terra, not terror

sharing ideas about a simpler way to live

Air-powered car coming to the US? February 25, 2008

Filed under: alternative, cars, energy — terra @ 7:00 am

aircarMDI, a 15-year old French company has invented a car that runs on compressed air. The Air Car will be distributed in the US starting in 2009 or 2010, and will cost approx $17,000. That’s about the same as a small or mid-sized gas car.

The car does require a small bit of gas to get the air-engine working, but it will go 95mph with a range of over 900 miles per tank.

If you can, imagine a vehicle that runs on air, achieves over 100 gas-equivalent mpg and over 90 mph, has zero to low C02 emissions, seats six, has plenty of space for luggage, cuts no safety corners, and costs no more than an average economy to mid-size vehicle.

These new, more energy-efficient cars are smaller, but they take safety seriously. It looks pretty cool too!



Earthen Flooring January 29, 2008

Filed under: alternative, local — terra @ 7:00 am

Earthen flooring is just what it sounds like – a dirt floor. It’s an inexpensive, non-wasteful, beautiful floor that is just as easy to clean and maintain as any other floor. Earth floors, also called Adobe floors, are made up of dirt, straw and clay, which is then mixed with oils and wax to protect it from wear.

The best part is… they’re easy to install with radiant heat! Radiant heat is the most efficient way to heat your home, and will keep it comfortably warm for a lot less money than conventional heating systems. Radiant heat coils would be installed below the earth floor, so the floor surface is warm.

There is every little construction waste with earthen floors, and all the processing can be done by hand, as opposed to carpeting or wood floors. The floors are attractive, and comfortable – compared to soft leather. They can have a variety of colors or patterns. Check out some of the other advantages here. It costs about $1 per square foot.

A lot can be accomplished when we think about how nature makes things. We can make comfortable, attractive, low-waste floors by using materials readily available from the earth.


Trev, the renewable energy car January 28, 2008

Filed under: alternative, cars, electric car, solar — terra @ 7:00 am

trev-green-carStudents at the University of South Australia have created a two-seater renewable energy car. The lithium ion polymer battery lasts over 150 km between charges, making it the longest-lasting electric car. When charged at home, the Trev costs”$1 AUD per 100km to run, using what is said to be 1/5th of the energy of conventional car.” (that’s $.88 per 62 miles)

The Trev carries two people and two large bags. If people use solar or wind energy for their power, it is truly a renewable energy car.


It makes petrol look silly. -UniSA


Eternal Reefs January 24, 2008

Filed under: alternative — terra @ 7:00 am

reefCoral reefs are disappearing twice as fast as rainforests, threatening millions of sea animals, not to mention tourism and fishing. Reefs also buffer land from the effects of ocean storms.

A couple of guys from Florida have found a unique way to help save the reefs off the coast of Florida. They formed Eternal Reefs, a company that makes living memorials for deceased loved ones using cremated remains combined with a cement mixture that creates a reef ball.

With an Eternal Reef, a loved one can literally make a difference after their death. The Eternal Reef costs less than a traditional burial and funeral. Family members are invited to Florida for a memorial service, and to watch the reef as it is put into the ocean. Each reef has a nice plaque to memorialize the person, and memorial keepsakes can be bought from the company. They even provide Military Honors for servicemen and women.

I saw this story on the Sundance Channel – The Green. I recommend watching the segment of Big Ideas for a Small Planet: Pray. It sounds strange, but it’s a pretty interesting concept. It’s a nice way to help add reefs to provide shelter and habitat for fish and other sea life, and to provide a nice memorial to a loved one.


Buy Nothing New January 23, 2008

Filed under: alternative, conserve, gifts, reduce, reuse, social consciousness — terra @ 7:00 am

A few people in San Francisco have formed a “Compact” to buy nothing new for the whole year (except food and underwear, of course). They can buy refurbished furniture, electronics; secondhand dishware and clothes. It’s a challenge they believe in, and are enjoying.

