Thursday, May 22, 2008

Everyday Green Living
By Marissa Ponikowski

There are many ways to adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle, and the best place to start is your very own home. Read on for easy eco tips to share with the whole family.

Conserving water is important – but so is protecting it from contamination. Purifying contaminated water can be difficult and very often results in wasted water. To keep the water supply clean:

Cut down on the amount of household chemicals you use and dispose of the ones you do use at local drop-off centres.
Use biodegradable products whenever possible. Especially avoid using chemical pesticides and fertilizers outdoors.
Store garbage properly and clean up paint or other chemical spills right away.
Keep your vehicles in good working order, so leaking oil or gas doesn’t make its way into the water supply.
To save water:

Shorten your shower time to about six minutes, and, if you choose to have a bath, only fill the tub halfway.
Never leave the tap running while brushing your teeth, shaving or lathering up during hand washing.
Never throw garbage, such as tissues, paper towels or cigarette butts, in the toilet and flush. This wastes several gallons of water.
Saving energy also means saving money, which is just another good reason to be kind to the environment. To save energy in your home:

If planning on purchasing new appliances look for Energy Star models. These are high quality, widely available and some municipalities even offer a rebate incentive if you buy them.
Only run your dishwasher when it’s full, and use the air dry setting rather than drying them with heat.
Most of the energy used to wash clothes is wasted on heating the water. When possible, use cold water. Try a cold water detergent for best results.
Install a programmable thermostat and lower your thermostat a few degrees at night or when you’re not home during the day.
Apply sealant or caulking around doorframes and windows to prevent warm air from leaking out in the winter and hot air from getting in during the summer.
Air Quality
The quality of your air is directly related to the products you use. Synthetically scented products are rarely environmentally friendly and could even contribute to asthma and other respiratory disorders. To improve the air quality in your home:

Use detergent and water instead of harsh disinfectants which tend to give off noxious fumes.
Select unscented cleaning products, or go natural and clean with baking soda, vinegar and castile soap. These products often work better than commercial cleaning products!
Avoid the use of aerosol sprays of any kind.
Don’t use air fresheners. These products often contain harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde and phthalates. Recent studies have also found that air fresheners release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air - especially plug-in air fresheners containing pinene and d-limonene.
Eliminate the need for deodorizers in your home by taking the garbage out daily. Rinse packaging and wrappers before throwing them in the garbage and freeze perishable wastes such as meat and fish scraps until garbage collection day.
As an air freshener alternative, try burning a few drops of natural essential oil in a clay infuser.
In the age of recycling and ‘green’ bins, it just doesn’t make sense to produce a lot of waste. Here’s how to cut your garbage output down:

Find out which plastics are accepted in your city’s recycling bins and don’t purchase plastic products that aren’t (for example, in Toronto, only recycling types 1 and 2 are accepted in the blue box).
Head to the grocery store with a handful of reusable cloth grocery bags.
Buy in bulk when possible. Store bulk food in reusable containers.
Buy high quality, durable items. Don’t make unnecessary purchases.
If your municipality has a composting program, participate by using your green bin or bag daily. You can also compost and use your own organic matter – and your garden will look gorgeous!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Spring Forward:Preparing home & yard for the warm days ahead

