By Environmental Engineer Vern Novstrup.

Dear GreenLight:

I live in a rented apartment. I would like to reduce my electric bill. However, when I talked to the owner about replacing the existing light fixtures he refused saying it would be far too expensive. Is there anything I can do my self?

J. A.

Dear J. A.:

Even in a rental unit there is a lot you can do to reduce your electric bill.

The first and simplest is to make a point of turning out the lights when you leave the room.

Second, you can install compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in the existing fixtures. The new, sub-CFLs screw into conventional sockets and fit inside most existing fixtures, with lengths ranging from 4.7 to 6.6 inches. They produce enough light to replace standard 60- to 100-watt incandescent light bulbs, using one-fourth to one-third as much energy and they last 8 to 10 times longer. Low cost CFLs may be purchased through most home improvement centers. Recently, the Department of Energy, working with several manufacturers, set up a web site to sell low cost CFLs (less than $9). The DOE site may be accessed at:

Third, if you own any halogen torchiere lamps, consider replacing them with CFL torchieres. Halogen torchieres use about five times more energy and are a potential safety hazard due to excess heat.

Finally, when you purchase appliances, buy EnergyStar compliant products. Even though EnergyStar compliant products may cost slightly more, they reduce energy consumption and utilities bills significantly.

By turning of lights when you leave a room, installing CFLs and buying Energy Star compliant products, you can reasonably expect to reduce you electric by up to one half.

Dear GreenLight:

I'm planning to paint the several rooms in my house and would like to avoid the paint odor as well as minimize any environmental impacts. Any suggestions?

J. C.

Dear J. C.:

The primary cause of the odor from drying paint is the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Although manufacturers have done a lot to reduce the VOC content in paint, virtually all paints, including water-based paints, contain some VOCs. As a result, you can expect to get some smell. You should be able to minimize the paint odor by opening windows to allow plenty of ventilation. If possible, keep the freshly painted room ventilated for several days.

In addition to the issue of odor, other environmental issues associated with painting include VOC emissions, which contribute to smog formation, and waste disposal.

The only effective approach for minimizing VOC emissions is to select a good quality one-coat low-VOC paint. An Army base recently studied commercial paints to identify acceptable low-VOC paints. They recommended the following maximum VOC contents: interior flat paints 50 milligrams/liter (mg/l); interior semigloss and gloss paints 150 mg/l; exterior flat 100 mg/l; exterior semigloss and gloss 200 mg/l. The study includes a list of products that meet the above criteria. The complete study report is available at:

By selecting a water-based paint you can dramatically reduce cleanup and waste disposal issues by avoiding the need for solvent to clean brushes. In the case of water-based paints, homeowners may simply wash brushes and other equipment out in a sink. NEVER dump painting cleanup water into a storm drain.

Leftover paint and cleaning solvents should be resealed into their original container and turned in to a local paint recycling center or household hazardous waste collection facility. Contact you city government for information on these programs.

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