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The world’s natural environment is constantly deteriorating, from organisms to plants and forests. An overabundance of toxic waste products and unsustainable rates of resources consumption are likely to blame, but you can help to alleviate the effects of humanity on nature by developing a more eco-friendly lifestyle and home. In the case of your kitchen in particular, here are five changes you can make.
When you see the term “eco-friendly,” think about it in two ways: ecologically friendly and economically friendly. One needn’t look further than kitchen appliances to be convinced. For example, dishwashers built prior to 1994 waste more than 10 gallons of water per cycle. Meanwhile, a newer, energy-efficient dishwasher will save about 1,600 gallons of water over its lifetime. This adds up to an average economic savings of about $110 per year. Visit a site like Budget Restaurant Supply and upgrade your appliances to more efficient models.
You may have heard about LED and CFL light bulbs. In the past decade alone, they’ve made quite a buzz for the amount of energy and money they save. For example, a pack of eight 13-watt CFL light bulbs from GE will run you about $14. However, these light bulbs have a lifespan of 8,000 hours, which lasts an estimated five years.
Compost is the natural breakdown of organic materials into a rich, fertile soil. So then if you’re not a gardener, why does it matter? Because many agricultural practices have led to soil erosion and land degradation. As Washington State University puts it, “While it takes thousands of years for the earth’s forces to build good soil, we can help do this in 5–10 years by adding compost—which adds microorganisms, arthropods, worms, and humus to the soil.” Make a compost bin for your kitchen’s scraps. That way, your vegetable peels and fish bones can go to use.
When we think of eco-friendly cleaning products, we generally confine the conversation to switching from toxic, chemical-laden products to more natural ones such as Simple Green. While this is generally good advice, the fight for a cleaner earth extends far beyond that. For example, did you know that many companies now produce recycled paper towels? If every household in the U.S. replaced just one 6-pack of 140 sheet virgin paper towels with their recycled ones, the world could save more than 2,200,000 trees and over 780 million gallons of water.
Switch to a Low-Pressure Faucet
You’ve heard of low-pressure showerheads before, but did you know that there are low-pressure kitchen faucets, too? The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that replacing your outdated faucets with new, energy-efficient models can reduce your yearly water usage by as much as 60 percent.
As the most advanced species on this planet, it is our responsibility to ensure that we look after the environment and all the other organisms that we share it with. Do what you can to make your kitchen more energy efficient, and you’ll enjoy both cheaper electricity and water bills and a healthier world.
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Updating your home is always exciting (and sometimes a little stressful). Whether you’re updating a room with some fresh paint and new décor, or taking on an entire renovation, there are several ways you can minimize your impact on the environment when decorating your home.
Thinking about the earth in everything we do is always important, so consider these tips when you’re planning that next big home improvement project:
1. Utilize Sustainable Materials
When selecting products for your home, you have a lot of options that are good for you and the earth. If it’s a simple redecoration project, you can choose curtains or throw pillows made with hemp, which is much more sustainable than cotton or wool. If you’re going for decorative pieces, consider items made from recycled glass or plastic, or even reclaimed wood.
If your project is bigger, you still have many sustainable materials to choose from. When it comes to furniture, cabinets or flooring, bamboo is one excellent sustainable choice. It’s one of the most sustainable hardwoods out there, maturing in 5-7 years and having less impact on the environment where it grows. Bamboo flooring is just as sustainable as it is strong: bamboo is as sturdy as steel, hardier than concrete, and beautiful to boot.
There are also great choices available when it comes to countertops and sinks. Recycled glass comes in different colors and marbling styles, and can be made to look like natural stone, giving your home a refined look without using dwindling supplies of marble or granite. In the bathroom, tiles made with recycled glass or plastic are stylish and help keep bottles out of our landfills.
2. Nix The Chemicals
VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are found in many home improvement supplies, including paint and floor finishes. These carbon-based chemicals evaporate at moderate temperatures. Some VOCs have no odor at all, but each and every one is dangerous when inhaled.
VOCs have been linked to a number of health issues, including asthma, allergy symptoms, headaches and even vomiting. In the long-term, VOCs have been known to contribute to cancer, liver and kidney damage, and nervous system damage. These effects are stronger on babies, small children, pets, the elderly, and those with existing immune system or breathing issues.
