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Did you know using rainwater indoors is possible?

Posted on January 12, 2015 by | Comments Off

Next to global warming and air pollution, water pollution is one of three major environmental problems faced by the Earth. The living conditions on this planet have changed, and the quality of life for some have been threatened. This is why all people should take action to protect and conserve natural resources. Harvesting rainwater is one way to reduce your impact on the environment. Not only does it provide a source of water for your home, but it also reduces the amount of polluted stormwater your home or business sends into local waterways. It is already an old practice to use rainwater for outdoor purposes, like watering plants or washing your car, but did you know that it is becoming increasingly popular to use rainwater inside your home too?

Problem and Solution

People do not realize just how much water they use by the simple acts of showering or washing clothes. These actions are all a part of our daily routine, we are quite used to them, but our planet is not. As there is only 1% of water on Earth that is usable for drinking, we should all be mindful of how we use water and conserve wherever we can. Most household water is used for showering, washing the dishes, flushing the toilet, and doing laundry. One way of approaching this problem is to install a rainwater collection system that will collect rainwater for indoor uses. For this endeavor you will probably need to call a plumber, which will cost you, but it will also benefit you in the long run, as your water bill gets smaller and you contribute to a healthier planet.

Harvesting and Storage of Rainwater

There are three ways to collect rain: from the direct rainfall, the roof, or you can even harvest it from the street. For the storage, you can use barrels or cisterns for non-portable use like flushing toilets and washing laundry. How much rainwater you will need depends on the size of your household and it’s activities such as how often you do your laundry or flush the toilet. As there are different types of containers, you will first need to find an expert to help you determine what kind of system best meets your family’s needs. Rainwater containers come in different sizes, shapes and even colors, and they can be set up below or above ground.

Use of Rainwater at the Tap

According to Eawag, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, in individual cases, rainwater can replace tap water completely. Most people around the world use it for the toilet tank and flushing, but are skeptical of using it for showering with it or drinking it. However, there are filtrating systems that clean rainwater so that it can be safely used for drinking and showering.

Although the use of rainwater for indoor home necessities is becoming more and more popular across the world, it is regulated differently in each country, state and locality. So, before you start thinking about building your own system, check with your local water authority.

 Guest blog submitted by Melissa Stevens. She is experienced blogger, interested in eco-friendly topics. Plumbing services based in Sydney contributed to this article with all relevant information about water containers plumbing system.

Posted in: Clean and safe tap water, Uncategorized, Using water wisely, Waterways

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Sustainable Flooring: Concrete Versus Hardwood

Posted on January 8, 2015 by | Comments Off

The first step toward a sustainable lifestyle is the one you take through your front door. The simplest (and arguably most important) way to make a positive impact on the environment is in your home. From your daily routines to major projects, sustainability can be incorporated into every footprint you make.

shutterstock_110037530As someone who strives to live sustainably, I was eager to reduce, reuse and recycle when remodeling a converted garage into our master bedroom. The biggest component of any remodel is the flooring, plus it comes with the largest carbon footprint. Whether you choose hardwood, tile or carpet, you are consuming natural resources, and, if you’re not careful, contributing considerable amounts of chemicals and other pollutants to the planet. So what is a sustainable homeowner to do? Consider concrete.

shutterstock_78883141If you’re converting a garage, basement or ground floor space, the chances are you already have concrete sub-flooring right there, ready to go. When I peeled back the decades-old carpet from my converted garage flooring, I was thrilled to find concrete. The perfect solution, I thought. No need to bring in new materials; just polish this up and voila, a new floor.

However, my husband wanted hardwood. So began a deep and detailed dive into the environmental and practical pros and cons of concrete versus hardwood flooring. What I discovered surprised me, and made me realize the importance of thinking through every element of sustainability — not just the obvious ones — when making choices with green living in mind.

Longevity - WINNER: Concrete

With proper care, solid hardwood floors should last for over fifty years, but, unless you take a jackhammer to it, concrete will likely outlive you, your kids, and their children.

