Mother Earth Living

Your Natural Home

Creating a cozy hearth for the family

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1/14/2015

When beginning to make your home a healthy, green oasis that rejuvenates and nourishes your mind, body and spirit, it’s important to begin by incorporating small attainable steps rather than trying to tackle too much. A major green living overhaul will potentially leave you feeling overwhelmed, but incremental advances will create lasting habits of change.

Here is a simple two-step solution to begin your journey of green living.

Green Living Ideas 

1. Read Labels and Completely Eliminate Fragrances

Fragrance inundates us everywhere we go; it’s in so many of the products that literally touch our lives. According to the National Academy of Sciences, 95 percent of the compounds used to make fragrances are synthetic materials derived from petroleum or petrochemicals in a laboratory. These chemicals are known to create disease in the body. The Institute of Medicine puts fragrances in the same category as secondhand smoke. Fragrance is used in products from personal hygiene items to toilet bowl cleaners. A deceptive marketing tactic is labeling household products “fragrance free.” Unfortunately, these products can still contain fragrance. The label just indicates that the products were created without a noticeable scent. In fact, neutralizing chemicals are used to mask scent—and manufacturers are not required to list chemicals used to conceal other fragrances. It’s important to know how to read labels so you can determine whether fragrances are lurking in the products in your home. It’s also important to start listening to your body. Your sense of smell, especially, can be like radar—instantly knowing whether your environment is truly healthful.

2. Turn to Baking Soda

Sometimes it’s easier to add new habits into your daily routine before you eliminate ones that have been in your life or home for a long time. Begin by including baking soda. Baking soda is one of those versatile products that can be used in so many different ways. In our home we always have baking soda on hand. We use it:

• To clean counters
• As an alternative to toothpaste when we are all out
• To unclog pesky drains in combination with vinegar
• In the bath to balance out the pH levels of the body
• In the washing machine to get rid of the poignant odor of athletic gear

Ensuring the air you breathe in your home is healthful will allow you to take a deep and restorative breath, which will benefit your mind, body and spirit.


Christa OLearyChrista O'Leary is the founder and CEO of Home in Harmony Lifestyle. She is an interior designer, marriage and family therapist, and green-living expert. Her book, Home in Harmony: Designing an Inspired Life (Hay House) is an international bestseller that helps readers have a peaceful and healthy home.



1/13/2015

Having pests removed is a costly affair, but the costs of not finding an infestation early can be much greater. Because pests tend to multiply very quickly if left to their own devices, the greater the size of the infestation, the more costs you will incur; both through removal of pests and property damage they cause in the meantime.

Pests nibble, scratch, break and contaminate almost everything they touch. The best way to minimize the effect they have is to stamp them out early, but this isn’t as easy as you might think. You may now be sitting in a house that is in the midst of a pest takeover and not even know it.

Pests are sly creatures that inhabit the darker, and previously uninhabited, areas of a house; only venturing out at night or when it is very quiet. As a result, you are not likely to notice them until it is too late, and the whole house has become part of their territory. However, there are small, less obvious signs, as opposed to a mouse scampering across your kitchen, which you can look out for. The key is to remain vigilant.

scavengers
Photo courtesy Flickr

Where to Look for Signs of Pests

Ideally, it is best to look all over the house on a regular basis to ensure that you don’t miss anything. Failing that, there are three high risk areas that we recommend are checked as often as possible.

1. The kitchen. A lot of pipes find their way up and out into the kitchen, which often provide pests with entry points. Given this is where the food is, and therefore their primary reason for being in the house, this is probably the most important place to keep watch.

2. Anywhere that you have appliances, links to the outside such as pipes or ground level windows, or isn’t inhabited by you very often. Basically we are talking about laundry rooms, utility rooms, basements or attics. These are warm, easy-to-access environments that pests like to settle in.

3. The garage. This is effectively ground-zero for pests. Easy to get into, this is where you are most likely to find evidence of an infestation. Unlike other areas, however, this is not a high risk area in terms of contamination and health risks. Finding pests in the garage is not cause for alarm just yet, rather a strong indicator that pests are around your house, allowing you to take preventive measures to ensure they don’t make it past said area. As for why pests like the garage so much, just like a home it is warm, sheltered and has plenty of things to nibble on; unlike a home however, it is easily accessible through the garage door, as there is often a gap between it and the floor large enough for many pests to slip through. If you are concerned about having pests in your garage, near where children might be getting things like bikes from, then seal that gap. It will make your problem a lot easier to deal with.