Spring and cleaning go hand in hand, though it isn't just your home that needs attention - now is also the time to prepare your garden for the growing season ahead. But before you start tidying up, make sure that the ground is completely dry and the frost will not come back.
Because your perennials return every year, they'll require some work on your part to keep them looking gorgeous every time. You'll have to cut them back to the ground so that the new growth emerging from the crown of the roots can flourish. While you're at it, clear away any unsightly branches and debris that you may find littering your garden.
If you covered your garden bed with a mulch of leaves to protect it from the frost, you can rake it off, but take care in doing so in case there are any early sprouting perennials hiding underneath. The leaves can be added to a compost heap, and come next spring, the compost will be a rich source of nutrients that you can apply to the soil. Alfalfa, peat moss and perlite are other options for supplements that will help to keep your garden healthy.
While you're poking through the garden, keep your eyes open for any perennials that have been lifted out of the ground by frost. Gently press them back into place, or if their roots are exposed, you can cover them up with a bit of soil.
It's too early to start planting, but at least your garden will be primed for when the weather is right. Gather ideas and decide exactly what you would like to do - maybe some brightly coloured annuals are all it will take to liven things up. Or, consider planting a few clusters of tall ornamental grasses in your garden so that when winter rolls around again, you'll have more to look at than just a whitewash of snow.
Many gardeners keep journals to track how their gardens grow over the years, and if you aren't one of them, now is a good time to start. Describe the state your garden is in at this point and how it changes as the months go by. When you look back, you'll notice a pattern of what you liked and what didn't work so well - after all, practice makes perfect.
Lazy afternoons in the shade are one of life's great pleasures. Imagine stretching out in a hammock, swinging back and forth and taking in the breathtaking sights of a yard that's been designed to perfection. But, a landscaped yard can offer more than just visual appeal.
Winding vines and tall trees, if strategically placed, can help to reduce your energy bills and keep your house cooler when a warm spell hits. They'll block out some of the sun's intense heat and also benefit you later in the year by acting as a windbreak. You don't have to plant a whole forest - it should only take a couple of trees or even some shrubs for you to notice a difference.
Fortunately, an attractive yard is just another benefit. Select an experienced landscape contractor that covers all the bases - meaning one that will take your concerns into account, such as energy conservation, rather than someone who only has a narrow field of expertise.
Think of your yard as an extension of your house - like an outdoor room without the walls. A landscape designer can help you personalize your yard, turning it into a work of art that reflects your tastes. If you want an area that will cast a lighter mood after a long day, bright and colourful details can do the trick. Bunches of flowers in bold shades work wonders for some, whereas one contractor says his clients are repeatedly asking for ponds and fountains so they can wind down to the soothing sound of water.
To take the room analogy a step further, why not create your own sanctuary and designate an outdoor space, or room, if you will? A landscape contractor can add levels to the area and plant trees or shrubs around the border, with colourful flowers and a bench as a finishing touch. You may not be able to shut the door, but you'll certainly have an oasis that's all your own.
Air Conditioning
A summer without air conditioning just might be every Manitoban's worst nightmare. You're likely asking yourself why on earth we're talking about summer when there's still snow on the ground, but with those unbearably hot, muggy days approaching, you'd better have a quality air conditioner. If not, it should be something to look into before the weather starts heating up.
Nearly any piece of dirt that's floating around your house can be sucked into your air conditioner - dirt, debris, lint, you name it. You should check your unit's filter regularly and change it when necessary. If the build up gets to be too much, the air flow through the unit can be severely restricted.
The amount of Freon in your unit should also be examined. If there isn't enough running through the system, your air conditioner won't work to its full capabilities. With the summer's intense heat, you'll surely notice a difference if the levels are too low. An air conditioning technician will be able to test the unit to ensure that it's functioning properly.
One expert says a common mistake people make is selecting the wrong air conditioner for their homes. For example, if someone were to purchase a two ton unit for a 1000 square foot property that should be using a ton and a half unit, it wouldn't be able to adequately remove humidity. Alternately, if they were to purchase a unit that was too small for their home, it wouldn't be able to maintain a comfortable temperature on those sweltering hot days. Besides the air conditioner's size, you should also note its Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (S.E.E.R.) before you buy it. The S.E.E.R. is an industry standard system used to tell how efficient a unit is - the higher the number, the more efficient it is. Professionals usually suggest a rating of 10 or more. You'll want to make certain that if you have any problems with your air conditioner, it will be backed by a longstanding warranty. Some units offer 10 year warranties, and they may or may not include the compressor. Don't think you're saving a few bucks by choosing an unknown brand, either - if your unit is made by a company with a common name, parts will be readily available should something go wrong with it.