Green Needham Tips

From Green Needham
Jump to: navigation, search
Main Page

June 09 Tip: Is Water the Next Oil?

“Water has become a highly precious resource. There are some places where a barrel of water costs more than a barrel of oil.” - Lloyd Axworthy, Foreign Minister of Canada (1999 - News Conference)

Lawn Care Tips:

  • Lawns need only 1 inch of water a week. This includes rain. Grass becomes naturally dormant (may fade) during hot, dry periods. It will revive quickly after a good rainfall.
  • Water in the evening or early morning. Watering when the temperature and wind speed are lowest will reduce losses from evaporation.
  • Raise the blade level of your mower to 2 -3 inches. Longer grass retains more moisture because it shades the roots. It encourages deeper rooting, requires less fertilizer and competes better against weeds. Leave grass clippings on the lawn. These clippings make great mulch and will help save water.
  • Aerate your soil in April, September or October to aid water absorption and retention.
  • Plant drought-tolerant plants. Native plants are excellent, and many common annuals and perennials are also drought-tolerant. Gardeners should pay close attention to the moisture needs, as stated on the plant label.
  • Use mulch as a ground cover to reduce water evaporation and suppress weeds that would otherwise compete with plants for available soil moisture.

Other Water Conservation Tips:

  • Take short showers (max 5 minutes).
  • Don’t leave the water running when brushing your teeth or shaving.
  • Run your dishwasher and washing machine only when full.
  • If washing dishes by hand, use a dishpan of soapy water to clean.
  • Don’t put water down the drain without looking for another use (ie: water the plants).
  • Avoid flushing the toilet unnecessarily. Dispose of tissues, insects, etc. in the trash.
  • Store drinking water in the fridge rather than running the tap for cold water.


April 09: Proud to be… Pesticide Free

“Every day of every week we are continuing in this country to expose children to chemicals whose toxicity is simply not known. “ – Dr. Philip Landrigan, pediatrician and Director of the Center for Children’s Health and the Environment, Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Why switch to pesticide free lawn care?

1. Each year, American homeowners use approximately 70 million lbs of pesticides to maintain their lawns. Yet researchers continue to uncover links between pesticide exposures and serious human health problems, particularly for children, pregnant women and the elderly. “Children's behaviors, such as playing on the floor or on the lawn where pesticides are commonly applied, or putting objects in their mouths, increase their chances of exposure to pesticides. Adverse effects of pesticide exposure range from mild symptoms of dizziness and nausea to serious, long-term neurological, developmental and reproductive disorders.” – EPA Fact Sheet Protecting Children from Pesticides, January 2002

2. Scientific studies show lawn pesticides can:

  • Increase the risk of cancer and asthma in children
  • Poison dogs and increase their risk of cancer
  • Be tracked indoors and contaminate homes (even homes where no pesticides are used)
  • Kill wildlife and contaminate drinking water

3. Synthetic fertilizers are made from fossil fuels

4. Healthy, organic lawns are less expensive to maintain

Tips for pesticide free lawn care:

1. Years of heavy pesticide use will destroy the beneficial organisms that provided natural pest control, soil aeration and plant nutrition. To rebuild the soil you will need to:

  • Aerate and compost
  • Seed with grasses best suited to this area
  • Use corn gluten for pre-emergence weed control
  • One or more applications annually of a slow-release low nitrogen organic fertilizer
  • Mow high at 2 to 3 inches
  • Deep water early in the morning
  • Perform periodic soil tests to determine needed amendments, such as lime or rock dust

2. For more information on organic lawn care contact the Needham Garden Center, or pick up a gardening book by Rodale at the library.

3. If you use a lawn service, request to be switched to an organic maintenance plan Sources: Grassroots Environmental Education

March 09: Precycle – Stop waste before it happens!

In the U.S., each person generates approximately 4.3 lbs of trash every day – EPA, 1990

Precycling ("pre-thinking" our purchases) is one of the most effective ways we can reduce waste. While recycling is a positive thing, it still requires energy to transport materials, melt them down and re-manufacture into new items. By precycling we can significantly reduce what goes into our landfills and recycling bins, AND we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint.

Here are a few precycling ideas:

  • Buy products with the least amount of packaging or none at all (ie:locally grown produce, products in bulk, no individually wrapped packages or styrofoam).
  • Remove your name from mailing lists (visit and click on Green Tips to learn how).
  • Pack your lunch box with reusable items (utensils, cloth napkin); avoid using paper plates, cups, and plastic utensils.
  • Wrap gifts in the funnies instead of buying wrapping paper.
  • Bring cloth shopping bags on all your errands.
  • Rent or borrow items you rarely use and share them with family, friends and neighbors. When you do buy, purchase quality items and keep them in good repair.
  • Read labels for ingredients. Stay away from chemicals that harm our plant and animal life and poison our land.
  • Start a compost bin. This falls under the "reuse" side of precycling. Tossing organic kitchen scraps and appropriate yard waste onto a compost heap turns them into nutrients for the garden. (You will significantly reduce your household waste while saving on the cost of trash bags and soil amendments.)


