Thursday, June 26, 2014

Drive Smart: 8 Gas-Saving Driving Tips

As the price of gas begins to rise again and the threat of limited supply hangs over our heads, many people are looking for smart gas saving alternatives - especially with summer travel season at hand.  Here are a few handy tips to keep your fuel usage at a minimum throughout the summer road-trip season and beyond.

Speed Limit 55 sign
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
1. Slow down or speed up.  The optimal speed limit for gas preservation is actually the 55 mph speed limit on most state highways.  Of course that doesn’t mean if the speed limit is 25 that you should go 55, or if the speed limit is 75 you should drive 20 mph under the speed limit.  However if the posted speed limit is 55, go for it and take pride in the fact that you’re saving gas.

2. Maintain your speed.  It actually uses more fuel to accelerate and brake repeatedly.  Choose your speed and stick to it as much as possible. If you have cruise control on your vehicle, this makes it easy to maintain a consistent speed, which is also very useful on long road trips.

3. Accelerate slowly.  The lead foot syndrome is a sure-fire gas waster.  When you press on the gas hard you’re releasing vast amounts of fuel.  Your engine can only burn so much and all the extra simply goes to waste. Some newer cars have an efficiency gauge to tell you how efficiently you are driving, but if yours doesn't, you will need to learn to shift up smoothly through the gears and let your car accelerate naturally. Learn where your car shifts into the next gear, and if you're driving an automatic, slowly accelerate to this speed, then let up slightly on the pedal to shift to the next gear, and repeat. Once you learn how to do this well, this will maximize your fuel efficiency.

4. Drop the weight.   Did you know that for every extra 100 pounds in your car you lose 2% in fuel efficiency.  Hop into that trunk or hatchback of yours and pull out all the extra junk.  Leave the jack and the spare tire of course!  However, that bag of workout clothing you’ve had sitting in the back for months and the empty picnic cooler can go.

5. Change your spark plugs and keep your car in tip-top shape.  The more efficient your car’s systems the more efficiently it uses fuel.  In fact, changing your old spark plugs if they're worn out can boost fuel mileage up to 30%. 

broken air
(Photo credit: greg.turner)
6. Make sure your tires have enough pressure.  Underinflated tires cause a significant reduction in fuel efficiency, since you will have more resistance on the road. 

7. Change your air filter.  Your air filter feeds the air directly into your engine and if it’s dirty you’re losing performance.  Typically, your air filter is changed when your oil is changed; however, it’s important to make sure. 

8. Close or open the windows. There’s an age-old dilemma regarding which is more fuel efficient: to drive with the air conditioner running or to drive with the windows open. The truth is that both waste fuel and are relatively equal.  However, if you’re driving at high speeds the air conditioner may save a bit more gas and if you’re driving at low speeds then having the windows open is slightly more fuel-efficient.

Ultimately, the most fuel-efficient thing you can do is to carpool, take public transportation, walk, or ride your bike.  And the smaller the vehicle you’re in, the more fuel efficient it tends to be.  Try adopting one gas saving habit each week or month until you’re not only saving the environment and conserving resources, you’re saving hundreds of dollars each month! And before taking off on vacation this summer, be sure to take these factors into account, and save some money on your vacation travel.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

14 Sustainable Summer Travel Tips

Summer is the time for vacation travel, as families head for the coast, the mountains, or the beach for summer vacation. But for eco-conscious folks, travel can pose a dilemma. What about all those emissions? Does traveling mean you're destroying the environment? You'll be happy to know that the depleted ozone layer doesn't mean you have to stop traveling. You can still see the world without killing the planet.

Here are 14 green travel tips which will make your next trip more enjoyable - and guilt-free!

 (Photo credit: raffacama)
1. If at all possible, avoid flying. Flying is very carbon-intensive and bad for the environment. Taking a bus or train is not only cheaper, but also better for the environment. Plus, you really get to see aspects of the country you haven't seen before. It can be a fun adventure, even if it takes longer to get there. Family road trips can be fun - just make sure you leave plenty of time to stop and see the sights on the way, so you don't feel rushed to get to your destination.

2. If flying is unavoidable, then try to find non-stop flights. That will of course not only reduce your travel time, but also your carbon footprint.

3. Paper tickets are becoming a thing of the past. Use electronic tickets whenever and wherever possible and save a tree.

