Showering With the Sun

Maggie using the solar showerWill and I spent a pleasant hour in the hammock a few weeks ago talking about project ideas for the house.  He’s been especially focused on energy savings and was very excited about the idea of building a solar shower.  I have many fond memories of outdoor solar showers but the ones I have used in the past involve solar water panels, plumbing, welding, privacy screens, and several other features that would challenge my handywoman skills.  Ever practical, Will suggested that rather than plunging into a new construction project, we should pick up a simple camp shower and try it out so we could go ahead and turn off our hot water heater.

We picked up a solar shower kit at a local box store for $25 that consists of a curtain with a zipper, a solar water bag with a shower nozzle, and a support structure to hang it all from.  We hung the support structure and curtain from one of the big sugar maples in our backyard, filled up the water bag, and I took the first shower.  It was not a great experience.  The shower bag came with a long tube leading to a shower nozzle, which in theory gives you the flexibility to spray in many different directions.  In actuality, you have to keep the tube stretched out and sloping down to get decent water flow, which means crouching down and risking mooning the neighbors.  We had also neglected to stake down the curtain, so it was blowing around a bit and decreasing my feeling of privacy even further.

Solar Shower BagAfter that first shower, I cut the tube into a short piece so now I can stand under it comfortably (Will has to duck a little).  We put a piece of indoor/outdoor carpet under the shower so it doesn’t get too muddy.  It’s still a bit of a pain to fill, heat, and hang the bag but it’s doable.  Actually, the biggest challenge is keeping the water comfortable instead of scalding hot.  The solar shower heats up too well some days and we have to add cold water.

We’re going to try it out a little longer but I think it’s been successful enough that we will try building Solar Shower 2.0, perhaps using the directions from the Carbon-Free Home book.  They suggest building a platform of some sort and putting a small (10-gallon) black barrel up on it with a shower spigot sticking out.  Ideally, it should be designed so you can fill it from the ground using a garden hose (or rain barrel) so you don’t have to haul it up and down.  Sounds good to me!  Maybe we can build some actual walls around it too….

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The Power of Poo

Kitty playing in Toilet by dmansouri on FlickrI have wanted to write a post on human excrement management for awhile now.  I know it’s a rather taboo subject and some folks might be pretty grossed out but my real reluctance is that I wanted to gather more information.  However, my brother just sent me a great link to a Time Magazine article asking “Is it Time to Kill Off the Flush Toilet?”  (I prefer the title “Is it Time to Flush the Flush Toilet?” but I’m sure it would make every editor cringe.)  Apparently, I just missed the World Toilet Summit and Expo, which honestly sounds really fascinating to me and I’m sure I would have found answers to many of my questions and seen models I never could have imagined.

Still, I realize that I know a fair amount about poo and pee.  I learned about traditional wastewater treatment plants as part of my environmental engineering training.  I worked for awhile designing constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment as an alternative to traditional septic systems, which means I got to learn a lot about both.  I have never actually installed a composting toilet but I have used at least seven different models and I did take one class on how to design a particular model.  (I can’t remember the name but the creator was hoping that his name too would some day be as famous as “Crapper.”)  I have toured a farm that collects cow poo and uses it to create methane for electricity.  There are a lot of options out there for dealing with poo.

Back in the day, folks would do their business in chamber pots and then fling it into the street.  It was gross, unsanitary, and caused a lot of disease.  Flush toilets came around as an awesome alternative – press the magic button and all the waste is carried away through a series of underground pipes!  Originally, it all got dumped in the nearest river (“dilution is the solution to pollution”) but nowadays it goes to wastewater treatment plants where the water is partially cleaned before being dumped into the nearest river.  I say “partially” because it’s really hard (and expensive) to treat the water to a level where it’s really clean.

Even if wastewater treatment plants were really effective, it’s hard to escape the fact that flush toilets basically take clean water, mix it with human waste, combine it with mostly clean water (greywater) from our sinks and showers, and then send it to a treatment plant that uses a whole lot of energy to clean the water again.  We can take a lot of steps to reduce the amount of wastewater generated by installing low flow toilets and diverting greywater for other uses (if your state’s health code allows it) but perhaps it is time to think beyond the flush toilet, as many designers at the Toilet Expo did.

