home improvement

I much prefer focusing on preventive health than on emergency triage. I’d rather be writing about how to prevent climate destabilization and global heating from getting worse (and I’ve been doing that for years and will continue to do that), but tragically, we have entered the age of climate consequences, and adaptation has become necessary. The climate outcomes that scientists have been warning us about for decades are here, now, everywhere, and getting worse every year. Climate instability is already causing widespread suffering, misery, displacement and migration, medical emergencies, and death. If people continue to accept and allow the burning of fossil fuels (and the degradation of our natural environment) going forward, we will get to where we are headed: we will turn our once quite habitable and hospitable Earth into an uninhabitable planet more like Mars. We are creating Hell on Earth.

Globally, this has been the hottest summer on record (which has included the hottest day, hottest week, and hottest month ever recorded)—and it’s not just because of El Niño. The last decade (which included years with a heat-tempering La Niña) has also been the hottest decade ever recorded. Unlike the “heat waves” of the past, we are now experiencing more frequent “heat domes” with unprecedented, sweltering, record-shattering daytime and night-time temperatures, across large swaths of the planet, lingering for longer periods of time. The air, land, oceans and most other water bodies are now hotter than ever, with devastating and cascading consequences for all living things.

When we’re extremely hot, it can be hard to move, hard to work, hard to think, hard to function, hard to cope, and sometimes even hard to stay alive. Heat typically kills more people than any other type of extreme weather event in the U.S.  The number of heat-related deaths is often greatly underestimated, as heat is not usually listed as the “cause of death,” even when heat is what precipitated the organ failure or heart attack or other final outcome. This study estimated that there are approximately 12,000 premature deaths from heat exposure in the U.S. each year, and it projected that that number will rise to 50,000-110,000 premature deaths per year due to increased warming. Another study found that heat killed approximately 61,000 people in Europe during the summer of 2022. Correspondingly, emergency room visits skyrocket during heat waves.

Our bodies (and the bodies of other living organisms) can only survive temperatures within a certain range. High humidity can make it even harder to withstand high temperatures (which is why weather reports typically include a “heat index” or might even talk about the “wet-bulb” temperature.) Air pollution also tends to worsen during periods of excessive heat, which makes heat waves even more deadly. Studies show that the risk of a fatal heart attack may double during heat wave days and fine particulate pollution days.

Prolonged exposure to excessive heat can cause heat cramps, heat rash, dehydration (note: severe dehydration requires immediate medical attention), heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (which also requires immediate medical attention and can be fatal). See the graphic above for tips on how to tell the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and what to do if someone is showing symptoms of these.

Those who are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of extreme heat include: homeless/unhoused people (and their pets), older people, people who work outdoors (e.g., farmworkers, landscapers, construction and road workers, etc.), people who work and/or live in non-air-conditioned spaces, people who live or work in urban areas or “heat island” zones (areas that have a lot of dark and unshaded surfaces, such as asphalt pavement and roofs, and relatively few trees or green spaces), people with pre-existing health conditions or disabilities, infants and young children, pregnant women, incarcerated people, first responders, and athletes, as well as livestock, pets, and wildlife.

Basic tips for survival, health, and greater comfort in high heat:

For preparations you can make before summer heat waves to keep your home/buildings cool, scroll down to the section near the end on “Design strategies, home/building improvements and investments.” The following are immediate or short-term steps you can take to protect yourself and other living things from extreme heat:

  • Always stay well-hydrated (i.e., drink plenty of water throughout the day). Keep a water bottle with you wherever you go (but don’t leave plastic bottles in hot cars or sitting in the sun, where the heat will soften the plastic, which will then leach into your water). Also eat foods that are hydrating (e.g. fresh fruits, such as watermelon and cucumber). Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeinated or super-sugary drinks.
  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothing.
  • Avoid going out into the heat (or exercising, watering your garden, or driving) during the hottest parts of the day (afternoon through early evening). Cancel or reschedule activities as needed. Early morning is the coolest time of day.
  • If you’ve been sweating a lot, drink even more, eat something salty, and make sure you’re getting plenty of electrolytes (potassium, sodium, calcium) and other minerals and nutrients.
  • If you’re feeling too hot, wipe a cold, wet washcloth on your face and body and/or run cold water over your feet and hands or head; or put some water in a spray bottle and spritz yourself as needed; or when you can, take a cool shower or bath. Or you can sit in front of a fan with a cool, damp towel on you or between you and the fan. If someone is over-heating (e.g., showing signs of heat exhaustion), put cold water (or ice/ice water) on the neck, armpits, inner thighs, and other places where heat gets trapped and a lot of blood vessels are just beneath skin, to help cool down the person faster.
  • No one should be left sitting in a non-air-conditioned, stationary car when it’s hot out (especially infants, children, elderly people, and pets). Rolling the windows down does not keep cars cool enough when the sun is beating on them.
  • If you’re outdoors: Stay in the shade as much as possible, and drink extra water. Take regular breaks from any physical exertion, or avoid it if possible. If you have a hand free, use a parasol (or an umbrella) to shade yourself from the sun.
  • If you’re indoors and you don’t have air conditioning or your A/C isn’t working (or doesn’t work well enough in extreme heat)—or if you’re trying to minimize your use of the A/C to conserve energy or money or to keep the power grid from collapsing and causing a blackout: Use fans (or evaporative “swamp” coolers in really dry climates); window fans can be especially helpful. Cover your windows by closing the shades, blinds, curtains, or shutters. If you don’t have opaque or thermal window coverings, you could temporarily put up big sheets of cardboard (ideally white, and make the white side face the outside) or rigid foam—or hang thick blankets or light-colored tarps (or sheets) inside or outside your south- and west-facing windows (for those of us in the northern hemisphere) or your windows that get the most direct sunlight, to keep the heat/sun out. If you have white (or reflective) tarps or old sheets, you could put those on the part of your roof that gets the most direct sun in the afternoons, or cover up part of your blacktop driveway, or cover your grill (or any other large metal or dark-colored objects near your home) with them (or a light-colored canvas carport or other shade structure) to reduce the heat island effect on or around your home. Avoid running the oven, stove, dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer on the hottest days, and especially during the hottest hours of the day. Turn off any lights that aren’t needed (especially any lamps that are still using old incandescent bulbs or halogen bulbs, as they emit a surprising amount of heat). Unplug appliances or electronics that you aren’t using. Any time it’s cooler outdoors than in (which it often will be at night and early morning), open your windows to get a cross-breeze (and give your A/C a break); you could also use a window fan as an exhaust fan to help push the warmer indoor air outside. It can be too hot to share a bed with someone else; if there’s nowhere else to sleep, you might find that sleeping on a floor is the coolest place to be. If you have a basement, that is probably the coolest area in your house.
  • Make sure you have a lot of ice (and/or ice packs) in your freezer and/or coolers, especially in case there is a power outage and you need to use the ice to keep yourself cool until you can get to an air-conditioned space.
  • If your house is too hot and you’re able to go somewhere else near-by, spend some of the afternoon hours in air-conditioned spaces, such as a library, mall/store/cafe, movie theater, or community center.
  • Click here for additional ”Tips from readers on keeping cool without A/C” (NPR).
  • Check on your neighbors and friends, especially elderly or disabled people and people who don’t have air-conditioning (or who are experiencing a power outage). Make sure they are not showing signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke (see graphic above). If you have air conditioning and a little extra space, invite others who don’t have A/C to come over to your house. Or let others borrow or keep any extra fans you may have.
  • Share information about local cooling centers that are open in your community or county. Print and post/distribute that information at homeless shelters and service centers, senior centers, soup kitchens, food banks, and libraries (and through social media and community websites, e.g., NextDoor). Find out if there are local Mutual Aid groups or others who are helping distribute water or assisting people in need. If your town does not provide a cooling center (or a mobile cooling bus), contact your Mayor or city council or local emergency services department to request one, or help find a location that could serve as one (e.g., community center, church, etc.).
  • You could leave some bottles/gallons of water in front of your house, in a fully shaded area, with a sign letting people know they can take one if they need it. And you could donate non-disposable (and disposable) water bottles (or clean gallon jugs with caps) to a local homeless shelter or organization.
  • On days/nights with particularly extreme heat, if you are able, you could offer to pay for (or you could crowd-fund) an air-conditioned motel room for a homeless person or family or for people who don’t have air conditioning. Or make a donation to a homeless/low-income services group that is assisting people in your area or in a region that is even hotter.
  • Scroll down to the section below on “Design strategies, home/building improvements and investments,” for suggestions on preparations you can make before summer to keep your home cool.

