Living Life Green

How Your Roof Affects Your Energy Consumption

Bobbi PetersonOne of the keys to being energy-conscious is in the details around your home. This includes the type of roof you choose when building or replacing an old one. One of the best ways to have a green roof is to look into the option of a "cool roof" when planning your next home improvement project.

What Is a Cool Roof?

This particular type of roof is designed to have a surface that absorbs much less heat than a standard roof. It reflects the sunlight from the surface, which can be done several different ways — from reflective paint to reflective shingles to tiles. It might not seem extremely significant, but the installation of a cool roof can reduce the temperature of the surface by more than 50 degrees.

When you consider the cost of air conditioning a home during the summer months, the energy savings you’ll have will be significant and worth the transition.

What Exactly Are the Benefits of Cool Roofs?

The savings on your energy bill are only a part of the benefits that come with the installation of a cool roof. On top of more money in your bank account, a cool roof can also improve the non-climate-controlled parts of your home, such as the garage or enclosed porch.

Furthermore, the reduction in temperature can increase the longevity of your roof life, and that means even greater savings for you in the future. It’s also better for the environment, since it cuts down on the harmful CO2 missions that are created by powering your heating/cooling system.

What Kinds of Options Are Out There?

Another bonus of this roof system is that you have plenty of options to choose from to find which one best suits your home and your needs. Cool roof coatings can be used for almost any roof type and are made up of reflective or white pigments that are formulated to protect the surface of your roof from UV light and even the damage that’s sometimes caused by water.

To choose how to make your roof cooler, you first need to know what kind of roof you’ll be installing and the materials your existing roof is made of. Hybrid roofs can be made cool simply by applying the cool roof coating at the factory where they’re manufactured, while shingled roofs require the purchase of special cool asphalt shingles. Tile roofs can be coated, on the other hand, and are often used to achieve a desired aesthetic. Often times they are even naturally reflective — like terra cotta tiles — and can be improved by waterproofing.

Another option is the installation of a cool metal roof. This doesn’t mean that any metal will do. For best results, you’ll want metal produced specifically with this application in mind.

Finally, you may also like the option of installing a green roof. This can consist of basic coverage by grass or even a garden. Earth homes are good examples of structures with a green roof, and these types of roof systems also help insulate, thereby reducing the usage of heating. However, this option does tend to be costlier and may require more maintenance, so make sure you consider all of your options before you make a final decision.

Is a Cool Roof Right for You?

There isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong answer to this question; the decision to install a cool roof should be made after careful consideration and assessment of all the different types that are out there, as well as which option best suits your home in structure and cost. If you’re building a new home then your choices are completely open, and you can weigh the pros and cons that come with shingles, tile, or metal.

If you’re updating, it’s important to understand what the original materials are and just how much you may need to replace or change.

Whatever decision you make, you’ll reap the rewards of a cool roof by reducing your monthly household expenses, and you’ll also be doing something great for the environment. Every one of us can do our own part to reduce greenhouse gases and cut energy use. Installing a cool roof is one option that can have a significant impact.

Men installing new roof
Photo by Fotolia/Stieber

Clean Home Heating This Winter

Bobbi PetersonFall and winter are perfect times to cozy up and enjoy some indoor fun — Netflix binge-watching, catching up on the latest book club pick, or playing board games with the family. It’s all a good time, as long as your home is warm enough to enjoy it.

Many people struggle with worries over their environmental impact and how to balance that with enough fuel to keep their homes warm.

Cleaner sources of energy are one answer — they keep your home warm throughout the fall and winter, have less of an environmental impact, and are cheaper for homeowners.

Strategies for a Cleaner, Warmer Home

There are some strategies that can help you save energy during these months without overtaxing your heating system. Many are free — and others are cheap — and they can be used every day to decrease your monthly energy bills and your environmental footprint.

Here are some ways to keep your home warmer while using cleaner energy:

1. Rely on the Sun

Open the blinds or shutters to any south-facing windows during the day. The sun can naturally heat parts of your home.

Close them back up when the sun goes down to protect against winter winds and plunging temperatures.

2. Reduce Heat Loss From the Fireplace

Because it’s a source of warmth, few people realize that the fireplace is also a source for losing precious heat. Unless a fire is burning, keep your damper closed. An open damper is the same as having a window wide open — warm air goes right up the chimney.

It’s also a good idea to install tempered glass doors, along with a heat exchange system, to ensure the warm air is blown into the room. The fireplace flue damper’s seal should be as snug as possible.

3. Cover Drafty Windows

There are a few ways to protect your home against window drafts. A quick method is to tape heavy-duty, clear plastic inside your window’s frame.

