Clean and green may be an illusion

Christmas is a perfect example of how our commitment to recycling is only skin deep when we come under pressure. And Christmas is a time of pressure: pressure to spend, pressure to impress, pressure to show affluence.

We only have to look at our rubbish bin on Boxing Day to realise how much we have thrown away in 24 hours. What could be recycled instead of chucked? What could have been recycled from last year? What do these gifts we give actually say about our belief in and commitment to recycling.

Every time we give a gift that requires batteries we are buying into the throw-away culture. When we buy an electric appliance to replace a hand-operated one we are increasing our use of power, adding to trash when it eventually breaks down (because modern appliances can rarely be repaired), and often using more water if we need to clean them.

For many, Christmas is a time of excess not environmental care. So I have to applaud my friend who announced on Facebook: “We’re not sending Christmas cards this year. The money has gone to Oxfam, and I know you’ll all be happy to know you’ve helped donate lots of trees, among other things.”

One challenge I feel every year is whether to wrap presents. The cheap printed paper we use is only able to manage one use – sometimes not even holding together long enough for the present to reach the recipient. And once the present is unwrapped, we don’t fold the mountain of paper to use next year. I often wonder if gifts would be better presented in supermarket bags? At least they would be more likely to be recycled.

So what New Year’s resolutions about recycling are you making?

Heather Sylvawood, author and blogger.

Solar water heating gets the thumbs up

On my Energy Issues page I mentioned some research that we did to find out about going off-the-grid for all our power. The challenges became so daunting (and expensive) we gave it away, however, now we are about to go solar for our water heating.

It really does pay to talk to experts because they do have some practical passive energy solutions that the average homeowner (I include myself in that group) wouldn’t think about. We had always gazed skyward and had seen our steeply sloping roof as ideal for panels. Panel dimensions, however, turned out to be too large for the space where we planned. They would have to go across part of the upper windows (see photo) to get the optimum slope.

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The installer we talked to suggested that the panel(s) be positioned in front of our deck (the deck on the right not in the picture) . The panel would be unseen when we were on our deck or from inside; the installation would not compromise the integrity of our roof; and being a retro-install we would not have to cut into walls to link up to the current position of the water heater.

We will have to move a few plants – a couple that will now be behind the panel, and one that will cast a shadow over the panel. Having a house built at the top of a slope has helped because we will not be built out or have trees in lower properties grow too tall.

So now we’re preparing the site. We won’t be able to do a straight comparison of costs as we generally turn off the water heater unless we have guests. Instead we use a system of gas water heating. The installer’s proposal is that we will have a dual system. When solar energy is low and the water temperature drops we will be able to switch back to gas heating, and vice versa.

I think it’s natural to think that solar panels have to be placed on the roof. It always seems to be the place nearest the sun. We have since researched a number of ways they can be positioned if the house roof is not ideal. They can be placed behind the house, raised above sheds, or placed on fences. In fact YouTube has a great selection of systems to copy.

If you’re really interested in doing some of the process yourself take a look at these YouTube videos –

By Heather Sylvawood, author of Real Estate Rollercoaster – what the professionals forget to tell you about buying, building and selling real estate.

Hello world!

I am writing this blog to record the process of turning our suburban section (690 square metres) and house into an eco-friendly place, where we equalise what we take with what we give back.

Our plan is to evaluate and adapt our:

  • Water use and conservation
  • Energy use and conservation
  • Food consumption
  • Recycling systems
  • Garden production to organic foods

Each week, or more often, I will share with you our progress towards a more sustainable lifestyle. This will cover my research and our practical actions. Look out for photos and video!

Join me in my journey …

– Heather