January 2010: Green Scene

January 2010: Green Scene

Energy guides hitting mailboxes this month

The Piedmont Environmental Council is mailing guides to every Charlottesville and Albemarle house this month that will help residents make their homes more energy-efficient. The Energy Smart Solutions campaign will focus on small, affordable fixes—think weatherstripping your old windows, not buying new ones. Check out how-to videos on these projects at www.energysmartsolutions.org, and watch your mailbox for the paper guide.

No more corks in the trash

Got a bunch of wine corks at your house you’ve been saving for no particular reason? Now you know why: So you can recycle them at a Re-Cork C’ville bin. The program is run by Carpet Plus and you can find bins at Foods of All Nations and other local spots. Corks are recycled into flooring, shoe soles, and other products.—Erika Howsare

ecoMOD and REMOD green up Elliott Avenue 


The fourth house in the ecoMOD series, designed and built by UVA architecture and engineering students, is finished and ready to house a family through Habitat for Humanity. On December 12, the Andesha family got the keys to their brand-new, energy-efficient home on Elliott Avenue. But this isn’t the end for the ecoMOD students: They’ll continue to monitor the house as it’s used and lived in.

Meanwhile, right next door is the city’s renovation house we told you about last month. This one goes by REMOD and will be a demonstration of retrofitting older houses to make them more efficient.

Energy smart in the home’s heart

Let’s take a tour of your kitchen, where refrigeration and appliances use 17 percent of home energy, and see if Betty can create an energy saving recipe for the New Year!


*Does your fridge door hold a dollar bill in place?  If not, seal those gaskets. 

*Up the temperature to 37 or 38 degrees. The freezer can go to 5 degrees. (Don’t have a read out? Stick a glass of water in the middle of the fridge with an appliance thermometer and read it after 24 hours.)

*If possible, avoid putting the fridge in a warm spot. 

*Regularly defrost your freezer. 

*Let hot foods cool and keep your freezer full. 

*Keep dust bunnies on the coils in the back at a minimum.


*Reduce your cooking time by microwaving and skipping pre-heating. 

*Match your pot size with your heating element. 

*Defrost frozen foods before cooking. 

*Avoid peeking in the oven. 

*Toaster ovens use a third less energy than regular-sized ovens.


More studies are proving modern dishwashers outperform even frugal dishwashers. Also, scrape, don’t rinse, and wash only full loads. Take advantage of the energy settings and if you haven’t already, turn down your water heater to 120.

Finally, keep the kitchen faucet lever in the cool position—when it’s turned to the hot position it uses energy even when it’s not running. Remember to unplug all surface appliances when they’re not in use so they don’t waste energy.—Better World Betty

Paperless kitchen

Toilet paper and paper towels—which of these can you eliminate from use more easily? Your kitchen probably has an assortment of bedraggled dishrags, but they tend to get smelly quickly and then take forever to dry. Short of eating all your meals over the sink and drinking straight out of the carton, it’s hard to eliminate mess and spills in the kitchen. Don’t fret! A few innovative products can help you cut down on the number of paper towels you go through.

SKOY cloths are reusable wipes made of cotton and cellulose pulp. Absorbent and quick-drying, they can be cleaned by tossing them in the microwave or dishwasher. You can also find durable, reusable cloths and sponges through Twist. Use these products in the kitchen and bathroom, or to wipe down furniture and floors. Multi-packs are less than $10, and can be used over and over. Available through skoycloth.com and twistclean.com.

Old t-shirts and bath towels, that extra wad of unused napkins from the diner—all these can be great alternatives as well. Repeat after me:  rethink and reuse.—Lucy Kim

Down and dirty in the new year

What is the New Year without a bold resolution to do something you’ve never done before?

How about a soil test? You know you need it—for plantings that aren’t thriving as well as for new beds. Do it now before the craziness of spring sets in and you end up going another year without looking underground. 

The ideal method would be to make a grid, take a sample from each square, mix them all together and send it to Virginia Tech in a cunning little cardboard box. Call the Extension agency (www.ext.vt.edu, 872-4580) and find out how to do it. It costs about $10 a box. 

The basic report will give your pH (the acid level of the soil) and prescribe how much lime to add for things like turf grass, vegetables, lilacs, lavender, boxwood and hellebore, which prefer a sweeter soil than our native Albemarle clay is likely to yield. If you pay extra, you can find out the organic content, but that’s pretty easy to do yourself.

Get out there when it’s not too wet and dig up a spade or trowel full. Crumble it in your hand, feel it, look at it, smell it and run it through your fingers.

If it’s red and a bit sticky and rolls into little balls, hey, you’ve got clay, but that’s O.K. Clay is the natural soil in most of central Virginia. It holds minerals as well as water, but just happens to be a bit acidic and slow draining.


—Test your soil

—Add leaves to clay

—Prune the lilacs

Or perhaps your soil is grey and smells really bad and it turns out you’ve got someone else’s fill dirt after a developer scraped off the existing top soil. Happens all the time. Rebuilding soil is many a gardener’s story, so suck it up and do what has to be done. 

If it’s brown and crumbles easily with a good earthy odor, count yourself very lucky, as we do here in the bottomland where everyone else’s soil has rolled down for generations (it’s laughably easy for me to recommend labor-intensive soil amendment).

Use rotted leaves or compost as mulch or amendment. Organics put down now will freeze and thaw their way into the ground. Double shredded hardwood degrades over years into an excellent amendment for clay soil; some people have success with wood chips, but the ideal amendment for clay is semi-rotted leaves (leaf mold) and compost applied yearly.

Having beautiful soil that I’ve done nothing to deserve, my winter project is to prune the lilacs, sawing older, thicker trunks to the ground and thinning slimmer shoots. This puts more energy into flower buds for spring. Lilacs are one of those shrubs that like to colonize a spot, so they need a good root run. Don’t try to restrict them to a tight little circle in the middle of the lawn. Scatter wood ashes or sea shells to keep up the pH.—Cathy Clary