Living an eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle can take a significant amount of work, and as a homeowner, it’s important to make sure you’re doing your part to reduce the carbon footprint of your home. Taking stock of your home’s energy efficiency is often the first step of this process.

Maintaining an energy efficient home has many benefits for both you and the environment at large. Personally, it will save you money every month on your energy bills, and in some cases it could even help you eliminate energy bills entirely. As for the environment, using less energy means you’re contributing less to the overall draw on the power grid, meaning it isn’t running as much, therefore causing fewer CO2 emissions and other detrimental side effects.

How Can You Increase Your Energy Efficiency?

There are a variety of ways you can increase the energy efficiency of your home. It all starts with getting an energy audit from your local HVAC provider, like Bradley Mechanical here in Richmond. They have the technology to assess where your home is losing your valuable heated or cooled air, and can offer suggestions on how to fix those areas.

Often the main culprit for lost energy is windows and doors. If your windows or doors are old and either have a worn-out seal, or just a poor seal to begin with, they could be leaking tons of your conditioned air, making your system work twice as hard as it should. This can cause your HVAC system to fail prematurely, in addition to costing you a lot on your monthly energy bills.

Once an energy audit has been completed, you can pinpoint areas of lost energy and start addressing those areas of your home. Sometimes that will mean investing in new windows, and sometimes it might be as simple as getting draft guards for the bottoms of your outside doors. Sometimes there are problems with your ventilation system that’s causing it to leak and work more than it should, and the company that helps with the audit should be able to address these issues without too much trouble.

If you have an old heat pump or HVAC unit, it could be a good idea to replace it. Newer systems are much more efficient overall, and can drive your energy costs down a fair amount just on their own. Though if there are other pre-existing issues with your homes efficiency, then those should be addressed as well to maximize efficiency overall.

Here are some other ways you can decrease the carbon footprint of your home:

  • Install Solar Panels
  • Compost organic garbage
  • Turn off heat and AC during spring and fall and open the windows instead
  • Recycle
  • Use LED lightbulbs instead of incandescent
  • Opt for paperless bills and statements to cut down on waste
  • Plant a garden
  • Drive less if at all possible

If you take these suggestions to heart, you could make a huge dent in your family’s carbon footprint and help make your community a little more sustainable. Better yet, if you can convince your friends to make small changes, it could send a shockwave of responsible energy use through your local community. If everyone makes small changes it can amount to a big difference overall. Do your part today to cut down on emissions and make the world a better place.

Do you have trouble keeping unwanted visitors out of your vegetable garden? It’s a fairly common problem with people who grow their own food, and there are many ways to approach the issue. Some people like to use various kinds of pesticide to keep pests away, and some people have their own home remedies. It’s a highly debated topic among amateur gardeners, and professional farmers alike, and everyone seems to have their own answer to the problem.

One of the first things that will determine what solutions are possible for you, is determining the type of garden you are trying to run. If you’re not concerned about using pesticides, for instance, that makes for an easier solution than if you want your garden to be completely organic and pesticide free. Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to matters like this, and you’ll need to figure out where you stand on that before trying to figure out how to solve your growing pest problem.

In addition to determining what kind of solution you are comfortable using in your garden, it’s important to accurately diagnose what kind of pest problem you have. Are your problems coming from bugs, mildew, disease, small mammals, or large mammals? There are a whole host of critters out there that could be getting into your crops, and chances are you might even have a variety of pests to deal with. Figuring out exactly what you’re trying to combat should be one of your very first steps though. Without knowing what the problem is, how can you expect to solve it?

Dealing with Insects:

One of the most common pests that you’ll find while gardening are bugs. This is probably already obvious to you if you’ve ever grown any sort of plant in your life. There are a plethora of ways to deal with bugs, and if this is your only pest, you’ll probably be able to find a solution fairly quickly.

The most common way to deal with garden insects, is to get an all-purpose insecticide like Sevin dust. Many farms use Sevin to control their bug populations. However, Sevin is a toxic chemical, and should be used with caution. Obviously, you should wash all food from your garden before eating it, but when using Sevin dust (or any other consumer pesticide), you’ll want to double check that everything has been washed thoroughly.

If you’re trying to keep your garden organic and pesticide free, there are a handful of natural ways to create your own pest repellent. Here are some common natural insect repellents:

  • Garlic Oil Spray for aphids and beetles
  • Hot Pepper Spray for mites and whiteflies
  • Tomato Leaf Spray for most insects
  • Beer or Citrus Rind Traps for slugs
  • Neem Oil Spray
  • Diatomaceous Earth
  • Chili Pepper Spray

When using homemade pesticides or repellents, make sure to keep a close eye on your plants after applying to make sure that your repellent is actually working. If you’re not seeing the results you’re hoping for, then you might want to make alterations to your solution. There are many gardening resources out there dedicated to all-natural pest repellents.

Dealing with Rodents:

Rats, mice, and voles are regularly responsible for a fair amount of crop damage each year. They like to eat berries, vegetable seeds, and stored food in particular. This can make it difficult to even get your garden started properly if you’ve got issues with mice eating your seeds before they can sprout.