4. Pack light. The more weighted down your mode of transportation is, the more fuel it will use. So if you pack light, you'll keep more carbon from getting into the environment and it's also a time saver. Time spent packing and unpacking bags or waiting at baggage claim to receive your bags will be shorter if you have fewer bags.

5. Use a reusable water bottle. (Glass or stainless steel are good - be sure to avoid plastics containing BPA.)

6. Don't forget about what you can do in your own home while you're gone. There's no need to have the heating and cooling systems running as usual if you're not home. So reset the thermostat. Stop your newspaper delivery as well; not only is it better for the environment, but you won't have newspapers piling up in front of your home letting people know you're away. Unplug the TV, DVD player, coffee pot, toaster, microwave, washer, and dryer. These all will continue to pull electricity while plugged in even if they're not being used.

Country Lodge Hotel, Nairobi is Eco-Friendly
Country Lodge Hotel, Nairobi is Eco-Friendly (Photo credit: Wayan Vota)
7. Stay in hotels with environmental certification like Green Seal, Green Leaf, or the Green Hotels Association - these make an effort to use ecologically friendly practices.

8. When you leave the hotel room, turn off the lights or turn down the air conditioning.

9. Reuse your towels and sheets during your stay. Just let the hotel staff that they don't need to give you fresh linens every day.

10. Leave the complimentary toiletries for the next guest unless you're absolutely sure you'll use them. The less waste, the greener you'll be.

11. Check out electronically if the hotel will allow it. Less paper is better.

12. Rely on public transportation or the hotel's van service to get where you need to go. Walking or renting a bike to get around also might be an enjoyable way to explore this new place.

13. If you can't get by with public transportation and walking everywhere, then rent a hybrid or fuel efficient vehicle.

14. Buy local goods and foods. Local products have less of an environmental impact - and you'll be supporting the local economy where you're vacationing - which they will appreciate as well!

Using these travel tips will help you enjoy your vacation without worrying about what you are doing to the environment. Best of all, you can even save yourself money by following many of these tips. So go out and have yourself a great vacation this summer, and keep the planet safe at the same time.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Video: Safe, Natural Household Cleaners You Can Make At Home

This short video details lots of ways you can use common, cheap, and safe household items to clean all sorts of things around your home, without all of the harmful chemicals. From baking soda, to vinegar, to even vodka, there are numerous items you probably already have in your pantry that can clean everything from fabrics, to countertops, silver, and more - all safely and at a fraction of the cost of expensive chemical-based cleaners.

Check out the video to learn all you need to clean your home safely and naturally!

Natural, Healthy Cleaning Products
So many of the products used today as household cleaners have adverse health effects. Learn about some healthy, natural alternatives.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Quick Look At Natural & Organic Cleaning Ingredients

You can scrub your home in every room, but that doesn’t mean your home is clean in a way that’s good for your health. If you’ve used chemical cleaners, these chemicals do get absorbed into your body through your skin.

That’s why you want to use only organic and natural cleaning supplies. Products that contain only organic ingredients are not just part of helping the world be a safer place to live environmentally - they’re better for you, too.

Using vinegar for a natural clean
Using vinegar for a natural clean (Photo credit: elycefeliz)
When you’re looking for cleaning products, you need to know what the contents should be in order to be considered natural - because some products say that they’re natural, even when they’re not. Avoid products that contain preservatives or synthetic materials.

Organic and natural cleaning supplies will often have plant extracts and natural minerals on the ingredient lists. Some will have flower essences (such as lavender) to give your home a soothing scent.

Look for products that contain essential oils, which are oils from natural items such as lemon or pine. Cleaning ingredients that are natural in nature will also often have the word 'biodegradable' on the label.

Baking soda is a natural cleaner and is often used to scrub and whiten stains. White vinegar can be used to clean through grease, to get rid of stains and even as pest control. Ants will avoid white vinegar, so if you clean around your window frames and any crevices with white vinegar, this will take care of any ant problems.

Vinegar can also be used to kill mold, clean a garbage disposal and even to take out stains left by tea and coffee in your cups. It’s also great for getting rid of lime deposits.

Salt. (Photo credit: SoraZG)
Some other natural and organic cleaning ingredients found in green cleaners are coconut, minerals and salt. You might not think of salt as a natural cleaner, but it is. Salt can be used as an abrasive and it can also be used to dry up liquids spilled on carpets - and like vinegar, it's much cheaper than most commercial cleaning products on the market!

