July 13, 2015 Solar

Rainbows Could Double Solar Energy Output!

Increasing the amount of electricity a solar panel produces is one of the most effective ways to reduce the cost of solar power.

MIT’s Technology Review reports on a new $2.4 million project funded by the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy aims to greatly increase the amount of sunlight that becomes electricity.

Harry Atwater, a professor of applied physics and materials science at Caltech, is working on cells to sort sunlight into eight to 10 different colors (a rainbow!) and direct those to a second layer that contains an array of solar cells matched to each color. Light is absorbed more efficiently, and more energy is converted to electricity, rather than heat.

Most solar panels convert less than 20 percent of the energy of the sunlight that falls on them into electricity.  Atwater’s goal is a conversion efficiency of more than 50 percent, which would double the amount of power generated by solar panels of any size.

Rainbow solar power!  This technology will make solar more affordable for homeowners and industries, alike.

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Solar

Peel-and-Stick Solar Cells – So Fun!

The Scientific Journal Reports that Stanford University scientists have developed a thin “peel-and-stick” solar cell that can be attached to... Read

The Scientific Journal Reports that Stanford University scientists have developed a thin “peel-and-stick” solar cell that can be attached to almost any surface.

The fabrication process included a wafer of silicon, silicon dioxide, sandwiched metal and a film of nickel on which the thin-film solar cells are placed, and then attaching a layer of thermal release tape.  After being dipped in water, the target surface was coated with adhesives and the thin-film solar cells were attached to the sticky surface and the thermal release tape was removed.

These thin solar cells can be placed on a wide range of surfaces, and could someday be used commercially to generate solar power.

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Family

Monday Tip of the week: Send your kids to school with a waste-free lunch

Did you know that you can adopt an endangered species? There are a lot of animal lovers out there who... Read

Did you know that you can adopt an endangered species? There are a lot of animal lovers out there who just don’t have time to take care of a pet. A great way to help animals if you don’t have a lot of time is by adopting an endangered species. There are quite a few programs out there, but we love the World Wildlife Foundation (or WWF). There are a variety of animals and price ranges to choose from, so no matter how much (or little) you can spend, you’ll still be helping keep these animals alive and well. This is also a great project to do if you have kids–it’s never to early to teach them the importance of taking care of our world. Check out the WWF website for more information here.”We can’t believe it’s that time of year again–back to school! This year, pledge with your kids to have waste-free lunches. It is estimated that school lunches produce 67 pounds of waste per school year per child. Not only is a waste-free lunch great for the environment, but packing your child fresh foods instead of prepackaged is good for their bodies! A waste-free lunch requires the following:

  • Reusable lunch box (preferably bento style so you can easily say goodbye to plastic baggies)
  • Reusable utensils, napkin, water bottle
  • No prepackaged food–buy in bulk and section snacks off in the lunch box

Learn more about waste-free lunches at wastefreelunches.org so you can start Doing a Bit Better.

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Twitter
Solar

Rainbows Could Double Solar Energy Output!

Increasing the amount of electricity a solar panel produces is one of the most effective ways to reduce the cost... Read

Increasing the amount of electricity a solar panel produces is one of the most effective ways to reduce the cost of solar power.

MIT’s Technology Review reports on a new $2.4 million project funded by the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy aims to greatly increase the amount of sunlight that becomes electricity.

Harry Atwater, a professor of applied physics and materials science at Caltech, is working on cells to sort sunlight into eight to 10 different colors (a rainbow!) and direct those to a second layer that contains an array of solar cells matched to each color. Light is absorbed more efficiently, and more energy is converted to electricity, rather than heat.

Most solar panels convert less than 20 percent of the energy of the sunlight that falls on them into electricity.  Atwater’s goal is a conversion efficiency of more than 50 percent, which would double the amount of power generated by solar panels of any size.

Rainbow solar power!  This technology will make solar more affordable for homeowners and industries, alike.

