With the focus on global warming and air pollution, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of indoor air quality. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that on average, Americans spend as much as 5.2 hours a day just relaxing at home. That is not even counting the 2.6 hours they spend doing chores or the roughly 23 percent of people who bring work home with them from the office.
During this time, you breathe in microorganisms, gases such as carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds. Instead of adding to the already escalating environmental issues, consider green ways you can improve the air quality of your home.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Horticulturist Deborah Brown from the University of Minnesota suggests that adding houseplants to your decor is a natural ways to absorb airborne chemicals. Plants are living air purifiers. They breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out clean oxygen. The foliage and roots also absorb chemical toxins introduced into the room by synthetic material to act as a natural scrubber. Healthy plants to keep around include:
Controlling the Source
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that source control is the most effective means of keeping the air clean. For example, lower the gas input on stoves to reduce emissions. Many of the pollutants come into your home from the outside, so proper weatherizing is essential, as well.
Take a survey of your home looking for leaks. Check around windows and doors for loose stripping, and examine the wall joints, especially in basements and attics. Walk around and see where you feel a draft — this signifies an area that is allowing outdoor air into the house. To plug up problems, replace missing insulation, seal openings in wall joints and reapply weather-stripping.
Most local utility companies will come out and do an inspection looking to help you lower energy costs. This is a free, or low-cost, approach to finding breaks in the envelope around the home in order to control air quality, too.
Commercial cleaning products add to the problem by introducing chemicals into the home environment. Switching to only natural cleaners reduces those air pollutants. You can buy cleaners that are environmentally friendly or save some money and make your own.
Mix white vinegar with equal parts water for an effective all-purpose cleaner that works on just about any surface including:
Adding a few drops of lemon juice will enhance the cleaning power while improving the smell. You can use full strength vinegar to clean the toilet, but if you use it in showers and baths be sure to dilute it to protect your grout.
If you need something with scrubbing ability, try mixing lemon juice with baking soda instead. The Daily Green provides even more recipes for home cleaning solutions.
Monitor Air Quality
Automation is the key. You can integrate sensors to check for carbon monoxide and radon gas with your home security system. Compare home security companies to find one that offers full automation to detect air problems you can’t see. The environmental impact of such a system is minimal, and it’s worth the cost to keep your family safe.
An EPA-reported $5,250,000,000 is spent on fossil fuel-derived fertilizers for American lawns. That alone is reason to lead the crusade for greener, more eco-friendly backyards. Along with the fact that 30 to 60 percent of urban water is being used on lawns, it's time to start rethinking the traditional concept of your lawn being a lush carpet with perfectly groomed grass.
Take a look around your backyard. What changes can you make to become more environmentally responsible?
Reduce Lawn Size
Gas lawnmowers, power equipment injuries, toxic fertilizers, pollution... no more. Reduce the size of your lawn to a small area, plant a garden in its place. Add native flora because it usually thrives in local conditions which eliminates extra energy. Consider an herb bed or suburban meadow. Alternates to grass include clover, artificial lawns and putting-green grass. Reducing the amount of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in the lawn offers healthier ways to go outside to play.
A win-win, composting reduces trash output by hundreds of pounds a year and naturally fertilizes gardens. Get an adjustable home compost bin (Planet Natural $35) or dedicate an area away from the house as your compost pile. Start putting your green materials like yards clippings and food scraps into the bin to supply the necessary nitrogen, allowing breakdown of composting materials. Mix in brown materials like paper and leaves (high in carbon). Composting will release nutrients to plants as you improve your environmental standings and reduce household waste.
If you have an existing pool, you could drain it and cover it or switch out the toxic chlorine with saltwater. A salt chlorine generator converts salt into chlorine, naturally sanitizing your pool. You will pour large bags of plain table salt (non-iodized) right into the pool. Because they eliminate the need for expensive chemicals, saltwater pools are better for the environment and for your personal health, skin and wallet. Click here for inground pool products.
Another option is to use a constructed wetland as the pools water filtration system. Pumped water will pass through different types of plants and soil, naturally taking the impurities out as they become nourished. You end up with a balanced aquatic ecosystem.
Use a Pool Cover
Heat reduction is an ecological benefit to having a pool cover. Also, evaporation can be reduced by 90 percent, saving water usage and energy.
Put a rain barrel out during a shower (or under a downspout) and have water free of chlorine and additives to water your garden and clean your patio.