A more permanent solution would be to install insulating drapes or shades over drafty windows. For both solutions, be sure the window covering is installed tightly.

4. Switch to Propane

Propane is known for being both reliable and efficient. However, many don’t realize it’s also a better environmental choice for heating.

Compared with other fuel sources, propane emits significantly fewer greenhouse gases. It was endorsed by The Clean Air Act of 1990 as a cleaner fuel source. It’s a smart upgrade when you are looking for better heat source.

5. Service the Furnace

Most people set the furnace and forget it, but that’s not the best practice. Yearly calls to a trusted HVAC company will mean your system runs more efficiently and problems can be found before your furnace tanks.

You’ll also want to replace your furnace’s filter regularly. Traditional wisdom says to replace it monthly, but that can vary depending on your home and habits.

6. Watch the Temperature

Some thermostats will regulate the temperature based on your living habits. When the family is asleep, the temp stays low, but it will automatically raise the temperature at 7:15 a.m., just before the alarm, or whenever your morning routine starts.

These programmable thermostats remove the worry of constantly adjusting the temperature and can save you 10 percent annually.

7. Lower the Water Heater Temperature

About 18 percent of your home’s energy consumption comes from heating water. The default temperature for most water heaters is 140 degrees, which is fairly high.

To save some change and use less energy, dial back the temp on your water heater to the recommended 120 degrees. It’s also a safer temperature in homes with children who may scald themselves trying to wash up.

8. Lower Your Lighting Costs

Most people have made the switch from traditional bulbs to LED bulbs — they last much longer and are less damaging to the environment because they conserve more energy.

Consider this for your holiday lights, too. The season may be past, but many families keep their holiday lights on throughout the winter’s long months to make up for the short days. If your family is one of them, consider LED holiday lighting strings instead of traditional electric ones.

You Can Conserve Energy for Less Cost and a Brighter Future

Most energy comes from non-renewable resources. Coal and petroleum energy are costlier for users and have a finite life span.

Tempering your use of those fossil fuels with more energy-efficient practices is a good idea. It will ensure you have sources for heating your home that don’t rely on exhaustible fuels that are hard on the environment. It also means more cash in your wallet — which is good for everyone.

Fireplace book and blanket
Photo by Fotolia/blindfire

Benefits of Purchasing an Old Homestead

Bobbi PetersonOld homesteads are increasing in popularity, for good reason. Their construction is a known quality, and they can serve many purposes for an eclectic family. They also offer homeowners a path to self-sustainability.

If you have dreams of farmhouse sinks, planting your own herbs, or chasing your children in your own rolling fields, you might want to consider purchasing an old homestead.

Benefits of Purchasing a Homestead

Here are some benefits you can look forward to with a homestead:

1. You Have the Ability to Make It Your Own

Have you ever walked into a newly-constructed home, only to be put off by the color of granite they chose for the countertops? How about the beautiful walnut cabinets that don’t fit with your all-white aesthetic?

What about the surrounding area — have you wanted to build a barn but just don’t have the room? With a homestead, you can make the inside of the home your own, as well as the home’s surroundings.

If the property does come with extra buildings, they are just waiting for your customizations. Not a farmer, but have a silo? Imagine the unique, Airbnb cottage or dream playhouse you could create for your children or potential tenants. Old homesteads are gold mines for those with endless dreams.

2. You Can Be Self-Sufficient

Only for those not faint of heart, an older homestead provides the opportunity for self-sufficiency. If you are searching for an old homestead for the lifestyle and not simply to be the envy of Pinterest, get ready for a hard-working adventure.

You can:

• Brew your own beer
• Create your own milk and dairy products
• Grow your own vegetables
• Raise honeybees
• Save money
• Leave a smaller carbon footprint

3. You Can Experience Expert Craftsmanship

The attention to a strong build was much higher in the 1800s and early 1900s — when many older homesteads were built — compared to the present. If a structure is over 100 years old, you have a time-tested guarantee that the home was built with quality materials (assuming there are no visible alarms).

You will need to put work into repairs, but that is much less expensive than searching for a quality builder to erect an entire homestead.

Other Considerations When Purchasing a Homestead

An older homestead can leave a smaller impact on the environment, increase your connection to the earth, and give you a truly personal project to work on for years. However, it is not an endeavor to take on lightly. There are several considerations and research you should do before making the commitment:

1. Zoning: Zoning can become complicated with homestead land. Planning to put up ten artist studios to help pay down that mortgage? Make sure before you buy that your home is properly zoned for your future plans. Many rural areas have zoning restrictions to prevent suburban and urban sprawl, so plan accordingly!