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Housewares

Honest Air & Fabric Freshener 9 Fl Oz

$6.95

Refresh fabrics without the use of harsh, synthetic chemicals or masking agents. Leaves nothing behind but the refreshing scent of... Read

Refresh fabrics without the use of harsh, synthetic chemicals or masking agents. Leaves nothing behind but the refreshing scent of essential oils .

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Men

Schick® Announces Recycled Razor

“Alright men (and ladies), Schick® has created another new razor: the handle is made from 100% recycled plastic, and the... Read

“Alright men (and ladies), Schick® has created another new razor: the handle is made from 100% recycled plastic, and the packaging is made from 100% post-consumer paper. The Schick® Xtreme3® Eco™ is a disposable razor manufactured and shipped out of the company’s 99.9 percent landfill-free facility in Milford, CT. Schick® estimates they’ll be saving over 103,000 pounds of virgin plastic material and 15,500 pounds of virgin paper from going into landfills each year by using recycled materials in the new razor.

“”We know consumers are doing their part to live more sustainably, and we wanted to provide a simple way for them to do so with their shave,”” said Suma Nagaraj, brand manager for Schick Xtreme3®. “”At Schick, we’re taking proactive steps to minimize the impact of our products and manufacturing processes on the environment, and we’re continually looking for ways to improve — creating this product was the next step in our journey.””

“”For many years we wanted to launch a more sustainable razor,”” said Mike O’Malley, director of program management and sustainability for Schick®. “”We overcame many challenges along the way, like making sure the packaging gave us the quality look, perforation resistance and sealing capacity to hold up to the rigors of shipping. The result was the same exceptional quality and exceptional value razor that our customers know and love, now better for the environment.””

Schick® Xtreme3® Eco™ is currently available for both men and women at selected stores with wider, national distribution in April. To coincide with Earth month, Schick® Xtreme3® is partnering with eco-conscious celebrity-couple, actress Amy Smart and HGTV’s Carter Oosterhouse to launch a contest that challenges consumers to reuse common disposable items and reduce waste by creating a functional item out of recycled materials.

Here’s a big toast to Schick® for Doing A bit Better for all of us!”

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Recycle

Do a Bit Better with Homemade Dryer Sheets

We love this eco-friendly project from Pinning Gals. Save money and the planet by creating your own reusable natural dryer... Read

We love this eco-friendly project from Pinning Gals. Save money and the planet by creating your own reusable natural dryer sheets. Commercially produced dryer sheets are made with lots of chemicals, but you can use an eco-friendly liquid fabric softener and upcycled fabric from old clothes to create homemade dryer sheets that can be used again and again. Check out the step-by-step instructions here.

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Solar

Top 10 Questions for Your Local Solar Installer

“So you’ve decided to go solar – congratulations! But now what? Well, it’s time to research your local solar installers.... Read

“So you’ve decided to go solar – congratulations! But now what? Well, it’s time to research your local solar installers. If you live anywhere near any of the major DMAs, there’s bound to be plenty of options. That said, we’d like to suggest a few questions to ask the solar installers you interview.


How long has your company been installing solar electric systems?

In our opinion, you should look for a company that has been installing in your area for 4+ years.  With this level of experience, they understand local installation requirements, and have a long enough track record for you to review consumer comments on websites.

How many of your employees have solar panels on their homes?
We love this question.  If their employees don’t believe in solar, they why should you believe in them?

How many NABCEP certified employees work for your company?
A very large majority of licensed electricians do not have training or experience with solar electric systems.  NABCEP provides a well-respected certification process that requires the installer complete classroom hours, lead multiple PV installations, and pass a comprehensive exam.   If the installer is not NABCEP certified, we would encourage you to look for a new solar installer.

Will everyone working on my system be an employee of your company?
Sub-contractors are not always a bad thing.  However, you want to make sure that you meet everyone working on your home.  Additionally, if a company is using a sub-contractor, you should ask how long the two companies have worked together.  You are looking for a long-term relationship (no online profile required).