If you have pets or small children in the house, it’s very important to make sure you minimize their exposure to VOCs. Luckily, there are a lot of low-VOC paint options available, as well as low-VOC flooring finishes.
3. Reach For The Stars
Energy Stars, that is. Many people are under the mistaken impression that Energy Star is a privately owned company that is paid to give endorsements or to work with certain brands. . Energy Star is actually the brainchild of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and they use a set of rigorous standards to qualify appliances as energy efficient.
Minimizing our energy consumption is a good way for us to lessen our impact on the world around us. Energy Star ratings can play a huge part in this, especially since outfitting your home to utilize solar energy can be very expensive. If you’re in the market for new appliances, lighting fixtures, or even light bulbs, just taking a moment to look for the energy star sticker can make all the difference.
4. Find The Right Professional
If you are hiring a professional or utilizing a contractor, take some time to look into their business practices and philosophies. Sometimes you’re limited by local options, but if you have the ability to hire someone who shares similar views on the environment, it’s definitely worth the time it takes to find them and any extra money it may cost over that bargain-bin big name company.
Many contractors are now taking the time to recycle and reuse materials they remove from homes. If you purchase a new product and hire the same company to install it, try to find a company that is green. This can mean many things, but in the end, a factory that takes steps to decrease its carbon footprint is healthier for the environment, and probably makes some of the safest products you can use in your home.
While refined white sugar isn’t the healthiest ingredient to include in our food, it’s still a staple in many pantries. Whether you’re looking to rid your home of refined sugar without wasting your supply, or just looking for simple ways to use it around the house, try these handy ways to use sugar outside of food.
1. Naturally exfoliate skin
Sugar is naturally abrasive, making it a good substitute for conventional exfoliating scrubs, many of which use tiny beads of nonbiodegradable plastic that cause major problems for aquatic life. A basic homemade sugar scrub is simply one part sugar and one part oil, such as jojoba, almond or olive oil. To make a fancier homemade sugar scrub, consult the these recipes.
2. Clean your coffee grinder
Coffee and spice grinders pick up oil and dirt that can be difficult to clean with soap and water. Fortunately, an electric grinder can be easily cleaned by running 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 cup of sugar through it. In addition to cleaning the machine, the sugar will also absorb odors.
3. Scrub your hands
Sugar helps remove dirt, grease and oil like a champ. Try rubbing dirty hands with equal parts olive oil and sugar, then rinsing.
4. Sustain a bouquet
Preserve the life of freshly cut flowers by sprinkling a tablespoon of sugar into the vase water. Sugar provides nourishment for the flowers, helping them live longer. Note, however, that sugar also provides food for bacteria. To prevent bacterial growth in your vase, add a tablespoon of vinegar to the mix.
5. Heal wounds
In a study at an English hospital, sprinkling sugar on bed sores, leg ulcers and amputations helped heal injuries that were unresponsive to conventional treatments. Sugar draws water from wounds, helping prevent infection. Always consult a physician when treating these serious conditions.
6. Store baked goods
Keep biscuits, cake or other baked goods fresh by placing a lump of sugar in the bottom of the storage container. The sugar will absorb moisture in the container, helping keep goodies fresh longer.
7. Naturally trap pests
Fruit flies are attracted to sweet things, so set out a lure of simple syrup, which is made by boiling sugar and water together. This will trap and drown the insects. Make a homemade fly trap by boiling sugar, honey and water in equal proportions, stirring occasionally until thickened. Dip pieces of brown packaging paper in the mixture, the hang them to dry with a drip pan underneath. For roaches, mix equal parts sugar and baking powder, then sprinkle over infested areas. To make traps for other insects, visit motherearthliving.com/fruit-fly-trap.
8. Feed hummingbirds
Hummingbirds thrive on flower nectar, which can be mimicked by mixing one part sugar to four parts water. Add it to a hummingbird feeder and wait for your winged visitors to arrive. Want to make your own hummingbird feeder? Find out how at motherearthnews.com/DIY-hummingbird-feeder.
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Improving your home’s sustainability can go a long way toward saving energy, lowering monthly bills, and helping the environment at the same time. There are many ways you can help increase your home’s green profile, and most of them won’t break the bank.
