Paul Kazyak explains how he uses a thermal camera to reveal inefficiencies in his Westminster home April 14.
Paul Kazyak explains how he uses a thermal camera to reveal inefficiencies in his Westminster home April 14. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

For Paul and Clare Kazyak, their efforts to be more environmentally conscious and reverse their negative impacts on the Earth started with very small steps.

Paul and Clare have both been leaders in their children's Boy Scout troop and later Venturing Crew, a coed offshoot of the Boy Scouts of America, where they used their backgrounds in natural resources to educate youths about taking actions to protect the environment.

"If you're going to be teaching kids about environmental stewardship, you better be walking the walk," Paul said.

Each little action adds up, Paul said, and if everyone would look at their own actions and lifestyle and make similar changes, they could have an even greater impact.

Reducing energy use in the home

As a part of a crew project, the Kazyaks read the book "Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Plan to Lose 5,000 Pounds," which helps readers to calculate how much carbon dioxide they release through their activities and lifestyle, and consequently, how they can reduce that load. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas linked to global climate change.

The Kazyaks were also interested in buying solar panels, but knew they did not have the roof space to generate enough solar power to meet all of their needs. So before installing their solar panels, they used "Low Carbon Diet" to help evaluate where they could reduce their electrical use in their home.

An easy target was replacing their appliances, most of which were 25 years old anyway, Paul said.

In fact, he was able to use a thermal camera that belonged to the Venturing Crew to literally see just how wasteful some of his appliances were. Looking through the camera, he could see blue frosty waves emanating through his freezer door as the cold air leaked out of its insufficient seals.

In addition to buying Energy Star-certified appliances, the Kazyaks also downsized their appliances in some cases, such as their freezer, since their children were gradually going to college and moving out of the home. For their new refrigerator they opted for one that does not have an ice dispenser on the front door, Clare said, a feature that uses a significant amount of energy.

When their hot water heater started to leak in the basement, Paul quickly did research to see what the most efficient model would be that he could buy as a replacement.

While he was interested in an instant hot water heater, he realized it would take several weeks to order one.

Since it was an emergency situation, he opted instead for a heat pump hot water system, which is two to three times more efficient than a standard electric hot water heater.

Lighting accounts for 18 percent of the nation's electrical use, according to the U.S. Energy Star program, so the Kazyaks got away from incandescent lighting several years ago, first turning to CFLs and now gradually expanding into LED lights. Clare said she can find the CFLs a little too dim, but the LED lights use even less electricity while producing a stronger, brighter light.

Another source of electrical waste that most people don't consider is what Paul calls "vampire electricity," or electricity being drawn by electrical items that are off but still plugged in.

To reduce this waste, they started using power strips with off switches that stop items plugged in from continuing to draw power, or just unplugged certain items, like phone chargers, when they weren't in use.

Through all of these improvements, the Kazyaks were able to reduce their monthly electrical use from an average of 1,300 kWh to 500 to 750 kWh, Clare said, and their solar panels, which they purchased in 2010, produce 500 kWh.

"We've actually had many electric bills of $0," Clare said.


Reducing fuel consumption

Working in Annapolis and living in Westminster, Paul wanted to reduce the impact of his commute on the environment. So in 2004, they bought a hybrid Honda Civic.

Since that time, they've put 150,000 miles on the car and have been averaging 54 miles per gallon of gas, he said.

Wanting to go a step farther, in November the Kazyaks bought a Chevy Volt - an all electric car that has a gas generator back-up that recharges the car's battery once it runs out of power.

Clare works in Sparks, a 24-mile commute, perfect for the Volt's 30- to 45-mile range for the electric battery. So far she's driven 5,032 miles and used a total of 19.5 gallons of gas, she said, which calculates to 258 miles per gallon. Not to mention how fun it is to drive, she said.

"It's a good car, I love it," she said. "It's quiet to ride in and has more pep than any car I've been in."

When she gets home, Clare plugs the car in with an electrical cord that runs from the garage, and it takes about 10 hours to fully charge when using a regular 110 outlet if the battery is fully depleted. Then when she gets to work, she plugs it in again at her office's garage, so that it's ready to take her back home - gas free - at the end of the day.

Because the Volt runs on electricity, the Kazyaks have seen a spike in their electrical use, because the batteries use about 10 kWh per charge.

To further support alternative energy, they have a contract to buy wind power for their remaining electrical needs, Clare said, and at 8.9 cents a kilowatt, it's cheaper than what they were paying when they were on standard electricity.

Going green outdoors

In their yard, the Kazyaks have made an effort over the past few years to grow more of their own food, which meant expanding their vegetable gardens, including an 18- by 30-foot plot in the front yard, and installing drip lines to water them more efficiently.

Paul is planning to put a greenhouse up in the future, he said, which will allow him to produce even more food, particularly during the early and later parts of the growing season.

"We're just trying to have more local food, and that way you know what's going into it," Paul said.

Paul starts some of the vegetables in trays on his driveway and others directly in the ground. The heat coming off the driveway and house give the plants an extra boost, he said, and allowed him to have fresh tomatoes until December last year.

To preserve their extra harvest, they freeze, dehydrate and can their excess goods, Paul said, which allows them to rely on their own food for a longer part of the year.

To build up his soil, Paul makes his own compost from yard trimmings, vegetable and kitchen scraps. The finished compost improves his soil structure and gives nutrients back to the soil.

The expansion of the garden has led to a reduction of turf, Paul said, which means less yard work, though more of his time has gone into gardening. He uses an electric mower rather than a gasoline powered mower, which puts out more air pollution due to the basic nature of its motor.

With the Venturing Crew, Paul has helped coordinate and take part in numerous tree plantings in the region that have amounted to thousands of new trees being planted. But in his own yard, he makes an effort to give new seedlings a start.

Whether he plants a cherry tree from cherries that fall off his cherry trees, or whether it's a green ash or black oak that got its start from the woods at the edge of his property, Paul gives them a few years to get a head start then digs them up and puts them in containers to be planted in another location where they'll have more room. He also starts a few seedlings in tubes packed in a milk crate, allowing him to raise many more trees in a smaller space.

By his estimates, every gallon of fuel combusted in a vehicle engine releases 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, Paul said. But every tree he plants sequesters 20 pounds of carbon, he said, and will continue to take in that carbon dioxide throughout the life of the tree. So planting trees not only lessens the impact of use of fossil fuels now, but it projects its positive impact into the future as well.

Spreading the word

Because of the positioning of their house, the solar panels are on the front roof of the Kazyak house, and neighbors often ask about them. In fact, several have put up solar panels as well, as have some other families of members of the Venturing Crew, Paul said.

As for the Volt, most people don't realize it's an electric car until they see it plugged in, Clare said, and that gives her a chance to tell more people about it as well.

While Paul and Clare always cared about the condition of the Earth that they would be passing onto their three children, now that they have their first grandson, Peyton, that concern is magnified.

Paul said we are at a point of history where there now are alternatives to fossil fuels, and the country should be pursuing those options now rather than forcing the next generation to figure it all out once they run out.

"We shouldn't take it all and leave them with no way of producing their own electricity or anything else," he said.

Each step was small, but put together, they're able to live a relatively normal lifestyle and yet contribute almost no carbon footprint to the environment, Paul said.

"I have a T-shirt that says 'everybody can do something' and then says that I drive a hybrid," Paul said. "But you can't just do one thing and say that's enough. We have to own our piece of the mess and we have to do more."