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3 Efficient Ways To Add Some ‘Green’ To Your Cleaning Routine

These days, more and more of us are slowly but surely changing our day-to-day routines to adapt to the needs of our beautiful Mother Earth. But despite all the progress we’ve made, many people are still wary about ditching their chemical-filled cleaning products for more environmentally-friendly alternatives. However, the truth is, there are countless ways to clean using natural substitutes that are just as effective as traditional, store-bought solutions. Even better, these tips can also save you money.

Here are some tried-and-true ways to add some ‘green’ into your cleaning routine.

Floors:
Hardwood floors are one of the most popular types of flooring. So popular, in fact, that data from the National Association of REALTORS found that 54% of home buyers are willing to pay more for a home with hardwood flooring. And while most people choose artificially lemon-scented polishes, you may be surprised to learn that you can make your hardwood floors shine like never before using nothing more than tea bags. Just boil some water and add two tea bags, letting them steep for a few minutes. Get a soft cloth damp with the tea and wash away. Soon enough, your floors will look like new!

Windows:
It’s true that flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours. But instead of using harsh, ammonia-based cleaning agents, consider using a mixture of vinegar and warm water to get your windows and other glass surfaces sparkling clean.

In fact, vinegar has a number of viable uses in the green cleaning realm. Baking soda and vinegar isn’t just for home science projects; this mixture can also be sprayed on almost any bathroom tile, making it easier than ever to wipe away dirt and grime. Bathroom surfaces should also be disinfected with rubbing alcohol at least once a month to prevent excessive bacteria buildup. The average child catches between six and 10 colds a year, so it’s easy to see why parents are reluctant to give up their chemical cleaners. Even so, you can keep household surfaces disinfected without resorting to toxic chemicals.

Laundry:
Laundry is one aspect of keeping clean that traditionally uses harsh chemicals. If you’re seeing the word “fragrance” listed as an ingredient in detergent, fabric softener, or even air freshener, be aware that it’s basically code for harsh chemicals (magical smelling harsh chemicals, to be fair). Luckily, baking soda makes an effective and safer option for laundering and air-freshening. To make DIY laundry detergent, Natural Living Ideas recommends dissolving one cup of baking soda and one third cups of salt into two cups of warm water, pouring it into a gallon container, adding one cup of liquid Castile soap, and filling the rest of the container with water. One quarter of a cup is enough for one full load.

It’s also important to note that some products labeled with ‘fragrance’ can affect fertility rates in women. One in eight couples (or 12% of married women) have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy as it is. Ovia Health says, “Chemicals called phthalates, used in various products to make smells last longer, are often found in the synthetic fragrances of common laundry detergents. These products can disrupt important hormones that cause ovulation, so try more natural brands instead. Other chemicals found in laundry detergents can lead to reduced sperm count — stick to vegetable-based products to minimize chemical presence.”

Ultimately, cleaning green is more than just substituting products for other products. It’s all about staying vigilant, being aware of which ingredients can be dangerous, and thinking critically to come to a more eco-friendly solution.

Families That Garden Together Stay Together (And Learn Healthy Habits While Doing It)

In the U.S., physicians and families alike are making efforts to fight the obesity epidemic, but an increasing reliance on technology, our national love of junk food, and lack of physical activity makes it a bit of an uphill battle. The typical American dieter makes four weight loss attempts every year, but placing severe limits on caloric intake is only a short term solution. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 75% of Americans aren’t eating their daily recommended doses of fruits and vegetables.

Whether family members need to lose the winter weight or simply want to live a healthier lifestyle and enjoy more time together, many experts are proposing a tactic that might surprise you: starting a family garden.

Statistics show that pre-teens and teens spend an average of six to nine hours per day looking at TV, computer, phone, and gadget screens. Those activities lend themselves to a sedentary lifestyle for kids and adults alike. But other promising data shows that families with kids are gardening far more now than they were just a decade ago. From 2008 to 2013, the National Gardening Association found that gardening activities among families with children increased by 25%. And in the spring of 2014, the number of people who gardened within the past 12 months amounted to 113.5 million.

