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Green Cleaning

Dimethylbenzylammonium chloride, trisodium nitrilotriacetate chloride, butoxy ethanol. These unpronounceable solvents are some of the ingredients that are common within everyday cleaning products. They are also very harmful to your health and environment. Instead of introducing potentially life harming chemicals into the home in order to clean and disinfect, try using a combination of natural products that work just as effectively without carrying health or environmental hazards.

Since manufacturers of cleaning products are not required by law to list all the ingredients on the label it can be very difficult to determine what products are safe to use in the home. Dimethylbenzylammonium chloride is the active ingredient in Lysol, one of the most popular cleaning products found on the shelf. However, this agent is extremely harmful to fish and other marine life. The cleaning agent trisodium nitrilotriacetate chloride is found in some powdered detergents. It has been listed as a possible cancer causing agent by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as well as having harmful effects on the environment by preventing the eradication of metals in wastewater treatment plants. According to New Jersey Worker’s Right-to-Know Fact Sheet, solvents such as butoxy ethanol should be used with great caution because “it is a poison that can easily absorb through the skin” causing dizziness, light headedness and in extreme cases can lead to anemia through the destruction of red blood cells. This product has also been shown to impair kidney and liver function.

Switching to green solutions for cleaning is simple and easy, with all necessary items usually being found in the kitchen.

  • Baking soda: use it as a regular abrasive cleaner on sinks and counter tops, sprinkle onto carpet prior to vacuuming to deodorize, use to scour.
  • Lemon juice: cleans and shines metal fixtures like brass and copper, eliminates most household bacteria, dissolves soap scum and hard water deposits
  • Vinegar: disinfectant and deodorizer, performs like an all purpose cleaner, removes mildew, cuts grease
  • Borax: cleans walls and floors, disinfects, softens water

Here are some helpful combinations to maximize cleaning power

  1. All purpose cleaner: Mix ½ cup vinegar and ¼ cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) into ½ gallon (2 liters) water.
  2. Air freshener: Mix baking soda or vinegar with lemon juice and place on small containers around house to eliminate odors. You can also mix a few drops of essential oils, such as citrus or lemon, in a glass jar with water and use as a spray.
  3. Scrubbing paste: Pour liquid soap into ½ cup of baking soda until a frosting-like consistency is formed.
  4. Furniture polish: Mix ½ teaspoon olive oil and ¼ cup vinegar or fresh lemon juice in a jar. Dab cloth into mixture and rub onto wood surfaces.

Enjoy the freedom of having chemical free cleaners in the home which work just as effectively. By making your own cleaning products you can ensure the health of your family while simultaneously having a positive impact on the environment.

How safe is your plastic water bottle?

Among the 827,000 plastic water bottles produced in the U.S. in 2006, over three-quarters were discarded as solid waste according to the Government Accountability Office. While continuously using disposable water bottles, long after first purchased, may sound like a harmless solution to steadily growing landfills, on your body it may be another matter.

Storage, cleanliness, along with the growing use of plastics and chemicals in manufactured products, all carry various answers to the question — how safe is it really to reuse your plastic water bottle?

BACTERIA:
In addition to smelling and tasting bad if not properly cleaned, your water bottle’s bacteria has the potential of making you sick.

A study published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health in 2002 revealed significant levels of coliform bacteria – a commonly used indicator of unsanitary food/water levels – multiplying inside plastic bottles (despite treated, chlorinated water) in as little as 8-24 hours. While the study determined that greater test samples were needed to determine the root cause – though some blame most bottle’s narrow opening, preventing adequate cleaning – it largely concluded that drinking water from a public fountain may be safer than from water bottles when both were compared.

BISPHENOL A (BPA):
Bottles not properly stored and/or rundown can also create trouble, health wise.

Bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen used to harden plastic is commonly found in items like bottles, Tupperware, and even canned food. Because of BPA’s potential effects seen on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it may be safer to purchase a bottle that’s deemed BPA-free.

When scratched, worn down or heated (intentionally or in warm weather, including a hot car), these bottles show higher chances of exposing BPA into the water consumed.

While BPA is not a classified carcinogen (a substance that is known to lead or cause cancer) there have been studies weighing both scientists and doctors’ minds considerably on its health risks.

