When you think of solar power, visions of rooftop panels and LEED-certified buildings downtown spring to mind. But even if you don't live or work in a green structure, there's still an opportunity for you to take advantage of solar power. There are literally dozens of devices that store up and run on solar power that can help lower your utility bills.
Photo by shutterstock.
Charge Household Items
You don't have to have solar panels on your home to invest in portable solar solutions to power household items like TVs and laptops. Some can even charge small refrigerators.
There's a healthy, growing industry that designs, manufactures, and sells portable solar panels and packs that soak up energy from the sun to power devices used in the home. They also serve as great backup devices for items that need a steady supply of energy, such as CPAP machines and emergency lighting.
Power packs can be charged by connecting to solar panels, of course, but also through a wall outlet (with or without solar panels), as well as a 12-volt car charger. However, you'll get the quickest charge through panels.
Heat Your Pool for Year-Round Use
Homeowners with pools often lament the cost to keep the water warm for year-round use. It's a shame, because swimming is such an excellent way to stay in shape. There are also large parts of the country where pools are rarely, if ever, subjected to freezing weather; it's just that the water is too cold in January.
One solution is to heat pools with portable solar-powered heaters. The pool's pump circulates water through the panels, which heats the water and returns it to the pool. Add a solar blanket to cover the pool when it isn't in use to prevent heat from escaping.
Make solar a backyard theme. Install solar-powered landscape lights or hanging garden lamps to light your yard at night. Provide additional pizzazz with solar-powered decorative string lights.
Entertain yourself and guests with solar-powered radios, or watch the game on a solar-powered TV. You can even get solar-powered portable fridges and coolers for your upcoming Super Bowl pool party.
Best of all? Once you purchase the batteries, there are no added costs to run these things.
Solar Energy Doesn't Harm Anyone
Solar power does not harm people or the environment.
• It does not cause disease like black lung.
• It does not need to be pulled from the earth in collapsible mines or exploding oil rigs.
• It also does not produce waste to store for millennia.
• It does not put off polluting emissions.
The Union of Concerned Scientists points out ways solar power actually preserves the environment:
• Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells need just a small amount of water to produce. They do not need any to generate power.
• Larger-scale concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP) are often criticized as desert eyesores, but they can be located anywhere they can capture the sun's rays. This includes less desirable sites like brownfields, abandoned mining sites and alongside transportation lines.
• PV manufacturers recycle and reuse many of the chemicals needed to produce the product.
In addition, charges that the chemicals used to produce panels are largely baseless. Given the two-decade lifespan of current panels, the cost of emissions falls to zero after two years of use, according to SolarPowerRocks.com.
Ruth Ann Monti provides copywriting and content development for all things webby. Her interests include content development and SEO topics and small business issues, including technologies that support them.
Some will say the opposite of spring cleaning is preparing for the fall and winters months, but finding ways to save energy during the winter can also help protect our planet. Statistics show that if all homes in the United States had Energy Star-rated heating systems installed, not only would that save consumers over $170 million in annual utility costs it would also considerably reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.
Non-compliant computers are even more costly, since Energy Star models could save users, in the US alone, almost $2 billion annually and cut back on the emission of greenhouse gases equivalent to around two million automobiles. Even using just one energy-saving light bulb would save $40 during its lifetime.
Lowdown on Lighting
We mentioned replacing traditional, incandescent light bulbs with energy-saving options like LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) or CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights), but many consumers may be hesitant to do so because of their higher initial cost. The truth is, the long-term benefits and savings are astronomical—check out some of these estimated examples:
Traditional = 1,200 hours
LED = 50,000 hours
CFL = 8,000 hours
Traditional = 60 watts
LED = 6-8 watts
CFL = 13-15 watts
Annual Operating Cost of Thirty Light Fixtures:
Traditional = $328.59 per year
LED = $32.85 per year
CFL = $76.65 per year
When it comes to protecting our planet, the switch from incandescent bulbs to LED or CFL bulbs will greatly reduce annual CO2 emissions, sulfur oxide levels, and high-level nuclear waste are all greatly at an average of 451 pounds, 1,051 pounds and 4,500 pounds respectfully.