There are many products for sale that can help you deal with rodent populations, though you should exercise caution with any sort of poison that is designed to kill mammals, even small ones. In many cases, your garden will not be plentiful enough to sustain a full-size population of mice, rats, or voles, so you may not have to take drastic measures with poison to try to kill all of them.

It might be better to try deterring rodents rather than putting potentially dangerous poisons around food you’re planning to eat. The first step for deterring rodents is removing their home or blocking access. Try to seal up any small cracks or openings in storage spaces to remove access to food. Keep your garden neat, and remove any piles of pulled weeds, or other places that rodents might like to hide. Cover compost heaps or other sources of food, and make sure bird feeders are well out of reach.

In addition to making it difficult for them to hang around, you can set up ultrasonic emitters pointed at your garden that will emit a frequency above the range of human hearing that will scare off any mice or rats looking to make off with a quick meal.

Dealing with Larger Mammals:

Larger mammals can pose a significantly larger problem for the amateur gardener. Deer and other large herbivores can trample and eat crops, making it very difficult for you to get any produce from your garden. Before you go reaching for the shotgun, let’s look at some alternative measures for dealing with larger mammals.

Predator urine is a common repellent for mammals such as deer, woodchucks, and badgers. You can spray a perimeter around your garden that will keep all but the most desperate mammals out of your garden.

If you don’t have a fence around your backyard, or if your garden is large enough to warrant its own fence, it could be a good idea to reach out to a local fence contractor, like Fencing Unlimited Inc. here in Richmond, to erect a fence around your backyard or garden. Fences are a great humane way to keep larger mammals out.

You can also use ultrasound emitters, faux predators, and noise traps that will scare away larger mammals before they can get into your crops. Most larger mammals, even bears, are fairly skittish when startled and will usually run off at the first hint of danger or surprise.

 

These steps should help you deal with a variety of pests that could be plaguing your home garden. There are many sites out there that can help you with more detailed pest control, and if you’ve identified the specific pests that you are dealing with, you can create a personalized pest control plan specifically for your garden. Hopefully this post will help you reclaim your garden from any pests who seem to believe it’s their own personal pantry. Good luck and happy gardening!

There are many times when, on a trip to the grocery store for some household staples, I begin to think about all of the various ingredients within the products that I’m buying. This is not just the food I’m talking about, but the many household cleaning items that we use on a daily basis, such as for wiping down our kitchen counter tops, cleaning out our microwave, and overall disinfecting of cabinets, counters, door knobs, and other items that are touched constantly. Once you begin to realize the amount of objects that are touched by your family members on a daily basis, you will start to understand my concerns about the ingredients going into them.

One of the best ways to limit your intake of these potentially harmful ingredients, at least on a cleaning basis, is to create your own cleaning solution! Mixing up your own home cleaning shampoo not only reduces the amount of toxic products used in it, but also helps put your mind at ease, knowing your family is not being exposed to any sort of harsh chemicals, toxins, or other pollutants. These potentially harmful residues can build up over time, leading to issues with both home and health.

This recipe for a great cleaning solution was shared from Chem-Dry Carpet Cleaning.

For a great cleaning solution, that can be used on a wide variety of objects from surfaces, to carpets, to furniture, to clothes, is as follows:

Eco-Friendly Home Cleaning Shampoo

Use this shampoo anywhere you would use a normal cleaning product such as a fabric cleaner, a disinfecting cleaner, or just a “remove the dirt” cleaner to ensure that you are providing your family with the healthiest household environment.

  1. Distilled White Vinegar – It’s important that you choose white vinegar – NOT apple cider vinegar – because the various coloring and/or dyes within apple cider vinegar can lead to major problematic stains on furniture, upholstery, and other fabrics.
  2. Mild Detergent Soap such as Dawn or Dial are typically the best choice to combine for your solution. You don’t want a harsh cleaner with a lot of solvents and potentially harmful ingredients, so it’s best to stick to something relatively low-key and toxin-free. I prefer using a non-scented or very light “linen” scent, feel free to create solutions with scents like apple or cinnamon, however.
  3. Essential oils are added into my cleaning solutions if I want a scented product to ensure that there are no harsh chemicals while still leaving a very pleasing smell. Many individuals don’t like the smell of vinegar (myself included), so the essential oils are great for covering this while not being too powerful.
  4. The last ingredient – water! Pure, clean water. In general, a good mix is a cup of vinegar, a tablespoon or two of mild detergent soap, about 5-10 drops of essential oils, and 2 cups water. This is the recipe and portions I use when filling up a re-usable spray bottle.

If you want a greener way to clean your carpet, how will you know when you find it? After all, there’s no single quality or ingredient that qualifies a cleaning solution as “green.” That said, there are some qualities that you’ll want to watch for, as well as others you may prefer to avoid. Let’s start with the positives – terms such as biodegradable, plant-based, or renewable.