For instance, changes in human cells have been seen in laboratory tests when exposed to various plastic products and left to grow. BPA, again, as a synthetic estrogen, is cautioned by a substantial number in the scientific community to potentially cause breast cancer in women thanks to the elevated hormone levels. At the present time, however, the FDA declares that “the data are too uncertain at this time to draw any conclusions as to possible effects in humans at early developmental stages.”

What are the alternatives?

SIGG bottles:

SIGG bottles manufactured after 2008 (a prior snafu in their use of a BPA epoxy lining provoked an apology and voluntary product exchange), are assured to have minimal levels of BPA in their lining reasoning that it is “literally impossible to certify that something is 100% BPA free and to scientifically validate such a guarantee” according to their website.Learn how to clean your SIGG bottle

Aluminum bottles:
Made with an epoxy resin that may contain BPA, aluminum bottles – even lined ones – are not the more guaranteed choice of bottle material especially due to their susceptibility to corrosion.

Stainless-steel bottles:
Stainless steel bottles, without a plastic liner, are a safe choice. According to Nalgene they do not manufacture their stainless-steel bottles with these linings.

Nalgene bottles: 

While manufactured using polycarbonate material, the Nalgene bottles are a safer choice among others, promising a bare minimal level of BPA in their product. The company says they monitor reports of “some concern” and “potential heath risks” by the FDA but lean on the concluding scientific agreement that the overall health risk and data are uncertain.

PlastiPure bottles:
A new item, PlastiPure bottles is advertising itself as not only BPA-free, but also of other chemicals that can cause Estrogen Activity (EA).

A study published in July by the National Institute of Health Sciences found that in sampled commercially available plastics, there were some instances where BPA-free products leaked chemicals with more EA than products known to have BPA. Supported by grants from NIEHS, PlastiPure says their technology has finally reached an EA-free material for their products.

Sources:
http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09610.pdf

http://www.enviroliteracy.org/article.php/63.php

http://hopewellaveps.ocdsb.ca/parent-information/WaterQualityInPersonalWaterBottles.pdf
http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/PublicHealthFocus/ucm197739.htm#background

http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/CancerCauses/OtherCarcinogens/GeneralInformationaboutCarcinogens/known-and-probable-human-carcinogens
http://www.npr.org/2011/03/04/134240436/plastics-new-frontier-no-estrogenic-activity
http://mysigg.com/about/health-safety/
http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1003220

Photo credits:
http://mysigg.com/store/swiss-cross-red-touch.html
http://store.nalgene.com/PhotoGallery.asp?ProductCode=32+Ounce+Narrow+Mouth
http://plastipure.com/our-products

Pure Drinking Water from Air

A couple of years ago we reported on a water from air unit we used in the Caribbean island of St. Maarten (http://www.green-trust.org/wordpress/2008/06/13/air-water-generators/). This was a compressor based unit, that works like a dehumidifier and extracts the humidity and purifies it for drinking. We recently came across a non compressor unit, which reduces cost, and energy consumption. We have a sample coming next month, and the technology looks exciting. It uses a hygroscopic film, with electrostatic and carbon filters. We will keep you posted.

Standing Seam Metal Roof with Solar Panels

A metal roof with built-in solar panels is the most energy efficient and longest lasting solar roofing solution. A metal roof will usually last in excess of 50 years, and solar PV panels usually last 30+ years with minimal loss of efficiency or or electric power production. The combination of the two creates a one-time green roofing investment that will pay for itself over time, and then it will produce free electricity. Such a smart combination eliminates the chance of roof leaks, since there are no roof penetrations, and gives a homeowner piece of mind and confidence in their green metal roof.

Why go with a metal roof, instead of asphalt shingles:

Why would you want to install PV solar panels with a metal roof, instead of installing it on the existing asphalt shingle roof? The answer is very simple; asphalt shingles last an average of 15 years, while your solar panels should last at least 30 years. That means that even if you install your solar panels over a brand new asphalt shingles roof, you will have to remove the whole solar system in 15 years, replace the roof, and then put the solar panels back onto the roof. With the installation costs of a solar PV system being about $2 per watt, and an average solar system size of 3 KW, you will have to pay an extra $6000 (in today’s dollars, before any inflation is calculated) to reinstall your solar panels, and another $1500-2000 to
remove the panels, so that the roof can be replaced. With today’s average solar system price of $9-11 including solar panels, inverter, all wiring, rack-mounting system, permits, installation, etc.), the removal and re-installation price amounts to about 25% of the total solar system cost.

