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Creating a cozy hearth for the family

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Spring might be the traditional time for cleaning, but fall is a great occasion to get your house prepped for winter. Since it’s starting to become a bit cooler out, getting your house ready for winter, when you’re going to be stuck inside more often, should be on your to-do list. Making the right preparations now can ensure that your home is more efficient and environmentally-friendly when the seasons change. Here are some simple ways to get your house ready for the cold seasons ahead.

fall leaves and acorns on the ground
Photo by Kaboompics.

Batten Down the Hatches

Drafts in winter are usually less than pleasant. They also give the warm air your furnace is working to produce an easy escape route.

Check your windows and doors to see if there are any gaps around the edges. Some caulk should be able to fix any draft problems in those areas. Even if you’ve re-caulked the seals in the past year, moisture, temperature changes and the swelling of wood can cause more gaps to appear or old caulk to come loose. Check it regularly.

In addition to the windows and doors, there are other sneaky places where air can get in. Old houses with wood floors can fall victim to cold air seeping up through the floor boards, especially above a basement. If your home has an attic, this is also a great place for cold air to sneak in. Knowing where to add insulation can save a pretty significant amount of cash in the winter.

Up in the Air

Winter usually means you won’t have the doors and windows open to let in fresh air (unless you live in Florida or California, of course). Use this time to get in one last airing-out and take a look at your air filters to help keep your house comfortable during the colder months. Air filters are easy to replace, and they’re cheap. Think less than $5 cheap, and you replace them when they get gross or about every three months. It can be more often, however, if you have animals, smoke inside or if your appliance’s manufacturer recommends replacement more frequently.

Clean Out the Closet

Sadly, it’s getting to be the time when we put away the shorts, sundresses, tank tops and flip-flops. It’s time to make room for chunky sweaters, jeans, heavy jackets, hats, scarves, mittens and boots! All those bulky clothes can be hard to fit into the closet, so take this opportunity to clear out what you can.

Old clothes that no longer fit or that you don’t want to keep can be donated. However, not everything will make the cut. You might have pieces that simply aren’t wearable anymore. You don’t have to trash those items if you can find a way to reuse them—break them down into rags for dusting or other household chores.

Clear the Garage

Since we’re talking about getting rid of your old stuff, don’t neglect the garage! After all, you’re not going to need to get to the weed-whacker and lawn mower over the winter, but you will want easy access to snow shovels, salt, ice scrapers and sleds. If you start making the switch now, you won’t be stuck hunting for the ice scraper when you’re already late for work. Of course, you’ll also need to move a rake into grabbing distance, too, for all those leaf piles in the fall.

Since you’re working on finding space for the things you need, now is as good a time as any to get some old junk out of the way! Broken gardening tools, hoses with holes, empty spray bottles and leftover paint cans can be tossed. You’ll just want to make sure you dispose of any paint correctly to avoid contaminating the environment with dangerous chemicals. You’ll want to consider similar options for things like bug sprays and other pressurized cans.

These simple steps can help keep your home in good shape for the cold season. You’ll be able to see the difference reflected in your energy bill, too. Bring it on, winter!

Kayla Matthews is a health and wellness blogger who loves jogging, yoga and hiking. Follow Kayla on Google+ and Twitter to read all of her latest posts.


Lawns, gardens, flowers and facades are what make a neighborhood look pretty and feel more like home. Unfortunately, the extra pollen can be a bit of a problem, especially for those who are allergic or suffering from asthma.  In most cases prevention is better than a cure, but in this case that would be nearly impossible. Nevertheless, there are a few things that you could do to minimize the effects pollen has on your health and comfort.

sneezing woman

Keep Clean

If you’ve been out doing gardening chores, the first thing you need to do once getting back inside is decontaminate yourself.  If you don’t, you’ll only be spreading pollen all throughout the house and making it a nuisance for anyone with allergies. Walk in, dump your clothes in the washer and hit the shower to remove any and all traces of the golden powder off your body.

Park in the Garage

Cars tend to become a bed for pollen that gets constantly blown off with the wind.  Whenever you use your car, you’ll be spreading the pollen from on the roof and windows everywhere inside. Giving your car an early morning wash is obviously a good thing to do, but if you live in a neighborhood that has a lot of pollen in the air, it helps to just keep  the pollen off the outside of your car so that you can prevent it from settling inside. Oh, and never leave the windows down!