Can I see a list of ten clients that you have installed solar electric systems for?
An installer who has pride in their work will always be able to supply you a list with at least 8 names on it.  When contacting these customers, see if you can drive by their house to see the installation.

How do you determine your system output data?
We love installers who will come to your home free of charge at least once during the first year to evaluate how your solar installation is performing.  We believe a check-in at the six month mark is ideal.

How long is your warranty on all of my components and your work? 
In addition to manufacturing warranties, a qualified solar installer will also back their work.

Does your panel manufacturer perform quality control audits on your installations?
Few solar panel manufacturers will audit installations to measure the quality of the companies that sell their products. In our opinion, preference should be given to those companies who are audited.

What is the efficiency of the panels that you are proposing to install?
Positive Energy answer:  More efficient panels require less space, and allows you to get more energy output per square foot.  A smaller array footprint is very important to avoid shaded areas, when shading is an issue.  It also means less weight for the roof, fewer attachment points, less labor and less installation material required.

How does your company implement its values?
One way companies vote for a more sustainable world is with their dollars.  We give preference to companies who buy many of their products and materials locally.  Additionally, we believe that an employee-owned company with a profit sharing program shows a commitment to employees.

Now that you’re armed with an arsenal of important questions to ask, we think you’ll be able to find the right solar installer for the job! If you’re interested in being connected with a trusted, certified solar installer in your area, check out our solar page!”

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UpCycle

Save the Landfill – AND Your Sanity

“We all hate it. We’ve all complained about it.  After a vacation away, we dread it – Junk Mail.  In... Read

“We all hate it. We’ve all complained about it.  After a vacation away, we dread it – Junk Mail.  In fact, we spend about 8 months of our lives opening junk mail.

So what do you do about all of those credit card offers and catalogs? Sure, we can recycle them – but there’s got to be a way to get to the source, right?

There are several services out there whose main goal is to reduce junk mail, including DMAchoice.org, who can help you opt out of catalogs, donation requests and magazine offers.  There’s also OptOutPrescreen.com, who can help you opt out of all of those annoying credit card offers.

Not comfortable giving out even more personal information? Then consider this neat upcycling idea from CraftingAGreenWorld.com, which demonstrates how to make a notebook out of junk mail!”

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Housewares

Eco-Alternatives to a New Headboard

“There’s something about a headboard that just ties a bedroom together – it’s like wearing a belt.  It breaks up... Read

“There’s something about a headboard that just ties a bedroom together – it’s like wearing a belt.  It breaks up the room while adding depth and style to it.  The only problem is that headboards are expensive and can easily run upwards of $400.

Here’s the thing – we live in a time of great (and abundant) design.  There are plenty of alternatives to a traditional headboard out there with minimal waste.

For less than $40, you can achieve the great style of a traditional headboard with the modern style of a silhouette decal.  This particular decal from Dezign with a Z comes in a variety of colors, and they’ll even let you select your wall color to see how it will look.

Not interested in the traditional looking decals?  Try something a little non-traditional, like branches or grass:

 

Wall Flats have traditionally been used for adding some architectural depth and texture to walls in living spaces, dining rooms, and bedrooms – and they’re incredibly eco-friendly (often made from post-consumer material or renewable sources such as bagasse).  But they’re affordable (about $80-90 for a 10-pack from InhabitLiving.com) and will not only add color to your bedroom or guestroom, but depth and texture as well.

When in doubt, do something simple!  A large piece of solid-colored canvas or a canvas-framed photograph will give your bed the frame that you’re looking for, and can be done for cheap.  If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can stretch a patterned fabric over the canvas and staple it on the sides.

There are plenty of ways to do something unexpected and chic without spending a fortune, and all while being green.”

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Garden

UpCycling a Mini-Greenhouse

“Now that April’s here, it’s time to start thinking about gardening again.  If you’re growing anything from seedlings, you’re going... Read

“Now that April’s here, it’s time to start thinking about gardening again.  If you’re growing anything from seedlings, you’re going to want to keep things warm in case the frost hits.

