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Sustainable Home Improvement Ideas for Spring

Photo by iStock

Spring is just around the corner, and that means it’s time for some cleaning and redecorating to banish those winter blues. I try to give my house a fresh feel every spring, just to change the mood and vibes of my space. I try to make sure that I make my living space a little more sustainable than it was before, so as to reduce my impact on my surroundings and make my house feel more “one with nature.” While conservation and redecorating aren’t something most people consider together, I do believe that there is a sustainable alternative to most actions. Here, I’m going to share some spring home improvement ideas I’ve incorporated over the years - hopefully these will inspire you to make your house more eco-friendly.

Clutter-free Countertops

As winter comes to a close, there’s nothing I detest more than seeing all sorts of items flung across the counter, especially considering that countertops, especially large ones, are one of the most eye-catching features of any space. The first step is to de-clutter any unwanted items that have made your counter their temporary home. Personally, I find that a relatively empty countertop gives an illusion of space, so I make it a point to only have minimal items like a vase of fresh flowers on my counter. If you prefer to keep your counter covered because it’s ugly - don’t fret! Spring is a great time to change it out for something beautiful. If your budget allows, go ahead and change your counters.  With the variety of absolutely stunning granite options out there, it’s easy to turn your counter into a work of art. Since granite and marble are naturally found stones, choosing an indigenous variety helps reduce the environmental impact of long distance transportation.  

Work the Windows

Windows cause a lot of heat loss, especially during times of extreme weather.  Replacing windows not only increases energy efficiency, but also is the perfect way to add some new style elements to your space. You can use the opportunity to create a new feel to your living quarters, by allowing for more light, different angles, and new textures. To make sure you are maximizing on energy efficiency, you will have to consider some factors while choosing your window replacements. These include choosing the type of panes (double or triple-paned), and the types of frame (wood, aluminum or vinyl). Finally, choosing an energy efficient design, such as double-hung windows will help reduce costs overall.

Perfect Lighting

While this isn’t a redecoration project, replacing your lights is a springtime project that will serve you well for the year to come. Replacing regular incandescent light bulbs with LEDs or fluorescent light bulbs is a wonderful energy saver. What's more, energy efficient light bulbs last much longer than regular bulbs, making them cost-efficient too. This report by the Department of Energy explains some of the more technical differences between incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs.  

Quick ‘n’ Easy Mood Changers

So, maybe you aren’t ready to invest in some serious redecoration, or you just don’t have the time. What then? Well, I’ve found it’s easy to change the feel of any space even with the smallest alterations. For example, something as small as rearranging your bookshelf can give your room a more open and airy feel if you set up your books in a certain way. Placing some horizontal and some vertical is aesthetically pleasing to the eye and this sort of book arrangement goes well with other accessories on your shelf, such as photo frames and trinkets. If you feel like changing your walls in a more drastic way, then consider getting some custom removable wall papers or murals printed, to make your walls unique. These can be switched out every season, or whenever you need a change of scenery. Similarly, changing pillows, adding throws to couches, and changing the way your art/frame display is set up will leave your living room feeling completely different. An easy way to do this in keeping with reducing your overall wastefulness is by collecting and keeping fabrics, reusing and upcycling old linens, and then changing them out seasonally rather than buying and throwing away new materials each year. One of the best ways to liven up any space is by bringing home some life, aka a plant! Having a burst of green screams spring, and having plants at home help cool down temperatures and naturally clean the air!

I hope these home improvement ideas inspire you to make your house more eco-friendly, because in the long run, having a sustainable living space will have better consequences for you and your surround environment.

4 Ways to Create a Safe and Soothing Environment at Home

Soothing Home
Photo via SocialMonsters

Your home is a place of reprieve, where you can relax in a safe and comfortable environment. Enhance the calm and comfort of your abode by adding new systems and amenities to prevent potential problems. Revamp your home with these specialty features to help you keep an eye on your property, prevent intrusion, and create a soothing environment.

See What's Going On with a Security Camera System

Keep an eye on your property and your home with video monitoring. Position the cameras around the perimeter of your home, near the entrances, as well as near any windows, which are the most high-risk points for forced entry. Make sure the cameras you purchase are weather resistant and have high-resolution capabilities, as low-resolution cameras don't provide a reliable image. A complete camera system, like ones offered by Lorex Technology, are very user-friendly, and allow you to check on your home anytime, from anywhere.

