The Green Frugal Divas Mid Century Modern Bedroom

On a daily basis I am a jeans and t-shirt girl; however, were I to come into a glut of time, money, and fashion awareness, I would gladly dress and decorate like a diva. And, so I am pleased to announce that we (the husband and I) have a matching and decorated room (just like grown ups and real divas as shown on TV).

Thanks to my desire to be frugally green (that means saving the planet and saving money) the entire project cost about $260. That is $160 for designer organic sheets and an organic duvet cover with matching shams, and just under $100 on fabric and supplies for curtains, pillows, and recovering our lamp shades. Up front that may not seem cheap (and I am sure someone could do it for less!), but I could have easily spent that much on 4 miss sized curtains from Target or JC Penny and still been left with my old and worn duvet cover that Ive had for over a dozen years!

First I found the duvet cover and sheets. I tried to buy them locally and failed. I considered buying the organic sheets sold by Target, but wed bought a set when our son was born two years ago and they became holey (filled with holes, not religious) after a year and a half. My previous sheets (that are still in great shape, but fit a full and not our queen bed) were hand-me-downs from my mom and are over 10 years old. And, they have yet to acquire any holes! I was insistent on organic given that we spend a good 8 hours per night in our bed and cotton is one of the most pesticide intensive crops. Eventually, I found a designer set (whatever that means) at a discount price on Amazon, so I bought them.

Next, I checked out a few local fabric stores and finally found a striped pattern that matched the duvet cover and would both warm-up and brighten our bedroom. I used these for window curtains and two European Shams (this is a term I just learned, so I couldnt pass it up, Google it if you are unsure). I also bought a simple chocolate brown fabric that matched our sheets to make into closet door curtains and to recover our lamp shades. We have Asian style bedside lamps that we found about 4 years ago and whose lampshades were damaged (bent and smudged) in our move this summer.

The curtains were pretty simple: just measure your window, measure your fabric, hem on all four sides, leave an opening for the curtain rod and ta-da! you are done! The pillow inserts I repurposed from some old fleece couch pillows, so I just lay the fleece covers on the fabric to use as a pattern, sewed three sides shut and left a third open for stuffing in the pillow (I plan to seal the 4th side with Velcro or a zipper, but have yet to do so).

The lampshades were a little more complex and scared me half to death in the making, but turned out really well!

  • First, I lay one side of the lamp shade on a piece of paper and traced the outline. I cut out the pattern and compared it to all 8 sides of the lamps (two shades with 4 sides each).
  • Next, I used chalk (from my sons chalk board) to trace the pattern on my brown fabric and cut out the pieces. As I cut out the pattern I cut down the chalk line with the knowledge that my fabric pieces would end up slightly larger than my lamp shade. This was intentional, so that I could wrap the fabric pieces around the edge of the shade to the interior for a more finished look.
  • With all my fabric cut out I laid a shade on its side, spread sewing glue (not basting glue) on the side facing up and placed the fabric on top. At first I was terrified that this would not work as the fabric glue (white) showed through my brown fabric, but it dried clean and with out a trace!
  • Once I had applied all 8 sides I cut 1 inch wide strips of matching fabric from my pillow/curtain fabric. I measured the length of each ridge/corner on the lamp and cut the strips with about an inch of extra length on each end. I then folded the strips in half long wise, so they were 1/2 inch wide and ironed them to make a crease. Next I laid the strips open and folded in the raw edges to meet in the middle at the ironed crease to finish or hem with the iron my strips.
  • I then used a paint brush to spread fabric glue on the ridges/corners of the lamps and applied the fabric strips to create coordinating trim.
  • Lastly, I realize that this would make a real tutorial with pictures, but I didnt plan for this project to work, so I did not document each step. If I had any more lamp shades to cover Id cover one just to show you want I did step by step. Perhaps Kellie (whos eternal craftiness served as inspiration) will cover some lamps and make a proper tutorial!

I can however provide pictures of the final product!

Curtains for our walk in closet that lacks a door:

 

 

I chose this angle for the lamp shade, because on a few sides I did an S pattern with the glue. When the lamp is on you can see the S. Fortunately, on most of the shades I smeared the glue around and the smeared glue does not show through the shade!

 

Inside the shade: note that the edges are not perfect and see the bent/crumpled spot in the corner? This used to be visible on the outside of the shade!