5 Warning Signs of an Impending Pest Infestation

1. Noise
While pests are quiet, they are by no means silent. Listening at night is the best way to hear them, as this is the time they are most active. Putting your ear against the walls of your home will allow you to hear any movement in the wall cavities—one place pests tend to hide out. It is also important to listen to the ceiling, especially if there is an attic, or any location that has a crawl space. A little pitter-patter sound is all you need to confirm that they are inside the house.

2. Smell
If you are in high risk areas for pests, such as the kitchen or basement, and catch a whiff of a musky odor, it is important that you investigate properly. The nasty smells pests leave behind are often described as being similar to a pet rabbit’s hutch if said hutch hasn’t been cleaned in a while, a musky odor with a distinct note of ammonia. Not a fragrance that is going to smell well. Tracking down the source of the smell will often lead you to the next items on our list, and concrete evidence of pest infiltration.

mouse nest
Photo courtesy Flickr

3. Nesting
Once a pest enters the home, it is probably going to want to stay there. If you think about it, the pest has just found a warm environment which is safe from predators and has plenty of access to food and water. This means that they’ll have just one more thing on their mind: reproduction. To make their tenancy long-term, pests like to make nests. They will do this in the darker, less-trafficked areas of your home, such as behind appliances, in wall cavities or within loft insulation. However, as mentioned above, smell is a strong indicator of a nest, so follow your nose!

damaged wire
Photo courtesy Flickr

4. Damaged Furniture and Wiring
Nothing says mice more than a gnawed chair leg. Rodents in particular will chew at anything, as it helps wear down their constantly growing teeth. This means nothing is safe: pipes, insulation, wood, plastics, wires, you name it, they’ll eat it. Check around the skirting boards, at the base of cupboards and other pieces of furniture, especially in high risk areas. If you spot a mysterious chunk taken out the side of your bread box, for example, it most likely wasn’t a hungry burglar.

5. Leavings
Something of a delicate matter, the finding of foreign animal droppings in or around your home should be met with extreme caution. Be it urine or fecal matter, the waste of a pest is not only a clear sign they are there, but also a vessel for dangerous pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses. Make sure any contaminated area is cleaned thoroughly after contact. The trick now, however, is identifying the pest by its leavings. Larger pests, such as mice, rats and raccoons all leave rather obvious droppings, but smaller animals, such as cockroaches, are a bit more subtle. As with the example of cockroaches, their droppings tend to look like coffee granules, so be weary of anything that looks like granules but is distinctly out of place.

Now What?

If you’ve looked over your home and spotted none of these signs then you should be okay, for now. Keep up a routine of checking for these simple signs and you’ll be sure to catch pests early. However, what if you come across evidence of pests, what do you do now? You can either do your own, DIY pest control through pesticides and poisons, but that's no guarantee that you’ll get them all. To make sure you are pest free, contact your local expert. Reputable pest professionals will often offer a free survey and estimate, so there’s no harm into giving them a call. But, for those of you without pests, check out our article on how to prevent pests from entering your home, and make sure your pest-free home stays that way.


EBS Pest ControlEBS Ltd are urban pest and bird control specialists who have been operating in London since 2003. The company was founded, and is run, by Jeff Nelson a pest control expert with over 20 years industry experience.



1/9/2015

Greater energy independence, freedom from fluctuating energy prices, and environmentally friendly living are alluring concepts that motivated my family to examine our housing and our lifestyle. We recently purchased a high-performance home and installed a solar system, making our home net-zero. We now produce as much power as we use over the course of a year.

Net Zero Living
Photo by Steve Chiasson

Realizing the Dream of a Net-Zero Home

To realize the dream of a net-zero home, we bought a superefficient home at Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, a 36-unit multigenerational community in Midcoast Maine with triple-pane windows and doors, virtually airtight construction, a solar orientation and lots of insulation. The sun, appliances and occupants provide a majority of the heat needed to keep our home cozy.

On sunny winter days, our heaters remain off, as the sun gradually warms the house. Electric baseboard heaters kick on as needed, primarily at night or on cold, cloudy days. The home is all electric—with an electric range, hot water heaters and space heaters. Because we don’t use propane, natural gas or heating oil, a solar system can produce all the energy that our home consumes.

Our home has a Zehnder heat recovery ventilation system to ensure high indoor air quality and comfort. Because the home is airtight, mechanical ventilation is essential for fumes and moisture from showers and daily activities to exit the building. Just as important, an airtight home needs a ventilation strategy for the incoming air. By incorporating a heat recovery ventilator, the constant stream of fresh incoming air is filtered and then preheated—pulling the heat from the outgoing air.

