Monday, October 6, 2008

Residential Energy Efficiency Tax credits extended for 2009!

Some good news from the government:  part of our 700 billion dollar bailout bill was to extend the 500$ energy efficiency tax credit available to owners of existing homes.  This means any improvements made to the energy efficiency of existing homes during 2008, up untill the end of 2009 may qualify you to receive a tax credit.  This covers insulation, new doors, and many other upgrades, please contact Chicago Energy Consultants or you tax profesional for more details!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Conservation: 10$ free money from EFI and ComEd

Here at Chicago Energy Consultants, we have always been eager to test, evaluate and implement effective energy saving products. Upon our first visit to the Energy Federation Incorporated (EFI) many years ago, we felt like kids in a candy store! So many products, so little time!

Chicago's electric company, ComEd, has partnered with EFI to provide their customers discounts on select items, as well as a 10$ credit on your first order, if you complete a quick online energy audit. That's easy money, any way we look at it!  In addition, the featured proudcts are at discounted at 20% off, and shipping is free for orders over 75$!

Just for the holidays this year, every strand of LED lights includes a 2$ rebate from ComEd, as well!

The link to both the audit, and the ComEd store can be found on EFI's webpage here

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Conservation: Cold Cash - ComEd refrigerator, freezer, and AC recycling buy-back

This just in: ComEd is offering 25$ to pickup and recycle your functional old refrigerators, freezers and old window unit air conditioners!

That old dinosaur of a refrigerator keeping your soda (or beer?) cold may be costing you up to 150$ per year; so why not turn the tables and make some money off of it?

Act fast, as this program is active only until the allocated funds are gone!

Here are some quick details:

-Up to two freezer or refrigerator units, and one window Air Conditioning unit can be picked up, for a total of 75$ payment per current ComEd customer.
-Pickup and recycling of the old unit(s) is included

There are some limitations:

-Refrigerators or freezers must be from 10-30 cubic feet in size.
-They must be empty and working at time of pickup.
-There must be a clear path for when removal crews arrive.
-Window unit Air Conditioners must be picked up with a refrigerator or freezer, not on their own.

Exelon / ComEd's page with the details of the program is located here

Pickups can be scheduled online, or by calling ComEd at 1-888-806-2273

Friday, July 25, 2008

Reuse: Sell the Cell (and GPS, and camcorder, and mp3 player, and ....)

How many old cell phones have you thrown out over the years? Or if you are an eco pack rat like us; how many do you have sitting in the 'old phone' box? Are there old game consoles, mp3 players, camcorders, or other electronic gadgets cluttering the shelves gathering dust? If so, put the junk to good use, and perhaps make a couple of bucks with a service that buys back old used electronics.

When it came time for one of us here at Chicago Energy Consultants to select a shiny, new phone at the local cellular store, we almost forgot about about our old cell phone. We also almost forgot that cell phones use many exotic or expensive minerals (like tantalum and gold) that are mined at sometimes horrible ecological, and human cost. So lets keep those old phones out of the trash and put them back into the hands of reusers or recyclers.

After shopping around for the best buy back price, and researching reviews of the services, we decided to try out Second Rotation.. The process to sell the old phone with Second Rotation was pretty painless, after selecting the type of phone to sell and specifying its condition, a price was offered (and is contingent on inspection of the phone). After accepting the offer, I filled out the contact information and printed the shipping kit, which includes a pre-paid shipping label.

Perhaps my favorite feature of their service was the 'procrastinator detection'. I took my time mailing the phone back to the service (to test their service, of course), and I was sent a USPS priority mail box that was already self-addressed. Just pack up the phone well, put it in the box, and drop it in a mailbox. They mentioned that this was an 'experimental service' so I cannot promise that they will do the same for you, but the box sitting on my counter sure guilted me into mailing that phone pretty quickly.

Lo and behold, a few days after I mailed the cell, I received an email letting us know that Second Rotation had received the box. In one more day, I had a payment confirmation email waiting for me, letting me know my phone had passed inspection, and my check was on its way (though now you can elect for a paypal payment- I am all for using less paper, but I am not sure if paypal will dip into your money on these types of transactions).

I enjoyed my experience with Second Rotation, but don't hesitate to look around for some other alternatives; there are other companies that will take non-functional electronics, or offer better prices. Seller beware: there do seem to be many 'sketchy' players in this arena, and I cannot attest that your experience will be as painless as mine if you choose another company to deal with.

