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Is Negative Pressure Causing a Problem in Your Home?

Negative pressure in homes can bring outdoor air in through the chimney. Ever have the smell of your fireplace inside your home? It’s not uncommon. Here’s a question I got from a reader named Rob last month: We always have a smoke smell from our fireplace, more on some days than others. I had the chimney cleaned really well and the damper closed and it was fine. Then we just built our first fire since cleaning this weekend and the smokey smell is back. It has a metal damper in the firebox. I assume somehow negative pressure is forcing air…

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Should We Generate Energy by Burning Our Trash?

The Wheelabrator Millbury waste-to-energy plant in Massachusetts is capable of burning 1,500 tons of waste per day. The plant opened in 1987 and produces enough electricity to power 49,490 homes, according to its owner. Photo courtesy of Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Facing streets choked with trash, the Indian city of Bengaluru is considering constructing five plants that will burn garbage to produce energy. And as garbage from around the world piles up in Indonesian ports—more than a year after China severely restricted its imports of waste from other countries—Indonesia’s president has asked cities in his country to build similar…

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How the U.S. Power Grid Is Evolving to Handle Solar and Wind

Renewable energy is on the rise. Roughly 15% of the electricity generated in the U.S. comes from renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower, and biomass, amounting to 64 million of the 411 million megawatt-hours (MWH) of total electricity generated in July 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s a jump up from just 9% a decade ago. From large-scale wind farms to single panels installed on rooftops, renewable energy has gone from novel to commonplace. This trend has many environmentalists wondering about the future of energy in the U.S. As part of the Ensia Answers project, in…

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Could Renewable Natural Gas Be the Next Big Thing in Green Energy?

In the next few weeks, construction crews will begin building an anaerobic digester on the Goodrich Family Farm in western Vermont that will transform cow manure and locally sourced food waste into renewable natural gas (RNG), to be sent via pipeline to nearby Middlebury College and other customers willing to pay a premium for low-carbon energy. For the developer, Vanguard Renewables, the project represents both a departure and a strategic bet. The firm already owns and operates five farm-based biogas systems in Massachusetts; each generates electricity on site that is sent to the grid and sold under the state’s net-metering…

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How Many Solar Panels Does It Take to Power an Electric Car?

Calculating the number of solar panels needed to power an electric vehicle is fairly simple. Photo courtesy of the Zero Energy Project. My wife and I built a zero energy home in 2015. The energy model we conducted as part of that process said that we would need to generate about 6200 kWhs per year to provide the energy our home was projected to use. So, we installed a solar electric system with that in mind. As it turned out, due to our well planned energy-saving measures and conservation practices, we actually produced more energy than we used. Our utility…

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Does a Concrete House Make Sense?

John Downie and his wife are planning to build a house in Ontario, and instead of choosing a conventional wall system they are considering poured concrete exterior walls that are insulated on the outside. Downie likes the “solidity” of concrete and recalls a comment from former GBA Editor Martin Holladay that a poured concrete wall is functionally the same as a wall built with insulating concrete forms (ICFs, pictured above). Otherwise the house looks fairly straightforward: between 1,200 and 1,800 square feet over a single story with polished concrete floors, high ceilings, and a gable roof. Heating and cooling would…

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