Archive for the ‘tips’ Category

energy (and money) saving tips for winter

October 23, 2008

Having a drafty home is (pardon the cliché) like throwing money out of the window. And saving energy is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

Union of Concerned Scientists offered up these helpful tips for winterizing on a budget. I’ve added a few of my own energy saving tips below as well.

While there are many ways in which you can reduce your home’s energy use, these five projects can deliver the quickest payback on your purchase:

  • Insulate your attic. It is relatively easy, yet very cost-effective, to add insulation to your attic. The Department of Energy (DOE) suggests a minimum attic insulation level of R-38 (R-value is a measure of resistance to heat flow), equivalent to 12 to 15 inches of insulation. The DOE provides a map on its website (see the Related Resources below) that lists recommended insulation levels for U.S. climates.
  • Seal air leaks. Weather stripping, door sweeps, window shrink wrap, and other materials can be purchased at your local hardware store for $50 or less, and can save you as much as 10 percent in energy costs. If you have an old fireplace, consider installing glass doors (which can cost a couple hundred dollars or more) to help prevent heat from escaping out the chimney when not in use.
  • Seal heating ducts. Leaky ducts from forced-air or heat pump systems can allow up to 20 percent of the warm air to escape. While most ductwork is hidden in walls and floors, you can seal duct leaks on your own in attics, basements, or garages, and in areas where ducts meet floor or wall vents. The DOE estimates that sealing leaky ducts can save you up to $140 annually.
  • Install a programmable thermostat. An Energy Star-qualified programmable thermostat can cost as little as $30 but save you $100 or more each year on heating costs by automatically turning the heat down when you are asleep or away (so you don’t have to remember to do it yourself).
  • Upgrade your furnace. If your heating system is more than 10 years old, consider replacing it with an Energy Star-rated model to cut your energy costs by up to 30 percent. Before you buy, make your home as efficient as possible first (following the tips above) so you can purchase the smallest system to fit your heating needs.

Homeowners can save even more money on energy efficiency improvements through tax breaks and other incentives offered by your utility or state government. And as part of the federal government’s recent economic bailout legislation, certain home improvements made in 2009 will be eligible for a tax credit (see the Related Resources).

Related Resources

A few more energy saving tips:

  • Let the sun shine in! If you’re lucky enough to get direct sunlight, keep your drapes open during the day to let the sun’s rays add a little heat. If your windows are drafty, close the drapes at night to keep the cold air out
  • If you have a window air conditioner, take it out for the season
  • When you bake or use the oven, keep it open after your done (and it’s turned off, of course!) to add a little extra warmth to your home
  • Wash your hands in cold water — don’t worry, you’ll kill as much germs as with warm water
  • Also, wash your laundry in cold water. This can also extend the life of your garments
  • Keep lights off during the day and only use lights in the room you’re in at night. And switch from incandescents to
  • CFLs!
  • If you have a programmable thermostat, have it set to 55°F when you’re not home and at night when you’re sleeping, and raise the temperature to 68°F for when you’re at home and awake
  • If you have control over the hot water heater in your home (unlike many apartment dwellers!) set it to 120°F. According to the US DOE, for each 10ºF reduction in water temperature, you can save between 3%–5% in energy costs
  • Layer! Keep the thermostat low and wear warmer clothes

Take it from Jimmy, wear a sweater!

  • Unplug the energy vampires, those appliances you only occasionally use like the toaster, microwave oven, DVD player
  • Use power strips where multiple appliances are used (think TV, DVD player, stereo, etc.); switch the power strip to off when you leave the house
  • Power down your computer when not in use

Get yourself a thermostat

economic downturn? yoga can help

October 7, 2008

What does yoga have to do with money? Two ethical precepts of yoga are do no harm and tell the truth. Both of these come in handy when considering our relationship with money and a consumer-based economy. There’s a highly insightful article from Yoga Journal that teaches us how we can apply these and other yogic principles to our financial habits.