 

The whole Shebang:

 

Last, but not least, I should mention that all the colors, patterns, themes in this room came from my desire to use this picture frame that I painted during a get-together at a paint your own pottery store last December! It is hard to see in our bedroom lighting, but the blue, brown and red in the frame are repeated in the curtains, the sheets, and the pillows!

More on SIGG: trade secrets and our health

The recent hoopla over hidden BPA in SIGG water bottles was made possible because it is legal for a company to not disclose the ingredients of packaging that comes in contact with our food and water because of trade secrets. Now, I cannot claim to be an expert or to even have done significant research on this topic; however, had SIGG been legally required to disclose the content of their old liner (and even their new one) for the simple fact that it comes in contact with beverages consumed by humans (or anyone really) we would not have had this issue arise.

I find it ironic that paint (such as non toxic milk paints) or even my non toxic cleaning products, must have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), because many of these items do contain toxic ingredients. And yet, SIGG (and other manufacturers) are allowed to claim trade secrets and not reveal the ingredients of their liner, despite the fact that over time food containers and utensils have been found to contain ingredients that are toxic, such as lead, and more recently, BPA. This is especially silly considering that no one actually expects you to eat paint; however, the primary expectation for a water bottle is that it holds beverages that folks intend to consume. How can it possibly be legal that SIGG was able to claim trade secret and not disclose the ingredients of their water bottle liners?

This line of thought has led me to wonder what else I dont know about food containers and the regulations that direct how they can be made and what exactly makes them food safe. If there is not already legislation in the works to require full disclosure on ingredients (even non reactive ingredients) for containers that hold food and beverages for human consumption, there needs to be one!  In the meantime, our family will do our best to stick with glass and stainless steel.

If you have any ideas or great resources regarding this topic please share them below or write about them on your blog and send me the link to share.

Satisfaction: Gardens, Humingbirds, and Strawberries

We bought our house in late May (3 years ago) when the foliage and flowers were at their best. We were thrilled in our dry Colorado climate that the back yard had been xeriscaped and would thus require little or no water or so we thought! Sadly, the former owners had not done their research and many of the plants required constant water or they died! They had also over landscaped and so there were clusters of trees and strange combinations of plants that looked odd in the off season.

To start we practiced elimination clearing out some unnecessary and or water hungry plants. Then we slowly started replanting with species better suited to our climate, such as yucca, pampass grass and succulents. We also chose to keep the two apple trees, which only require occasional watering, and we added a strawberry garden.

Most recently we switched out our dangerous and ugly metal edging that didnt really provide a barrier between bark and rocks and replaced it with a cedar edging that matches our fence and which according to the package was from sustainably harvested cedar and made in the USA. (We passed the old edging along via Freecycle to be used again.) And, we are very pleased with the results! I will have to water the strawberries and my small two vegetable plots (tomatoes, an eggplant, brussel sprouts, peas, a pepper, carrots, butternut squash and pie pumpkins), but everything else should be self sufficient during the summer months!

As part of our yard project I fixed up a humming bird feeder that Id bought on a whim a few years back. The flowers had faded and were no longer pink, so I took my single bottle of water based non-toxic nail polish and painted the petals the color of Desire otherwise known as a pinkish red. I then made some humming bird nectar with water and sugar (1/3 cup sugar, 2 cups boiled water) and a splash of India Tree natural food coloring. I’ve read that humming birds don’t really care if the nectar is red, but it looks so much prettier to ME. And, it is my yard after all! This time I placed the feeder in the middle of my strawberry bed and away from the window where my cat likes to drool and dream about eating birds.

I am also preparing for a bumper crop of strawberries as you can see from the below picture. Nearly every plant is covered in blooms and many are already growing fruit! This will be the third year for my patch and looks to be the best yet! Hopefully, we will have plenty to eat and bake into strawberry rhubarb pie (my rhubarb not pictured, is also huge) and some left over to make into jam!

Now, the only thing that is missing from our lovely yard is a couple of chickens

Something to Yolk About

As a kid we had chickens and we had fresh eggs. As far as I can remember, I always liked eating eggs, whether they be scrambled, poached, soft boiled, hard boiled, they were (and are) a tasty food. My grandmother also raised chickens from which she made the best scrambled eggs in the world. They were always a bright yellow and tasted oh so creamy.