A properly installed standing seam metal roof will easily outlast any asphalt shingles roof by 3 time or more, and it will also outlast a warranty period on any solar panels. When your solar panels get old, and start producing less electricity than what they were designed for, you will have an option to either keep the old solar panels or install the new ones (as a side-note – average efficiency loss of a solar panel is 0.5% per year or 10% over a 20 year warranty period). All your infrastructure will already be in place, and you can simply swap the old solar panels for the new ones. You may also have to swap the charge controller / inverter. In 20 or 30 years, as technology progresses, the efficiency of solar panels and inverters will be much higher, and the cost per watt will be considerably lower. At the same time you will still have your metal roof, performing at 100% efficiency – being leak free and beautiful, that is.

Installing solar panels on a standing seam metal roof

Solar panels can be attached to a standing seam metal roof in two different ways. One is to use a thin film Solar PV panel laminated inside the pan of a standing seam metal roof – a so called solar metal roofing concept, when solar panels are integrated with the roofing material. The limitations of solar metal roofing include lower efficiency (per sq. foot or sq. meter) of the solar PV laminates. Therefore you would need double the roof area to get the same number of kW of a solar system. Also the size limitation of each solar PV laminate (18 feet long panels) make it impossible to install them on roofs with a roof run of less than 18.5 feet.

A better way to install solar panels onto a metal roof is to use S-5 clips or mounting brackets, specially designed to add adequate strength and support of rack-mounting systems installed on standing seam metal roofs. S-5 clops are made of cast aluminum blocks, with stainless steel tightening screws. S-5 clips are attached to the ribs or locks of a standing seam panel, and provide great pullout ratio, meeting and exceeding Miami-Dade county building code requirements for wind uplift.

S-5 Solar Panel mounting clamps allow for a quick and inexpensive installation of the solar rack-mounting system. Solar panels can be attached directly to the clamps, or to horizontal / vertical rails. The overall cost of such solar racking system is reduced from about $1 per watt, to about 50 cents per watt, or less. Also, you do not have to worry about any roof leaks, as there are no roof penetrations, and all mounting hardware is attached to the ribs of the metal roof panels.

You can also get a double tax credit for your solar roofing installation – Your first tax credit would be a 30% tax credit for solar panels, and and another one – up to $1500 cool roof tax credit. An average cost of metal roofing materials will exceed $5000 per roof, so you will be able to get a full 30% cool roof tax credit. With today’s metal roofing prices for steel standing seam ranging from $15000-20000, a $1500 tax credit will save you about 7-10% off your lifetime metal roof.

Houseplants: Nature’s Air Purifier

Constantly have itchy eyes, nose and throat? Is it hard to concentrate? Experience dizziness or nausea? You might be suffering from Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). The EPA defines SBS as “situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.” The main factors that contribute to SBS are impurities and toxins found in the air. These contaminants are mainly found within newer buildings that have better sealing and insulation. Although this professional sealing leads to a more energy-efficient home, it has the result of trapping pollutants within the circulating air of the homes ventilation system.
So how can you remove the contaminants from your home while remaining cost effective?

According to NASA research, having houseplants is a key way to filter the toxins found within the home. While plants go through the process of photosynthesis they pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it to oxygen. In addition to the plants natural cycle, NASA found that houseplants were also able to eliminate large amounts of trichloroethylene, benzene and formaldehyde. Trichloroethylene is commonly found in paints, adhesives, and varnishes. Benzene is a part of tobacco smoke, detergents, and gasoline. Formaldehyde is usually located within household cleaners, carpeting, and foam insulation. Since all of the items listed are very common to the home, it is vital to remove these toxins in the most efficient and environmentally safe way possible. NASA’s research of plants that removed the most toxins.

The research suggests that for every 100 square feet an indoor plant should be placed. Each plant should be potted in a 5-6 inch container to maximize the efficiency of air cleaning. On average, a single houseplant will show improvement in air quality within a 24 hour period.

Another benefit of having houseplants is the ability to improve mood. It has been shown that colors have a subliminal effect on human behavior. Green traditionally represents nature, good luck, and fertility. People find that the coolness of the green helps to promote tranquility and is believed to have healing abilities. The color green is also purported to relieve stress as well as being one of the most restful colors for the eye. Having the color green in a room, in the form of plants, serves the purpose of creating a comfortable ambiance as well as purifying the air that you breathe. Plants are the eco-friendly and budget friendly alternative to cleaning the air and changing the mood in a room.

 

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