I personally believe that composting toilets are the way to go.  Composting is not new technology.  The British agronomist Sir Albert Howard worked with farmers in India in the 1930’s to compost human excrement and turn it into a safe form of fertilizer.  The key is to get the compost hot enough to kill off the bacteria living in the waste.  Nowadays we are paranoid about hygiene and so almost all composting books will tell you to never put feces in a compost pile but there is a lot of documentation out there on how to do it safely.  (I still have not read the “Humanure Handbook” but it has an excellent reputation as the Bible of composting toilets.)  Composting allows us to truly recycle our bodily waste and make it useful again.

However, the world seems very resistant to composting toilets and I can understand why.  There are a lot of taboos around poo and a lot of resistance to trying anything new.  Flush toilets are convenient and do a great job taking our waste out of sight and out of mind.  Composting toilets require a little more thought and most of them need to be emptied periodically, which is an intimidating thought for most people.  I believe this issue could be resolved by having some sort of servicing contract where a maintenance person would take care of that duty on a regularly scheduled basis.  Another big hurdle is health code requirements.  I understand that health department officials are trying super hard to protect us from disease and are extremely reluctant to allow anything new until it has a proven track record but I wish there were a clear path for getting new technologies approved.  I also wish there were better communication between the health departments in different counties and states so people didn’t have to prove the same technology in every county.

This is one of those issues where I feel like I don’t have any good options.  It would be illegal for me to install a composting toilet at home or even to reroute the greywater from our sinks and tubs into a constructed wetland.  (Indiana law says that all water going down a drain in a house has to be treated as “blackwater” and sent through an approved treatment system.)  Some days I dream of being a champion for better poo management, fighting for the right to install composting toilets in every home, becoming an engineering expert on alternative poo management.

Most days I feel like the best I can do is to focus on conserving water and maybe start peeing on my compost pile.  Urine is sterile so as long as I don’t scandalize my neighbors I think I could get away with it.  Building a composting toilet in the garage seems more risky, although I’m still tempted. Maybe I could start a guerilla movement.  We could have awesome t-shirts proclaiming the Power of Poo.  Wouldn’t everyone want one?

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Less costs more

After several weeks of suspense, we got our water bill in the mail today. Over the past 37 days, we used 67,000 gallons of water. It turned out to be much better than we’d feared: about 1/3 the cost of our worst-case scenario. Thank goodness we’re on a septic system right now. If not, we’d also have had to pay for “wastewater” management on all of that clean water as well.

Despite our water company’s claim that they’d send us a detailed bill, we just had our normal breakdown into services and usage. That makes it hard to analyze, but if the usage cost had scaled linearly, our cost would have been much higher. This leads us to believe that we got a discount for using more water. That is, the marginal cost (additional cost, for those who aren’t economists) of a thousand gallons is higher when you haven’t used any than when you’ve used, say, 66,000.

Our electrical company is the same way. Our first kWh of electricity cost 9 cents. Then there’s a block that costs 4 cents each. Everything above that is 5 cents per kWh. It’s very odd and not at all like other parts of the country.

The solar books that I read keep suggesting that they’re cost effective because they cut out the most expensive part of your bill. Unfortunately, in Indiana that’s just not true. The most expensive part of your bill is your first kWhs. If we bought just enough solar power to reduce our usage to the first tier of prices, we’d still be paying about $20 a month (with taxes, fees, etc.). That’s a little less than half of what we’re already paying!

This means that for solar power to be cost effective in IN, it has to be cheaper than 5 cents per kWh, because that’s the stuff that you’ll offset! That makes it even harder to justify a PV system around here.

Oh, well. For now, I’ll just thank my lucky stars that our water bill was as low as it was… and keep reducing our water and electrical use.

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The Wedding

Maggie and I are back in Bloomington after another long drive. Rob and Angel’s wedding was beautiful. The ceremony was in my parents’ front yard, so we spent Friday making sure everything was perfect. That mostly consisted of shoveling rocks back into the pond (they’d been removed so that my dad could fix the pump), so I’ve been sore since then.

Saturday morning, there were lots of clouds but nothing more than a sprinkling of rain. The clouds were a bonus because they not only kept everything cool, they gave the wedding an even lighting that made the pictures turn out incredibly well. It was great to see all of the close family friends at the ceremony, especially when they stood and spoke about the couple.

Rob and Angel were married under the auspices of the Raleigh Friends Meeting (Quaker), so the ceremony consisted of about half an hour of silence punctuated by people standing and speaking when moved. After that, Angel’s sister read the marriage certificate and they exchanged vows. After ten more minutes of silent worship, everyone got up and talked, signed the certificate, and got something to eat. It was incredibly moving and very fun.