Close Doors and Windows

The time when flowers are in full bloom is usually the best time of the year, and one when you’d want to keep the windows and doors open to embrace nature. But the more air comes into your home, the more pollen it brings along with it, causing a lot of nasal drama especially for those prone to more seasonal allergies. If you want to enjoy nature, just take a stroll outside. Don’t forget to wipe your feet and clean your outerwear upon entering the house.

Empty Your Vacuum Outside

Believe it or not, but emptying your vacuum into your kitchen garbage can pretty much render your cleaning efforts entirely useless. Whatever pollen you may have sucked up will be back in the air. After you’re done vacuuming, take the bag or canister outside to empty it to prevent the pollen from lingering in your house.

Wash Your Hair

As much as it is a dust magnet, your hair is also a pollen magnet. Here’s where things can get especially annoying if you’re the one with allergies. If the yellow stuff stays on your hair all day, you’ll be spreading it all over your bed and pillow. In other words, you’ll be sleeping and waking up with a lot of pollen and allergy symptoms. If your neighborhood is subject to a major pollen crisis and you know you may have some on your hair, wash your hair regularly to keep yourself safe.

Even after all this, don’t forget to take some time to enjoy one of nature’s best times as the flowers blossom.


Although investing in an energy-efficient washer and dryer goes a long way toward saving energy, there are many other simple things you can do to help save the earth from right inside your laundry room. Even on little-to-no budget, you can easily apply these six tips to make a change in your home’s energy consumption.

laundry room
Photo by Fotolia.

Use Cold Water

Cold water is sufficient enough to clean most clothes, so using water that's any warmer is just a waste. Heating up water, even just a few degrees, requires a lot of energy. Switching the wash cycle to cold will easily cut your electric or gas bills. Only use hot water on heavily solid laundry, or pre-treat these loads before washing in cold water.

Run Full Loads

Although contrary to what you may think, it actually takes the same amount of energy to run a small load of laundry as it does a large one. Running a small load is a huge waste when you will simply have to do another right after. Let your dirty clothes accumulate until you have enough for a full load, and wash them every week or so.

Update Your Machine

Having an Energy Star-certified washer is a must when trying to conserve energy. A standard machine uses an average of 23 gallons of water per load, whereas an Energy Star one only uses around 15 gallons. That eight gallon difference quickly adds up over the course of days, weeks and months. Imagine all the money that can be saved on your water bill! Save money while shopping and research new machines online at trusted outlets like

Front-loading machines use up to 60 percent less water than older machines, reducing both water and energy consumption. If you don’t have one already, consider upgrading.

Clean Lint Filters

Lint that becomes clogged in the dryer filter can unnecessarily lengthen the drying time, so make sure to clean it out after every cycle. Besides saving energy, this lint build-up also poses a fire hazard if it were to heat up enough.

Keep Dryers in a Warm Location

A dryer that is operating in a cold environment has to use more energy to heat the air. Run the dryer in a warm or hot location to help conserve energy. Garages and basements are notorious for getting very hot, so putting the dryer there is a good idea.

There are literally hundreds more ideas you can use to save energy while doing your laundry. However, the most effective way is to invest in an energy-efficient washer and dryer. Regardless, keep these tips in mind to help cut costs and make your home a little more eco-friendly.

Brooke ChaplanBrooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter, @BrookeChaplan.


Jeffrey and Judith loved living in the quaint harbor town of Belfast, Maine, with waterfront views. They resided in a large seaside home where an estuary formed as Little River met Penobscot Bay. However, significant time and resources were needed to maintain and heat the home with oil and wood. Although Jeffrey and Judith enjoyed entertaining and spending time by the bay, they decided to list their home for sale and move into a net-zero energy home at Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage.

"Everyone knows that Americans consume resources at a rate that is not sustainable," Jeffrey says. "I always thought I was making my contribution by recycling and driving an economical vehicle. At the same time I was living in an enormous house that, in a third world country, could house 10 families. Before we insulated the attic we were using close to a thousand gallons of oil each year. This is not a sustainable number for two families, as we had a rental apartment in the home."