Happy recycling!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Conservation: Conquer your computers energy consumption

Here at Chicago Energy Consultants, we are no strangers to computers influencing power bills. With a long history in technology consulting, we have seen computers from the 7-foot tall multi-cabinet systems that consume many, many thousands of watts, all the way down to computers the size of a deck of cards that consume barely a couple watts.

Your home computer falls somewhere in between those two extreme cases, with most home desktop computer systems consuming from 60 to 250 watts when fully turned on. Laptops as a rule consume less power than an equivalent desktop system, because manufacturers use low-power components to allow the laptop to operate as long as possible from its battery. The Department of Energy 2001 power survey shows that computers account for 1.6 percent of a homes energy usage on average, while recent estimates put that number closer to 2%.

Before you run out and buy a new energy efficient computer, consider what the environmental impact of manufacturing the average personal computer is: 3,300 pounds of water, 529 pounds of fossil fuels, and 48 pounds of chemicals (often very toxic, like the cyanide baths used to deposit gold traces on circuit boards). So, lets focus on making your current computer more energy efficient!

A question we often receive is "Should I leave my computer on all the time?". Turning the system on and off does add the slightest bit more wear and tear on the parts of the computer, but lets see what we would be paying to leave an 'average' (155 Watt) computer on constantly for one month:

155W / 1000 = .155 KWH
.155 KWH * 24 Hours = 3.72 KWH per day
3.72 KWH per day * 30 days = 111.6 KWH in a month
.10 cents per KWH * 111.6 KWH = $11.16

So we pay more than eleven dollars a month to keep our 'average' computer running 24/7. If that computer were to remain turned on for 4 years, it will end up costing you over 535$! In the winter the waste heat that the computer produces will be doing you a little favor by heating your house, but in the summer you might not appreciate the added heat. If you want to find out just how much electricity your computer uses, grab a load meter like the Kill-A-Watt:

To save energy, there is a better choice than turning on and off the computer: that is to use your computers built-in power saving settings. If running Windows, open your Control Panel and look for 'Power Options' - you want to enable either the standby, or suspend modes. If this is over your head, you can download Google's Energy Saver gadget that automatically optimizes your computers power saving settings, and even tells you how much power you have saved (the Gadget requires Google Desktop software to work).

Another great trick you can use to save energy is to use an auto-switching power strip. This specialized power strip is setup to detect when a 'master' device plugged in to the strip turns on, and then automatically turns on the other switched outlets. With this tool, when your PC is switched off or goes to sleep, it is possible to turn completely off any computer peripherals you have plugged in along with your computer. So if you plug in your monitor, printer, DSL or cable modem, and speakers into this strip, you could be saving an extra 5-50 watts of 'always-on' vampire loads, in addition to your computers already significant power savings. These power strips are also great for use on entertainment centers.

Another big power consumer in desktop PC's is the graphics card. In newer high-end gaming systems, 2 and even 4 graphics cards can be installed into a system,. When each video card can draw 200 watts, you could be looking at a PC with the ability to pull upwards of 1000 watts! On the other hand, some systems have built-in video on the motherboard (like most laptops), these systems use much less power, and are adequate for most tasks other than gaming.

A desktop PC with energy saving settings enabled will save a significant percentage of money, but what about a server that has to remain on 24/7? The power supply unit (PSU) that all computers use to convert voltage at the plug (110/220V AC) into levels that the computer needs to operate (3.3V,5V,12V DC) is usually around 55-75% efficient ,but can range from 20-90% efficient. That means that if the components of your computer use 200 Watts, a 65% efficient PSU will use another 70 Watts, pulling 270 watts from the plug. Numerous companies who use lots of computers (like Google) are pushing to re-design PSU standards to provide only 12V DC, allowing much more efficient supplies to be built. Currently you can look for a PSU certified as "80 Plus" to be guaranteed that the unit will always operate at 80% efficiency or better.

In a large computer data center, there are many tricks to reducing power and cooling requirements. If you are interested in talking to us about any of these techniques or technologies, please contact us with the information provided on the Chicago Energy Consultants web page!

Monday, July 7, 2008

UPDATE: City of Chicago - Environmental Resource Events for August and September 2008

Here is the latest information from the City regarding the next Upcoming Environmental Resource Events:

When: Saturday, August 9

Where: Northeastern Illinois University, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.