The reception was held at one of the lakes that forms Raleigh’s reservoir system. Although it looked pretty normal when we were there, although perhaps a little low, it was basically dry a year ago and was still several feet below normal even a couple months ago. There’s a lot of discussion now in Raleigh about what to do about the water supply. Based on the editorials and letters to the editor I read, the most popular views seem to be to increase the cost of water in a tiered system, to encourage individuals to continue to conserve water, or to hook Raleigh’s water supply to those of nearby cities.

My parents are doing their part. They have two new connected rain barrels that they use to refill the pond when it evaporates and to water the plants in the front yard. There’s also no grass (it’s all pine straw and plants), which means less need for watering, as does their proximity to the pond. The birds certainly appreciate the pond too! My dad had to shut it down for a couple of days to clean the pump, but as soon as he turned it back on, the robins jumped back in to bathe. The next step is to get some frogs to live in there and keep the water a little cleaner.

Overall, it was a great trip. I’m impressed with how well my parents were able to create a beautiful natural space in the middle of Raleigh and I’m jealous that my brother got to use it for his wedding! 🙂

Once I unpack my camera, I’ll post some wedding pictures here so that you all can see what I mean.

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The Crunchy Chicken Extreme Eco-Challenge

Extrme Eco Challenge - Crunchy Chicken It’s almost May and it’s time to decide whether or not Will and I are going to accept Crunchy Chicken’s Extreme Eco Challenge. She is a blogger like us who leads a pretty normal life but is working to make life a little greener. One of her favorite methods for greening the world is creating challenges for her readers. This winter she offered the Freeze Yer Buns challenge asking folks to lower their thermostats and this month she’s running a Buy Nothing Challenge. Next on the agenda is a hardcore eco-throwdown.

There are seven options, increasing in difficulty. According to the rules, participants may have one day off a week (sorta like Lent, depending on which teachings you follow). Here they are along with some of my thoughts.

1. No plastic (don’t buy or consume anything in plastic). I initially had visions of starving to death. No tubs or shrink wrap or produce bags or bread bags, which means no frozen food, no cheese, no condiments… Will told me I was being melodramatic and with a little more thought I realized it was manageable. But definitely challenging.

2. No paper products. This seems easier to me except for three items: my calendar, my notebook, and toilet paper. I have been experimenting with a TP-free method but so far I’m not ready for a total switch. Hmmmm.

3. No driving. Will says he would happily do this and let me chauffeur him but I told him I didn’t think that would count. Actually, he would have very little trouble giving up his car but I use mine almost daily to commute to work and to field trips that are not accessible via bus. I’m sure I could cut back my usage dramatically but I couldn’t go car-free. And we do have a driving vacation planned at the end of the month that involves his brother’s wedding…

4. Local food only. I’m thinking about trying this challenge in July but right now we’d be eating an awful lot of eggs and salad greens. I also think that eating 100% locally is too extreme and it makes more sense to shoot for a diet that’s about 80% local so you can still enjoy other cuisines and foods that simply don’t grow where you are. But maybe I’m just a wus. 🙂

5. No garbage output (compost and recyclables only). This is a noble goal but it seems pretty unattainable. No waste at all? There are pieces of trash like candy wrappers that literally just appear in our yard. And there are a few things I’m not sure will ever be recyclable or reusable. Used dental floss? Sticky labels from produce? I think we already do pretty well minimizing our trash. Still, I’m sure if we took up the challenge we could find a few more areas of waste to trim.

6. No excessive water usage (drink as much as you want but use a bare minimum for bathing, brushing teeth, washing clothes, washing dishes, etc).
This actually sounds easier than some of the others although I do enjoy long hot showers and using the automatic washing machine. And if I took Crunchy Chicken’s advice and really thought about what it would be like to haul in all the water I use from a stream, I’m sure I could cut back on my usage dramatically.

7. No electricity (you can leave your fridge on if you must). There are three big challenges for this one. One is heat, which we could probably do without in May. One is cooking, since we have an electric stove and oven, although I guess if necessary we could eat cold food most of the week. And the last is computers. Will really needs his for work and he works from home most of the time. So maybe we could do a modified version with an allowance for computer use for work only. Oh, and it would suck a lot to not have hot water. But maybe I would be motivated enough to procure a solar shower bag. And I’m sure we’d find a whole new set of ways to entertain ourselves in the evenings without electricity.

Which one should we try? Which one would YOU try? Or has this crossed over into the realm of crazy crunchy eco-extremists? Let us know quick – May 1st is just around the corner!