Durability - WINNER: Hardwood

There are three distinct types of hardwood floors: solid hardwood, engineered hardwood and laminate (which is not wood at all). We focused on solid hardwood for our project. Solid hardwood is very tough, but it’s not indestructible. However, scratches can often be buffed out or colored in, and down the road the floor can be refinished to look like new. On the flip side, there really isn’t much harm you can do to concrete, but it can harm you. Common complaints about concrete flooring include fatigued joints and sore feet from walking on it all day. Additionally, if you have small children, a fall off the bed could easily result in a trip to the emergency room.

Aesthetic Appeal WINNER: It’s a tie

It is hard to beat the classic beauty of solid hardwood floors, and it’s easy to match to your décor. If you’re picturing the concrete you find in a warehouse when you think of concrete floors, think again. The application of acid-stains, stenciling, painting and other creative techniques to concrete can create a truly unique look; nearly everyone has hardwoods, but not many people have intricately painted concrete floors. Concrete can be any color you like, and can be made to look like marble, granite or even hardwood. However, a lot of these options greatly increase the price.

Energy Efficiency - WINNER: It’s a tie

The cellular structure of wood traps air, giving hardwood floors superior insulating properties. It takes 15 inches of concrete to equal the insulation qualities of just 1 inch of wood. However, concrete will naturally absorb heat from the sun in the winter and stay cool in the summer, keeping energy costs down. Polished concrete floors will also reflect light, keeping your room bright and reducing the amount of lighting needed during the day.

Cradle to Grave’ Credibility - WINNER: Concrete, if it’s in place. Hardwood, if new. you are starting from scratch.

Hardwood floors come from trees, obviously. However, responsibly sourced wood, certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and from sustainable forests, is one of the greenest options for flooring. Some products in the hardwood family, such as bamboo and cork, are easily renewable resources; bamboo is denser than oak and as stable as some maple and pine species, and cork is extremely durable and resistant to moisture. The manufacturing process of hardwood floors is cleaner than that of concrete, which results in up to six times more pollutants and over three times as much carbon monoxide. However, those figures are nullified if you are using concrete already in place versus buying new hardwood. Both concrete and hardwood are fully recyclable, although the energy expended to remove concrete affects the benefits of recycling.

Price - WINNER: Hardwood, but that can depend on the individual project.

The price of natural hardwood depends on the tree. The most expensive hardwood comes from mahogany, wenge and teak. The softest hardwood used in flooring is pine, which is relatively inexpensive. With concrete you are likely to never replace it, so your savings are part of a long-term investment, but it does cost to install. A professional will finish the sub-floor and apply premium stains or etchings to the concrete that can cost up to about $17 per square foot.

Maintenance - WINNER: Concrete

As this 16-step guide to cleaning your hardwood floors implies, hardwood does require regular, detailed and careful maintenance, whereas polished concrete floors are incredibly easy to care for: just dust and mop. Polished concrete floors are non-porous, so they don’t trap mold, mildew, dust mites, bacteria, allergens or moisture.

We really went back and forth over this decision. I loved the idea of flooring that didn’t require any new materials to be manufactured, but from an aesthetic standpoint, we already had hardwood in the house and the continuity was a strong argument against concrete. Additionally, after researching both options thoroughly, I realized that, as long as we are careful in our choice, hardwood floors are far more eco-friendly than I had originally believed. The longevity and insulating properties of hardwood, combined with the sustainable practices of ethical manufacturers, offsets the carbon footprint of its manufacture – especially compared to concrete. Overall, this exercise really opened my eyes to how important it is to scratch below the surface of sustainability in order to make truly informed decisions about how to best help the planet in your daily life.

Jennifer Tuohy writes about green homes and sustainability for Home Depot. Many of the wood flooring types mentioned in Jennifer’s article can be viewed on the Home Depot website.

Posted in: Going Green

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Ten Easy Ways to Go Green in 2015!

