Mother Earth Living

Your Natural Home

Creating a cozy hearth for the family

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There are plenty of energy-saving tips that anyone can use at home. Reducing the amount of energy that you use not only lowers your bills, but it also makes your carbon footprint smaller. That means you get short-term and long-term advantages just by making a few adjustments to your home and lifestyle.

Tip #1: Reduce Air Leaks and Improve Insulation

The average homeowner devotes 45 percent of his or her energy usage to heating. You can dramatically reduce the amount of energy that you use heating your home by sealing leaks and adding insulation.

Air leaks commonly occur in:

• dropped ceilings
• recessed lights
• attics
• sill plates
• water and furnace flues
• door frames
• window frames
• plumbing and utility access panels

Check these areas to make sure they're properly sealed so they don't let warm air leak out of your house or cold air sneak into your home.

Adding insulation to your attic and under your floors can also prevent energy exchange between the interior and exterior of your home. Spending a little money on improved insulation now could save you money for decades to come.

Unplug Electronics
Photo by Fotolia/Elenathewise

Tip #2: Unplug Electronics When You're Not Using Them

Your TV, computer, and other electronics draw small amounts of energy throughout the day, even when you don't have them turned on. You could save about $10 a month just by unplugging your:

• phone charger
• television
• lamps
• toaster
• computer

Setting your computer to "hibernate" can also reduce the amount of energy that your home uses unnecessarily. You can learn more about saving money and reducing your carbon footprint checking out this calculator tool.

If you don't want to spend time plugging and unplugging small appliances, consider buying more power strips. That way, you can just turn the power strip off. It won't drain energy like the appliances do.

Tip #3: Adjust Your Home When You Go on Vacation

If you plan to leave your home for several days or weeks, then it makes sense to do a few things that'll reduce your house's energy consumption. After all, you can't even use the energy while you're gone.

Some of the easiest things you can do include:

• Turning down your hot water heater's temperature (120 degree should meet the needs of most families)
• Turning off your thermostat
• Unplugging unnecessary appliances (you'll obviously want to leave the refrigerator on!)

When you come back, you'll have a lower energy bill because you made a small decision to conserve energy while you're away from home.

Tip #4: Change Your Furnace's Filter Monthly

A clogged air filter forces your heater to work harder than usual just to keep your home warm. Replacing the filter monthly will allow your HVAC system to do its job without using more energy than necessary.

During some months, you might not use your HVAC system enough to make the filter dirty. If you suspect that this is the case, remove the filter and look for signs of dirt. If it's still fairly white, you can put it back for a few more weeks. If it has turned gray, it's time to replace it.

The small amount that you spend replacing the furnace's filter will actually help you save a lot of money on energy usage.

Tip #5: Use Ceiling Fans

Most ceiling fans have switches that'll make them turn clockwise or counterclockwise. This comes in handy during hot summers and cold winters.

During the summer, switch your ceiling fans so that they turn turns counterclockwise. This will circulate the air so that it lowers the temperature and helps sweat evaporate from your skin quickly.

During winter, set your fans to turn clockwise. It'll circulate the air so that your furnace doesn't have to work so hard. Some studies have shown that using ceiling fans reduce heating and cooling costs by up to 15 percent.

Tip #6: Repaint, Refinish, Reupholster

One often overlooked way to cut down carbon emissions and save some cash is to take on DIY projects around the house. Sure, most people know value of switching to CFL light bulbs, but did you know that the color of your walls can affect your home’s energy efficiency? By using pale colors that make the most out of a room’s natural lighting, you can save money during the daytime by reducing your watt usage. If you’re going to be laying down some fresh coats, be sure to make sure you’re using eco-friendly paint that is free of harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

Recycling and/or refinishing old chairs and couches is also a great way to save on buying new furniture and reduce the amount of carbon energy produced by landfills. There are many fun ways to reupholster an old chair. Take a look at some of these sustainable and eco-friendly textiles to use before you get started. Whether you have the upholstery professionally done or do it yourself, this fun project is sure to become a conversation piece in your living room.

What energy-saving strategies do you use to save money and reduce negative effects on the environment? Have you found that some work better than others?

