Posts Tagged ‘woburn’

Seven Tips for Improving (or Creating) Your Organic Garden

Whether you have a large vegetable garden, border flower beds, or a small herb garden, you can easily introduce organic gardening techniques into your current gardening maintenance routine. Here are some easy tips on improving your organic garden:

1. Develop Quality Garden Soil – Amend the soil generously with organic compost and use other organic fertilizers as necessary to increase specific nutrient levels.
2. Buy Plants for the Site – Gardeners who buy plants well-suited to their garden conditions increase their chances for success.
3. Choose Healthy Plants – A cheap plant isn’t a bargain if it’s baked in the hot sun in a pot it outgrew three months ago. Also check all plant purchases for pest hitchhikers and stress before bringing them home.
4. Care for Plants – The maintenance free garden is a myth. All gardens need some degree of maintenance, so make time to tend your garden.
5. Keep a Garden Journal – Record keeping is informative and motivational. Write down how long seeds take to germinate, when pests appear, the dates of the first and last frosts, and favorite flower and vegetable varieties.
6. Monitor for Garden Pests Regularly – It’s easier to control a few harmful beetles with handpicking than it is to stem the tide of the third generation of pests laying eggs. Control problems early and often.
7. Relax and enjoy your garden – Don’t stress over a few pests. It’s OK to allow a minimal threshold of pest damage in the garden. If all the pests are gone, the ladybugs won’t have a reason to set up house in the garden.

You can read more green living tips at my Home Green Home blog:

Enjoy your garden!

Until next time, Peace!


Tim Cahill
MBA, Certified EcoBroker, Realtor
Web site: CyberGreenRealty | Blog: Home Green Home
T: 617.599.2775


Arlington MA’s 1st Annual CSA Share Fair A Success!

Overhead view of crowd at CSA Farm Share

Step Right Up! Get Your Veggies Here!

Around the middle of February, I wrote a post (see below) about “being green” by buying and eating locally-grown food.  I also mentioned the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Share Fair to be held on February 25th in Arlington, MA.  Well, as Mother Nature would have it, both my post and the CSA Share Fair in Arlington were big successes!

It was a dark and stormy night on February 25th when I ventured out to attend the CSA Share Fair.  I was thinking at the time what a shame it was to have such bad weather on a night hosting such a great event.  Admittedly, my heart also sank a bit when I found parking right out front of the main entrance.  That doesn’t usually bode well for a large turnout…as I said, “usually.”..

As I walked in the front door, I was cheerfully greeted by a man keeping count of the number of attendees coming in.  Looking at me as I shook out my umbrella, he said in a robust, cheerful voice, “200”!  I was surprised and had to clarify with him that I was the 200th person to come through the doors.  With an hour to go, I was visitor number 200, and more were following in behind me!

People checking out information at a vendor table

So many choices!

While it was great to see such a tremendous and enthusiastic turnout, I was a bit bummed that I wasn’t able to meet personally with any of the farmers.  There were crowds at every table and people signing up for CSA shares like you wouldn’t believe.  It almost felt like being on the floor of the stock exchange; instead, this was the floor of the CSA exchange – with people bustling all around to find the perfect farm share to suit their needs and lifestyles. After all the dust settled, there were over 250 attendees at the Fair. This being the first one ever held in Arlington, you can rest assured it will become an annual event. If you’d like to see more pictures from the event, browse to the CSA Share Fair‘s web site.

Couldn’t attend the Fair that night? Not to worry! You don’t need to attend a CSA Share Fair in order to sign up for a share. There are still plenty of options available for the coming harvest season. To find a listing of local farms in the Arlington, MA and surrounding areas that participate in CSA, check the web site for the ones closest to you. Many of the farms also have centralized drop-off points throughout the Boston and surrounding areas, so you don’t even need to trek out to the ‘burbs to pick up your bounty every week!

The Local Harvest web site has a wealth of information pertaining to CSA’s. If you’re new to this concept, you might want to check out Local Harvest’s tips and a recommended list of questions you should ask your farmer as your first step toward achieving food independence.

Until next time, Peace!


Rent Some Sun and Save Money

In your mind’s eye, what do you envision a solar panel to look like? Do you think they’re still big, white and boxy? Maybe you think of some ugly black strips across your roof, which look more like a shredded tire laid out flat than a solar panel. Then again, you might be “hip” with the latest PV styles (like these PV panels that look like clay tiles) but you think it’s still too expensive. Fret no more!

Many companies, including two here in Massachusetts (SunRun’s MA partners – Alteris, Inc. and groSolar, Inc), offer you a chance to rent solar panels, effectively locking in your electric rate for up to 25 years (the average lifespan of a solar panel). Moreover, you are relieved of any of the hassles involved with purchasing the panels outright (such as obtaining the proper permits, filing for the appropriate rebates, etc.). Some providers may require a “security deposit,” which may be up to $1,000 at the most.