When: 8 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Event will be held rain or shine.

Drop-Off Your:

  • old or unused prescription and non-prescription medications
  • computers, cell phones, fax machines, scanners, keyboards
  • hazardous household chemicals and paints
  • old gas can and/or gas-powered lawn mower

Pick up your:

  • compost bin ($30, payable by check or money order only, available to Chicago residents only, while supplies last)
  • rain barrel ($40, payable by check or money order only, available to Chicago residents only, while supplies last)
  • free compact fluorescent lightbulb (while supplies last)
  • free environmentally-friendly gas can (when you trade in an old one)
  • $100 rebate towards an electric or push mower (when you drop-off your old gas-powered mower)

When: Saturday, September 20

Where: City Parking Facility, 900 E. 103rd St.

When: 8 a.m. - 3 p.m.p>Event will be held rain or shine.

Drop-Off Your:

  • old or unused prescription and non-prescription medications
  • computers, cell phones, fax machines, scanners, keyboards
  • hazardous household chemicals and paints
  • old gas can and/or gas-powered lawn mower

Pick up your:

  • compost bin ($30, payable by check or money order only, available to Chicago residents only, while supplies last)
  • rain barrel ($40, payable by check or money order only, available to Chicago residents only, while supplies last)
  • free compact fluorescent lightbulb (while supplies last)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Waste Reduction - Composting: eaiser than you think..

When I talk to folks about composting, they usually associate the following words with the process: ugly, smelly, difficult. When done properly- composting is pretty easy to do, and yields fantastic results (lots of rich compost for your landscaping or garden)!

There are many guides on composting on the net, but in a nutshell, there are 5 things you need to manage when composting:
  • Green stuff (1 part, provides nitrogen)
  • Brown stuff (1 part, provides carbon)
  • Water (not too much!)
  • Air (no too little!)
  • Contact with Soil, or compost starter (for the microorganisms and insects that do the job)
Not too hard, but lets take a closer look at what you need:

-Green stuff is most everything plant that comes from the kitchen and the yard or garden. Compost bins can't handle fats, oils, or any animal waste products- so no table scraps, or meat.

-Brown stuff is usually dried up plant matter like brown leaves, straw, small twigs, shredded paper (yes your paper was once a plant).

-The compost heap, or 'pile' should be moist, but not wet. The feeling of a wrung-out sponge is about right.

-Air is important to allow the pile to breath, which prevents anaerobic bacteria from doing their work, which creates nasty those nasty odors. Too much air and your pile can dry out, slowing the composting process.

-Direct soil contact is preferred so microbes and critters can crawl up into the pile and do their work, but compost starters can be purchased for more isolated piles.

If you want to help the process along, the smaller you chop up your compost-ables, the quicker they will break down. I'm lazy, so I dump my larger organic matter in the bin without much or any cutting, and let nature do the dirty work of breaking it down. This works for almost everything, except for large tubers- they seem to love being stored in compost (it is like a root cellar), and I have recovered what I think are beets that have been in a bin for 6 months and still looked healthy and almost edible.

The city adds one extra challenge: rats. Rats love any kitchen scraps, so a rat-safe (read: Fort Knox) compost bin is required in the city.. In fact it is the law! Because of this, it is hard to build your own rat-safe composter, and best to purchase the model the city distributes: the Earth Machine.

Lucky us, the city is making these bins available to residents at a discounted price.
The next event where a compost bin can be purchased is:

UPDATE: This event is over, please find upcoming event info HERE

Saturday June 21st
8AM -3PM
US Cellular field
333W 35th Street

30$ for Earth Machine Compost Bins, which include a 10 year warranty for missing / broken parts (you only pay shipping) from the manufacturer.

For more details, please see Chicago Energy Consultants existing post on the June 21st City of Chicago Environmental Resource Event

Friday, May 30, 2008

Recycling and the City

The Chicago blue bag recycling program has put friends of the environment through quite an emotional ride since 1995 when the program went city-wide; we toiled away filling blue bags up while sad truths regarding just where our recyclables did or did not go were revealed to us slowly over the years (the answer: mostly into landfills); as the powers that be insist that everything is working just fine. Alas, finally an end to the madness: announced this May in 2008 was the end of the Chicago blue bag program; the City has said that "by the end of 2011" the blue bag system will be replaced completely by the new 'Blue Cart' program.

