Category Archives for "Eco Friendly"

It’s a New Year: Resolve to Reduce Your Impact on Mother Earth

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year? What did you resolve to do? If you’re like many folks, you may have resolved to quit smoking, to exercise more, or to keep in better touch with far-flung family members. Whatever resolutions you made (or even if you didn’t make any at all) we have a great suggestion to add to your list: make a commitment to do three things to make your life a little greener.

We’re not talking major, life-changing adjustments here. We mean making simple, but effective changes that have a real impact on your life, on the planet, and in many cases, on your wallet.

To get you started, we’ve put together a list of simple things that you can do to start or sustain a greener, healthier life. Pick three, and see what happens! Of course, there are hundreds of little changes you can make that result in greener living – we’ve compiled a few to get the ball rolling.

  1. Recycle. If you don’t do it already, then start. If you already recycle, then kick it up a notch. Yes, it can be a bit of an inconvenience at first, but with practice you’ll be experiencing “recycler’s guilt” (hanging onto a soda can during that entire 50-mile drive so you can recycle it at home) in no time. Remember to close the loop and buy recycled!
  2. Limit the use of paper products – especially things like paper plates, napkins, paper towels, and cups. Sure, these products make sense at times — but when you do need them, try to use unbleached products. Paper’s natural color is brown, so chlorine bleach is used to whiten it. Chlorine is bad for you and the earth, and there are plenty of unbleached choices out there. If you must have white paper, look for items that are peroxide bleached – it’s a much healthier and environmentally friendly choice. Also, consider items that have recycled content. This can be disposable dinnerware, copy paper, scratch pads or even toilet paper. They’re a smart consumer choice.
  3. Revisit your throne. Call it what you will – the loo, the toilet, the porcelain god, the john – they all are huge water wasters. If you need to replace your toilet, be sure to choose a water-saving model. If you’re not ready to replace it, take a quart-sized plastic bottle, fill it with water, and place it in your toilet tank (make sure to keep it clear of any moving parts). This displaces enough water to save up to 8 gallons a day for the average family. That adds up to a whopping 3,000 gallons a year.
  4. Install compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)(click here). CFLs have come a long way in producing flicker-free, bright lighting. They also can help you save big bucks: on average, they last eight times longer than standard incandescent bulbs, and they cost significantly less to run. Today, there are many styles and shapes to choose from.
  5. Buy organic milk. If you or your kids are dairy drinkers, then this is a must. Dairy cows are routinely fed pesticide-laden grains, given antibiotics to fend off illness, and injected with hormones to create a higher yield. All of these unnatural products are transferred into the milk. Organic milk is priced competitively, and sends a definite statement to the dairy industry to clean up their act. To answer the most common question we get regarding organic milk: yes, it tastes the same as regular milk! In fact, many argue that it tastes better.
  6. Buy organic produce. Many stores stock certified organic foods at competitive prices. At the market yesterday, this author purchased organic Granny Smith apples at $.30 less per pound than the conventionally-grown ones in the next aisle. The most common, pesticide-laden produce items include strawberries, green beans, apples, grapes, and peaches. Buy local, and buy in season. That way, you not only reduce pesticides, but you also help reduce the gas and resources required to get the products to the market.
  7. Buy organic or shade-grown coffee. Shade-grown coffee producers employ many of the same practices as organic coffee producers, but their practices offer a few added benefits. Shade-grown coffee is grown under a large canopy of multi-tiered trees, as well as under crop trees such as avocado, citrus, and various hardwoods. The combination creates an environment similar to a natural forest, and encourages birds and wildlife to create habitats there. Other benefits include: minimal or no pesticide use, since the canopy is home to a multitude of insect-eating bird species; no fertilizer use, since the trees find nutrients in compost from falling leaves and animal droppings; and alternation of crops, which brings stability to local communities and reduces dependence on a single crop. Farmers and local inhabitants benefit, too, because they are not surrounded by dangerous chemicals. Look for shade-grown coffee in your local market or check out for online ordering. Organic and shade-grown coffee tastes fabulous and is available in many flavors and decaffeinated.
  8. Terminate your weekly or monthly pest control. Pest control treatments frequently perpetuate an ongoing problem rather than solving it for good. In short, they act like a band-aid but don’t actually get to the root of the problem. The solution: load your caulk gun (or you can use white glue – it’s even less toxic) and take a careful look around your house for cracks, crevices, and holes where critters and insects can enter.For ants, put out a little cornmeal – when they eat it and then drink water, they’ll pop. Or, you can put boric acid ant traps deep into cabinets (avoid these if you have curious children or pets – they can be harmful if eaten). Another effective way to rid ants is to use dish soap. If you can locate the ant hill, simply take a bucket of hot water with an environmentally friendly dish soap added and pour directly on the hill.For rodents, a great solution is cats. If that’s not an option, professionals recommend the old-fashioned mousetrap. The best bait is peanut butter with a little cornmeal added. Place the trap in a brown paper bag and disposal is a snap. Don’t be stingy on the traps – the more the better until the problem is under control. After you have taken these steps, put out a few sticky traps and start to keep track: if you stay on top of it, after about two months you’ll probably have solved your insect/rodent problem and you’ll save a lot of money as well.
  9. Plant a tree (or two). Trees help clean the air, provide shade, and supply a much-needed habitat for birds and other wildlife. Check out American Forests Historic Tree Nursery to get a tree with a past.
  10. Use a green cleaning service. Green cleaning services are popping up all over the country. The cleaning service is the same – they simply use “green” cleaning products. The result? A clean and healthy home! Prices are usually competitive with traditional cleaning services, and you’ll be doing a service to yourself, the planet, and the cleaning people. Check your local yellow pages under “Cleaning Services” for listings.
  11. Switch to natural household cleaners (click here). If you don’t have a cleaning service (and the majority of us don’t), then make the healthy choice for cleaning supplies. There are many companies that produce superb, competitively-priced cleaners. These products are very effective, can help reduce the suffering of those with asthma or chemical sensitivities, and can improve the general overall health of you and your family. (See this month’s article on indoor pollution) Better yet, consider making natural cleansers yourself. The recipes are easy to make, and after a few weeks you’ll be throwing them together in a flash. We promise you’ll be shocked by how much money you can save each month by making your own safe, effective cleaning products.
  12. Patronize eco-friendly dry cleaners. “Wet” cleaning is the environmentally-friendly way to dry clean clothes. Dry cleaning itself actually involves washing clothes with a detergent and solvent that prevents the water from penetrating the fibers, but still removes dirt and grime. Wet cleaning uses a similar process, minus the toxic solvents. If that’s not enough to change your mind, then here’s another good reason to support eco-friendly dry cleaners: Perc, the solvent most commonly used in dry cleaning, is a known carcinogen, and has been proven to permeate walls into adjoining spaces and products. Many supermarkets are rethinking the idea of having dry cleaners as immediate neighbors. Perc and other dry-cleaning chemicals are not only bad for the environment, but they can also directly affect the health of workers and even customers. Most of the time, clothes are dry when bagged; but if they are damp, the solvents stay trapped, and when brought home create a common source of indoor pollution. The solution? Check out the Greenpeace directory for eco-friendly cleaners in the U.S. If you don’t have an eco-friendly dry cleaner in your area, then unwrap your clothes when you get home and let them out (preferably in a well-ventilated area).