Over the years I became accustomed to grocery store eggs. They seemed perfectly good, although my omelets and scrambled dishes never tasted quite as good as I remembered. For many years I attributed this to the superior cooking skills of my mom and my grandmother. And, then I came across local farm fresh eggs just a few miles from our home.

The eggs on the left have been marked with a V and are Cage Free Large Brown Eggs from Organic Valley. Prior to coming across Ollin Farms these are the eggs that my family bought and ate every week. The eggs on the right are from Ollin Farms and marked with an O. As egg companies go, Nest Fresh is pretty close to ideal. They are Certified Humane and fed a vegetarian and organic diet; however, from this comparison it is clear their eggs continue to miss something in the diet of real farm eggs (and Backyard Eggs).

The first time I cracked open an egg from Ollin Farms, I was in awe of its rich golden (in fact deep orange) hue. I scrambled a few up for the best omelet in ages. I was hooked and so was my toddler son! Not only are Ollins eggs very tasty, but I have also visited their hens, which have a large outside enclosure. I know that for a fact that their chickens are happy with space to run, forage, eat a grub or two and some grass, in addition to their carefully selected chicken feed.

Over the last few months I’ve mentioned the difference in color to many people. Unfortunately, everyone except my grandmother, who has almost 90 years of hen raising experience, looks at me in disbelief when I mention the rich yellow orange color of Ollins eggs, so I decided to document the difference.

Pictured above you see on the left a Cage Free Organic Egg provided by Organic Valley. On the right you see an almost urban egg farm egg from Ollin. You’ll note that the yolk from the Ollin egg is not only deeper in color, it is also much larger.

In this last photo the Ollin eggs are on the right and the Organic Valley on the left. You’ll again note the difference in color and the increased size of the yolks in the Ollin Eggs. The Organic Valley eggs are much more uniform in size and they just don’t measure up to old fashioned free roaming eggs raised on a small scale!

With access to locally raised eggs, such as those from Ollin, you might wonder why I or anyone else might want to raise his or her own backyard hens. For one, raising several hens can be pleasurable work as the hens, like many pets, often become part of the family! Furthermore, here in Longmont we have very alkaline and clay soil. Folks who like to keep hens also often like to garden. Personally, I would be thrilled to have access to a regular supply of free Chick a Poo fertilizer to compost and add to my soil!

Lastly, although there are several local purveyors of farm fresh eggs, supply cannot keep up with demand. Over the summer months I have access to at least 3 different options for egg buying, but only on certain days and they all sell out within a few hours of opening. In the winter months Ollin is the only place I know of to get eggs, but Mark himself has said he could probably run a business on eggs alone and still not keep up with demand!

In conclusion, there are those of us who appreciate nutritious and good tasting food and the welfare of animals, while also desiring to increase our self-sufficiency and shorten the distance of our food from farm to table. With this in mind, we ask you to attend Eggs on the Table this Thursday at the Longmont Public Library. And (or) seek us out to sign the petition showing your support to the Longmont City Council.

This post is cross posted at the Longmont Urban Hen Blog.

Longmont Urban Hens

The Longmont Urban Hen Coalition site has been launched:

If you are able and willing to donate any time or services to the cause comment below or contact me directly at greenme dot vg @ gmail dot com

Spread the word!

P.s. Don’t you love the logo that the Crunchy Domestic Goddess scratched up for us last night?

EcoMom Series #3.3 Shop Organic

We often associate the word organic with food products, but it can also be used to reference clothing, beauty care products and more. The key to reading labels, is understanding that organic food products (and claims) are regulated by the FDA. Other organic claims are not regulated; so, when buying anything organic that does not sport the USDA organic seal, make sure that you know and trust your supplier. Also check the ingredient list (if available) and see how many truly organic ingredients have been included.

There are many reasons to buy organic, the first and foremost being your families health (who wants to ingest chemicals, especially those that are known carcinogens or worse). Yet another reason to buy organic is the health of the planet. Pesticides can pollute soil and ground water, as well as, damage local flora and fauna. Genetically modified plants (GMO) can cross pollinate with non-GMO plants and also interfere with the development of other flora and fauna.

Many folks think that organic plants and foods are more expensive to grow and produce. In some ways this is true as it is difficult to mass produce or skimp on an organic product. However, keep in mind that although a yard of pesticide intensive organic cotton may be cheaper to produce up front than a yard of organic cotton the opportunity cost and ultimately the real cost of the pesticide intensive cotton will likely be much higher.