2. Timing: Finding an old property can take time. Many buyers have waited years to find the ideal property. With new construction being completed in as little as four months from the start of construction, it’s easy to be tempted away from polishing an old gem. Even after finding the ideal property, you can expect at least a half year’s time investment to restore it — and that’s an ideal timeline for someone solely focused on restoration.

If you have a family and are not a contractor, plan on years of restoration work. On the bright side, housing projects are a great way to teach your children about maintaining a home, and are a productive way to bond. It is definitely a different lifestyle than living in a pre-manicured home.

3. Isolation: Some homesteads are located close to thriving towns, though many are located in isolated rural areas. For some, the thought of living peacefully and privately is a lifetime goal. Others may react more like Jack Torrance from “The Shining.”

Can you be happy if you get snowed in regularly for days at a time? Is making an appearance at your local Starbucks each morning important to you? Consider how much social activity is essential to your well-being.

Owning Your Own Homestead: Not for the Faint of Heart

Gorgeous restored farmhouses are a growing trend because they take us back to what matters most in life: family and our connection to the earth. While it takes a lot of work to maintain an old homestead, the joy of becoming a steward to land with a unique history is intoxicating for many homeowners.

However, it’s important to realize that behind those perfected, Home & Garden photos is a lot of hard work. If you have the patience, budget, and desire to restore these beacons of culture, though, you can expect a home filled with warmth, character, and function.

Established homestead
Photo by Fotolia/ehrlif

How to Prevent and Treat Milk Fever in Cows

Bobbi PetersonMilk fever, also called hypocalcaemia, occurs primarily in dairy cows, but it can occur in any kind of cow or other mammals around calving or birthing. It’s the result of the milk draining too much calcium out of the cow’s blood, causing the muscles to stop working properly. Most often you won’t know it’s a danger until you find the cow already down. Knowing how to prevent it and what to do if it occurs is vital information for any farmer.

Causes and Symptoms

Milk fever is a readily treatable condition, but it’s important to seek help quickly. Without proper treatment, milk fever can lead to death. Essentially, when the cow is close to calving, the body draws excess calcium from the blood in order to produce more milk. When too much calcium is taken, it causes the cow’s muscles to stop functioning properly. This leads to the most common sign of milk fever: a downed cow.

Often the cow is either close to calving or has calved in the past day. When a cow is found down, do what you can for them. Protect them from the elements as best you can and observe them to see if you can make a solid determination of milk fever.

Stages of Milk Fever

The signs you’ll need to look for will be subtle, because going down close to calving time is the main one. If you can catch it early, you can minimize the risk to the cow and future calves. At first, the cow will seem “off.” She’s likely to be easily spooked or excitable. This stage only lasts for about an hour, so it’s easy to miss. It’s important to trust your intuition and to know your animals.

The second stage is more easily observed, as the cow will become increasingly distressed. She may continually turn her head toward her flank and develop an unsteady gait. Constipation and a low temperature are also common. Most cows have a healthy temperature around 101.5 degrees, but a cow with milk fever will have a temperature between 96-100 degrees. She will likely also seem weak and lethargic and have a cold nose and ears.

The third stage is when you need to act quickly. This is when the cow goes down, and the heart rate becomes fast and weak. Without fast treatment, the cow may become comatose and can die.

Best Prevention

Know which cows are the most at risk. Carefully regulate the diet of dry cows for approximately two weeks before calving. Once the cow has calved, it needs to have adequate calcium intake during milk production. This equates to two to three times as much calcium per day — or 20-30 grams — compared to what is needed during fetal development.

Monitoring the cow’s intake shortly before and especially directly after calving is the best way to prevent milk fever. It’s important to note that you also don’t want to overdo the calcium intake. If a dry cow is conditioned to too much calcium, her body will down-regulate the absorption of the mineral. When more is suddenly needed after calving, the cow’s body may be unable to switch gears quickly enough to prevent milk fever. Keeping the calcium intake at the proper levels will prevent sudden adjustment from occurring and keep your cows healthy.

Best Medicine

If you find a downed cow, the first thing to do is always call the vet. If milk fever is suspected and you’ve been trained by a vet before, you may be able to administer a calcium supplement directly on your own. You should still call a vet, though, because it’s always best to seek a professional’s opinion.

Typically, 300-600 mL of a 40-percent calcium solution should be enough to treat milk fever. If you’ve been properly trained by a vet, keep a pack of solution on hand with an injection kit. If you have not been trained on how to treat milk fever, consider asking your vet to teach you. It’s especially important if you don’t have a vet close by.