Miles YoungMiles Young is a freelance writer, designer and outdoorsman. He’s worked as a roof contractor and part-time engine mechanic. He spends his free time fishing and tinkering in his garage. You can follow him on Twitter @MrMilesYoung.


Air fresheners are marketed as an easy way to bring fresh, natural smells into our homes, with names such as “clean breeze” and “simply spring.” But the main ingredients in commercial air fresheners are not actually close to nature; instead they tend to be industrial chemicals, some of which are listed as chemical hazards by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

5 Natural Air Fresheners

Don't want these nasty chemicals all over your house (and your family's respiratory tract)? We don't blame you! If you have the time, try this recipe for a nontoxic, homemade natural air freshener from Itty Bitty Impact. Otherwise, try one of our five favorite truly natural air fresheners below. 

Pocket Diffuser

Aura Cacia Pocket Diffuser, $22

This portable, folding diffuser is perfect for travel or even atop your desk at work. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to the diffuser and the battery-powered fan will disperse the therapeutic aroma.

Mira Rose Orange Spray

Mia Rose Air Therapy Mists, $22

Spritz the fragrant aroma of Mia Rose's essential oil mists around areas of your home that need a little freshening up. Scents range from key lime and orange to vanilla and winter spice.

Lavender Essential Oil

Plantlife Lavender Essential Oil, $16

Reach for a bottle of this lavender essential oil for its relaxing benefits. A little goes a long way! Add a few drops to a tissue and breathe in its calming properties, or use the oil in a homemade reed diffuser.

Diffuser Gift Set

PurePalette Home Diffuser Oil Gift Set, $16

Complete with natural reeds and a recycled glass vase, this home diffuser oil gift set takes the work out of homemade air fresheners in one simple gift set—plus, it's beautiful to look at! Look for it in Lemongrass Lavender, Green Tea and Cucumber, or even French Lavender.

Lavender Mist

Zum Lavender-Mint Room & Body Mist, $11

A combination of purified water and pure essential oils, this mist works great on everything from your face to your laundry. Try the best-selling Zum Mist scent Lavender-Mint for a truly luxurious experience.

Ingredient to Watch for: Formaldehyde

If you ever buy conventional air fresheners—the plug-in or spray kind, or the ones that look like a little dome—you might want to reconsider. Most air fresheners contain formaldehyde, petroleum distillates and aerosol propellants. Formaldehyde is an ingredient of particular concern. A suspected human carcinogen linked with lung and nasal cancer, formaldehyde can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, and difficulty breathing for some. In high concentrations, it may trigger asthma attacks.


“Where are the driveways?” asks one guest visiting Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage (BCE). “How strange, these houses don’t have any driveways!” Even the layout of the homes demonstrates that this is not a typical subdivision. But that's just the beginning.

My family recently purchased a high-performance house in BCE, a multigenerational community with 36 homes. Despite the cold winters here in Midcoast Maine, we have no furnace and no radiators. Our house is heated primarily from solar gains, its occupants, appliances, and modest use of baseboard electric heaters.

Solar Home
Photo by Jeffrey Mabee

“My feet, hands, and nose get cold really easily,” explains Penny West, a BCE member. “This house is so lovely because there are no drafts. I used to freeze while doing computer work in my last place. I bought boots, wore my hat, but here it is lovely.”

During our cold winters, BCE residents often comment on how comfortable the homes are. Even during windy subzero nights, there are no drafts when we are sitting in front of the triple-pane windows and doors. With highly insulated walls, ceilings, and foundations, all of the rooms are naturally the same temperature, and there are no cold rooms in the houses. Generous amounts of sunlight make supplemental light unnecessary until evening.

Despite their airtight construction, these energy-efficient homes have a constant stream of fresh air entering the bedrooms as the stale air is removed from the kitchens and bathrooms with a Zehnder heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system. This allows very high air quality in the winter, without the need to open any windows.

Our Zehnder HRV system is up to 90 percent efficient at capturing the heat from the exhaust air before it exits the home. Through the heat exchanger, incoming outside air is filtered and enters inside the building close to room temperature before being dispersed, unlike in typical construction, where incoming air is the same as the outside temperature. Because we don’t have an exhaust fan in the bathroom or a vented hood in the kitchen, we can boost the HRV system by a switch in the bathroom or kitchen to remove condensation, smoke, and fumes. Exhaust fans, in contrast, are not energy efficient and encourage drafts by venting warm air out of the home without capturing the heat and bring unheated outside air into the home.

