Is your home healthy and green?

While we’re on the topic of eating and living green and healthy, have you considered the others things that you’re putting into your body?  What about the actual air you breathe?  Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it is actually clean!

Recently I was totally shocked when we were cleaning our home and my husband removed the air filter from our furnace and saw how dirty it was.  There were literally bugs and dust blocking it entirely.  We then grabbed a flashlight and looked into our vents and saw how that dust was everywhere!

There’s a very good blog post about this here:

Top 5 Air Duct Issues & How To Fix Them

To summarize the top 5 duct issues they are:

  1. Leaky vents, which can raise the cost of heating and cooling your home because of lost air in the ducts.
  2. Dirty ducts, which can irritate allergies and spread smells throughout the house.
  3. Restricted air flow, which can actually cause your furnace blower to burn out as well as cost you more money because the air flow of hot or cold air is not getting throughout your house efficiently.
  4. Inefficiency, like mentioned above this will cost you and not allow your home to be at the proper temperature.
  5. Poor Design.  This is also like inefficiency.  With a poorly designed duct system with unnecessary bends and corners can further reduce the efficiency of your HVAC.

So this spring think about eating clean and being healthy in your home by getting your air ducts cleaned.

Life without paper towels

I enjoy challenges. Perhaps that makes me the perfect candidate for just about any green living experiment. On the other hand, I believe that it is inaccurate to say that green living is a challenge. Certainly our disposable life has become a life of unmindful convenience, but is it really easier for us than it was for previous generations? Has our quality of life improved over that of our great-grandmothers simply because we have, for example, super-absorbent paper towels?

Ive never lived in a home in which the residents (my parents, roommates, etc.) were willing to pony up for the spendiest name-brand absorbent towels, but Ive always had paper towels. Perhaps the ease with which I have transitioned away from paper is the result of never having lived with the Bounty. On the other hand, paper towels of any quality are deceptively convenient, so I have tallied up my fair share of paper usage over the years. The key word here is deceptively convenient, because I can honestly say that I dont miss my inexpensive recycled paper towels one bit. Cloth does it better every time!

I dont remember the exact day that we stopped using towels. Nor did I record the date that we finally moved the now empty paper towel rack (counter top) to the laundry closet. We have held onto a single roll of paper towels stashed away that allow Mr. Green Me to sleep at night without fear of disaster and maybe someday will come upon a situation in which nothing else will do. Perhaps a winter day without any electricity and not a clean towel to be found?

By now if you are a paper towel devotee you are probably wondering if our house is a complete disaster and whether we are wading around in muck and dried messes. In fact we are not our house is clean (at least once per day while Baby Green Me naps) and at times even sparkling with shine.


The Green Me Family anti-paper towel stash:

  1. Regular old dish towels: there are a variety of dish towels with different uses and strengths, so if your current towels dont do the job maybe you need a different variety. Here is what I have found: terry towels are great for messes and moisture but sometimes leave behind lint; waffle weave towels are great for drying dishes or wiping ups spills; flour sack towels are perfect for drying dishes and hands.
  2. The European Sponge cloth is perfect for wiping up spills, wiping down the counter, and washing up spots on the floor. It is highly absorbent and highly wring-able. You can sanitize it in the dishwasher, laundry, or microwave and they are biodegradable at the end (think compost pile) when they’re through. If your cat (or other pets) like to leave you presents get a cloth damp, wipe up the mess, shake it in the trash, rinse off the cloth, spray on some enzyme wash pat clean the mess spot, and toss your cloth in the wash. Ta da! No mess, no towels, no waste!
  3. The Bamboo Sponge cloth is excellent for drying dishes or wiping up spills. This baby is seriously absorbent! After a run through the wash it is also soft and delicate for dusting your china or furniture, but still powerful enough to wipe up your toughest messes! (Think of that commercial with the kiddo and cupcakes you dont need a paper towel you need a Bamboo Sponge Cloth!)
  4. Microfiber towels: A spray bottle with 50/50 water and vinegar and a few clean and dry microfiber towels will have your windows, mirrors, and stainless appliances sparkling in no time at all! Newspaper works great, but it gets your hands all messy. Vinegar and microfiber is the clean, green, and simple solution! Microfiber is also great for wiping down furniture and dusting. But my all time favorite use for microfiber? Soaking up bacon grease!!! The Green Me Family has a somewhat illicit love affair with bacon, but we dont love extra grease. In the past I have wasted 10 or more paper towels trying to degrease my bacon. One microfiber towel does the trick sucking up the grease until my bacon is dry! I keep a few microfiber towels with my dish cloths (dont get them confused with ones for cleaning house) and when washed with a little baking soda and vinegar I never have any greasy residue left behind.
  5. Cloth Napkins: In a pinch a napkin makes for the perfect single use clean-up. I use the single use swipe washing up Baby Green Me after his meal or to pick up something squishy that Ive just dropped on the floor. (Floor towels of any kind go straight to the wash and not back into use!) Cloth napkins are of course also great to use with meals paper napkins are also out!