Your vet may recommend a combined solution, such as 3-in-1 or 4-in-1, which contains other minerals that are commonly depleted during milk production. If the cow is down, try to prop them up into a normal resting position to help relieve bloat as well. Your vet can train you on injections, but it’s important not to try injecting into a vein on your own, at any time. Any mistakes can cause the cow to bleed out.

Knowing the causes of milk fever and closely monitoring diet can prevent the majority of milk fever cases. If it happens, knowing the signs and acting quickly are vital to the livelihood of the animal. Make sure you’re well versed on what to do, and talk to your vet about administering injections. You never know when it might be needed.

Dairy cow calf bottle feeding
Photo by Fotolia/Big Face

How Humid Is Too Humid for a Greenhouse?

Bobbi PetersonA greenhouse is a great way to grow flowers, green plants, and even vegetables. It allows you to enjoy flowers, like orchids, that may not thrive in your home or yard. African violets, gloxinia, and ferns that might be temperamental in your living room will be colorful, verdant and lush in your greenhouse. You can continue to grow vegetables like tomatoes and peppers in a greenhouse when it’s too cold outdoors. Plus, you can grow herbs and greens all year.

You probably know greenhouses need humidity. Many plants, like ferns, thrive in a humid climate. Others, like orchids, absolutely need a humid climate to be healthy.

However, a greenhouse can become too humid for healthy plants. Read on to see why, and ways to fix too much humidity.

How Humidity Affects Plants

All plants need water to survive. Humidity is moisture in the air. Plants breathe it in through their leaves, so to some degree, humidity is good for plants needing moisture. That’s why greenhouses, as a rule, are humid.

Too much humidity, though, may cause disease in plants. Why? Because plant leaves will get wet, and fungi grow in wet plants. Mildew can get started in plants just as it can in damp areas in a house. In fact, fungi like the Botrytis pathogen and powdery mildew are all too common in greenhouses across the country.

Once these diseases start, they may spread rapidly. Humidity rises. If it builds up on the greenhouse’s ceiling, it will start to drip. When it falls on plant leaves, the drips can splash on healthy plants and infect them.

An excess of humidity can also simply cause plants to not be healthy, even if they don’t contract a specific disease. They fail to thrive. One of the reasons for this is the effect of relative humidity on plants. Relative humidity is the ratio of current moisture in the air and the moisture-holding capacity of a specific air volume at a certain temperature. Plants utilize the water in their soil through transpiration, which is the ability of the roots to take in water and send it up through the leaves, providing the plants with nourishment. The moisture is eventually extruded into the air, which cools plants down. If the relative humidity changes rapidly, the pace of transpiration can change as well. If relative humidity rises, transpiration will slow down and can damage plant tissues. So can a quick change in the opposite direction.

Causes of Excess Humidity

There are three primary causes of excess humidity in greenhouses:

The first stems from improved greenhouse technology. While technology has had many great effects on greenhouses, better seals and improved construction can create conditions that cause humidity. There is less chance of moisture evaporating.

The second is the temperature outside. Greenhouses are not a universe unto themselves! When days are sunny and warm but nights are cold, conditions for excess humidity are created. Why? Because moisture is rising from plant leaves and soil, and moisture hangs in the air. More moisture exists in warm air than in cool air. Warm temperatures cause moisture to be held as vapor, and when nights become cold, the vapor condenses. That can cause drops of water or excess moisture. It might drip down from the ceiling during the night, or it may show up as dew on the plants and soil.

The third is the temperature in the greenhouse. As a general rule, warm air can hold much more moisture than cooler air. Air that is 70 degrees Fahrenheit holds double the moisture of air that is 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Because of this, seasons where there might be dramatic swings in temperature between day and night, such as spring and fall, are peak potential times of excess humidity.

How to Fix Excess Humidity in Your Greenhouse

The diseases that affect plants with excess humidity can spread throughout your greenhouse. It’s important, then, to fix too-high humidity quickly.

First, make sure you have adequate ventilation and circulation. Fans, doors, and greenhouse vents will all increase ventilation and cause the air to circulate. Venting the greenhouse during the daytime will lessen moisture from both plants and soil. As a result, the chances of it condensing and dripping down during the night become greatly reduced.

Second, using bottom heat to keep the greenhouse warm when the air outside is cooler will help eliminate condensation. If you’re experiencing difficulty with excess humidity, purchase heaters for the greenhouse.

The third method is to purchase equipment that can give you a reading of humidity, such as a psychrometer. Using information from the psychrometer, you’ll be able to heat more accurately.

While humidity is essential to healthy greenhouse growing, so is the prevention of too much of it. With time, you will learn to adjust excess humidity and plan for its prevention.

small greenhouse
Photo by Fotolia/a40757se