Monday, August 18, 2014

Love and Care of Red Wigglers

How to Compost Using Worms

Container 
A typical size container is 1 foot high by 2 feet wide by 3 feet long. The container will need at least six holes that are 1/2 inch in diameter located on the sides and two holes that are 1 inch in diameter on the lid for ventilation. Either hot glue screen material over the holes on the inside of the container or insert vents (which can be found at the hardware store). Containers can be made out of wood or plastic, but make sure to thoroughly rinse plastic containers before using. The container can be kept in a garage, basement or even under the kitchen sink. Ideally the temperature will be constant and in the range of 65 to 75 degrees F. If the container is to be kept outside, it will need to be in the shade in the summer. In the winter, a soil heater or infrared light bulb will keep the worms, bedding and food from freezing and the composting process will continue.

Bedding 
A four inch layer of shredded newspaper makes a good starter bedding. Add a handful of fine sand to provide grit for the worm’s digestion, unless you will be using coffee grounds as part of your worm food. If possible, spread some worm castings over the bedding. The castings contain a healthy web of microorganisms which will increase the rate of food decomposition. The strips of newspaper should be approximately 1 inch wide to provide maximum surface area with minimum compaction. The bedding should be thoroughly moistened (ideally before it is added to the container). At the correct moisture level, the bedding will feel like a squeezed out sponge. Spread your worms over the moistened bedding (no more than two pounds of worms per square foot of surface area). The worms should burrow into the bedding in 10-15 minutes. To retain moisture cover the bedding with a layer of un-shredded newspaper or cardboard. The worms like to be in the condensation that forms under this cover. Keep the lid off and a light on for a couple days to encourage the worms to settle into their new home.

Feeding and Watering 
The worms will consume any kind of biodegradable matter, and enjoy a varied diet. Suggested: fruits and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, crushed eggshells, stale bread and other vegan kitchen wastes. This includes napkins, paper towels, cereal boxes, tea bags, coffee filters, plant trimmings and other plant derived waste products. Do Not Add: Meat, bones, dairy, oils, very salty or acidic foods. While composted cow and horse manure are a favorite food for red wigglers, never add cat or dog manure (these carry diseases). For a faster rate of decomposition, chop or food process the food before adding to the box. Place the food into a different section of the bed each time you feed, and cover with fresh bedding material. The moisture content should be maintained at 65-75% for worm health and optimal decomposition rate. Either a moisture meter or the sponge test can be used to determine moisture content. It is best to use de-chlorinated water to avoid killing the beneficial microorganisms in the compost. Water from a tap can be set out overnight to let the chlorine outgas. Use a spray bottle to mist the bedding. This will ensure even wetting of the material and prevent compaction of the bedding. In dry climates a little misting every day may be necessary.

Harvesting the Castings 
Castings are the end-product of the earthworms’ digestive process. The castings are alive with beneficial soil organisms, some of which produce plant growth hormones and/or protect plants from diseases. The nutrients in worm castings are immediately available to the plant on an as-needed basis. You can begin collecting the castings 3-6 months after starting your worm box. Push all the material currently in the box to one side. Add fresh bedding to the empty side. Feed and water this side only. The worms will finish up on the old side and then move over to the new side. After a couple months the compost on the old side will be ready to harvest with only a few remaining worms to sort out. Depending on your intended use for the compost, you may want to pick out any unfinished paper products and add them back into the bin. If you plan on tilling the compost into a garden, it is fine to leave in the bits of partially decomposed material.

Using the Castings 
Castings Solution: Soak 4 Tablespoons of castings or two castings tea bags in one gallon of tepid de-chlorinated water for 12-24 hours. Strain, if not using a tea bag. Using a spray bottle, apply the solution directly onto the foliage of houseplants, including hydroponically grown plants. Or, water as usual using the castings solution instead of plain water. Using a garden sprayer, apply the solution to lawns, vegetable and flower gardens, landscape plants, fruit trees and any other plant which you would like to watch flourish.

Fine Castings: Use fine castings to make the castings solution, a potting mix or to sprinkle directly around the base of houseplants and other potted plants. Castings can be used with seedlings and transplants to encourage root growth and reduce transplant shock. To make a castings potting mix, use one part castings to nine parts traditional potting mix.