Invite Bug Eaters
Ladybugs eat aphids that destroy crops and flowers. Plant bright flowers to give the little ladies a place to live and reproduce. Birds eat plant and herb destroying pests like slugs, snails and caterpillars. Welcome them into your backyard by offering birdseed and bird houses.
Cover photo from Flickr user Maegan Tintari / ...love Maegan.
Gasoline prices rose every day from July 9-18, AAA reports. Some point to the political turmoil in Egypt and Syria as the cause, while others pin the blame on the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve. Mintel, a market research firm in London, found that hybrid and electric vehicle (EVs) sales in the United States grew by 73 percent from 2011 to 2012, mostly as a result of the increasing costs of fuel.
But hybrids and EVs are more expensive than their full-gasoline counterparts, putting them out of reach for many Americans. But for as little as $1,000, you can turn any diesel-powered vehicle into one powered by vegetable oil. And as crazy and unconventional as this idea may sound, it really is not that difficult to do, if you are committed to freeing yourself from the prison known as fossil fuels.
Buy Your Kit
This will be the most expensive part of the process, but it will pay for itself in a matter of months. OrganicMechanic.com and Greasecar.com both sell conversion kits specific to your type of vehicle. People with a boating license in Alabama and other states with water access can even consider converting their boat for vegetable oil power as well.
The kit will have every part you need, including a heated bio-fuel tank, vacuum gauges, an SVO controller (to switch between gasoline and vegetable oil power) and of course, instructions on how to install everything. Installation is somewhat of a specialized skill, so you may need to do some extra work to find a mechanic if you don’t have the tools and mechanical wherewithal to do the job yourself.
Get Your Vegetable Oil Fuel
A gallon of vegetable oil at a grocery store costs around $8, more than double the price of a gallon of gas. The oil used to power a vehicle does not have to be brand new. The key to the entire idea is to get your fuel from restaurants, schools and other businesses that would otherwise throw it away. These places usually pay someone to come haul away their used oil after a few days of cooking french fries, chicken strips and other artery-clogging delicacies in it. You can become a few businesses de-facto garbage person and turn their trash into your fuel.
Make certain the oil is nonhydrogenated (like canola), as cream-based oils will cause clogs in fuel injectors and filters. Paul Powers, who runs his Chevy 4500 Kodiak on vegetable oil, told Diesel Power Magazine that he prefers waste oil from Asian restaurants as opposed to fast food restaurants because its generally cleaner and higher quality.
Waste oil is not immediately ready to be used. It will need to be heated, liquefied and filtered. All the food crumbs, water and other contaminates will need to be removed to avoid damaging your engine. There is no cut-and-dried method of doing this, but the basic idea is to pump the oil from the contaminated supply to a new barrel that collects the clean, ready-to-use fuel.
Converting your vehicle will not only save you money in the long run, but will help lower your carbon footprint and free you from gas-price watching. It also reduces landfill waste and provides an instant conversation starter with just about anyone.
Hybrids are hot right now, having dramatically increased their share of the overall vehicle market in the past several years. The Toyota Prius is in particularly high demand, displaying an impressive sales increase of 9.5 percent between May, 2012 and May, 2013, for a total annual volume of more than 23,000 vehicles. While drivers are buying hybrids for various reasons, given the combination of an economic slump and high gas prices, affordability is often listed as a deciding factor.
But are these fuel efficient vehicles actually more affordable than their standard counterparts?
Ownership Costs For Standard VehiclesA basic understanding of ownership costs of standard vehicles can help you better understand the implications of buying a hybrid. Typically, the upfront cost is greater for a hybrid, with some or all of the difference being made up through the hybrid's fuel efficiency. The American Automobile Association (AAA) listed the annual cost of owning and operating a mid-sized sedan at $9,122 a year, or 60 cents per mile. This figure assumes that the driver owns the sedan for a minimum of five years and racks up an estimated annual mileage of 15,000. Costs included in AAA's estimate include fuel, maintenance and insurance, all of which have the potential to be impacted by the hybrid label.
Ownership Costs For Hybrid VehiclesThe easiest way to compare long-term hybrid vehicle costs is to simply compare the hybrid version of a given vehicle to the original model. Edmunds lists the five year cost of owning a Honda Civic at $35,188. Compare this to the Civic Hybrid, which offered a slightly lower cost of ownership at $34,237. Thus, the conclusion is that, over a five year period, it is less expensive to own and operate a Civic Hybrid.
The economic benefits of hybrid ownership are also exemplified by a cost comparison of the Ford Fusion Sedan to the Ford Fusion Hybrid. During the course of five years, the standard Fusion costs $39,698 to operate, while the hybrid totals $34,465. Either Fusion is an affordable option, with www.drivetime.com listing the vehicle at just $18,965.
