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DIY Your Way to a Sustainable Spring

A little ingenuity—and a good amount of Googling—will transform you into a master of the self-made. Here's some green projects to start your internal engines.

Does this weather make you want to roll up your sleeves and tackle some do-it-yourself projects? Each of the below are money-saving, Earth-protecting, community reinforcing, and just maybe a bit fun to boot.

Home gardening

Maybe the best thing you can do for the planet is reconnect with your food, and what better way than to grow it yourself. As proven by the Cinnaminson Community Gardeners, this is easy to do—but even easier with teamwork. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and lettuce of many varieties are on the menu, if you're willing to get your hands dirty.

Even if space is limited, rely on some great resources for in-home or outdoor container gardening.

Knowing that you can fend for yourself if it was ever necessary might be the greatest benefit of this timeless skillset.

Backyard composting

Our current process of handling house waste—putting a large volume of organic matter into a trash can, which is then transported by huge trucks, only to end up in a landfill—is rather silly when you consider that the real work of decomposition can be done right on your own property. Composting is a way of significantly reducing your waste production, leading to less stress on your township's sanitation budget, and fewer trips dragging bins to the curb. As an added (and free) bonus, you get nutrient-rich, soil-amending material for your garden or landscaping needs.

If you do it right, there's no worries about odors, nor vermin, and it can occupy just a few square feet. Find some great how-to's here and here.

Photovoltaic Solar

If you want to pursue solar on a full-scale, then DIY may not apply. But tinkerers and energy enthusiasts should have a go at building their own solar panel. Yes, you can build a photovoltaic solar panel using fairly straightforward skills, much of which you learned in middle school metal shop.

Many guides exist to walk you through the process—from procuring the solar cells, the soldering materials, and the glass and metal enclosures, to wiring the unit to function with a car battery and an inverter you can plug your gadgets into.

There's some electrical hazards on this one, and the finished product won't pass certifications or be ready to hook into the grid, but the mere fact that a few hours work results in an electricity-producing machine is impressive for sure.

Solar water heater

Another very practical project is the construction of a solar water heater. While you may want to hire a plumber to make the final connections, the construction of this energy-saving appliance can offset 25 to 50 percent of your water heating costs.

Sited outside in a sunny area, water flows through tubing inside, heats up and joins with your interior water tank. Reducing the overall load of producing hot water, this low-technology project is making passive use of the sun's power, without the much greater investment of photovoltaics.

Here's a few more instructive sites for taking this project head-on.

There are scores of other home improvement projects that will reduce your carbon footprint, increase your self-dependency, and give you some financial relief as well. A sampling to leave you with:

So in the spirit of conserving energy, don't waste a minute of this invigorating weather! You can't spell do-it-yourself without "you"!

Cindy Pierson March 13, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Thanks, John - another nicely done "green" article! Did you by chance attend the "Sustainable Moorestown" open house last week? I think the program for "Sustainable Maple Shade" is on the 22nd - I'll post the date when I'm sure. I had hoped that there would be a "Sustainable Cinnaminson" joining the more than 350 Sustainable Jersey communities, but alas, there was absolutely no interest in being a part of the program shown by the township committee.

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