Vermicompost: Use vermicompost in addition to traditional compost to give your garden soil a boost of microbial life, micronutrients, plant growth hormones, and humus. Also, use a generous amount before laying sod or reseeding a lawn.

For more information, or to order castings, worms and/or starter kits, please contact us.

Note: A more comprehensive explanation of vermicomposting can be found in Worms Eat My Garbage, by Mary Apelhof. This book is available from the Durango Compost Company.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Is the Air in Your Home Affecting your Family’s Health?

When you hear the phrase “air pollution” what do you think of? Before I became involved at 4CORE, I often thought of cities filled with smog from car exhaust, power plants and manufacturing. You can guess my surprise when I learned that the air inside our  homes, schools and businesses can be two to five times more polluted than the air outside. When the average American spends 90% of their time indoors and 50% of their time inside their homes, indoor air pollution becomes a much larger public health problem than most people imagine.

The most common indoor air pollutants include mold and moisture, combustion sources and secondhand smoke, building materials and furniture, household cleaning products and paints, and outdoor sources such as radon and pesticides. In the short-term, people may experience asthma and allergies symptoms, eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches and dizziness. In the long-term, exposure to indoor air pollution can cause lung and heart disease and cancer.

4CORE (myself included) became concerned about the issue of healthy homes while managing the low-income Weatherization program. Eighty percent of homes we weatherized in Southwest Colorado had health and safety problems, which could have been prevented with proper education on cleaning, maintenance, and ventilation. In 2013 as the Weatherization Client Services Coordinator I attended a conference discussing the overlap of Healthy Homes and Weatherization. I was shocked to learn the numbers of low income children who developed asthma from the homes they lived in, which in some cases was made worse by tightening up their homes for energy efficiency. I learned that we don't have to choose and that good air quality and energy efficiency can go together.

In August 2013, wereceived an Environmental Justice Small grant from the EPA to educate low income families about indoor air quality in La Plata County. In the past year I was able to lead 19 educational workshops across the county and reached 352 participants.

Healthy Homes workshop participants improved the health of their homes by using the free carbon monoxide detectors, radon test kits, Healthy Homes Pledges, resources and information. One participant reported, "Our neighbors, who have a young baby, almost got carbon monoxide poisoning from a dryer venting problem - I loaned them the carbon monoxide detector that we received from the workshop and when they were able to see their dangerously high CO level they moved out of the house since the landlord wouldn't fix the problem."

4CORE also partnered with CSU Extension on a radon education program, sponsored by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to hand out short term radon test kits to workshop participants and perform 25 continuous radon tests. One workshop participant said, "The radon test has prompted me to take action. I plan to retest and contact a radon mitigation contractor."

On August 19th 4CORE and CSU Extension will be hosting a community celebration of healthy homes and radon awareness from 11 am - 1:30 pm at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. I invite you to attend this free event which will showcase successes of the programs, discuss current resources and next steps towards improving indoor air quality in La Plata County with local leaders and staff from the EPA and CDPHE. Lunch and carbon monoxide detectors will be provided. I'd love to have you join us!

Please RSVP 


For me personally it has been a wonderful experience working at 4CORE for the past three and a half years in the Weatherization, HomeRx, Radon and Healthy Homes programs. I will be sad to leave when our Healthy Homes EPA grant concludes at the end of the month. I have learned so much about healthy housing, energy efficiency, and alternative technologies in our community to say nothing of the nonprofit skills I've gained. The most meaningful part of my work has been the relationships built with clients and families and the feeling that despite everything else happening in their lives I may be able to help, just a bit, in making their homes warmer, healthier or more affordable.

I hope you join me on August 19th to celebrate the conclusion of the Healthy Homes program. See you there!

About the Author
Sandhya Tillotson is Executive Director of The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado, as well as the Healthy Homes Program Specialist at 4CORE. Originally from California, Sandhya earned her Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science from The Colorado College in Colorado Springs. After moving to Durango in 2010, Sandhya is thrilled to be working for a local environmental non-profit and spending her free time volunteering, running, biking, climbing and exploring the vast wilderness that makes up Durango's backyard.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

101 Solar Contracts Empower La Plata County

Schertz ResidenceSolarize La Plata, coordinated by the 4CORE, is now complete, with 101 contracted projects for installing solar photovoltaic systems through the program. A final report is now available detailing the program history, results, and challenges at fourcore.org.