Let's Not Forget As with AAA's ownership cost estimate, Edmunds' calculations include fuel, repairs and auto insurance expenses. Most of the savings of a hybrid come from spending less time at the gas pump. Maintenance costs for the hybrid are slightly more expensive, simply because the battery pack will need to be replaced. However, this cost may be offset by federal and state tax breaks for hybrid owners.
Ultimately, a hybrid becomes more affordable the more it is used. Thus, if you do not anticipate driving your car over 10,000 miles per year, the hybrid may not yet serve as the more economical vehicle option. But for frequent drivers, the long-term reduction in gas prices is enough of offset the upfront cost, ultimately making a hybrid model the more affordable option.
Creative Commons image by mariordo59
We take pride in our lawns. There's a great sense of accomplishment when you step outside and peer upon your beautifully maintained piece of property. However, to reach that level of perfection, many homeowners believe they need to make a big investment in some pretty environmentally unfriendly products: lawn mowers, fertilizers, pesticides, and plants that aren't native to the region. It can take a toll on the environment and your wallet.
Many home owners have shifted from using traditional tools and products to maintain their lawns to using old-school push mowers and eco-friendly fertilizers, and only planting vegetation native to the area. This greener thinking has led to reduced prices on lawn care items and the long-term cost of regular lawn maintenance. Here are three easy ways to change the impact you're having on the environment while caring for your lawn:
Use a Friendlier Mower
The most ecologically sound of all types of lawn mowers is the reel mower, also known as a push mower or manual mower. To work it, the user pushes the mower, which spins the blade and cuts the grass. While modern lawn-care types probably regard reel mowers as anachronistic, they're actually quite effective. In addition, they're inexpensive, provide a good workout to the user and, of course, they have no harmful emissions, unlike gas-powered mowers. There's no exhaust, no leaking oil and no costly regular maintenance.
Reel mowers don't make sense for larger lawns, however. In these cases, consider a corded electric mower, a cordless electric mower or one of the newer gas-powered models that are engineered to be kinder to Mother Earth. Thankfully, newer models almost always start on the first pull, and some come with a special blade that chops clipings into mulch and redistributes them back on the lawn. If a reel mower is not an option, you can find a variety of Husqvarna zero-turn lawn mowers that make sense for bigger yards.
Use Eco-Friendly Lawn Fertilizers
Most fertilizers you find in stores contain two main elements that encourage growth: nitrogen, for blade growth and color, and phosphorus, for root and cell development. Eco-friendly options for fertilizer focus on reducing these two elements (or completely eliminating them), as grass and soil already have these two nutrients. It is usually not essential to add extra.
Of course, natural options present itself alongside these fertilizer compounds, such as leaving the grass trimmings while mowing to encourage growth, utilizing compost from dead vegetation and food, or natural fertilizer from animals. Using biochar in soil has been shown to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but so far it appears it's best suited to maximizing sustainability of bioenergy crops. Each is a step in the right direction to keep your lawn (and the world) a greener place.
Only plant flowers, trees, shrubs and grass that are native to your region. These have a lower impact on the environment due to their innate attributes to survive the region; it means that you may not need to water them as much, or use harsh pesticides to preserve them. The plants will go through their natural cycle throughout the seasons, and you won't have to spend a great deal of time and money to keep them active during a drought or cold snap.
Planting native vegetation also provides shade and a natural, local look to your home that will match the community. It also attracts birds and wildlife which depend on these types of regional plants to survive.
The Added Benefit of the Eco-Friendly Way of Life
One final item worth mentioning: The value of your home has the potential to increase with these eco-friendly lawn care tips. A homeowner's ability to maintain a beautiful lawn with little work is an attractive selling point to potential buyers.
How do you reduce your carbon footprint when maintaining your lawn?
If we don't curtail our wasteful ways, the demands we place on our planet will limit generations to come. We may have a separate bin for our recyclables, and that's a great start—but we can do more to assist the efforts to save the planet.
Join the green revolution by incorporating these eco-friendly habits:
Switch to a Sponge
How many bulk packages of paper towels do you go through in a year? It's too many. Get a pack of sponges and start cleaning your counters with them instead. Worried about bacteria that could grow on your sponge? Remove food particles, keep it dry (bacteria loves moisture), and every couple of days or so, microwave the wet sponge with a half-cup of water or run it through a dishwasher cycle.
