (tiny) bin.

It’s a lovely (tiny) bin.

Each building (with less than 13 units) has been given a small green bin to hold the scraps outdoors. It’s made of extra thick plastic and has a locking mechanism on the lid to deter rodent interest. We’ve also all been given a small, ventilated bin to collect the scraps indoors, along with a year’s supply of compostable bags to line it with (and coupons for more). They’re encouraging everyone to use the bags — tying them up and tossing them in the outdoor bins every couple of days — so it doesn’t get disgusting. I also keep my bin in my freezer, so the scraps don’t break down so quickly. The indoor bin also locks if you rotate the handle to the front, which makes you less likely to spill it.

A lot more things can be collected in this composting program than you can compost in your backyard. Because it’s composted at higher temperatures, even meat can be included, as well as soiled paper products. This means that even if you’re already composting yourself, this can still be useful.

The program’s already off to a great start, with more than 10 tons of food waste collected the first two weeks. If you’re on the Monday route and haven’t received your bins yet, or if you have questions about the program that aren’t answered by these FAQs, call 617-349-4815 or email recycle@cambridgema.gov. And don’t be surprised if I show up at your door with a fluorescent yellow vest and big “volunteer” badge, trying to get the word out.

Saturday Green Links – 10/10

I couldn’t resist doing a links post, because I was so excited to find out that Blue Apron was recycling packaging. And that my old colleague Amanda had a blog!

That’s it for now, but I’m trying to restart regular posts, so if you come across anything interesting, send it my way.

Replacing My Refrigerator — With or Without Energy Star

There aren’t a lot more opportunities for making my home more energy efficient, but one thing that stands out is replacing my refrigerator. It’s from 1999, and any fridge that old or older was made before federal efficiency standards were increased, so the energy saved by a new refrigerator makes replacing one that old cost-effective. According to the Energy Star refrigerator calculator, my old Frigidaire FRT18SJG uses 833 kWh/year, roughly $127/year. Comparable refrigerators today use about half that.

In looking for a new refrigerator, I immediately looked for which models earned a $50 rebate from Mass Save. Unfortunately, those are only the 17 models rated Energy Star Most Efficient. Looking more closely, I realized that there are some serious flaws in Energy Star’s rating system for refrigerators. Because they split the fridges into categories based on their configuration (top freezer, bottom freezer, french doors) and only grant the label to fridges 9-10% more efficient than others in their own category, configurations that use the most energy (generally french door bottom freezers with through-the-door ice makers) have a larger spread and are more likely to get the label than others. And the thing that can make the most difference in energy use–the size of the refrigerator–is ignored. So I decided to ignore the Energy Star label entirely and just look at the kWh use.

Another important factor was my space limitations. Unless I wanted to remove the cupboard above or the wall next to it, the new fridge could only be an inch or two bigger than the old one. And an 18 cubic foot refrigerator was surprisingly hard to find. There’s been a creep upwards in terms of refrigerator size over the years, so that the most common size I found in stores was 24 cubic feet. Jason also had a preference for a bottom freezer. That and size were our major parameters.

refrigerator

We finally settled on a Kitchenaid KRBX109EWH. (A GE Artistry ABE20EGHWS was our second choice.) Its annual energy use is 469 kWh/year, a savings of 364 kWh/year over our old one. (By comparison, the EnergyStar Most Efficient refrigerators ranged from 448 to 637 kWy/year.)

It’s being delivered next week, and we’re very excited. I’ll let you know how we like it once we actually start using it. And keep an eye out for our experience recycling our old fridge through Mass Save.