Zehnder Heat Exchanger
HRV System; photo courtesy Zehnder

“I think the HRV is what revolutionized these houses,” says Brian Hughes, carpenter for GO Logic and a BCE member. “People have been building super tight insulated houses since the 50s. The problem was that the air quality wasn’t good and people didn’t try having a super tight building again until they realized that with the heat exchanger, you can use a tiny bit of electricity and have really high air quality.”

The homes are so energy efficient that a 4-kilowatt solar system can provide enough electricity annually to completely power our two-bedroom home with four occupants. All of our neighbors with solar systems have near net-zero homes; thus their solar panels produce all or a vast majority of their home electricity. The homes without solar systems still have modest electric bills, despite having electric heat, and this winter the homes used almost no supplemental heat until December, despite a frigid fall.

The secrets of a high-performance house in the Northeast include unobstructed solar exposure, triple-pane windows and doors, lots of large windows on the south side of the home, airtight construction, and generous amounts of insulation. The additional insulation and high-quality windows add thousands to the construction costs, while the electric heaters and HRV system combined cost less than a standard HVAC system in typical new construction.

A five-day power outage from an ice storm last December gave BCE’s houses the opportunity to perform. The outside temperatures were below freezing throughout the outage, with temperatures dipping below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. While neighboring houses (with typical construction) were approaching freezing temperatures indoors after just 24 hours without power, the BCE homes cooled by only 2 degrees daily. It was sunny only on the coldest day of the outage, and our house warmed up by 9 degrees throughout that day.

Certainly a lack of driveways are just one of the things that sets our new high-performance house apart from other homes. The very cold and long winter gave us an opportunity to see how our house performed. We sat and watched many snowstorms, while feeling cozy and warm inside. Now we are excited about gardening and preparing for spring.

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.


When you’re working from home, you absolutely need a designated office space. You may think that setting up a “work zone” at your kitchen table or at a desk in your bedroom will cut it, but unless you have a superhuman power of concentration, you’ll find yourself getting distracted and quickly lose your motivation to be productive. You may be working one minute but then suddenly find yourself doing multiple loads of laundry without knowing what’s just happened.

Your home office doesn’t have to be ornately decorated or expansive, but it does need to give you some separation from the rest of your home. In order to improve your productivity, you may also want to purchase certain office items like filing cabinets and bookshelves. Buying office supplies and new home office furniture can quickly add up, but luckily there are plenty of ways you can get the things you need at a discounted price. Here are a few tips to put together a great home office without taking a financial hit.

Home Office Furniture
Photo by Fotolia/Iriana Shiyan

Use partitions or bookshelves to create an office. If you don’t have an extra room to convert into a home office in your house or apartment, you don’t need to pay the cost of constructing a new room. Look for an unused space or nook and set up bookshelves or other partitions to create a sense of separation from the rest of the house.

Try shelves instead of a desk. If your budget for your home office is really tight or your space is limited, you might not want to invest in a full-sized desk. Instead, try installing sturdy shelves that can serve the same purpose as a desk.

Check thrift stores. Thrift stores, like Goodwill and Salvation Army, aren’t just for clothes—many of them have a good selection of lightly used furniture as well. You may need to check a few locations to find the right furniture for your space, but searching thrift stores can be a great way to furnish a home office on a very small budget. Remember, if you find something like a desk or bookshelf that doesn’t look great but is structurally sound, you can easily spruce it up with a new coat of paint.

Keep an eye on classified ads sites. While print newspaper ads have become less popular over the years, online classified ads have taken off, and sites like LocalMart’s local classifieds and Cort Clearance Furniture can help connect you to gently used furniture that’s selling for a fraction of the price you’d pay in a store. These sites are updated regularly, so if you find a good deal, act quickly before someone else does.