January 09: Save Electricity and Money

Beware of Vampire Power:

Vampire power, also called standby power, or phantom load, refers to the electric power consumed by electronic appliances while they are switched off or in a standby mode. Americans throw away about 8% of our annual electric bills this way, wasting billions of dollars.

Any appliance/electronic device that is warm when off or that has a clock is using electricity while sitting idle (ie: chargers, stereos, microwave ovens, computers). You can stop the flow of electricity by unplugging them. Or plug them into a power strip which can easily be switched on and off. (Use a surge protector for your computer.)

  • Turn Off Your Computer at Night

It may take a few more seconds to get to work in the morning, but you'll save energy and money if you turn your computer off at the end of each day. It will also reduce wear and tear on your hardware, extending its life.

The Department of Energy recommends putting the monitor in sleep mode if leaving for more than 20 minutes, and turning the computer off if it won’t be used for at least two hours. (For more information including how to set your computer to auto sleep mode go to:

  • Install CFLs

Compact fluorescent bulbs use less than a third of the energy of regular bulbs and last ten times longer, paying for themselves in lower energy bills within months. If every U.S. household replaced just 1 regular bulb with a CFL, the amount of energy saved could light 2.5 million homes for a year. CFLs now come in a variety of colors and styles.

""CFL Disposal:"" Remember to dispose of your CFL responsibly when it burns out, so the small amount of mercury in it may be reclaimed. At the Needham RTS, take bulbs to the Universal Waste Shed near the special disposal areas.

  • Take the 10% Challenge – and save money

The Green Needham Collaborative is challenging you to cut energy use by at least 10%. You can learn how by going to:

July 08 Tip: Keep Cool and Save

A/C Tips for your home

  • Turn up your thermostat

Set your thermostat to 78 degrees when you are home and 85 degrees or off when you are away. Using ceiling or room fans allows you to set the thermostat higher because the air movement will cool the room.

Don't place lamps or TV sets near your air-conditioning thermostat. The thermostat senses heat from these appliances, which can cause the air conditioner to run longer than necessary.

  • Replace air conditioner filters

Dirty filters restrict airflow and can cause the system to run longer, increasing energy use. Replace filters monthly for maximum benefit. (Save: 1-2 percent)

  • Shade wisely

Plant trees or shrubs to shade air conditioning units, but make sure not to block the airflow. Place your room air conditioner on the north side of the house. A unit operating in the shade uses as much as 10% less electricity than the same one operating in the sun.

Keep window shades down on south facing windows during the day to reduce solar heating.


June 08 Tip: Improve your gas mileage!

Driving Tips from the US Department of Energy

  • Check into telecommuting, carpooling and public transit to cut mileage and car maintenance costs.
  • Combine errands into one trip. Several short trips, each taken from a cold start, can use twice as much fuel as one trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.
  • Idling gets you 0 miles per gallon. The best way to warm up a vehicle is to drive it. No more than 30 seconds of idling on winter days is needed.
  • Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration, and hard braking) can lower your highway gas mileage 33% and city mileage 5%.
  • Using cruise control on the highway
  • Use air conditioning only when necessary.
  • Clear out your car - extra weight decreases gas mileage.
  • Reduce drag by placing items inside the car or trunk rather than on roof racks. A loaded roof rack can decrease your fuel economy by 5%.

Car Maintenance Tips

  • Use the grade of motor oil recommended by your car's manufacturer. Using a different motor oil can lower your gasoline mileage by 1%-2%.
  • Keep tires properly inflated and aligned to improve your gasoline mileage by around 3.3%.
  • Get regular engine tune-ups and car maintenance checks to avoid fuel economy problems due to worn spark plugs, dragging brakes, low transmission fluid, or transmission problems.
  • Replace clogged air filters to improve gas mileage by as much as 10% and protect your engine.

Source: US DoE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy pages

May 08 Tip: Keep it Local!

Buy Locally Grown - it shows good taste!

