Your Natural Home
Creating a cozy hearth for the family

5 Affordable Solar Energy Options for 2017


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The cost of solar has been dropping in recent years, which is a trend that’s likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Breakthroughs in solar technology have allowed for a drop in production costs. The price of hardware once controlled solar prices, but now most of the cost for consumers comes from “soft” costs, which include things like marketing, labor, permitting and inspection. Regulators are still working out the rules for solar, but once the industry is better established, prices will presumably drop even more. Solar now often beats out fossil fuels for cost-effectiveness. As a result, 2017 is shaping up to be a big year for the renewable energy source. In fact, this may be the year you’re actually able to afford some solar-powered gadgets.

1. Good Ol’ Solar Panels

Solar panels have gotten much more affordable in recent years. In 2015, the cost of residential rooftop systems fell by five percent, while prices fell a whopping 12 percent for large solar farms. A combination of market forces and government incentives has led to the fall in solar panel prices. The exact rebates offered and the cost of electricity vary by location, so using an online solar cost calculator can help determine what your exact costs would be. Solar panels have recently gotten more visually appealing as well, with Tesla’s unveiling of its camouflaged solar panels, which look just like regular roofing tiles.

2. Phone Chargers

Solar-powered phone chargers allow for charging on the go that’s also environmentally friendly. Solar cell phone charging technology is now very reasonably priced, as well. You can find chargers for anywhere between $10 and $80. The top pick from The Wirecutter, which tested over 70 portable solar chargers, can charge most cell phones at almost regular speed, and with less than a full day’s worth of sunshine. It’s also lightweight and costs only $50. Larger models are also available, which can charge things like laptops and televisions. For those looking for a sustainable portable charging solution, solar may be your best bet.

3. Outdoor Lighting

It’s now possible to use solar-powered outdoor lighting to enjoy the outdoors for a reasonable price. Outdoor landscape lighting, porch lights and other solar options are cost-effective, require no electricity and look nice, too. Many models can also be put on a timer or turn on automatically when it gets dark. They may not be as bright as electric lighting and may not last as long, especially if it’s a cloudy day, but solar is still a great lighting option for the outdoors. You can get a kit with multiple lighting fixtures for $60 and up, or individual fixtures from anywhere between $5 and $150.

4. Wireless Keyboards

With a solar-powered keyboard, you’ll never have to worry about changing the batteries in your wireless keyboard again. Logitech offers two models of solar keyboards: the K750 and the K760, for around $50 each. The keyboards charge with natural or artificial light and, according to Logitech, will hold a charge for three entire months even in complete darkness. The K750 even offers an app, which allows you to check the charge level of your keyboard. The fact that these keyboards hold a charge for so long means you really won’t ever to have worry about the battery life of your wireless keyboard again.

5. Solar-Powered Wi-Fi

Solar-powered Wi-Fi is providing free internet access to people around the world. A company called Soofa makes benches that feature a solar panel, which powers free Wi-Fi and phone charging capabilities. The benches have been installed in multiple cities in five countries. Gadgets such as solar-powered wireless repeaters can be bought online for a few hundred dollars. And with the introduction of solar-powered Wi-Fi, individuals and governments can lower their internet costs substantially.

The way we produce energy is changing thanks to market forces, consumer choices and government policies. Solar power is one of the sustainable energy sources that’s now becoming affordable for the average person. 2017 may be the year solar really gets to shine.


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4 Winter Home Improvement Projects


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Did you know that the buildings you spend the most time in, such as your home, can have a major impact on your health and well being? Sick buildings - those relatively few buildings that can cause serious health consequences - may get all the headlines, but there are countless ways that your home could be impacting your health in both positive and negative ways as well.

During the winter months, people spend more time indoors, so it makes sense that any issues your home may have will become more apparent, negatively impacting your health. Tackling these issues during the fall gives you time to get your home healthy and clean up any issues that summer’s heat and humidity may have brought on.

