Green Homes

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7/15/2015

As an outdoors lover, you may hate the idea of being cooped up indoors — especially in the summertime. But since you can’t realistically spend all of your time outside, why not work to bring the outdoors into your home? It’s simple enough to mimic the aesthetic of the great outdoors by bringing in little natural details, from seashells and rocks to wood branches and pine cones. Follow these tips to help your interiors feel as welcoming and refreshing as your favorite outdoor destination.

Seashells

Bring the sound of ocean waves into your living room.

The last time you visited the beach, you spent hours collecting shells, and now they’re just sitting in a plastic bag in your closet. Instead of hiding them away, why not display them? Sea shells, colorful sea glass, and driftwood are all common finds that will add a beachy element to your space while reminding you of your relaxing vacation. Find a vase, recycled bottle, or your favorite vintage glass bowl and artfully arrange your finds for a beautiful coastal addition to your coffee table. If you have plenty of space for other collections, try using apothecary jars or hurricane lamps in varying sizes and heights to display your shells. If you’re feeling extra crafty, you can even create candles using shells—this works especially well for smaller shells and fragments.

Lantern

Create a lantern shadow box for favorite finds.

Traditional shadow boxes are gorgeous to hang on your wall as art, but I love to get a bit more creative with the concept, using a large lantern to display a few favorite natural items. I placed my favorite conch shell, some pinecones and river rocks together inside of this lantern on a side table. I love that the objects can be easily swapped out with new discoveries from my outdoor adventures. This is a great little project for kids, too. They’ll be excited to add and subtract from the collection, and they’ll be thrilled to see when you add something new and unexpected.

Fruit

Freshen up with fruits and vegetables.

I love keeping fruits and vegetables around the house to encourage healthy eating, but these foods also double as organic decorations! Whether placed in a pretty bowl or scattered casually on a tray, these edible arrangements lend color, texture, and sometimes even fragrance to a space. I like to keep it simple by spreading the fruit out in a random pattern, along with a few clippings of shrubbery from the yard. For a more formal arrangement, consider using sterling silver or crystal bowls to hold the food, and arange it symmetrically down the center of the dining table or along the backside of a buffet table.

Unifying your green outdoor lifestyle with your interiors is easier than you may think. If you’re not sure where to start, simply head outside and you may be surprised at how much inspiration you’ll find.

Ronique Gibson, a LEED AP certified architect and home design expert, writes on sustainability topics for Shutterfly.com. Her eco-friendly decorating ideas are inspired by the wall design options available on the Shutterfly website.

Photo Credit: Stagetecture


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



7/9/2015

 

If you want to have a positive impact on the environment, but are in need of a different home, your first step was likely to either purchase a fixer-upper or to simply renovate the home you already have. Because an existing structure already has many of the materials in place, you will naturally save the environment by remodeling versus building new.

According to Natural Life Magazine, buildings make up about 40 percent of the energy and material used in the world. Because of this, there are many other choices you can make while in the middle of a renovation project that will help you have a positive impact on the environment.

Recycled Products

One way you can positively impact the environment is by using recycled products while renovating. If you are replacing heating and cooling systems, this might mean adding geothermal heating, solar panels or green roofs.

If you are looking to purchase recycled or green products to place in your home, look for labels that state they are either Energy Star compliant or that they are specifically certified as being made from recycled materials.

Paint Disposal

A big part of most renovation projects is choosing new designs and paint colors. However, what do you do with the leftover paint and empty paint cans? It’s important that you not wash these items into your waste disposal where it might leak into local streams or pollute ponds.

In fact, old paint is considered hazardous waste and should be very carefully disposed of. To properly dispose of paint with your trash, you must first turn it into solid waste. You can leave it open in the air to harden or mix in agents such as cat litter to speed up the drying process. You should notify your trash pickup service that you are disposing of solid waste paint.

Reduce Project Waste

The Environmental Protection Agency took on a project to reduce waste in construction and demolition. They found that in 1996, the United States alone created about 136 million tons of debris related to building and remodeling. While that number dropped during the real estate slowdown, it is starting rise again.

You can help combat this trend by choosing a contractor who has the same green lifestyle philosophy that you do. The two of you can then work together to reuse any salvage materials to create other items. For example, if you have leftover pieces of lumber, can that be used to make raised bed gardens in your backyard?

Reuse Materials From Other Building Sites

Another idea is to talk to other homeowners who are either building new or renovating and utilize their leftover items they would normally throw out. For example, if a house down the street replaces an old claw-foot bathtub with a more modern, tiled shower, you can have the bathtub reglazed and it will look almost new.