Shut Out the World with Blackout Curtains

Blackout curtains are a useful tool that will help you block out light, noise and provide energy-efficient insulation. Most brands of blackout curtains will block up to 99 percent of light. This is a beneficial feature, especially if you often wake up from light glares or other visual distractions when you sleep. The curtains can also block 40 percent of noise, which will keep unwanted noise pollution from disrupting the calm within your home. Blackout curtains will serve as insulation keeping the heat in, during the winter, and blocking out solar heat gain in the summer. These curtains are especially useful for your home theater room, your meditation space, or any work space within your home where you'd like to maintain a sense of calm.

Keep Your Home the Perfect Temperature with a Smart Thermostat

Keep your home at the optimal temperature for your ultimate comfort. Install a Wi-Fi connected thermostat that will keep your home at the temperature you desire and also help you save on energy bills. The Nest thermostat learns your schedule and automatically adjusts temperatures based around your daily habits. It can also be controlled remotely by your smartphone or tablet, in case you'd like to warm or cool your home to a specific temperature before you return to it. The device lets you program your personal preferences, but also informs you of how you can save energy and lower your heating and cooling costs.

Secure the Premises with High-Tech Locks

Install smart locks in your home, so you can monitor who is entering and leaving your abode when you're not home. If you can replace your entire lock system, install the Kwikset Kevo, which uses Bluetooth to connect to your phone or a keyfob (a touch-to-open device). You can share the lock password with your family and close friends, which they can use within the Kevo app.

If you can't replace your entire lock, you can install the August smart lock which can unlock the door when you are approaching, as it detects a signal from your smartphone. The lock will also automatically lock when you leave, or close the door, so you don't have to worry about whether or not you forgot lock up your home.

Kyla Stelling is enrolled in the Master in Teaching program at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Previous career roles have entailed everything from design and event planning to public relations and child care. In her spare time, Kyla hikes the Cascade Mountains, designs elaborate cakes, and writes alongside her cuddly cat, Wellington.

6 Ways to Detox Your Laundry Room

Photo via SocialMonsters

Americans want to be clean. And apparently we go a little bit overboard in that department. Case in point, 53 percent of people use more than the recommended amount of laundry detergent, according to Adam Lowry, co-founder of Method Products. This overzealous usage pumps extra chemicals into our water supply and wastes materials. To curb your environmental impact and start detoxing your laundry room, follow these six steps:

1. Use Natural Laundry Detergent

Traditional laundry detergents generally contain phosphates that help kill germs and improve overall washing performance. However, phosphates also damage surrounding aquatic environments. Instead, opt for natural laundry detergents, like Method or Mrs. Meyers, which are at least 85 percent plant-based and biodegradable, perform well in cold water, and use less (if any) fragrances, dyes, and optical brighteners.

2. Use Natural Stain Fighters

Rather than using harsh chemicals to fight grease stains, opt for a common kitchen ingredient to remove stains. Rub some salt, cornmeal or cornstarch on a grease or oil stain. Let it sit while you do other laundry, then brush away and wash as usual. For an ink stain, wet the item with cold water and apply a paste of cream of tartar and lemon juice. Let it sit one hour before washing. Wine spill? No problem. Just pour club soda on the spot, then sponge up both soda and wine before laundering. For blood stains, douse spots with hydrogen peroxide or diluted ammonia before rinsing in cool water.

3. Soften Your Water

You can use half your usual amount of detergent, switch from hot to cold water and still get better stain fighting power with softer water, according to the Water Quality Association. Using less detergent means less environmental impact in the chemicals and packaging materials used, plus less cost to the consumer. Softer water also prolongs the life of washing machines and water heaters by causing less scale build-up.

4. Skip Dryer Sheets

Air-dry clothing whenever possible to reduce energy use. However if you must use the dryer, skip the dryer sheets (and their accompanying cocktail of “fragrant” chemicals). A research study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found 29 unique volatile organic compounds in dryer-vent emissions, which are hazardous pollutants and possible sensory irritants. Since most of the individual fragrance ingredients are not usually listed on a product, it is safer not use dryer sheets at all. Instead, create your own DIY dryer sheet using scraps of an old flannel sheet, white vinegar, and tea tree oil.