Winterizing is Worth the Cost
To help our houses stay warmer in winter months, many homeowners will opt to weatherize their homes, but some consumers question whether it’s worth the cost. According to one study by the United States Department of Energy (DOE), the answer is most likely yes. After the DOE weatherized 750,000 low-income households, they tracked the results and found an average savings of around $400 in energy costs for each home annually.
Energy-saving supplies like weather-striping, caulking and Styrofoam insulation for exposed pipes are relatively inexpensive and installing them is a breeze. Many local utility companies will offer their customers an energy audit, at no cost, to see if these cheap and easy solutions can benefit your home. If not, even paying for a professional energy auditing service should still pay for itself within the first year. Thereafter, families should expect to save about 30 percent on their energy bills every year.
Water, Water Everywhere
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that we reduce the temperature on our hot water heaters to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to an average setting of 140 which can cost, on average, $400 or more annually to bring up the heat on our fresh water. Think of Californians who are suffering through one of the worst droughts in decades, every gallon of water wasted is one that could be saved through this practice.
While residents of the Golden State are looking forward to the possibility of an El Niño event this winter in hopes of solving some of their current water woes, we can all do our part to reduce water and energy consumption. In the long run, it will cut costs in our pocketbooks and help protect our most valuable resource, Mother Earth.
The bathroom is perhaps the most germ-ridden room in your home, but that doesn't mean you have to use harsh chemicals to kill bacteria and viruses. If you've made it a priority to ensure your home remains chemical free, you can still have a spotless bathroom and a green environment.
Photo by Fotolia.
Commercial products have made you believe the only way to get rid of soap scum is with abrasive cleaning products. However, some items you find in your kitchen are just as effective as store-bought concoctions. For minor soap scum, you can make a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water to cut through thin layers of grime. Scum that's harder to remove in the shower and tub can be cleaned with a thick paste of baking soda and water, or baking soda and vinegar. Make sure you scrub it vigorously.
The Porcelain Throne
Toilets don't require bleach to be sparkling clean. To remove stains, you can simply mix 1/2 a cup of vinegar with 1 tablespoon of baking soda. Just pour the mixture into the toilet and allow it to sit for 30 minutes before scrubbing with a clean brush. This only needs to be done once a week for a clean bowl.
Major mold problems are best handled with bleach, but minor mold and mildew is easily tackled with vinegar. Spray the areas with vinegar and let it dry before spraying it again and wiping clean. The acidity of the vinegar loosens the mildew particles and eliminates bacteria, so if you're constantly battling mildew in your shower, simply spray it down with a vinegar/water mixture after each use.
One of the ugliest places in the bathroom is the drain, especially if the shower is being used by people with long hair. If you can't bear the thought of pulling hair from the drain one more time or using toxic drain cleaners, you can clear your drain with a mixture of vinegar and baking soda. If there's any visible debris in the drain, you'll have to pull it out, but once it's relatively clear to the naked eye, pour 3/4 cup of dry baking soda down the drain and follow it up with a 1/2 cup of vinegar. Let it sit for a half hour, then pour boiling water down the drain to completely clear any clogs.
A clean bathroom doesn't require a host of dangerous chemicals. With products you can easily pick up at your local drugstore, your bathroom will be spotless with no dangerous fumes. Use a Discountrue coupon for added savings and you won’t be spending on harsh chemicals ever again!
Brooke 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.
People around the world live in concrete or brick and mortar structures, jam-packed in labyrinths of streets and neighborhoods. With the current unforgiving economic climate and shabby situation on the housing market, many people can only dream of purchasing their own home. It has been this way for some time, but recent years have brought a breakthrough housing trend that is sparking attention worldwide: shipping containers.
Photo by Angel Schatz/Courtesy Flickr.