Belfast Maine Net Zero Home 

The Benefits of Their New Net-Zero Home

Their new 1,500-square-foot, high-performance home is primarily heated by passive solar gains, appliances and even occupants. A modest 4.5 kW solar system produces all the power the family uses over the course of the year. Because the home is all electric, solar energy heats the water and home, and powers appliances.

Transitioning To A Net Zero Home 

How to Plan a Net-Zero Home

When planning a net-zero home, it’s wise to start with energy efficiency. Jeffrey and Judith's home has generous amounts of insulation in the foundation, roof and walls; lots of large south-facing triple-pane windows; and is oriented for maximum solar gain. The slab-on-grade foundation warms up on sunny winter days, slowly releasing the heat when temperatures drop. The home is air-sealed, making it virtually airtight. Even on cold, windy, winter days, the couple can sit in front of the windows and feel no drafts.

To ensure high quality air and comfort, the home has a Zehnder heat recovery ventilator. It supplies a constant stream of fresh, filtered air to the bedrooms and office, while extracting stale air from the kitchen and bathrooms. Heat in the winter or coolness in the summer is recycled from the exhaust air to the intake air, ensuring a high level of energy efficiency and comfort. Unlike many traditional homes where air enters through leaks in the walls, comes up from the basement or crawl space, or in through an attached garage—the outside air intake on Jeffrey and Judith's home is strategically placed to avoid bringing toxins, radon or mold into the home.

In a less-efficient home, the 4.5 kW solar system would not be sufficient to generate all the energy the home consumes. Jeffrey and Judith found a winning combination of efficiency and renewable power generation to make a net-zero home possible.

The 36-unit community of high-performance homes is clustered to preserve open space for agriculture, wildlife and recreation. Although Jeffery and Judith's new home doesn’t have views of the bay, it does overlook Little River Community Farm. The worker-share farm members gather each week to harvest vegetables and maintain the land.

"My wife and I are making our 'seventh generation' contribution now," Jeffrey explains. "We want our grandchildren and future generations to live in a world that is as green and beautiful as this one is now."

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and communications professional with an MBA in sustainable management. She recently relocated to BelfastCohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.


Window treatments always seem so simple, but they can be the hardest feature to get right in your bedroom. That’s because you’re usually dealing with a whole lot of fabric, which can easily overwhelm (or underwhelm) whatever room they’re in. To help kickstart your bedroom makeover, here are six refreshing window treatment ideas that can help create the perfect look.

bedroom windows

1. Dramatic Sheers

“Dramatic” and “sheers” are two words that are rarely in the same sentence when talking about window treatments. After all, sheers are usually the option people go for when they want to add lightness, right? Well, you can have the best of both worlds when you go for sheers in an eye-popping color, like deep red. This is a particularly striking effect if your bedroom walls are a very pale color. You get all the drama that an accent color provides, but you still don’t have that heavy visual weight of more traditional drapes.

2. Go Big

If you have a large bedroom, graphic drapes can be a great way to frame your windows. The visual weight can really help fill your space, especially if you have a long expanse of wall that is looking a little bare. Thick stripes are always a sophisticated look, especially in black and white, or white and navy. If you want something a bit more unexpected, chevron stripes (in an ombre gradient, perhaps) are a great twist on a classic stripe. Or, try neural-colored panels with a bold accent stripe on the top or bottom quarter of the drapes.

3. Half-And-Half

Forget window treatments that run across or on either side of a window. Instead, it’s okay to do things halfway. Shades or fabric panels that start 3/4 of the way up a window, leaving the upper quarter bare, are a truly unique way to get plenty of light and privacy. This can be a great option for a small bedroom, as these fabric panels tend to be smaller than traditional drapes and won’t add too much visual weight. Plus, the light that filters in from the upper portion of the window will help make the room appear larger which is always a good thing.

4. Valance Balance

Okay, the word “valance” might make you think of your grandma’s house, but this is one window treatment that has come far over the years. For starters, skip the floral fabrics. In fact, you might want to consider not using a fabric with a graphic pattern at all. Instead, your valance should be sleek and straight, and covered in textured fabric in a neutral shade. The bold weave of the fabric will create all of the visual interest you need, while still keeping things modern and fresh instead of old and dowdy.