Installing a new thermostat is a great way to reduce your energy usage and save money. Programmable thermostats allow you to control the temperature of your home whether you’re there or not. Some models even let you access the thermostat from your Smartphone. Replacing your thermostat this spring will help keep your home more comfortable this summer, while you save on those air conditioning bills.
The average cost of thermostat installation is between $200 and $250 for a digital thermostat.
Total costs range from $50 for a manual thermostat you install yourself to $700 for an electronic thermostat.
Tips to Get It Done Right
• Digital and electronic thermostats cost the most upfront, but will save you the most over time.
• Programmable thermostats come in different systems; check each one out first to make sure you get the right one for your needs.
Manual thermostats can usually be installed DIY, but digital and electronic thermostats may need an additional hub, as well as experience dealing with electricity, to do correctly.
Most homes today are under-insulated, meaning that they don’t have enough insulation for their needs. Adding attic insulation can help prevent your attic from becoming superheated in the summer, which in turn helps prevent roof damage, and keep that heat from transferring to the rooms below, raising your energy costs. Adding extra insulation this spring will help keep your whole house more comfortable year-round.
The cost to insulate an attic starts around $400 and can go as high as $1800, depending on the type of insulation being used.
Tips to Get It Done Right
• Insulate the underside of your roof deck as well as the attic floor to help stop heat transfer to and from your roof.
• Adjust your R-value to the climate you live in; moderate climates can use R-14, while harsher climates may need R-19 or higher.
It is possible to install roll insulation yourself. Just take care to protect your skin from the fiberglass, and not to step in areas where there are no floor joists below.
Planting trees in your yard is another way to increase your home’s green status. Trees help prevent soil erosion, and increase shade around your house, helping lower summer energy bills. Spring is the ideal time to plant new trees while you spruce up landscaping after a long winter.
The average cost of tree planting is $106 per tree for five small trees delivered and planted.
Total costs range from $75 per tree for five small trees delivered, and planted DIY, to $2,423 per tree for five large trees delivered and planted professionally.
Tips to Get It Done Right
• Check with your local government to find out if there are free trees available to plant.
• Check with the utility company before planting trees that could interfere with power lines (if planted in the wrong spot, they may need to be removed later).
Trees can be planted DIY as long as you can dig a large enough hole. For larger trees, you may want to rent a mini-excavator to help do the job.
Install LED Lights
Switching out standard lights for LED fixtures can help lower energy bills each month. LED lights come in many of the same shades of white light we’re used to, requiring only a fraction of the electricity. Some LED bulbs can be used in standard fixtures, but switching to an LED fixture can make the change easier. Making the switch in spring is the perfect time to see the biggest changes in your electric bill for the coming year.
The cost of installing new LED fixtures in your home is around $600 for 6 recessed lights.
Total costs range from $250 for a DIY installation to $1000 for premium materials. LED lights average $15 to $25 for a 100 watt bulb, but use less power per unit of light generated, lowering bills. Labor for installation is typically $65 to $85 per hour, and it takes about one hour per recessed light to be installed without issue.
Tips to Get It Done Right
• Invest in fixtures that allow flexibility in the type of bulb you use, so you can vary the strength and type of light until you’re satisfied with the results.
• Spread lights out evenly across the room to ensure you get the best light.
This job requires a licensed, experienced electrician.
Water Filter Installation
Installing a water filter can be a smart move depending on your current water quality. There are many types of water filters, which can remove lead, bacteria, or minerals. Installing a filter can help you avoid bottled water, and help with issues such as pipe damage and health issues from the presence of nitrates or bacteria in your water. If you have a well, spring is the ideal time to get your water tested and a filter installed, as ground water can be impacted by melting snow.
The cost to install a water filter in your home is around $250 to $400 for a reverse osmosis system. Total costs range from $20 for a filtering pitcher to $3000 for a whole-house water softening system.
Tips to Get It Done Right
Have your water tested by a reliable private lab before purchasing. Filters come in all shapes, sizes, and styles; first learn what’s in your wáter, so you can select the right model for your home.
This job may or may not be suitable for DIY depending on the type of filter being used.
Improve Your Green Status this Spring
Spring is a great time to work on your home. While you’re making repairs, increase your green status at the same time to help save on your energy costs. To find out more about what these projects cost, be sure to visit Cost Guides
Yuka Kato writes about home improvement tips & tricks to help homeowners learn more about improving their properties. She also delivers useful cost information you can use to help improve your own home at HowMuch.net.