Finding Your Comfort Zone
At first, people moving into shipping containers were regarded either as ahead of their time, or simply nuts. But now, the opinion is shifting, and one can’t ignore the plethora of benefits these steel boxes provide. Shipping containers offer a chance for an innovative lifestyle, free from the daily routines and problems the traditional home owner is faced with.
Many businessmen are also turning them into permanent offices, and whole districts of container businesses are emerging around the world. Entire neighborhoods in cities are transformed with shipping containers supplied by companies like Royal Wolf, giving urban societies a new chance at rapid growth and development. So, what’s the catch?
To begin with, the simple and recyclable nature of container architecture is eco-friendliness at its best. A cargo unit turned home involves minimal processing and you are doing the planet a great favor by recycling it. Also, the traditional home is associated with long and costly building processes, something a shipping container doesn’t require.
Furthermore, you can assemble your new haven in much less time than a house, and the best thing is you aren’t sacrificing your convenience at all. Many people aren’t aware that these unconventional homes can provide a level of comfort and coziness that can compete with any traditional home. Anything that you can install in the latter will fit into the former, with one big difference—flexibility.
Building Green Neighborhoods
Electric installations, insulation, heating and cooling systems—all the basic living requirements are there, but much more than that the possibility to customize. The modular nature of containers allows for extensive modifications and stunning design possibilities. And don’t let the looks fool you, containers are very durable and weatherproof. Their internal isolation and rugged external structure make them a great long-term housing option.
Photo by Martin Deutsch/Courtesy Flickr.
You aren’t even tied to one place, but bear in mind that you can’t just pick your home up and put it where you please. You still need permission from local authorities and solid foundations to place your container home on. With that in mind, it’s true that it’s possible to transport them with unprecedented ease. So, if you don’t like new neighbors or are ready for a new location, moving is easy!
Moreover, it’s easy to install solar power options and create the sustainable energy consumption. For added sustainability, introduce things such water tanks to collect and filter rainwater. Create an off-grid home that is independent of regular sources of energy and take the blessings Mother Nature generously offers.
Switching to alternative energy sources not only shows respect for its kindness, but you will also be kind to yourself and your finances, to be more precise. And as I chatted with a local company to inquire about container homes, I realized that there’s no need to hesitate—a new, exciting and eco-friendly lifestyle is here for the taking.
Freedom in a Box
Homes of tomorrow are self-sustaining, practical and cost-effective. When it comes to these characteristics and the functional versatility, shipping containers are second to none. The beauty of it all is that these homes are fully customizable and allow for a strong personal touch. There isn’t much more that we can ask for than our own mobile shelter that enables us to experience the freedom of modern living like never before. Who would have thought that thinking outside the box will mean being prepared to live in a steel one?
Zoe Clark is an environmentalist, home decorator and DIY enthusiast from the land down under. When not obsessing about designing perfect homes, Zoe is spending time with her family. You can find her on Twitter.
If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to get away from the usual chemical-laden perfumes, soaps and other scented products sold by big box manufacturers, essential oils are the answer. Here are a few things you should know about them, along with simple ways to use them, in order to achieve a higher level of health and happiness.
Photo by Fotolia.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are concentrated extracts of natural plants, flowers, seeds or spices. These plant oils can be quite volatile, so you should exercise caution when using them. The concentrations are terrific, and the potency usually reflects the fact that a lot of raw material went into its creation. For example, it takes over 350 pounds of peppermint leaf to make one pound of peppermint oil. It takes 150 pounds of lavender flowers to make lavender oil. It takes thousands of pounds of roses to make one pound of rose oil.
Due to the large amount of raw materials needed and the processes used to make them, as a result, most essential oils are expensive.
Using Essential Oils Internally
This is a controversial use of essential oil, and many experts agree that it can be very dangerous to ingest them. While there is a lot of research about the efficacy and safety of essential oils being used on the skin, there isn’t much data on internal use. And, even when there is, the data is not conclusive.
Some research shows that some essential oils may be beneficial for some conditions, but only when diluted, and the amount of dilution is critical—too much dilution and it becomes useless; too little, and the oil may be toxic. Some studies also indicate that plant oils (essential oils) have the ability to cause seizures in some people.