Animals

  • Pets: Do not make pets stay outside (or in a dog house) if it’s cooler in your house. When they must be outside, make sure they can remain in full shade and have plenty of water (you could even fill a small kiddie pool for them to sit in or drink from). Do not walk dogs on artificial grass or on hot pavement (especially black asphalt, but on any pavement when it’s hot out); it will burn their paws. Do not leave pets unattended in your car without air conditioning running. Click here for information on hot weather safety (and signs of heat stroke) for pets. If you see someone else’s pet in distress or in danger, call 911 or your local Humane Society or ASPCA.
  • Livestock and horses: Give them plenty of water every day (making sure they never run out) and access to shaded and well-ventilated areas (with a good cross-breeze and if indoors, also fans, if possible). If they have no shade trees (or not enough to shade all of them throughout the afternoon without crowding) or a large-enough shade shelter outside, put up some type of shade canopies (e.g. canvas carports) for them. Hose them off with cool water when you can, or provide ice blocks for them to lick, or sprinklers, wading pools, or water misters when possible.
  • Wildlife: Put a bowl of clean water out daily for wildlife in your area (ideally in both your front and back yards); thoroughly wash the bowl out every day, if possible. I like to use a light-colored ceramic (or white plastic) bowl that won’t absorb much extra heat. (Note: Absurdly, many outdoor hoses have lead in them. Buy/use a lead-free hose, or get drinking water directly from a faucet.) Don’t set out deep buckets of water that tiny animals could fall into and not be able to climb out of. You can also leave fruit and vegetable scraps and other healthy food out for wildlife. And if there is no shade in your yard, you could put up a shade canopy/sail or make a temporary shade shelter (e.g., with old sheets or large cardboard boxes). Shade as much of your paved areas as you can to reduce the heat absorption on your property. If you see an animal in distress or in danger, contact your local wildlife rescue group.

Plants & Trees

  • Water plants at their base (near the roots) early in the morning. (On especially hot days, they might also need some water in the evening, but don’t soak plants too much before night-time.) Young or non-native trees (and new plants, planted within the last couple of years) especially will need regular watering during heat waves. Older, established trees may need some water every few days during heat waves.
  • Move potted (portable) plants to shadier areas or cooler areas, especially to protect them from the afternoon/western sun.
  • On especially hot/sunny days, you could put shade cloth (or a lightweight, white sheet) over the most vulnerable plants, or shade them with an umbrella, an easy-up canopy, or other portable shade structure.
  • Put a few inches of mulch (e.g., grass clippings, fallen leaves, wood mulch) around the base of plants (and place mulch several inches away from the base of trees). Do not buy peat.
  • Do not prune (or fertilize) plants on hot days.
  • Some plants will simply not be able to survive the increase in temperatures, and we’ll need to replace some plants with more drought- and heat-adapted plants over time.
  • Crops can benefit from having solar panels placed between rows for shading.
  • You can find lots of additional tips regarding how to protect plants and trees during heat by doing an online search.

