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Going green at home?

In this post we look at what constitutes a green home 

 

Eco-friendly. Energy-efficient. Sustainable. Responsible. Comfortable. Healthy. Economical. Smart. Fun.

Green Building is a whole-systems approach through design and building techniques to minimize environmental impact and reduce the energy consumption of buildings while contributing to the health of its occupants.”
—  City of Scottsdale Green Building Program

Ready to make the move to a green, eco-friendly, sustainable, energy-efficient home? It makes complete sense: Green homes are built using sustainable practices that conserve not only energy, water and other natural resources, but also preserve our environment, strengthen our local economy and promote a better quality of life for those who live there.

Benefits of a Green Home

  • Peace of mind – knowing you are contributing to global sustainability rather than global warming
  • Healthier for the occupants, the planet and future generations
  • Highly desirable from a resale value as demand — and energy costs — grow
  • Economical because it saves energy, water and other resources – and money
  • Eco-friendly and environmentally responsible thanks to use of resource-efficient and low-impact materials
  • Durable, comfortable and low maintenance
  • Cheaper to run!
     

Green Home Features

  • Built with local or regional materials such as adobe, block, brick, straw bale or advanced energy-efficient materials (i.e. Integra block or autoclaved aerated concrete)
  • Proper orientation, shaded areas and passive solar
  • Protected, shaded outdoor spaces to reduce the extreme temperature range between the exterior and interior of the house
  • Powered or supported by non-polluting sustainable energy sources including solar hot water, photo voltaics or wind
  • Super-tight building envelopes with upgraded insulation and high-performance windows and doors
  • Xeriscape (low water use) landscaping plus rainwater collection and storage systems
  • Energy Star-rated or better appliances
  • HVAC systems: Minimum 13 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating or better air conditioners utilizing efficient ductwork with adequate returns and filtration plus ceiling fans in all major rooms
  • Air source heat pump
  • Insulated properly
  • Healthy, comfortable indoor air quality and room environments
  • Sustainable interior materials (flooring like bamboo, concrete or cork and low VOC paint)
  • Water-efficient toilets, low-flow showerheads, graywater recovery systems, hot water recirculation system and other innovations

 

How to plant a tree

Trees reduce CO2 fact. You should know this….

How to plant a tree

  1. Choose at least a 5-to-6-foot tree grown to nursery standards.
  2. Select a site with enough room for roots and branches to reach full size. Avoid overhead and underground utilities.
  3. Dig a planting area as deep as the root ball and 3 to 5 times its diameter. Add fertilizer or other soil amendments.
  4. Set the root ball in the middle, even with ground level, but do not pack down the soil.
  5. Water generously.
  6. Stake the tree to flex with the wind. Mulch to within 6 inches of the tree trunk.
  7. Water regularly to keep the soil from drying out.

Did you know that…

  • Planting three trees around your house can block incoming sunlight by as much as 70 percent and reduce air-conditioning cost by 10 to 50 percent.
  • Awnings, overhangs, and shutters mounted on the south, east and west sides of your house will save you $100 to $150 each year thereafter in cooling costs.
  • Tree-filled neighborhoods can be up to 9 degrees cooler than unshaded streets.

Trees, Please

Have you ever noticed how much cooler it is in a grove of trees, or even how much more comfortable you feel just hearing the sound of the wind rustling in the leaves? Besides the aesthetic pleasure they give, trees can improve our quality of life in other ways as well.

Because they use carbon dioxide as they grow, trees can offset and even reduce CO2 emissions. If you plant three trees on the southeast and southwest sides of your home, you can cut your air conditioning bills as well as clean up the air and cool the globe. According to American Forests, the nation’s oldest citizens’ conservation organization, there are at least 100 million spots around our homes and in our towns and cities suitable for trees. When trees shade houses, buildings and pavement from the sun, they help cool down the “heat islands” that build up around pavement and other dark surfaces. “Nature’s air conditioners” also help clean up he air, by filtering airborne particles with their leaves and branches.

Trees and the forests they create play a critical role in maintaining the health of our environment. Their root systems prevent erosion and thereby protect water quality. Their leaves filter the air and, through the shade, they cast, reduce global warming. The natural community that develops around forests also helps protect the planet by providing a safe and nurturing environment for all kinds of fish and wildlife.

