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Now you’re cooking with gas: Ask Umbra on energy-efficient stoves

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, My wife would like to remodel the kitchen. This frightens me, personally, but I look it as an opportunity to buy some more energy-efficient appliances. Right now we have an ancient electric stove. Would replacing it with a natural gas stove be more efficient, or should we stick with electric and just go for a newer model? (Of course we would go for the greenest option available when it comes to electricity.) Mike London, England Is remodeling brewing in your near future? Make it green.Photo: Josh PesaventoA. Dearest Mike, Greetings from across …

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Too much is not enough for The Edge’s green mansion

U2’s The Edge is planning a mansion complex that’s a metonymy for post-Joshua Tree U2: It means well, really, but it’s just way, way over the top. The five homes (!) averaging 10,500 square feet (!!) are supposed to be built to LEED Gold standards, so bravo to The Edge for that. But if you really want to be green, maybe a network of oversized houses full of buffalo and belly dancers and groupies and giant lemons and shit is NOT the way to go. And especially not when you’re building it in a pristine, environmentally sensitive area like The …

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How Americans defeated efficiency with consumerism

The Energy Information Administration's Residential Energy Consumption Survey, released yesterday, shows that average household energy usage has remained remarkably stable over the last 30 years -- even as appliances have gotten way more efficient. Why? Well, we just have a pantload more appliances. (Seriously, look in your pants RIGHT NOW. Do you have a gadget in them? Chances are you do. I've got a phone in my pocket as I write this.) Also, there are 34.5 million more households in the U.S. than there were in 1978, and we're leading increasingly white-collar lifestyles -- air conditioners, dishwashers, washing machines. If …

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Wanna green your ride? Ditch the Prius, hop on a train

Chart: EPA Here's one to piss off the yuppies: Driving your hybrid car from your Energy Star home to the food co-op is not as green as hopping on the subway from your apartment. A new EPA study says that moving from a car-oriented to a transit-oriented community has the biggest impact on your energy usage -- more than green buildings or green cars. Of course, doing something is better than nothing. Not everyone can move to multi-family building in a transit-oriented city, which the study found is the greenest way to go (besides, of course, moving to a multi-family …

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Hemp chair is not just eco-friendly, it’s eco-kind

You know those hiddy plastic stackable chairs that you see on basically every porch, stoop, and backyard? (I have some. They came with the house.) Well, what if they were biodegradable, made with sustainable materials, and kind of awesome looking? And also made out of pot? TOTAL DREAM CHAIR, right? Okay, so Werner Aisslinger's stackable hemp chair is not exactly smokable, and it's not exactly in production either. It just debuted at Milan Design Week. But it's cool, lightweight, eco-friendly (the glue that holds the fibers together is water-based and has no phenols or formaldehyde), and can be mass-produced cheaply. …

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Ask Umbra on nail polish and its disposal

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, How do I dispose of my formaldehyde-laden nail polish in an environmentally safe fashion? Can I recycle the glass bottle and plastic top in my recycling with the polish inside? JacquiePetaluma, CA Don't just toe the line! Use less toxic polish.Photo: Maureen LunnA. Dearest Jacquie, What a perfectly-timed-for-spring-cleaning question. Throwing products with chemicals like formaldehyde in the trash -- or even a standard recycling bin -- is like sweeping Agent Orange under your rug. So how does one deal with these iffy finger paints? Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT dispose of …

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Stephen Colbert is having none of your wimpy girl light bulbs

Right-wingers are now pro-choice, but only for light bulbs. Here's everyone's favorite talking head, Stephen Colbert, on their move to save what they're now calling "traditional" bulbs (ah, yes, our storied national tradition of inefficient lighting! It's the core of what it means to be an American). The Colbert ReportTags: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,Video Archive   Yeah! Go back to your own country, curlicues! We know what freedom of choice truly means: nestling forever in our comfortable womb of round, warm, expensive, familiar bulbs, suitable for use in baking. (Note: Other wombs not eligible. Only light …

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Seven ways to live in a small space with kids and not go crazy

Whee! Living small is fun!Photo: Anna MSo you want to raise your family in a city but can't afford much square footage? Never fear. Despite the challenges, it's possible to live in a small space -- with kids -- without sacrificing your sanity. First, let's define small, since our idea of an acceptable amount of space has changed dramatically in the past several decades. In 1950, the average American home was 983 square feet, and the average household size was 3.54 people. Today's "average" home is close to 2,500 square feet, even while average household size has decreased to 2.67 …

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Ask Umbra on refillable cleaning supplies

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, I'm trying to cut back on plastic waste and am wondering if you know of places that offer things like cleaning supplies in bulk, so that I can refill and reuse my old containers? Thanks!Lyda L.Harlem, NY A bottle walks into a bar and asks for a refill ...Photo: Dave PinterA. Dearest Lyda, I like the way you think. What better way to clean up our acts than with cleaning supplies? The message in the bottle in this case: It's practical and saves resources. The reusable bottle goes back to the days …

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Knowing what you spend on energy can cut usage by more than half

Feedback: It works for robot monkey arms and Scientology auditing, so shouldn't it work to help you save electricity? Networking company Silver Spring Networks and Oklahoma Gas & Electric think so (and so do we). They've teamed up for a year-long experiment in Norman, Okla., to test smart grid solutions, allowing users to get feedback on their energy consumption using different technologies and pricing plans. The result: The right combo of gadget and pricing plan helped people cut peak household energy use up to 57 percent. Energy-tracking technology saves: Smart thermostats, which can self-adjust based on energy needs, prices, and …