It would not be surprising if you had never seen a Blue Cart before, as only small portion of the city has them currently. They look just like the familiar black trash cans that are lined up and down every Chicago alley, but instead they are blue. The Blue Carts by all reports are a resounding success, reducing the amount of waste by over 16% in the wards where they are available (so far in 2008, and the numbers keep going up), that's more than twice the effectiveness of the blue bag program's 8% (from the Chicago Tribune's 2005 estimate) .

Sadly many communities will have to wait for years for the Blue Carts to appear, there is a map detailing when a few select neighborhoods will be receiving the blue carts, but a more speedy and complete roll-out of the carts is non-existent because of mayor Daley blaming budget shortfalls. It seems a bit short-sighted to not fund a project that can actually make money for the city as the prices of all recycled commodities go up and up.. a call to the department of Streets and Sanitation or the Mayor's Office asking them to put their money where their mouth is may help to spur things along.

The Blue Carts will only serve smaller residential properties (homes and apartments with 4 or fewer units) known as low-density properties. Low-density residential properties create one-quarter of the waste the city disposes of, while the other three quarters of the city’s trash is generated by large residential buildings, offices, stores, restaurants, and other nonindustrial businesses, none of which are served by city garbage crews.

High-rise dwellers or inhabitants in buildings with more than five units should know that city laws require that you must have a recycling program available to you. Please ask your trash carrier or condo board / association about compliance with the "Chicago High Density Residential and Commercial Source Reduction Ordinance" more commonly known as the Burke-Hansen ordinance. Keep in mind that while these programs might cost more money, with proof of a recycling program multi-unit buildings can receive a 75$ rebate per housing unit to recoup the property tax money the city collects for trash removal. Don't fall for the blue-bag trap again if your building's trash carrier says that is how it separates recyclables, insist that your carrier show reports of how much of the trash they collect is recycled, and contact your alderman to ask for assistance. The Chicago Reader has a great article on a high rise success story that actually decreased waste removal costs.

For those without blue carts or multi-unit recycling initiatives, there is another option: the recycling drop-off centers scattered through the city. These are far from optimal since they force users to store their recyclables, then drive them to the big blue dumpster.. consuming precious space, gas, and time. But if you have a bit of extra room at home, you can fill your car for a trip to a drop off center.

So until our local government steps in and solves all of our recycling problems, you as an individual can indeed make a difference, immediately! In addition to City programs, other
local resources are available, like the Chicago Recycling Coalition's website which offers easy access to a wealth of recycling information; or the Chicago Resource Center, where business can call for a pickup of items usually destined to the trash, which are then reused or stored and offered for use to teachers and other community programs at liquidation prices.

Stay tuned for future postings on how to cut trash collectors completely out of the equation for yard waste and other organic matter, by composting!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Conservation - Pique your interest in Peak Hours

It is almost that time of the year where the mercury climbs, and the city echoes with the buzz of air conditioners. These ubiquitous devices certainly make living in the summer heat more comfortable, but they can put quite a dent in the pocket book. ComEd's new electricity rates may have some folks particularly hot under the collar when their power bill arrives!

There is a bigger problem at hand than high utility bills: on the hottest days of summer, electric system usage during peak hours can result in an overloaded generation system or delivery grid... and that can mean brownouts- or even worse- blackouts.

Another interesting challenge that hot weather and its close cousin water shortage poses is that nuclear power plants actually have to reduce their power output during heat waves, or shutdown completely because of lack of cool water. Nuclear reactors use fission to heat water into steam, turning turbines that generate electricity, and then cool that steam back into water and feed it back through the core, repeating the process. Without lots and LOTS of water this system doesn't work. One reactor pumps 1 BILLION gallons a day of water through its cooling systems and back into waterways, other reactors (the type with the distinctive cooling stacks we all know from the Simpsons) can evaporate 17 million gallons a day into the air! Without adequate water supplies, reactors must drop energy output or shutdown.

Illinois is a large user of nuclear power, but is at a lower risk of being affected by this type of issue than the southern states because our rivers and lakes are cooler, but don't think that when any reactor in the country shuts down unexpectedly that everyone's electricity rates won't go up!