A little taste:

Few Americans celebrate the devastation of individual lives, families, and local communities that occurs every time a corporation orders a mass layoff to bump up its stock price. But that didn’t stop us from cheering as our 401Ks swelled fabulously in the late 1990s—helped in part, yes, by layoffs. Given a simple choice on a ballot, most people would vote against polluted water, sweatshop labor, and global warming. But all three problems enjoy landslide victories every day at the checkout stand in the form of non-organic food, cheap clothing, leaf blowers, and other ethically questionable but popular products.

Almost everyone, it seems, gets a little crazy about money. Even the wealthy sweat about having enough, notes Brent Kessel, a certified financial planner and president of Abacus Wealth Management, Inc., in Pacific Palisades, California. For instance, some of his richest clients worry that the next market plunge will take their pricey lifestyle down with it, he says. And that’s exactly why Kessel, a longtime student of Ashtanga Yoga whose financial counseling is influenced by the Yoga Sutra, thinks money is an underrated spiritual tool. “It can become a bell of awakening in your spiritual practice just by watching how you react to it,” he says. “Where am I holding tension in my body as I do this transaction, pay bills, watch my portfolio increasing or decreasing? All of these are just opportunities to be conscious. I think that’s my primary passion in my work—to use it that way.”

“…We can never be perfect. I’ll never know exactly how everything I’m consuming affects everyone along the chain, but I’ll do the best I can, without becoming neurotic, to decrease the impact I have on others through consumption.”

Topics covered:

• Earning ethically
• Living lightly
• Voting with your dollars
• Investing from the heart
• Giving effectively
• Living in balance

Read the rest.

Read the Yoga Sutras.

frugal = green

October 6, 2008

I just read a post from Treehugger that compliments one I wrote about how green living means more green in your pocket. They estimate that you can save $1000 over the next year if you follow 6 simple tips.

Read my post: you don’t need green to be green.

an eco-friendly halloween

October 6, 2008

It’s October, which means one of my favorite holidays is almost here. While Halloween is by tradition a day of spooky festivities, one of the scariest things about it is the amount of resources spent on cheap plastic costumes and decorations. So instead of being freaked out over all the petroleum-laden junk associated with the holiday, I’ve rounded up a few tips for having a more green Halloween.


Instead of breathing in toxic fumes from that George W. mask you were thinking of wearing, try one of these thrifty and eco-friendly costume ideas (adapted from Halloween on the Web):

  • Pair o’ dice lost: This one requires a partner. Each of you wear a cubical cardboard box painted white with black dots to match a pair of dice. Carry a road map and look confused
  • A work of art: Recreate a famous painting on a big piece of cardboard (such as Munch’s The Scream, the Mona Lisa, or American Gothic). Cut out a hole where the face would be, then put your face through it
  • Two heads are better than one: Get an XXXL sweatshirt and a friend. Get inside — et voila! — you’re conjoined twins
  • Hari, Hari: Cover your hair with pantyhose (yeah, this is usually petroleum based) and cut a hole in the top. Bring your hair out of the hole (this even works with short — but not buzzed — hair). Wear a toga and carry a tambourine
  • Cartoon flashback: Get a bunch of friends together and go as characters from your favorite cartoon. Scooby Doo is a good example… some of my friends did this last year. You can probably find all the clothes you’ll need at the local consignment shop or on eBay

More crafty costume ideas from iVillage.

For thrift stores in your area, check here.

If you’re not feeling creative, you can also get used costumes on eBay.

DIY Makeup

  • General face paint: 1 tsp corn starch, 1/2 tsp water, 1/2 tsp cold cream, 2 drops food coloring. Mix well
  • Blood: Combine red food coloring and corn syrup. Drip the blood where you’d like, but don’t let the edges smear and give it plenty of time to dry
  • Blood and gore: Use red food coloring, corn syrup, and chunky peanut butter

[via Halloween on the Web]

(Side note: I’m normally not an advocate of corn syrup, but well, it’s Halloween, it may be the least toxic makeup option, and you’re not ingesting it!)

Find more DIY Halloween makeup tips here.

