100 Easy Ways to Help The Environment

In Your Home – Conserve Energy

Clean or replace air filters on your air conditioning unit at least once a month.

If you have central air conditioning, do not close vents in unused rooms.

Lower the thermostat on your water heater to 120.

Wrap your water heater in an insulated blanket.

Turn down or shut off your water heater when you will be away for extended periods.

Turn off unneeded lights even when leaving a room for a short time.

Set your refrigerator temperature at 36 to 38 and your freezer at 0 to 5 .

When using an oven, minimize door opening while it is in use; it reduces oven temperature by 25 to 30 every time you open the door. Even better, use a toaster oven when you are cooking something small.

Clean the lint filter in your dryer after every load so that it uses less energy.

Unplug seldom used appliances.

Use a microwave when- ever you can instead of a conventional oven or stove.

Wash clothes with warm or cold water instead of hot.

Reverse your indoor ceiling fans for summer and winter operations as recommended.

Turn off lights, computers and other appliances when not in use.

Purchase appliances and office equipment with the Energy Star Label; old refrigerators, for example, use up to 50 more electricity than newer models.

Only use electric appliances when you need them.

Use compact fluorescent light bulbs to save money and energy.

Keep your thermostat at 68 in winter and 78 in summer.

Keep your thermostat higher in summer and lower in winter when you are awayInsulate your home as best as you can.

Install weather stripping around all doors and windows.

Shut off electrical equipment in the evening when you leave work.

Plant trees to shade your home.

Shade outside air conditioning units by trees or other means.Replace old windows with energy efficient ones.

Use cold water instead of warm or hot water when possible.Connect your outdoor lights to a timer.

Buy green electricity – electricity produced by low – or even zero-pollution facilities.

In Your Home – Reduce Toxicity

Eliminate mercury from your home by purchasing items without mercury, and dispose of items containing mercury at an appropriate drop-off facility when necessary (e.g. old thermometers).

Learn about alternatives to household cleaning items that do not use hazardous chemicals.Buy the right amount of paint for the job.

Review labels of household cleaners you use. Consider alternatives like baking soda, scouring pads, water or a little more elbow grease.

When no good alternatives exist to a toxic item, find the least amount required for an effective, sanitary result.

If you have an older home, have paint in your home tested for lead. If you have lead-based paint, cover it with wall paper or other material instead of sanding it or burning it off.

Use traps instead of rat and mouse poisons and insect killers.

Have your home tested for radon.

Use cedar chips or aromatic herbs instead of mothballs.

reel mower that doesn't require power

In Your Yard

Avoid using leaf blowers and other dust-producing equipment.

Use an electric lawn- mower instead of a gas-powered one.

Leave grass clippings on the yard-they decompose and return nutrients to the soil.

Use recycled wood chips as mulch to keep weeds down, retain moisture and prevent erosion.

Use only the required amount of fertilizer.

Minimize pesticide use.

Create a wildlife habitat in your yard.

Water grass early in the morning.

Rent or borrow items like ladders, chain saws, party decorations and others that are seldom used.

Take actions that use non hazardous components (e.g., to ward off pests, plant marigolds in a garden instead of using pesticide).

Put leaves in a compost heap instead of burning them or throwing them away.

Yard debris too large for your compost bin should be taken to a yard-debris recycler.

In Your Office

Copy and print on both sides of paper.

Reuse items like envelopes, folders and paper clips.

Use mailer sheets for interoffice mail instead of an envelope.

Use mailer sheets for interoffice mail instead of an envelope.

Set up a bulletin board for memos instead of sending a copy to each employee.

Use e-mail instead of paper correspondence.

Use recycled paper.

Use discarded paper for scrap paper.

Encourage your school and/or company to print documents with soy-based inks, which are less toxic.

Use a ceramic coffee mug instead of a disposable cup.

Ways To Protect Our Air

Ask your employer to consider flexible work schedules or telecommuting.

Recycle printer cartridges.Shut off electrical equipment in the evening when you leave work.

Report smoking vehicles to your local air agency.

Don’t use your wood stove or fireplace when air quality is poor.Avoid slow-burning, smoldering fires. They produce the largest amount of pollution.Burn seasoned wood – it burns cleaner than green wood.

Use solar power for home and water heating.