Look for cleaners that contain castile soap. This soap is made of natural olive oil and can be used for cleaning counter tops. It can also be used to clean clothes and it’s great on the hands. People with allergies often find it easier to use castile soap than any other type of soap.

When you’re buying organic or natural cleaners, just remember that the labels should have ingredients that you would recognize from nature. Also look for keywords like non-abrasive and non-flammable, because this is sometimes indicative of it being chemical-free.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Solar Box Cookers: Using the Sun To Cook Your Food

Solar box cookers are the be-all and end-all when it comes to harnessing the sun to cook food.  They run solely on the sun's rays which makes them the ideal cooking solution for many areas where electricity and fuel aren’t options.  They’re also wonderful for outdoor cooking because they pose little risk of forest fire and are much lighter than hauling fuel around in your backpack.

Solar Bacon
Solar Bacon (Photo credit: Earthworm)
How Solar Cookers Work

There are actually more than fifty different variations on the solar cooker theme.  However, they typically fall into three basic designs or design principles.  These include:

* Concentrating sunlight.  In this type of device the sunlight is concentrated or focused by some type of reflective metal or a mirror.  The heat and energy from the sun then becomes concentrated and much more intense. 

* Converting light to heat.  In this type of design the solar cooker makes use of heat-absorbing elements, like the color black, to amplify the cooking process.  One example would be to coat the inside of the cooker with black paint or to use a black material to collect the sunlight and convert it into heat.  If you’ve ever worn a black shirt on a sunny day, you know how effective this is. 

* Finally, a third type of design traps heat by using a clear device, like a lid, to keep the heat inside and thus to use it to maximize cooking.

Of course, some designs take advantage more than one of these solar cooking elements to really maximize the sun’s effects.  A solar box cooker is one of the most basic types of solar cookers and can be made at home with few resources or technical skills.

Ingredients for a Solar Box Cooker

If you’re going to make a solar box cooker at home (and why not!) then you’ll need to collect a few things.  They include:

Box cooker in the works
Box cooker in the works (Photo credit: EBKauai)
* Two cardboard boxes.  One box should be larger than the other and ideally the bigger the better because it’s awfully difficult to make much in a children’s shoe box.  There should also be about ½ inch of space between the two boxes all the way around.

* One sheet of cardboard for the lid.  You’ll want it to be several inches larger than the top of your largest box.  So for example if your box is 10X10 you’d want your cardboard to be around 13x13.

* A roll of aluminum foil.

* Flat-black, non-toxic, spray paint or tempera paint. 

* White glue, non-toxic.

* A Reynolds oven cooking bag or a sheet of glass.  The oven bags are ideal because they’re inexpensive, durable, and easy to find.  They’re also designed to withstand up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 

That’s it; that’s your supply list.  For more information on building a solar box cooker, see related articles below. Solar box cooking can be a fun way for your children to learn the amazing powers of the sun and to learn a bit about solar energy.  You can also take advantage of this wonderful device and cook outdoors when the weather permits.  You’ll save energy and have fun in the process!

Related Articles on Solar Box Cookers:
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What Is A Zero-Carbon House?

Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a house that produced zero carbon emissions?  It’s almost inconceivable, right?  How could that work?   Let’s take a look at what it means to be a zero-carbon house and how it’s possible.

Definition of Zero-Carbon

Designed to drastically reduce our greenhouse emissions by utilizing more efficient and sustainable practices, zero-carbon homes and buildings are being designed and built all around the world.  Depending on whom you ask, zero-carbon has different meanings.  It’s defined by the country and by the professional.  For example, an architect may define zero carbon differently than a civil engineer.

Here are some common definitions:

A net-zero home powered by solar modules has a...
A net-zero home powered by solar modules has a little more happening at the electricial panel but no furnace and no gas hook up. (Photo credit: Green Energy Futures)
*Zero-carbon is a general term applied to a building with zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emissions annually. They’re separate from the energy grid and are also called off the grid homes.

*A zero carbon home is one that generates as much power as it uses over the course of a year and therefore has net zero carbon dioxide emissions.  This is also commonly called a net zero site energy.

*Net off-site zero energy use is when a home produces 100% of the energy from renewable energy sources.

