Something Big: Stormwater Runoff

 Today we are talking about stormwater runoff and pollution because the cities around Mobile Bay suffer from litter and water pollution problems in a big way. Stormwater pollution is such a large issue because it is what we call “non-point source pollution.” This means that pollution comes from numerous discrete sources, making it difficult to quantify and difficult to eliminate. In addition to explaining what stormwater runoff is and what causes it, we will also share ways that you can make a difference stormwater-wise.

What is stormwater runoff? 

Stormwater runoff occurs when rain from storms flows over the ground. Impervious (non-absorbant) surfaces like driveways, sidewalks, and streets prevent stormwater runoff from naturally soaking into the ground. Litter and contaminants that have been left on the ground are swept along with rainwater into our storm drains. Stormdrains direct rainwater to the nearest waterway; this water does not go to a treatment plants or pump station. Eventually, the pollution finds its way into our many waterways, Mobile Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Simply put, stormwater runoff is important because it impacts our waterways and environments in many ways. Everything that lives in the water, feeds from the water, or drinks the water can be impacted by stormwater pollution. This adversely impacts our health, the environment, and our economy.

Problematic Pollutants 

–  Litter on roads and in parking lots and parks 

–  Cigarette butts

–  Untreated wastewater from failed septic systems

–  Oil and antifreeze from leaking cars

–  Garden and lawn chemicals

–  Household cleaners and chemicals that are disposed of improperly

–  Construction site runoff

–  Pet and livestock waste

–  Mardi Gras parade debris

Who causes stormwater pollution? 

We all do. Stormwater pollution is the result of industrial activity, our personal everyday actions, and our local land use policies. Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to make a difference regarding our stormwater quality.

Some Things You Can Do

1. Pick up pet waste and deposit it in garbage cans, flush it down the toilet, or bury it in your yard. 

2. Wash your car in the yard instead of the driveway, or go to a carwash that properly handles its wastewater.

3. Divert down spouts to grassy areas instead of driveways and sidewalks. May we also suggest a rain garden?

4. Use natural fertilizers on your lawn and garden only when necessary and always apply according to package instructions.

5. Don’t put anything down a storm drain – Remember, storm drains lead directly to our Bay!

6. Sweep sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing them down.

7. Use native plants in your garden – they require less watering and maintenance. 

8. Help pick up litter and dispose of it properly. 

9. Harvest rainwater for watering your plants through the use of a rain barrel. 

10. Participate in clean-ups or stormwater education programs.

Great American Clean-Up

This week is the Great American Clean-Up, an effort of the part of Keep America Beautiful and countless other organizations to keep our communities and our environment clean and healthy. In Mobile, AL, you can participate in a clean-up event TOMORROW (Saturday, April 28th) from 8am-noon at the Springdale Mall on Airport Blvd.  Join the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, Partners for Environmental Progress, Keep Mobile Beautiful, Mobile Baykeeper, and others this Saturday to clean up the Dog River watershed. Meet at Burlington Coat Factory at the Springdale Mall. Register as a team or as individuals through HandsOn South Alabama or by calling Keep Mobile Beautiful at (251) 208-6029.

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Friday: Energy Star Appliances

Summer is around the corner, and for many of us in the South, that means your home utility bills are going up, up, UP.  As temperatures rise, air conditioning systems work overtime to keep homes cool.  During the summer, more people may be at home during the day and will use more electricity in daylight hours than if they were at school or at work. These things add up in your utility costs and as your appliances are worked harder, they are also more prone to break.  If your appliances break or simply become worn out, there are lots of more energy efficient products out there that you can purchase.  ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to provide guidance and advice on products to increase energy efficiency in homes and businesses while saving money on energy costs. Buying energy efficient ENERGY STAR appliances, and performing routine maintenance, will not only allow you to do your part to be kinder to the environment by reducing your carbon footprint but also can save you a lot of money in operating costs over the lifetime of the appliance.