The Solarize La Plata Steering Committee was formed in April 2013 and began meeting to define campaign parameters. The program focused on recruiting 100 La Plata County participants to go solar, targeting new capacity of at least 325 kilowatts (kW). 219 solar system proposals were distributed, and to date 522 kW are committed, exceeding the established kilowatt goal. Seventy-four of these systems are complete and energized, with another 12 installations in progress. Remaining installations will likely be complete by fall.

“The program made it easy and was a good push for us,” said Erika Brown, Solarize La Plata participant. “We had been considering solar, but Solarize La Plata was the catalyst we needed to make it happen in a limited time frame.”

Solarize La Plata is saving our community an estimated 822,399 kWh per year, equating to $80,587 in electricity bill savings. This translates to the prevention of an estimated 567 metric tons of carbon pollution per year. Economic impacts include the creation of fifteen fulltime jobs and a monetary impact of approximately $2,173,000 in La Plata County, of which some 60-65% remains circulating within our local economy.

“Looking back to our formative meetings in May 2013, I think none of us could have guessed the outcome of our work,” said Robert Lea, Solarize La Plata Chairman. “The work was challenging. We put out lots of mental, emotional and physical effort, had fun, met lots of good people, and accomplished a lot of good for our community.”

Solarize La Plata is supported by grants from Optony’s American Solar Transformation Initiative (ASTI) through the Department of Energy’s Rooftop Solar Challenge, Ballantine Family Fund, and the City of Durango.

Find more information on the 4CORE web site at www.fourcore.org, or by calling 970-259-1916.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Calling for a National Renewable Energy Standard and Emissions Caps

As a regular 4CORE reader and efficiency and renewable energy advocate in Empire Electric Association's territory, I want to add a perspective from the dry side. The Renewable Energy Standard for Tri-State was increased to 20% by 2020. Rumblings from the Colorado Rural Electric Association and Tri-State continue to harp on how this will hurt their customers due to price increases of bringing renewables online.

While carbon trading with other four corners states could bring more renewables online in neighboring states, it increases the cost, and without all participating states having renewable energy standards, the other states are just reaping the financial and environmental benefits of Colorado's well intended renewable energy standards. A National Renewable Energy Standard (RES) would cause renewable to come online more quickly without enabling energy produced in states without a RES to sell their renewable energy at higher prices to companies in states that have to meet those standards with no net benefit to the environment.

Another CRITICAL component of carbon trading and renewable energy standards as strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, is that we need to cap our emissions. Without the cap, renewables are being brought on to meet growing energy consumption, not to replace inefficient and dirty power plants, and there is no benefit to people or the planet. Carbon caps would force efficiencies, such as the switch away from incandescent lighting. I, for one, will refuse to charge a cell phone everyday so that anyone can get ahold of me anytime anywhere, to buy a new electric car so that I can charge it with coal fired energy, or to ever read novels on a handheld device.

Based on my Masters Thesis research, which I'll admit is a little outdated, we need:

  • A carbon cap to get the U.S. closer to upholding our end of getting global carbon emissions back below 350 ppm, preferably with our nation pulling our head out of the bank and acting with the rest of the world on this; 
  • A National Renewable Energy Standard as a strategy to bring our energy industry into the 21st century; 
  • A national cap and trade system to make renewables more than just the right thing to do; 
  • Electric Companies and Cooperatives that don't fight renewable energy with tooth and nail, but go to bat and help develop creative solutions to challenges with renewables; and 
  • More organizations like 4CORE who are furthering energy and all resource efficiency and supporting distributed generation.

Becca R. Samulski
147 S. Washington St.
Cortez, CO 81321
(970) 564-3040

Monday, June 30, 2014

Please Pass the Carrots (hold the Policy)

In a world filled with political vitriol and lines drawn in the sand, isn’t it nice to know that some organizations are avoiding the sand box all together?

4CORE is a-political and non-advocacy by policy and works to motivate and educate, instead of regulate.

Staying out of the political sand box is like walking a tight rope. A misstep and you fall. The 4CORE mission is to serve Southwest Colorado as the leading resource for the effective and efficient use of energy to promote and sustain vibrant local communities. As the director of 4CORE I believe that our a-political policy has kept 4CORE in a safe neutral position as a trusted non-profit. Affecting policy, lobbying, or campaigning for specific candidates is a direct path to change, but it is also tends to create opposition. 4CORE works hard to wield the carrot (instead of the stick) to inspire our community to be more energy efficient.