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Black mold puts fear into the heart of every homeowner, and rightfully so.
Black mold can be a “catch all” phrase for molds that grow in the homes of millions of people all over the world, but it almost always refers to the dangerous and potentially toxic molds that can cause a world of headache and hassle (not to mention disastrous health conditions) to those who are exposed to it on a regular basis.
As a homeowner, you’ll not only want to know exactly what black mold is and how to identify it, but also exactly what it takes to get rid of black mold.
Believe it or not, the process for getting rid of black mold isn’t all that challenging – though if it has reached an epidemic stage, you may have to call in the professionals to do the “heavy lifting” for you!
Let’s dive right in!
What Exactly Is Black Mold?
As we touched upon above, many mold variants that might pop up in your home could be described as black in color – but that doesn’t mean that all of them are toxic more dangerous.
The dangerous black mold, scientifically referred to as stachybotrys chartarum, is the one that you’ll want to watch out for. This is the dangerous mold that can cause serious health concerns, and which you need to eradicate the moment you come across it.
Identifying this mold becomes rather simple and straightforward, especially if you “follow your nose.” You are going to smell a very distinct earthy scent (not unlike rotting leaves and dirt), and you’ll be able to pick up on this smell almost immediately. Toxic black mold has a very strong and potent smell.
You will also need to look specifically in areas that are conducive to mold growth. This means dark areas that are wet, damp, and where the temperatures are never too hot or too cold. The area underneath a kitchen sink is one classic example of a place where mold might like to hide.
Breaking down the danger of toxic mold
According to the CDC, black mold isn’t poisonous by itself, but is instead very attractive to dangerous and toxic chemical compounds which connect to the mold and the spores.
These mycotoxins are chemical compounds that can absolutely wreak havoc on the human body – and they are very easily blown around with even the slightest bit of wind. A door or cabinet opening, or even just a fan blowing in your house, is enough to spread these toxins around.
Once they enter into the body, you are in big trouble. These toxins are known for specifically targeting the respiratory system, and are capable of shutting down critical bodily functions. The toxins in the mold mold will work to cripple your body from the inside out, and considering the fact that the inside of the human body is a dark, moist, and warm space, mold that enters the body will reproduce like crazy.
Use mold tests to understand what you’re up against
It is absolutely critical that you know exactly what the problem is when it comes time to get rid of black mold.
This is why you should hire contractors to come in and test for mold, as well as test the specific mold spores that you come across. Learn more about how to start the process at blackmoldremoval.com/removal.
How to clean black mold once and for all
There are two ways to get rid of black mold permanently:
• Purchase a number of mold destroying compounds and chemicals and spray your entire home (focusing specifically on the areas that have mold growing on them already)
• Hire contractors to come in and professionally remove black mold for you.
The easiest way to get rid of black mold is to hire the right contractors to come in and handle all of the cleaning for you. They’ll be able to destroy all of the black mold, provide you with a clean room assessment, and guarantee that your home is completely mold free today – and for the foreseeable future – thanks to the professional-grade equipment that they’ll be able to use.
If you choose to remove black mold on your own, make sure to take every single precaution possible to protect yourself while cleaning the black mold. Make sure you have gear that protects your respiratory system, as well as non-porous gloves and protective eyewear to keep it from getting on your hands or in your eyes. While removing the mold, make sure that you don’t release any extra spores into the air, and make certain that you have eradicated every single mold spore in your home to prevent it from coming back even stronger later down the line.
You love your precious pieces of jewelry so much that you’re probably worried about having to clean them. The last thing you want is to damage them or make them lose their dazzle. The safest bet is to ditch chemically-based cleaning agents in favor of eco-friendly methods that are gentle on your bling while making it sparkle again.
Of course, you need to take into account the type of jewelry you have and choose a cleaning method that’s suitable for it. Here’s a guide.
Silver and Gold-Plated Jewelry
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An item of jewelry that’s plated basically has a surface covering of gold or silver. It’s fragile, especially if the layer is thin, so you don’t want to damage or remove it with abrasive cleaning.
How to clean silver-plated jewelry: Place aluminum foil along the bottom of a bowl and pour warm water over it. Add four tablespoons of salt and a few drops of dishwashing liquid (choose an eco-friendly brand to keep it gentle). Leave it to soak for a few minutes.