Your health can be directly impacted by the state of your home. Cleaning up certain areas using these tips will help you avoid health complications that a winter spent indoors can bring.

Tip 1: Keep Air Humid

The winter months are tough on everyone. You’re indoors more than you’d like, and all that togetherness tends to spread germs easily. One way you can make your home more comfortable during the winter months is by installing a central humidifier.

According to the Mayo Clinic, humidifiers can ease skin and breathing problems commonly exacerbated by dry air. They may also make it more difficult for germs to take hold in your respiratory tract, meaning that you’ll be healthier all winter long.

Cost

The cost of installing a 10 gallon drum central humidifier in your home is around $390.

Money Saving Tips

To get the most out of your new humidifier, install a humidity gauge at the same time. This will ensure your humidifier runs at optimum times rather than constantly, which can optimize comfort and keep energy bills down. To save even more, consider installing the unit yourself; drum humidifiers are among the easiest to install.

Tip 2: Get Rid of Pests

During the winter months, pests may try to make their way inside your home. Rodents and other unwelcome guests can carry diseases such as salmonella and hantavirus. They can also chew through wiring and displace insulation, driving up energy bills and potentially starting a fire. Find ways to tackle these pests in the fall to prevent them from entering your home, as well as eradicate nests they’ve made in preparation to move indoors. Stay vigilant as the weather turns cooler to help make sure your home stays pest free.

Cost

The average cost of pest control is around $200 to $300.

Money Saving Tips

Have your home inspected as soon as you think that there may be a problem. The longer you wait, the bigger (and more costly) the infestation.

Prevention is your best bet at staying pest-free. Seal up any cracks or holes in your mortar or siding to keep critters from getting in, and keep food in airtight containers to ensure they aren’t getting enough to eat.

Tip 3: Improve Air Quality

If you have a central HVAC system, you probably don’t give much thought to the ducts that carry air through your home. However, according to the National Institutes of Health, there are specific instances when cleaning air ducts has a direct impact on your home’s air quality. If you have noticeable dust or debris rising from vents when they are turned on, slime, microbial growth or mold built up on the ducts themselves, or an unpleasant odor when the air is turned on, cleaning your ducts can help.

Cost

The cost to clean your air ducts is around $300 to $500 for the whole house.

Money Saving Tips

The EPA recommends having your HVAC system cleaned rather than your ducts, if you don’t notice any of the above issues. Doing so may save you money while eliminating problems.

If your ducts are so filled with debris that they restrict air flow, cleaning them could result in a reduction of as much as 20% of your energy costs.

Tip 4: Test for Asbestos

Asbestos is a scary word that conjures up images of lung cancer and injury TV. Unfortunately, according to the Asbestos Network, in many homes built prior to the 1980s, asbestos is all too common in floors, ceilings, insulation, and siding. If the area in question is left alone and in good condition, this shouldn’t pose a problem. However, if you’re planning on having work done on your home, this could be cause for concern. Having asbestos testing done can either give you peace of mind, or provide the information you need to make more informed choices regarding your home going forward.

Cost

The cost of asbestos testing is around $1500.

Money Saving Tips

Only test areas that are either in poor condition, or that you plan on remodeling. Otherwise, asbestos can be left alone in its current state without having a negative impact on your home. This will save you a significant amount over having random areas of your whole house tested.

The fall months are the perfect time of year to take care of all of these projects, because the colder winter months are the time when most people tend to stay indoors. Cleaning up your air quality and improving the health and comfort of your home can make the winter more enjoyable and healthier for your whole family.


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5 Eco-Friendly Halloween Decoration Ideas

We’ve all probably experienced nature in a multitude of ways, but its transformative power never fades. Today, researchers are beginning to prove the positive effects that time spent in nature has on our minds and bodies. Although fall and winter may not always seem as uplifting as spring and summer, it’s still important to enjoy the natural world throughout the year. Spend time outdoors and bring the outdoors inside with these simple, eco-friendly decorating ideas for Halloween.

