10 Ways to Green Your Home, Plus Save on Energy Costs, Without a Huge Investment!

energy-755834_960_720.jpg

There are lots of big ideas out there about how humanity can reduce its energy demands in order to conserve our precious resources. Things like switching to solar energy, driving hybrid cars, installing mag-rail public transportation systems in cities, and building high rise agriculture operations. But one of the most impactful things we can each do individually to lower our energy usage is to make simple, inexpensive changes to the way we do things around the house.

These ten tips will not only help reduce your carbon footprint, they’ll also save you lots of money over time on your energy bills, AND extend the life of some of your most used appliances.

  1. Air dry your clothes. Air drying your clothes can help you save on energy costs year-round by reducing your dryer use, but in the hot summer months it saves you even more. Large appliances like dryers are a major source of heat in your home, and running them while the air conditioning is on makes the AC work harder to cool your home, thereby increasing your electric bill. You can dry clothes outside in your yard or on a balcony with a clothesline, of course, but if the weather is wet, or if you just don’t have the outdoor space, you can always hang clothes from hangers on your shower curtain rod, or invest in a small wooden clothes drying rack for indoor use.
  2. Seal drafts. Your heating and cooling systems work hard to keep your house at a comfortable temperature year round. Help them out by keeping that heated or cooled air inside! Use caulk or insulating tape to seal drafts around doors, windows, and vents. If your windows are extra drafty, cover them with clear plastic in the winter. You’ll save a lot of money, and the planet will thank you for your effort!
  3. Switch to LED light bulbs. Replacing just one incandescent bulb with an LED can save you around $4-5 per year. Replace every bulb in your house, and—well, you can do the math. LEDs are inexpensive to buy, so you can make your money back in a year or less with those electric bill savings.
  4. Insulate your water heater. Especially if your water heater is older, insulating it can really help cut down on energy costs. Blankets made especially for water heater insulation can be purchased inexpensively at any hardware or home improvement store.
  5. Keep your vents clean. It’s not something you often think about, since many heating and cooling vents are situated out of sight in your home. But all those dust bunnies collecting on those hidden vent covers are blocking the warm or cool air, making your heating and cooling systems struggle harder to deliver comfortable temperatures. So add it to your monthly cleaning list: vacuum or dust the vent covers and the inside of the vents.
  6. Be efficient with your clothes and dish washing. Laundry and dishes have to be cleaned several times a week in most homes, if not daily. But the way you load your machines can have a big impact on how much energy you’re using in the process. If you want to save on energy costs, try to always run full loads in both the clothes washer and the dishwasher. Wear items like jeans and jackets multiple times before washing. And figure out how to load your dishwasher so that the hot water can reach every item, thereby avoiding having to wash things twice.
  7. Reduce phantom loads. Many household electronic devices pull power from the grid even when they’re not in use. Things like computers, video game consoles, stereos, coffee makers, etc. will suck up energy unless they are turned off. It can be a pain to remember to turn every single device off whenever you’re not using it, though. A good idea is to plug as many devices as possible into one power strip, and turn the power strip off when you leave the room.
  8. Use the microwave or toaster oven. Full size ovens use a lot of power. Unless you’re making a huge casserole, a pizza, a cake, or a Thanksgiving turkey, chances are you can fit whatever you’re cooking into a toaster oven or microwave. These small appliances use much less energy than your oven. Crock pots are also great for saving on cooking-related energy costs.
  9. Plant trees. If you own your home, it can be a great idea to plant deciduous trees around your yard in strategic places. As they grow bigger, they will shield your windows from the hot summer sun, but in the winter, their bare branches will allow the warming rays through.
  10. Clean your refrigerator coils. Just like heating and cooling vents, refrigerator coils can gather a lot of dust without anyone ever noticing. And that’s not good for your electric bill, or your carbon footprint. Clean your refrigerator coils (located on the bottom or back of the appliance) once a month to every two months. You’ll reduce your bill and extend the life of your refrigerator while you’re at it!

7 Conventional Household Cleaning Products to Avoid

spray-315164_960_720.jpg

We all want a clean home, but if you’re using conventional products to clean, that clean can come at a huge cost to your family’s health! Many commercial products contain ingredients that are classified as irritants or even carcinogens.

Here is a list of the seven top offenders, along with natural alternatives.