Not only will you keep that claw-foot tub from further adding to the local landfill, but you’ll also save a fortune over the cost of paying professionals to tile your own bathroom and create a shower for you.

Donate What’s Left

Are there items you simply can’t stand to put back into your remodeled home? Perhaps there is a row of cabinets from the master bathroom that you hate. Instead of throwing them out, consider donating them to an organization such as Habitat for Humanity, or reuse those cabinets in your garage where you don’t mind how they look.

There are many creative ways to not only remodel your home so it uses less energy and is better for the environment, but also to make sure the project itself has the least possible negative impact on the environment.

How do you minimize your environmental impact when working on your home? Tell me in the comments section below!

Image by Life of Pix


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



7/6/2015

 

shower

Do you love a hot shower after a long day? Most people do. However, do you have any idea how much that shower is costing you? A hot water heater, which is responsible for that relaxing shower you take after work, is typically the second largest energy expense in your home, accounting for 14 to 18 percent of your utility bills!

What Do You Know About Your Water Heater?

If you’re a hot shower addict and you’ve noticed that your utility bills are unusually high, it might be time to learn more about your water heater.

Here are five questions to ask to help determine if it’s the best fit for the needs of your household — or if it’s time to upgrade.

What’s the brand and Energy Star rating of your water heater? Start simply by looking at the brand of your current water heater and its average operating expense. Look for the sticker that says “Energy Guide,” which will tell you the average operating expense of the unit. Don’t see a sticker? Check the manufacturer’s website or calculate your costs at gov. Also look for the Energy Star rating — the higher the rating, the more money you’ll save in the long run.

How old is your water heater? Most water heaters last 10 to 15 years. If yours is older, there’s a good chance that it’s not as energy efficient as more modern models. If your water heater is more than a decade old and you’ve noticed leaking, cracking or popping sounds, it’s time to have a local plumber do an inspection — and it may be time to replace it.

Pro Tip:  As of April 2015, all new water heaters must comply with the Department of Energy’s new efficiency standards. The most common water heaters will get a modest boost in efficiency, while larger models (55 gallons and up) will shift to new technologies that allow owners to save up to 50 percent on their energy bills.

What size water heater do you have? Many people don’t realize that water heaters are not one-size-fits-all appliances. A smaller storage tank (30 to 40 gallons) is usually sufficient for two to three people. A 50-gallon tank works well for a family of four, while a larger family will require a larger tank (80-plus). If the tank is too small for your family, you’re likely to find yourself running out of hot water in the mornings, putting the system at risk for overheating when water supply is low — thus causing higher utility bills.

Pro Tip: Choose a water heater that fits your family size to save energy. Be sure to consider the growth of your family and think long-term. For an easy guide on choosing the capacity size for your family, The Home Depot has a helpful infographic.

What type of fuel does your water heater use?  Natural gas, electric, propane or solar? If you have an electric water heater and your electric bill is high, there’s a reason: It costs three times more to run an electric water heater than a gas water heater! This alone might make you consider a new system for long-term savings.

What type of water heater is your unit? There are many different types of water heaters, including electric heat pump models, gas and electric tankless (heat on-demand) options. Figure out which type you have and learn about its pros and cons. You might not have the most appropriate unit for your home.

Is it Time to Shop for a New Water Heater?

After assessing your water heater, you may decide that it’s time for a replacement. There are just two more things to do before moving forward with your purchase:

• Consider the upfront cost of installing a water heater. The more energy-efficient your water heater, the more it will cost upfront. This is because it’s built to last longer and will offer huge cost savings in the long run. If you have different fuel types in your area, it’s a good idea to find out the cost saving value of each.
• Know the size of your water heater closet. The new, more efficient water heaters contain more insulation, which adds a few inches to the height and width. Be sure to measure the space you have in the area where you store your water heater to ensure the new one will fit.
• Check for rebates and tax credits
. For example, there’s currently a huge tax incentive for installing solar water heaters, valid through December 2016. Ask the salesman what rebates or credits are available when making your decision.

Upgrading your home’s water heater can not only reduce your family’s carbon footprint, but can save money on your bills each month. Most importantly, those hot showers will feel a lot more relaxing when you realize how much money you’re saving.

Sommer Poquette, the Green and Clean Mom, writes energy-efficiency tips for the home for The Home Depot. Sommer's water heater advice is geared to providing homeowners with options to make informed decisions. To view water heaters available at Home Depot, you can click here. 