Living area decorated for Halloween
Photo by Fotolia/monochromst.

Gourds Galore

Gourds, of all shapes, sizes and colors, are available during fall. Use them to create centerpieces for Halloween parties, or simply sit them around the house to add a touch of the season to every room. Much like pumpkins you can paint them, carve them or eat them…it’s up to you!

Terrifying Terrariums

Terrariums are simple, easy-to-maintain ways to bring greenery into your home. If you’re not much of a gardener—or it’s already too cold to garden outdoors—create an indoor, haunted landscape. Add a few frightful elements, like a gravestone or ghost, to existing terrariums to suit the season.

Biodegradable Pumpkin Patch

Turn your front yard into a pumpkin patch, full of gigantic pumpkins. Rake fallen leaves and collect them in biodegradable leaf bags. If your yard doesn’t produce enough leaves, ask friends, family and neighbors if you can rake their leaves—I bet they won’t mind!

Spooky Luminaria

Put your recycling to good use! Pull a few tin cans out the recycling bin to create your own luminaria decorated with spooky images. You can choose to keep it simple with bats and ghosts, or get more elaborate using ideas from your favorite Halloween movies.  Use these spooky lights to guide treat-or-treaters to your door by hanging them from trees or sitting them along walkways.

Wicked Wreath

Collect fallen twigs and sticks to create an easy, do-it-yourself wreath that costs next to nothing and incorporates nature into your seasonal decor. Add leaves or pine cones for a fall-focused wreath, or make it a little wicked with cobwebs, spiders and broomsticks.

Use the time needed to collect supplies for these do-it-yourself décor ideas as an excuse to spend a little more time in nature with your friends and family. Plus, kids, adults and crafting beginners will find these five decorations fun and easy-to-make. So, whether Halloween is your favorite holiday or just one of many, try one (or more!) of these ideas to mix up your décor.

Making Environmentally Sustainable Home Improvements


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Green living is the latest buzzword in the design industry, and eco-friendly homes are a much sought-after feature on the real estate market. To bridge the gap between green design theory and practice, every homeowner should carry out eco-friendly updates that will both reduce long-term utility costs and boost the property’s market value. But how exactly do you go green in your home on a reasonable budget? Easy: you just need to know which upgrades and tweaks entail the biggest bang for your home improvement buck.

Go Green with Materials

The choice of sustainable materials for various home updates is the simplest way to do a favor to Mother Nature. Look for materials certified as eco-friendly by relevant bodies, such as Cradle to Cradle or the Forest Stewardship Council. Eco-friendly materials for a partial or full-scale home update include cork, bamboo, and reclaimed wood flooring, homasote fiberboards, hemp-based products, cotton and blown insulation, recycled gypsum boards, and low-or no-VOC paints.

Save Water

Water scarcity is one of the biggest environmental challenges the planet is faced with today, and though large-scale solution to the issue will require comprehensive and intense collaboration between national authorities, there are a few steps you can carry out in your home to help improve your home’s water efficiency. Water-saving add-ons such as low-flow faucet aerators, water-efficient shower heads, and dual-flush toilets cost little compared to the long-term utility savings and green benefits their use entails. Also, turn off the tap when you’re not immediately using running water, i.e. when tooth-brushing or scraping food leftovers from the dishes when washing cutlery by hand.


Photo by Fotolia

The Eco Side of Appliances

When shopping for home appliances, check energy labels and ratings and opt for the greenest products available. When comparing refrigeration products, pay attention to the type of lighting: LED-lit fridges and freezers are a better option than standard counterparts with conventional internal lights. As for ovens and range hoods, your purchase should be based on trustworthy guidelines rather than supplier say-so, so make sure you make an educated choice and avoid greenwashing scams: not everything that has a green label is truly green.