When most people think of the term, biodegradable, they’re thinking of a substance that can be broken down into natural materials without causing harm. But this isn’t exactly true. Biodegradable is actually a broader term that includes substances or objects that can be broken down by bacteria or other living organisms; many substances we wouldn’t want to handle fall within this category, like lye or ammonia or methane. In short: It’s usually good to be biodegradable, but read the fine print.

Plant-based cleaners are growing in popularity, and you won’t have to go far to find solutions with ingredients such as lemon, palm, or coconut oil. Each of these ingredients are natural, renewable, and biodegradable (in the best sense of the word); these are all pluses. That said, each of these ingredients can be (and are) mixed with additives that are less eco-friendly; these can include dyes, artificial fragrances, sulfates, or other chemicals. Being plant-based is a great start, but you’ll again need to read the fine print.

Renewable is another encouraging term. If something is renewable, it can be grown – just like the corn, lemons, sugar, or other crops that make up plant-based cleaners. Renewable excludes substances that can’t be grown – particularly unfriendly substances based on petroleum. The key here, as above, is to make sure that your renewable cleaning solution doesn’t also contain additives that are not as kind to the environment.

When it comes to removing carpet stains, many homeowners have tried do-it-yourself solutions – and some of them work pretty well. White vinegar and water can be an effective combination. Others also employ ingredients such as baking soda, borax, or salt to tackle carpet stains, with good results.

Cleaning an entire carpet with do-it-yourself solutions is more difficult to do, but some professional cleaners offer solutions that are eco-friendly. Olympia’s Meridian Chem-Dry, for example, uses carbonated water as the primary ingredient. Chem-Dry’s flagship carpet cleaning solution, The Natural, uses only ingredients found in nature; as a result, their carpet cleaning solution is safe for both children and pets. (But don’t forget: Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe.)

You know that biodegradable, plant-based, and renewable are good terms to see when you’re looking for a green cleaning solution. What terms do you want to avoid? Phosphoric acid and chlorine are two common ones. You’ll also want to avoid carpet cleaners that include isopropanol, butoxyethanol, or ethanolamine; the former ingredient is harmful to breathe, while the latter two can irritate the skin.

Even if you’re dedicated to the idea of being eco-friendly, it can be difficult to find effective cleaners for every occasion. Not every cleaner you use will be perfect. But take heart. The more we buy green products, the more companies will work to perfect them. Maybe someday, every product will be green. Until then, we’ll do the best we can – starting with the way we clean our carpets.

If you’re shopping for new windows, you probably already know that energy efficiency is one of the biggest selling points for replacement windows. That’s the way it should be. Efficient windows can regulate temperature and reduce the need for heating and cooling, rewarding you with lower utility bills. But before you’re ready to replace your windows, you’ve got a question: How do you know which windows are the most energy efficient?

First, you’ll want to look for windows with the blue ENERGY STAR seal. On average, ENERGY STAR-certified windows (and doors and skylights) can reduce your energy bills by 12%. If you replace old windows with new ENERGY STAR-certified models, you’ve already taken a huge step in the right direction. But there’s even more you can do to find the most efficient windows.

If you see an ENERGY STAR seal on a window, you’ll know that the window meets ENERGY STAR’s requirements for U-Factor and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) for your climate zone. Understanding what these terms mean can help you find even more efficient windows.

U-Factor refers to the degree to which a window allows non-solar heat transfer; examples include heat escaping through your window on a cold winter evening, or heat seeping in on a hot summer day. Energy-efficient windows reduce U-Factor by employing multiple panes of glass, sandwiching spaces filled with gases that don’t conduct heat very well, such as argon or krypton.

The less heat transfer, the lower the U-Factor. Energy-efficient windows should have U-Factors of .30 or less.

SHGC refers to the fraction of solar heat that passes through a window. The ideal SHGC varies, depending on the climate. Energy-efficient windows adjust SHGC by employing glazing, low-E coatings, and tints. In warmer climates, blocking the sun’s heat is preferable to letting it in, so the ideal SHGC values are lower. In cooler climates, collecting the sun’s heat is best, and ideal SHGC values are higher.

The Department of Energy has categorized the US into four different climate zone, ranging from the warmest zone, the Southern zone, to the coolest, the Northern zone. In the Southern zone, an ideal SHGC value is 0.25 or less; in the Northern zone, where it’s better to let in more heat, the ideal SHGC value can be 0.42 or even more.

Replacement windows from Renewal by Andersen are an excellent example of what can be done to increase energy efficiency. Renewal’s high-performance windows employ low-E coatings, which block out heat-producing infrared light while allowing natural, visible light to pass through. Their windows also employ multiple panes of glass; in between the panes is argon – a gas that conducts heat as two-thirds as well as the air we breathe.

It’s worth noting that there’s at least one other important factor in the energy-efficiency of replacement windows: Installation. In order to work as intended, windows need to be installed correctly and precisely. If any corners are cut – say the window doesn’t perfectly fit the opening, for example – then performance can be compromised. If you’re set on having the most energy-efficient windows you can, be sure that the quality of your installer is every bit as good as the quality of the window itself.