Routine Maintenance

According to EPA research, as much as half of the energy used in residential homes is dedicated to heating and coolingPerforming routine maintenance now will help in keeping your existing unit running well and make it run more efficiently.  For instance, dirty air filters slow down air flow and make heating and cooling units work harder to cool your air, which wastes energy.  Check your filter monthly to see if it needs replacing—filters  should be replaced every 3 months at a minimum.  ENERGY STAR provides a maintenance checklist for HVAC (home, ventilation, air conditioning) systems: Maintenance Checklist.

Programmable Thermostat

A great heating and cooling investment is the purchase of a programmable thermostat.  If you’re away from home at set periods of time during the week, you can pre-program your thermostat to have things nice and cool when you get home, but not run your system when you’re not at home.  More info on programmable thermostats can be found here.

HVAC Unit

There are many options in systems to cool your home.  So if you’re in the market to replace your existing HVAC unit, check out the ENERGY STAR guidance to see what best fits your needs here.

Water Heater

Another big source of energy usage in the home is hot water.  Showers, dishwashers, washing machines and sinks all use it , and EPA estimates that the national average cost of hot water per year per household is $400-$600 dollars. In fact, it’s the second largest household expenditure after heating and cooling.  As you can see from the chart below, over 50% of hot water usage comes from showering and doing laundry:

One way to save on hot water costs is to set your water heater thermostat to 120° F or lower. By doing this, you save energy on heat lost from water heater into the surrounding area and from water demand or use in your home. Lots of people love long, hot showers, but they are a big drain on energy and water use. Try your best to limit your shower to the time it takes to soap up, wash down and rinse off.  Also, the installation of a new 2.5 gallon-per-minute (low-flow) shower head can save energy — up to $145 each year on electricity, according to ENERGY STAR estimates — beating out both the bath and an old-fashioned showerhead on energy savings.

High efficiency water heaters use 10 to 50 percent less energy than standard models, saving homeowners money on their utility bills. If you’re water heater is reaching the end of it’s life, there are many energy efficient options to replace your old unit:

  • Demand (Tankless) Water Heaters Water circulated through a large coil is heated only on demand using gas or electricity; there is no storage tank continuously maintaining hot water. With these systems, there is an endless supply of hot water.
  • Heat Pump Water Heaters – Heat pumps transfer energy from the surrounding air to water in a storage tank. These water heaters are much more efficient than electric resistance water heaters and most effective in warm climates with long cooling seasons.
  • Solar Water Heating While the initial purchase price of solar water heaters is high compared to standard models, they can be cost effective. That is because the sun’s energy is harnessed to reduce operating costs up to 90 percent. Solar water heating systems require a conventional water heater as a backup water heating source to ensure hot water is available when solar energy is not.

Very often, gas or electric companies will offer steep discounts (if not free new water heaters) to homeowners if they are switching from a gas to electric or electric to gas water heaters – check with utility companies for local promotions. Water heaters generally have a useful life of 10-15 years (or more), so do your research to find out which system best fit’s your household’s needs.  Information on ENERGY STAR water heaters can be found here.

Washing Machines

Heating and cooling units, as well as water heaters, are the biggest utility energy-users, but washing machines and refrigerators come next on the list of biggest energy-using appliances.  There are a few practices to take up to make your current washing machine use less energy overall. Save on hot water costs by washing your laundry with cold water whenever possible. Switching to cold water can save the average household more than $40 annually (with an electric water heater) and more than $30 annually (with a gas water heater), according to ENERGY STAR research.   To save water, try to wash full loads, as EPA estimates that washing full loads can save you more than 3,400 gallons of water each year.   If it’s necessary to wash a partial load, reduce the level of water appropriately.

Generally speaking, front-loading machines have often been more efficient as they use less water to complete a cycle and use less electricity overall.  Now, however, there is a huge selection of ENERGY STAR qualified top-loading and front-loading washing machines to choose from.  According to the ENERGY STAR website, a full-sized ENERGY STAR qualified clothes washers uses 14 gallons of water per load, compared to the 27 gallons used by a standard machine, which is 50% less water used per load for a lifetime savings of 43,000 gallons of water. On average, a new ENERGY STAR qualified clothes washer uses 270 kWh of electricity, 30% less energy used than conventional washing machines.  To learn more about energy efficient washing machines, click here.