5. Hey Shady

Not a fan of curtains? Shades are a great alternative, and there are lots of options available that are so beautiful on their own that adding curtains on top of them would be a distraction. While many people particularly love the gentle, golden glow of honeycomb blinds, roman shades have really been capturing our attention lately. While this style can look bulky in heavier fabrics, roman shades in lightweight, textured materials can filter light beautifully while giving a room the  unique look you’ve been looking for.

6. Go Bare

Want a really unique window treatment? How about…none at all! Okay, this one might only be an option if your bedroom is on the upper floor, but the simple beauty of a well-crafted window with a beautifully-grained wooden frame is truly one of our favorite looks. I, particularly, love it when the window is coated in a simple stain instead of thick paint, so the natural look and feel of the wood can shine through. Rustic elegance at its finest.

I hope this window treatment primer has given you a few good ideas for how to update the look of your bedroom. Remember, this should be an accent to your room, so try to keep things relatively simple. Simplicity will also help your window treatments stand the test of time, keeping your bedroom looking fresh and up-to-date for years to come.

Paul Kazlov is a “green” home remodeling enthusiast and an industry pioneer for innovation in home renovation. Paul writes for the Global Home Improvement blog and strives to educate people about “green” products such as metal roofing and solar. Follow him on Twitter @PaulKazlov.


The lower Midwest is known for its hot humid summers and frigid cold winters. New homes need both a heating and cooling strategy in this climate. In the summer, it’s common to have one or two areas in a house be uncomfortably warm, requiring the air conditioning system to be boosted to promote comfort. In leaky older homes, air infiltrates through cracks in the building envelope, making it difficult to control the purity of indoor air and the humidity levels in the home.

The new 3,700 square foot prairie-style Proud Green Home in Wildwood, Missouri, contains numerous advanced building science techniques and is designed for a family with three children around comfort, energy efficiency and high indoor air quality. A tight building envelope in the house allows less air to infiltrate through cracks and gaps and can help maintain comfort and reduce energy bills.

Proud Green Home
Photo courtesy Proud Green Home

Energy Efficiency Features

As homes get tighter, air quality and humidity issues can become an issue, requiring an effective ventilation strategy. To boost comfort and energy efficiency, Proud Green Home Saint Louis uses a Zehnder energy recovery ventilator. A stream of fresh-filtered air constantly enters the living areas of home, while stale air is removed from the bathrooms, kitchen and utility rooms.

This allows the builder to determine where the intake air originates, avoiding contaminants that would otherwise enter through crawl spaces, basements or attached garages in a leaky home. In a tight home without an effective ventilation strategy, stale air remains in the home and toxins are not sufficiently diluted.

The air from the energy recovery ventilator in the Proud Green Home is pre-cooled in the summer and pre-heated in the winter from the system's exhaust air, thus the supply air is nearly room temperature. This energy transfer feature keeps energy bills and fossil fuel use down, while maintaining comfort.

The intake air is filtered, removing dust, particles and pollen. Because the home is tight and the ventilation system supplies air to the home, the family has a lot of control over the quality of the indoor air. This was an important feature to the homeowners, as one of their children suffers from severe allergies and asthma.

"[The energy recovery ventilation system] works in conjunction with the HVAC system," says Matt Belcher, principal of Verdatek. "The V in HVAC stands for ventilation. This takes ventilation to the next level."

Because humidity levels impact comfort and indoor air quality, energy recovery ventilators lower humidity levels when needed, typically in the summer. This reduces the need for air conditioning, saving electricity.

"The temperature is only part of what leads to comfort," Belcher adds. "The ventilation is really what makes it comfortable in here."

Proud Green Home Interior
Photo courtesy Proud Green Home

The house is expected to meet several green standards. A DOE Zero Net Ready Home achieves such a high level of energy efficiency that a renewable energy system can offset most or all of the annual energy use. Energy Star for Homes indicates that the home achieves a very high level of overall energy efficiency. The National Green Building Standard from the National Association of Homebuilders has a green scoring tool that encompasses numerous areas of eco-friendly design, including site development, indoor environmental quality and resource efficiency.

