“Can I compost it?” flowchart

I have no intent of replicating the many, many lists available online telling you what is compostable. (Though it is usually the most popular question people ask me.)

Instead, below is a handy flowchart (.pdf version here) you can hang on the refrigerator for those who keep asking you, “Can I compost this?”

Handy-dandy compost flowchart

Handy-dandy compost flowchart

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Wicked light, wicked strong, compost sifter

Compost screens, finished and unfinished.

Compost screens, finished and unfinished.

I’ve taught a few classes and done some exhibits about compost recently and have had a great time answering questions.

Several people have asked about the sifter/screen I use. I always point out that you don’t really need a screen, or that in a pinch a milk crate will do the job, but if you want a screen to give you a finer product, then this is a great, sturdy, lightweight unit.

Most people with just a few tools can build this compost screen which is designed to be light enough that people with limited upper-body strength can use it. The arms rest across most wheelbarrows and it is sturdy enough to handle sifting compost or getting rocks out of soil. Continue reading

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Raccoons and Compost: A Common Sense Primer

Raccoons live among us. They lived here before we composted. They lived here before we put out cat food, garbage cans, or bird feeders.

 If everybody stopped composting tomorrow, raccoons would still thrive here.

Continue reading

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Free light bulbs from Mass Save

I received a bunch of free CFL and LED bulbs from MassSave as a blogger. I was very clear that I was going to say what I wanted, not necessarily nice things. I held up my end of the bargain, as you’ll see below.

MassSave is a great program which offers “free” energy audits to MA residents and

CFL samples Mass Save sent.

Some of the CFL samples Mass Save sent.

commercial property owners. Non-profit entities are not eligible for most services. (“Free” is in quotes because the funding comes from all of our energy bills, so we have, in fact, paid for the service. That’s fine and good in my book.)

If you haven’t had a free audit, go sign up for one, now. Go, I’ll wait. Done? Good. (If your last audit was four years ago, do it again. They’ve improved dramatically.)

Some of the sample bulbs Mass Save sent.

Some of the sample LED bulbs Mass Save sent.

Continue reading

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Storm Prep


It’s been a while since our last storm, so a few quick reminders about safety related to energy efficiency. Remember, our safety personnel will likely have their hands full with other emergencies – let’s do them a favor by avoiding some of these basic hazards.

1. Clear direct vents: If you have a “direct venting” appliance such as a boiler or hot water heater, make sure the vents stay clear of snow. The vents are only a few feet off the

Typical direct vent exhaust as seen from outside the house.

Typical direct vent exhaust as seen from outside the house.

ground, so snow drifts can sometimes get in the way, especially if you’ve put anything under the vent. (Hint: Don’t put anything under the vent.)

If blocked, the CO from combustion will go into the home rather than outside. CO is known as a silent killer because there is no smell. Check the vent periodically throughout the storm.

2. Dryer vents: The same holds true for dryer vents – if snow or ice is blocking them they won’t function safely. In the case of a dryer this can lead to additional problems, like burning your house down. Until that happens, it can also dramatically rise the amount of time it takes to dry clothing, which wastes energy. Continue reading

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Wicked cold: What’s up with that?

The thermometer says it is wicked cold outside, it seems appropriate to address a few questions that always come up this time of year. Please add any questions you may have in the comments below. Continue reading

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Pumpkin recycling

Every Halloween we see a lot of good rotting flesh go to waste. That’s right, pumpkins tossed into the trash.

A trash can and a sign and you're good to go

In Arlington we’re not allowed to put pumpkins in with the yard waste, so they often go in the garbage. This costs the town more in “tipping fees,” a fee calculated by weight, not volume. Pumpkins are, of course, heavy.

So what if after the holiday, the neighborhood pumpkins all came to you for composting, perfect to mix with the fallen leaves? (Leaves are carbon-rich, or “browns”. Pumpkins are nitrogen-rich, or “green”. You need both for rich compost.)

This Halloween put up a sign telling visitors that after the holiday you’ll take their pumpkins, with certain limitations. You’ll be building great compost, saving the town money, and letting the kids know that their “used pumpkins” will replenish the yard or garden.

I made a very quick sign, as a sample or for use as-is: Pumpkin Recycling Station flyer.

Smashing the pumpkins with a shovel or something else will help them decompose much faster and is highly recommended. You can even lay out a tarp and have neighborhood kids crush them (stomping, sticks, whatever) and serve cider, turning it into a neighborhood event, if you’re ambitious.

Send us photos of your haul and any celebrations!

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Solarize Arlington

If, dear reader, you live in Arlington and have considered going solar then please read this.

Ryan Katofsky, Arlington’s “Solar Coach,” will be speaking Thursday, May 31 about the discounts available for solar installation. Whether you’ve considered buying or renting PV panels, wondered what it would really take to make it happen or are only considering it now for the first time, you should go to this event.

Full details in the letter below.

Dear Friends,

As you may have heard, Arlington is among 17 communities selected to participate in the 2012 Solarize Massachusetts (Solarize Mass) Program, which helps residents and business owners adopt solar photovoltaic (PV) technology. To encourage participation in the program, discounted pricing will be offered by a state-approved PV installer, with the discount increasing as more homes and businesses sign up to go solar. If you are interested (and I hope you are), please attend the “Solar 101” public meeting at Town Hall on Thursday, May 31, at 7:00pm. At this meeting you will be able to:

  • Learn about solar power basics and the Solarize Mass price discount
  • Hear about affordable lease and purchase options
  • Meet your local Solarize Mass representatives

If you cannot make the meeting, you can learn more about the program and sign up to participate by going to www.arlingtonma.gov/energy or by calling the MassCEC at 617.315.9306. You can also follow @MassCEC on Twitter for Solarize Mass updates.

Even if it turns out that your home is not suitable for solar power, this is still a great opportunity to learn more about Solarize Mass as well as other energy saving and renewable energy options that you may be able to take advantage of.

Thanks and hope to see you there.


Ryan Katofsky
Solar Coach for the Town of Arlington’s Solarize Mass program

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“Window replacement has a 200 to 300 year payback period”

That quote is from Michael Blasnik, who has been mentioned on this blog several times. The full article can be seen here.

I have the discussion with people all the time – people who insist that they’re going to save money over the long run by replacing their windows; people who insist they NEED to replace their windows. The reality, Blasnik says, is that payback is typically going to take 200-300 years.

Typical basement replacement window - 3/4" gap between sill and window.

There are, of course, many times that replacement windows will pay back sooner. For example, if your neighbor’s kid sends a ball through a window, I strongly encourage you to do something about it. If you are de-leading a home and the windows must go then the windows must go.

However, if you are feeling a draft from your window – do NOT get a new window for $400 or more. Instead spend $10 on some good v-seal (good stuff can be purchased at the Boston Building Resources, formerly Boston Building Materials Center, in Boston.) If that’s too much work, then pay someone $100 to do the work for you – you’ll still save $300 and likely more.

Why likely more? I say that because of all the replacement windows I’ve looked at, I have seen exactly one home where replacement windows were installed properly with flashing, exterior caulk, weep holes and minimally expanding foam.

So instead of getting replacement windows, spend $10 and use the rest for a month of really nice dinners at fancy restaurants… or just pocket the savings.

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Cheap is as cheap does

A quick post with a pic from travels this weekend. Cheap bulbs aren’t worth what you pay for them.

Cheap bulbs

These bulbs cost much more than what you pay to buy them.

These bulbs may not cost much but you’re goingkeep need to keep replacing them as they burn out. Until they do, you’ll be spending three times as much on electricity compared to CFLs and far more when compared to LEDs.


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