While you could spend a great deal of money on a mini-greenhouse kit, you’d be surprised how easy it is to make one from home from materials you already have!

The easiest and most common way to build a mini-greenhouse is with empty plastic bottles.  Simply peel the label off and cut into a shape that fits over the plant (we like to use the cap-end, so that you can vent the air on particularly sunny days).  Cold beverage cups from coffee shops can work equally as well, and sometimes better if you need a longer, more horizontal area.

If your plants are already a bit bigger, then you’re going to have a hard time finding a large enough Soda Bottle (don’t go rummaging around Costco trying to prove us wrong!).  Cellophane to the rescue!  Four ground-stakes at equal heights wrapped in cellophane will create the perfect greenhouse square.  Finally, wrap the cellophane over the top and watch nature take its course!  Oh, and did we mention that cellophane is eco-friendly?  It’s made from plant materials (regenerated cellulose) and is 100% biodegradable.

Before shelling out the big bucks next time you think about raising a seedling of your own, consider what’s around you and how you can UpCycle it!”

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Housewares

Monday Tip of the Week – Coffee to Go, Please!

If you start every morning with a steamy cup, a quick tabulation can show you that the waste is piling... Read

If you start every morning with a steamy cup, a quick tabulation can show you that the waste is piling up. Invest in a reusable cup, which not only cuts down on waste, but keeps your beverage hot for a much longer time. Most coffee shops will happily fill your own cup, and many even offer you a discount in exchange!  Not to mention, they look nicer.

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Family

Very easy ways to DAbB for your home. Seriously, these are very easy.

We asked our staff what quick, easy ways our readers can make a change in their home right away.  This... Read

We asked our staff what quick, easy ways our readers can make a change in their home right away.  This is what came back:

For your kids, buy crayons made of soybean oil, not paraffin

Switch to a manual can opener.  Yes, a manual…you can do it.

Invest in a roasting pan instead of using disposable ones.  You will save money in the long run, and honestly, it is so much easier to pull out food in something sturdy.  (We don’t need to tell you the amount of time we have dropped food on the floor from a flimsy aluminum one).

Buy a bigger jug of milk. If you only use half a gallon at a time, you can pour half the milk into a carafe and freeze the rest. Then about a day or two before you need it simply put in the fridge.  And yes, it tastes the same.

Stop throwing away your dryer lint! Put it in the backyard for the birds — they use it to feather their nests.  Crazy-but true.

Clean your refrigerator coils — vacuum out the dust and wipe with a damp cloth. You’ll be surprised at how much nasty stuff accumulates down there!

Put a cover on your pool when you’re not using it. Not only will it keep the water cleaner, but it will keep it from evaporating, resulting in saving water.

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Food

Don’t Throw That Out!

“Gourmet foodie or mac-n-cheese bachelor, we all despise cleaning out the fridge. It’s frustrating – and not-to-mention wasteful – to... Read

“Gourmet foodie or mac-n-cheese bachelor, we all despise cleaning out the fridge. It’s frustrating – and not-to-mention wasteful – to throw out everything it feels like we just bought.  Here are some ways to keep food more fresh.

Fresh Herbs
If you’re like us, you’ve probably bought a big bunch of parsley, used a little, and threw the rest back in the bag in the fridge. After a day or two, the parsley starts wilting and not before too long, it’s not worth using anymore. To keep fresh herbs useable for about a week, store the stems in a short glass in about 2” of water and cover with cheesecloth or a plastic storage bag. This will help the plants stay hydrated and humid, and will double the shelf-life of your herbs.