Reuse Your Bags
Keep reusable canvas tote bags on hand at all times. Why? National Geographic reports that they are refined from crude oil and natural gas and are not biodegradable. Invest in a couple of strong totes and keep them in your purse or in your car. You just never really know when you'll need them.
Stop Printing at Home
A study from the National Institute of Public Health found that laser and ink-jet printers emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone and particulates that harm both nearby users and the environment. In addition, the process of manufacturing at-home printers releases unsafe air emissions. You and the environment would be better served by using a service like DigMyPics.com, which makes digital copies of your media for emission-free sharing.
Replace Your Light Bulbs
Do you know the most environmentally friendly light source? OK, it's the sun. But the second is an LED light bulb. By replacing your incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs you get longer bulb life, use less electricity and save money in the long run. Choose Energy Star-rated LED lighting to be sure it's as efficient as can be.
Take Your Foot Off the Gas
Hybrids are settling into the mainstream now, paving the way for completely electric vehicles. In addition to using greener transportation modes like bike riding and public transportation, conserve gas by avoiding rapid and unnecessary acceleration and keep your car parts clean and well-maintained.
Shop at local farmers markets for fresher, more flavorful foods and your money will go back into a sustainable system that advances the local economy. Investing in your community creates jobs and helps solidifying a city's infrastructure. The Austin Independent Business Alliance is campaigning to get people to shift 10 percent to locally owned businesses from chain stores. It will add hundreds of millions to the local economy and create thousands of new jobs.
Ditch Plastic Water Bottles
Get a stainless steel water bottle to fill throughout the day instead of buying single-use bottled water with toxic polycarbonate plastics. While plastic bottles are recyclable, a reported 75 percent of water bottles end up in landfills and pollute waterways because people don't recycle them, according to worldwatch.org.
Some people are never satisfied. Ignoring the fact that gasoline has done a terrific job of powering motorcycles for many years, they insist on exploring alternative fuels. Of course, there are good reasons. Although a small and lightweight motorcycle is an eco-friendly way of getting around town, gasoline is an imperfect fuel source.
Exhaust emissions are top of the issues list. Modern machines are cleaner than those of yore, but still put out a cocktail of smog-creating chemicals— most notably, CO2. The source of the gasoline concerns many people too. Derived from oil, there's a finite supply, and much of it has to be imported. And last, in urban environments where two-wheeled transportation is at its most useful, the noise generated by those mechanical motorcycle parts is a significant problem.
Electricity: The Obvious Alternative
A growing proportion of our electricity comes from renewables, but even when generated from coal or gas it's easier to control the emissions at source. An electric motorcycle has zero emissions at the point of use, but it has other selling points for biking enthusiasts. Electric motors generate instantaneous torque, making these machines remarkably quick. The smoothness is also a boon to riders, and the hush benefits everyone but those who love the throb of a Harley.
Harley riders may enjoy maintaining their machines, but for most bikers it's a chore. Electric power eliminates many motorcycle parts like spark plugs, oil and filters, so maintenance costs are almost zero and reliability is exceptionally good.
As with cars, the Achilles' heel of electric power is battery storage. The energy density of batteries is far less than that of gasoline, meaning range is limited. That's not necessarily a problem in cities though, where riders don't cover great distances, charging points are relatively plentiful, and regenerative braking puts power back into the battery.
Brew Your Own?
If batteries are such a nuisance, how about generating the electricity on-board when you need it?
That's the idea behind fuel cells. These generate electricity from hydrogen, producing water as a byproduct. As Forbes reports, the technology is well established— car manufacturers like Honda and BMW have had fuel-cell development cars running for several years— and a number of motorcycle manufacturers are working on fuel-cell bikes. But if you want to buy one, you'll need to wait a while.
Other fuel sources have been tried. An Argentinean motorcycle company, Zanella, promoted a bike that would run on compressed natural gas, while several enthusiasts have experimented with biodiesel. As a fuel, biodiesel is interesting because it's renewable, but the downsides are noise and exhaust emissions.
This is Not Science Fiction
Electric motorcycles are available now from companies like Evolve, Brammo and Zero. There is more evidence that these are practical alternatives to the old gasoline machines. Consider this: Gizmag.com reports that police forces from Monterey, Calif. to London, England, have tested and are using electric motorcycles.
So what's the future for eco-friendly motorcycles? Electric power is here but range concerns will likely hold back long-distance cruisers. Those folks will have to wait for fuel-cell bikes, but for city use the green motorcycle should satisfy most riders.