Incidentally, ENERGY STAR does not label dryers, but choosing a new dryer with a moisture sensor is a way to shut off the machine when clothes are dry, which saves energy over traditional timed settings.  Also, there is nature’s clothes dryer – the sun.  Provided you have no homeowner’s association covenants or city ordinances prohibiting clothes lines, and you have the space, hanging your clothes outside to dry on the line is the most energy efficient way to dry your clothing. Another option is a metal drying rack, especially if space is limited. They come in many sizes and styles, for both outdoor and indoor use.

Refrigerators

Refrigerators are another big purchase that can consume a lot of energy.  Some easy ways to improve your current refrigerator’s efficiency is to make sure the seals around the door are airtight and keeping cool air in, keep the fridge temperature set at 35-38° F, and if possible, place your fridge in a cool place away from heat sources like ovens, dishwashers and direct sunlight.  Also, don’t have the refrigerator door open for longer than it takes to remove the beverage or food of your choice – you’re letting all the cold air out!

If your refrigerator has seen better days, there are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a new one.  Models with top-mounted freezers use 10–25% less energy than bottom-mount or side-by-side models. Larger fridges use more energy, and unless you need a lot of storage, choose more energy efficient 16-20 cubic feet models.  Also features like automatic ice-makers and through-the-door dispensers increase energy use by 14–20%; those models also cost more.  For more information on ENERGY STAR refrigerators, click here.

Choosing the right appliances, and performing routine maintenance, are important ways to make you home more energy efficient.  Buying appliances like HVAC units, water heaters, washing machines and refrigerators are large investments that should last for many years, if not decades.  Remember to do your research to find the best products for your and your family’s needs and budget, because you’ll be living with these products for a while.

For more information and tips on energy efficient appliances, please visit:

The Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website: www.energysavers.gov

The Energy Star program website: www.energystar.gov

Something Big: Home Efficiency

If you’ve ever lived in an older home (pre-1950’s), you know what it feels like to be at the mercy of the seasons.  Very often these charming, drafty structures lack sufficient, or indeed any, insulation and as a result residents end up perpetually chilly in the winter and warmly uncomfortable in the summer. And energy bills for heating and cooling a 60+ year-old house? Not something you look forward to in the mail. However, there are many steps that you can take to make your home, no matter what its age, more energy efficient through sealing and insulating.

According to EPA estimates, homeowners can typically save up to 20% of heating and cooling costs (or up to 10% of total energy costs) by air sealing their homes and adding insulation in attics, floors over crawl spaces, and accessible basement rim joists.   In addition, adding insulation and weather-stripping can reduce outside noise, making your home quieter, as well as helping prevent air pollution like pollen and car exhaust from entering your home. Another reason to make your home more energy efficient is that you may be eligible for tax credits on your tax returns.  You can learn more about tax credit here: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index

Air Sealing

The cheapest way to better insulate your home is through air sealing. What’s that? It’s cutting off drafts from the outdoors from entering your house by sealing around windows, doors, plumbing connections, and any other areas where breezes from outside can be felt.  There are several methods that you can use.  For the outside of most window and door frames you can use a non-toxic caulk to seal up any gaps.  In doorways and window sashes there are many types of weather-stripping that can be installed.  For any larger holes, like around plumbing fixtures or vents, putting in plywood, drywall or rigid foam insulation is more appropriate – and aside from keeping cold or hot air out, plugging these types of holes will help keep rodents and other pests out of your house as well.

Here are a few simple videos showing different methods of air sealing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8cXoLV_seA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAPv9wdrNuo

Visit our Resources page here for more videos and information about air sealing your home.

Insulation

After you’ve air sealed your home, a next step is installation of insulation in your attic, walls and accessible floors.  Putting actual insulation in your home is a bit pricier but will make a big difference in keeping your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Generally, you get the most bang for your buck by insulating attics in terms of energy cost saving and the amount of heat transfer from an uninsulated attic. Ask the folks at your building or home supply store about the most appropriate materials for your home.

This is a good resource for insulation installation: http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/insulation_airsealing/index.cfm/mytopic=11350

Visit our Resources page here to read more about insulation.

