Category Archives: You Can Live Greener

What are the 2010 New Home Building Trends?

Home trends for 2010? Smaller and more energy-efficient homes.  In the past, lots of square footage was most important, but now buyers are looking for a well-designed, energy-efficient home.  Members of the National Association of Home Builders were recently given a list of 40 home features and asked to rank which they were likely to include in their new homes and which they weren’t.   Results –

Features Home Builders Plan to Use in 2010 Features Home Builders Don’t Plan to  Use in 2010
1.  Walk-in Closet in Master Bedroom 1.  Outdoor Kitchens
2.  Separate Laundry Room 2.  Outdoor Fireplace
3.  Insulated Front Door 3.  Sun Room
4.  Great Room 4.  Butler’s Pantry
5.  Low-E Windows 5.  Media Room
6.  Linen Closet 6.  Desk in Kitchen
7.  Programmable Thermostat 7.  Two-story Foyer
8.  Energy-Efficient Appliances and Lighting 8.  8-ft Ceiling on First Floor
9.  Separate Shower and Tub in Master Bedroom 9.  Multiple Shower Heads in Master
10.Nine-Foot Ceilings on First Floor 10.Bigger Bathrooms

On buyer’s list of preferences this year?  Low flow toilets, stainless steel appliances, darker “expresso” cabinets, distressed wood flooring, and little, if any wall-to-wall carpet.

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Home Trends – Cozier, More Efficient, and Greener

For many home buyers here in Austin, Texas, and around the country, their next home will be smaller than their current home.  Buyers are willing to eliminate some of the most popular features of homes built five years ago which include media rooms and extra bedrooms. These changes are dictated in large part by the uncertain economy, and the green-living movement.  In large part, we’re getting back to cozy and soulful homes and away from cavernous structures.

The new trend for home buyers is toward energy-efficient, cozy homes which focus more on living areas- including outdoor areas- rather than on individual rooms.   And if you’re staying put in your current home this year, you may want to make some of these improvements to add more comfort and efficiency to your home.

1.  Roomy kitchens, with a center island and granite counter-tops. Trends include induction cooking (30% more efficient than gas or electric) and stone composite sinks that are more durable and easier to keep clean than stainless sinks.  Stone composite sinks also have a cleaner look because they’re built into a countertop.

2.  Green features like energy-efficient appliances, efficient insulation, high window insulation efficiency and ceiling fans.  Better insulated refrigerators and environmentally friendly cabinetry are trending.  Though widely available abroad, dual-flush toilets—with separate mechanisms to handle liquid or solid waste—are gaining attention here, says Lenora Campos with Toto USA, a leading toilet manufacturer.

3.  A home office or study area in place of a formal dining room.  People use home offices so much more than formal dining rooms!

4.   A master bedroom on first floor.  This is particularly in demand for baby-boomers who don’t want to subject themselves to the daily stairs. Laundry rooms on the first floor.

5.   Oversize showers with seating areas and soaker tubs.

 6.  Outdoor living areas with all the coziness of an indoor area.  This is made possible with outdoor carpets, weather-proof artwork and outdoor draperies for privacy.

7.  Neutral color palettes such as white and beige or gray and pink, with bold accents.  Neutral earth tones offer serenity, enlarge a small space, and create coziness and warmth.  Pink, especially with a pearlized finish, is popular as an accent because of its perceived healing power.  It’s also a fire element in Feng Shui and adds warmth to a space.

White Christmas – Green Thanksgiving?

The idea of having a White Christmas is popular, why not have a Green Thanksgiving?  Thanksgiving is a perfect holiday to celebrate being grateful to the planet and honoring the loved ones in your life (including you!). If you’d like to focus on eating healthy food, consuming less, and being grateful for your life exactly as it is right now, here are ideas that may help.

Eating Healthy Food

Buying food that’s locally grown and organic if possible is a great way to have an eco-friendly Thanksgiving.  Locally grown food tastes better than food that has to be grown and packaged for maximum shelf life, and it requires less fuel to reach store shelves.  Organic fruits, vegetables and grains are grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers; organic meat is produced without antibiotics and artificial hormones. Organic farming also produces higher yields, increases soil fertility, prevents erosion, and is more cost-effective for farmers. Locally grown food also contributes to the local economy.  For a local Austin company that delivers local and organic food to your door, visit www.greenling.com.