Image created at Canva.com.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



7/2/2015

 

New environmental construction materials in the world of home and residential construction are poised to save the world from dangerous greenhouse gas emissions, and smart consumers are scrambling for them.

These three major developments in the green building materials are bound to change lives and climates all over the world.

Carbon NEGATIVE Cement Alternative

Meet Ferrock™, a new, environmentally-friendly cement alternative that’s green from its manufacturing process to its implementation in construction projects. It actually soaks up greenhouse gasses from the environment like a sponge!

Commercial and residential housing accounts for nearly 8 percent of Carbon Dioxide emissions in the U.S. according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and a large portion of that is due to the manufacture and use of cement. Cement is the primary ingredient in concrete and concrete is the second most consumed substance on Earth after water, according to the Earth Institute.

Cement and concrete aggregates are used in the foundations and footings of nearly every commercial and residential building erected in the last century and account for nearly 5 percent of CO2 emissions worldwide.  Cement leaves a huge carbon footprint due to its manufacturing process requiring the heating of limestone to over 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit.  Ferrock™ is made without heat and uses recycled materials from other industries, such as silica from ground glass and steel dust.  Everything about it is green and it has been found to be about five times stronger than conventional Portland cement concrete.

Ecologically Friendly Insulation

Wood foam insulation material is much greener than standard insulation foams now in use. Fraunhofer Wood Foam, developed by German scientists, is made from ground, recycled wood, pumped with gas.  

Insulation is critical to the building of a home and accounts for nearly 50 percent of a home’s energy consumptionInsulation can prevent air leaks around windows and doors that lead to heat loss. Proper insulation will save you money and reduce your energy consumption substantially!

Standard home insulation materials generally are made from petroleum products, which contribute to a home’s carbon footprint. Wood foam insulation is not made using petroleuem. Wood foam is made from 100 percent eco-friendly ingredients and have scored high in thermos-insulating and mechanical properties according to researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research in Germany.

Recycled Floor Covering 

Intended to be used in place of hard surfaces like vinyl tile, recycled flooring is developed using post-consumer recycled materials, mostly water and soda bottles.  The material itself is recyclable making it almost 100% green and perfect for use in modern home construction.

Kinetix® textile composite flooring from J+J Flooring group was named one of the Top Ten green building products for 2014 by BuildingGreen Inc., publisher of GreenSpec and Environmental Building News. 

The specter of environmental change and global disaster looms large in the 21st century. Increased ecological concern has spurred much needed research and development in affordable, quality products that reduce our individual carbon footprint.  No longer costly and inconvenient, green products are the wave of the future and the key to reducing the carbon emissions caused by home construction. The least we can do is use them.

A Good Place to Start

1. Ask your builder or contractor about using green materials and techniques before beginning renovations.

2. Investigate a product’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating at the S. Green Building Council’s website before using in construction. If a product is rated poorly, use an alternative material.

3. Remember that each small step towards reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emission counts! In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Small steps lead to big changes!


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



6/29/2015

When it comes to choosing a countertop for your kitchen remodel, there are so many attractive options that making a decision can be difficult. One way to narrow it down is to factor eco-friendliness into the equation.

Not sure where to start? Let’s break down some of the best eco-friendly countertop options available on the market today, ranging from ultra-luxurious to basic and budget-friendly. Once you decide which material you love for kitchen countertops, you can use this handy cost calculator to help you stay on budget.

The Lavish Look: Recycled Marble Kitchen Countertops ($$$$)

Marble is timeless, undeniably beautiful, and it will make your kitchen stand out from the crowd. Yes, it scratches and stains more easily than some other materials, but with proper care, its beauty can be maintained for years. It’s also naturally cool and it doesn’t conduct heat, so if you like to bake, this is the natural choice for you. But marble isn’t cheap—it starts at about $60/foot and can easily be 4-5 times that, depending on marble style and location.

Recycled marble countertops (often called “engineered” or “cultured” marble) are made from natural stone that has been crushed and reformed into a slab with heat and resin, making a product from excess marble dust and scraps that’s just as beautiful as pure marble. Recycled marble can cost much less than new marble when purchased in precut sizes and slabs, but can be comparable in cost if poured into a custom mold for your unique counters.