Our home doesn’t have exhaust fans. While they effectively vent stale air out of a home, they’re not energy efficient because the heat is not recovered when the air exits the home. Our heat recovery ventilation system recovers most of the heat, keeping our energy use down. Zehnder systems are up to 95 percent efficient, allowing our home to achieve a level of energy efficiency and indoor air quality that wouldn't be possible otherwise.

Before installing a solar system, we examined how we could further reduce our energy use. We swapped out halogen and incandescent light bulbs for LED bulbs, installed a low-flow shower head to reduce our hot water use, and removed the screens from the south-facing windows throughout the winter for greater solar gain.

Last summer, we helped organize the largest community solar purchase in Maine for our neighborhood and we installed a solar system on our home. Because the homes are so efficient, a relatively modest solar system can generate all the needed power over the course of a year. Some of our neighbors with similar homes installed solar systems a year or more before us, which helped us size our system. The Grace/Mebee family realized their net-zero goal last year with a 4.5 kW solar system for a 1,500 square foot home and the McBride residence generated 95 percent of its power from a 2.6 kW solar system.

Our homes are connected to the power grid, eliminating the need for batteries. Our local power company has a net metering program, making the solar system more cost effective. On sunny days, our system feeds excess power to the grid, and the credits are banked in our account. When the sun isn’t shining, we pull power from the grid.

It’s gratifying to know that we are harvesting the clean solar energy that falls on our property, both passively with large south-facing windows and actively with a solar system. Even in a cold climate where most homes are heated for six or more months of the year, all our energy needs are met by a winning combination of an energy-efficient design and solar energy.


Sarah Lozanova is an environmental and health journalist with an MBA in sustainable management. She lives in a net-zero house in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.



12/12/2014

I'm a firm believer in a homemade meal being the healthiest choice for my family, but work and school often overtake all my cooking time. Instead of being tempted by takeout, I just rely on my Crock-Pot. With all-meat chili, beef stew and chicken soup as favorites around the house, I don't even need to be home to cook a fantastic meal. After adding all the ingredients and setting the pot to low in the morning, the entire family returns home to a perfect meal. Because our family wants to have a small carbon footprint to better the environment, it's been a goal to find out whether Crock-Pots are energy efficient.

Crock-Pot

In most low-power cooking situations, the Crock-Pot wins out on energy efficiency. Stove or oven cooking requires the heating of a large area by either gas or electricity. Slow cooking takes hours, so running a large appliance against the Crock-Pot is almost always a losing battle. My family also leaves home with the assurance that a small appliance is working instead of a major appliance that can malfunction disastrously.

Size Matters

I know my refrigerator is more energy-efficient when it's full, and the same concept applies to the Crock-Pot. The small space is completely full for most recipes, even pot roast. Food heats up faster and more evenly for an efficient cooking session. Ovens, in contrast, must heat up a huge area that's not even full of food. Energy efficiency is definitely on the Crock-Pot's side.

Short Cooking Bursts Vary

I have to admit that research reflects a showdown between Crock-Pots, stoves and ovens when it comes to short cooking times. Crock-Pots are designed to cook slowly with hours of operation necessary. Cooking a quick soup over gas or electric burners shows these fuel sources as more effective, according to a study done at Iḷisaġvik College that found 12,071 BTUs were used for a gas stove compared to 87,000 BTUs for a Crock-Pot. If I can't make it home to cook on the stove, however, it's still more convenient to use the Crock-Pot as food warms all day.

Gas or Electric, You Say?

Electricity is known for its expensive cost when compared to gas. If you take the Crock-Pot out of the equation, a gas stove wins out over electricity. Although Crock-Pots are electrically driven, they don't require as much wattage as a major appliance. When a Crock-Pot isn't available, at least gas is a green alternative for your home cooking.

The Heat Factor

Energy efficiency is also about reduced waste. I want my appliance to use all the energy it draws from the fuel to cook my food. Running a stove or oven, however, is a costly decision because of all the heat loss. I may warm the house on cold days with the oven on, but the Crock-Pot would be a better energy conservation choice to reduce waste and still have a great dinner.

While every fuel source varies in cost depending on the region, it's safe to say Crock-Pots have a leg up on traditional cooking choices. For my busy lifestyle, slow-cookers allow the whole family to enjoy a meal without having to babysit a pot for hours on end. The modern family benefits greatly with these small appliance wonders.


Jane Blanchard writes for Modernize, a website offering home ideas and inspiration.



12/9/2014

Nice & Neat

Try these suggestions for a lighter living room and a clutter-free kitchen.