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Motivating Myself with Scarcity and Bribery

water pumpOur landlord finally replaced our water heater a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the installer used a lot of PVC glue, which is one of the nastiest smelling substances in the world. Besides stinking up the air, it also leached into our water and we decided not to drink any until the taste disappeared.

For about a week we filled jugs of water at other houses and brought it home. Having a limited supply made me much more conscious of how much water I use. Knowing that the tap flows at 2 gallons per minute is somehow not as meaningful as seeing the water level drop in a 1-gallon jug. It was also sobering to know I had to haul more water to the house instead of just turning on the tap.

While I don’t want to suggest we go back to the times of carrying water from the local well, I wonder if there’s a way to have that resource-consciousness without having a limited supply. One idea would be to install a meter to actually measure our real-time water usage. How much water does it really take to run the dishwasher? I can look it up in a chart but it would be way more convincing to see our storage tank draining or even see a dial spinning.

What if the meter also told how much it costs to use that water? I’m sure it wouldn’t be as dramatic as electricity or gasoline but I might be a little more conscientious about dishwashing. On the other hand, gasoline prices keep rising but I’m not sure it’s changing people’s behaviors all that much. Will maintains that it changes people’s behaviors in the long-term; people look for jobs with a shorter commute, look for cars with better gas mileage, and think twice about taking long driving vacations. However, most people have not changed their day-to-day activities and are still willing to drive to the grocery store four times a week because it’s convenient and it doesn’t cost *that* much money. Hopefully those larger habit changes will come as part of a societal shift, when we all start counting car trips as special occasions like plane flights as opposed to counting them as just part of our every day routine.

I know I don’t conserve diesel as well as I could. It is something I can monitor closely and associate with a direct price ($0.09/mile just for fuel) but I still haven’t made huge changes. So what is the key? For me, I think it comes back to the idea of scarcity. My new idea is to fill up my tank at the beginning of the month and see if I can make it last.  I’m also going to throw in a dose of bribery.  Each month I will set aside $40 (about a tank’s worth of fuel) in an “emergency” fuel fund. If I run out of fuel, I can use that money to refill my tank, but if I I can make that first tank last, I get to spend the $40 on a massage or a fancy dinner or some other special treat.

I still love the idea of being able to measure my use of water – and electricity – in real-time. I think it would be fascinating to do some experiments (is it better to turn the thermostat down lower at night or do I end up using more energy reheating the house in the morning?) and also get a better idea of what behavior changes would really make the most difference. And I might make some huge changes like the folks in North Carolina who dramatically cut their water usage in times of drought last summer. But I still think scarcity is the strongest motivator I know of, followed closely by bribery.

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Raindrops Keep Falling… So Build a Rain Garden!

Rain GardenIt has been raining pretty steadily for the last two days. I hear some areas south of us received 9 inches but we’re feeling that 3 or 4 is more than enough. As chance would have it, I spent about 8 hours today attending a conference about the use of native plants in urban spaces with a focus on using native plants to manage storm water, sponsored by the design firm EcoLogic.

“Alternative storm water management” was one of the key buzzphrases when I worked for JFNew as an engineering consultant a few years ago. It’s one of those ideas that makes a lot of sense but is totally opposite from conventional storm water management. Okay, so the old school way of dealing with storm water was to get it off-site and into a stream as quickly as possible. This makes a lot of sense if your main goal is to keep your building from flooding. However, it has several unfortunate consequences. One is that all the pollutants that get washed off roofs, streets, and other impervious surfaces get immediately dumped into our streams. The other is that a large amount of water gets dumped into streams all at once, which means the stream experiences higher flow levels than it would in a natural setting and there can be flooding downstream.

So the theory behind alternative storm water management is this: Why don’t we try to hold some of the water on-site and let it infiltrate into the ground the way it used to? This recharges the groundwater, it allows some of the pollutants to be filtered out as the water flows through the soil, and it helps the streams have a more natural flow pattern.

One of the most common ways to do this is using a bioretention area. The basic idea is to have a depression (dry pond) that captures water during storm events and then lets it percolate slowly into the ground. They can be done at a variety of different scales but someone wisely dubbed the backyard version “rain gardens.” Rain gardens are becoming much more common as a landscaping option for individual residences and are being actively promoted here in Monroe County. They’re pretty easy to build; you basically dig a depression in your yard that will naturally catch water, amend the soil a little bit so it will let water infiltrate (this is especially important in Bloomington where we have heavy clay soils), and plant some water-tolerant native plants.