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Design strategies, home/building improvements and investments:

These are some design strategies and investments, which require some planning or preparation time to implement:

  • Put thermal/insulated window coverings on your windows (e.g., light-colored thermal “honeycomb” or “cellular” shades, “edge-sealed” shades, thick/lined drapes; or interior shutters), particularly on large, unshaded windows and west- and south-facing windows.
  • Add awnings, shutters, overhangs, exterior window shading screens, and/or shade trees outside of your home (particularly outside of west- and south-facing windows). Also plant trees next to dark, paved surfaces such as driveways and roads.
  • Make sure your home has enough insulation (especially in the attic and walls). This will also help you stay comfortable during cold periods.
  • Conventional air conditioners (especially old window units) use a lot of energy (and are therefore expensive to operate). And every time we use air conditioners to cool interior spaces, we’re heating the planet up even more. Much better air conditioning technologies now exist, and even better ones may be available soon. One option to consider is having a “heat pump” installed (also known as a ductless mini-split system; they provide both heating and cooling). These are much more efficient than traditional air conditioners, and there are tax incentives and rebates that you might be eligible for. Or in very dry climates, many people use evaporative “swamp” coolers rather than air conditioners. Whole-house attic fans can also help reduce the need for air conditioning. (Note: If you are replacing/getting rid of an old air conditioner, make sure that your HVAC company properly recovers and disposes of its refrigerants. A/C refrigerant emissions are a major contributor to global warming!)
  • When it’s time to replace your roof, choose light-colored roofing (and/or solar roofing tiles, or solar panels to shade the roof).
  • When you’re able to get new windows, choose windows that meet or exceed the Energy Star criteria (for your climate zone). They could be eligible for tax credits or rebates.
  • When it’s time to repave your driveway (or pathways), choose a light-colored paving material or pavers (rather than black asphalt paving), or better yet, replace some paved areas with light-colored pervious materials or vegetation. (Also ask your city to use light-colored—and ideally pervious—paving materials on city streets and parking lots.)
  • When choosing a car, in addition to choosing an electric or hybrid vehicle, choose one that’s a light color (e.g., white or silver) so it will not absorb as much heat.
  • Do NOT use artificial turf (fake grass). It becomes incredibly hot, even hotter than black asphalt, in the sun, and it can cause burns. Replace astroturf with native or adapted drought-tolerant plants, trees, groundcovers, or a clover lawn. Replace astroturf sports fields with real (but drought-tolerant) grass.
  • Solar photovoltaic panels can provide shade over roofs, pavement, and between rows of field crops.
  • Consider getting an electric battery backup system for your home; ideally, this would be tied into a solar photovoltaic (or wind turbine) system to keep your power (and cooling) on during extended power outages. You can also get an electric and/or solar generator to use during power outages (or off grid).
  • When designing any new home (or building), designers should incorporate passive cooling techniques. One ancient, passive cooling technique is the “wind catcher” design. And some building materials, such as rammed earth, have thermal properties that help keep homes cool in summer and warm in winter. Find other natural cooling strategies here.
  • Get light-colored shade structures/shelters (or canopies) for any large animals or livestock you have (or pets that have to spend hours outside) that will provide plenty of shade for all of them, without crowding. Also add shade trees to their outdoor areas. Look into water misting systems, sprinklers, or wading pools that you could add to their outdoor areas, and use fans, roof exhaust vents/fans, and open windows to ventilate their indoor areas.
  • Buy organically grown crops and plants (and native/drought-tolerant plants), which have been shown to have greater resilience to heat than chemically-grown (and many non-native) crops and plants. You could get a shade structure/canopy to place on your patio or deck or yard, to shade any potted/portable plants (and it could also shade your grill or other dark-colored or metal outdoor objects, or possibly shade part of your home/windows) from the sun on hot days.
  • There are SO MANY things we can all do (and our society, government, and industry must do) to try to stop global heating from getting worse. Please check out and commit yourself to some of our climate solutions in our other posts.

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Sign this petition:

Urge OSHA to implement immediate heat standards
(Note: These standards also must be enforced everywhere.)

Articles:

Useful resources on heat health/safety:

Related posts:

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July 27, 2023
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Saving energy saves money. Reducing your energy use will reduce your gas and electricity bills (which frees up funds for other, more meaningful things). It also benefits the environment and your health in a variety of ways. For example, using less electricity reduces power plant emissions from burning fossil fuels, which reduces air and water pollution, and that helps protect everyone’s health and our shared natural resources. It also reduces the emission of greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change.

This checklist outlines a number of ways that you can conserve energy at home (or at work), by changing your household (or workplace) products and practices related to Heating and Cooling, Appliances and Equipment, Lighting, etc. Most of these strategies are easy and low- or no-cost, and saving energy helps save you money down the road.