  1. Fabric Softeners- The fragrances contained in fabric softeners usually contain phthalates, known endocrine disrupters that can result in damage to your reproductive health. Be warned, most products containing phthalates will not list it as an ingredient on the label due to proprietary laws. Other ingredients found in fabric softeners can increase your risk for asthma and other respiratory disorders. For soft clothes, towels, and linens, try adding a half cup of white vinegar to your wash.
  2. Window Cleaners- Most commercial window cleaning agents contain 2-butoxyethanol as a key ingredient. This harsh chemical can cause sore throats, narcosis, pulmonary edema, and even severe kidney and liver damage. Clean windows with diluted vinegar or vodka instead.
  3. Oven Cleaners- Sodium hydroxide, a cleaning compound found in commercial oven cleaners, can cause severe chemical burns to your skin, as well as to the throat and esophagus when inhaled. This can lead to a sore throat that can last up to several days. Instead, use baking soda paste and a little elbow grease to get your oven clean.
  4. Air Fresheners- Phthalates strike again! The fragrances used in most air fresheners, like those in fabric softeners, can trigger allergies and even cause adult onset asthma in otherwise healthy individuals. For a clean, green, healthy scent, use essential oils instead. Lavender, peppermint, and lemon oils are great and not too expensive!
  5. Spot Cleaners/Carpet Cleaners- These cleaning products are basically made out of neurotoxin. Perchloroethylene—or “PERC” for short, is classified as a possible carcinogen by the EPA. Instead of toxic carpet cleaning solutions, hire a green carpet cleaning company (LINK) to treat your carpets to a water-based cleaning. For laundry stains, try rubbing undiluted castile soap on the affected area prior to washing.
  6. Bleach- We all know that chlorine can irritate your eyes and throat, but did you know it may also harm your thyroid function? Clean with vinegar, instead!
  7. Ammonia- Ammonia acts as an irritant to eyes, nose, throat, and skin. And let’s face it: that stuff STINKS! Instead, use homemade vinegar based solutions or clean with diluted antibacterial essential oils.

 

 

A Brief History of Spring Cleaning

bath-balls-1725676_960_720.jpg

The seasonal ritual of spring cleaning has been around as long as humans have lived in permanent dwellings.

In ancient times, spring cleaning was often done as part of a spring religious holiday or festival. Ancient Persians commemorated Nowruz, their New Year celebration coinciding with the vernal equinox, with a ritual house cleaning called kooneh tekouni, an apt phrase meaning “shaking up the house.”

Early Hebrews conducted a thorough cleaning of their homes in preparation for Passover, the traditional spring holiday. And in the Chinese tradition, a house cleaning holiday serves as a precursor to the New Year (which is generally thought to be the first day of spring.)

It was fitting for ancient peoples to ritualize detailed cleaning in the spring, a time when the earth renews itself and seasonal cycles start afresh.

Imagine living in Wisconsin before the modern inventions of electric heat, washing machines, and vacuum cleaners. These hardy folks brought their whole lives inside for four to six months while the cold weather raged outside. During that time, they would have had to adjust and modify their normal, warm-weather cleaning habits.

Instead of carrying all of the dirty clothes and linens outside on “wash day” to launder in a big cast iron pot over a fire, they would wash their clothes in small batches in the kitchen and hang them to dry beside the wood stove or fireplace. Sheets and blankets would go unwashed through the winter months. The lack of light would have made it hard to see well enough to clean in a detailed way. Heating with wood meant that the floors and rugs would constantly be covered with stray wood chips and pieces of bark. By spring, everything in the house would be coated with a fine layer of ash and soot.

So as soon as the days lengthened and the weather grew warmer, families did their spring cleaning, spending a few days to a week cleaning everything that had grown dirty and neglected over the long, harsh winter.

One of the most important, time consuming, and labor-intensive tasks in the spring cleaning regimen was beating the rugs. People didn’t have wall-to-wall carpets back then, but they did have large, room-sized rugs woven of wool or reeds, and smaller rugs woven of old rags. These heavy, dirt-covered rugs would be hauled outside, hung up on a line in the sunshine, and beaten with sticks until no more dust remained. Then they would be left to hang in the sunshine and air out for a day or so, before being brought back in.

Thankfully, today, we have access to miraculous appliances like vacuum cleaners and washers and dryers. Though it still gets cold and dark in the winter, we no longer have to suffer through months of dirty living conditions and poor air quality just because it’s cold outside.

But, even though we now live in a time of comparative luxury, spring cleaning is still a tradition that many people uphold. It’s as good a time as any to see to those household chores that only need doing once a year, like cleaning behind the refrigerator, changing the air filters, and dusting the baseboards. It is nice, and even energizing, to spend the first few days tidying up, getting rid of the old, and making room for the new.

How to Rid Your Home of Stink Bugs

bug-1613450_960_720.jpg

September is stink bug season in western North Carolina. Specifically, it’s the time of year when it seems you can’t throw a brick without hitting a Brown Marmorated Stink bug.

Brown Marmorated Stink bugs are an agricultural pest native to China and Japan; a foreign eco-invader introduced to the Americas through the shipment of food products from Asia. And while they do enjoy laying waste to orchards and crops, they don’t seem to care for limiting themselves to farmland. In fact, they seem to be much more fond of infesting people’s houses.

If you live in an older, drafty home, or keep your windows open to take advantage of this lovely, early fall breeze, chances are you are playing host to an army of stink bugs. As infestations go, it’s not that bad. Stink bugs do not bite. They don’t get into your stored food, and they aren’t particularly destructive. They just kind of sit there—on the floor, the wall, the ceiling fan blades, the arms of the couch, the kitchen counter, the bathtub, and inside of your shoes, in an unassuming way. But if you step on them or disturb them, they are likely to emit a foul-smelling odor (hence the name). And even the stink part of the stinkbug isn’t that bad, as far as bad smells go. It’s pretty mild and dissipates quickly. But still annoying!