  • Local produce is fresher, tastes better and has a smaller carbon footprint since food is only transported a short distance.
  • In the U.S., the average grocery store's produce travels nearly 1,500 miles between the farm where it was grown and your refrigerator. About 40% of our fruit is produced overseas. See here for more information
  • Before our food is shipped across the country (or world0 it gets packaged. Large amounts of fossil fuels are needed to produce the packaging and it is often not recyclable.
  • Buy locally grown produce - without packaging - at Volante Farms beginning early to mid June. Volante currently has a wide variety of plans available, all grown within the Northeast.

Shop Locally - Save gas, money and time while supportiong the local economy.

  • A trip from Needham to the Natick Mall and back produces approximately 20 pounds of CO2. Instead of going to the mall, go downtown.
  • Walk or ride your bik to NEedham's shopping districts. It's a great way to keep in shape and redue local traffic.
  • Bring along a TrekRoller Grocery Trolley. These trolleys are terrific for carrying groceries and other items as you walk around Town doing your errands. Visit them at (a Somerville, MA company).

April 08 Tip:
Plant a Tree

    “If I thought I was going to die tomorrow, I should nevertheless plant a tree today.” 	
          ~Stephan Girard  (May 20, 1750 – Dec 26, 1831,) an American philanthropist


1. Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and can save 20 - 50 percent in energy used for heating.

• Ever-green trees on the northeast side of a house buffer cold winter winds.

• Deciduous trees on the south and west sides of a house provide shade in summer, but let in sunlight in winter.

Contact a nursery or landscape specialist for advice on proper placement.

2. Healthy, mature trees add an average of 10 percent to a property's value.

3. Trees convert sunlight into chemical energy, removing carbon dioxide from the air and releasing oxygen that we need to breathe.

• One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen.

4. Trees are natural air conditioners, cooling the air as excess water vapor evaporates from their leaves (transpiration) and shading us on hot, sunny days.

5. Tree roots help prevent erosion in heavy rains, especially on slopes.

6. Visual exposure to settings with trees has been shown to reduce stress within five minutes, as indicated by changes in blood pressure and muscle tension.

The Town of Needham may add or replace a street tree in front of your home. To make a request, call Needham’s Public Works Department, Parks and Forestry Division, 781-455-7534.


Dr. Roger S. Ulrich Texas A&M University

U.S. Department of Agriculture

March 08 Tip:
Reduce Hot Water Use and Save Money!

  For most homes, approximately 15% of home energy use goes to heating water

1. Installing low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators is the most effective way to conserve water and electricity at once. You can reduce your home water consumption by as much as 50%, and cut energy costs for heating the water by the same amount.

• For maximum water efficiency, select a showerhead with a flow rate of less than 2.5 gpm. Showerheads installed before 1992 may have flow rates as high as 5.5 gpm.

• Typically, new kitchen faucet aerators restrict flow rates to 2.2 gpm, whereas new bathroom faucet aerators restrict flow rates from 1.5 to 0.5 gpm. For maximum water efficiency, purchase aerators that have flow rates of no more than 1.0 gpm.

• Fix leaks in faucets, showerheads or pipes. Check for a toilet leak by putting a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank. If, after 15 minutes, some of the coloring seeps into toilet bowl, there is a leak.

2. Washing Tips:

• Fully load washers before running. For significant additional savings, hang dry laundry and air-dry dishes.

• When possible, wash laundry in cold water.

• Shift energy intensive tasks, such as laundry and dish washing, to off-peak energy demand hours (late evenings and weekends).

• When replacing old washers, look for Energy Star models.

3. Consider solar when replacing your water heater. On average, a solar water heater will reduce your water heating bills from 50%–80%. Also, because the sun is free, you're protected from future fuel shortages and price hikes. Check out to get started.


February 08 Tip:
Heating Ups and Downs

   How high will it go?
   •	On January 3, 2008, oil prices hit an all time high of $100.05 per barrel, up from $54.63
   .   a year earlier. The average home in the Northeast will spend $2,078 on heating oil this  
   .   season, an increase of 38.4% over last year.

1. Turn down the thermostat

Buy a programmable thermostat and set the temperature to 68O when you are home, and 58-60 O at night and when you are out. By turning your thermostat down just 2 O you can lower heating bills by 4%, which could translate into $50-$80 in heating bill savings.

2. Layer up

Wear extra sweaters and long underwear - one of the oldest and most effective technologies for staying comfortable while saving heating fuel.

3. Up the chimney

Your fireplace is one of the most inefficient heat sources you can use. It literally sends your energy dollars right up the chimney along with volumes of warm air. That warm air gets replaced by cold air coming into the house from the outside, which your heating system must than warm up. Make sure to keep the flu shut when you are not using the fireplace.