5. Unleash the Power of Vinegar

Vinegar has many versatile uses. In the laundry room, white vinegar is perfect to fight perspiration stains and urine. For perspiration, rub the stained areas with white vinegar before laundering. For pet urine, dampen the offending area with equal parts white vinegar and water and blot dry. And the cleaning uses of all-natural vinegar are almost endless, from sparkling silver to scuff marks on linoleum.

6. When in Doubt, Use Baking Soda

Baking soda is a naturally occurring non-toxic substance and helps to maintain an optimum pH balance. It can serve as a mild cleaning agent, deodorant, and abrasive to scrub, dissolve, and lift away dirt from tile floors, textiles, and appliances. Mix a half cup with a bucket of warm water to mop with, and add a half cup to regular wash loads to boost the laundry detergent’s cleaning power. Baking soda will also remove and neutralize odors (rather than masking them, like artificial fragrances). Sprinkle generously over a dirty clothes hamper to minimize offensive smells, and add to the load’s rinse cycle to combat persistent odors.

Brittany Wren is a freelance writer living in Nebraska. She’s all about travel, coffee, board games, and good poems. On the weekends, she’s usually busy remodeling her 100-year home. She writes on her blog:

Recommended Home Organization Tools and Products

Living & Bedroom

Get it Poppin

Get It Poppin'

Poppin file cabinets are made with extremely durable powder-coated steel, are available in an array of colors, and one lock secures all three drawers.
To Buy: $229,

What You See

What You See...

It's easier to get dressed and wear our accessories when they're easy to see. Check out Etsy shop The Knotted Wood for stylish, handcrafted organizers.
To Buy: $35,

A Shoe In

A Shoe-In

An affordable bamboo stackable shoe shelf makes footwear organization easy.
To Buy: $30,

Shelve The Topic

Shelve The Topic

If you don't have enough display space for cherished items, add a stylish floating shelf. This one is made of industrial pipe brackets and rustic wood.
To Buy: $42.50,

Bask in It

Bask in It

Few storage solutions are as beautiful and versatile as woven baskets. The ones from Connected Artisans generate income to provide food, shelter and education in rural Senegal.
To Buy: $55,

Kitchen & Bathroom

Put a Lid on It

Put a Lid on It

Keep lids organized and accessible with a simple lid organizer.
To Buy: $15,

Flip Out

Flip Out

Invest in a high-quality, beautiful wooden spatula you love, and never buy a spatula again.
To Buy: $10,

Jarringly Simple

Jarringly Simple

This bathroom organizer, made of reclaimed wood and Mason jars, can corral clutter and open up space in bathroom cabinets.
To Buy: $31,

Roll Out

Roll Out

Made of durable chrome steel, this cabinet organizer offers a lifetime of hassle-free use.
To Buy: $64,

Stack It Up

Stack it Up

Organize any drawer anywhere with mix-and-match stackable bamboo drawer organizers.
To Buy: $4 to $8,

Storage Spaces

Bin There

Bin There

Perfect for mud rooms, garages, kitchens or kids’ rooms, this Wire Mesh 6 Bin Cubical Storage tower is a versatile storage tool.
To Buy: $89,

Tool Time

Tool Time

Corral garden and yard tools in a handy tool rack with wheels.
To Buy: $64,

Garden Aid

Garden Aid

Give yourself a dedicated space to keep garden supplies organized with a Potting Bench made of durable eucalyptus wood.
To Buy: $200,

Store Outdoors

Store Outdoors

This handy Klasen outdoor storage cabinet on wheels offers extra space to stash tools.
To Buy: $129,

Be A Sport

Be a Sport

Give sports equipment a permanent home with this heavy-duty triple storage bin.
To Buy: $49,

The Great Holiday Debate: Real vs. Artifical Trees

Photo by Fotolia

Christmas trees are a treasured tradition brought to America from Germany in the 1700’s. Believe it or not, the American Christmas Tree Association says that the very first Christmas trees in the states were relatively “artificial.” While still made with natural materials, wooden pyramids were constructed, then decorated with greenery and candles. This Holiday tradition started out as a mix of our distinctly separate preferences today; real trees and artificial ones.

Truly artificial trees came into play when Germany feared they were over harvesting their forests. Goose feathers and poles were used to create reusable versions, which were converted into the plastic variations in the US. 