Eggs
True egg lovers despise that funky taste old eggs start to get after a while. Much like your box of baking soda, eggs absorb flavors in your fridge. Who wants that smelly-fridge flavor in their Denver omelet? Instead of keeping your eggs at the bottom of the fridge, keep them out! Eggs stay fresh for up to 2 weeks without being refrigerated – in fact, they’re sold on the shelf in the U.K., not the refrigerated section. You can test the freshness of your egg by gently placing it in a glass of lukewarm water. If it sinks, it’s still fresh.

Potatoes
Many people have taken to throwing out their potatoes after losing firmness or once they begin sprouting.  While this is unnecessary and wasteful, there are ways to cut down on these phenomena. Store apples in a dark place, like in a cupboard. In fact, if you store your potatoes and apples together, the apples will help slow the sprouting of the potatoes

Carrots
While it takes a while for fresh carrots to go bad (i.e. soften, mold, etc), they can quickly become hard and knobby. Unless you plan to use them right away, try to buy carrots with the leaves still attached. Much like fruits, the carrot will stay fresher longer. If not using the carrots right away, put them in a tall glass full of wet sand. Add a few tablespoons of water about halfway through the week to keep the carrots fresh and tender.

Spices
Some spices, after a while, pick up moisture from the air and begin to clump together and harden. This is common in especially warm kitchens – but doesn’t have to be! Cut a 6×6 inch square of a fine-mesh cheesecloth or other porous fabric. Place a tablespoon of dry rice in the center of the square, and bunch up the four corners, forming a small satchel. Tie off with string or a twist-tie, and put in the top of your spice jar. The rice will absorb moisture, keeping your spices fresh and dry.

Follow these tips, and food will stay fresher and flavorful for longer! It will save you money, cut down on food waste, and help you Do A bit Better every day!”

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Recycle

Doing Better Than Your Next Door Neighbor

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans throw out nearly 5.5 billion pounds of electronics a year—such as TVs,... Read

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans throw out nearly 5.5 billion pounds of electronics a year—such as TVs, stereos, cell phones and even computers.  As a results, million of pounds of chemicals and heavy metals end up in the ground.  Despite local agencies making it rather clear how easy it is to recycle electronics, our neighbors have yet to catch on.  So the next time you are at your next block party and you overhear someone talking about how much they hate their blender tell them to go to www.mygreenelectronics.org to find a local recycling center in their area.  The site also provides a list of electronics, from laptops to baby monitors, that are easier on the environment  and your energy bill.

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Environment

From Wood Scraps to DIY Door Mat

We saw a great article on Shelterness recently that talked about a DIY doormat made from 9″ long blocks of... Read

We saw a great article on Shelterness recently that talked about a DIY doormat made from 9″ long blocks of wood, and painted a plethora  of rainbow colors.  This got us to thinking about how we could make this project a little more eco-friendly, and we were pleasantly surprised with what we came up with!

 – Use reclaimed wood or wood scraps from your work bench, rather than buying wood.  Reclaimed wood will already have a nice vintage look that will still feel warm and welcoming.

– Instead of paint, use beeswax or mineral oil. Both of these will give your new doormat a nice almost butcher-block-esque look, and also protect the wood without the use of harmful lacquers.

– Don’t buy the threaded rod.  Instead, use natural hemp or jute string. This will help the mat stay flexible enough to roll up, and will give it that nice naturalistic look.

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Housewares

Hard Rock Cloth Diaper Detergent Remix

$19.95

Free of phosphates, dyes, enzymes, whiteners and brighteners, Rockin’ Green Detergent is natural and safe for your family’s clothing and... Read

Free of phosphates, dyes, enzymes, whiteners and brighteners, Rockin’ Green Detergent is natural and safe for your family’s clothing and perfect for baby’s cloth diapers!

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Housewares

Recycled Glass Votive- Green

$5.00

Handcut from reclaimed wine cooler bottles, these charming votive candleholders are ideal for wherever you want to add the sparkle... Read

Handcut from reclaimed wine cooler bottles, these charming votive candleholders are ideal for wherever you want to add the sparkle of candle light, also they’re perfect to hold candies, dips, salad toppings or more.

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