The Five Eco Principles – Material Efficiency

While in Chicago in April, I had a chance to visit the museum of science & industry.  The experience was great, and my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the museum.  We were both intrigued enough to pay the extra ~$25 or so to see the smart house.  We were not disappointed, and left with some good ideas about things to re-use and things to purchase made from re-used items.  Recently, I thought it would be a good idea to share the principles with the readers, and figure out how you can best take advantage of them.  Today is the second one, focusing on Material Efficiency.

It looks like i’ve forgotten the Overview of the process, so ill give it to you here

  • Monday was Smart Design
  • Tuesday is Material Efficiency
  • Wednesday will be Energy Efficiency
  • Thursday will be Water Efficiency
  • Friday will be Healthy Environment

Material efficiency is important when desiging (and even purchasing) a home, or just about anything that you buy.  There’s no point in wasting materials, when building a home or otherwize.  The smart home was created with pre-fab construction, reducing the time to build and the materials needed for the home.  Saving material in the construction phase is important when constructing the house, as its typically the largest expense for the owner of the dwelling.  Not having to pay for unnecessary or wasted materials can take a portion off of the total bill.

Another point of material efficiency is the materials used for construction.  Taking this into consideration during the build and design phase can save you more money than you realize over the lifetime of the house.  The main reason that these materials are not used is due to thier (traditionally) high up-front cost.  Using a Solar Powered water heater is one of those things.  The solar water heater is more expensive at the beginning, but if you add in the energy used by your traditional water heater, as well as possible replacement due to old age or (hopefully not) catastrophe, then the solar option becomes cheaper.  I am fully aware what happens when you are building your home.  You are concerned with the rising price tag, and start to think of the initial bill (or loan amount) as opposed to the lifecycle cost of the itme.  If you come across this problem, ask yourslef this question: Why should I shortchange future financial and environmental benefits to save a small amount now? This home can be considered an investment, and any effort to lower operating costs will help you in the future.  If you plan on being in the home 20+ years, then why  go cheap now?

Just as important as using materials for greater financial efficiency and cost savings is taking into the inputs that have the lowest environmental impact.  Over the last 2-3 years, there have been great strides in making recycled and other low impact items very decoratively tasteful.  Here is a sample of offerings from Vetrazzo, whose countertops are made from recycled glass.  Who knows, some of it could be your old pasta sauce jars, beer or wine bottles.

Recycled Glass CountertopsImage from

If you decided to build a bookshelf, dresser or anything else, would you waste wood, nails, screws or any other input into your shelf? If the answer is no, then make sure that your builder or future home doesnt either.

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Sustainability and the New Saucepan

Recently, I purchased a new saucepan for my kitchen collection.  I was given a windfall, and decided to save the majority of it, but decided to take a bit and treat myself with a new saucepan.  Cooking is something I enjoy, and I had been eyeing a new sauce pan for some time.  The one that I have currently works just fine, however I am in the process of updating my cooking gear and looking to store the current set (given to my by an old roommate) for use in a possible vacation dwelling down the road.

So, you ask, Why does this concern me?

Well, the one that I purchased can be found here, and yes, I did pay 110.00 for a single pan.  I am well aware that it sounds like a but-load of cash (and it is).  When you think of the lifetime cost of the pan, however, it becomes cheaper than most pans.  A typical cooking set comes with 10 pans, and the one sold here costs $89.98.  It comes with two frying pans, 2 sauce pans, four lids and a dutch oven.

While growing up, I can remember my parents going through at least three of these sets, but I am sure that in their many years of marriage it could easily be double that.  I always wondered why they would get new cookware, and why the ones they bought did not last longer.  “They dont make stuff like they used to” my dad would say.  I always wondered why, but just  went along with it.

When the moment came (I regretted being an adult and having to spend my hard earned dollars on cookware), but I did the proper research and settled on a brand and began to purchase items piece by piece.  I’ve grown my collection up to four pieces at this point, and use each one frequently, and have never had any problems cooking (or cleaning!) any of them.  I have included a handy estimation chart to calculate the lifetime cost of purchasing lower quality cookware.

YearCostLifetime Cost

(I assumed a 5 year life span over 50 years.  If you have to buy your first set in your mid 20’s, I am assuming you wont need anymore cooking gear in your 70s.)

This does not count the shipping of the pots, nor does it take into account the ‘whole’ (or life cycle) cost of the product.  The whole cost is the cost of fuel for transport, the cost of materials disposal or any related costs of making, purchasing and disposing of the product 10 times!  As opposed to doing this, you could purchase one high quality set (here, total cost of $850) and use it for the lifetime.  While the set requires a large capital outlay, you can obtain your cookware piece by piece.  Will you ever really get “tired” of using the same pans for 50+ years? Well, maybe, but you can get over that.  These higher quality items will also be available for your children when you’re done on the planet.

Purchasing the cookware just once will also allow for a healthier planet in the longer term, as well as a positive return for your cooking new pan dollar.  So next time you need a new pan readers, what will you choose?

For further reading on life cycle analysis, check the following

  1. EPA Life cycle Analysis – EPA’s information about what a life cycle analysis is, and how it can help you.
  2. Life Cycle Assessment tool from Carnegie Mellon

Questions to the readers:

  1. Are there any products which you would pay top dollar for? If so, which ones?
  2. Do you consider the lifetime cost of a product when purchasing the item?