Some plants tend to require more pesticides than others and so are more pesticide intensive. Cotton and strawberries are two of my favorite examples. The cultivation of cotton is estimated to account for 25% of total pesticide use world wide and in the US alone, five of the most common cotton pesticides are known carcinogens. If you want to put your money where it counts do your best to encourage companies to use and support organic cotton!

Strawberries are believed to be one of the most pesticide intensive crops in the state of California and one of the most common pesticides used on strawberries (to kill soil borne disease) is Methyl bromide, which can be inhaled and according to the EPA is an acute toxin (or deadly chemical). Other pesticides used on strawberries are absorbed into the fruit, which is mostly water thus making it so that you cant just wash the strawberry off. This is evidenced by recent tests in which it was found that 90% of strawberries sold contained 36 different pesticides!

According to the Green Guide the following foods are organic must buys as they consistently show the highest levels of toxic (and or illegal) pesticide residues:

  • strawberries
  • rice
  • grains
  • milk
  • corn
  • bananas
  • green beans
  • apples
  • peaches/nectarines
  • grapes/raisins

Another point to keep in mind if you choose NOT to buy organic, is to only buy conventional produce that was grown in the US or Canada. Many South American countries from whom we import food have more lax standards and regulations when it comes to pesticide use. And, although they supposedly do not use certain banned pesticides on foods grown for sale in the US, random test  on various foods, such as bananas and grapes, show otherwise!

And, a common myth of organic food is that it goes bad more quickly or that it is naturally damaged. This is just not true. If you buy organic produce that goes bad quickly, it simply means that it was on the shelf (or in storage) for too long before the store put it out for you to buy. In fact fresh picked organic produce often lasts longer than conventional produce, precisely because it usually travels a shorter distance from farm to table. And, most organic food ripens on the plant and is thus not treated with gas to encourage ripening. This is why your slightly green organic bananas often taste ripe, when the same green conventional banana would still taste unripe.

In addition, when buying locally grown produce, dont automatically pass it up simply because it does not carry an organic label. Many smaller farmers may choose not to use pesticides, but they dont pay for certification. Or in the case, for example, of an apple orchard, they may spray once in the spring before the fruit forms, but not again, this helps protect their fruit, but it is unlikely any residue will show up in or on your fruit.

One more reason to support organic, is that many organic farmers understand the interconnectedness of life and so they not only dont use pesticides, but they have other farming practices that also work to protect life on earth rather than defeat, tame or damage it. One of the best stories Ive heard of late was from a friend who is an organic farmer in Sebastopol, CA.

Paul has a friend who raises cattle and chickens, both free range, grass fed. He starts his cows out on a pasture until the grass is short. He then moves the cows to the next pasture, while leaving the old pasture to fallow (cow dung and all) for about a week (the time it takes fly eggs to hatch and grow into larvae). He then moves his chickens into the pasture. They scratch through the cow dung to eat some nice protein filled larvae, poop on the grass (chicken poo is an awesome fertilizer) and they eat a little grass (calcium, omega 3s and more). After he moves the chickens on to the next pasture the grass grows thick, green and tall making it perfect for the next round of cattle grazing. No pesticides, added fertilizers or feeds involved. Just mother nature and human cultivation working in harmony!

Flame Retardant in PJs?

I believe that one example of government regulation making things worse (not better) was the decision in the 1970s (by the entity which turned into Consumer Product Safety Commission) that loose fitting infant and child PJs must be treated or made with flame retardant material. This decision was made after several little ones died in house fires and or fires in which their PJs caught on fire. And, the decision was initially made before fire alarms and sprinkler systems (in apartments) were common place and often even part of the building code, nevertheless fires scare us, so the rules have become more detailed and received increased enforcement over the years.

Accidents do happen, but frankly I would prefer to dress my son in Flame Retardant FREE PJs and keep a functioning smoke/fire alarm right outside his bedroom door.  Our house is well maintained, we dont smoke or use candles (except the occasional candle with dinner) and we dont store excess fuel in the garage. So barring an odd electrical fire or an errant lightening strike I would not consider our home to have a high fire risk. In addition to working smoke alarms, we also keep a CO2 and gas detector, which is insanely effective at waking one up at 3 am (inevitably the batteries run out in the middle of the night).