There are ways to avoid the cooling crunch: The easiest way to combat an overloaded grid, while still enjoying the same habits and lifestyle, is an air conditioner cycling system like ComEd's Nature First program. Depending on the program you select, ComEd will credit your bill either $5 or $10 dollars a month for 4 months (from the beginning of June, till the end of September) if you let them attach a small radio controlled switch to your central air conditioning unit's outside compressor. If and when demand cannot be met, or the grid is approaching a danger threshold, ComEd sends a radio signal that will turn off the AC compressor, but still allow your homes air circulation fans to run. The $5 a month credit will allow ComEd to cycle your compressor on and off every 15 minutes, while the $10 credit will allow for one continuous 3 hour block of time where the compressor is disabled. This program is only active during weekdays, and having been a user of the system for some years myself, I have never experienced more than 4 activations of the service in one year, and they tend to happen in the mid afternoon, when I'm not home anyways. The fact that most AC systems are oversized for the house they cool is another story, but running your air on and off for 5 minutes at a time is really horrible for efficiency!

For the more flexible users of electricity, Illinois along with ComEd have pioneered a new and innovative program for residential users known as 'Residential Real Time Pricing' or RRTP. Under this program, you pay the hourly market rate for electricity, rather than the 'averaged' market rate. You can get a hint of the difference in how these these rates fluctuate by looking at ComEd's current residential 'Basic Electric Service' (or BES) rate sheet, where 'general lighting' costs 7.212 cents/kWh while 'dusk to dawn lighting' costs only 2.760 cents/kWh.

If you are thinking "so what, that's not that much difference", consider that I have saved more than $800 over the 5 years I have been on a Real-Time Pricing program, by simply thinking about how and when I use electricity, and making some small adjustments to my life!

I was an early user of this program when it was still administered by the community energy cooperative, and it was known as the Energy Smart Pricing Plan, or ESPP. ESPP was wonderful because you knew what electricity rates were going to be for the day the evening before, and could plan your activities accordingly if rates were to be high. ComEd's current RRTP program uses a rate known as BES-H (residential-hourly), this pricing plan gives you an estimate of tomorrows prices, but you will only know what you are paying for that power as they day progresses; and sometimes what you end up paying is way off the estimated cost.. These prices change every 5 minutes, so good luck keeping up with them! Luckily, there is a service available for ComEd customers on the RRTP program, called Load Guard (open PDF). Load Guard lets you use the same AC compressor switch installed when enrolled in Nature First, and takes the concept a step further: if your electricity rates exceed a preset threshold of either 10 or 14 cents/kWh, your AC compressor is cycled on and off just like in the Nature First $5/ month program.

There are many ways to beat the heat, of course turning off the AC and sipping some iced tea in frot of a fan is a great way to lower your electricity consumption, but few homeowners are willing to give up the luxury of Air Conditioning. So if you have central AC and love it, why not save 20$ or 40$ a year by signing up for Nature First

(EDIT: The Nature First program has been renamed "Central AC Cycling" by ComEd, the link is now updated to take you to the new website).

Saturday, May 17, 2008

City Of Chicago - Environmental Resource Event, June 21st

Sometimes the city makes it hard to find about upcoming programs and projects, it seems even more so the case with green initiatives! So, Chicago Energy Consultants will be posting event information as we receive it for city events and programs.

UPDATE: New event info for 2008, please see this post!

Please see this page for more information on Environmental Resource Events (although the page is currently only has information for the April 19th, 2008 event).

Here is the email I received from the city regarding the next Environmental Resource Event:

Dear Chicagoan:

Thank you for your interest in a Chicago Rain Barrel.

We had an overwhelming turn-out at our first rain barrel distribution as part of the Environmental Resource Event at DeVry University in April, selling over 350 rain barrels!

The next Environmental Resource Event will be:
Saturday, June 21
8:00 am - 3:00 pm
U.S. Cellular Field, 333 W. 35th Street

Drop-off your:
hazardous household chemicals & paints
computers, cell phones, fax machines, scanners, keyboards
old or unused prescription & non-prescription medications
old gas can and/or gas-powered lawn mower

Pick-up your*:
(1) rain barrel** ($40 payable by check or money order only)
(1) compost bin** ($30 payable by check or money order only)
(1) free compact fluorescent light bulb
(1) free environmentally-friendly gas can (when you trade in an old one)
$100 rebate towards an electric or push mower (when you drop-off your old gas-powered mower)
*Available while supplies last, limit 1 per household.
**Available to City of Chicago residents only, proof of residency required at sale and available while supplies last.

