Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Easy, affordable ways to go green this summer

Green home certifications, low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) finishes, the latest local, organic, free-trade product....attempting to go green can add up. It seems counter-intuitive that going back to nature should be more expensive. We envision a future where solar panels will be as standard as a furnace and all finishes are safe enough to eat (though we wouldn't recommend that). In the meantime, here are some quick, low-tech tips to try today to lessen your "green guilt:"
  • Open a window for fresh air and reduce exposure to VOC's
  • Use a house plant to help clean the air in your house and remove VOC's, like English Ivy. has some great tips and a list of plants.
  • For those of us with no AC, or to save money if you do have AC: on hot days, shut all the windows and blinds in the morning before the sun starts to heat things up, and keep them shut all day. If you need breeze, place a bowl of ice in front of a box fan. Open things up when the sun starts to go down, and place a box fan in the window directing air out of the house.
  • To keep cool sleeping, I love this trick: place your sheets and pillowcase in the freezer for a few minutes before going to bed.
  • The more I read about the possible negative health risks of Compact Fluorescent Lights, the more I revert back to my old incandescent bulbs. (See my recent blog post on the subject: Are CFL's a better choice?) Yes, incandescents use more electricity, so you just need to be careful with their use. Also, the wasted energy of incandescents comes from the heat they emit, so they can be a little too toasty for summer reading in bed. I keep the night stand light off and read with a clip-on, battery operated reading light that attaches to the book, like this GE 17205 LED Book Light. Bonus if you can use rechargeable batteries.
  • Skip natural expensive cleaners and opt for good old soap, water, and some elbow grease. I use a shampoo I accidentally bought to shine the sink and scrub the toilet (this idea courtesy of Marla Cilley-AKA the FlyLady), dish soap with a sponge for the kitchen sink, vinegar for mopping and glass, and plain water for dusting. An old sock makes a great dust rag. I mark them with an "R" with a permanent marker so I'm not desperately looking for a match when it comes out of the dryer. Newspaper works as well as many brands of paper towels for leaving windows and mirrors streak free. I think about what types of cleaning supplies that I use in terms of where they are going to end up. That toxic toilet cleaner has to go somewhere: if not EVERY chemical compound is cleaned out at the water treatment facility, these end up in the fish we eat and the water we may eventually drink. Even when they are cleaned out of the water, they end up in sludge, which in turn goes back into the soil. 
  • Don't yet have one of the new dual-flush toilets? No problem. You can still save water by placing something in your toilet tank, like a full water bottle, so it will fill with less water. Make sure the object you place in your renegade "low flow" toilet is not interfering with any of the moving parts in the tank.
  • Go low tech and avoid a possible link to some cancers and other diseases (see link to blog post above): save money by skipping an expensive Blue tooth and go with a cell phone that has a corded headset, and a good old fashioned wired phone for the land line. 
  • Even if you can't afford the latest Energy Star certified freezer, you can make yours more efficient. Unload all the groceries first and separate into freezer and fridge piles so you only have to open each once. A stocked freezer is more efficient than an empty one, so I keep mine stocked with frozen fruits. (Of course, to keep things frugal, I stock up with my monthly 10% off coupon at Central Co-op's Madison Market). Then I use frozen fruit instead of ice in club soda or water with lime and lemon juice for a fun summer treat. If you don't have that fancy new freezer, chances are you don't have an ice maker. Having ice always ready is as easy as taking a larger Tupperware bowl that has lost its lid, and once every few days re-boot your ice cube trays. 
I am all for the latest advancement in green technology and natural or recycled products, but only if it's financially feasible. Also, jumping on the latest green trend and dumping your old technology is not always the most sustainable option. Our old appliances and fixtures end up in the landfill, and most waste comes from producing all those new products. Only about 10% of the waste stream is through throwing away the old freezer (see Chris Jordan's incredible photos depicting consumer waste, also my related blog post). The majority of the waste comes from producing the new one, so we have to balance the potential energy savings of the new product compared with the manufacture, transportation and packaging (not to mention the cost of buying a new one). It's "greener" and more frugal (and can be more fun!) to do what we can to make what we already have more efficient. 

1 comment:

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