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Autumn Approaches: Is Your Home Ready for Cooler Temperatures?

September is here, heralding the approach of fall. And while autumn might have a lot to offer, from multi color foliage to pumpkin spice — well, everything, it can also bring its own unique set of difficulties. Many of us find that as the temperature gets lower, our heating bills begin to skyrocket. Additionally, less sunshine means that you will need to rely on artificial light a great deal more, driving up your energy costs.

While there are very few people who view a higher utility bill as a good thing (outside of your utility company, at least), those of us who are concerned with reducing our environmental impact are especially eager to avoid the increase in gas and electricity consumption.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to help keep your fall heating and energy costs down.

#1: Resealed Ducts
According to ARLNow, poorly fitted ducts are a major cause of heat loss in homes. In fact, up to 30% of the air flowing through your ducts can be lost due to leaks, holes, and bad construction.

That is because your metal ducts will expand and contract with the weather: for instance, a duct system that was perfectly fine in summer might have small gaps, which allow your heat to escape and cause a serious energy waste.

Or as the Department of Energy puts it, “Your air ducts are one of the most important systems in your home, and if the ducts are poorly sealed or insulated they are likely contributing to higher energy bills.”

#2: Solar Heating
Solar power is a great way to save money on your electricity bill; in fact, the average home saves around $84 per month with solar panels. But solar energy can be used for other purposes, too.

Solar space heaters are a great way to cut down on your overall heating costs. From full sized retrofits to small, portable space heaters, you can easily harness solar power to help heat your home. According to the Energy Saver office of the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save as much as 40% to 80% on your heating bill with solar space heating.

#3: Energy Star Lighting
Even the most outdoorsy of us end up spending a lot of extra time indoors during the winter, and the lack of natural light means you will be reaching for that light switch much sooner than you would during the summer.

But did you know that in 2016, 10% of all residential energy was used for lighting, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency? By switching to LED Lights, you can save 85% of the energy used for standard halogen lighting.

As Autumn approaches, it is important that you take the time to prepare your home. Make sure that your heating and cooling vents are properly sealed, replace any less-than-efficient lights, and explore the possibility of solar heating. Otherwise, you might be in for a nasty shock the next time you open your utility bill.

Simple Life Changes to Better the Environment!

NOTE FROM SWEET GREENS: Thank you supporting the companies that keep Sweet Greens in business.
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The idea of “green” living involves being less reliant on synthetic products, but from an economic standpoint, “keeping it green” can be pretty costly. However, when the environment is overrun with plastic containers and Styrofoam, all of the trees are removed, and the air has been polluted by synthetic aerosols, the cost of healthy living in this world might exceed any pocketbook pain resulting from pricey green products and services. Fortunately, today’s consumers might find they can save more money by adopting simple green habits that preserve and improve the environment.

Change through energy and water consumption
The first place consumers might see cost savings while improving the environment is in the home. While a person can go green and go big by converting their energy supplier from electric to solar, on a smaller scale, daily lifestyle changes reduce the cost of utility bills. For example, instead of running the air and heat on high throughout the day, keep the heat running a few degrees lower in the winter and the air running higher in the summer. Better yet, install fans that run in conjunction with the air to prevent it from cycling so frequently during the summer. Consumers can also make energy-saving upgrades to a home by installing cheap shutters or applying plastic window shades to keep the home cool in the summer. Instead of using incandescent bulbs, opt for compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). In addition, it is a good idea to exchange synthetic household cleaners with natural cleaners such as vinegar, lemon, and baking soda.

Wise husbandry of water resources can also improve the environment while saving money. Very minor changes, like line drying as opposed to using a dryer for clothes, can save energy, money and the environment. You should also consider washing clothes in cold water to offset heating costs, as most of the energy used in a cycle goes to heating water. Homeowners can also install water-saving fixtures and faucets to reduce the amount of water used when bathing and using the restroom.

Those who find they spend an inordinate amount of water while watering plants and the grass might consider planting environmentally-friendly plants that do not require a lot of water. Finally, pay attention to programs the city might have to reduce hot water usage during non-peak hours. A simple device can be attached to a water heater that regulates energy use throughout the day.

