My friend and fellow blogger, Aaron, and I spent a few hours today hanging out at the Living Green Expo at the state fairgrounds in St. Paul. The Expo features ideas for better environmental stewardship for nearly an aspect of life, but I was particularly interested in the resources for homeowners.
Even with a grandstand full of vendors, I would have been happy to leave with one truly actionable item I could consider implementing back at the house. A full schedule of activities today kept me from staying long enough to see every booth, but I still left with several good ideas I’m excited to explore a bit more.
Biobased Foam Insulation
I’ve been planning to use expanding foam insulation in my nursery project, and had essentially settled on a closed-cell polyurethane product. The folks at the Biobased Insulation display showed me both open- and closed-cell expanding foam products made from soybean oil that feature R-values, mold- and insect-resistance, and price comparable to polyurethane. Unlike polyurethane, however, the biobased insulation has no harmful off-gassing and is made from a renewable resource. When it’s time for me to insulate the nursery, I’ll be getting a bid for the closed-cell biobased foam insulation.
DIY Solar Heating
When someone mentions “solar power” my first thought is of photovoltaic cells that convert the sun’s rays to electricity. But an easier and cheaper way to harness solar power is to use the heat of solar radiation. A great display at the expo showed an example of a relatively simple solar collector and heat exchanger that uses the sun’s heat to pre-warm the water in a hot water heater or a boiler for radiant heating. The exhibitor designed and installed a system at his home for about $5,000 and claims the solar heater cut his natural gas usage in half. If those numbers held true at our house, this kind of system could pay for itself and start saving me money in only a few years. A book with the complete design and installation instructions for the solar heating system is available from Lucerna Publishing.
Odds and Ends
There has been a lot of talk around town about the rain barrels available through the Re-Use Center and a few other outfits. I already have a rainwater collector– a 120 gallon galvanized stock tank– but it needs some refinement. The rain barrel folks were kind enough to tell me that I could make my tank safe from mosquito larvae by covering the top of the tank with ordinary window screening. Duh! Right now I just have chicken wire over the tank, which only really keeps out the squirrels.
If there were Community Electric Vehicles (CEVs) on display at the expo, I missed them. These just became street legal in Minnesota last year and I’ve seen one or two tooling around the city neighborhoods. Although safety for transporting kids would be a concern, I’ve thought a fully electric plug-in CEV could make a great second car for trips to the hardware store and other around-town errands. The closest thing I saw were a couple electrically-assisted Human Powered Vehicles like the one below.
The Living Green Expo runs through the end of this weekend, but if you can’t get there the Expo website has lots of great green resources and links.