We know there is demand out there, so if we have another opportunity before that we will let you know ASAP. Your email has been added to our contact list, so please stay tuned. Below are other opportunities to purchase a rain barrel in the area.

Thank you for your inquiry and interest in helping Chicago conserve water and manage stormwater.

The Chicago Rain Barrel Team


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Rain Barrels - Harness a gift from the sky

I was informed by the city that the barrels for sale at the environmental resource event are no longer the blue eye-sores that were for sale previously:

"The rain barrels are available in black and terra cotta (brick red) this year; however, the design is similar to last year in that they are formally food processing barrels ranging from 55-60 gallons."

Rain Barrels are fantastic tools for anyone who has anything growing outdoors that needs watering. They not only help to reduce water consumption, but also reduce the runoff that occurs when Chicago's shared sewer system fills up or is stressed by rains.

I have used a water barrel connected to a drip irrigation system and a timer to automatically water my vegetables as needed on my deck-top garden, and have had fantastic results!

Rain barrels can usually run upwards of 100$, but the city of Chicago is again offering a subsidized purchase program this year, allowing any Chicagoan one barrel per household at the cost of 40$. The barrel looks about like the one on the picture below:

Questions about the city's current rain barrel programs can be answered by calling the Chicago Department of the Environment at 312-743-9283 or by emailing

The current rain barrel event details are as follows:

Saturday June 21st
8AM -3PM
US Cellular field
333W 35th Street

40$ for one barrel, payable by check or money order only- checks need the current city address on them, and only one rain barrel is available per household

30$ for Earth Machine Compost Bins, which include a 10 year warranty for missing / broken parts (you only pay shipping) from the manufacturer

Please see this post for more information on this Environmental Resource Event!

If you live in a building with no area to let overflow from your water barrel soak into the ground, I recommend using a downspout diverter. I have used the Garden Water saver, and though it once in a while it will clog (and no longer fill the rain barrel, but will still drain downspout water) it works pretty well.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Indoor Air Quality - Radon: Danger lurking below

Your brand new finished basement has finally been completed. The kids finally have a place to play, the media room has the biggest flat panel on the block, and your new exercise area will help the whole family stay in shape. The sump pump has a battery backup, the walls are air-tight, what could go wrong? If you don't know your home's radon levels, consider that all the time you spend in the basement could be just as damaging to your lungs as sitting in a smoking lounge!

Radon gas is an odorless, invisible radioactive gas that is produced by the natural process of radioactive elements in the ground breaking down.

Here is some interesting information about radon gas:

  • Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

  • Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in America and claims about 20,000 lives annually.

  • Radon is one of the heaviest gasses present under normal room temperature conditions.

  • Radon's most stable isotope, radon-222, has a half-life of about 3.8 days. It decays into polonium-218 through alpha decay.

  • Radon can be carried into your home through natural gas (think kitchen: range, oven).

Most folks in Northern Illinois are not aware that they live in a medium to high risk area for radon exposure. See the image below for your area's risk level, (taken from the EPA's radon zonemap Red = "action" levels over 4 pCi/L (pico curies per liter); Orange = moderate risk at 2-4pCi/L; Yellow = low risk at under 2 pCi/L).

The good news is that with some minimal effort, unsafe levels of radon can be detected; and if found, your home can be made safe from radon with minimal investment.

It is important to test your home for radon, as levels vary greatly from home to home, and from season to season; even neighbors can have very different levels of radon. Generally speaking, the highest radon levels will occur when the ground is warm, and the lowest levels when it is frozen. Radon levels can even vary large amounts from week to week, so radon tests that take a longer time to complete (alpha-track counters that take one or more months) generally yield more accurate results.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) offers Illinois residences free radon test kits. These tests consist of a sponge-like carbon 'collector' that you unwrap and place in a test area for three to 7 days, then wrap back up and send in to a lab for analysis. < UPDATE: The free test kit program was stopped, because two-thirds of the test kits sent out were never used.. A listing of test kits is now available here; the 'Air Chek' brand kit that the state was providing for free is available at a discount for $6.95 >

For those not living in Illinois these tests may be available free or at a discount from your state or local public health & safety agencies, at your local hardware store, or can be purchased online:

For continuous monitoring of radon levels, electronic alpha-track counters that display the radon levels and sound and alarm when high levels are detected are available, but more expensive at over 100$.

Anyone who has sealed air leaks in their home should also be sure to re-test for radon, as reduced air flow can result in increased radon concentrations.