ENERGY STAR Windows and Roofs

Another big fix to make your home more energy efficient is installing new, ENERGY STAR qualified windows and roofs.  ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to provide guidance and advice on products to increase energy efficiency in homes and businesses while saving money on energy costs. Most traditional single or double paned windows do little to nothing to provide a barrier to cold temperatures or the heat of the sun. Most ENERGY STAR qualified windows reduce the heat gain in the summer and provide a barrier to the cold in the winter more than typical windows do, without reducing the amount of light coming in.  You can read more about ENERGY STAR qualified products here.

As you can see, there are lots of different ways to make you home more energy efficient.  Some may take an hour and some may take weeks.  Remember to do your research for the best products for your home, budget and the climate where you live.  The resources below have tons of information and tips about retrofitting your home to be more energy efficient. For other ways to save energy, check out our blog about energy-efficient lightbulbs.

Resources:

The Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website, www.energysavers.gov

The Energy Star program website, www.energystar.gov

Friday: Hybrid Cars

Welcome to our first Make-A-Difference Friday, the day we talk about something big that you can do to make a difference. Today, Casi Callaway,  Executive Director of Mobile Baykeeper, talks about her decision to buy a hybrid car when the time came to replace their family vehicle.

The Baykeepermobile

Casi's Hybrid Camry

My favorite “Aha!” moment actually came when a group of girl friends came over for Bunco and saw my home recycling station.  My friend Mary grabbed my arm and said, “You actually live what you say.”  It never occurred to me that I lived my life any differently than anyone else.  I guess I should have known, but getting involved in environmental protection at age 19 actually changed my behavior.  Make-a-Difference Month is about encouraging everyone – YOU – to look at your life and pick up and do something small, medium or large to make a difference, change something in your life.

When my husband and I went to buy a new car in March 2008, with a four-month-old baby boy, an SUV was not remotely on the radar.  We knew we had to start at Toyota and at least try the Prius. I knew it cost more money up front to buy the latest environmentally-friendly car and I was a little worried that maintenance would be an issue, but mostly I knew it wasn’t a question – it was simply which hybrid.

I have to be honest and say the 2007 Prius felt a little too much like the tiny car I drove in high school.  The Camry Hybrid made me feel like a grown up driving essentially a regular sedan. Driving the Hybrid made me sure I was driving a car that truly made a difference in the world.  I purchase gas every two to three weeks and even with the present outrageous prices, my 12-gallon tank hasn’t exceeded $50.

A fun tidbit I have to admit — I LOVE that my car is so quiet I can sneak up on folks.

Now that we’re in 2012, the options are vast!  There are SUVs, large very fancy sedans, or smaller Leafs, grown up Priuses and the all-electric Volt.  If you’re shopping for a car, spend a little time researching, spend a little more up front and save a over the long term both in gas and for the environment.

Make a BIG Difference with this big choice, because it’s the best choice for our future.

Here are a few leads for researching a Hybrid Car:

http://www.howstuffworks.com/hybrid-car.htm

http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/hybrids.jsp

http://buyersguide.caranddriver.com/budget-green/hybrid

From EPA’s Website — Fuel Economy Guide

The Fuel Economy Guide is an annual publication containing the fuel economy estimates for all cars and light trucks. The guide includes much more information than appears on the window sticker alone. It includes information about alternative fueled vehicles, the range of fuel economy for different classes of vehicles, a list of fuel economy leaders, and tips for improving fuel economy. The guide is published jointly by the Department of Energy and EPA. Additionally, EPA publishes lists of the vehicle models with the highest and lowest fuel economy estimates every year. Below are the lists for the 2012 model year Fuel Economy Guide.

Locally, you should check out Bay Chevrolet and the Volt, Springhill Toyota (a supporter of the Grandman Triathlon).

Additional local dealerships: Eastern Shore Toyota, Tameron Honda, Treadwell Honda, Lexus of Mobile, Pat Peck Nissan, Chris Myers Nissan and many more!

We know that the decision to purchase a hybrid car is a big one. Share your thoughts, concerns, or your reasons for going with a hybrid in comments below. Or, if you already drive a hybrid or electric car, share your story with us! Why do you drive a hybrid and why do you like it?

Together we can make a difference!