ECO Cosentino

Worry-Free and Durable: ECO by Cosentino ($$$)

If your style leans toward the upscale end of the spectrum but you don’t want to deal with scratched and stained countertops, consider a non-porous kitchen countertop like ECO by Cosentino, made from 75 percent recycled content (mirror, glass, porcelain, earthenware, and vitrified ash) and 25 percent corn resin. It’s extremely scratch resistant. According to Cosentino’s website, 94 percent of the water used in the manufacturing is re-used. It’s eco-friendly and relatively affordable, costing about $100/foot.

Bamboo counter

Go Natural Bamboo ($$)

Bamboo is often one of the first materials that come to mind when people think of eco-friendly alternatives for anything from flooring to countertops. Bamboo counters are beautiful and practical, thanks to their durability and affordability. It’s also a great choice if you just want to update or add a kitchen island, to keep costs low while also giving the potential for a complete transformation in your kitchen’s look (and mix-and-matching cabinet and island materials is a growing trend).

If you choose bamboo, you’ll have to decide on sealed or unsealed. With unsealed, be sure to factor in a non-toxic sealant to protect your investment. Also, be sure to choose a brand that sustainably harvests their bamboo.

On average, for bamboo you’re looking at around $50/foot. Finally, bamboo is formaldehyde-free and naturally resists bacteria, but its primary drawback is that it does stain easily.

The Economical (and Ecological) Champ: Marmoleum ($)

Marmoleum, a countertop material that’s often used in flooring, boasts a very low environmental footprint. The material is a USDA-certified bio-based product composed of wood fibers, rosin (produced by heating the resin of pine trees) and natural oils. And it’s extremely cheap compared to other eco-friendly options, costing as low as $4 a square foot!  A small kitchen can be done for under $1,000 if you do it yourself. Plus, it’s a nice, smooth surface that comes in hundreds of color options.

Tips for Choosing an Eco-Friendly Kitchen Countertop

• Ask friends and family about their kitchen countertops. What do they love or hate about them?
• If you’re considering a DIY option, stop and think—do you have the time or the talent? We can all Pin and dream, but can we take those ideas and make them reality? DIY may be cheaper, but be smart and hire someone if you’re not 100% confident in your ability to install it correctly.
• Research what the countertop is truly made of. For example, if you choose a concrete kitchen countertop, do you know how much energy it takes to make concrete and how to seal the concrete without using toxic sealants? Is there a more eco-friendly concrete mix available? (There is! Here’s a primer).
• Don’t always believe what you read. If a product says “eco-friendly,” do some digging and learn about the company’s sustainability policy. Ask the salesperson how the product is sourced and what makes the material a better choice. Is it green certified? Look for certifications from groups like LEED, the Forest Stewardship Council and GREENGUARD.

Whatever eco-friendly countertop option you choose, you’re sure to love the look of your new kitchen, and you can feel proud knowing you factored sustainability into your decision-making process.

Sommer Poquette keeps sustainability and eco-friendliness top of mind when planning out her DIY projects. For The Home Depot and her blog GreenandCleanMom.org, Sommer provides great tips on the eco-friendly materials you can use for your kitchen remodel.  To see a wide variety of countertop options to fit your needs, visit Home Depot's website.  


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



6/15/2015

image1aa

Who doesn’t love area rugs? They are the perfect accessory to brighten up any room, patio or deck. A new rug is an instant makeover for any space.

In my search for a colorful, stain-proof, child-proof rug for our playroom, I researched outdoor rugs, which (despite the name) can be used indoors, and promise more stain and water-proofing than your traditional indoor rug. Since the purpose of this rug will be for a playroom, a key search term was “budget,” and I came across the idea of turning a tablecloth into an outdoor rug, offering the added benefit of repurposing one of the many tablecloths that I have stored in my kitchen.

A tablecloth-turned-rug is the perfect, inexpensive solution for areas that see lots of dirt, high traffic or for hardwood or concrete floors in need of some sprucing up.

Here’s how I turned a tablecloth into a durable, colorful waterproof rug:

image2
 

Supplies

A 52” x 70” cotton tablecloth (not pre-coated) $9

A 56” x 86” rug pad ($20)

Double sided carpet tape ($5)

Satin finish, water-based polyurethane ($48, you’ll get at least 5 “rugs” out of one can)

Foam Floor Applicator ($13, refills $4)

Plastic drop cloth $2

The polyurethane boosts the tablecloth’s durability, as stains just sit on the surface and can be easily taken outside and hosed off.