We can follow their journey on their blog, The Compact. Here’s their summary:

1) to go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture, to resist global corporatism, and to support local businesses, farms, etc; 2) to reduce clutter and waste in our homes (as in trash Compact-er); 3) to simplify our lives (as in Calm-pact)

The purpose of reusing items is to reduce the strain and waste on the planet. And it saves a ton of money. How long can you go without buying anything new?

Thanks to The Compact for the inspiration!


Scrapile December 10, 2007

Filed under: alternative, conserve — terra @ 7:00 am

Scrapile is a small business in New York City, and they’re an example of “entrepreneurs for sustainability.” From their site:

SCRAPILE is the collaborative work of designers Bart Bettencourt and Carlos Salgado. Seeking to create a positive environmental impact with their work, these two have developed a unique method of collecting and repurposing discarded scraps of wood from New York’s woodworking industry. Since it’s conception in Fall 2003, this project has continued to yield an ever-evolving line of furniture and product which by its very nature insists each piece be one of a kind.

They collect wood scraps and refurnish them into beautiful pieces of furniture. Each piece has character and quality.

Check out videos of Scrapile and other sustainable furnishings at Sundance Channel – The Green: Furnish.


Try a Tankless Water Heater December 6, 2007

Filed under: alternative, conserve, energy, reduce, water — terra @ 7:00 am

hot waterDid you know that your water heater tank uses at least 15% of your home’s energy? That’s because the water is heated throughout the day and night, whether you’re using the water or not.

Hot water is probably essential for 2 hours in the morning, and 4 hours in the evening. Not 24 hours a day. And, with a tank, it is possible to run out of hot water if you have a lot of guests.

There are many options for reducing the energy needed to provide your home with hot water, and make your system more efficient, while providing all the hot water you need. If your water tank is more than 12 years old, you may consider replacing it with a new tank, or look into some of this new technology. (You can tell the year by looking at the last 2 digits of the serial #)

Storage Tank
This is the conventional method. Most homes have a water tank. This is the least efficient and practical way to store/generate hot water. The hot water tank requires the water to be constantly heated and stored, whether used or not. Newer models are slightly better at holding heat. If you have a storage tank, consider using low-flow faucets and showers to conserve your water, and wrap your tank and pipes in insulation to preserve as much of the heat as possible.

Demand or Instantaneous Water Heater
Water is heated on demand, reducing the need for a tank, and reducing energy consumption by 20-30%. This system is ideal for a natural gas-heated system. Choose one with an electronic ignition, so you don’t need a continuously burning gas pilot light. Home Depot has these starting at $600. That’s a little pricey, but the savings will add up and it will pay for itself over time.

Heat-pump Water Heater
Uses the surrounding air to heat the water. It offers savings of up to $200 per year, but with a high initial cost. This system has the added benefit of dehumidifying humid areas, and keeping the air cool, because it is consuming warm air.

Check out Flex Your Power for more options, including a Solar Water Heater, and tips about choosing an energy-efficient water heater.


De-ice with beet juice December 4, 2007

Filed under: alternative, environment, local — terra @ 7:00 am

Several cities in Ohio, including Akron, have found a more natural solution to icy roads: beet juice. Summit County will begin de-icing roads using a beet juice-brine concoction. It doesn’t corrode the streets, and won’t cause the same damage that calcium-chloride causes. The beet mixture is more economical than the calcium-chloride alone because it only requires one application, not three. We may also see less rust on cars.

Beet juice can also be added to calcium-chloride to increase the effectiveness of calcium-chloride. The beet de-icer, called Geomelt, has been used in several Midwest states, saving money and providing a “green” solution. Columbus is trying it too.

Don’t worry about the animals … the sugar has been extracted from the beet juice, so it won’t attract animals. Maybe this winter my dog won’t get so many hot spots! Last winter was rough on her feet because of all the chemicals dumped on the roads. I hope this will be better for the environment, our roads, and our cars (this beet juice doesn’t stain). Amazing things can be achieved by looking to nature for solutions.