Energy Saving Tips (for you and your dryer):

  • Keep a small basket on the washing machine for soiled towels so you always have a safe receptacle for grimy, wet, or otherwise soiled towels. I line mine with cotton bag, so if it gets dirty I can wash it with out any fuss.
  • Wash your towels on hot if you must, but to save energy wash on cold. To deodorize the towels and your wash use baking soda with the detergent and vinegar instead of fabric softener.
  • If the towels are really stinky or they have been used to clean up pet stains or they are starting to mildew start the wash before bed and use an enzyme wash. Let the enzyme wash soak over night and complete the cycle in the morning.
  • Hang your towels to dry, but fold them how you like them first, this way they will hang dry, but appear to have been ironed and or expertly folded! (See photo above!)
  • Even the youngest among us can be trained to use cloth! Baby Green Me knows to pat his mouth with a napkin and he occasionally tries to wipe down his high chair tray after a meal.


The bottom line folks (repeat after me): I DO NOT NEED paper towels!

I DO NOT NEED paper towels!

EcoMom Challenge #2: Drive More Efficiently

As an EcoMom Leader and green blogger I am writing a ten part series covering the 10 Steps to a Sustainable Future recommended by the EcoMom Alliance. This week the topic is how to Drive Efficiently and cut down on your green house gas emissions.

1) Drive a more fuel efficient vehicle: for many of us this is often a difficult choice to make. In the Green Me Household, we may not drive a Prius or an electric car (yet!), but both of our cars are fairly fuel efficient compared to similar cars in their class. In our case our vehicles fuel efficiency is not an accident, but a significant factor in our decision to buy both vehicles. If you are in the market for a new vehicle, definitely make fuel efficiency a top consideration!

The car that my husband generally uses to commute to work is a 2005 Toyota Corolla, which averages about 33 miles to the gallon. His commute is often stop and go, so this mileage is worse than it was when I used the same car to commute a different route a few years back. At that time the Corolla usually maintained at least 35 miles to the gallon.

Our second car is a 2007 RAV4 that gets about 23 miles to the gallon. This is clearly worse than the Corolla, but better than similar cars in its class, so it is not too shabby. At the same time, since we have become more fuel conscious we tend to take the RAV4 less and drive the Corolla to run family errands on the weekends and in the evenings. If you have two cars and one is more fuel efficient you can save money and pollution by planning trips around using the more efficient vehicle. Ideally, wed be a one car family   wed love to see a Prius Wagon with room for storage, optional all-wheel-drive and great fuel efficiency!

2) Avoid short trips: Did you know that 90% of emissions come from the first mile of travel? Wow. If you didnt have a good reason to avoid short trips before, you do now!  However, if you are like the Green Me family this is one of the more difficult steps to take, even though it is easy to walk or bike to the Grocery Store, Target or Home Depot. Part of the challenge (at least in our case) is psychological, because these stores are so close by we tend not to feel bad if we need to pop over for some extra eggs, a different kind of screw or the prescription that we forgot to pick up earlier. Even the phrase pop over implies that a short trip is no big deal, but the fact that 90% of emissions come from the first mile of travel means that the pop over is indeed a big deal!

One way that we are working to avoid short trips is by combining multiple trips into one. For example, on Saturday we needed to hit the grocery store to pick up a few extra items for a brunch we were hosting on Sunday. We also wanted to attend the wine tasting at the liquor store next door that was between 4 and 7 pm. We almost went to the store after lunch, but instead we held off until wine tasting time, so that wed only have to make one trip. Ideally, we would have even walked or taken the bikes and bike trailer, but unfortunately between baby naps and dinner plans, we didnt have the time.