HEATING AND COOLING

  • Program/adjust your thermostat to provide less heating or cooling at night and during the daytime hours when your home/building is not occupied. If you don’t know how to change the settings on your programmable thermostat, read the manual or ask someone for assistance.
  • On hot and sunny days, cover your windows by closing the shades, blinds, opaque curtains, or shutters; and turn off any lights that aren’t needed (especially any lamps that are using conventional incandescent bulbs, as they emit a surprising amount of heat). Avoid running the oven, stove, dishwasher, or washing machine (or opening the refrigerator a lot) on hot days, and especially during the hottest hours of the day.  And if you live in an area that regularly has hot summers, consider adding shade trees, awnings, or overhangs (particularly outside of west-facing windows) and putting a light-colored roof on your home when it’s time to replace the roof (and a light-colored driveway material if you need to repave your driveway).
  • Avoid or minimize your use of air conditioning, when possible. Air conditioners use a lot of energy, making them expensive to use. In warm weather, try using ceiling fans, floor fans, or a “whole house” attic fan (or in dry regions, an evaporative “swamp” cooler) instead of AC. On cool nights, open the windows to let the cool air in, and then close the windows by 9 AM to keep the cool air inside. These options can often provide adequate cooling.
  • Follow the recommended maintenance procedures for your heating and cooling systems. Replace or clean air filters as specified in the owner’s manuals. Have your furnace or air conditioner serviced if it isn’t operating properly or efficiently.
  • Keep your heating/cooling vents dusted.
  • Keep furniture, curtains, and other objects away from heater/air conditioning outlets, to allow conditioned air to flow freely into the room.
  • Make sure your windows close properly. Fix any broken window panes, seals, or latches.
  • Don’t leave the heat or air conditioning on if you open a window.
  • Weatherize your doors and windows by using weather stripping or seals to minimize air leaks and drafts.
  • Make sure your home is well insulated. Insulate your hot water pipes and water heater, and add insulation (if needed) to your attic, walls, or basement.
  • Hire a home performance contractor to do a home energy audit; they will inspect your home and identify any inefficiencies and seal up air leaks. In many homes, fixing air leaks can save more energy and money than installing a high-efficiency furnace. (One very experienced company that offers these services in California is Advanced Home Energy, formerly called Recurve.) You can search here for a contractor near you who has been accredited by the Building Performance Institute. If you live in California, check out the information provided by Energy Upgrade California.
  • When purchasing a new furnace, air conditioner, ceiling fan, water heater, windows, or doors, choose products that have a high Energy Star efficiency rating. (For windows, at a minimum, make sure you choose double-paned glass.)

Please continue reading. The rest of this post includes tips on lighting, appliances, electronics, and more:

[CLICK HERE to CONTINUE]

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May 29, 2013
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More than a dozen of the Green Spotlight’s previous posts have referenced green products. Below is a list of many of those posts, which have covered everything from building- and home-related products to films, chocolates, books, and other types of goods. Many of the products mentioned in these posts would make good and useful gifts (for holidays, birthdays, etc.).

At the bottom of this post, I’ve also added links to some books for eco-minded readers.

Home/Building Products

Other Products

Books

The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places, by Bernie Krause

Or if you’re interested in books on green business, check out the book listing at the bottom of our Green Business post.

You can find a wide selection of books on sustainable living from Chelsea Green Publishing and from New Society Publishers.

And here are a bunch of other books on sustainability topics.

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November 26, 2012
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Conserving water is becoming increasingly important, and it has become a necessity in areas that are suffering from drought. According to the UN, by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions, as a result of water shortages from climate change and rising levels of water use due to a growing population.

Reducing your water use will not only lower your water bills and help prevent potential water shortages. It also reduces the strain on municipal water systems and infrastructure (e.g., sewer, water treatment and distribution), which helps reduce the energy, maintenance, and the associated taxes required to run and expand those systems. Using less water can also save you money on your energy bill, because electricity or gas is used to heat your water. Water conservation also leaves more water available for critical uses, such as drinking, growing food, and fighting fires; and it keeps more water in lakes, rivers, and streams for aquatic species and other wildlife.