Walk more, drive less November 28, 2007

Filed under: alternative, energy, social consciousness — terra @ 7:15 am

bikesNo Impact Man points out the benefits of walking, cycling, and public transportation, and the dangers of one car per person. This New York City resident said he finally “snapped” and decided to go completely off the grid – no electricity at all – and he took his family with him. That means they have to eat fresh food, go to bed when it’s dark, and they gave up their car. The result: a happy, healthy family.

After 10 months, No Impact Man said they feel like “life as usual.” They’re just as happy as before, and don’t feel all that inconvenienced. They spend more time enjoying the company of friends and family. Positive psychologists find that the one thing that many people are lacking, that contributes to higher levels of depression, substance abuse, and suicide is community. The No Impact lifestyle allows for stronger ties to the community, because they can’t shut themselves in and watch TV or play video games. They have to connect. He concludes that if people spent less time worrying about “a booming economy” and more time thinking about how to build culture and increase ties to community, that we’d all be a lot happier. That idea doesn’t have to mean giving up electricity altogether. It’s simply a mindset change.

Are you ready for a Carectomy? No Impact Man shows a graphic of rates of public transportation use correlated to rates of obesity. The USA has the lowest rates of walking and public transportation, and the highest rates of obesity. That’s not the only factor, but it’s a big one. People who give up their car get a lot more exercise and are generally healthier.


Chevy Tahoe Hybrid earns “Green Car of the Year” November 27, 2007

Filed under: alternative, energy, local — terra @ 7:00 am

tahoeThe Chevy Tahoe Hybrid gets 21/22 mpg, which is about the same as a Toyota Camry (not hybrid). That’s a 50% increase in fuel efficiency over the conventional Chevy Tahoe, which gets 14/19 mpg.

How can a 21 mpg car earn “green car of the year” at the LA Auto Show? That’s a good question. While I would suggest that there are “greener” cars on the road, the Prius can only win so many times. After a lot of reading, I’ve come across a possible reason that an SUV can be “green.” Here it is:

Next time you’re driving in traffic, look around at they types of cars that surround you. You can probably count the number of small cars on one hand, swimming amongst the many SUVs. So, if 5 small cars increase their efficiency by 50%, the result is minimal. If the 15 SUVs increase efficiency by 50%, that can make an impact.

Another theory – SUV drivers aren’t likely to switch to a compact car to save gas, so SUVs have to become more efficient. This is the first step.

(Reality check: EPA gas mileage estimates are generally a lot higher than the car’s actual performance. Oh, and you can’t buy the Tahoe Hybrid yet.)

Speaking of American car makers, Ford is converting some of its factories to be more environmentally responsible. The Dearborn, MI, plant will use a green roof to keep the factory’s temperature regulated. It’s also built to be more flexible – able to produce 9 different models to meet customer demand. Way to reuse existing space, and use nature’s design.


Alternative energy: Onions November 16, 2007

Filed under: alternative, energy — terra @ 1:52 pm

Some guys at Household Hacker have figured out how to charge your iPod using an onion and electrolytes. It’s not exactly practical, but at least they’re thinking outside the box!

Check out Household Hacker for more crazy videos, such as How to Power a TV using AAA Batteries. Be sure you read the disclaimer before you go poking onions or polishing pennies.


Hybridology November 12, 2007

Filed under: alternative — terra @ 8:28 pm

There’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about hybrid cars, so I’ll clear some of that up for you. Disclaimer: I drive a Civic Hybrid. It’s nice, but I want alternative energy, so I’m not entirely pleased that I still have to fill up with gas every 500 miles.

Here’s how it works: as the car slows, the “regenerative braking” charges a large battery in the backseat. That battery is then used to assist the engine when the car accelerates. Also, when it stops, the car shuts off, and then effortlessly restarts when you take you foot off the brake. My hybrid (most, I think) also uses variable speed transmission, which means there is one continuous gear.  I don’t plug it in.