Native prairie plants are ideal because they have massive root systems that help increase infiltration rates and they also are used to tolerating periods of extreme drought and extreme water. There are also lots of cool native wetland plants to use in the wettest part of the rain garden.  I listened to a couple of botanists talk for two hours about what species are the most appropriate but really, the key is finding plants that will tolerate a wide range of moisture and that you and your neighbors agree are at least marginally attractive.

I think our landlord would frown on us digging holes in the turf grass that surrounds our little duplex so we’re going to wait on this one until we have our own space but I really want to build one. Maybe next year I’ll be ready for those April/March showers.

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Lazy Friday links: convertible furniture, an expensive drought, and community gardens

I haven’t been reading my blogs regularly this week, so now that I’m back home, there was a bunch of interest stuff waiting for me.

From Treehugger (a new read for me) comes mention of convertible furniture. Dwell, a British company, sells a coffee table that becomes a dinner table and a coffee table that becomes a laptop table. As Maggie and I have been looking at houses, I’ve been thinking about how much space I really need. It seems like a lot of the space we’ve got is only used part of the time. I don’t really want to do anything but sleep in the bedroom, but I hardly ever use the dining room and the living room at the same time. If there were some way to combine rooms, I could probably be comfortable with a place that’s 10% smaller. I don’t know if this table is a good way to do it, but it’s a nice possibility.

I try to keep track of my hometown news and ran across some in an unexpected place today. North Carolina has had a terrible drought for the past year, so everyone has been conserving water. My parents got a rain barrel and now use the old bucket in the shower trick. According to Freakonomics, because NC residents have cut their water usage by a third, the water utility company in Charlotte-Mecklenburg is raising prices! I know that most of the cost of water production is constant, but it’s still a weird disincentive for conservation. It makes the free rider problem even worse. Why bother saving water if it not only doesn’t help you personally, it hurts you.

It’s almost officially spring and the weather is definitely spring-like, which means it’s time to really think about gardens. Maggie has already started planning and digging with some friends. Planet Green has a short blurb about community gardening connected to a Natural Home article that I can’t find (I left Planet Green a post about it, so maybe they’ll fix it before you read this). Community gardening is a good way to get some gardening in even when you’re in an urban area. I was able to set aside a 1’x1′ plot at my last place, but don’t want to dig things up at our current place. Maggie still needs her gardening fix, so she’s helping her friends with their gardens.

There are also some actual community gardens in Bloomington, where you can sign up to use a small part of a larger plot on unused land. I love the concept because it encourages community and give novice gardeners like myself a good place to get advice. There isn’t one within walking distance but there might be if we move downtown. That’s good, because most of the houses we’ve been looking at are too shady for good gardens.

I’ll end with a mention of blog style. I really like the way that JD at Get Rich Slowly emphasizes a couple of key phrases within his articles. I’m going to try and do the same (when I remember). If I’m lucky, that might help me focus on no more than a couple of key points too!

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Solar Water Heating Lessons

Solar Water Heating bookI just got back from an 8-hour training in solar water heating offered through the Indiana Office of Energy and Defense.  My brain is a little oversaturated but it was a good course and I’m glad I went.  We even got a really cool book published by Mother Earth News!  Solar water heating is one of those technologies that makes infinite sense to me – capture the sun’s rays to heat our water?  Of course! – but I wanted to learn how they actually work.

The class was taught by a solar system installer from Wisconsin who is associated with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, which is an awesome resource for sustainable living ideas in the Midwest.  They run a Renewable Energy Fair every year that covers a wide range of topics from constructing a windmill for water pumping to making window quilts to growing food organically.  There’s also a trade show featuring fascinating products like a whole range of hand-operated kitchen appliances and solar ovens that were developed to purify water in third world countries.  I’ve been twice and highly recommend it.

Anyway, in the solar water class we talked about several types of systems and their various benefits and drawbacks.   The  simple DIY version is a black 55-gallon drum enclosed in a glass box (to provide some insulation) mounted somewhere in your yard with good solar exposure.  You run pipes to carry water from your water supply through the drum (where it’s heated) and then back into your house (to your hot water tap).  It’s simple, it’s cheap, and it works pretty well during the summer.

One major drawback is that this system is very vulnerable to freezing so you really can’t use them during the fall, winter, or spring.  The solution is to set up what’s called a closed system.  Instead of running your water directly through the collector (the black drum), you run a propylene glycol solution outside to the collector and then back into the house where it goes through a heat exchanger (picture your car radiator) and transfers its heat to your potable water before returning to the collector. The gylcol solution will stay liquid to a temperature of negative thirty degrees so you can use it all winter long and take advantage of those clear, sunny, cold days.