This involvement has a huge impact in multiple areas. Scientific studies have proven that when children are involved in gardening, their fruit and vegetable intake — not surprisingly — increases. Taking part in the process allows them to enjoy the literal fruits (and veggies) of their labor and feel more connected to the produce they come across outside the home. Plus, preparing and eating nutrient-rich meals together as a family can develop a foundation of lifelong healthy eating habits and weight maintenance.

Gardening can even improve academic achievement. Multiple studies cited in the Review of Educational Research found that children who garden at school had a higher affinity for science. Another Chicago-based study found that just being near green spaces — in this case, seeing them from apartment windows — can help improve children’s self-discipline in educational settings. Even when gardening at home, the lessons learned there can translate into multiple educational areas. Parents can easily interweave nutrition lessons as you plant the backyard garden.

Plus, spending time in nature has been proven to produce calming effects in both children and adults. Parents of children with ADD and ADHD reported that “green activities” have a consistently positive effect on their kids’ symptoms. Children who don’t have these conditions can use gardening and other outdoor activities to work off excess energy, develop stronger immune systems, and just recharge.

For families that don’t have a large outdoor space to devote to gardening, other outdoor family activities can be a good substitute. Taking nature walks or biking trips can allow for both physical activity and appreciation of nature. Since 36 million Americans ages seven and up rode a bike at least six times in 2015, it’s a popular alternative or supplement to digging in the dirt.

But in many ways, gardening has those other activities beat. Not only is it physical and rewarding work that can promote better nutrition, but it’s a great way for children to feel connected to the world around them and engage all their senses. Sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch are all involved in gardening. And by allowing kids to have a direct effect on how their garden grows — by picking out seeds, planting and watering them, and helping to harvest and prepare them — that will set the stage for a balanced lifestyle that values both hard work and healthy food.

Although many children recognize produce at the supermarket, that’s often not enough to convince them to try (and stick with) these healthy foods. Gardening at home or school makes kids much more likely to consume fruits and vegetables. More than 30% of schools in the U.S. now have gardens (a 12% increase from 2006), but whether kids garden at school, in a community garden, or right in their own backyard, they’re bound to live healthier lives — and their parents will too!

How to Save Money on Your Air Conditioning Bill Without Even Trying

Now that we’re in the full fledged dog days of summer, chances are that most of us are relying on our air conditioners to keep our home nice and cool. But sometimes cranking the thermostat down can cause our energy bills to skyrocket, not to mention that it isn’t eco-friendly!

So how do you keep the energy bills down and the planet happy, all while keeping your family pleasantly cool? It’s not all that hard, it just requires some creativity and dedication. Here are some air conditioning hacks that will make your wallet smile this summer.

Replace if your AC is more than 15 years old

Technology changes all the time, and HVAC systems are no different. Having an updated machine will lead to major energy savings because the units on the market nowadays work hard to be energy efficient. Plus, older machines have to work harder to do the same job, and their repairs can be costly. On top of that, older machines are often clogged with dust and other allergens. As a rule of thumb, consider HVAC replacement if your air conditioner is more than 15-years-old.

Install a programmable thermostat

There’s no reason that you should be paying to cool the home when no one is there, right? Investing in a programmable thermostat is the best thing you can do when it comes to regulating your energy costs. You’ll be able to choose exactly what times of day it turns on, to what temperature, and when it needs to turn off. By optimizing when it turns on, your machine will be able to work more efficiently, which spells out cost savings for you.

If you can’t afford a programmable thermostat right now, just follow this trick: simply turn up the thermostat at least 10 degrees right before you leave the home. Doing so will ensure the unit doesn’t automatically turn on when you’re gone.

Change your air filters

According to EnergyStar, most HVAC system filters need to be changed every one to three months. But even still, you should aim to change your filter once every month so the air in your home can be as clean as can be. A simple trick to remember is to write the date you replaced it on the filter itself in pencil. Check it periodically, and once you can’t read the date anymore, it is time for a new filter.

