Category Archives: green home

Blue Sky Benefits

I wrote last year about signing up for Blue Sky, my electric utility’s renewable energy option.

Recently I got an update about how my participation has made a difference, and it’s pretty impressive:

Avoided 5,814 pounds of CO2 or 5,911 miles not driven or 68 trees planted

I don’t know about you, but I certainly haven’t come close to planting 68 trees on my own initiative. It is a relative offset to our current miles driven as well.

In trying to find out what others think, I found a fun blog called “Retire by 40” that shares their perspective on the program.

Have you signed up for your local clean energy program?

Sustainable Family Finances  
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Keeping up with the “Greens” – Personal Energy Reports

My grandmother’s maiden name was Green and married name was Jones, so I find it funny that “keeping up with the jones'” is so out nowadays. Whether we like it or not, peer pressure causes social change. Society is creating social pressure to be greener than your neighbor.

A friend of mine showed me a “personal energy report” she had gotten the mail from her utility, NW Natural. The idea of analyzing your own energy usage isn’t novel, but I find it really interesting that the utility would compare your energy usage to your own neighbors

As you can see, her energy usage is much better than her neighbors (she’s also single and energy conscious). Note the smiley faces…I’m curious if they are absent or greyed out when you are “more than average”:

They also showed her last year’s usage, and showed how much money she saved, which provides additional incentive to continue saving energy. $1,253 is sure worth it!

With a little searching, I found out that this is a pilot program, and these letters were mailed to 60,000 Portlanders at random. Here’s a quick news clipped where they interview the Energy Trust of Oregon about the pilot. I sure hope it turns into an industry standard!

Does your utility provide a personal energy report?
How do you think you’d compare to your neighbors?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

WaterSense Toilet upgrade

This past Sunday, Hubby and I spent the day buying and installing a new toilet for our upstairs bath. We weren’t planning on investing in such a home improvement just yet, but we were forced into it. 

When EcoMaids came for their first cleaning, they found a slow leak outside the toilet…who knows how long it had been dripping! We attempted to fix it, and thought we had…until a few months later they returned to find the leak was back…apparently none of us pay much attention to the space behind our toilet! But then last week EcoMaids returned to find the leak dripping even faster! We were tired of trying to trouble shoot ourselves, and since our toilet was an old water hog, we didn’t feel it was even worth calling a plumber.

So, the only question was, which toilet should we buy?

We new that we wanted a WaterSense certified toilet (they are actually third party tested). But I got some advice from my friends in the Portland Water Bureau’s conservation group. I know they can’t endorse any particular brand or company, but they suggested A-Boy Plumbing, and mentioned Toto among the top rated brands. (Since purchasing/posting I found a NW Renovation article on choosing a toilet by the owner of A-Boy). I also asked if there was any other feature I should look for in a dual flush toilet. I was a little surprised to learn that dual flush toilet may not necessarily be that much more efficient than the new High Efficiency Toilets. But it made sense to me that initial research is showing the when you average out the .8/1.6 flush with a 1.28 gallon single flush, it’s pretty much a wash. 

This was happy news, since we didn’t really want to spent a ton on a toilet. There was really cheap (under $150) dual flush model, but once we started talking with the sales woman about what you get for your money, we opted for an affordable higher end toilet. Later I spoke with a friend, and she told me about a retched toilet nightmare that wasn’t fully enameled, so I’m already glad about your choice to avoid the plumber/plunger at all cost!

We chose the Toto Eco-Drake. Lucky for us the round bowl cost less, and this was all our bathroom could fit. We were instantly sold on the  slow self-closing, non-pinching model,  given that our old toilet seat was a heavy one that would crash regularly. This will be ideal for young kids!  It cost us $267, including the SoftClose seat and the $3 wax ring.  

Our real savings came from installing the toilet ourselves.  Our research showed that Lowe’s would charge you $198.  Neither Hubby or I are very mechanical, but it was really straight forward. We watch a 4 min how-to video, and followed the basic directions. It took until around an hour, and we even managed to finish the job with Girly giggling on top of us while tightening the tank to the bowl!  It feels really good to get the project done at almost half the initial price.