Unfortunately, forests in this country and around the world are being squeezed by increasing demands for wood and paper. For example, between 50 and 100 acres of tropical rainforest — an area the size of ten city blocks — are destroyed every minute. At that rate, there will be no intact tropical forest left within one hundred years. Forests in North America, particularly the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest, are also under stress.

Many offices and individuals have already begun to address deforestation issues at home and abroad by recycling paper and by buying recycled paper products. Here are a few other actions you might consider to minimize your need for wood:

  • Hire eco-conscious carpenters or contractors.
    A growing number of construction suppliers are using wood salvaged from other construction projects, particularly in applications that will be hidden from view when the construction is complete. Other contractors are opting for lumber that is “sustainably” harvested from forests, so that the trees are removed from the forest selectively, without destroying the entire forest ecosystem.
  • Consider alternative building materials.
    Agricultural by-products such as wheat straw, coconut palm and bamboo have become viable materials for home and office construction.
  • Try paper alternatives.
    Some consumers and companies are turning to kenaf, a paper-like product derived from the fast-growing hibiscus cannabis plant. The plant produces 3-5 tons more fiber per acre than comparable trees that are harvested for paper production, and require 15-25% less energy during the production process.
  • Use computer technology for correspondence.
    Instead of printing out memos or letters on stationary, use electronic mail to get your messages across.

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 www.uncommongrounds.net 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).

12 Easy Steps to a Healthier Home

You’re eating organic foods, exercising more and generally improving how you care for yourself. Well done! Now it’s time to focus on the health of your home. Research shows detoxing your home of harsh chemicals and synthetics can improve the health of you and your family. And, it’s a lot easier than you think. Look at the list below and choose what’s right for you and venture forward – one step at a time.