How does it work? The concept is simple – your solar power company purchases and installs the appropriate equipment based on your historical electric usage. You then pay a monthly rental fee to the solar company, which becomes your new “electric” bill. This monthly fee will be equal to, or lower than, your current bill AND will never rise – sun power is free power! Perhaps best of all, you don’t have to worry about maintenance and repairs – the panels are owned and maintained by the solar company, so they have a vested interest in keeping the equipment in top working order.

In addition to the money saved on your electric bill by switching to solar power, you may also be eligible for one or more of the many current state and federal incentives. Find out if your state offers incentives at SunRun’s Solar State Rebate page. If you purchase locally-made equipment, the incentives and rebates get even bigger!

For further information, check out these helpful resources:

Do you know anyone who’s currently renting solar panels? Ask them to share their story here.

Visit for a list of some solar vendors in the greater Boston area. If you happen to be in the market for a new home or condo, you may also wish to visit Avenue 3 Real Estate for a listing of current homes and condos for sale in Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville, MA. While there, search for homes already equipped with solar equipment and start saving money from Day One!

Until next time, Peace!


How to Spend $0 on Utility Bills

Simple! Go solar!!

Even in the northeast, it’s possible to rely completely on solar energy to power your home. Not only that, but it’s cheaper than ever before. With recent advancements in technology and improved production methods, the cost of solar is coming into parity with the regular cost of electricity. Add in the various state and federal tax rebates and incentives and you could recoup the installation cost within months – then start making money by feeding excess electricity back to the grid!

Here’s a very rough and simple example, using my own latest utility bill.

  • Latest monthly kWh usage = 295
  • Desired result: 100% solar power
  • Required system size: 2.84 kW generation
  • Average sun radiance (Arlington, MA) = 4.31 kWh/meter squared per day – this is the average power the sun would generate for my location in about one day.

Based on very rough estimates from the solar power calculator at, I would need at least 283 sq. ft. of roof surface covered in solar panels at an estimated $22,718 initial installation cost. BUT – after the Massachusetts and Federal tax rebates and other incentives, the final cost to me would be roughly $5,833!

You may think that still sounds expensive, but as a Massachusetts resident, consider this: $5,833 divided by my average monthly utility bill of $75 results in a payback period of roughly 78 months. Keep that number in mind, because here’s the good part: Massachusetts residents can take advantage of the MassSAVE HEAT Loan program, which provides for a loan of up to $15,000 at 0% interest with a 7-year (84 month) payback period. Taking out a $5,833 loan at 0% interest and paying it back over 84 months would make your monthly payment just $69.00! Sure – it may only start off as a $6 monthly savings, but consider the good you’d be doing for the planet, reducing your carbon footprint and saving vital resources at the same time.

Also, consider the fact that utility rates will increase over time but the cost of the sun’s rays won’t. In that case, you’ll inevitably save even more each month. Don’t forget the increase in your property value – another $9,880 – $18,671! Finally, with the projected lifespan of today’s solar equipment to be 15-20 years, you’ll more than end up making money with your new solar-powered roof, whether or not you sell your property within that time frame!

For more information on solar power and a listing of some local Eastern Massachusetts solar vendors, visit my web site at

Until next time, Peace!


Pick the right solar vendor, save more money!

Maybe all my talk so far has convinced you it doesn’t cost more to build energy-efficiently or install alternative methods of power generation, and now you’re ready to make the big move to solar. If so, let me be the first to thank you for making that decision! Not only are you a true leader, but you’re sure to be the next big topic of discussion in your neighborhood. But before you make the final choice on a solar installer, here are some key points to keep in mind as you meet with your local solar vendors:

