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Making Environmentally Sustainable Home Improvements


Photo by Fotolia

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


Photo by Fotolia

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.

5 Handy Kitchen Tools

lunch love

Photo courtesy ECOlunchbox

1. Lunch Love

Ditch disposable bags and plastic containers with the handy and stylish ECOlunchbox Three-in-One. Its stacking food containers and separate snack pod keep midday meals tidy and fresh, and the food-grade stainless steel container and plastic-free lid are dishwasher safe.

To Buy: $26

better beverage 

Photo courtesy Uncommon Goods

2. A Better Beverage

Avoid artificially flavored beverages and make your own infused waters and tasty drinks with this glass carafe, which makes a party-sized batch of infused water, cocktails or coolers. It also comes with plastic-free attachments for muddling, juicing and straining fruit.

To Buy: $40

 pickle pal

Photo courtesy Pickle Pipe

3. Pickle Pal

The Pickle Pipe is a one-piece, reusable silicon fermentation airlock meant to simplify the fermentation process by eliminating the need for daily maintenance of fermentation jars. Able to screw on to any wide-mouth Mason jar, The Pickle Pipe’s design also makes it easy to clean, and allows for years of use.

To Buy: $22 for a set of three

wrap without waste 

Photo courtesy Abeego

4. Wrap Without Waste

Try this reusable plastic wrap alternative made from hemp and cotton fabric coated with beeswax, tree resin and jojoba oil. Self-adhesive Abeego Flats can be used to cover dishes, wrap sandwiches and more.

To Buy: $18 for three (varying sizes) or a set of 6 small wraps

stasher 

Photo courtesy Stasher

5. Bag It Up

Cut down on trash and save money with this reusable, plastic-free alternative to sandwich and freezer bags. Made of food-grade silicone, Stasher bags are freezable, microwavable and dishwasher-safe. The nonporous surface also inhibits bacterial growth, extending the life of leftovers.

To Buy: $12

Ideas for Organizing Kitchen Space Efficiently

refrigerator drawer

Photo by iStock

Fridge

• Try using a lazy Susan on a fridge shelf. The rotating function allows you to quickly see what’s on hand and keeps you from forgetting about that jar of pickles you bought weeks ago.

• Follow the “Noah’s Ark” principle for condiments: Store no more than two varieties of the same item in your fridge. Before your weekly grocery trip, do a quick purge. Toss expired items, and take stock of what you already have.

• Store leftovers in space-optimizing square or rectangular glass containers.

Drawers and Cabinets

• Make use of drawer organizers to tidy utensils and gadgets. Explore the array of options at The Container Store, or make your own affordable custom compartments. Find instructions: DIY Kitchen Utensil Drawer Organizer

• We often have wasted vertical space in cabinets, where short jars don’t require the full height of each shelf. Shelving products can help make better use of space. Spice rack options abound on the internet, or consider buying spices from bulk bins and keeping them in magnetic containers, stuck to a magnet strip on the inside of a cabinet door.

• Organize kitchen appliances and utensils according to how often you use them—put frequent-use items within easy reach and lesser-used ones on out-of-the-way shelves. This mindful approach to organizing also highlights items you can get rid of completely.

Under the sink

• Ditch the jumble of single-use chemical cleaners, and instead stick with multipurpose staples such as baking soda, white vinegar and castile soap. For a guide to natural cleaners, visit 8 Safe Ingredients to Clean Almost Anything.

• Convert the insides of cupboard doors into extra storage space by installing over-the-door caddies or small shelves.

• Take advantage of vertical space by stacking clear bins, keeping cleaning items neat and easily identifiable.

• Place a tension rod horizontally and use it to hang spray bottles, brushes and similar items, leaving space below for storage bins and trays.

How to Refinish a Door


Photo by Pexels

A door is the first thing guests see when they enter your home. As a result, they can leave an elegant, lasting impression, especially on older, historical houses. Some are made of beautiful wood. Others have small but amazing details. Whatever their form, doors show off the personality of a home.

Unfortunately, they are also susceptible to the elements, year after year. If your house is aging, your door is aging even faster. It could have flaking paint or wood. The wood could be thinning out, making the entrance area draftier. What's worse, it could even have rot from insect or water damage.

Taking the time to restore your old door is worth it. You'll finish with a fine piece of craftsmanship to call your own that everyone will see the minute they walk up to your house. Let's get started.

Difficulty: Easy/moderate

Time: Three days — overnight drying is required

Cost: Around $50

Remove Hardware

The first thing to do is prepare the door for restoring. This means you need to take off all the hardware — the hinges, the doorknob, the doorstop and any glass. Place the door on padded sawhorses in order to properly take off the hardware.

Strip Paint

Is your door painted? A painted door cannot be repaired until you strip off the old coat — you won't be able to sand it.

You should strip the paint outdoors, as this step can get messy and dangerous without proper ventilation. Make sure you have enough ventilation if you're working indoors.

Keep the door on the sawhorses, but put down some old shirts or cloths to catch stray paint drops. Apply a low-VOC paint stripper to the door, carefully following the directions on the can. Let it set in for the time specified on the can.

Start scraping off the paint using a wide putty knife. While this will remove most of the old paint, you'll need a high-quality paint scraper to finish the job. For flat surfaces, wider scrapers are better. For the tight corners, pointed scrapers work best.

The paint stripper should then be neutralized with a liquid specified on the can so that it doesn't damaged the exposed wood.


Photo by Pixabay

Sand Flats Down to Bare Wood

Get rid of the remaining varnish and paint flakes by using 80-grit sandpaper on a random-orbit sander. Sand the entire door again, first with 100-grit paper and then 120-grit paper. Don't go any further, though — finer sandpaper will close the wood's pores. This means that when you go to finish the door, the finish won't adhere to it.

Sanding these areas also works for rotted and damaged wood. All you need to do is sand it down and fill it with a polyester of epoxy resin filler. Then sand it smooth again.

Scrape and Sand Moldings and Profiles

Using a sharp, pointed scraper, reach into the corners and profiles of the door to get down to the bare wood.

Once that's done, take a sheet of 100-grit paper and fold it into thirds. Sand the profiles in long strokes across the door, back and forth. In the places where your fingers can't reach, use a sanding sponge. Then, brush and vacuum your work to get rid of any dust that could affect the finish.

Apply Finish

The first place you should apply finish is on the bottom and top edges of the door — one coat is enough. Then, re-hang the door before applying finish to the whole thing. If you skip this step, you run the risk of damaging the finish when you re-hang!

Pour your finish in a bucket and dip a new China-bristle brush lightly into the finish. Begin with the door panels, then move to the moldings and profiles. Finally, coat the rails and stiles. If any finish accidentally hits a dry surface, use a rag to wipe it off right away. Leave the door to dry overnight.

Apply New Paint

Once you've finished the door, sand it smooth. Start with 120-grit sandpaper and end with 220-grit. Use a brush and then a soft cloth to wipe away dust.

Next, apply a coat of primer and let it dry. Sand the dried surface with 220-grit. Remove the dust again using the same method.

Using a two-inch-wide brush made for enamel paint, apply your enamel top coat and let dry. We recommend using a low-VOC exterior paint, such as Benjamin Moore Aura Grand Entrance.

Reattach Hardware

Your masterpiece is complete! Just reattach the hardware and it'll look picture-perfect. If the door (or your house) has some history, choosing period-specific hardware instead of the old, beat-up hardware will add great historical charm.


Megan Wild is a gardener who is the process of cultivating her first succulent garden. She loves visiting local floral nurseries and picking out plants that she struggles to fit into her yard. Find her tweeting home and garden inspiration@Megan_Wild.