Cubby Coffee Table 

Storage Cubed
Made from sugarcane fiber, bamboo and recycled plastic, this modern coffee table is lightweight and customizable to fit your space perfectly.
To Buy: $230, Yube Cube

Basket Storage

A Clean Sweep
These broom-inspired baskets are made from natural straw fibers, and are lightweight and easy to store or stack away.
To Buy: $70 for two, Uncommon Goods

Horizontal Storage Cubby

Cool Cubby
This 2-1⁄2-foot-long mounting shelf with two storage cubbies is made from nontoxic materials, so you can feel even better getting things off the ground.
To Buy: $220, Kalon Studios

Organize Pots and Pans

Rack ‘Em Up
It’s a shelf, it’s a pot rack—it’s two in one! Maximize kitchen space by hanging pots and stacking necessities on this sturdy, hammered-steel wire rack.
To Buy: $210, Hay Needle

Stand Alone Pantry

Perfect Pantry
This no-frills shelf is all you need it to be, and is made from untreated wood sourced from well-managed pine and spruce forests and recycled materials.
To Buy: $30, Ikea

Easy & Organized

These solutions make bedroom and bathroom storage a breeze.

Stacking Wicker Baskets 

Get a Handle
These handcrafted wicker baskets are woven from high-quality natural rattan and perfectly sized for under-bed storage.
To Buy: $28 to $42, The Basket Lady

Cedar Chest

Cedar Storage
Stackable shelves create a custom storage solution. North American red cedar protects clothes against moths, mildew and mustiness.
To Buy: $60 to $200, Improvements

Under the cabinet, pull out organizer

Easy Organizer
Live simply with decluttered cabinets. This minimalist Simplehuman pull-out organizer does what you need, without being overly complex.
To Buy: $50, The Container Store

Kitchen Drying Rack

Hang Out
Constructed of sturdy white pine and birch sourced from the U.S., this 22-inch expanding drying rack is ideal for drying clothing. Four pegs provide additional hanging space.
To Buy: $72, Gaiam

Organize Vertically

Tower Power
Handcrafted from naturally harvested Abaca fiber using a traditional Philippine technique, this basket tower is as practical as it is appealing.
To Buy: $100, World Market

Find more home organization tips in 31 Home Storage Solutions.



12/3/2014

I've always had a love-hate relationship with the heating systems in my home. As the fall temperatures started to dip, I loathed turning on the furnace each year. If we programmed the thermostat to have lower nighttime temperatures, then we were greeted each morning with a blast of warm air. Even with a humidifier on our forced air furnace, our home would become drier when the furnace was turned on in the winter, and I would cringe when thinking of the fossil fuel use needed to keep our home warm.

Winter Comfort
Photo by Steve Chiasson

The Solution

All of this changed when we moved into a high-performance house at Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, a 36-unit multigenerational community in Midcoast Maine. Our new home uses 90 percent less energy for space heating and is largely heated by the sun. On clear winter days, our home heats up gradually from the sun's rays, as daylight streams in through our large triple-pane windows and doors. Our home is often several degrees warmer than the thermostat setting because generous amounts of insulation and air-sealing keep the elements out. Even on cold, windy winter nights, I can sit in front of the windows and feel no drafts, a luxury that isn't possible in many homes.

"We used to live in a home that was built in the 1860s," says Don Pan, a member of Belfast Ecovillage. "The house leaked like a sieve, especially around the window frames. We used to sit in the middle of the room because it was too drafty to sit in front of the windows. In our new [ecovillage] home, none of this is a consideration."

Because the homes at Belfast Ecovillage are so well-insulated, appliances and occupants help to heat the home. Cooking a meal and running the dishwasher make a noticeable difference. Even a few minutes of exercise with the kids can raise the indoor temperature a degree or two.

It has already snowed twice in Maine, but we have barely turned on the heat. Despite below-freezing temperatures at night, the bedrooms have recently reached 70 degrees in the morning, with no supplemental heat.

After a nearly five-day power outage last December, with some sub-zero weather, indoor temperatures had dipped by only 10 degrees before the outage ended. Neighboring homes were below freezing after a mere 24 hours. It was such a relief to not worry about our pipes freezing.

The temperatures throughout the home are also very even, although this results in part from zoned heating. Our north-facing bedrooms don't receive the same amount of passive solar gains as the south-facing living room and kitchen, but the entire house is comfortable.

Our Zehnder heat recovery ventilation system draws stale air out of the kitchen and bathroom and supplies fresh air to the bedrooms. High-efficiency heat recovery ventilation systems can be 85 to 95 percent efficient, thus they are far more efficient than exhaust fans because the heat from the outgoing air is transferred to the incoming air before it exits the home.