Step 1

Spread your drop cloth down and lay out your tablecloth. I did this outdoors, but a garage would be a better option, due to less breeze and potential debris sticking in your varnish.

image3

Step 2

Pour a small amount of polyurethane onto the cloth and use the spreader to move it evenly around. It’s best to do this in sections, depending on the size of your rug, to make sure you don’t miss a spot. Let it dry for about 10 minutes and then lift the rug off the drop cloth and re-position, so it doesn’t get stuck to the floor.  Allow it to dry for 30 minutes (or follow directions on the can) before applying another coat. Repeat this process for three coats.

image4

Step 3

Remove the tablecloth from the drop cloth and lay it out flat on a protected surface to allow it to fully dry, preferably overnight. If you are planning on using your new rug outdoors, you’ll want to flip it over once dry and give the underside a poly coating too.

Step 4

Once dry, lay your rug pad over the tablecloth and cut it to fit, about an inch shorter all around than the tablecloth.

image5

Step 5

Bring the tablecloth to the room where you plan on using it in. Lay it upside down and measure out your double-sided tape. Attach it to the bottom of the tablecloth in a widespread pattern and then carefully remove the top layer of tape.

image6

Step 6

Starting from the bottom, methodically push down the rug pad onto the double-sided tape, making sure it is taught and well-secured. This process helps give the resulting rug more shape and definition than the original tablecloth had.

image7

Step 7

Turn your tablecloth over and admire your brand new waterproof rug, suitable for indoor or outdoor use! When it gets dirty, just give it a mop or take it outside and hose it down.

image8

All in, this new 5 ft. by 7 ft. rug cost $48, factoring in that I will be able to use some of my supplies to create more fun, colorful rugs for my home. I already have my eye on the perfect pattern for my screened in porch.

Jennifer Tuohy lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and writes about her upcycling projects for The Home Depot. To view a broad selection of traditional area rugs, you can visit Home Depot's Home Decorators website. 


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



5/20/2015

 exterior photo

The owners of the first LEED Certified home in Alaska spoke with Viva Green Homes to share what it’s like to buy, sell and market an eco friendly home…and would they do it again?

Tony & Valerie Reichstein purchased their Juneau, Alaska home two years ago when a work transfer brought their family to the area. At the time, one of the most important elements in their home search was energy efficiency, knowing that the Alaskan climate would bring about some hefty heating bills if they didn’t pick the right house. Lucky for them not only did they find an energy efficient home, they purchased the first Alaskan LEED certified home and have been impressed with its performance and design ever since.

Learn more about the LEED certification and USGBC.

living room

“We stay warm in the winter and cool on the hot days in the summer…There are no drafty or cold areas. Everyone is comfortable all year long.” The family credits the comfort of their home to the many aspects including the design, construction and efficient systems, a collaboration that is true to LEED certified built homes. “Our heating system is a combination of an electric heat pump that provides both heating and cooling, as well as in-floor radiant heat that is driven off a separate electric water heater. Because the house is so air tight, there is a HRV (heat return ventilation) system that continually pulls air out of the house and replaces it with fresh outside air after passing it through a heat exchanger.”

They also found that the home has additional unexpected benefits too. “The house is easy to maintain, cleans up easy after a hard winter. Because of the air handling systems, we don’t have problems with mold or bad indoor air quality that many complain of in this area.”

kitchen

Now that they have listed the home for sale, they are finding that owning a LEED certified home has some resale advantages too. Being LEED Certified “will help our home stand out from others when those buyers are looking for features specific to our home.”

In a market where buyers have many housing options, owning a LEED certified home can be the one thing that makes the buyer choose it over the others. Admittedly, while most people are becoming aware of and have heard of “LEED”, there’s still a learning curve on what a LEED certified home entails and the benefits of owning one.

bedroom

When asked if the Reichstein family would choose a green or energy efficient home all over again their response was very clear…Yes, they would. “We are currently looking for our next home. We will most likely add energy efficient features to it should the one we buy be lacking in those areas.”

Some tips from the homeowners on buying a LEED certified or green home:

1. Don’t get hung up on price. There is a premium to a green home, but you are buying better systems that will pay off both in the short term and long term.

2. Take some time to learn and understand how the systems in your home work. That way you know how to change the set up from one season to the next to maximize the efficiencies built into your home.

Photos courtesy of listing agent, Debbie White, Prudential SE Alaska 

For more tips on buying a green home take a look at the article 6 Questions To Ask Before Buying a Green Home.

Be sure to visit Viva Green Homes to see LEED certified and green homes for sale of all kinds.

Contact Debbie White for listing information.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.









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