These are some of the ways that you can reduce your household water use, both indoors and outdoors:

INDOORS:

  1. Replace your toilets, faucets, and showerheads with high-efficiency (WaterSense labeled) plumbing fixtures, or at least add aerators to your faucets, and if you have an old toilet, put a small water bottle (filled with water, with the cap on) into the toilet tank for displacement. Switching to high-effiiency fixtures results in significant water savings.
  2. Do not let faucets run longer than is necessary for your task. Don’t leave it running while brushing your teeth, shaving, or soaping up your hands or dishes. And when you turn a faucet off, make sure that it is turned all the way off.
  3. Try to take short showers, and/or don’t take a shower every day (if you aren’t really dirty—from work, exercise, recreation, etc.).
  4. When using a clothes washer or dishwasher, only wash fairly full loads (or select a light-load setting for small loads). If you’re buying a new washer, select a high-efficiency (Energy Star) and water-saving model. Front-loading washing machines are much more efficient than top-loading machines.
  5. Wash dirty dishes immediately or soak them before hand-washing, so that they can be washed off more easily and quickly (requiring less water).
  6. If a faucet is dripping or if your toilet is running (for too long after it has been flushed), have the leak fixed right away. A leaking toilet can waste more than 50 gallons of water each day, and a dripping faucet or showerhead can waste up to 1,000 gallons of water per week (according to ResourceVenture.org). Also check for washing machine or dishwasher leaks (usually found where the hose is connected to the machine or at the shut-off valve). Familiarize yourself with the water shut-offs behind your toilet, sinks, and washing machine, as well as the water shut-off for the entire house, so that you know how to turn off the water when needed.
  7. As the saying goes, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” There’s generally no need to flush a toilet after it’s only been peed in one time. Hold off on flushing until the toilet has been peed in 2-3 times or has been used for “doing #2.”
  8. Compare your water bills (or water meter readings) from month to month and from year to year, to monitor the results of your conservation efforts and to look for any sudden spikes in water use, which could be caused by leaks.

OUTDOORS (yard / lawn / garden):

  1. Water your yard/garden during the coolest, least windy, and/or least sunny time of the day (usually overnight or early morning, ideally after midnight / before dawn) to avoid losing a lot of water via evaporation. And be sure to avoid over-watering; many plants do not need to be watered every day, and some rarely need to be watered at all.
  2. When you add new plants, trees, or other vegetation, select drought-tolerant or native/adapted plants that require little, if any, irrigation. To get information on how to choose the best plants for your area, click here.
  3. Putting mulch (including fallen leaves or wood chips) on your garden or landscaped areas can help the soil retain moisture longer.
  4. Turf grass typically requires much more water than groundcover or shrubs, so the less lawn area you have, the less watering you will need to do. If adding or reseeding grass areas, select a drought-tolerant, native grass variety or consider replacing the grass area with groundcover or native plants. As an added bonus, most types of groundcovers and some types of grasses will only grow a few inches tall, so they would rarely if ever need to be mowed.
  5. If you are installing an irrigation system, choose a high-efficiency irrigation system. Drip, micro, and bubbler irrigation systems are more efficient than spray or sprinkler irrigation, because they deliver water directly to plants’ roots, minimizing evaporative water loss. If you use a hose to water, use a shut-off/trigger nozzle on it so that the hose doesn’t continue to run when it isn’t aimed at the plants to be watered.
  6. If you have an irrigation system or sprinklers, make sure that all spray or drip spouts are oriented in such a way that they are watering planted areas only and are not watering the sides of buildings, pathways or other paved areas. In addition to wasting water, allowing water to pool up on pavement can make it slippery to walk on an can degrade the pavement over time.
  7. Also, for irrigation systems, perform (or have an irrigation specialist perform) regular system checks and maintenance, to make sure there are no leaking heads, pipes, or valves. Make sure the irrigation system is not watering the lawn/yard/garden during (or immediately preceding or following) rainy days. Even on dry days, make sure the system is not over-watering the plants or over-saturating the soil. If the irrigation timer runs on a battery, make sure it is working and change the battery as needed; if the battery is dead, the system could allow non-stop watering (which would waste a lot of water). Re-program the system seasonally and as necessary to adjust to weather conditions. Winterize the system before the first frost of each year. If issues arise, consider hiring an irrigation professional to do an irrigation audit.
  8. Consider adding rainwater collection barrels/tanks at downspouts (or a bucket in your shower or yard, or a greywater system) for use in watering your yard/garden.
  9. Sweep your sidewalks and driveway (and other paved areas), rather than hosing them down.
  10. Avoid washing your car frequently, and if/when you must wash it, take it to a carwash that recycles its water.