At this point in the blog post, you can probably tell that I am somewhat of a stink bug veteran. It’s true. They move into my home every fall, without fail. Armies of them. So I’ve learned a few tips and tricks for evicting them—all without the use of insecticide, which as you probably know, is extremely toxic to humans and pets, and not something I want to keep around the house.

Prevention is, of course, the best way to keep the stink bugs at bay, and there are ways to prevent them from getting into your house in the first place. However, I’ve found that, at least in my neighborhood, prevention doesn’t completely eliminate the problem. So you’ll need secondary procedures for those few errant stink bugs that still find a way to sneak in past all of your preventative barriers.

1.    Seal up access points. If you keep windows open during the fall, make sure that all of your windows have screens and that the screens are without holes or tears large enough for a stink bug to slip through. Then go around your house with a tube of sealer and fill up any cracks and gaps around door frames, windows, exhaust fans, and plumbing pipes.

2.     Use stink bug deterrents. A spray made from 16 oz of water and 10 drops of peppermint oil will repel these wily pests. Spray it around doors and windows, and anywhere you find a proliferation of stink bugs.

3.    Try pheromone traps. These traps do not contain chemical insecticides, and are not harmful for people or pets. They work by attracting stink bugs with a synthetic version of their own naturally-occurring pheromones. Once the stink bug is trapped, it eventually dies of dehydration.

4.    The vacuum is your friend. Probably the most effective method of fighting a stink-bug infestation in progress is just to vacuum up the stink bugs. You’ll probably find them on predictable places like the floor and walls, but don’t forget to target their other favorite hiding places: in the folds of drapes and curtains, behind furniture, and on the ceiling. You will have to do this frequently, though, as they seem to have some sort of magical repopulation properties. The other problem with vacuuming is that if you are using a bagless vacuum cleaner, it can make your vacuum stink. This is why I purchased a small, cheap, bag-style vacuum just for combatting stink bugs.

5.    Use neem oil for eliminating stink bugs from your garden. If stink bugs have invaded your home, they’re most likely making themselves comfortable in your garden, as well, and snacking on your vegetables. For this, you can use a solution of neem oil and water. Neem oil is non-toxic to plants, but stink bugs hate it. In a spray bottle, combine two tablespoons of neem oil with a half cup of water. Spray the solution on your garden plants and the soil around them.

 

Good luck with your stink bug elimination efforts!

Best of the GHC Blog!

The Green Home Cleaning blog has been bringing you great, helpful cleaning tips and green lifestyle ideas for just over four years! We thought we'd celebrate this month with a round-up of some of the best blog posts we've published over the years. From fighting stinky smells to getting your office organized, this list of articles has something for nearly any house cleaning headache! Click on the linked titles to view the full blog posts.

1. Eleven Habits of Highly Organized People

In this post, we offer tips and tricks for how to get more organized, feel more productive, and get more done, without losing your sanity. Check it out!

2. What to Look For in a Home Cleaning Service

In "What to Look For in a Home Cleaning Service", we share pointers for researching and interviewing cleaning services in your area. Use this checklist to ensure that your final selection is a company that will behave professionally, do a great job, and treat you with respect!

3. Tips For Getting Kids to Clean Their Rooms

Tackle the perennial parental struggle of getting your kids to take responsibility for their own belongings with the creative tactics in this blog post!

4. How to Erase the Rings From Your Toilet Bowl

If you have mineral-heavy water in your home, you NEED this post. In it, we share a simple, stress-free way to remove the unsightly rings from your toilets, leaving them bright and clean, without any need for toxic cleaning products!

5. Eight Green Cleaning Tips for Cats and Their People

Are you a cat owner? The tips in this post will help you control cat fur and dander, litter messes and odors, and other cat-related problems in your home.

6. Five Green Ways to Prevent and Eliminate Bad Smells in Your Home

From the garbage disposal to the shoe rack, use the ideas in this blog post to combat unpleasant odors in your home, without harsh chemicals!

7. Organize Your Office and Increase Productivity!

This post covers six ways to eliminate entropy in your office. Restore your sanity and see your productivity skyrocket with these tips!

8. A Busy Mom's Letter to Santa

Here's a fun holiday post we published a couple of Decembers ago. It's cute and funny, and it sheds light on what busy moms really want for Christmas.

9. Green Cleaning With Dogs

If you're a dog lover, you'll definitely benefit from the pointers in this blog post. Learn green and effective ways to tackle muddy pawprints, dog hair and dander, and even the dreaded "dog smell"!

10. Houseplants for a Clean, Green Home!

Learn how houseplants can help keep your home green and clean by purifying the air. This post also includes a list of the 12 best houseplants for home air purification.