For years there has been concern over the human body’s ability to absorb the chemicals in fire retardant fabrics and this is why in many cases it is no longer used. In fact the only commonly used flame retardant in the US today, is the ubiquitous PBDE found in infant pajamas, mattresses, car seats and more. I mentioned in my brief post yesterday that the Environmental Working Group will be releasing a study that shares results regarding how mothers and toddlers absorb the chemicals in the PBDE flame retardant used in foam mattresses and other consumer products. (Here is an article on Falcons and PBDE absorption, which indicates flame retardants might be bad for animals and the environment, not just humans!)

In the meantime, if you are concerned about your kiddos PJs read this article over at the Green Guide (National Geographic) that discusses the history behind the issue. Bottom line is that most PJs made of synthetic fabrics (which tend to be highly flammable) will be treated with flame retardant or made with fabric woven from thread that has been treated. Only tight fitting cotton PJs tend to be fire retardant free and in most cases you can be confident that your organic PJs are also flame retardant free.

From the Green Guide:

Your choices, then, from worst to best are 1) nylon or acetate treated with fire retardants, 2) inherently flame resistant polyester with fire retardants built into the polymer or 3) snug-fitting cotton garments. The healthiest safe choice with the lowest embodied energy and lowest ecological impact would be snug-fitting, organic cotton long johns or union suit-style pajamas with the Wear snug-fitting. Not flame resistant label. These common sense choices conform to the CPSCs standards, give the environment a break and provide your child with safe and comfortable sleepwear.

Occasionally, you may find looser fitting Organic PJs that are not marketed as PJs, but perhaps as buntings or footies or what not that are not treated either. Hanna Anderson used to sell PJs in that way a few years back (but I was told not confirmed truth or fiction) that they had to stop selling them because the CPSC tagged them as PJs. Now, you will only find tight fitting organic PJs at Hanna Anderson.

What about my babys mattress and sheets?

One more reason to go organic or by a natural latex mattress or organic mattress pad is that most crib (and adult) mattresses are also fire retardant.  If you’d like to read Consumer Product Safety Commissions proposals and rules regarding mattresses here are a few links to various standards and proposed standards for mattresses:  16 CFR 1633; 16 CFR Part 1632 (this standard effective of July 1, 2007 is crazy even thought I dont smoke the CPSC thinks that it is only safe to sell me a mattress that will not burn when confronted with 18 lighted cigarettes! Now this rule may be good for those who live in apartment buildings with smokers, but for those of us who live in stand alone homes that is outrageous!)

Here is another link to search any CPSC Product Safety Standard that you may be curious to learn more about. Also, if you have a specific product that you are concerned about your best bet is to contact the company directly and get a straight answer from them regarding the make up of the PJs, mattress or mattress pad.

Green Mes Opinion:

This issue is particularly irksome to Green Me given the current political climate and situation. Here I am as a Democrat who according to the GOP believes in heavy handed government intervention in our daily lives. And yet, I can not stand the idea that the government regulates the addition of chemicals to my household products as a protective measure in case some one out there is stupid or careless. Folks (mostly Republicans and Libertarians from what I can tell) do not want to pay taxes to give someone elses children a solid education or to provide someone elses grandmother, mother or child with adequate health care. And yet, at the RNC or on CSPAN I never once hear any of these folks crying foul at the government standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission that require toxic chemicals to be added to our household goods specifically our childrens pajamas and or every-ones mattress, because it might prevent a few tragic accidents.

In the US fires are the the fifth most common cause of unintentional injury deaths in the United States (CDC 2005) a fact that initially makes fire retardant mattresses and PJs sound necessary, until you read the next statistic that says Most victims of fires die from smoke or toxic gases and not from burns (Hall 2001). Furthermore Smoking is the leading cause of fire-related deaths (Ahrens 2003) and Cooking is the primary cause of residential fires (Ahrens 2003). So, if you dont smoke or live in a building with smokers and you have effective (and functioning) smoke alarms in your home the likelihood that your mattress or PJs need to be coated with fire retardant any more than you everyday clothes or other materials goods is not a solid argument! *

When it comes down to it what is a better investment of our tax and private dollars? Is a dollar spent providing preventive health care more effective at saving lives and saving society money than a dollar spent researching and testing the most effective flame retardant mattresses? Fire deaths are horrific, shocking and frustrating, because in many cases they appear to have been preventable. Deaths, disorders, environmental destruction from chemicals, such as PBDE fire retardants are slow acting, difficult to pin-point and seen by some as a necessary evil. And, yet in the long run I wonder if the use of PBDEs will cause more damage and destruction than it will have saved lives? Frankly, Id prefer to live with out the addition of PBDEs, BPA and other avoidable endocrine disruptors, carcinogens and God knows what else!

