Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Green, Eco-friendly New Year's Resolutions & Lifestyle Tips, 2012

New year's resolutions often lean toward the diet and health related, and ultimately green issues ARE health issues, many even diet-related, so why not create a completely green new year's resolutions list for 2012?

There really are countless ways in which we can improve as a society and as individuals when it comes to respecting and preserving our natural environment and resources, so if some of these don't speak to you, do some research and find others that do.

Here's my list:
  • Stop with the plastic bags! We all know this one, but I'm a big offender. Way too often I'm caught shopping without my reusable bags. Always keep a reusable grocery bag (or 2) with you. Read this article about the garbage pit in the middle of our Pacific Ocean. Most of the pit is plastic. There are other plastic products in our daily life, too, that we need to curb use of -- plastic drinking bottles, food "jars" -- begin buying more bulk goods, re-use old jars and containers or buy glass ones that can last a lifetime as storage containers.
  • Get involved! Volunteer or join a community group, place of worship, take a class. Building strong social networks and closer community are good preventive measures when it comes to protecting the environment and our health.. Perhaps you make a new friend or acquaintance in a class who can drive with you to the grocery store or on other errands, you both can save money, a precious resource, and keep our air cleaner. We share information and things. Maybe you tell a new classmate about the local farmers' market she hadn't known existed, or she shares her children's old clothing with you for your children. This list could go on and on.
  • Unplug 'em! Many of the techno devices hanging around our homes and offices use nearly as much energy while off as they do on. The remedy is either to unplug them entirely or plug them into a power strip that can be turned off when they're not in use. The money and energy savings can be hefty.
  • Grow some of your own food! Even if you live in the city you can plant a window box with tomatoes and herbs, or join or start a neighborhood community garden. If you've more space, good for you! Growing food is good for body and soul. It connects us to nature, to our families and neighbors, it CAN shrink our food bills, it's good exercise. It's also local and hopefully organic, so lessens our footprint with regard to petroleum products.
  • Vote green with your green! Daily voting with our wallets is one of the best ways to influence companies to green their practices from top to bottom, side to side. Newsweek makes knowing the largest national and global companies' footprints an easy task. They survey, crunch and regurgitate relevant information and data to give us their now yearly Green Rankings.
  • Plant a tree! Shel Silverstein was right, trees give and give to us. They provide not only shade and color, but substantial and necessary social, environmental and financial benefits. They can cool your home in the summer and reduce your energy use, indirectly they can increase your home and community value. Planting trees and shrubs can attract local birds, insects and animals and restore it to a more serene and natural setting. And it's advised to enlist an expert arborist to care for those trees you already have and to assist you in choosing new ones that are appropriate for your landscape and home placement.
  • Re-use items! It saves money and earth's resources, reduces air and water pollution. There are so many items we use daily that we CAN re-use repeatedly if we just take the moment to clean it, fold it, wrap it. A few examples of items I try to re-use regularly are rubber bands (I've created a colorful ball that contains them and looks like a small sculpture at my desk), paper (I print on the backs of all full-sized pieces and staple together pads for notes from envelopes and smaller pieces), foil, plastic bags, and many glass jars I wash, dry and re-use as long as I'm able. I will look for more ways in 2012 that I can re-use instead of buy new.
  • Watch your seafood! Our oceans and sea life are vital resources integral to a healthy planet and people. The Monterey Bay Aquarium makes choices easy with their Seafood Watch website and handy pocket guides and smart phone and mobile apps.
  • Plug the holes! Filling gaps around doors and windows is easy because we can see and fill them, but finding the usually plentiful "invisible" holes in our homes requires performing a blower-door test for a nominal (in the end money-saving/energy saving) fee. Most of our heat and cooling is lost through these larger "invisible" crevices that can run from basement to attic. Once you find them you can seal them with non-toxic caulk or foam.

Monday, December 26, 2011

How to Clean Even Hard-to-Remove-Spills From Glass & Ceramic Stove Tops - Eco-friendly, Frugal Home Tips

I'm of the firm belief that most specialty cleaners are not only overly priced, but are often not the best products for the jobs they are marketed for, and often do not work at all.

Current case in point are the cleaning products made especially for cleaning ceramic and glass top stoves. I know this because we recently purchased one of these ranges and while cooking our holiday meal this weekend the applesauce bubbled out of its pot and onto the glass where it quickly caramelized then burned to a dark black, hard-as-rock recalcitrant mess.