Use low-VOC or water-based paints, stains, finishes and paint strippers.

Purchase radial tires and keep them properly inflated for your vehicle.

Paint with brushes or rollers instead of using spray paints to minimize harmful emissions.

Ignite charcoal barbecues with an electric probe or other alternative to lighter fluid.If you use a wood stove, use one sold after 1990. They are required to meet federal emissions standards and are more efficient and cleaner burning.

Walk or ride your bike instead of driving, whenever possible.Join a carpool or vanpool to get to work.

Ways to Use Less Water

Check and fix any water leaks.

Install water-saving devices on your faucets and toilets.

Don’t wash dishes with the water running continuously.Wash and dry only full loads of laundry and dishes.

Follow your community’s water use restrictions or guidelines.Install a low-flow shower head.

Replace old toilets with new ones that use a lot less water.

Turn off washing machine’s water supply to prevent leaks.

Ways to Protect Our Water

Revegetate or mulch disturbed soil as soon as possible.Never dump anything down a storm drain.Have your septic tank pumped and system inspected regularly.

Check your car for oil or other leaks, and recycle motor oil.

Take your car to a car wash instead of washing it in the driveway.

Learn about your watershed.

Create Less Trash

Buy items in bulk from loose bins when possible to reduce the packaging wasted.

Avoid products with several layers of packaging when only one is sufficient.

About 33 of what we throw away is packaging.

Buy products that you can reuse.

Maintain and repair durable products instead of buying new ones.

Check reports for products that are easily repaired and have low breakdown rates.

Reuse items like bags and containers when possible.

Use cloth napkins instead of paper ones.

Use reusable plates and utensils instead of disposable ones.

Use reusable containers to store food instead of aluminum foil and cling wrap.

Shop with a canvas bag instead of using paper and plastic bags.

Buy rechargeable batteries for devices used frequently.

Reuse packaging cartons and shipping materials.

Old newspapers make great packaging material.

Compost your vegetable scraps.

Buy used furniture – there is a surplus of it, and it is much cheaper than new furniture.

How to Buy Eco Friendly Paint

Eco-Friendly Paints
CC flickr photo courtesy of ewan and donabel

Painting the interior of your home should be a wonderful experience. It makes everything look new again, brightens up a room, and helps you create the ambiance you envision. Common commercial paints can do all that, but at the same time cause dangerous problems from fumes that can harm both you and the environment.

What Is Eco-Friendly Paint?

Eco-friendly paints are specifically designed to do everything those other paints do, but without the toxic fumes. The most common fumes, known as VOCs (volatile organic compounds), are not only present while the paint is drying, but can last long after the paint is applied. In fact, paints that contain VOCs can release those toxins into the air for years after application.

See our previous post about our own use of no VOC paint in a construction project.

In addition to VOCs, there are other ingredients to be wary of as well. Ammonia, acetone and formaldehyde are often used in paint products and are toxic, but are not covered under the EPA’s VOC rating. Read your labels carefully when choosing your home’s paint. Check the ingredients that are used to extend the shelf life of most commercial paints. Mold-inhibitors, biocides and fungicides can also off-gas chemicals for years. These chemicals can impact your air quality and can contribute to breathing problems.

Continue reading “How to Buy Eco Friendly Paint”

How to plant a victory garden

victory-garden-sunfell-fl
Photo courtesy of Sunfell at Flickr.com.

Everything old is new again. This is doubly true for trends that never went completely out of fashion, like vinyl records and Victory Gardens. Originally conceived during World War I as a way to ensure food supplies for troops, these community gardens took off in a big way during the second World War. By 1944, up to 40% of the vegetables on American tables came from a Victory Garden.

Now, with the rising price of staple foods, increasing awareness of the environmental cost of industrial farming, and increased interest in self sufficiency and independence, Victory Gardens are making a serious comeback. The Smithsonian Institute has a new exhibit on Victory Gardens, and vegetable rows are replacing ornamental bushes nationwide.

Modern-day Victory Gardens look a little different – gardeners are now blogging about their successes and even using Twitter to send gardening updates!