  1. Get the contractor’s license number. Once you find it, look it up. All U.S. states have a website to look up a contractor’s license and give you some background information on the contractor. This is key: your installer MUST have a contractor’s license, without question. For Massachusetts residents, you can check a contractor’s license record at the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety license lookup site
  2. Check the contractor’s record with the Better Business Bureau. Not all contractors will have information on file with the BBB, but if there have been any complaints or unresolved warranty issues, they will most likely be listed here by previous customers. Eastern Massachusetts residents can check the local Better Business Bureau business listings here.
  3. Does the contractor outsource their crew? This may not sound like a big issue, but it is. Some companies outsource their installations to other, often unqualified, sub-contractors. Remember, these contractors will be installing solar power, most likely while walking on your roof, drilling holes in your roof and making all sorts of electrical connections within your home. You need to be assured the contractors have been properly trained and certified, and if the crew is outsourced, you can’t be sure of that.
  4. Get Referrals. Ask for a list of the most recent three, four, or even five customers. Not every customer is willing to be a reference, though, even if the contractor did a great job. So don’t be alarmed if the contractor can’t give you the name of every customer s/he’s ever worked with. But get a few names and phone numbers of recent customers, call them up and ask them if they were satisfied with the contractors work. Did the contractor meet their initial estimates? Was the work performed in a timely manner? Has the customer realized the expected savings with the new equipment? These are all valid questions to ask. You may also consider driving by the customer’s home as well, just to check out how the installation looks from the outside.
  5. Ask what brands of equipment the contractor uses. Not only does solar power involve the installation of solar panels, but you also need to have the proper A/C and D/C converter units installed (solar power produces DC current which needs to be converted to AC current to power things like your computer, lights, and washing machines). Like all other types of equipment, there’s good quality and lesser quality (to be kind). Most solar equipment will not require a high level of maintenance, but be sure there is a warranty offered on the equipment and that the contractor stands behind the warranty claims.
  6. Get a second quote. Not only will this help assure you that the quote being offered is reasonable, it also helps ensure cost competitiveness across installers. But don’t select your contractor on price alone. The more expensive quote could be advantageous if that contractor uses better installation procedures, higher quality parts, or extends greater warranty coverage. In general within Massachusetts, the current average is roughly $8.60/KwH generated. So depending on the size of the system you’re installing, a typical residential installation should cost between $16,000 and $50,000+ for a full passive heating and cooling system. Massachusetts residents can find a spreadsheet with information on the costs of recent solar installations in Massachusetts over the past several years, along with the applicable rebates the homeowners received, at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s web site.
  7. Get a fixed date for installation to begin and end. Your contractor should have the work pretty much all figured out ahead of time and should be able to tell you how long installation will take and when they will be able to begin the work. A good contractor won’t get thrown by a project overrun and should be able to plan accordingly for all contingencies. Be sure to ask the previous customers if the contractor finished their job on time as well (see Get Referrals above). You don’t want to be starting an installation in central Massachusetts in late September only to have it held up past the first cold spell in October.
  8. Get the warranty specifics for your equipment and save it in a safe place. Solar equipment lasts a LONG time and requires very little on-going maintenance, so chances are you’ll forget the brand name and maybe even the installers name after 20 years, so you’ll want to have this information handy in year 18 should anything go awry.
  9. Don’t forget your rebates! Most U.S. state have some form of rebate program, and if your state doesn’t, your local utility company most likely does. Your contractor should be intimately familiar with all the available rebate programs and how to apply for them. A good contractor may even file the rebate requests on your behalf – it never hurts to ask them if they will! Check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, for a list of available rebates in your state.

Congratulations on taking the first steps toward energy independence! If you have more questions on solar power or other forms of alternative energy in the home, read my other blog posts or visit my web site at for more information. You can also find a listing of Solar vendors in the Eastern Massachusetts region on my web site under the Eco Friendly Partners page.

Until next time, Peace!


It Doesn’t Cost More to Buy an Eco-Friendly, Green Home

I already knew this from my EcoBroker course and the research I’ve been doing, but now my (new) favorite channel, Planet Green, has show after show confirming it – you don’t have to spend a lot more money in order to buy eco-friendly housing. If you’re building anew or remodeling, follow the three R’s – reuse, renovate, and recycle – and you’ll spend maybe even less than your original budget to be eco- and energy-friendly. In both cases, you’ll more than make up for it on the back-end with reduced utility bills, greater home comfort, and improved personal health.

Wanna do it? Wanna buy an eco-friendly home and reduce your ecological footprint? Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Shameless self-promotion first – hire a qualified real estate agent with a green designation, such as the Certified EcoBroker or NAR’s GREEN designations. We’re trained to help you deal with issues and find expert resources in areas such as indoor air quality, moisture/mold/mildew, asbestos removal, and we can even help you find lenders who are familiar with the extra mortgage features for energy-efficient homes that are available in the market today.
  2. Next, if you’re buying, go out and find a home you like. Your Realtor will be able to help you find all the homes in your area with the eco-friendly features that are important to you.
  3. So now you’ve found the home you want to buy, or you want to rehab/remodel your current place, the first step in the formal process is to have an energy audit conducted. The audit will list, in priority order, what projects should be undertaken to make the home more energy-efficient. You can find a list of qualified home energy raters at the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) web site.
  4. Follow the recommendations as outlined in the energy audit – be sure to have professionally trained contractors perform the work where necessary (such as asbestos removal). Even something as simple as using low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints can help make your home greener by eliminating many of the chemicals emitted from standard paint.
  5. If the work has required the use of contractors, they will be paid by the mortgage company out of the escrow funds your lender setup when you got an Energy Efficient mortgage. What? Don’t know about EEMs? See my previous blog post for more info.
  6. If your plans from the audit didn’t include solar, geothermal, or wind power, you can still take advantage of green power by switching your electricty source with your local provider. Just call your provider and tell them you want to buy a portion or all of your electricity from green sources. They can give you all the details when you call.
  7. If you did install any of the alternative power methods noted in #6, also be sure to check with your state for appropriate rebates and incentives. You can find a database of the state rebates and incentives at the DSIRE web site.
  8. After all those inside improvements, it’s time to look outside to see what you can do – try some landscaping to help with natural heating and cooling patterns of the seasons. Deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves in the fall) are best planted along the southern side of the home – this way they provide shade from the heat in the summer and they allow the sun in during the winter to add some heat to the home. Plant firs and pines to the north-northeast to act as windbreaks, especially during those winter nor’easters we’re all familiar with (most of us anyway).
  9. Don’t forget some composting or even water reclamation. In my hometown of Arlington, MA, the town annually sells blue rainwater barrels for homeowners to use to collect the rain, which is then used for watering gardens, washing cars, etc.