To remove the easy to get schmootz and cooking debris I went over the surface with a warm water and dish soap soaked sponge. Remaining was the black rock-textured blob of burnt sugar, so I pulled out the next weapon from my cleaning arsenal , a heavy duty scouring pad, which took the surface off the burnt sugar but no matter how much elbow grease I put into the task, it could not budge the lithic blob entirely. At this point I pulled out the specialty cleaner, made only to clean glass and ceramic stove tops like ours. Let me be frank here, the specialty cleaner did NOTHING toward removing the cooked on sugar. I began to panic mildly at this point, thinking I'd ruined our brand new, not inexpensive appliance, but pulled out the one tool I knew could make short shrift of the rock, IF it didn't scratch the surface, which I was pretty sure it wouldn't, but was fearful because all the literature that comes with the range says NOT to use anything rougher than a scotch-brite-like scouring pad and the cleaning product they say to use--which doesn't work. What is a cleaning woman to do?

Break the rules, of course. I first squeezed a large dollop of dish soap directly onto the spill. Then, slowly and carefully I scrubbed in a circular motion with one of my favorite green cleaning tools, a metal scouring pad, on a small patch to test. Miraculously, the black began lifting easily, and as I thought, it did NOT scratch the surface a bit. Within a minute or two of scrubbing in this way, then wiping with a clean, wet sponge to remove the loosened residue, the stove top was sparkling like the first day we got it!

Disclaimer: Please don't take my word for this with your glass or ceramic stove top. I'm only vouching here for my first hand experience and success. Always make sure to TEST a new cleaner or implement in a very small, inconspicuous area before going gangbusters with it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

How to Remove Wall Paper With Vinegar and Water - Eco-friendly Home Renovation Tip

I'm super handy, but was intimidated by the prospect of having to remove the old grungy wall paper from the 1/2 bathroom in our new home.

I knew I wanted to tackle it without the noxious hardware store formulas made solely for this task, but was not confident that using the white distilled vinegar I'd heard worked as well, really did.

Well let me cut to the chase here. It does! Save waving a magic wand over it I can't imagine an easier way to remove wall paper than with vinegar, water, and a little elbow grease.

And preparation, planning, and patience go a very long way in making the task even easier. Here's, step-by-step, what I learned.

Before starting make sure to have handy all you will need:
  • something to put all the waste and debris in (large garbage bag, cardboard box, etc...)
  • bucket
  • a few cotton terry towels
  • paint spatula (wider than 2" is best)
  • utility knife
  • hot tap water
  • lots of white vinegar (Buy by the gallon. Have several on hand to start. You may need more.)
  • ladder or step stool
  • work gloves (optional)
1. Make sure work area is well lit.

2. Fill bucket with approximately 1/2 hot tap water and 1/2 white vinegar.

3. Soak towel in the water and vinegar solution. Wring lightly. You want as much water as possible in the towel, but not so much it runs down your arms and soaks your shirt sleeves.

4. Using utility knife find a corner edge of the paper and lift top plastic-y layer of the paper off, if this is possible. The paper was laid in strips, so just remove strip after strip. What remains is the pulpy backing paper and glue, which is much easier to remove if you can lift this top decorative layer off. As you're removing this, you may need to either cut around light fixtures and cabinets with the utility knife or remove the pieces to get paper beneath them, if there is any. In my case, it largely lifted and pulled out from behind these pieces, so was quite easy.

5. If the top layer of the wall paper does not lift, don't despair. Simply score the paper in order to allow water and vinegar mix to soak in and soften the glue.

6. Wet an arms-length sath of either the pulp-glue backing or the scored paper. In either ase, you will need to use several towel's worth of the solution to get enough of it into the paper and glue to soften it for removal. Let it sit and soften for a minute or so before going to the next step.

7. Using paint spatula begin gently but firmly scraping in systematic, efficient rows. If the paper is not budging or it's not lifting easily soak it with more of the water and vinegar mix and let sit another minute or so before scraping again. It's very satisfying once you get a rhythm going and see the paper collecting on the spatula, revealing the wall behind. Before you know it you're half way done!

8. After you've removed all the paper by repeating steps 7. and 8. on all the walls, you will need to go over the entire surface a time or two more with the solution, scrubbing and rubbing a bit to get all the glue up.

9. Using a clean towel go over the entire surface with only hot water a time or two in order to remove the vinegar and any remaining glue residue.

10. Let the wall dry well before preparing it for painting or whatever wall treatment you've planned.



photo by flickr member nolaclutterbusters
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