How to clean gold-plated jewelry: Mix some mild soap with warm water. You can let the pieces soak for a few minutes in this solution or use a soft toothbrush to gently scrub away marks if the jewelry is very dirty.
Baking soda is a great cleaning agent because it strips dirt but is gentle enough to use when cleaning up your diamond rings and other items. Simply place a cup of hot water into a bowl, along with two teaspoons of baking soda. Drop in your diamond bracelet or ring and let it soak for a few minutes.
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For gemstones, you want to be even gentler. Soak them in soapy water for a few minutes. Then wash them off with cold water, before drying them off with a soft cloth.
Gentle dish soap comes to the rescue again when you want to clean up your gold items. You want to drizzle a few drops of it into a bowl but add in some seltzer water or club soda, too. The bubbles are what will help to brush off the dirt! Allow the gold pieces to soak for a few minutes and if you still have some marks, use a toothbrush to gently scrub them away by hand. Now your gold jewelry will look brilliant again.
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If your gorgeous copper items of jewelry aren’t gleaming the way you’d like, use some salt and lemon juice to bring back their beauty. Cut a lemon in half. Squeeze its juice all over the item of copper you want to clean. Take some salt and sprinkle it on, then use the same half-slice of lemon to scrub away dirt. Rinse it off.
Pearls (and Other Porous Stones)
Pearls are delicate and need extra care when cleaning because they’re porous and easily ruined. You want to place the pearl item on a soft cloth. Then, take a clean makeup brush (such as an eye shadow applicator) and dab it onto some shampoo and warm water. Carefully use this brush to gently clean every pearl. Be sure to rinse off the pearls with a wet cloth and allow them to air-dry. You should also use this method for other porous stones, such as turquoise, coral, amber, lapis lazuli, and malachite.
Care for Your Jewelry
Looking after your gorgeous jewelry is an important way to prevent you from having to clean them intensively.
• Keep your jewelry away from light and heat. Both can cause them to fade and become dull.
• Store every item of jewelry in a different compartment in your jewelry box to prevent them from getting scratched.
• Always apply body lotion and perfume, and allow them to dry, before putting on jewelry. The chemicals in these products can cause your jewelry to fade.
Jewelry can easily get scratched or damaged so you want to be careful when cleaning it. Only use eco-friendly methods to deeply clean and polish your precious stones and metals. They’ll look brand new in no time!
Indoor air can get really stale in the winter when everything is freezing and closed up against the cold. Fortunately, there’s a really simple way to freshen up your home without resorting to chemical “room freshener” sprays and artificially scented candles—the simmer pot.
Putting together a simmer pot couldn’t be simpler—it’s basically just infusing spice and aromatics in water, gently heating it so that a lovely heated steam produces a fragrance. Traditionally, these have been done in a sauce pan on the stove top, but that’s got a couple of draw backs: Running the stove uses a decent amount of energy, you really shouldn’t walk away, and you’ve got a fire risk if the all of the water evaporates down while the burner is. Not good things.
A simple fix is to use a mini slow cooker—the Crock-Pot Little Dipper model is just the right size. Designed for heated dips, it keeps the water at just the right temperature, and it’s safe to leave on. With no open flame, you can leave the room while it’s on and it won’t boil down or create a fire hazard. They retail for around $10 new, but honestly, check your thrift and second hand stores—I see them all the time for around $5.
Once you’ve got one, here are a couple easy recipes to try out, but you really can throw any aromatics you enjoy into a simmer pot and have your house smell fantastic. There’s really no wrong way to do it!
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Cinnamon Spice Simmer Pot
• 1 cup of hot water
• 2 cinnamon sticks (broken in half if they’re more than a few inches long)
• 1 teaspoon whole cloves
• 1 apple peel/core (optional, but if you’ve got one toss it in; it’s a great way to use inedible scraps, and lends a subtle apple aroma)
Lemon Pine Simmer Pot
• 1 cup of hot water
• 1 lemon (feel free to use what remains after you juice and zest for cooking)
• 1/2 cup fresh pine needles (light green new tips are the best and most fragrant)
Amanda is focused on homesteading in a small town, and blogs about it a Little House in an Old Town, the exurban evolution of her writing at Apartment Farm.