Ha! I’ll bet you thought I might end with a “Top 10” list here, but I like to be unconventional and I’ll stop at #9.

But where’s the money savings? First, your utility bills will be reduced, keeping more money in your pocket every month. Next, many energy improvements are eligible for federal and state tax incentives or rebates. For example – in Massachusetts, the portion of land on which a solar array or wind turbine is located is not subject to state property tax for 20 YEARS after installation! Imagine covering your backyard with solar panels and not paying any tax on your yard! Well, don’t imagine that maybe – your neighbors wouldn’t like you and you’d never be able to have a cookout. But you get the idea.

See? Not so hard after all, is it? For more ideas and links to Eco-Friendly partners in the Boston/Cambridge/Arlington Massachusetts area, visit my web site at

Until next time, Peace!


House of Horrors – The Day The Mold Spores Appeared

I recently toured a home wherein the listing agent referred to the basement as having “slight discoloration” from water damage. Of course, this is a bank-owned property so I took it with a grain of salt, expecting more than just some discoloration. Particularly after learning the house had been empty all winter and the pipes had burst in the first-floor kitchen, I knew there had to be more than just “discoloration.” I informed my buyer, who’s looking for a “good-deal fixer-upper,” and off we went to view the property.

Let’s start by saying this listing agent should have her license revoked – there wasn’t just “discoloration,” there was mold EVERYWHERE in the basement! It was like entering a house of horrors and all the walls were fuzzy with living organisms. This wasn’t just white or green mold either – this was thick, black mold on the doors, walls, windows, furnace, water heater, everywhere. It kinda looked toxic and I thought, “Man, they should be handing out gas masks to people before coming down here.” And I don’t think it was just a coincidence that my eyes were itchy and watery the rest of the evening.

I tell this story not to gross people out (though that’s always fun to do, too!), but to bring up the topic of mold and how every house actually has mold in it – but it’s a matter of keeping moisture under control and not allowing the mold spores a chance to land in a moist spot and grow. There are many types of mold, but none will grow without moisture present.

Some mold basics:

  • Every house has mold; it’s a matter of controlling the moisture level in your home.
  • Molds have the potential to cause health problems – allergic reactions are common.
  • Molds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases toxic substances (mycotoxins).
  • You can never totally eliminate mold spores from your home, but you can keep them from growing by controlling the source of their growth – moisture.

How to get rid of mold:

  • First and foremost, you must address the moisture problem; if you don’t, the mold will return.
  • If the area with mold is less than a 10×10 foot space, you can usually clean the mold up yourself.
  • If the area with mold is larger than a 10×10 foot area (such as in the house referenced above), you should hire a professional contractor with experience in mold remediation to perform the job.
  • If you also suspect mold may be contaminating the ventilation system, you should also have an HVAC professional investigate. In the meantime, do NOT turn on the ventilation system as that will cause more mold spores to be spread throughout the home.
  • If carpeting, ceiling tiles or other porous types of material have mold growing on them, they may need to be thrown away, as mold fills in crevices and empty spaces and you’ll never be able to get rid of all of it.
  • Avoid exposing yourself and others to mold
  • Do not just paint over moldy surfaces – the paint will eventually crack and peel

If you decide to do the cleanup yourself, be sure to wear a mask, gloves, and eye protection, preferably without ventilation holes. Scrape the mold off any hard surfaces, then clean and dry the area thoroughly. As mentioned above, porous materials may need to be tossed (unfortunately, no reuse or recycle here!). If you have furniture, sentimental or valuable items that have been affected by mold, consult a local furniture or other type of restoration professional who is familiar in restoring items damaged by mold or water.

For more information, refer to the Environmental Protection Agency’s pamphlet on mold, which can be found at the EPA’s web site. You may also call the toll-free EPA hotline at (800) 438-4318 for a free copy of the pamphlet. If you live in the Massachusetts area, feel free to check my web site for some local eco-friendly partners who may also be able to help you.

Until next time, Peace!