Another way we reduce pop overs and multiple trips is by planning errand circles. For example, on Friday evening or Saturday morning well make a list of all our wants and needs on a to-do list. Then we will map it and decide that we will start on the south side of town, making our first stop at the Human Society Thrift Shop (drop off goods), this might be followed by a run to the recycling center (drop of sticks/weeds at the tree limb center and corrugated cardboard and other stuff not taken at the curb). Next we will head north and return some books to the Library, maybe taking some time to stroll down Main Street. Well finish up our trip with a visit to the Natural Grocers and the hardware store next door. Combining our trips like this not only saves gas, but it also saves time and money, and makes running errands more fun sort of a family adventure!

3) Use Public Transportation: Depending on where you live this may or may not be a good option. In my hometown the bus system was awesome and I had an EcoPass (free bus-pass through work), so riding was essentially free. Between my EcoPass, my bike, and my two feet, I got around fabulously for many years sans a gas guzzling car. Now I live in a town with a miserable bus system and it is expensive – last I checked a ride was $1.25 each way. Now gas has gone up, but not enough to spend $2.50 and precious time (time is money) walking to and from the bus stop, and waiting at the various transfer centers to actually get where I want to go.

Now, the first thing I should really do here is admit that my harsh criticism of our local public transportation system is based on theory, as I have yet to actually try it out. Back on Earth Day, I in fact pledged to try the bus system out one time per month for the rest of the year, but to-date I have avoided trying the bus out. So, Ill make a deal with you – this Thursday (when Baby Green Me goes to daycare). I will run an errand by bus and report back on Friday.

Have you tried your local public transportation out or are you like me? Do you keep putting it off, making the argument that it is just too darn inconvenient? If so, why dont you take the time to give it a try this week? If you have older kids (or no kids), a husband or significant other, why dont you make it an adventure? In other words, rather than having your first experience be a stressful run to work, just go for a ride and see how the system works. Maybe stop somewhere to have coffee or lunch and then come home.

4) Carpool: This is also an option that has been difficult for our family. As single (or at the least childless) folks this was much easier, but now that we and many of our friends have small munchkins in car seats, this is more difficult for us. 4 adults and 2 babies in car seats dont fit in the average car and definitely not in either of ours!

On the other hand, my husband would carpool to work, except that weve had trouble finding him a carpool partner. However, this may be changing soon as we just learned that a neighbor got a job at the company across the street from my husbands office. Hopefully, in the next week or so they should be able to work themselves out a carpool arrangement, at least a few days per week!

If you drive to work carpooling is a great way to save gas, save pollution and build community. Earlier this year I wrote a post highlighting benefits of carpooling and listing links to carpool databases around the country.

5) Dont idle (ever!): If you drop kids off at school or pick them up or if you wait for someone to run into the store, the post office, or the dry cleaners – dont idle! Idling creates more pollution and cause engines to run less efficiently than stopping and starting your car. In addition, new cars dont need to warm up prior to driving off and in fact it can be bad for your car to sit and idle. Furthermore, studies show that idling to warm a car up on a cold morning actually takes longer to warm the engine than starting cold and driving off.

Along these same lines, be careful of your acceleration/deceleration habits being first off the line at the stop light, and the first to arrive at the next light will not get you anywhere faster, but it will cost you more gas and create more air pollution than starting off slowly! If you are up for a challenge and your really want to learn to drive more efficiently, perhaps you are a good candidate for Hypermiling!

6) Keep Your Tires Inflated: Properly inflated tires help your vehicle to get better gas mileage thus improving your cars fuel efficiency. Period. Check one-time per month (or at the least at every oil change).

7) Bike and or Walk: These two options of course save fuel and thus reduce pollution. Most importantly, when you walk or bike you are not only helping to keep the planet healthy, but also your own body and that of your children! A little extra exercise is great for your heart, your spirit, and your cholesterol levels!

You may not be able to walk or bike everywhere, but you can probably do more than you think.  Start small and continue to expand your trips. Walk to the park instead of driving. Make some short trips into bike rides. And, on nice days get out and exercise outside instead of driving to the gym. The fall is a great time for outdoor exercise!