Posted on January 6, 2015 by | Comments Off

go green 2015

Kermit the Frog says, “It’s not easy being green.” Oh, but it is! Most of us make New Year’s resolutions, so here are ten easy things you can do in the New Year to be green – and to save some green in your wallet, too.

1. Replace one incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light (CFL) or LED bulb. You will save money over the life of the bulb and reduce the amount of pollutants generated by electrical plants. Find out if you qualify for any of Dominion Virginia Power’s Energy Conservation Programs.

2. Install a programmable thermostat. They are reasonably priced, easy to install, and can save big bucks if you turn your thermostat down by 3 degrees during the day while at work or at night while you are sleeping.

3. Know your grass. Different grass varieties need different care. Soil testing is always the first step to a healthy lawn because it will help you identify whether or not your lawn needs fertilizer. If your soil test reveals that you do need fertilizer, Fescue lawns thrive from autumn fertilizer applications while Zoyzia and St. Augustine lawns do better with early summer fertilizing.

4. Convert part of your lawn to a shrub or flower bed. It will reduce your time mowing the lawn this summer, serve as a home for mulched leaves in the fall and reduce the amount of rainwater that runs off your property all year long.

5. Plant a tree. It’s so easy – and full of benefits! Trees help improve water quality, conserve energy, reduce air pollution, enhance your property values, and provide wildlife habitat. 

6. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth and soaping up your hands. Bathroom faucets account for about 16 percent of the water use in most households. Showerheads deliver almost 20 percent of your indoor water use.  Replacing an old showerhead with a new low-flow, high pressure model is easy and will save on both water and energy costs. Check out more ways to use water wisely!

7. Install a rain barrel. Rain barrels catch the water from your gutters and store it for all your outdoor watering needs. You can purchase one from many garden supply centers or easily build one yourself.

8. Scoop the poop when walking your dog. In your yard, train your dog to use one particular area so you can clean up and throw your dog’s mess in the trash.

9. Don’t pour grease or food scraps down the drain. Pour grease into a can and refrigerate or freeze before putting it in the trash, and wipe off frying pans and greasy plates with a paper towel before washing. Check out more information on putting your drains on a diet!

10. Most of all, get outside (and get the kids outside) and enjoy the many natural amenities that this region has to offer! 

Happy New Year!

Blog post contributed by Karen Mayne. Karen is a biologist retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who resides in Norfolk and enjoys writing about environmental issues.

Posted in: Going Green, Holidays

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I pulled this out of my washing machine!

Posted on January 2, 2015 by | Comments Off

A baby wipe that made it all the way through the wash cycle!

A baby wipe that made it all the way through the wash cycle!

This little item is something most moms can’t live without.  We use them on baby bums, on messy hands, on runny noses, and on gunked up toys.  The wonderful product we know and love – the wipe.  I even have them stashed all over the place, and I’m one of those crunchy cloth diapering types.  I mean, sometimes that backup package in the car saves the day after the 7-month old has an epic pooplosion while I’m out running errands, or I make the bad decision to let my 3-year old eat a candy cane in the car (still totally worth 5 minutes of silence).  I try to stick to cloth wipes at home but I recently bought some Honest disposable baby wipes since they are made with sustainably harvested material and without a lot of chemicals typically found in wipes (and they were on sale).  Hey, I’m human, and I like a good deal.

So how did a baby wipe end up in my washing machine?  Well, I have a very wriggly 7-month old and during a frenzied diaper change the other day  I must have thrown a wipe into the wet bag with the cloth diapers bound for the laundry, instead of into the diaper pail bound for the landfill.  The wipe in the photo made it all the way through the cycle, which included a prewash, hot normal wash and double rinse.  It had gotten wrapped around a few of the diapers and was still intact!  Nothing was breaking that thing apart. 