Thrift Store Desk
Photo by Fotolia/

If you live in a college town, pay attention when students move out. A lot of college students who move out at the end of the semester aren’t able to take furniture with them and don’t have the time to sell it, and in many college towns it’s a common practice for these students to leave items out on the curb so that anyone who wants them can claim them. This is another situation where you need to act fast, because free furniture goes fast. Consider grabbing a friend with a truck and driving around campus on move out day.

Pay attention when professional offices are renovating or moving. If you happen to hear that a friend or family member’s office is moving or undergoing major renovations, ask them if they’re getting rid of any furniture or office supplies. If they’re planning on upgrading, chances are they’ll be happy to get rid of some of their old items.

Repurpose items you already have. You might be surprised by how you can reuse items in your home if you think outside of the box. For example, if you have an old armoire with shelves at the right height, you may be able to turn it into a small desk that contains essentials like your computer, light, and important documents.

Putting together a great looking home office doesn’t require deep pockets or even extensive DIY experience. With a little ingenuity, you can put together a professional, organized space that will help you stay on task when you’ve got to buckle down and get work done at home.

Juliana Weiss RoesslerJuliana Weiss-Roessler is a freelance writer and mom who co-owns the business Weiss-Roessler Writing with her husband. She frequently writes about how to minimize your impact on the environment.



“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” —Kurt Vonnegut

A healthy home means living well both indoors and out, and taking the time to connect with nature. Learn how to create an environment that’s safe and nourishing for you and your family with our helpful tips.

Healthy Home Tips

Reduce Cancer Risk: Eliminate Chemical Carcinogens from Your Home: Reduce your family’s cancer risk by learning about—and eliminating—chemical carcinogens commonly found in our homes.

Spic and Span: Easy Homemade Cleaners: Make your home sparkle with easy homemade cleaners, and kick hazardous chemical cleaners to the curb.

13 Ways to Use Baking Soda Around the House: Use baking soda around the house to clean, deodorize, soothe and more.

Bug Out: Preventative Pest Control: Repel pests from your home by eliminating sources of food, water and shelter for them. Try these preventive pest control methods to keep your home bug-free!

Attract Beneficial Insects to Counter Garden Pest Problems: Attract beneficial insects to your yard to help counter garden pest problems and pest-proof your yard.


The deck. It’s a room with no wall, a space for family, friends, entertainment, food, and a place to kick back and enjoy the outdoors without leaving home. Like any space, when you decided to remodel, renovate, or build for the first time, you’re inevitably faced with a number of choices. With a deck, one of the most important decisions to make is the material. What do you want to make your new deck out of? With a number of choices to deal with knowing the primary differences, such as durability and cost, are important. You don’t want to invest thousands of dollars in a project only to later it’s not ideal for your needs—or alternatively—you don’t want to fall in love with a material only to find out it will completely break your budget or hurt the environment.

Deck Materials
Photo by Fotolia/Elenathewise

Major Types of Wood Decking

Wood is the most popular material for decks and for good reason. It’s durable, relatively inexpensive, and most importantly, it looks good, oh and it’s a renewable resource. There are a variety of wood products available, many fitting within any budget. The downside to any wood product is maintenance. If not regularly maintained the wood will deteriorate. It may splinter, fade in color, or rot and need replaced. Basic maintenance includes possible sanding and refinishing.

Pressure treated wood is designed to resist insects, rot, and general decay, than typical non-treated varieties. It’s also an affordable choice. The downside to treated wood is that compared to the other wood options, it tends to be the least attractive. That isn’t to say it can’t look good, but if aesthetics are your thing, you may need to look elsewhere. Keep in mind also that many pressure treated wood products are treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA) and you may want to avoid these types of products due to concern of potential arsenic exposure.

Redwood is just plain gorgeous, but not super sustainable.

Redwood has a natural ability to resist insects and rot, however, if not properly treated or left to the elements—particularly moisture—it can degrade rapidly, specifically newer wood (sapwood or the outer layers of the trunk).

The Redwood National Park in California states that old growth coast redwood is cut for lumber every day, which is not a good thing considering there are only 38,982 acres of the old growth forests left! This number may seem like a lot to you, but it’s actually only 4.4% of its original 1,950,000 acres of old growth forest. To make matters worse, redwood doesn’t do too well in the farm setting because these trees prefer to reseed themselves naturally.

Tropical hardwood options might be even worse.

