Since our house was first built 13 years ago, it’s had very basic builder-quality under-cabinet fluorescent lighting. The lights were adequate, but not great. They were spread out widely, leaving dark areas under the multiple cabinets between each light. They didn’t direct their light very well for task work, and being rather bulky, the fixtures were also visible, sticking out under the cabinets:
This weekend Kathie and I replaced our old fluorescent under-cabinet lights with new ultra-bright high-efficiency LED strip lights. I bought a 5-meter (16.4 foot) spool of LEDs on Amazon for $25, from a company called HitLights. Here’s what the spool looks like:
To give a sense of scale, the 16.4 foot spool contains 600 bright LEDs—three lights per inch! The entire spool uses only 48 watts of electricity, less than a single incandescent light bulb. We have a few sections of cabinets, and none are 16 feel long, but that’s not a problem! The spool is designed to be cut with scissors at any 1-inch boundary, and after the cut, both spans are still perfectly usable. I’ll be cutting this spool into three sections for our three separate areas of cabinets:
Connectors can be purchased for a couple dollars to join cut segments together, to connect cut segments to power supplies, to make right-angle turns, etc., so there’s a lot of flexibility with how these lights can be used. Once we had the right length of lighting for our main cabinets (9 foot, 10 inches), we drilled some half-inch holes in the cabinet frames, and fed the lights through from one end of the kitchen to the other:
Next was the serious part. After shutting off the circuit breaker, we removed the existing fluorescent fixtures:
Each of the existing lights was controlled by a separate wall switch. For our new lights, we wanted to re-use one of those wall switches to control the entire row of lights. After removing the existing lights, we prepared one set of AC wires to splice into our LED light’s power supply:
The splicing was simple, and we used some double-sided tape and packing tape to secure the lights’ DC power supply and all the wires under the cabinets. The strip lights have a 3M peel-and-stick backing, so we peeled-and-stuck the lights to the underside of the cabinets. The circuit breaker was turned back on, the lights were successfully tested, and we now have much more useful, very efficient lighting in our kitchen:
Here is a view from above, showing that a granite countertop is very reflective, and you can see the lights’ reflection any time you’re working at the counter. We did a dry-run for a week by scotch taping the LED lights under the counter, and the reflection wasn’t a distraction for us, and is really not very different from seeing the reflection of the fluorescent light before. What you can really see here is how bright and uniform the light is, which is great for working at the counters:
And here’s a straight-on view of the end result… a result we’re both quite pleased with! The entire 10-foot section we installed uses only 25 watts of electricity. We have a few more smaller cabinets to do, and now we’re also thinking about some up-lighting on top of our cabinets. This would provide some nice ambient light across the entire kitchen at night, instead of always running our nine 75-watt recessed lights (675 watts total), which is our only option right now.
This final followup to Thoughts on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling focuses on recycling—the last option before heading for a landfill, and the one people think about most frequently.
Since recycling receives the most attention, most people have a pretty good idea of what should be done. The hard part then becomes doing it, all the time.
What can we easily recycle, and how do we do it? Unfortunately, this varies significantly from county to county and state to state. Here in Fairfax County, VA, we are lucky – we dump paper, plastic, glass, and cans into our cubside pick-up bins once a week. In other places, these items need to be kept separate, and sometimes even glass needs to be separated by color.
The things we recycle through our weekly curb-site pick-up include:
After these basics, there are a couple other things we regularly recycle that require a little extra attention:
Something we don’t currently do is composting food scraps. This is probably because the majority of our leftover food scraps end up inside our dogs! However, I’ve heard from friends who do it that it’s good way to reduce the need for purchasing fertilizer.
Have any other recycling suggestions? Click through to the web site and leave a comment on the post!
Click the Fairfax County recycling guidelines image below for a full-sized PDF version:
This second followup to Thoughts on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling focuses on re-use. We’ve found there’s a lot of options here, and all it takes is a little thought before throwing something in the trash or recycle bin. Here’s some examples:
We thought of a bunch of other things we re-use, but aren’t looking to make an exhaustive list—just some ideas to get the brain thinking. As before, feel free to click through to the article and leave a comment at the bottom with other ideas. Next up: recycling…
In this first follow-up to Thoughts on Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling, I’ll be talking about reducing consumption, eliminating the need to reuse or recycle.
I’ve come to realize there are two types of things we can reduce – one is usage-based consumables like water, electricity, or gasoline, and the other is more traditional items we buy individually. Here’s some examples of what we do today. In many cases they’re minor, but that’s OK!
The “usage-based” ways of reducing are probably much better understood and commonly followed:
Have other suggestions? Leave a comment!
When I watch the news and see millions of gallons of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the massive deforestation going on across the world, I sometimes wonder if my daily recycling of a couple soda cans and empty envelopes really matters. Part of the answer is that no matter how small my contribution is, it’s still the right thing to do, costs me only a few seconds of time, and I feel good about doing it. Of course the broader answer is that just like voting or volunteering, each individual’s contribution adds up to a whole that is millions of times more impactful.
We all know the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle trifecta, but in my experience only the last one—Recycle—gets much attention or conscious thought in our minds. What’s interesting is that the order they are listed in does matter.
While certainly important and worthwhile, recycling is the least effective and “last resort” solution for trash. Rather than sending something to a landfill, I can send it to be re-made into something new. It still needs to be hauled around though, and energy expended to recycle it, and its new form may end up in a landfill if the next owner is not as diligent.
Stepping up the ladder one rung, reusing items when possible is a significantly better choice. Now the item in question doesn’t need to leave my home at all, saving all that transportation and recycling energy. As an extra bonus, since it’s something I am now reusing, in some cases I’m also not spending money to buy a new one!
This leads us to the top of the ladder: reducing. Not buying (or accepting for free) an item in the first place not only means it doesn’t have to be sent away for recycling, it also means it doesn’t need to be manufactured in the first place—the ultimate in “green”.
My next three posts will address each of these options. I’ll be listing ways Kathie and I currently contribute to each “R”, and I hope you’ll leave some comments with other suggestions on how we can do more. We don’t claim to be an especially “green” household, but I think we do pretty well overall. If we can find a few incremental ways to improve, we’re looking forward to trying them out!
Landfill photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landfill