*CDC, Fire Deaths and Injuries. Fact Sheets August 08, 2008 1. 6 Sep 2008 <http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/fire.htm>.

EcoMom Challenge #3: Shop Fair Trade (part I of III)

This week I am writing about EcoMom Challenge #3 as part of the EcoMom 10 Steps to Living Sustainably. Challenge #3 imparts us to: Shop Local, Fair Trade and Organic. I have a lot to say on each of these subjects, so I’ve in fact broken this element of the series into three parts. Today I will cover shopping Fair Trade.

What is Fair Trade?

From their own Website this is how the Fair Trade Federation explains their purpose:

Fair trade is a system of exchange that seeks to create greater equity and partnership in the international trading system by

  • Providing fair wages in the local context,
  • Supporting safe, healthy, and participatory workplaces,
  • Supplying financial and technical support to build capacity,
  • Ensuring environmental sustainability,
  • Respecting cultural identity,
  • Offering public accountability and transparency,
  • Building direct and long-term relationships, and
  • Educating consumers.

History: Fair Trade may be something that seems to have just popped onto the horizon as yet another politically correct catch phrase; however, the first Fair Trade shop Ten Thousand Villages in fact opened its doors in 1958! The International Fair Trade Association was founded in 1989 and the groups that ultimately formed into the Fair Trade Federation in 1994, began to meet and exchange business ideas in the 1970s. (Fair Trade Federation website).

Why Buy Fair Trade?

Buying Certified Fair Trade ensures that your purchases (whether they be coffee, food, clothing, jewelry or crafts)  were made in safe, sanitary, sustainable conditions and without the use of child labor. No other certification can make this guarantee when you buy imported goods. Note that they key here is certified Fair Trade. Many businesses are attempting to jump on this band wagon, even making their own Ethical Trading statements and such, but can they really be trusted?

How is Certified Fair Trade Better?

Fair Trade sounds great, but if you are like me you may wonder how the process is regulated and if it is really a label you can trust. Personally, I have great faith in the Fair Trade label, which I know to be a trustworthy and carefully regulated system. Why can I say this with confidence? Because, I have friends who run a little business that was recently Certified Fair Trade and I guarantee you that it is not an easy process!

In college I spent a semester in Madagascar and since that time I’ve managed to stay in contact with a few people I met in Madagascar and the tiny Malagasy community in my area.  Local Malagasy friends in fact  helped to start a women’s weaving cooperative about 5 years ago near the Ranomafana region of Madagascar. The Naturary co-op employees adult women who are expert weavers in making handbags, hats and other items from locally grown Raffia fibers. The Raffia Farmers and the weavers are all paid fair wages and work in safe and healthy conditions.

From its establishment Tropical Items Madagascar, which overseas the business has on principal operated from Fair Trade standards. The owners (Fanja & George) even gathered community members in Colorado to start a non profit (Hope for Madagascar) that carries out education and environmental projects in the area to further benefit the community.  A portion of all the proceeds earned by Tropical Items is donated to Hope for Madagascar. Projects both finished and in progress of the non-profit include building green schools, planting trees and gardens, and most recently working with Engineers without Borders to build a well.

In other words, Tropical Items Madagascar is a small, family run business that genuinely cares about their roots, respects the artisans, and gives back to the community (and the planet) in a big way. You’d think that with such a resume  that being certified Fair Trade would be an easy thing. And yet, Tropical Items had to complete a difficult application, spend the money to fly in inspectors, and all aspects of their business were scrutinized in order to become certified Fair Trade.

So, the next time you are trying to decide on a bag of Fair Trade Coffee Beans priced at $8.50 or a regular beans priced at $7.50 please know that the extra dollar is not just going to line some rich corporations pockets, but to in fact ensure that the adult (not child) laborers who brought you that coffee are paid fairly and work in healthy and safe conditions. And, that the business model behind the coffee likely also includes treading lightly on the planet and elements of sustainable development!

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!

LEDs

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!