Umbra Fisk

Ask Umbra®

Advice for Living Green

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Umbra Fisk is Grist Research Associate II, Hardcover and Periodicals Unit, floors 2B-4B.

Umbra on preparing for winter

Dear Umbra, With the coming winter, our local news did a story on how to save on heating. The tips included window treatments, lowering the water heater, etc. But those of us in apartments are limited in what we can do. I can feel the cold air seeping through the cracks, and laying towels on the window sills doesn’t seem to help. Any advice? CarolLafayette, Ind. Dearest Carol, Yar. It’s going to be doom and gloom this winter across the country, what with natural-gas and oil prices on the rise, the economy heading to the toilet, and Bush’s touch turning …

Umbra on used cars

Dear Umbra, With rising — OK, skyrocketing — gas prices, I would like to invest in a car that gets good mileage and is reliable. However, I can’t afford a new Toyota Prius. Do you have any suggestions for environmentally friendly used cars that those of us on a budget might be able to invest in? Living in Wyoming, I have to travel long distances on a frequent basis, and public transportation is a joke here, so any suggestions would be appreciated! Lindy JohnsonSheridan, Wyo. Dearest Lindy, Until today, I thought general guidelines were all the car-purchase advice I was …

Umbra on bicycle commuting

Dear Umbra, My question regards my daily half-hour (each way) bicycle commute through fairly heavy city traffic. I’ve been wondering if the benefits (exercise, sunshine, free and fast transport) are outweighed by the negatives (primarily breathing in diesel and other exhaust, but I’d also throw in the risk of almost getting run over, despite the cheap thrills). I am fortunate enough that my alternative would be to take the subway, not drive. Perhaps you could comment on the personal and environmental health effects of different types of commutes. IndieWashington, D.C. Dearest Indie, Spoke truth to power. Biking, biking, we love …

Umbra on architectural salvage

Dear Umbra, We recently replaced the doorknobs in our place, so we have a fistful of old yet working doorknobs I’d hate to just toss. What to do with this and other perfectly good hardware? R.B.M.Arlington, Va. Dearest R.B.M., This answer goes out to you, but also to all your fellow home remodelers out there. One person’s old doorknob is another’s period-restoration item, as the adage goes. Don’t knock it. You can, of course, try to sell your knobs on the internet. I just amused myself by looking at doorknobs on eBay. Is it truly worth the effort to list, …

Umbra on windows

Dear Umbra, I just bought an old house and need to replace some of the windows. Are there alternatives to vinyl windows that will still cut down on heat loss? Noah WinerPhiladelphia, Pa. Dearest Noah, I hope I’ve caught you before you’ve placed your window order, because you are at a moment of opportunity. Window replacement will make a huge difference in your house’s energy efficiency. You could be losing up to a third of your heat through those old windows, and I’m sure they’re not helping with cooling either. What a pane. Here are the basic window-shopping questions: Does …

Umbra on why we shouldn’t waste energy

Dear Umbra, I am doing a big geography project at school on saving energy and recycling. My part is to comment on what will happen if we keep wasting energy. I know the basic information, but I am not sure what to write, as it is to be given out to adults (and I’m only 12!). Please send me some useful information because I am really stuck! LauraHeartfordshire, U.K. Dearest Laura, There are a few things that happen as we keep wasting energy. One, we will run out. Two, energy makes a mess, so the more we use the messier …

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