Change through consumer purchasing power
Developing green habits that include purchasing green groceries and other personal items can also improve the environment and your health. Simple habits like reducing the number of meals where meat is served can save on groceries while bettering the environment. Because most vegetables are cheap, people and families who reduce meat consumption not only save money but also develop healthy eating habits. It’s even better if you can purchase fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmer’s markets in the area. If meat is a must-have staple in the diet, consider purchasing organic or free-range meat and eggs. If you’re feeding a family, consider purchasing popular groceries in bulk to save on money and reduce waste. Consumers can also save money on water consumption and reduce waste by avoiding bottled water and using a water filter that only needs changing every couple of months.

When purchasing products for the home, consumers should adopt a “borrow instead of buy” policy to reduce consumption. For example, instead of purchasing brand-new books, consider borrowing from libraries or visiting second-hand bookstores. Consumers reduce waste by borrowing and exchanging magazines as opposed to spending on subscriptions that add up. Better yet, purchase online subscriptions to get rid of hard copies entirely.

Other ways to conserve and save
Use online bill payment and e-statement options. Online bill pay and e-statements reduce paper waste, and some financial institutions do not charge a monthly fee for e-statements.

Maintain appliances in the home. Whether it is servicing a heating system or cleaning the coils behind the refrigerator, these maintenance habits save energy and money in utility costs.

Reuse and recycle plastics. Reuse plastics by converting them to storage containers. Furthermore, many garbage companies offer recycling programs in addition to garbage collection.

Ultimately, the planet, the human being, and the pocketbook will all benefit from adopting green habits that encourage conservation. Simple changes that cost no more than the effort it takes to adopt them can save consumers thousands in the long run. More importantly, conservation is one of those now-or-later situations. Humans, as a collective, can either conserve the earth’s resources now or pay costs related to a polluted environment later.

Photo by Natalie Collins on Unsplash  

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!

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.

4 Reasons to Eat Seasonally and Locally This Summer

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If you shop at the farmer’s market, are a local CSA member, or frequent the “local” section of your grocery store’s produce aisle, you are well aware that fruits and vegetables come into and out of season. Depending on the climate where you live, you may have a wide variety of fruits and veggies to choose from year round, or you may notice that summer is truly a more abundant season for produce. Wherever you live, eating seasonally has its benefits. If you’re not already doing so, here are four reasons to eat seasonally.

#1: Fresher, More Nutritious Produce
Produce that doesn’t have to travel long distances to get to you will be fresher when you purchase it because it’s been harvested more recently. Also, since seasonal fruits and veggies are harvested when they’re ripe and grown outside, in their natural environment, they’ll contain far more nutrients and flavor than produce that’s grown in greenhouses or prematurely harvested and required to ripen off the parent plant.

#2: Supporting the Local Economy
Farmers harvest and sell what’s abundantly in season. By purchasing seasonal, local food, you’re supporting local farmers and therefore your local economy (you’re supporting yourself in many ways, when you think about it!).  By supporting local farmers you’re not only helping people but also encouraging sustainable, green farming practices because local farmers will plant and grow only what is suited to the soil and climate where they live.

#3: It’s Cheaper
Fruits and vegetables that are in season are more abundant and therefore end up being cheaper than foods that aren’t in season. Buying foods out of season means paying a higher price to cover the transportation of the food and growing fruits and veggies in artificial conditions.

#4: It’s Eco-Friendly
Buying produce that doesn’t require transportation means that less gas is being consumed and less exhaust is being emitted. Additionally, fruits and vegetables that have to travel long distances (like strawberries traveling from Mexico to Wisconsin in January) require far more chemical-ridden sprays and treatments in order to stay fresh long enough to make it to the grocery store. By becoming a member of your local CSA or buying at the farmer’s market, you’re buying directly from a local farm where transportation and preservation time is minimal—many times you’ll purchase produce that was harvested the same day as you pick it up.

As you can see, eating seasonally and locally has some amazing benefits! I love sampling seasonal fruits and veggies when I travel because chances are I’m visiting a state or country with a different climate, ecosystem, and sometimes season—there’s so much variety to be experienced!

YOUR TURN: What’s your favorite local, seasonal recipe for summer or fall?

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