Let There Be Green Light

consider replacing conventional incandescent bulbs with LED of CFL counterparts. Compared to standard lights, energy-efficient alternatives can last up to 3-25 times longer use as many as 25-85% less energy. Another simple option is to maximize use of natural light through the right choice of wall paint, strategic placement of mirrors or translucent wall panels that will help get sunlight flowing through your home without steep price tags to go with the brightness boost. To reduce the negative impact of intense sunlight indoors, you should consider outfitting existing windows and skylights with UV protection window films or even swapping conventional for tinted panes.

Out with Phantom Leaks

Every home has at least a couple of energy leaks that contribute to increased electricity bills and a household’s environmental footprint. Spare Mother Nature a thought: inspect your home for phantom leaks that are draining your home budget and generating added energy waste. The most common energy vampires are appliances and devices that continue drawing power, even when they’re turned off. Unplug all devices you’re not using at the moment, such as phone chargers, toasters, coffee machines and other small home tech you actively run only once or twice a day. That way, you’ll be curbing both energy waste and cash drain by a single no-cost move.

Homes designed with sustainability in mind are the future of real estate, and their value doesn’t just boil down to increased aesthetic appeal, market value, and utility savings. Environmentally safe home features are an investment in a safer and greener future for the generations to come, and we should all carry out at least a few cost-efficient updates in our living areas to help bring about a sustainable change in interior design and lifestyle. By greenifying your home from the floors to the ceiling, you can curb your household’s carbon dioxide emission by as many as 7.38 tons of CO2 a year – and if at least a half of us did that, the future of our world would be as safe and as bright as green houses.

Natural Mold and Mildew Removal Tips


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There is almost not a single house that didn’t have a moisture issue. Unfortunately, the moisture doesn’t just come and go – it leaves mold behind. Exposure to mold can cause many health issues, including breathing difficulties, headaches and skin and eye irritation. As a conscious consumer, you probably won’t want to worsen these symptoms with heavy chemicals contained in most commercial mold treatments. Luckily, there are healthier ways to deal with this problem. Here are some organic remedies for this unsightly and hazardous threat.

A Dehumidifier

A wet environment is the empire of mold and mildew—they grow and thrive in it. You can help cut this problem off at its root by removing the moisture from the space. Invest in a dehumidifier, which should keep humidity levels below 50 percent (the threshold for mold growth), and you won’t have to use chemicals or toxins to get rid of this menace. Also, dry the space as much as you can by opening the windows regularly, using ventilation fans, and checking for leaky plumbing.

An Air-Purifier

Another neat machine that can contribute to your cause is an air-purifier. It will help eliminate persistent mold and mildew spores, and keep health risks at a minimum.

Natural Grout and Tile Sealant

Unfinished tiles and unsealed grout in the bathroom and the kitchen leave the door open for mold and mildew growth. You’ll notice such issues if the grout is holding water for longer than it should, or if it’s staining. Luckily (for clay tiles, at least) there’s a natural way to reseal them with boiled linseed oil and melted beeswax.

Vinegar

If you are a natural cleaning devotee, then you surely know that plain white vinegar is one of the best natural cleaners you can find. Since it’s naturally antibacterial, you don’t have to mix it with any other ingredient. Just pour the vinegar into a spray bottle and apply directly on the mold and mildew “colonies.” Let it sit for a couple of minutes and then wipe it away with a sponge or a cloth.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is an all-natural fungicide. To use it for cleaning mold, you’ll need to mix it with water (around ten drops of oil in a spray bottle of water). Spray it onto surfaces affected with mold and mildew and leave it to do its work. Afterwards, scrub the surface a bit, and apply again if necessary.

Grapefruit Seed Extract

Tea tree oil is great, but it can leave a strong scent behind. Enter grapefruit seed extract, which is its odorless alternative. Just as with tea tree, you’ll need to mix the extract (20 drops) with water (spray bottle) and then apply it directly to the mold.

Distilled Ethanol

Use this just as you would vinegar, clean and undiluted. If you don’t have ethanol handy, it’s easy to find at most stores.