If you live near to your kids school and you’d like to walk, but don’t have the time every day, maybe you could start a Walking School Bus with other parents. This way a few parents could take turns each day getting a gaggle of kids to and from school. My son is not yet old enough for school, but this would work really well in our neighborhood, because there is a bike path that goes from the neighborhood park all the way to the nearest elementary, middle and high schools!

In conclusion, ways to drive more efficiently include: driving your most fuel efficient vehicle; combining trips; planning ahead; hypermiling; and, eliminating car trips by using public transportation, walking or biking!

EcoMom Challenge Step #1: Change a light

CFLs (compact fluorescent bulbs) have been in the news for the last few years. In fact there is a good chance that you already have a few in your house or you’ve at least considered making the switch. Hopefully after reading this post you will take the time to budget and plan your way into eliminating all incandescent lights in your home and replacing them with CFLs and possibly an LED or two!

Some folks are turned off by the word fluorescent and wary of buying a light that they think will flicker, hum or give off a glaringly white light. Other folks are concerned about the upfront expense of a CFL bulb, which can cost several dollars more than an out dated incandescent. And a few are concerned about the mercury content of CFL bulbs. I will address all of these concerns below, as well as, giving you some facts and tips on energy usage, buying less expensive CFLs and even info on LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights, which use even less energy and have a longer life span than a CFL! And, lest you think that Green Me only talks the talk, but doesnt walk the walk, I finish up with a complete summary the Green Me household light bulb situation!

Decreased Energy Usage: Incandescent & CFL Facts:

  • Lighting is responsible for 5% to 10% of home energy usage.
  • 90% of the energy used by an incandescent light is lost as heat!
  • A CFL bulb uses 75% less energy than an incandescent bulb and thus saves $30 in energy costs (on average) over its lifetime. (Update: according to this post a CFL may save you much more than $30, especially if you switch out a bushel of them!)
  • The average CFL bulb lasts 10 times longer (or 10,000 hours longer) than an incandescent bulb.
  • The cost of a CFL bulb averages about $3 more than an incandescent bulb, but it lasts 10x longer, so over its lifetime you have to buy fewer lights, and it use less energy, so you pay less to operate the bulb!
  • If a CFL bulb stops working in a few months you can often return it as a faulty bulb weve done this a couple times with good results.

CFL Concerns ( the first 4 items have been gratuitously cut and pasted from US News):

  1. Ive heard that CFLs dont really last as long as they say.
    Turning a CFL on and off frequently shortens its life, which is why the governments Energy Star program says to leave them on for at least 15 minutes at a time. Also, if you have dimmable light fixtures, make sure to buy CFLs labeled dimmable. All CFLs that carry the governments Energy Star label are required to carry a two-year limited warranty, so contact the manufacturer if your bulb burns out prematurely. The Energy Star website has a good FAQ on CFLs. (Keep track of where you buy your CFLs, several of the bulbs we bought early on at Costco & Home Depot burned out in a few months, my husband was on top of this and took them in to complain, both times they gave us a replacement bulb, no questions asked.)
  2. I dont think that I like the color of the light from CFLs.
    When they first hit the market, CFLs had a limited range of tones. Now, manufacturers offer a wider variety, but there is not an agreed-upon labeling standard. The Energy Star program is working to change that. But for now, look for lower Kelvin temperatures like 2,700 to 3,000 for redder light, closer to old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, while bulbs with Kelvin temperatures of 5,000 and 6,500 provide more blue and intense light. A good photograph illustrating the difference is shown here.
  3. Ive heard that CFLs have mercury in them—isnt that bad?
    Consumers are rightly concerned about the toxic substance mercury that helps CFLs produce light. Even though the amount sealed in each bulb is small—one old-fashioned thermometer had about 100 times as much mercury—contact local trash collection for disposal instructions. Environmentalists agree that more work must be done on bulb recycling programs. Right now, you can return any CFL to any Ikea store for recycling, and the Environmental Protection Agency and Earth911 have sites you can search for other recycling programs near your home.
  4. But if you break a CFL, youll have a toxic spill in your home.
    Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection has developed the best advice on the procedures to follow if a CFL breaks. Don’t use a vacuum. Maine officials studied the issue because of a homeowner in that state who received a $2,000 light bulb clean-up bill from an environmental hazards company—a story that has circulated around the country and increased consumer concerns about CFLs. It turns out that the company’s advice was overkill, and a subsequent analysis showed no hazard in the home. But the bulbs must be handled with caution. Using a drop cloth might be a good new routine to develop when screwing in a light bulb, to make the clean-up of any breaks easier.
  5. If I cant toss it in the trash, what do I do with a used bulb? Ikea, Ace Hardware and Home Depot now accept used (not broken) CFL bulbs for recycling. Many cities either take CFLs at their drop off centers and or they have hazardous waste drop off centers that are open daily or on specific days where you can take whole and or broken CFLs. If you are concerned, collect broken bulbs in a large zip-lock bag until you have a few for recycling.
  6. They are expensive to buy, especially the dimmable kind! Check and see if your city or region has a partnership with local businesses to discount the price of CFLs. For example, in Longmont, CO where we live, the City subsidizes CFLs thus reducing their cost to a dollar or two for a two pack. They are also sold in bulk discount packs at warehouse retailers such as Costco and Sams Club. And, keep in mind that a dimmable bulb may cost you $10 today, but it may save you $30 dollars or more in future energy costs! Think of buying CFLs as an investment in your future and the planets health!