The ACTA also states if a household uses an artificial Christmas tree longer than 4 years, their carbon footprint would be smaller than an identical household that cuts down a fresh one every year. Whichever you choose, a Christmas tree accounts for only .1% of a family’s annual carbon footprint.

 This does not settle the debate of which is better, there are other factors to consider. Each fact that comes into play may be specifically more significant to each unique individual. Let’s weigh it out.

Artificial Trees

PVC is a type of plastic made from chlorine and oil, and is a typical material in artificial trees. Chlorine makes PVC fire resistant.

When the plastic is heated, dangerous chemicals leak into the environment. Although the  plastic is hardened when you purchase a fake tree, traces of chemicals can seep out.

PVC is everywhere: water bottles, imitation leather, toys, furniture, you name it. Most of it ends up in landfills, and the plastic does not degrade well. Most artificial Christmas trees use PVC in some form, or a mixture of PVC and polyethylene, or PE. There are a few options that offer strongly reduced levels of PVC, such as Balsam Hill’s Balsam Fir model. Ikea also offers a PE Christmas tree in some areas of the country. Nearly Natural offers silk trees.  

Real Trees

Most trees come from a farm, meaning millions of people aren’t chopping them out of a forest without replanting. But running a farm does take resources, and so does transportation. 

Real trees can also contain mold and fungi that can be harmful to those with asthma or other lung issues. However, this can usually be resolved by a hose down and a few minutes in the sun before bringing it inside.

And last but not least, unless you buy organic, your farm fresh tree will likely be coated in pesticides, which can cause neurological issues, cancer and endocrine disruption. These chemicals can be breathed, ingested or absorbed through the skin, just like those from PVC. Some farms also spray trees down with a green coloring.

Another option does exist; living trees. Black Hill or Colorado Blue spruces are available in mini pots on Nature Hill's site. Each tree has a complete root system with hopes that every owner will pant the tree after the holidays. It’s quite a notion, a new tree is grown every year rather than one being lost. Living Christmas offers a live tree rental service in California—simply set a delivery area, choose the type of tree you prefer, and the company will deliver the tree, in a pot, to your door. When you’re done, the tree can be picked up, and returned to the Living Christmas nursery.

Other options

If live trees aren’t a possibility for you, and you’re put off by PVC, it’s also possible to go unorthodox and get creative with your holiday decorations. Check out our project for a recycled newspaper Christmas tree, or this wooden version made from old shipping pallets:

The Verdict

It truly comes down to personal decision; you need to balance out what you think is most important. If you are lucky enough to have an organic tree farm around, I’d say that would be the best option if the farm also follows sustainable practices. Let us know which you choose and why.

Karyn WoffordKaryn Wofford is a type 1 diabetic, EMT and Certified Wellness Specialist. For years she has educated herself on wellness and natural, wholesome living. Karyn’s goal is to help people be the healthiest they can be while living fun, happy lives.

5 Reusable Products for Coffee and Tea

On The Move
Photo courtesy Bobble

On The Move

The stainless steel Presse by bobble is a waste-free hybrid coffee press/travel thermos that brews in three minutes and keeps drinks piping-hot for hours.
To Buy: $30,

Fit to a Tea
Photo courtesy Jarware

Fit to a Tea

Jareware's BPA-free tea infuser attaches to any regular-mouth Mason jar for refreshing cold tea without the need for a fancy infusing thermos.
To Buy: $10,

Waste Free Filter
Photo courtesy Coffee Sock

Waste Free Filter

CoffeeSock makes reusable organic cotton coffee filters for makers of all shapes and sizes. To clean the filter, simply dump the grounds, then rinse and hang dry.
To Buy: $13 for two,

One Cup Wonder
Photo courtesy Ekobrew

One Cup Wonder

Single-cup coffee makers can be convenient, but the pods pile up in landfills. The reusable Ekobrew filter is BPA-free and compatible with most machines.
To Buy: $8,

Keep it Toasty
Photo courtesy Rachel Smalter-Hall

Keep it Toasty

Avoid the coffee shop's disposable cup sleeves by bringing a reusable one. Try making your own, or buy a stylish handmade sleeve to keep your drink warm.
To Buy: $18, 

5 Affordable Solar Energy Options for 2017

Photo by Fotolia

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.