Seal windows

That precious cold air can be escaping from your home through tiny cracks around your windows and doors. Don’t pay to cool the outdoors! At the beginning of every season, caulk the windows and doors in your home to ensure nothing is leaking out. Remember, even simple changes like this can add up to major energy savings over time.

Close your blinds and keep the sun away from the unit

The idea behind this is simple: the cooler your home, the less you’ll have to use your unit. Keeping the sun off the unit itself will also prevent it from turning on automatically, and shutting the blinds and curtains will keep your home as cool as possible naturally. Closing your blinds is especially important for when you’re going to be gone from your home for a while, like going to work heading on that summer vacation.

These five simple air conditioning hacks will change how you cool your home, and your wallet will thank you! So go try these tips and tricks out today, and let us know how much you save.

6 Reasons Why You Should Start Harvesting Rainwater

NOTE FROM SWEET GREENS: Thank you supporting the companies that keep Sweet Greens in business.
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With climate change wreaking all kinds of havoc on the environment and drought occurring more often nowadays, more people are starting to realize how crucial water really is to the sustainability of life on this planet. Many try to dig out the earth to harvest ground water, but there’s another free source that people are also starting to take advantage of: rainwater.

If you’ve just heard of rainwater harvesting and are wondering whether it really is a feasible and practical solution to your water consumption problems, here are some of its benefits that just might convince you:

#1: It reduces your utility bills
Collecting rainwater greatly decreases your dependence on your water company. It lowers your consumption and thus your utility bills. Imagine the amount of savings you could get every month when you start making this a habit. It also helps you cut down on your energy bill in an indirect way as it reduces the amount of energy needed to pump and treat water.

#2: It is cheap and easy
Many people have dug wells into the ground to get regular water supply. While you can certainly opt to do this, another thing you can do that is way easier on your budget and efforts is to harvest rainwater. While digging a well takes several weeks to complete and lots of money, with rainwater harvesting, all you need is a quality container from Rain Water Tanks Direct.

#3: It’s beneficial to your plants
Gray water (another term for rainwater) is more beneficial to your plants than your municipal supply. This is because the water in your pipes is full of chemicals and has gone through several stages of filtration to make it fit for human consumption. But this result is not always better for plants. Rainwater per se is one of the purest and softest kind of water there is, and thus, they’re more nourishing for your plants.

#4: It’s another source of drinking water
If you have a large family and you’re spending a lot of money on buying bottled water every week, this option helps you save. You’ll just need to invest one-time in a water filtration system and then you and your family will have free drinking water from now on.

#5: It reduces the possibility for flooding
If you live in an area where there is constant flooding, harvesting rainwater can help prevent this from happening. It prevents the ground on your property from being overly saturated with rainwater and ensures that your gutters are flowing properly.

#6: You’ll have your own backup supply
There may be times when the water company has to do maintenance work on some of their pipes, and when this happens, a shut-down almost always happens. You will be one of the lucky few who won’t be affected with this shut-down as you’ll have your own backup water supply.

The rainwater harvesting movement is a practice that is starting to gain more traction over time. Other people have gained a lot of advantages from this practice. It’s about time you enjoy them too.

Why A Green Kitchen Remodel Is Worth the Investment

For many parents and homeowners, remodeling is a dreaded subject. It is something to be avoided and decried as too expensive, too time-consuming, and too difficult while the kids are still young. In fact, that aversion to change is likely why 47% of Americans haven’t updated their home decor in the last five years, with 9% having neglected it for more than a decade!

But remodeling is the best way to make your home feel more like an extension of who you and your family are. And it is the best way to increase the value of your home should you ever want to sell. That’s why many parents decide, reluctantly, to take remodeling one step at a time.