As you get started on your spring cleaning, forget about using chemical-filled commercial products. These can waste your money and pollute your breathing air. Instead, make non-toxic natural cleaners with these simple recipes:
In all rooms, use two cups of white vinegar and water to clean hard surfaces. Add drops of essential oil to mask the smell of vinegar.
Garbage Disposal Deodorizer
If smelly odors are creeping out of your garbage disposal, try this trick. After using a lemon (or lime), slice it into strips and cut the pulp out. Throw it down the disposal with a sprinkle of baking soda and splash of vinegar.
Hopefully you have a lot of lemons on hand because here's another cleaning recipe with this small citrus as the main ingredient. Fill a bowl full of warm water and lemon slices. Put in the microwave and cook for one minute. Let sit for three minutes, then wipe clean with a damp sponge.
Put an old tube sock on your hand like a sock puppet and dip it in a bowl of warm water mixed with vinegar. Wipe greasy, dirty, dusty blinds clean. If you have wooden blinds, use lemon oil (not water) to dust them. In some cases, you may be better off tossing the blinds and investing in grommet curtains made from eco-friendly materials or energy-efficient solar shades.
Pour 1/4 cup undiluted white vinegar into a spray bottle. Add a tablespoon of cornstarch and fill with warm water. Shake to blend and wipe dry with crumpled newspaper, a cotton rag or coffee filter.
Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Mix several squirts of liquid dish soap into a cup with about a fourth cup vinegar. Pour mixture into the toilet and let sit for 15 minutes, then start scrubbing.
Carpet Stain Remover
Using a broom, vacuum or warm rag, remove any particles from the carpet before beginning. Next, sprinkle stain with cornstarch or baking soda. In a small bowl, combine one tablespoon clear dish washing liquid, two tablespoons vinegar and two cups of warm water. Blot stain until it's gone.
Leave sprinkled baking soda on the carpet for about 30 minutes before vacuuming it up. If you have young kids or animals that are prone to spills, consider pulling up the carpet and investing in laminate or softwood floors.
Don't let dust get the best of you. Combine several drops of pure lemon oil with two tablespoons of lemon juice. Add a drop or two of vegetable or olive oil and use a cotton cloth to wipe dust away.
Electric cars have come a long way, but there's a reason why hybrids are still topping the charts and pushing EVs out of sight. Hybrids make sense financially and in terms of range — and they're obviously eco-friendly. On the other hand, electric cars are pricey, time consuming and still in the new stages of development. Either way, you're driving green technology, and that's better than nothing. But realistically speaking, here are four reasons why hybrids win:
Electrics Don't Go the Distance
No matter what anyone says, when it comes to range, EVs just aren't there yet. Out of the newest generation of compact and mid-size electrics, the 2013 CODA gets about 88 miles per charge while the Ford Focus Electric averages 76 miles per charge and the Nissan Leaf came in at 73 miles per charge, according to Fueleconomy.gov. That can cover the average American's commute, but what about road trips? With seven to 12 hours of charging time, electric cars aren't reasonable for anything but a short commute.
Until electric cars can meet society's needs, they won't compare with hybrids. The 2013 Toyota Prius c can run 428 miles on a tank, and uses regenerative brakes to recharge its batteries. If you're looking for a used Toyota in Arlington, the 2010 Toyota Prius gets 536 miles per tank, according to Fueleconomy.gov. Yeah, that's more than the newest all-electric types, and despite driving an older model, you'd still be driving clean, green technology.
It's a Crime How Much They Cost
Let's talk price. First, let me show you something.
MSRP for EVs
MSRP for Hybrids
Do I need to say anything more? Price wise, even with the potential government tax credits (if qualified, totaling to about $7,500), EVs still can't keep up with hybrids.
Charge Time — Too Much Time
Electric technology is improving that I can't deny, but how much? Over the years, the time it takes to charge an electric car has diminished from 10-12 hours to four to seven hours — a big improvement but still — HOURS. Even if the technology is reducing our dependence on foreign oil supply and can help reduce greenhouse emissions, who has hours to fuel up? Until you can get a full charge while grabbing your soda and a pack of gum in the convenience store, electrics won't match up with hybrids.
Way Too Many Other Options
In general terms, the green movement groups across America are what lead people to electric and hybrid vehicle options. But there are also those who want a form of transportation that doesn't cost them hundreds at the gas pump. In looking for a way to save the planet, reduce their personal carbon footprint and save money at the pump, people are interested in seeing what else is available. In comes flashy technology about all-electrics. But here's the catch. Technology is improving across the board. Conventional cars are also seeing advancement, and in order for electric technology to keep up they're going to have to speed up.