Hybrids get better gas mileage than all other cars – all the time. They are more effective than conventional cars in the city because of the regenerative braking / charging the engine function. My car’s optimum speed is 50-60 mph, at which point it gets over 50 mpg. In my normal, city commute with several stops, it averages 42 mpg in the summer, and so far 40 mpg when it’s cold.


  • Regular cars do better on the highway -> Not true. Hybrids are more effective in the city, but they still get much better mileage than regular cars on the highway. It’s not like they get 45 mpg in the city and 20 on the highway (which would still be better than a lot of cars). They get over 45 mpg on the highway and about 40 mpg in the city. The Prius is more efficient than the Civic, getting up into the 50-60 mpg range.
  • They drive like golf carts -> Nope. They drive like any other testy automatic (I prefer a stick shift). They’re actually very smooth, and super quiet.
  • You have to plug it in -> I wish! If I could plug my hybrid in, I would pay about $15 a month for my daily commute, which is better than $30 a month for gas.
  • They aren’t economically feasible -> I got mine used on cars.com for less than $10,000. I bought a regular Civic for about the same price a few years ago. The Hybrid gets 100 more miles per tank than the regular, so I save quite a bit of money.
  • They don’t have air conditioning -> That’s crazy. They have excellent a/c and heat. The a/c shuts off when the car shuts off at a full stop, but the fan still runs to keep air circulating. The heat always works.

Any other questions? I’ll answer them in the comments.


Green Week November 7, 2007

Filed under: alternative, environment, local, social consciousness — terra @ 12:48 pm

NBC Universal is celebrating Green Week by featuring some “green” aspect in all of their shows, and other media outlets. Check out Green is Universal for some tips on greening your life, and what your favorite shows are doing to highlight the environment this week.

My new favorite channel is Sundance. I think we’re getting is a a “preview,” so it will disappear from my tv soon, but in the meantime, I’ve enjoyed “Big Ideas for a Small Planet,” a documentary on “mom & pop shops” last night, and other thought-provoking tv shows and movies. It’s good that “green” ideas are creeping into entertainment, where they could have far-reaching effects. People spend a lot of time watching tv, and if they can learn a little bit about helping the environment, that’s great.

Take a few minutes out of your day for a fun little game called “Build your green home.” You can choose all the alternative energy sources you want to build a home for $100,000.

NBC’s Green is Universal site is getting their tips from Ideal Bite, a site I visit regularly. Today’s tip is to cut expenses (and production) by sharing big-ticket items with your neighbors. Does everyone in the neighborhood really need a lawn mower? Probably not. What happened to sharing? We can learn a lot from our neighbors, and cut production and energy consumption literally in half by sharing with just one other person. In my neighborhood, one guy mows 3 people’s lawns (older ladies) with his riding mower, and I learned about my reel push mower from my neighbors. It not only brings about a sense of community, but it saves a lot of energy, so talk to you neighbor… Share your extra-long ladder, your snow-blower, or your hedge trimmer.


Public Transportation November 3, 2007

Filed under: alternative, energy, local — terra @ 7:51 am

subwayUsing public transportation does more for the environment than “weatherizing a home, adjusting a thermostat, switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs and replacing older appliances with higher efficiency models, combined” according to a new report by the American Public Transportation Association.

It would also help Americans lose weight and stay in shape, if they have to walk a few blocks every day, instead of going from house to car to work to car to house.

Imagine all the reading, knitting, or just relaxing you could get done by taking a train or a bus. I hope to one day live in a city with a subway system – what a brilliant form of transportation. Some subway systems are even attempting to harness the power of footsteps to power the station’s lights and sound system!

So, if you can, consider taking public transportation. If you need help finding bus routes, check out Google Transit, which will lay out the public transportation route (including how far you would have to walk) for some cities.