4. Upkeep

a. Clean or replace filters on furnaces once a month or as needed.

b. Clean warm-air registers, vacuum baseboard heaters, and radiators and make sure they're not blocked by furniture.

c. Keep draperies and shades on your southfacing windows open during the day to allow for passive solar heating and closed at night.

5. Down the road… install a new energy-efficient furnace

a. Look for the ENERGY STAR® and EnergyGuide labels.

b. Learn about the latest technology, like the freewatt cogeneration system; a home heating system that also generates electricity.


January 08 Tip:
No More Junk Mail Please!

   Can’t see the forest… for the trees are being torn down and turned into junk mail
   •	Each year, 100 million trees are used to produce junk mail. 
   •	Among US manufacturing industries, papermaking is the third-ranked consumer of energy, third-ranked emitter 
       of toxic pollutants into the air, and fourth-ranked emitter of greenhouse gases. 

How to stop the junk mail madness:

1. Get started by checking out these websites:

2. One of the most effective ways to reduce your junk mail is to write letters to mail preference services and credit bureaus requesting that your name and address be removed from their lists. An easy way to get this done is to go to There you will find sample letters written to the biggest offenders. Just paste your address information into the letter, print and mail.

3. Call companies you do business with or organizations to which you donate (i.e., catalog companies, credit cards, magazines, charities, banks, retailers, etc.) and request that your name, address and telephone number not be released for marketing, mailing or promotional purposes. Do the same when giving out your mailing information in the future.

4. Return first class junk mail with "refused" written on the envelope. There’s no cost to you and hopefully you will be removed from the mailing list.

How to reduce the mail you sign up for:

1. Contact charities you give to and request to be solicited just once a year and not to be sent labels, calendars, etc. You may want to set up monthly donations automatically deducted from your bank account or credit card.

2. Contact mail order retailers and request they send fewer (or no) catalogs. These retailers likely have the same product information available online. Request that “special sale” notifications be sent to you via e-mail.

3. Request to receive bank and stock statements/confirmations via e-mail. Many companies have websites that will allow you to set this up yourself. Also, most utilities and service providers, such as cell phone and internet, allow you to set up paperless billing.


“The State of the paper Industry”, report by the Environmental Paper Network

December 07 Tip:
Heat Your House – Not Your Neighborhood

Inadequate insulation and air leakage are the leading causes of energy waste in most homes. You can cut your energy use for heating and cooling by as much as 20% to 40% by simply adding insulation and sealing air leaks. By properly insulating your home you will save money and energy, while reducing your CO2 emissions.

*Typically, 45% of your utility bill goes for heating and cooling

*Heating and cooling systems in the US emit 150 million tons of CO2 each year

Call MassSave (1-800-654-5833) for a free home energy assessment. You may be eligible for up to $1,500 in insulation rebates.

*Better yet, have an energy audit of your home. Check out home energy audit information.

Insulate your attic. This is one of the most cost-effective ways to save energy and make your home more comfortable year-round. If you are insulating yourself, make sure you learn about proper attic ventilation first.

Provide the recommended level of insulation under floors above unheated spaces, around walls in a heated basement or unventilated crawl space, and on the edges of slabs-on-grade.

Test your home for air tightness. On a windy day, hold a lit incense stick next to your windows, doors, electrical boxes, plumbing fixtures, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, attic hatches (anywhere there is a possible air path to the outside). If the smoke stream travels horizontally, you have located an air leak.

Caulk and weatherstrip doors and windows. Keep windows locked to reduce drafts. Put storm windows on in winter or replace with double pane windows.

Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting, or electrical wiring penetrates through exterior walls, floors, ceilings, and soffits over cabinets.


November 07 Tip:
Dreaming of a green holiday?

Ways to save green, be green, and start the new year off right

Shop locally - Save gas, money and time while supporting the local economy. A trip from Needham to the Natick Mall and back produces approximately 20 lbs of CO2.

Carpool and combine trips - Bring a friend along. It’s more fun and you can share ideas. Plan your trips well and combine errands. With a little thought before hand you can save time, gas and reduce your carbon emissions.

Bag it with a reusable bag – Plastic bags carry a heavy environmental cost. Bring your own canvas/reusable bag when you shop.

Consider buying eco-friendly gifts - Consider the materials, packaging and message. Some suggestions: wooden toys (not pressed wood), all natural products, solar charger, books (fun and green: for kids - Recycled Crafts Box by Laura C. Martin; for adults - Wake Up and Smell the Planet, The Nonpompous, Nonpreachy Grist Guide to Greening Your Day). For lots of great eco-friendly gift ideas go to: http//

Bright Ideas:

1 Operate holiday lights no more than six evening hours and turn them off when you are away. Every additional hour you leave lights on costs money and creates more carbon emissions.