In leaky homes, outside air is constantly entering the home, which provides ventilation but adds to the heating bill, as the incoming air is the same temperature as outdoors. Because our home is virtually airtight, the air quality would be poor without mechanical ventilation. The system allows the home to achieve high levels of efficiency while maintaining air quality.

The heat recovery ventilation system brings a constant flow of fresh air into our home, but it’s preheated to within several degrees of room temperature by the recovered heat from the outgoing stale air. Be aware that some heat recovery ventilation systems are less energy efficient and therefore may provide air that is noticeably colder than room temperatures.

In our last home, I could get a rough sense of the outdoor temperature by sitting in front of a drafty window or noticing how much our forced air furnace had to work to keep the home warm.Now I have to watch the facial expressions of our neighbors through our three large living room windows to gauge the outdoor temperature because our home is always comfortable and warm.


Sarah Lozanova is an environmental and health journalist with an MBA in sustainable management. She lives in a net-zero house in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.



11/26/2014

Pests are nasty, disease bringing, furniture gnawing, money absorbing, beasts. They are found anywhere and everywhere around the globe and with so many different critters and creepy crawlies, there is always one perfectly suited to your home. Besides keeping your home neat and tidy, what can be done to keep them away?

Rodents

1. Stop the Pests From Getting Inside

Starting with air bricks and chimneys, while they are an absolute necessity as part of your home, they are perfect entry points for pests such as mice and cockroaches. Do not attempt to cover the gaps by filling them in. Instead place a steel mesh over them, it allows for regular airflow, yet denies pests access to the building.

Similar to this, you’ll also want to seal any cracks that might have appeared in the brickwork of the structure as, even if they are high up, mice and rats can climb and gain access through them. Points at which pipes, such as water or gas, enter the house also often have a small gap around them as the entry point is usually slightly larger than the pipe itself. Using sealant or expanding foam is the perfect answer to this: It will block the entrance without causing any disruption to the piping. A mouse only needs a hole the size of a ballpoint pen to find its way in and other critters are even smaller, so do yourself a favor and get these holes closed!

2. Encourage the Natural Order

What keeps the balance of nature? What stops one creature becoming too prevalent? The yin and yang of Mother Earth: predator and prey. Encourage birds to come into your garden with birdbaths and feeders. A pet, such as a cat, is also a great addition to the team of predators protecting your home. But, remember a cat is for life, not just for catching mice. However, with these animals about, you are less likely to be dealing with mice trying to enter your home. The very presence of their predators is enough to ward them off.

Natural Predators

3. Don’t Make It Easy for Them

Overhanging trees are essentially a welcome sign to pests. Anything from insects to squirrels can scurry along the branches and onto the roof of your house. From the roof, it is far easier to find access points, or they might simply just set up shop there. If you have a tree near your home, make sure the branches do not hang over or touch the property, get them trimmed back regularly and you should avoid such problems. You don’t want to be removing a squirrel or a raccoon once they become settled up there; they become incredibly violent and territorial.

4. Keep Your Walls Clear

Termites, ants, cockroaches, flies, fleas, spiders—you can name whatever horrible little critter you like, they all like damp and dark places. Things like stacked wood and logs, leaves, compost and mulch and building materials are all things you are likely to leave piled up by the side of the house, but don’t. It is very dark inside these stacks and the damp sets in, making it the perfect environment for bugs. These places become a haven for this kind of life, as you will know if you’ve ever gone to collect some wood for the fire and run into a mound of insects under the logs.

This is not an issue in nature and is to be encouraged in some areas to help the biodiversity. However, putting it against the walls of your house helps pests become one with the building. They might nibble their way through into the wall cavities; they might find holes and get inside; or they might simply just decide to make a home in the cracks between the brickwork. Anyway you put it: It is not what you want around your home. If you're going to stack items like this, do it away from your house. Keep the foundations clean and dry and you’ll keep the pests away.

Trim tress with overhang

5. Remain Vigilant

Going around, sealing holes and moving logs away from the house is all well and good, but one year down the line you might have some home repairs done or your old shed could be lying in pieces next to the house; now we’re back to square one. If you don’t stay on the ball, the pests will get in. Keep up a routine of pest prevention. Always keep an eye out for new cracks in the walls or moisture around the foundations. Remember to pick up the bird-feed to keep predators coming back and don’t forget to make sure the mesh that you put on airflow entrances are still in place.


EBS LogoEBS Ltd are urban pest and bird control specialists who have been operating in London since 2003. The company was founded, and is run, by Jeff Nelson a pest control expert with over 20 years industry experience.





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