Is your house ready for winter?

As much as I love to focus on interior spaces and how the design you approve and the materials you select can make a home both green and gorgeous simultaneously, the reality is that energy efficiency is a huge component of sustainable living.  With the changing seasons, it’s time to admit that your home is not ready for the cold winter and spend an hour or two on the un-glamourous part of smart home ownership.

Here are 3 favorite options to help make your home ready for winter.  They are an easy way to save around $100 per month this winter.

First – change the furnace filters.  Unless you have changed them in the last 3 months, it’s time to do it.  Starting the winter with clean, un-blocked filters is like starting the day with clean clothes.  Except with a furnace, the dirtier the filters gets, the more it costs to operate, and the more polluting particles escape into your vents.   All hardware stores carry a variety of filter sizes.   Cost = a few dollars per filter.  Benefit = cleaner air and savings on your gas bill.  For those who like accessories, add this simple furnace whistle onto the new, clean filters and they’ll tell you next time they need to be changed!

Second – wrap the water heater.  The benefits here are two twofold.  If the water stored in the tank is kept warm, it delivers warm water to your faucets faster and requires less energy to do so.   The result is a hot shower, faster and for less money.  These blankets are readily available locally, or here’s an online option from AMConservation.  Cost = less than $100 and they’ll last for years.  Benefit = less water used waiting for it to warm up, and savings on your gas bill.


Third — block the attic stairs.  We all know heat rises, and that hole in your ceiling is just pulling money out of your wallet.  Literally.  Ok, well not literally, but almost, it’s such a direct waste of money.   I covered ours, and the temperature at the opening increased by 5 degrees immediately.  Considering the pros estimate that each degree of heat represents about a 1% cost savings, the savings here will be noticeable.

So,  three easy steps to make winter a bit more bearable, on your wallet, on your air quality, and on yourselves.  No excuses!

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 ( 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.