On a national level, the Good Food Guide www.goodguide.com rates all types of food and they have a special guide to Thanksgiving foods.  If you’re going to serve a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you can find out how much salt is in your turkey, how much high fructose corn syrup is in your cranberry sauce, which preservatives are in your stuffing, and the amount of trans-fat in your pie.

The guide shows health and environmental impact ratings based on nutritional data from the USDA.  Their ratings for Diestel Farms Organic Turkey, Kraft chicken with whole wheat stuffing, and Libby’s 100% pure pumpkin are all high.

Reducing your Waste

To make your Thanksgiving celebration as eco-friendly as possible buy foods that are packaged in recyclable material.  And buy what you’re going to eat – try not to over-buy. Think ahead of how to use the leftovers that you’ll inevitably have.  Instead of buying extraneous Thanksgiving decorations – make your own.  And use cloth napkins that can be washed and used again. Recycle paper, plastic, glass and aluminum containers. If you don’t already have a compost bin, this may be a good time to use your fruit and veggie trimmings to start one. Compost is great for a garden.

Being Grateful

It is Thanksgiving after all!  The Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving after fleeing religious persecution in Europe. They were free and grateful to be alive. Reconnect with the Spirit of the Holiday.  Stay in the each moment of the day and realize that sharing love among your friends, family, and/or pets is more important than getting anxious over an over-cooked turkey or lumpy gravy. 

Enjoy being you.  Enjoy being with people or enjoy being with yourself.  Notice all the small gifts you have in your life.  It is the small things that we often overlook that contain the richness of a well-lived life. Avoid getting caught up in the media touting all the great deals for the official start of the Christmas buying season the next day. Instead, volunteer to help at a homeless shelter to put your life in perspective and give to others. Take a walk in nature.   Whatever unfolds on that day, meet it with acceptance and gratitude.

How Green is Your Green Product?

purplegloveHow do you know if a product purporting to be “green” is true?  Since there’s no standardized definition of the word “green” it follows that there’s no standardized definition of  a green product.   Wikipedia offers this defintion of Green Living:

It means living in a way that causes as less harm as possible to the Earth.

Green products purport to cause less harm to the environment than the other products.  So, how can you choose a true green product?   There are clues you can look for to determine if the claims an ad is making are sincere or if a company is purposely trying to mislead you into thinking a product is healthier, safer, or greener than it truly is. 

Ways to Determine how Green your Green Product is:

Look at the words. Look for specific rather than general claims. The following words are essentially meaningless because they are too vague and/or there aren’t any standard definitions for them:

· Natural

· Hypoallergenic

· Nontoxic

· Fragrance-free or unscented

· Free range

· Hormone-free

· Antibiotic-free

· Eco-friendly, environmentally preferable, or eco-safe

· Green

Look for these specific claims:flower pot

· Made from post-consumer recycled paper

· Formaldehyde-free

· No additives

· No animal byproducts

· No parabens

· Phosphate-free

What Else You Can Do

Visit Consumer Reports’ http://www.greenerchoices.org to find out which labels and terms you can trust.  Look for proof of the “greenness.” Choose products with claims that can be verified or that have been certified by a third-party to meet certain standards. Some credible logos to look for include USDA Organic, Energy Star, and Green Seal.  And good news, the FTC is expected to update its outdated regulations for green advertising claims soon.

Websites to Check for Specifics

These websites do the homework for you:

http://goodguide.com rates food, toys, personal care items, and household products based on environmental, social, and health attributes.   

http://greenzer.com collects product and merchant info from across the Internet to create a score for each product it features on its site.

http://cosmeticsdatabase.com can help you find the safest and healthiest cosmetics and personal care products. 

Personally, I’ve used the cosmetics database site often to help me find good skin care products and was impressed by the amount of information it offers.

Bottom-line is simply that like most consumer products profit is king and to make more money companies are jumping on the “go green” bandwagon.  If you sense that a product is taking liberty and doesn’t have a clear label on the back you may want to do a little investigation to know that you’re making a good choice.  Until standardized labeling is instituted, we’ll have to investigate green claims ourselves.

Valuable Resources for Green Living

bambooAn important tool in the effort to build greener buildings and live greener lives is the selection of products that were made using environmentally friendly processes and are used in environmentally friendly ways.

Green products are available for just about any daily need, and the ways they are green are many and varied: They are energy or water efficient; they use healthy, non-toxic materials; they are made from recycled or renewable sources; they make current products you use more efficient or more durable; and they are recyclable or biodegradable, among many other things.

But among all the truly green products comes the risk of “greenwashing;” that is, products that are advertised as green without truly offering environmental or health benefits.