Want to do it like a pro? According to Make mag’s blog, Etsy will be giving a Halloween makeup how-to in Brooklyn, 10/27 and 10/28 (a testament to the level of professionalism at right)


Please, I beg you, don’t buy one of those giant blow-up lawn ornaments made from PVC. Try one of these ideas instead:

  • Jack o’ Lantern (no kidding!). But how ’bout a solar powered one?
  • Make a scarecrow from old jeans, flannel shirt, t-shirt, and pillowcase (another version here)
  • Cut a piece of cardboard into a tombstone, paint it grey and decorate as you wish
  • Cut shapes of bats, spiders, or cats from cardboard and black paint. Set up lights behind them to cast creepy shadows
  • Use an old sheet as a backdrop. Paint a scary scene or cut and sew felt or other scrap fabric onto it to create a unique Halloween scene
  • If you want to get fancy, rent a fog machine which uses non-toxic, water-based fog fluid. OR make one yourself! (If you end up buying one, and don’t think you’ll use it again, donate it to a school or local theater when you’re done).

For the serious DIY’er, more decor ideas from Instructables.

And for the kids
Discover Halloween tricks and treats for kids at NatureMoms.

One last note. Be sure to recycle all the elements of your costume and decor. Compost your pumpkin guts and toast the seeds. Have fun and Happy Halloween!

you don’t need green to be green

September 6, 2008

The other day, a friend of mine brought up the common misconception that in order to be eco-friendly, one needs money. There’s really just one thing that I practice to live a sustainable lifestyle: mindfulness. And I think mindfulness in this case can be broken down into 3 actions: a) plan ahead, b) consume less, and c) do your research. Here are a few guidelines that I live by…

Plan ahead
(or, be prepared)

1. BYOE: Bring your own everything, everywhere

  • This includes, but isn’t limited to: reusable utensils, reusable drinking containers, shopping bags, and lunch
  • You don’t have to go out and buy special portable utensils, just borrow some from home
  • Buying a $20 reusable water bottle and filling it at home or at a water fountain is a heck of a lot cheaper than buying a $1 bottle everyday (or even every week if you’re one of those people who refill disposable bottles).
  • Same goes for coffee and tea — brew it at home or at the office and drink it in a mug
  • Your shopping bags don’t have to be anything fancy, most of our bags were giveaway totes. Even just reusing plastic grocery bags will keep the garbage out of the waste stream for a little longer

2. Plan meals

  • If you know what you’re going to eat ahead of time, you’ll buy only what you need
  • If you go to the supermarket on a full stomach, you’ll be less likely to buy stuff you don’t need
  • Plus you’ll keep food out of the landfill where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change (according to the EPA, methane is 20 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide)

3. If you can grow it yourself, do

  • You’ll save money, fuel, and carbon output
  • Plus, you’ll know where your food is coming from
  • If you don’t have your own garden, try a community garden

4. Compost if you can

  • You’ll keep food out of the landfill (see item number 2) and create rich food for your vegetable garden
  • Learn how here

5. Keep your car maintained, and hypermile

  • If you have a car, keep it clean and the tires full — both of these simple things can help save gas
  • Hypermiling is a tactic people use to save fuel. Find out more here

Consume less, live more

1. Buy less stuff

  • Especially new stuff, or stuff made overseas
  • I promise, life will be just as fulfilling without that 5th pair of sneakers or giant flatscreen TV or beauty product, or whatever it is you’re thinking of buying. I know, I’m a recovering shoe addict and impulse buyer myself
  • Of course there are times when you need stuff, or maybe you like collecting stuff as a hobby. Just use your judgment and buy used whenever you can. Shop at eBay, craigslist, or FreeCycle (this one’s free!)

2. Eat less meat

  • It’s pricey, has a huge impact on the planet, and isn’t all that healthy in large quantities
  • Greens and grains are healthier and generally cost a lot less (they also taste good once you get used to them — especially the fresh ones)

3. Eat and drink less junk

  • Junk food is highly processed, so a lot of energy and resources go into making it
  • And it’s full of bad stuff
  • Trust me, you’ll feel better in the morning if you don’t reach for that jumbo bag of Doritos and 32 oz Gatorade. It may seem cheap and tasty now, but just wait ’til you get those medical bills in 20 years

4. Think before you…

  • Print or copy: Can you read it on the computer? Can you copy double-sided?
  • Purchase: See number 1
  • Toss: Can that thing you’re about to throw away be reused or recycled? Maybe somebody else could use it if you don’t want it anymore. If it’s toxic, dispose of it properly (find out how at Earth 911)
  • Drive: Can you walk, bike, or take public transportation instead?