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and communications professional with an MBA in sustainable management. She recently relocated to BelfastCohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.


How many times have you been mindlessly flipping through TV channels, only to find yourself simultaneously appalled and intrigued by programs like "Hoarders?" You can’t understand how anyone could possibly live like that—surrounded by piles of stuff, much of which is trash and potentially hazardous.

Yet when you go to open the hall closet, there’s a good chance that you’ll be knocked on the head by something falling out. You haven’t been able to park your car in the garage for two years thanks to all of the items filling the space, and the junk drawer contains enough junk to start your own pawnshop. While you might not yet be a candidate for a reality show, you’re still surrounded by clutter—and it’s probably affecting your health.

garage clutter

The Physical and Emotional Toll of Clutter

When your home is filled with stuff, the danger of a head injury from something falling off a shelf isn’t the only health risk. Studies have shown that clutter has some surprising effects on overall health, both physically and emotionally.

Weight loss counselors point out that one common denominator among individuals seeking help with losing weight is an excess of stuff in their homes. Many people who are overweight feel weighed down, in a sense, by their belongings. Often, the excess clutter in their homes creates an obstacle to exercising. In many cases, they feel they are either too busy cleaning and organizing (which is never really done) to find time to exercise, or they have physical obstacles keeping them from working out because the clutter takes up so much space or makes it too hard to find the equipment they need. As a result, they gain weight—especially since clutter-related stress can trigger overeating.

A cluttered home can also irritate asthma, allergies and other respiratory conditions. Doctors note that dust mites gravitate toward the soft, warm and moist environments created by clothing, stuffed animals, pillows and other similar items. These mites and their droppings can trigger symptoms of allergies and asthma. Getting rid of old or unworn clothing, as well as unnecessary items, can help reduce the number of mites in the room, thus making it easier to breathe.

Physical symptoms are just one part of the issues associated with excess clutter. Studies show that having too much clutter increases stress and anxiety. Researchers attribute the stress to the fact that having clutter can create embarrassment—many people are reluctant to have friends over due to the condition of their homes—as well as cause arguments among family members about whose responsibility it is to clean up.

Clutter can also create feelings of being overwhelmed. Every room serves as a reminder of what needs to be done and hasn’t been addressed yet, which reduces the enjoyment of downtime. It’s almost impossible to relax during an at-home yoga session or while working on a hobby if you’re focused on the chores that need to be done.

messy kitchen

Clear the Clutter, Improve Your Health

Clearly, getting rid of the clutter in your home is important to your overall well-being. But where do you begin? Again, when your home is bursting at the seams with clutter, it’s hard to know where to start, which might make you not want to do it at all.

The first step to clearing out the clutter is to make a plan and keep it manageable. It took years to collect all of your clutter, so it’s unreasonable to think you can clean everything out in a few days. Start with the easy stuff; for example, donating the old boat that’s taking up space in the yard can clear a lot of space and inspire you to keep going.

Clearing the clutter can get tedious, though, so try a few of these techniques to stay on track:

Set a timer. Work steadily in 20-30 minute spurts. You can accomplish a lot when you are focused even for a short time.

Set goals. Plan to clean out one closet or tackle a single room, at a time.

Get help. Ask a friend or family member to help you; choose someone who can be objective and help you stay focused—and not get sentimental about the items you’re getting rid of.

Reward yourself. Hold a yard sale to sell some of your unwanted items, and use the proceeds for a treat—just don’t buy more objects to clutter your home!

Getting rid of the unnecessary and unwanted items in your home will not only help you keep it neat and tidy, but it can improve your health as well. If you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or anxious, try unloading some of your unused belongings—you’ll probably feel much lighter.

Want even more decluttering tips? Visit our collection of organizing tips to get advice for how to make every room in your home clutter-free.

Jasmine Howard is a freelance writer who touches on various topics and niches that relate to her everyday life. In addition to writing in her free time she also enjoys traveling and getting to know the world around her, while continuing her education. Over the years she has built up many strong relationships within the blogging community and loves sharing her useful tips with others.

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