The Mandatory Austin Audit
I just had the pleasure of attending a family wedding in Austin Texas. Austin is a fun city with great swimming holes, and drinking holes that have live music seeping out everywhere. Austin also has a robust transit system with some busses running on compressed natural gas (CNG), B-cycle city bikes for rent at prominent street corners. Austin is also in the land of air conditioning, hot and humid high energy use. 

In 2009, Austin passed an ordinance called the Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure that mandates home sellers to obtain energy audits on their properties and disclose these reports to potential buyers. Many organizations work to change political regulation like energy efficiency building codes and mandating energy audits, such as those that are now law in Austin.

4CORE uses a different strategy by working within any policy that is passed to disseminate information and provide resources for those who will need to comply. This approach takes patience and dedication to using inspirational stories and incentives to create positive, energy-reducing change in our community. 

Some Inspiration: How much money can you save on home energy costs?



Are you inspired? Pick up the phone and call us at 4CORE to schedule a voluntary energy audit of your home or business. We specialize in helping you save energy and money on your energy expenses and inspiring you with Atmos, AmeriGas, Empire Electric (EEA) and San Miguel Power (SMPA) and City of Durango financial incentives.

The average home uses $2,000 in energy per year, and efficiency improvements on average save around 20% or $400 per year at today’s energy prices.

The Take Home
Don't wait for a policy to be passed- get on the energy efficiency path while incentives are here!



About the Author

Born and raised in the Washington D.C. area Gregg Dubit has been in Southwest Colorado for over 20 years. Gregg has a Bachelors degree from The University of New Hampshire, Durham in Forest Resource Management, and from Fort Lewis College, Durango in secondary education. Greggs’ previous experience includes Commercial energy auditing, Residential Services Network training and certification, residential general contracting, residential real estate inspection services, high school math and science teacher, former ski patrol, and aged outward bound instructor. In addition, Gregg is an avid dog musher, proud father of Lydia and Hayden, and happily married to Gretchen.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Solarize La Plata is Beaming

Solarize Installation April 2014
Solarize La Plata, coordinated by (4CORE), has confirmed 99 clients committed to installing solar photovoltaic systems through the program. Participants have confirmed their commitment to install solar by signing contracts with local contractors. 
A total of 387 people signed up for Solarize La Plata, and five solar contractors have distributed 219 solar system proposals. Fifty-one systems have been installed, with the goal of having all systems installed by the end of summer.

“We thought we were shooting for the moon when we set our goal of 100 systems,” said Robert Lea, Solarize La Plata Chairman. “SLP proved effective in removing substantial barriers to going solar for much of our community. Our committee is ecstatic about these program results.”

The group also set a goal of 325 kilowatts (kW) of newly installed system capacity, which has already been met and exceeded. The 99 systems represent a total of 538 kW that will now be provided by solar, a clean, renewable source of energy. This translates to 584 metric tons of carbon pollution prevented each year, or the equivalent of 123 cars removed from the road for one year. In addition, 8 jobs have already been created by the demand for these 99 new solar PV systems, which is generating over $2,000,000 for our local economy in only six months.

“The Solarize La Plata Campaign represents a paradigm shift that is underway in Southwest Colorado,” said Gregg Dubit, 4CORE Executive Director. “We speculate that our community is positively responding to the rising cost of power, 290 days of free sunshine per year, and increased effects of climate change, resulting in the accelerated adoption of distributed solar in La Plata County.” 

Solarize La Plata is supported by grants from the Optony’s American Solar Transformation Initiative (ASTI) through the Department of Energy’s Rooftop Solar Challenge, Ballantine Family Fund, and the City of Durango. The Solarize La Plata Steering Committee will be hosting a party at the end of July to celebrate the hard work and commitment of volunteers, partners, supporters, and clients. Everyone is welcome.

Find more information on the 4CORE web site at www.fourcore.org, or by calling 970-259-1916.   

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How Much Fresh Air is Enough and Who Decides?