This is a perfect example of why wipes should never be flushed. If you’ve ever had a tissue sneak into your wash you know they break up into tiny pieces, stick to your clothes, and make a mess.  Not wipes.  They get stretched and tangled and spun but they stay in one piece.  They only got tangled in diapers in my washing machine, but if they are flushed they can get tangled in pumps that are used to pump our wastewater to treatment plants, or form a cement-like material when combined with fats, oils and grease (called FOG) in our sewer pipes.  This leads to increased maintenance costs, clogs, and even sewage spills into the environment. 

There are actually no regulations right now for labeling a product as flushable, so even if your wipe package says “flushable”, please don’t flush them!  Just because they can make it down your home’s plumbing doesn’t mean they won’t cause issues down the line.  You can help keep the environment clean and keep your kiddos clean at the same time – just make sure to keep the wipes out of the pipes.

And if you are wondering why in the world I cloth diaper in the first place – check out my cloth diaper blog.  You may be convinced to try it yourself!

Posted in: Going Green, Household tips, Waterways

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From Slack-tivist to Superhero: Green New Year’s Resolutions Made For You

Posted on December 30, 2014 by | Comments Off

In Columbia, Missouri, municipal facilities filter “black water” through constructed wetlands of rich clay and waving cattails. In Dearborn, Michigan, the Ford River Rouge Center cleans stormwater and provides insulation using a 10.4-acre “living roof” garden. In Törökbálint, Hungary, the Karton Design Company sells sophisticated furniture made from cardboard.

All over the world, bright minds are developing new ways to make life a little easier on Mother Nature. Maybe it’s time to dedicate your New Year’s to a new earth? Here are some ways you can do your part – whether you are a slack-tivist or an eco-superhero. 

Slack-tivist Solutions: Do you think Ramen Noodles deserve their own space in the USDA Food Pyramid? Do you purchase reversible socks? Then these go green life hacks are for you:

 

  • Meatless Monday. Having your family give up meat and cheese just one day per week reduces the same amount of gas emissions as taking your car off the road for FIVE weeks. Just substitute mushrooms for meat. Both provide a savory flavor, but mushrooms boast a lower carbon footprint.
  • Switch to Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). CFLs can save 80 percent on electricity costs, and they come in a variety of soothing hues.
  • Choose Tap Water. Bottled water costs 100-300 times more than tap water. That’s like buying a gallon of gasoline for $932.55!
  • Replace plastic shopping bags with reusable bags. Halfway between California and China is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a state-sized clump of marine debris filled mainly with plastics, killings millions of fish, birds, sea turtles and marine mammals every year. What more justification need be?

shopping localConservation Promises: Doing without is most people’s concern when it comes to green living. After all, wasn’t the pre-Xbox world “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”? Fear not! These simple resolutions will benefit Mother Nature without making you feel like you’re going without.

 

  •  Ride a bike. Besides the smaller gas bill, you’ll soon be wearing your favorite yoga leggings with pride.
  • Buy local and/or organic produce. Wait … real food? Who knew!
  • Air-dry clothing. Add fabric softener during the wash cycle to prevent stiffness.
  • Staycation! What’s the point of driving nearly 2,000 miles to Pikes Peak, Colorado when you could be enjoying one of the many great attractions, historic sites, parks or beaches right here in Hampton Roads?

Eco-Hero Revolutions: Conservation and substitution can only accomplish so much. As Henry David Thoreau said, “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” If you’re the sort of person who already recycles, bikes to work, plants lots of (native) plants, and has at least one rain barrel, these resolutions are probably for you.

 

  •  Reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Install a tankless hot water heater, photovoltaic solar panels and attic blown-in insulation. If you are mechanically challenged, hire a local garage rat named “Al.”
  • Compost. You can compost lawn clippings, banana peels, Christmas trees, and more. Just get some red worms, sawdust and a city permit, if necessary.
  • Grow a gutter garden. Reuse old rain gutters to create a garden of tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries. Attach the gutters to any sunny exterior wall space and, four months later, bon appetit!

Guest blog submitted by Tim Smith on behalf of Modernize, the place for home energy efficiency ideas.

Posted in: Going Green, Holidays

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  • LOOKS LIKE FUN!