As you see, killing mold without killing the environment is quite possible, and even affordable, since most of the ingredients you need, you already have. Just remember, fighting the cause is just as important, if not more, as fighting the consequences, so get rid of the humidity in the house too.


Zoe Clark is an environmentalist, home decorator and DIY enthusiast. She is a visual storyteller and aesthetician by heart who often writes about decorating and DIY ideas. She loves sparking creativity in people and giving them ideas for their own spaces.

Build a DIY Coffee Station

DIY coffee station

Photo courtesy Kristin Marr

Most of us like to start our mornings with a hot beverage, whether it’s a French press full of coffee, a mug of herbal tea or simply a cup of hot water and lemon. A nice hot drink is just the thing to shake off the morning cobwebs and prepare us for whatever comes our way. We can honor this daily ritual and streamline our kitchens by giving our stash of coffee, tea and accoutrements its own special spot. This handsome DIY coffee station from the blog Live Simply can provide a functional space for tea bags, kettles, coffee grinders, mugs and more.

8 Household Uses for Eggshells

Next time you whip up a quiche or bake a cake, you may want to think twice before tossing the eggshells in the trash. From deterring pests to making better coffee, practical uses for eggshells abound. Note that, except when using them in the garden, raw eggshells should be sterilized before using. To do this, place the shells in a pan on the stove, cover them with water, boil for 5 minutes, and let them completely dry on a cookie sheet.

eggshell planter 

1. Start seeds

Eggshells make perfect biodegradable containers in which to start seedlings. Tap the small end with a spoon to crack it, then carefully remove the top and empty the egg. Use a funnel or spoon to scoop potting soil into the shells. When the shell is nearly full, use tweezers to gently plant seeds just below the surface of the soil. Place the eggshell planter in a carton in a sunny window, and gently mist the plant daily. When your seedlings are ready to plant outdoors, simply bury the entire eggshell. The shell will break down and provide extra nutrients for your plants.

2. Calcium boost

Perhaps the most obvious way to reuse leftover eggshells is simply including them in your compost. Eggshells are an excellent source of calcium and micronutrients for plants. Crumbling eggshells and adding them directly to the soil is helpful, too. The added calcium can help prevent plant diseases such as blossom end rot in tomatoes.

3. Coffee mate

Brewing coffee with eggshells can reduce its bitterness. After sterilizing, add crushed eggshells to coffee grounds and brew as normal for a cleaner, milder-tasting cup.

4. DIY doodlers

Eggshells can form the basis of homemade sidewalk chalk. Using a mortar and pestle, crush sterilized eggshells into a fine powder. In another bowl, mix 1 teaspoon flour and 1 teaspoon hot water. Add 1 tablespoon of eggshell powder and mix into a thick paste. Use food coloring or natural dyes to color the paste, then shape it into a stick by rolling it up tightly in a paper towel. Let it sit for three days, then the chalk is ready to use!

5. Anti-itch treatment

Suffering from hives? Try relieving itchy, troubled areas with eggshells. Dissolve an eggshell in a small jar of apple cider vinegar for about two days, and apply the mixture with a cotton ball to treat minor skin irritations.

eggshells 

6. Homemade cleaner

Thanks to their abrasive qualities, eggshells can help thoroughly clean water bottles or vases. Simply add crushed sterilized shells and a little soapy water to the vessel you’re cleaning, and shake. Crushed eggshells can also be used as a nontoxic scrub for pots and pans.

7. Pet power

Sterilized eggshell powder is digestible, and can be added to homemade food or treats for pets to keep their bones and teeth strong. One teaspoon of eggshell powder contains roughly 800 mg of calcium. To find recipes for natural homemade dog and cat food using eggshell powder, visit Homemade Pet Recipes for Dogs and Cats.

slug 

8. Bug slugs

Soft-bodied critters such as slugs and snails don’t like crawling over sharp, uneven eggshells. To keep these unwanted visitors away from your plants, simply crush the shells and spread them around the base of plant stems.