My assessment of adequate indoor air quality is when you can move from indoors to outdoors, or outdoors to indoors, and air inside feels as fresh as it does outside. My recommendation for assessing your home’s indoor air quality is to NOT do the math and rate to standards, but to take a deep breath inside your home. Before you forget how it feels, walk outdoors and take another deep breath of fresh outdoor air. Does it feel different? Does the outdoor air make you feel better? The air you prefer to breathe is the air you should be breathing.
Why Does Indoor Air Quality Matter?
Familiarize yourself with problems caused by poor indoor air quality. There is a good article by James Hamblin that appeared in “The Atlantic” in March of 2014 titled “The Toxins That Threaten Our Brains.” We also have a lot of great resources at our website.

If there is one idea I would like to be able convey to readers it is that like temperature, fresh air introduction and indoor air quality exists as a range. That range can be from bad to good, and it can be changed to suit the occupants’ preference, comfort, and health needs.

Below are two standards for indoor air quality.One standard strives toward “A High Level of Comfort,” the other to not dissatisfy the majority of occupants. One strives to not cause or aggravate illness, the other recommends reducing the likelihood of health risk.

Standard 1
“Acceptable indoor air quality: air toward which a substantial majority of occupants express no dissatisfaction with respect to odor and sensory irritation and in which there are not likely to be contaminants at concentrations that are known to pose a health risk.”

Standard 1 is part of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standard “62.2-2013 Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality in Low-Rise Residential Buildings”. This is the guiding standard for home indoor air quality in the US and is likely the standard that was used for your home if it was built in the last few years. It states, “While acceptable IAQ is the goal of this standard, it will not necessarily be achieved even if all requirements are met.” This doesn't exude confidence in a standard that is not very demanding to begin with.

ASHRAE has calculations and tables for calculating the ventilation rate for a given residential configuration, but they are not available to the general public (at least not for free). Remember that installed equipment and systems often do not deliver at their intended capacity. For example, it is not unusual for a fan rated to move 100 cubic feet per minute of air to only deliver a small percentage of this volume.

If it were easier to assess health risks from long term exposure to indoor pollution I believe that ASHRAE would have a whole different set of recommendations. Energy savings are pretty easy to assess, while the correlation of health problems to long term exposure to indoor pollutants has so far been impossible to prove.

Standard 2
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) can be defined as: the physical, chemical and biological properties that indoor air must have, in order:

  • not to cause or aggravate illnesses in the building occupants, and
  • to secure a high level of comfort to the building occupants in the performance of the designated activities for which the building has been intended and designed.

Standard 2 is from the International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate (ISIAQ). It is from the ISIAQ’s, “Performance Criteria of Buildings for Health and Comfort.” I like this standard better because it strives for a healthier environment.

While my recommendation will not likely end up being the new standard for building code, I do have my own ideas on the topic. I like the 0.5 air exchanges per hour that is the standard in a number of European countries. I like this number because I believe it is a good starting place for fresh air introduction. From the 0.5 air exchanges per hour, the homeowner can regulate fresh air introduction to a level that makes sense both in comfort and in utility cost (there is a cost to heating and cooling fresh air).

When I first started working in my present office, the indoor air quality was lousy. My office is now ventilated at the 0.5 air exchanges per hour rate. When I walk out of the building at the end of the day the difference in breathing outdoors is negligible. In case you missed it, my assessment of adequate indoor air quality is when you can move from indoors to outdoors, or outdoors to indoors, and the difference in air quality is negligible.

In my home the difference is negligible during temperate and warmer months, but more noticeable in the middle of the winter. We sacrifice some indoor air quality for lower heating bills during the winter, and boost our fresh air intake as much as possible when it is more affordable.

My recommendation for assessing your home’s indoor air quality is to NOT do the math, and to remember that even if you knew how much fresh air was being introduced into your home, the design amount was to meet building code, which is the minimum. Instead, take a deep breath inside your home. Before you forget how it feels, walk outdoors and take another deep breath of fresh outdoor air. Does it feel different? Does the outdoor air make you feel better? The air you prefer to breathe is the air you should be breathing.

About the author
David Davis is a Certified Energy Manager, and product designer for the Fresh Air Manufacturing Company. Among experience leading to this role was five years as a utility efficiency expert, five years as an HVAC instructor for Boise State University, and a number of earlier years as an Engineering Specialist for Siemens and Honeywell. Learn more about fresh air here.