5. Use less water and energy

  • You’ll end up saving money if you conserve
  • Find 100 ways to save water, specific to your region, here
  • See my tips for summer energy saving

Do your research
(Find out where stuff comes from and what it’s made of. Here are a few things I’ve learned…)

1. Health and hygiene

  • Ingredients to avoid: parabens (methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, butyl-), synthetic fragrance, petrolatum, diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), sodium laurel sulfate (read more about ingredients to avoid)
  • Not sure if your products are harmful? Check the Cosmetics Database

2. Cleaning products

  • You can make your own non-toxic cleaning supplies with inexpensive household products, like white vinegar, washing soda, hydrogen peroxide, lemon, and oil (learn more at The Green Guide)
  • Use rags (old t-shirts and towels work well) instead of paper towels

3. Food

  • Eat whole, minimally processed foods
  • Read the label — avoid ingredients that you can’t pronounce or that have many qualifiers, like high-fructose corn syrup or enriched bleached white flour

4. Furniture and homegoods

  • Avoid furniture and paint made with off-gassing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals like formaldehyde
  • Skip products made with PVC, like shower curtain liners — opt for cloth instead
  • Choose napkins, paper towels, toilet paper, and tissues made from paper, not from trees. Go with these brands that are both high quality and environmentally friendly (Marcal, Seventh Generation, Green Forest). AVOID: Bounty, Scott, Viva, Kleenex, Puffs, Charmin, Cottonelle (they’re all made from trees!)
  • Buy in bulk to save money and packaging

Keep it simple…

Another simple way to live green is to heed the 3 Rs: reduce consumption, reuse what you can, and recycle what you can’t.

Find more eco on a budget tips at The Budget Ecoist

Why bother?

simple ways to reduce paper waste: part 2

July 22, 2008

Part 2 of 2
Read part 1 here

6. Drink from a reusable coffee cup
Save paper, save the water used to make the paper, and spare the dump another piece of rubbish. Pick your vessel!

“We are happy to serve you” ceramic mug

Sumo Emotions Cup [Uncommon Goods]

Oxo Good Grips Liquiseal Travel Mug

Photo Travel Mug - Silver 14oz

Customizable Photo Travel Mug – Silver 14oz [Kodak Gallery]

7. Use recycled paper products
Choose napkins, paper towels, toilet paper, and tissues made from paper, not from trees. Go with these brands that are both high quality and environmentally friendly:

AVOID: Bounty, Scott, Viva, Kleenex, Puffs, Charmin, Cottonelle (they’re all made from trees!)

Better yet, opt for cloth napkins at meals, dish towels to clean up spills, and handkerchiefs to wipe your nose. Keep rags handy to wipe up really nasty spills.

8. Make your own greeting cards and wrapping paper

  • Turn old cards into new cards here
  • Repurpose old magazines before you toss them in the recycling bin. I like to cut out images from magazines and glue them to a piece of card stock or on an old or ugly card I have lying around
  • Use a colorful page of the newspaper to wrap gifts
  • Wrap gifts in a nice piece of fabric like a scarf, furoshiki style
  • Reuse tissue paper from clothing shops or gifts you’ve received
  • Take care when you open gifts and reuse the paper later on

If you don’t have time to make your own, buy recycled. Here are some options:

Not sure if the card you want is recycled? Flip it over and take a look!

9. Use both sides

  • Making copies? Set the copy machine to print double sided. This can be done whether the original is 2-sided or not.
  • Finished with that printout? Flip it over and use it for note taking or doodling

10. Narrow the margins

The default setting for Microsoft Word margins is 1.25″. You can make them narrower by selecting “Page Setup” (usually found in the “File” menu) and changing them to .75″. Just think of all the paper you’ll save when you’re printing your novel or latest screenplay.