I found the class very inspiring but I’m still put off by the cost of purchasing a professionally installed system – approximately $10,000 for a family of four.  The instructor ran some calculations showing that if electric rates keep increasing by 7% a year, the system will pay for itself within 20 years.  It’s true but 20 years seems like a long time.  So I’m rather tempted to try the drum-in-a-box version for awhile and see how that goes during the summer.  I also question their estimates on how much hot water people use on average.  20 gallons per person per day seems like a lot of hot water.  Granted, we wash our laundry using cold water and take short showers every 2-3 days so we’re definitely going to be below average but I figure we use less than a third of that.  Do you know how much hot water you use?  And how to measure it?  The book suggests that if you have a plug-in electric water heater you can use a kill-o-watt but ours is hardwired (and isn’t working very well right now anyway – I think it’s 75% full of lime) so I’m not sure what else to try.

There will be two more renewable energy classes this spring so I’m excited.  It’s not often the government throws education and books my way so I plan to take advantage of all of it.  Oh, and for those of you who are curious about the Indiana Department of Energy and Defense, my understanding is that someone somewhere figured out that one of the biggest weaknesses of Homeland Security is the fact that we’re highly dependent on foreign oil (I know you’re all shocked) so they decided to merge Energy with Defense.  I guess it kinda makes sense and if we can divert some tax money away from building bombers and towards building solar panels, I’m all about it.

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I’m Doing Laundry!

My college roommate Erin used to say she loved to do laundry because she could feel like she was being productive the entire time the washer and dryer were running, even if she spent that time plunked on the couch in front of the TV. I must admit, I do think of her logic every time I throw in a load…

Really, though, I want to steal an idea from Student Doctor Green, a blogger in Texas who is trying to “green” her life and decided to tackle one room of her house at a time (she started with the kitchen) and do a thorough green-ness assessment. I am going to modify the concept a little and focus on tasks instead of rooms – my first target is doing laundry. Here are my green tips:

1. Do less laundry. We all have our own comfort zones but I think it’s healthy to re-evaluate them periodically. I personally only wash my bathroom towels once a week unless they smell bad. Socks, underwear, and t-shirts get washed after each wearing but sweaters, pants, and jackets are generally worn three or four times (I hang them on pegs in my bedroom during the “slightly dirty” phase) before washing. Cloth napkins, rags, and kitchen towels get hung up in the laundry room when they look or smell gross to await the next load of laundry. I recently purchased some cloth menstrual pads from etsy but I don’t quite have a routine down for those. The package suggests storing them in a bucket of water until it’s time to do laundry or washing them out by hand. I’ll keep you posted.

2. Run full loads using cold water. I tend to do two loads of laundry every two weeks unless I’ve been especially dirty. I have washed my clothes in cold water for the last five years at least and it always seems to work just fine.

3. Use environmentally sound detergents in small quantities. Read the box! It takes less detergent than you might think. I used to throw in a little extra for good measure but I tested and it didn’t make a difference so now I use the minimum amount of Biokleen or Seventh Generation or whatnot. I did get some very nice detergent from Mugwort Maggie’s but she cashed my check in November and didn’t send me the detergent (or respond to any of my e-mails) until February. Not cool. Even if you make awesome handmade products, you have to respect your customers or they will tell everyone you’re a jerk. A friend just sent me a link about soap nuts, some kind of naturally soapy nut sold by a different Maggie. I guess there are women named Maggie all over the internet doing crazy green things!

4. Dry your clothes efficiently. This means not overstuffing the dryer and maybe using some of those little dryer balls (we don’t have them yet – wedding gift perhaps?) although as Treehugger points out, they’re made out of polyvinyl chloride, which is not eco-friendly at all. It’s also important to maintain your dryer – you know, clean that lint trap! If we were really hardcore we would dry our clothes on a clothesline. I must confess, I will probably only ever get around to that one if it’s extremely convenient and I will still want certain things (underwear, towels) to have that dryer-soft feel. (On the other hand, I *hate* dryer sheets. I’d rather have the static cling.)

5. Upgrade your washer and dryer. Our rental home comes with a washer and dryer so this seems unlikely for us in the near future. We have toyed with the idea of getting a handwasher and a drying rack just to see if we could get used to the super-efficient method. Perhaps a wedding registry with Lehman’s is in order…

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