Regulars and Shorts

Green Bits: December 2011

By Pax Rasmussen

More support for renewables; brand new bike box; bye-bye plastic bags; it’s time to flip the switch (on your ceiling fans).

It’s time to flip the switch

Hot air, as we all know, rises—and cold air sinks. Needless to say, the bottom four feet of my office get “chilly,” which is at best a pleasant euphemism for “my butt cheeks never warm up.” 

Good thing I’ve got a ceiling fan here at CATALYST.

You’ve probably heard that you should reverse your ceiling fans in the winter. You’re probably uncertain as to why and how you should do this, though. Here’s the lowdown on fans in the winter:

It’s complicated, but one thing I can say for sure is that if you have ceiling fans, you definitely should be using them in the winter. My friend Kathryn Webb, owner of Nostalgia Coffee in Salt Lake City, tells me she can keep the heater on full-blast in her shop and the temp won’t rise above 65 degrees, while the air around the ceiling is a nice and toasty 95. Flipping on the fans gets the shop is livable again in about 10 minutes.

The idea is simple: The fans mix the air about. But should you have them pushing air down, or bringing it up? Common sense would say you want it pushing hot air down in the winter, but it’s actually not that simple.

At Nostalgia, Kathryn definitely wants the fans blowing air down, year-round. The reason for this is that her ceilings are around 12 feet high, and getting the hot air down from up there is no easy feat. In a typical residence, however, the ceilings are usually about eight feet overhead, and having the fans blow down, while doing a better job circulating the hot air, tends to create an evaporative cooling effect on our skin, making us feel cold, even if the ambient room temperature is comfortable.

So, if your fans are low enough that you can feel the breeze, you want them pulling air up. It still works: The air in your room has nowhere to go when the fans pull it toward the ceiling, and is forced back down the walls at the side of the room. It’s not quite as efficient, but the air gets mixed about without blowing on your skin.

As far as telling you which direction to have the blades moving, I’m out of luck. Different manufacturers tilt the blades in different ways, so there’s no guarantee which direction will move the air down. It’s usually clockwise, though. If the edge of the blade closest to the ceiling is moving forward, air is being pushed down.

Basically, just turn on your fan on low and stand underneath. After a couple seconds, flip the switch to reverse it. Go with whichever gives less of a breeze. In the summertime, flip the switch the other direction and turn the buggers all the way up!

By some estimates, you can save 10% of your yearly heating bill with this simple exercise. Besides, if your place is anything like mine, the only good the hot air does near the ceiling is keep your box elder bugs happy. 

More support for renewables

The major objection most governments and corporations make about switching to renewables such as wind and solar power is the cost—it’s supposedly more expensive, and God forbid we do anything that might cost a little more up front in this icky economy. Thing is, it’s a myth. Last month, yet another report came out showing that renewables are already a cheaper alternative than fossil fuels. The Civil Society Institute’s Synamps Energy Economics report outlines a “realistic transition” to renewable energy that would actually save $83 billion over the next 40 years. And we’re not talking in-the-long-term savings here: These savings kick in automatically in the form of efficiency, job creation and health effects.

Brand new bike box

It looks really, really weird—but it’s also really, really cool. SLC’s newest bike-friendly road improvement: the two-stage bike turn queue box, which allows bicyclists to make left turns across the TRAX light rail tracks in two traffic signal phases. Bicyclists riding south on Main Street use the 7 ft. x 10 ft. box to turn left by riding to the south side of the intersection, waiting in the green box, and then proceeding on the green light with the traffic on 200 South. Before, cyclists had two options for a left at this intersection: the legal—making a right turn and then making a U turn—and the illegal—just turning left and damn the light. Right on, SLC!,

Bye bye, plastic bags

Holla to Southhampton, New York, for being the latest in a growing number of towns to ditch plastic bags. A ban on plastic grocery bags took effect in the town last month (the ban was passed in April with widespread support) and carries a fine of $1,000 for violations. In 2007, San Francisco, CA, enacted a similar ban, followed by Los Angeles county in 2010. Ireland, Italy, Bangladesh, South Africa, Thailand and three states in Australia have also banned plastic bags—so get with the program, SLC!

This article was originally published on November 30, 2011.