At a broader level, two of the most effective ways to reduce water use (indirectly but significantly) are: to reduce your energy use (because the generation of electricity typically requires enormous amounts of water), and to reduce or eliminate your consumption of meat (because raising meat animals, especially corn-fed factory-farmed beef cows, requires enormous amounts of water) as well as your consumption of milk and other dairy products (and also non-dairy soy milk, almond milk, and rice milk), which are also water-intensive to produce.

For more information on water conservation, visit these websites:

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August 30, 2012
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Most conventional paints and coatings contain and emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Some types of VOCs contribute to smog, and many VOCs are emitted or “offgassed” indoors and contribute to indoor air pollution. VOCs can cause respiratory problems and some are known carcinogens.

I have written a 4-page overview of VOCs and other toxicity issues related to paints and other types of coatings. For the free download, just click on this link:

How to Select Less-Toxic, Low-VOC Paints, Primers, Stains, and Coatings [PDF]

Fortunately, almost every major paint manufacturer (and retailer) now has a low-VOC or zero-VOC product line. Most of these products are also low-odor, as some VOCs are responsible for to that noxious “new paint smell.”

I maintain an online product listing of Low-VOC and Zero-VOC Wall Paints, which I recently updated. The listing includes natural paints (e.g., plant- or mineral-based), as well as more conventional synthetic (e.g., latex/acrylic) paints.

A few paint manufacturers, such as AFM Safecoat and YOLO Colorhouse formulate their entire line of paints and primers to be low- or zero-VOC and low-toxic. While most low-VOC paints are interior paints, some brands (including those two) also offer low-VOC exterior paints.

My listing indicates which paint lines have been Green Seal certified or SCS Indoor Advantage Gold certified. GreenGuard also certifies paints; it has a basic Indoor Air Quality Certified program, as well as a more stringent Children and Schools Certified program. All of these certification programs are primarily focused on testing products’ VOC emissions.

Unfortunately, synthetic paints often contain other toxic compounds, beyond VOCs, such as phthalates (which are endocrine-disrupting chemicals), propylene glycol and glycol ethers (PGEs), certain heavy metals, and toxic biocides or fungicides. (Green Seal’s certification standard prohibits the use of some of those compounds.) See this Pharos article for additional information on paint toxicity.

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September 26, 2011
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Homeowners (and renters) are increasingly interested in making green home improvements, and they’re particularly interested in knowing which improvements have a low cost and a clear payback—i.e., a decent Return on Investment, or ROI. Here are some commonly agreed upon suggestions for relatively easy and economical projects that reap surefire savings (in energy, water, and dollars):

  1. Switch to LED and/or compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs. (Note: When buying CFLs, look for low-mercury products. Also, because CFLs contain mercury, they cannot be thrown in the trash; they must be recycled by a hazardous waste facility. Some stores, such as Home Depot, collect used CFLs. You can find other places near you that take used CFLs on Earth911.com.)
  2. Switch to WaterSense plumbing fixtures (e.g., dual-flush or other high-efficiency toilets, and ultra-low-flow faucets and showerheads). [MORE INFO here.]
  3. Switch to Energy Star appliances and electronic equipment when it’s time to replace old units. Install an Energy Star ceiling fan(s), to reduce or eliminate your use of air conditioning.
  4. Insulate your hot water pipes and water heater; and add insulation to your attic (and/or walls and basement).
  5. Have a home energy audit done to check for air leaks and identify other inefficiencies; a home performance contractor should then make the needed improvements. More and more companies are springing up to offer these services. (One very experienced company in California is Advanced Home Energy, formerly called Recurve.) You can search here for a contractor near you who has been accredited by the Building Performance Institute. If you live in California, check out the information provided by Energy Upgrade California.