Success with Victory Gardens is snowballing into more awareness of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Urban food pantries are stocking up with fresh fruit gleaned from “ornamental” trees. Believe it or not, some HOA’s are embracing community gardens. There’s even a campaign to start a Victory Garden on the White House lawn:

Benefits of a victory garden:

  • Cut grocery bills
  • Gain access to fresher food
  • Boost vitamins in your diet
  • Increase the health of your soil
  • Insure against food shortages
  • Reduce exposure to pesticides and other chemicals
  • Avoid disease (or ensure access to your favorite veggies if an outbreak occurs)
  • Preserve oil supplies / reduce dependence on foreign oil
  • Grow produce for sale or gifts

So, let’s say that you’ve been bitten by the Victory Gardening bug. Where to begin?

It can be a bit daunting to start your first Victory Garden. There’s a lot to learn about soil, planting seasons, and local weather conditions. Hit the books! The library is a good place to start – a little bit of research can go a long way in getting the best results. As the old saying goes, an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of perspiration. Your state’s Extension Office can also be a good source of information and expert advice.

Try looking for help from your neighbors – local gardening clubs often know the best times to plant and which species do best in your area. Find a local Gardening MeetUp, and you’ll find a pool of knowledge and maybe even people willing to lend you seeds or cuttings from their favorite plants. No matter which plants you choose, PBS is a great resource for beginner gardeners.

In the past, Victory Gardens were all laid out from a universal template. That didn’t work out very well for people who tried to grow the same plants in California as they did in Maine and Florida. Instead of a cookie cutter layout, you should tailor your garden to local conditions. Work with your climate to choose the best plants. For example, even if you love rice, it may not make sense to grow rice if you live in the middle of the desert.

We’ve learned a lot in the last 50 years, and it’s easier to start a vegetable garden in your yard than ever before. Incorporate this knowledge in the layout and composition of your victory garden, and you can achieve amazing results. Our grandparents didn’t have much practical experience on designing to minimize erosion or using cover crops that naturally fertilize the soil, but there’s a wealth of useful information on these techniques. Here are some other research topics that you might want to consider:

Even if you have limited space or no yard, Victory Gardens can be grown in containers and indoor planters. Hanging planters can turn any patio or balcony into a vertical garden.

If you don’t have a patio, many plants will thrive in window planters or grow boxes. There are also light boxes and grow lights that can turn the deepest, darkest basement into an oasis of life. Indoor plants not only make rooms beautiful – they also can help reduce sick building syndrome by providing fresh air and absorbing indoor pollutants.

Not a gardener? No problem. There are entrepreneurs eager to turn other people’s yards into gardens. Also, there are other steps you can take to promote food safety and sustainability.

victory-garden-mentalmasala-fl
Photo courtesy of mental.masala at Flickr.com.

The right power cords save power and money



Photo courtesy of abrunglinghaus at Flickr.com.

Many of us have a blind spot for extension cords. We tend to treat these power cables as interchangeable parts, but not all extension cords are the same.

Length is important. The longer the extension cord you use, the more energy is lost in transmission. If you only need to add 5 feet, it doesn’t make any sense to use a 100′ cord!

The thickness of the wire is also important. Thin cords lose power faster, and they can also heat up dangerously with heavy power loads. When using extension cords, it’s important to make sure that the wire is thick enough to safely and efficiently conduct electricity. Wire thickness is often referred to as “gauge”.

Gauge numbers are rather tricky. Even though it seems counter-intuitive, thicker wires have a low gauge, and thin wires have a high gauge. Many power cords are available in 18, 16, 14, and 12 gauge sizes. Of these choices, 18 is the thinnest and 12 is the thickest. Thicker wires are generally more expensive, but they can save substantial amounts of electricity. Thick electric wire can also handle higher amperages than thin wires without bursting into flames. That’s good to know if you want to avoid burning your house down or melting your tools.

So, know your cords! Pay attention to cord gauge and length, and they’ll pay you back with a reduced electric bill.



Photo courtesy of ClintJCL at Flickr.com.

Texans Create Super Tomato Cage!

Check out these excellent Texas Tomato Cages which come in a variety of sizes and will “last a lifetime” as they say on their website. They’re made of galvanized wire and fold up for quick storage. Pretty cool that these folks are running a successful small business with this simple product. Good for them! From the looks of it, this tomato cage is extremely well built. An excellent gift for the vegetable gardener. Your friend or relative may even thank you with a reciprocal gift of big fat home grown tomatoes!