Using Essential Oils Externally
External use of essential oils is widely regarded as safe. The FDA also labels essential oils as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe). That’s good news, because there are a variety of ways you can use them, externally, to promote a healthy home and life.
On your ears: DabTools makes it easy to use essential oils on your ears for everything from controlling inflammation to treating bee stings. If you’ve ever worn cheap earrings, you know that they can be irritating to your earlobes. Some essential oils, like peppermint, will shut down that irritation quickly.
In your laundry: You could buy dryer sheets like everyone else, but if you’re looking for more natural options, then add a few drops of essential oil to a rag and throw it into the dryer with your clothes. It’ll add a light scent to them, it’s cheaper to use in the long-run, and you’re not wasting sheets and filling up your garbage nearly as quickly with dryer sheets.
For an even healthier laundry routine, add your favorite essential oils to simple, homemade wool dryer balls to keep your clothes smelling and looking like new. These felted wool balls help clothing dry faster (reducing dry times), reduce static and last for years.
In your air vents: If you have central heating and cooling, you probably have air filters that filter dust before the air recirculates throughout your home. Put a few drops of your favorite oil on those air filters and then put them back into the cold air return. Your home will smell amazing in just a few hours.
You can also use a cotton ball if you don’t want to use the oils directly on the filter element. Just put a few drops on the cotton and stick the cotton ball in one of the creases in the corner or somewhere where it won’t impede airflow.
As air fresheners: Put a few drops onto a cotton ball and then place them in a small jar in the corner of a room. Or, just toss the cotton ball behind the couch where no one sees it. It will act as a room freshener. This is a great idea when you don’t have a central air system that circulates air in the home, or when you only want to freshen-up one room in the house.
Reed diffusers are easy to find in stores, but often they’re full of synthetic fragrances. If you want to refresh a larger space, try making your own reed diffuser with essential oils.
As perfume: Mix your favorite essential oils in a bottle and add either a small amount of isopropanol alcohol or distilled water. The alcohol will make more of a perfume where the water will make a spritzer. Both are useful depending on what you want from it.
When using oils as a perfume, be mindful about mixing. Some essential oils don’t mix well and others will overpower more subtle oils. The Fragrance Shop sells “look-a-like” mixes that mimic commercial brands, and they can even deconstruct and make most scents if you have a favorite you want to try replicating. This is a great way to ensure you get perfumes that smell nice, have that classic “high-middle-finish” note scheme, and that keep things simple and natural.
Mike Gould is a yoga instructor and a classically trained chiropractor. He enjoys passing on his expertise and know-how online. His articles mainly appear on health and wellness blogs.
1. Block Party
This set of 12 heirloom-quality blocks combines to make four adorable boats. Made from FSC linden wood, the blocks are hand-sanded to ensure the edges are smooth and rounded, plus they are colored with a non-toxic, water-based stain.
To Buy: $50, Land of Nod
2. Set It and Forget It
Inspired by an ancient (but still used) irrigation tool, a self-watering planter makes houseplants easy for even the most forgetful among us. Just fill the center chamber with water periodically, and you are set.
To Buy: $50, Uncommon Goods
3. Stocking Stuffer
This luxurious facial cleanser is a powder, which eliminates the need for preservatives. The all-star ingredients include oats, yogurt powder, honey powder, green tea extract, calendula, rosehip powder and bentonite clay.
To Buy: $20, Lollique
4. Hand It Over
Beautiful, well-made hand towels make a great gift. They pack up small, in case you are traveling, and will bring a smile as they dry hands and wipe up spills all year long. Additionally, these cotton, fair trade towels are handwoven by Ethiopian artisans.
To Buy: $30, Viva Terra
5. Pamper Purely
Skip the harsh chemicals in conventional lotions and moisturize with this almond oil-based body oil. It includes botanical oils, but leaves out parabens, phthalates, SLSs and dyes. It’s a great base for homemade skin-care recipes, too.
To Buy: $10, Home Health US
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.
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.