For other ideas and helpful cost/benefit assessments, check out this new book: Green Sense for the Home: Rating the Real Payoff from 50 Green Home Projects, by Eric Corey Freed and Kevin Daum (Taunton Press, April 2010). Here’s the publisher’s description of the book: “When does a green home project make financial sense? The authors of this book provide the answer to this and other questions relating to the cost (and relative value) of environmentally friendly home improvements. They evaluate a wide array of projects, including insulating pipes, weatherizing doors and windows, composting and recycling trash, installing a solar hot water heater, installing green countertops, upgrading appliances, building with reclaimed materials, and installing radiant heat.”

Other recent books include Green Home Improvement: 65 Projects That Will Cut Utility Bills, Protect Your Health & Help the Environment by Daniel Chiras, PhD (RS Means) and This Green House: Home Improvements for the Eco-Smart, the Thrifty, and the Do-It-Yourselfer by Joshua Piven (Abrams).

A number of federal, state, and local tax credits, rebates, and other financial incentives are available for installing energy-efficient equipment or renewable energy (e.g., solar) technologies at your residence.

For a more comprehensive checklist of ways to save energy, see our new post [added 5/2013]: Tips for Saving Energy

 

For additional tips on green home improvements and retrofits, these are some useful online articles and websites, most of which feature lists of cost-effective improvements:

If you’d like assistance with choosing and implementing your green home improvements or remodeling strategies, I am a green advisor who can provide this type of assistance through email consultations (or phone or in-person consultations). Click here for more info.

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May 6, 2010
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GreenDollarSignThe following are key online resources for information on federal, state, and local environmental tax credits, rebates, and other financial incentives. Most of the incentives that are available are for installing energy-efficient equipment or renewable energy (e.g., solar) technologies.

FEDERAL

This is a good directory of federal income tax credits and other incentives for energy-efficient products—for consumers, as well as businesses, builders, and manufacturers: Energy Tax Incentives Assistance Project

(For info on federal grants to organizations and agencies, go to Grants.gov.)

STATE AND LOCAL

Check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency for a compendium of options, organized by state. Also check with your municipality (city and county governments) and local utility companies. Many offer their own green rebates and incentives. And this is a great summary of energy-efficiency grants and funds provided to state and local agencies by the 2009 economic stimulus/recovery bill (ARRA).

CALIFORNIA

For those of you who are in California, there are numerous entities offering green rebates and other incentives. Take a look at these resources:

If you know of other useful directories or resources related to green financial incentives, or if you have made use of energy tax credits or other green incentives, please share your experiences or suggestions by leaving a comment below.

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November 16, 2009
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Image by Matt FarrarENERGY STAR is an energy efficiency rating program developed by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Most people are familiar with ENERGY STAR labeled home appliances and light bulbs, but many people may not be aware that the label is applied to more than 60 different types of products (for residential use as well as commercial building use), including heating and cooling equipment, roofs, and many types of electronics. (Note: Heating and cooling are the largest sources of energy consumption in homes; they account for almost half of a typical home’s energy consumption and energy costs.)

Energy StarSpecific examples of products for which you can find ENERGY STAR qualified models include: air conditioners (central or room), ceiling fans, exhaust/ventilation fans, furnaces, boilers, thermostats, water heaters, refrigerators and freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers, insulation, windows, skylights, roofs, doors, light fixtures and bulbs, as well as TVs, DVD players, phones, computers, monitors, printers, copiers, etc.

To find out which brands and models of a particular product have earned the ENERGY STAR label, or to compare the levels of efficiency among different models, go to the ENERGY STAR Qualified Products website. Also, check with your utility company to see if they offer rebates for purchasing energy efficient equipment or appliances; many utilities do.

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March 28, 2009
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