Join the Change the Margins campaign.

simple ways to reduce paper waste: part 1

July 22, 2008

Part 1 of 2

Junk mail, catalogs, bills, receipts, packaging, magazines, office paper, newspapers, wrapping paper, greeting cards, paper plates and cups, napkins, paper towel, toilet paper. The amount of paper in our lives is astounding. But there are so many easy ways to cut back on paper waste. You’ll not only saves trees, you’ll save water, money, and aggravation (especially when it comes to junk mail!).

1. Reduce junk mail and catalogs

  • Green Dimes: Their basic service is free, but you’ve got to opt out of each sender yourself. A $20 one-time fee gets you auto-opt out (including catalogs) and they’ll plant 5 trees, too. $36 gets you all the stuff $20 gets you plus some extra goodies like CFLs.
  • 41 pounds: That’s how much junk mail a person receives in a year. And it costs $41 for 5 years, with 1/3 of that going to the nonprofit of your choice. Like Green Dimes, they also let you opt out of catalogs
  • DMA (Direct Marketer’s Association): It just takes $1 (sent by snail mail) to get off of mailing lists you don’t want to be on. This is the service I used a few years ago and the only unwanted mail I get is from various charities I’ve given to since signing up.
  • Catalog Choice: It’s free to join and you can opt out or opt in to as many catalog mailing lists as you want (as long as they’re in their database, of course). You can check the status of your request (whether it’s been accepted or not) whenever you sign in.

2. Cancel the paper and read the news online

3. Get your bills delivered via email
Check your bills and you’ll probably see the option to have them sent by email, either as a checkbox directly on the bill (that you’ll send via snail mail for the last time, see below) or by logging into your account online.

4. Pay bills online
Stop writing checks, save a stamp, an envelope, and the paper it takes to make those checks. It’s so easy to set up, all you need is the payees address and your account info. But it varies from bank-to-bank so I won’t go into the process here.

5. Plan your online purchases
Reduce cardboard and packing material waste. When buying stuff online from one vendor, make sure you purchase in bulk and choose the option to send the stuff in one shipment.

energy saving for summer

July 21, 2008

Stay cool in the summer swelter and save money with these simple ways to reduce energy consumption:

  • Close the blinds/curtains/shades to keep out the sun’s rays
  • Keep the windows closed during the day when the heat is most extreme
  • Avoid using the oven — opt for salads and other no-cook meals, use the microwave instead (it’s more efficient and produces less heat), or grill if you’ve got one!
  • Do laundry at night when it’s cooler; wait until you have a full load, use cold water to wash, and hang to dry if you can
  • Run the dishwasher at night and skip the heat dry cycle
  • Take cool showers — using less hot water saves energy
  • Wash your hands in cold water (see above) — don’t worry, you’ll kill as much germs as with warm water
  • Keep lights off during the day and only use lights in the room you’re in at night
  • Use the A/C only in the evening when you’re home, or use fans instead
  • If you have central air, have it set to turn off when you’re not home and raise the temperature to 78 degrees when you are
  • Make sure your home is insulated properly
  • Unplug the energy vampires, those appliances you only occasionally use like the toaster, microwave oven, DVD player
  • Use power strips where multiple appliances are used (think TV, DVD player, stereo, etc.); switch the power strip to off when you leave the house
  • Power down your computer when not in use

survive the summer swelter: part 2

June 11, 2008

Part 2 in a two-part series on how to handle the heat of summer. Catch part 1 here.

keep your cool

eat (and drink) well

fight off the bugs

And you can carry all your summer essentials in this cute Organic Cotton Tote
Happy and Healthy Summer!

survive the summer swelter: part 1

June 10, 2008

It’s not even summer yet and it’s in the high 90s along the Eastern Seaboard. What does one need to do to get by in this heat?

block the sun

stay hydrated

  • Make sure you’ve got your water with you in one of these reusable beauties:
    • Klean Kanteen
    • Sigg (they’ve got a new hot/cold version to keep that water cold in the summer heat)

Stay tuned for Part 2 of survive the summer swelter with tips on how to keep your cool, eat well, and fight off the bugs…