2 Use energy-saving LED (Light Emitting Diode) or solar powered holiday lights. LEDs use about 99 percent less energy than larger, traditional holiday bulbs and last up to 100,000 hours when used indoors. LED holiday lights are available at Harveys, CVS and Walgreens.

3 Take lights down after the holidays!

              To Compare the amount of electricity used by a string of each type of lights in an hour,
              multiply the number of watts per bulb by the number of bulbs per string:
              C-7 bulbs:   4 watts per bulb x 25 bulbs per string   = 100 watts per hour
              Mini-lights: 0.4 watts per bulb x 100 bulbs per string   =   40 watts per hour
              LED lights:  0.04 watts per bulb x 100 bulbs per string =    4 watts per hour

October 07 Tip:
Change a Light Bulb

Most electricity comes from the burning of fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases into the air, contributing to global warming and pollution. One simple way you can use less electricity is to switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). CFLs use up to 80% less electricity, last considerably longer than regular bulbs, and now come in a wide variety of sizes, types and colors. Using CFLs will help save you money and help save the environment.

What difference could changing one little bulb make?

By switching just one incandescent bulb to a compact fluorescent, you will prevent 150 pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere each year. If every home in Massachusetts switched ONE bulb, it would be the equivalent of taking 25,000 cars off the road.

Tips for choosing energy-efficient lighting for your home

1. Make sure the bulb you buy has the EPA Energy Star Rating.

2. Replace the bulbs in your most frequently used light fixtures first.

3. Choose a CFL that offers the same amount of light as the light you are replacing. For instance, a 25 watt CFL is the same as a 100 watt incandescent bulb!

4. Select the quality of light that you prefer. Warmer colors (2700 to 3000 Kelvin) are appropriate for most rooms, but a cooler color (3500 to 6500 Kelvin) may be preferable for task lighting. Cooler color tones are generally referred to as "bright white," "natural," or "daylight."

5. If you're replacing a bulb that's operating on a dimmer or 3-way switch, make sure the compact fluorescent light bulb is designed to be dimmable – otherwise, the CFL will not perform as well nor last as long as it should.

6. Remember to dispose of your CFL responsibly when it burns out, so the small amount of mercury in it may be reclaimed. At the Needham RTS, take bulbs to the Universal Waste Shed near the special disposal areas.


Source: Massachusetts Sierran, Volume 12, No. 3, 2006

Source: Environmental Defense Fund

September 07 Tip:
Don’t Idle!

Error creating thumbnail: Unable to save thumbnail to destination

Rule of thumb for smart, idle-free driving:

If parking for more than 10 seconds, turn off your engine


1. For your health - Idling contributes particulates and other pollutants to the atmosphere. These pollutants are a health risk to everyone, but particularly to children because they breathe faster and inhale more air per kilogram of body weight than adults.

2. For the environment - Idling adds to greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and smog. Idling for 30 minutes burns nearly a half-gallon of gasoline and produces 10 lbs of CO2.

3. To reduce wear and tear on your engine - Excessive idling may actually damage your engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs, and exhaust systems.

4. To save money - Idling gets ZERO miles per gallon. After TEN SECONDS of idling, you are using more fuel than restarting the engine.

Also… excessive idling is against the law:

Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 90, Section 16A states that: "No Person shall cause, suffer, allow, or permit the unnecessary operation of the engine of a motor vehicle while said vehicle is stopped for a foreseeable period in excess of five minutes." The law list exemptions and allowable fines for offenses.


Natural Resources Canada

Consumer Energy Center

Lexington, Mass Health Division

Idling Myths:

Myth #1: The engine should be warmed up before driving.

Reality: Idling is not an effective way to warm up your vehicle, even in cold weather. The best way to do this is to drive the vehicle. With today's modern engines, you need no more than 30 seconds of idling on winter days before driving away.

Myth #2: Idling is good for your engine.

Reality: Excessive idling can actually damage your engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs, and exhaust systems. Fuel is only partially combusted when idling because an engine does not operate at its peak temperature. This leads to the build up of fuel residues on cylinder walls that can damage engine components and increase fuel consumption.

Myth #3: Shutting off and restarting your vehicle is hard on the engine and uses more gas than if you leave it running.

Reality: Frequent restarting has little impact on engine components like the battery and the starter motor. Component wear caused by restarting the engine is estimated to add $10 per year to the cost of driving, money that will likely be recovered several times over in fuel savings from reduced idling. The bottom line is that more than ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting the engine.

Source: Consumer Energy Center