Got questions? Ask the Green Geek

Wondering how to winterize your home? Or how to recycle your high-efficiency light bulbs?

Ask the Green Geek.

Pima County FYI is featuring a monthly column featuring questions and answers on all things green. Our own Green Geek gets assistance on answering your questions from the sustainability experts in Pima County’s Office of Sustainability and Conservation.

Green Geek LogoSend your questions to And look for the column the second Friday of each month on the left sidebar of the newsletter.

Here are this month’s questions: 

Dear Green Geek,

What can I do to winterize my home?

From, Luz

Hello, Luz,

Taking precautionary measures to weatherproof your home can translate to money and energy savings as well as more comfortable living during these winter months. Here are some ways you can winterize your home:
  1. Check for leaks around doors and windows; ducts, wires, or pipes that penetrate the wall, ceiling, or floor; and electric wall plugs and switches. Seal potential leaks by weather-stripping and caulking. Doing so can save about 10 to 15 percent of your heating dollars.
  2. Check your heating system by:
    1. Get a routine maintenance and inspection of your heating system.
    2. Replace your heater's air filter as recommended by the manufacturer. Your heating system will work less hard, use less energy and last longer as a result. Use your set-back thermostat. It takes less energy to warm a cool home than to maintain a warm temperature all day long. Properly using your set-back thermostat could cut your heating costs from 20 to 75 percent.
    3. Reverse the switch on your ceiling fans so they blow upward toward the ceiling.
    4. Make sure all hearing vents are opened and unblocked by furniture or other items. This will ensure that the air is evenly distributed through the home.
  3. Ensure your attic, walls, and basement are adequately insulated.
  4. Change light bulbs to ones that are ENERGY STAR® certified
    1. Lighting our homes can represent 20 percent of home electricity bills and is one of the easiest places to start saving energy. If every household changed a light to an ENERGY STAR® one, together we'd save enough energy to light 7 million homes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to that of 1 million cars.

Dear Green Geek,

Does recycling actually make a difference? 

From, Marc 

While it’s easy to believe that recycling will have little to no positive impact, this ‘small act’ yields significant benefits:

Recycling saves natural resources by reducing the need to extract and consume raw materials used to produce new products.

Recycling saves energy since using recycled materials in the manufacturing process uses considerably less energy than that required for producing new products from raw material, especially when you consider the extra energy it takes to extract, refine, transport and process virgin materials. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that making a can from recycled aluminum uses 95 percent less energy than making that same can from virgin materials.  Recycling one aluminum can save enough energy to keep a 100-watt bulb burning for almost four hours or run your television for three hours.

Recycling helps protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air and water pollution associated with extracting, refining and processing raw materials.

Since recyclable materials are reprocessed into new products, they are not sent to a landfill which take up space and leach harmful chemicals into the environment. 

Dear Green Geek,

Don’t electric cars actually just transfer the pollution generated for the energy the vehicles consumes to electric plants, which primarily burn coal? How is that better?

From, Ethan

Energy chart
Dear Ethan,

In general, electric vehicles (EVs) produce fewer emissions that contribute to climate change and smog than conventional vehicles. Nationally, electric cars produce less than half the global warming emissions of comparable gasoline-powered vehicles. The exact amount of emissions depends upon the electricity mix of the geographic location. The emissions difference comes from the fact that EVs are more efficient than vehicles that rely on an internal combustion engine (85% vs 16%) and that in almost all locations, electricity production results in fewer emissions per unit of energy produced than gasoline. To help illustrate this, I’ve generated the chart (at right) using the Department of Energy’s website.

I hope this helps to make things clearer,

Green Geek

Dear Green Geek,

What should I do with those high-efficiency spiral light bulbs? I thought they aren’t supposed to go in the trash because of high levels of mercury, but I’ve also heard the city won’t recycle them.

From, Mac

Hello Mac,

You are correct, due to the mercury content, CFLs should be taken to a collection site for disposal and recycling. Check the Tucson Clean and Beautiful website for locations that will accept these bulbs.

I hope this is helpful,
Green Geek

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