Among the more popular starting remodeling projects is the kitchen remodel. People remodel their kitchen for a number of different reasons: some want a more open floor plan, others want to improve the efficiency of their kitchen, and some just get tired of the ugly wallpaper that came with the house. For many people, the fact that even a minor kitchen remodel, done right, has an average return on investment of 82.7%.

But if you are in the market for kitchen remodeling, consider opting for greener options when selecting your design components. Not only will you have the satisfaction of leaving a smaller footprint on the planet, but it might even help to increase your home’s resale value.

According to Realtor.com, 61% of homebuyers in 2017 will be below the age of 35. As millennials continue to represent more and more of the housing market, they will bring with them their own tastes and desires, such as sustainable offerings. In fact, nearly 75% of millennials are willing to pay higher prices for sustainable products, more than any other generation.

Items such as sustainable kitchen cabinets, flooring, and countertops can make your kitchen look stunning and reduce the environmental effect of your remodeling project significantly. But even if you spend all your free time watching HGTV — all six minutes of it between tucking your child in bed and falling asleep on the couch — it can be hard to know what exactly is or is not sustainable.

We’ve put together a few quick tips to help you pick the right, sustainable materials for your kitchen remodel.

Kitchen Cabinets
Cabinets are a great place to start your search, considering the majority of cabinets are made from wood. Make sure that your wood is either reclaimed or can be certified as sustainably harvested. Also be certain that they use formaldehyde-free glues.

Countertops
For countertops, look for materials that are recycled or at least made of sustainable materials. Some of the coolest options on the market are made of recycled glass and cement before being finished to look like limestone. You can also find a number of interesting counters made from wood reclaimed from old barns and other buildings.

Floors
While linoleum often gets a bad rep, it is a great option for environmentally friendly floors. Made from biodegradable materials, this durable flooring comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Cork is also a popular option, and it is made from wood that is carefully monitored to maintain available supplies.

There is more to consider, of course, such as energy-efficient appliances and the smaller touches like efficient LED lighting. But if you can find sustainable options for these three components, then you are already ahead of the curve.

Pediatricians Warn: Reduce the Juice For Young Children

For American kids aged two to 18, nearly half of the fruit they consume is in juice form. Now, pediatricians are urging parents to drastically cut back on the amount of juice in their children’s diets — and that children under one year old should have no juice at all.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a statement that spells it out in black and white: “Fruit juice offers no nutritional advantage over whole fruit.” While that juice box might contain vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and antioxidants, the same can be said for whole fruit. But the real fruit also has fiber, which can help to maintain blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as well as a healthy weight.

Too much juice consumption — especially at bedtime — can also lead to early tooth decay. The American Academy of Pediatrist Dentists recommends that children see a dentist before their first birthday. But now, pediatricians also say that kids should never consume juice before that time.

In the past, the AAP has made this recommendation for children under six months of age. During that time, the Academy says, nothing other than breast milk or formula should be consumed. Substituting juice for milk or formula can actually be harmful, as it keeps infants from getting the fat, protein, and nutrients they need.

But the Academy has expanded that initial recommendation to include the entire first year of life. While pureed and mashed foods are standard during this period, experts recommend that the only liquids babies should consume at this stage are breast milk, formula, or water.

The Academy also recommends that parents restrict juice consumption for children ages one to six. Because fruit juice and fruity drinks taste good, kids are more likely to consume too much. They’re often more convenient, so parents may rely on them to keep toddlers happy and occupied. But experts want parents to give their children whole fruits — which are fairly conveniently packaged already — instead of relying on sugary juices. And if they do give their kids juice, the amount should be limited to four to six ounces per day, depending on the child’s age.

Co-author of the new guidelines, Dr. Melvin B. Heyman, noted in a statement, “Parents may perceive fruit juice as healthy, but it is not a good substitute for fresh fruit and just packs in more sugar and calories. Small amounts in moderation are fine for older kids, but are absolutely unnecessary for children under one.”

