Regulars and Shorts

Green Bits: February 2013

By Pax Rasmussen

News and ideas for a healthier, more sustainable future.
by Pax Rasmussen


Grab some heat

A couple of years ago, I bought an archive CD from Mother Earth News—all of their issues up to that point (something like 40 years). In that CD, I found plans for building what they call a “Heat Grabber”—a sort of quasi-portable trombe wall that attaches to a window at roughly 45 degrees. (see pic). I immediately fell in love with the idea, and like with so many of my ideas, I did absolutely nothing.

But when the bitter cold blew into the valley in early December, I decided now is the time: I’m building the heat grabber, and heating my house for free!

The Heat Grabber is a tricky little guy. It’s made of nothing but foam, glue, nails and glass, and supposedly, costs less than $50 and takes an hour to build. Basically it’s a laterally bisected foam box covered in glass. The middle panel is painted black and only reaches to within six feet of the bottom of the box, allowing air to flow at the foot. Sunlight passes through the glass, heats the black-painted surface, which heats the air, which rises to the top of the box and into the house through the part of the box that sticks into the window. This creates a vacuum, which pulls air into the bottom of the window portion, down to the bottom of the box, around the gap in the bottom, heats up again, and keeps the cycle moving.

I headed to the Home Depot, looking for foil-backed rigid foam insulation. No dice—all they had was plastic sheet-backed foam. Lucikly, I found the stuff at Lowe’s. I needed two panels, one an inch thick ($15) the other ¾ of an inch ($12). I also got some Liquid Nails instant-grab construction adhesive ($5), silicone caulk ($4), aluminum foil tape ($8), finishing nails ($4) and two sheets of glass ($15 for one sheet from Lowe’s, $1 for the other from the ReStore, which I cut down to size myself).

I took my haul home and my wife Adele and I went to work. It was actually a pretty easy job—we used one tool (a utility knife) and did the whole thing on the kitchen floor. Considering the Mother Earth News plans were published in the ’70s, the budget came in about right ($64, although it would have been $79 if I’d had to purchase the other piece of glass new), but the estimate of a one-hour job was unrealistic—it took us closer to four, plus a couple hours to install it. Within minutes, however, 85-degree air was pouring into our dining room. The outside air temperature was 28.

I’m in love with the heat grabber. The only downside is that with so little sun this winter, it hasn’t gotten much use. But we’ve still got a few months to get some use out of it—and anyone who thinks this project is neat still has time to build one.

Note: My installation job is ugly, but yours doesn’t have to be. I put the grabber in our already-whacked and boarded up dining room window (slated for renovation late this spring). I also built an ugly box out of OSB sheathing to keep the dogs from messing with it. If you don’t have monsterdogs, you don’t need to reinforce it at all. u


Fight the Frankenfish

As CATALYST readers, you’ve probably got a good idea already why genetically modified corn and soy is a bad idea (if not, check out “GMOs in Your Diet” by Alice Toler in the November 2012 issue, Genetically modified veggies have been around for some time, but now the first genetically engineered animals could be in grocery stores as early as next year. Dubbed “frankenfish” by anti-GMO organizations, AquaBounty’s “AquaAdvantage” salmon eggs have had bits of DNA from ocean pout fish (a type of eel) and Chinook Pacific salmon injected into them. These salmon now produce growth hormone year round rather than only during warm weather, allowing the fish to reach “market weight” in a year and a half, rather than three years. The problem? Research (sparse) has shown the possibility these fish can cause allergies in some people. They also have elevated levels of growth hormone IGF-1, which has been linked to several types of cancer in humans. They are also less nutritious.

The fish will be grown in Panama and shipped, unlabeled as GMO to the U.S. Use the link below to sign a petition asking food stores to reject frankenfish.


Solar incentive off the ground

After nearly eight years of work, Utah Clean Energy has succeeded in establishing a solar incentive program that will open up Utah’s untapped solar market. Basically the program works by offering rebates for solar power systems—for every dollar invested, ratepayers can receive $1.63 in benefits ($.08-$1.25 rebate per watt of photovoltaic power). Right now, Rocky Mountain Power is accepting applications for the program to be selected randomly.,


City invites residents to join new Bicycle Committee

Now here’s a relatively painles way to get involved in politics: Mayor Ralph Becker and the City Transportation Division invite interested citzens to get involved in the decision-making process by applying for a position on the new Bicycle Advisory Committee. The committee is a reformed and formalized adaptation of a previous advisory group and is aimed at cultivating citizen perspective on the City’s projects and initiatives to increase and promote bicycling citywide. So join up, and yammer for more bike lanes!


Keep Monsanto out of your garden

Recently, Monsanto bought Seminis, who supplies seeds to roughly 40% of the farm and garden market. Many seed retailers, such as Burpee, Park Seed, Territorial Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds get at least some of their product from Seminis (though Jonny’s is phasing them out, as Territorial has done already—hooray!).

To make sure that Monsanto isn’t in your garden, check where your seed company gets its stock.

Also, try to buy from a company that has signed the Safe Seed Pledge—a promise not to knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants.

This article was originally published on February 1, 2013.