But we will also see long term savings in our water/sewer bill, and this  Toilet Fact Sheet estimates that in Portland the savings for a family of four could be $300 a year…just like our insulation, it makes me wish we had done this sustainable home improvement sooner.

Also, in case all you need is to fix your toilet, here are some helpful how-to videos.

Have you invested in a High Efficiency Toilet yet?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Refinancing Home

Big news: We’ve taken the first steps to refinancing our home! We’ve locked the interest rate at 4.375% for 30 years. The appraisal is scheduled for this Friday. This will mean a great deal more financial security and freedom for us, both in the short and long run.

Quite honestly, when we “bought” (or really financed) our dream house over two years ago, we were stretching our financial limits. We had outgrown our shoebox of a starter house, and we wanted and needed a house where we could truly raise a family. We fell in love with our house, and it met virtually every criteria on our want/need list…not that we don’t have a home wish list though. Buying our house was also stretch because I was pregnant with Girly, and knew that during my unpaid maternity leave we would be paying over 60% of our income to our home. Typically, it’s not advisable to spend so much of your household budget on housing, but in our situation we felt like we needed to make the initial sacrifice. 

So, it turned out that we needed to buy Private Mortgage Insurance, PMI, in order to make the initial house purchase possible. We weren’t too happy about it, but we felt like the initial sacrifice would be worth the gain. Conveniently, we were able to pay it off by the time the interest rates hit rock bottom. 

On top of the new interest rate, the real reason we are excited about refinancing is our lower payment plan. We’ve been paying $2,455 a mortgage (plus PMI!), and soon we’ll be paying $1,712. That equates to a monthly savings of $743, and $8,917 annually! That doesn’t necessarily mean that won’t work to pay off our mortgage earlier, but initially we’ll need to make some decisions about how to save/invest the cash. 

Note that we bought before the market dropped, but also managed to net $70k in less than three years’ investment in our starter house. I’ll be curious about what the appraisal reports, but there’s no doubt that current value is less than the sale price.

Have you refinanced lately?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Home Maintenance

Maybe it’s just because we’re hunkering down for the winter ahead, but it sure feels like home maintenance season to me. When we bought a 1904 home, we knew that we’d have a fair amount of maintenance. Thankfully, it hasn’t been any more than our previous 1920’s house. No matter if your house is a century old or brand new, home ownership requires a commitment to regular maintenance.

Yet when it comes to home maintenance, neither of us are do-it-yourselfers. About the extent of our skills is interior painting, which Hubby used a few weekends ago repainting the bathroom ceiling and trim. But for the bulk of our projects, hiring professionals is necessary. We recently had our energy efficient boiler cleaned and inspected. We don’t use our fireplace more than a dozen times a winter, but we haven’t had it cleaned in the past two and it seems like an important safety project. We’re also getting a bid on roof cleaning/maintenance, since when I had our house evaluated for solar I realized that there’s more moss on our roof than NW firs.

If that honey-do list weren’t enough, EcoMaids staff discovered a slow drip from the back of the upstairs toilet onto the floor. It’s hard to pinpoint why the leak appeared and how to fix it. I have a feeling this repair will make it to the top of the list this weekend, as we’re all tired of going downstairs to use a toilet (reminds me of our starter home!)

In past we’ve hired from a variety of sources. I’ve been happy with ServiceMagic for finding quality professionals.   We’ve also had good luck with Craigslist, but I prefer referrals from friends. 

In case you’re ready to start a remodeling project, here is a comprehensive article on green remodeling. The new Home Improvement Products guide for the Healthy Stuff campaign has tested over 8,000 products for toxic chemicals (something the EPA hasn’t even attempted) and you can quickly find home improvement products that won’t harm your family. While we’re eye deep in basic maintenance at the moment, I definitely plan on using this resource.

How do you prioritize your home maintenance?

Sustainable Family Finances
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.