Green Me Light Bulbs

Weve lived in our home for just over two years and over time as our bulbs burn out weve replaced them with CFL lights. So far weve made the following changes:

  1. Kitchen: In our kitchen we have 7 recessed canned lights, all of which weve changed out for CFLs.
  2. Family Room: We have 4 dimmable recessed canned lights in this room and weve changed out 2 for CFLs. Note that in the pictures our regular CFLs are spiraled and the dimmables are 3 pronged.
  3. Entrance & Hallways: We have 8 recessed canned lights, of which we’ve changed out 3 for CFLs. The 3 that we’ve changed are in our laundry/garage hallway that we use on a daily basis. The other 4 are in our main hall, which gets excellent day lighting and night time lighting from other locations, so we rarely use these lights.
  4. Living & Dining Room: We have 9 light bulbs in three separate fixtures in these rooms. Our dining room chandilier takes an odd size dimmable bulb, for which we’ve been unable to find replacement CFLs, so these 5 bulbs remain energy sucking incandescents. Someday we may change out the fixture, but for now we try not to use the chandelier unless absolutely necessary. Our other two fixtures contain CFLs, which are now over 2 years old and still burning bright (these were our first CFLs, bought at our old home).
  5. Bedroom: We have two standalone lights and one ceiling fixture making up 4 lights, all of which have been changed to CFLs. Two of these lights came with us from our former home and so are also over 2 years old. The bedside table lights are also CFLs of the warmer spectrum, which makes reading in bed more cozy and less bright as day.
  6. Master bath and Closet: We have 9 lights in these two rooms, none of which are CFLs, and all of which we should really make an effort to change over. The thing is we dont run these lights very often, so they are being buggers about dying!
  7. The rest of the house: We have 24 more lights in the basement, office, my sons room and 1.5 baths 5 of these are CFLs. Most of them are recessed canned lights and about 50% of them dimmable. These other lights are not used very often, but we are currently working on switching all of our dimmables (10 of these lights) to CFLs.

Total bulbs in our house: 72 (Wow!!! Have you ever counted all of the individual light bulbs in your house!?!)

Total CFL bulbs in our house: 38

So, just over half of our bulbs are CFLs, although all of our most commonly used fixtures (kitchen, bedroom, and living room) are CFLs. Our house may have more lights than the average house as the previous owners were apparently canned lighting fiends and had finished the basement themselves.

And, remember this tip from the EcoMom Alliance if every household in the United States changed out just 5 incandescent bulbs with CFLs the energy (and pollution) saved would be the equivalent of taking 8 million cars off the road!!! Imagine if every house in the US changed out 35 bulbs for CFLs that would be equivalent to taking 35 million cars off the road!


Last but not least, I wanted to touch on LED lights as they are 6 times more efficient than even CFLs although at present they are still quite price prohibitive and difficult to come by; however, by 2012 when the US (by government regulation) begins to phase out incandescent bulbs, I imagine that LEDs will have hit the mainstream consumer market. The best and brightest (pun intended) aspect of LED lights is that they are meant to lastas in once you buy and LED light it should (almost) never burn out! And, they dont waste energy by creating heat and they dont heat up your room with their energy either. Talk about resource efficient!

Read more about LEDs behind this wikipedia link!