New homes should be built with 'passive' sub-slab depressurization radon mitigation systems, these systems help to vent radon gas from under the home using natural air movement, and generally cost $400-1000 to install during construction. Another advantage to these systems is if radon levels are found to be elevated in the home after construction is completed, they can be easily converted into an 'active' mitigation system by adding a radon mitigation fan to help move the radon gasses away from the home foundation. Note : a licensed radon mitigation specialist must install the fan to meet state requirements.

If you find you have high radon levels in your existing home, some steps can be taken to try and reduce the amount of air that contains radon from coming into your home. The primary way radon enters the home is through ground air infiltration. Putting an air-tight cover over your sump pit and sealing cracks along the floor of your foundation can go a long way to reduce radon levels. Making sure your stove vent runs to the outdoors and being sure to run the vent while cooking can also help to reduce radon levels and other indoor air pollutants.

Adding an active mitigation system to an existing house is usually more expensive and less effective than adding the passive system during construction, and can range in cost from $800-$3000.

Be aware- As of January 1st, 2008; if you have a Radon test performed in your home, you must disclose the results to any future potential buyer, because of a new state Public Act 095-0210 "Illinois Radon Awareness Act". Even if you don't test, you must include a signed statement saying that you don't know of any radon information, and include the pamphlet "Radon Testing Guidelines for Real Estate Transactions".

More radon information:

For simple answers to your Radon questions check out the Take Action on Radon Website (a University of Illinois extension service)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


This is the first of many postings regarding energy and resource conservation related news and tips from Chicago Energy Consultants.

With all the things to be worried about in life, we could do much better at prioritizing what we direct our attentions to. From the moment we wake up it seems like insurmountable issues dominate all of our time, stressing us out and consuming more and more of our time every day. It is oftentimes hard to keep track of what is really important..

I think a good way of 'keeping it real' is thinking of how long we as humans can survive without something (these are estimates, but shouldn't be that far off the mark for most situations):

Air: ~10 minutes
Water: ~12 days
Clothes / Shelter: ~5-14 days (in severe conditions)
Food: ~15-30 days (probably more for most Americans with ample 'reserves')
Basic Sanitation / Law / Peace: hard to say, but think hurricane Katrina and Iraq for recent examples of reduced life expectancy.
Love / Companionship: you can remain alive without these, but you won't really be 'living'.

Why is it seems that the more we need something, the less that we consider or value it?

Speaking from the standpoint of the average American:

Air: Our homes, cars, planes, power plants and ships are fouling the air with an ever increasing volume of emissions. Globally, nations striving to reach our capitalistic heights are consuming with wild abandon their stores of natural resources. Research suggests that we spend 90% of our time indoors, yet amazingly, air quality inside the average home was found to be worse than that outside. Not a small feat in the Chicago metro area, as it currently ranks as the #13th worst in the US for small particle pollution. EPA testing has found that concentrations of gases called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) were found to be 2 to 5 times higher inside than outdoor air.

Water: Our astronomical amounts of trash have helped to form a garbage patch in the ocean estimated to be the larger than twice the size of Texas. Ocean currents carry our trash around in the sea for years, where it slowly breaks apart and accumulates, turning the sea into a plastic soup that kills ocean life. Runoff from fertilizer is choking our local lakes and rivers as we push farmland to produce season after season of corn due to biofuel demand, while before crop rotation and letting fields go fallow was adequate to restore nutrients to the soil.

Clothes: We have our natural fibers cleaned with perchloroethylene (currently banned in California), a harsh toxic chemical that is not only damaging to the water supply, but "a probable human carcinogen causing a number of types of cancer".

Food: We increasingly import more food from across the world, and many times food even crosses the globe 2-4 times during processing, packaging, and shipment. Mass production of food results in mass-contaminations resulting from poor practices during growing, harvesting, shipping, and processing.

Shelter: We build our homes out of substances that off gas toxic fumes for many years. Many accepted building codes and practices create environments that trap moisture and can lead to toxic mold growth, as well as trapping radioactive gases that are as detrimental to our health as smoking.

Things don't need to be like this.. and there are many simple things we can do as individuals to help to stop poisoning ourselves.

Keep your eyes on Chicago Energy Consultants - News for new postings that will inform and educate on the many ways we as homeowners, neighbors, community members, and humans can help to make a difference in preserving life and the limited resources that are available to us all.