  1. Replace Toxic Cleaning Products
    The quickest way to reduce toxins in your home is to replace toxic cleaning products with effective, earth friendly ones. There are a variety of natural cleaning products on the market but some of the best germ/dirt fighting cleaners are in your kitchen pantry. White vinegar (or apple cider vinegar), lemon juice, baking soda, club soda, and borax are just a few. Get yourself a copy of Clean House, Clean Planet as it is a wealth of information and recipes on how to clean your home with ingredients you probably already have.
  2. Reduce the amount of plastic in your home.
    Plastic releases toxic fumes long after you’ve purchased the item. Consider choosing glass or ceramic containers to reheat leftovers, solid wood or natural baskets in place of plastic bins (check out www.diynet.com for simple construction ideas), wood instead of plastic toys and choose natural fibers instead of vinyl for upholstery and tablecloths.
  3. Use Low VOC Paints
    When painting, use low VOC paints found at www.bioshieldpaint.com or try old fashioned milk paints (http://www.milkpaint.com) for a beautiful, healthy alternative. These choices are both good for your health and for the ozone!
  4. Choose solid wood instead of pressed wood furniture � especially for children’s rooms.
    Pressed wood, aka particle board, releases formaldehyde for years polluting the air around you. Check your yellow pages for a bare wood furniture store. The prices are typically very affordable and you can finish yourself (use low VOC paints ^ see above) saving you money and exposure to toxic chemicals. Take it a step further and ensure that the wood is sustainably grown.
  5. It reduces dehydration and saves energy.
    Drink lots of water and turn your heating thermostat down 5 degrees and your air-conditioning thermostat up 5 degrees. Believe it or not, they go hand in hand. On the go, use a stainless steel water bottle instead of plastic, which has been shown to leach.
  6. Create a microclimate in your home by adding plenty of green plants.
    It adds to the humidity of your home and green plants absorb many of the chemicals released by furniture, carpets, paint, etc. They also add plenty of beauty too. Mind you – we’re referring to live plants…not the green plastic ones!
  7. Natural Fiber Mattress
    When it’s time for a new mattress purchase a replacement made with natural fibers. Wool is a great fiber year ’round and allows for moisture to be wicked away providing a better nights sleep. Wool is also a natural fire retardant eliminating the need for toxic chemicals (here’s an interesting note: Synthetic foam found in most mattresses  burns like jet fuel once ignited). Natural cotton and latex are also great choices as they don’t have the toxic chemicals of foam filled beds and are just as supportive. Click here for more information on the benefits of a natural mattress. Of course, don’t forget organic cotton linens. Most sheets use formaldehyde in the sizing and it’s released even after it’s been washed many times so organic cotton is the healthy and environmental choice
  8. Prevent colds and allergies by purifying the air.
    This can be done several ways. Purchase an essential oil diffuser such as a geode aromatherapy diffuser. Use a blend such as Amrita’s Invincibility Aromatherapy Blend to fight viruses and illness causing bacteria. If you don’t want to go to the expense of purchasing a diffuser, you can simmer (not boil) a pot of hot water on the stove and add about 10-12 drops of essential oil. For allergy sufferers, purchase a HEPA filter or an IonizAir. Use a vacuum cleaner that is bagless and utilizes a HEPA filter to trap dust and hair. We recommend the Dyson DC07 All Floors bagless vacuum. For mold, be sure to check the surrounding area for leaks as mold thrives in damp areas. To get rid of mold, simply spray a solution of borax and water to the area and let sit. Scrub.
  9. Practice organic gardening methods.
    Check out this fabulous website http://www.greenfire.net for organic fertilizers. They offer a product called Earth Juice that is an organic liquid fertilizer good for both lawn/trees/houseplants. It’s concentrated and affordable too (a quart is about $11). They also carry beneficial insects, predatory nematodes and other goodies to help your garden grow. Build a compost bin or purchase an easy to use Envirocycle that comes assembled and all you have to do is occasionally spin to produce beneficial compost and compost tea. For organic herbs and medicinal plants check out Lingle’s Herbs at http://www.linglesherbs.com. They offer excellent quality plants and have an informative website and newsletter. You can subscribe by emailing subscribe@linglesherbs.com. Tell them that greenfeet.com sent ya.
  10. Eat organically.
    Recent research has shown that not only does organically grown food taste better – it’s better for you. Many organic products are similarly priced to their conventional counterparts, but mostly you can expect to pay roughly 30% more for organic. The price is higher due to increased growing costs (they don’t use cheap pesticides and many times hand weed and hand harvest) and higher freight cost (vine or tree ripened fruit doesn’t keep as long). Explore your local farmers markets and natural foods stores for good values.If you don’t have access to a natural foods market explore local CSA members. CSA or Community Supported Agriculture is a growing movement of local farmers who have banded together to spread the word of eating locally grown food. By visiting this website http://www.csacenter.org/statesfr.htm you can enter in your state and find a local CSA near you. Here’s how it works. You pay a weekly fee for a box of locally grown fruits and veggies during the harvest. If it’s a hard year, there’s not much in your box, but if it’s a bountiful year, your box overflows with produce! It’s a wonderful way to support local agriculture, support organic farming and benefit from a variety of goods.
  11. Choose pure, natural skin care.
    Many small companies make wonderful skin and hair care products without the use of chemicals and extenders. Nature provides an abundance of alternatives and when you find a gem, well, odds are you’ll be hooked. Just be sure to read labels, ask questions and most importantly, use your products when you get them. Natural products usually have a decent shelf life, however, they won’t last indefinitely as chemically preserved ones do. They’re typically hand made and created with your health in mind.
  12. Try alternative and complementary therapies
    Explore and be open minded about alternative and complementary therapies in regards to everyday aches and pains. Homeopathy, aromatherapy and herbal medicine have been practiced for hundreds and in some cases, thousands of years and have a track record. Not all practices are for everyone, and do consult with your doctor if you are taking prescription medications. Knowing and understanding how the body works and responds does a lot to facilitate healing. Knowledge is power and this is one area where you, and your family, can benefit greatly. Once you find what works, stock your medicine cabinet accordingly.

These are just a few ideas to create a healthy and less toxic home. Don’t feel as though this is a daunting task. Just take one idea and try it. Then move one to another. If you would like to learn in more detail about the above ideas, purchase the book Living Organic It’s a beautiful and informative book loaded with practical ideas to detoxify your home. If you are looking for more detailed recipes for natural cleaning products definitely purchase Clean House, Clean Planet as it is a wealth of information on how to clean your home with everyday items. You’ll save enough money in a month to pay for the book. Your wallet and your body will love you for it.

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.

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