Parents also need to be careful about reading the label when buying their juice at the store. They should make certain the juices they purchase are pasteurized, lest a child be exposed to E. coli or Salmonella. And they should also double-check to make sure the product is actually 100% juice. If it says “fruit drink,” “fruit beverage,” or “fruit cocktail” on the bottom, it’s not 100% juice.

“One hundred percent fresh or reconstituted fruit juice can be a healthy part of the diet of children older than one year when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet,” the recommendations say. “Fruit drinks, however, are not nutritionally equivalent to fruit juice.”

While these drinks may seem like healthy options, parents should not be fooled. As the Academy has said, “Fruit juice has no essential role in healthy, balanced diets of children.”

If your kids crave a flavor in their water, adding fresh berries, citrus, or cucumber is a much better option. They’ll get the benefit of the flavor and can eat the fruit after the water’s gone. But for parents who believe orange juice is a better alternative to soda, this report might require them to change their thinking.

Eco-Friendly Ways to Successfully Cool Your Home

NOTE FROM SWEET GREENS: Thank you supporting the companies that keep Sweet Greens in business.
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While you might enjoy staying cool and comfortable in your home during the warmer months of the year, you may also be concerned about cooling your home in a way that’s sustainable and friendly for the environment. Explore a few tips for making your cooling experience eco-friendly and just as effective as traditional methods.

Invest in Quality Insulation and Sealing

Some of the best and most effective cooling methods don’t even involve your air conditioner. Take out some time to have a professional technician who specializes in air conditioning repairs inspect your current insulation to see if it’s doing its job and whether you need to consider investing in an upgrade. Different types of insulation and sealing include thermal envelopes and heat shields.

Boost Your Home’s Ventilation

Making sure air can easily flow through your home is also essential to keeping cool and overall energy efficiency. Specifically, you’ll want to keep your home’s windows, shades and doors closed up until it’s cool out, otherwise, you’ll only have hot air blowing through your home’s interior. Additionally, bear in mind that ceiling fans cool people, not rooms, which means you should only have your fans on when someone is in the room. On a related note, when your fans are on, they should spin counter-clockwise to draw hot air up into the ceiling.

Close Your Shades and Blinds

No matter how great the inside of your home looks while drenched in sunlight, it comes at the cost of heating up your interior, which means your air conditioner is working harder than necessary. To help combat feeling as if you’re living in a sauna, close up your blinds and shades against direct sunlight and the heat waves that comes with it. If you’re someone who thrives on sunshine, you can leave your blinds and shades partially closed to direct sunlight.

Cook at Night or in the Early Morning

Operating your oven or stove during the day cranks up the heat in your home, which makes your air conditioner crank up its efforts to keep your home at the same temperature. Rather than feel as if you’re making a sacrifice by not using the oven, you can instead start eating more raw vegetables and fruits, which your body is sure to thank you for. Opt for fruits like watermelon that contain a lot of water to help you keep cool.

Lower Your Overall Cooling Load

Ways to make the most of passive cooling include:

  • Add or upgrade the sealing around your home’s windows and doors.

  • Use low-E glazing to your windows.

  • Make sure you have proper and sufficient insulation in your attic.

  • Invest in a whole-house fan, which can decrease your use of your air conditioner as well as your overall energy consumption.

  • Consider installing a radiant barrier in your attic ducts.

These methods are sure to pay off in the long run.

Sleep With a Buckwheat Pillow

If you’re like most people, you probably like sleeping in a cool room. Blankets and sheets are comfortable while sleeping, but they can raise your body temperature. Rather than crank up the air conditioner, invest in a buckwheat pillow, which is naturally cooler than standard pillows and won’t keep you tossing and turning during the night, which impacts the overall quality of your sleep.

Turn Up Your Unit Temperature

You can still remain comfortable even if your unit is set at a higher temperature. For every degree you set your unit above 72 degrees, you can save anywhere from one to three percent energy. Try it and see if you notice a difference in your comfort levels.

With the right information, you can do your part to save the environment through more efficient cooling methods. Put these tips to good use and see what a difference they make and how good it feels to practice sustainability.

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