Ironwood (also known as ipe) is exceptionally sturdy, capable of lasting longer than pressure treated wood and redwood. Tropical hardwoods resist water beautifully, but given these advantages you’ve probably guessed the downside. That’s right—cost to the environment and your wallet. Tropical hardwood is expensive, and has a huge carbon footprint as it is shipped in from the tropical regions of the word. This is assuming it is licensed lumber approved by the Forest Stewardship Counsel (FSC).

Of course, there are several more types of wood that make great decks.

Cedar works great as an alternate to redwood and even possesses many of the characteristics of redwood. Yellow pine has a much different color than both cedar and redwood and also can resist insects and rotting. Finally, there’s mahogany. Cedar is less endangered than Redwood, and doesn’t need as many chemicals as Yellow Pine so it is my first choice for green-ness. FSC Mahogany is a good choice as well. Other species of mahogany are endangered and should not be used such as the Brazilian, Asian and African varieties.

Deck furniture and decor affects the environment almost as much as the wood you build with.

There are many things to keep in mind as you set about to use your deck such as buying durable furniture so you don’t have to replace it and protecting your deck with recyclable, non- vinyl covers like these eco-friendly firepit covers.

When purchasing wood, be sure it is sourced from sustainable sources. If it’s not, or you suspect that it isn’t, check and double check. If it’s not, it’s best just to move on and find a wood or material that is. Why? It’s simply responsible living!

Lisa HenfieldLisa Henfield is an exterior designer who spent a few years designing patio furniture covers for hotels in Las Vegas. She mostly writes about her design experiences, providing tips on exterior design and gardens. When she isn't practicing her sewing or writing about the right colors for the outdoor seasons, she usually works on her paintings.


Using reclaimed furniture to decorate your home is a great way to add a period feel to any room, and to add a touch of rustic beauty to a bland, modern design. Upcycling is quite fashionable at the moment, and it's easy to understand why. Visiting salvage yards and looking for battered antiques to restore is incredibly satisfying, and there's something special about lovingly sprucing up an old piece and making it your own.

Reclaimed Table
Photo courtesy Flickr

Take a look at some of the reasons why I would choose upcycling old furniture over buying new factory formed furniture any day.

1. Every Item Has a Story

Antique furniture is much more interesting than modern flatpack stuff. Even the most scuffed, tattered and damaged items are likely tougher and more hardwearing than the average item you can purchase from a catalogue today. Once you have reupholstered that chair, or sanded and repainted that cabinet, the quality of the materials and the calibre of the craftsmanship will show through. You'll also have a great story to tell about how you acquired the item, where it came from, and how much fun you had doing it up.

Restoring antique furniture can save you a lot of money, and it's good for the environment too. When you fix up a mahogany cabinet, you're extending the life of something that may have been built decades ago, and saving the planet by not wasting resources on purchasing some lower quality furniture which needs made, packaged and transported, wasting huge amounts of fuel and precious resources.

2. Expressing Your Style

One of the best things about reclaimed furniture is that older items are well made, hardwearing, and easier to customise. It's hard to change how modern furniture looks because instead of stained wood, many items are plywood with a cheap veneer over the top. You can't really sand and repaint or re-stain that kind of furniture. However, you can do a lot with high quality older items. With just some sandpaper and paint you could turn an ugly nightstand into a beautiful piece that would not look out of place in a modern bedroom or turn an old run down table into an eye catching statement feature.

Reclamation, DIY Style

If simply restoring old furniture is not enough for you, why not try your hand at making your own items out of salvaged wood? There is an entire community of people who like to make their own furniture from railway sleepers, reclaimed period doors, old trunks and other materials that have been deemed useless by their owners. It takes some patience and skill to do this, but it is worth the effort. The furniture you make will be truly unique, and you will be able to take pride in telling people that it is all hand made.

Dining Table
This upcycled door dining table is an example of what's possible if you have the time, resources and skills to make your own furniture. It's a beautiful piece, and would look great in any rustic patio or dining room. Photo courtesy The Welsh Home Improvement Blog.

Justine is an interior design and home décor enthusiast with a passion for mixing the old and the new seamlessly. She writes for Creatively Different Blinds UK.

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