 

The ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) provides the following list of resources on their website www.asid.org.  The directories below can help you sort through the claims and find the products that best meet your needs.

 

1- GrenSpec Directory www.buildinggreen.com

The online GreenSpec® Directory lists product descriptions for over

2,100 environmentally preferable products. Products are chosen to be

listed by BuildingGreen editors. They do not charge for listings orsell

ads.

 

2- GREEN BUILDING PAGES www.greenbuildingpages.com

Green Building Pages is an online sustainable design and decision-

making tool for building industry professionals and environmentally

and socially responsible consumers.

 

3- GREEN2GREEN www.green2green.com

Green2Green.org features comprehensive information regarding

green building products, materials and practices. The site offers side-

by-side comparisons of products using a variety of environmental, technical and economic criteria.

 

 4-OIKOS www.oikos.com

Oikos is a World Wide Web site devoted to serving professionals whose

work promotes sustainable design and construction.

 

 5- THE GREEN GUIDE www.thegreenguide.com

National Geographic’s Green Guide offers staff-written reviews of a host

of products, ranging from appliances, home furnishings and home

improvement products to personal care and pet supplies.

 

 6- GOOD TO BE GREEN www.goodtobegreen.com

Good To Be Green is a directory of green building products,

sustainable building materials and green building service providers.

Products must: be made out of recycled materials; ensure a low

environmental impact during the construction, operation and/or

demolition of the building; conserve natural resources like energy,

wood and water; and improve air quality.

Save money instantly by sealing air leaks in your home.

10 ways - DoorsAir escapes through every hole and crack in your home. Warm air leaking into your home during the summer and out of your home during the winter can waste a lot of your money. One of the quickest and cheapest dollar saving tasks you can do is caulk, seal, and weather strip all seams, cracks, and openings to the outside. 

 Tips for Sealing Air Leaks:

1- First, test your home for air tightness.  On a windy day, carefully hold a lit incense stick next to windows, doors, electrical boxes, plumbing fixtures, attic hatches, and other locations where there is a possible air path to the outside.  If the smoke streams horizontally, you’ve located an air leak that may need caulking, sealing, or weather-stripping.

2- Caulk and weather strip doors and windows that leak air.

3- Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting, or electrical wiring penetrates through walls, ceilings, and soffits over cabinets.

4- Install foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on walls.

5- Look for dirty spots in your insulation, which often indicate holes that allow air leaks.  You can seal the holes with low-expansion spray foam made for this purpose.

6- Look for dirty spots on your ceiling paint and carpet, which may air leaks at interior wall/ceiling joints and wall/floor joists.  These joints can be caulked.

 7- Use foam sealant around larger gaps around windows, baseboards, and other places where  air may be leaking out.

 8- When you’re not using your fireplace, keep the flue tightly close.  Inflatable chimney balloons are designed to fit beneath your fireplace flue during periods of non-use.  They’re made from plastic and can be removed easily and reused hundreds of times.

About one-third of leaking air infiltrates through openings in your ceilings, walls, and floors.   Take a Saturday morning to check your air leaks – it will be well worth your time and savings on your next electricity bill.

Do I really need a receipt for a pack of gum?

New ImageI’m noticing myself getting increasing irritated at having to tell cashiers at grocery stores and convenience stores “I don’t want the receipt.”   Is it just me that thinks in this debit-card, eco-conscious world it’s time to rethink the idea of giving out paper receipts for a bottle of water and pack of gum?  Or for a burger from the drive-through? 

Cashiers usually plop the receipt in my hand along with my change or hold it out for me to retrieve.  I then have to figure out where to put it in order to put my change back into your wallet.  I can throw it into my already unorganized purse, toss it onto the floorboard of my car, or find a trash can and immediately throw it away.  Granted, it doesn’t take much effort to do any of these things, but when I’m having a particularly busy day, even the simple task of dealing with the receipt feels like a major annyonance.

In these days of credit and debit cards a purchase will automatically be reflected in your monthly statement so you don’t need to diligently bring your receipts home and keep them safe.  With all the recent eco-conscious programs – particularly in Austin – why do we need to waste paper on printing out a receipt for a pack of gum and a bottle of water?  Don’t get me wrong, I still want receipts for non-perishable big-ticket items in case I need to return something.  But it feels impractical and grossly out-dated to keep handing out receipts that (I think) in most cases are simply thrown away.

 Am I the only one that’s having a problem with this?  Does this bother you? I’d love to know what you do with your receipts.