*Finally, another common definition is what is called net zero emissions, which means the carbon emissions generated from this type of home are balanced by the on-site energy production.  For example, if the home uses 100 energy units from fuels and generates 100 units onsite from solar energy, then they’re net zero.

Each definition embraces a philosophy of what it means to be green.  It taps into the energy conservation versus energy generation debate.  Is a home green because it conserves energy or is it green because it generates its own energy?

What Zero Carbon Means for You  

Under these definitions, it’s entirely possible for you to transform your home into a zero-carbon home right now.  Embracing wind and solar power to balance the amount of energy you use from the grid would result in a net zero off-site home.  You’re contributing as much as you’re using. This is certainly something to keep in mind as you make modifications or undergo any type of home renovations.

Bob Heath's net-zero home was designed by Pete...
Bob Heath's net-zero home, designed by Peter Amerongen of Habitat Studios and Workshop, a custom builder in Edmonton that specializes in net-zero homes. (Photo credit: Green Energy Futures)
Homebuilders today are adopting zero carbon practices to make their homes more environmentally friendly and to meet the demands of homebuyers.  And if you’re going to be in the market to buy a home in the future, you can know what your energy options are.  You can make an educated decision on where you get your energy resources and how you want to contribute to a greener planet.

There are of course benefits to having a zero-carbon home beyond reducing your carbon emissions.  One substantial benefit is that while it may cost more to build a zero-carbon home, you do reap the benefits in substantially lower utility bills and after a few years will see your return on investment.  Additionally, your home may retain or increase its value compared to comparable homes without an environmentally-friendly design.

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

5 Simple Juicing Recipes for Detoxification

Juicing is a healthy way to get the nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables without having to eat many platefuls of food. It can be a great way to cleanse and detoxify your body, and summer is an excellent time to do this, as there are so many delicious fresh fruits and vegetables available. (I just got a juicer as a wedding present, and will be trying some of these out myself soon! I'll report back on my favorites....)

Be sure to choose only organic ingredients for all of your juices, so you aren't squeezing pesticides or other chemicals into your drink!

There are no hard and fast rules with juicing, so you can get creative and experimental with your juicing and have some fun with it!

Here are some easy and delicious recipes to get you started:

1. Green Morning Pick-Me-Up

English: Cucumber, celery & apple juice
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For two servings, put into your juicer:

-1/2 a ripe pear
-1/2 an apple
-1 small bunch of kale (you can also use spinach)
-1 small cucumber

2. Citrus Cooler

The pineapple in this gives it a refreshing, sweet flavor.

-1 orange
-1/2 grapefruit
-1 slice fresh pineapple
Serves 1

3. Green Vegetable Juice

-1 small cucumber
-1 small bunch spinach
-1 stalk celery
-1 small apple or pear
Serves 1

4. Red Vegetable Juice

-1 medium tomato
-3-4 leaves of green cabbage
-1 stalk celery
-1 garlic clove
-1 slice of onion, about 1/4-inch thick
-1 small handful of fresh parsley

After juicing the above, add sea salt or cayenne pepper to taste.  A squeeze of lemon juice can enhance this, too. (It's like a home-made V-8!)

5. Melon Juice

For one serving, put the following into your juicer:

-1 slice ripe cantaloupe
-1 slice ripe honeydew melon
-1 slice watermelon

Add lemon juice to taste if you like.

Any leftover juice can be frozen in ice cube trays, then mixed in your blender to make a refreshing, slushy smoothie. Another option is to freeze leftovers into popsicle molds - great for a cool, healthy pick-me-up on a hot summer day!

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

7 Dietary Ways to Remove Toxins for Healthy Skin

Have you applied all sorts of expensive creams or cleansers and wondered why your skin continued to look unhealthy?  That is because healthy skin comes from the inside out.  You might not often think of it this way, but remember, your skin is an organ, and like all organs, it benefits from a healthy, toxin-free diet.

Here are some dietary steps you can take to have healthy, beautiful skin:

1. Stay hydrated

English: Drinking water fountain
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* You have probably heard about the importance of drinking water to stay healthy and cleanse the system, and that includes your skin.  Make sure you are drinking plenty of water, at least six 8oz. glasses a day.  In fact, all fluids you drink count towards your daily hydration needs, but limit caffeinated beverages as they have diuretic and dehydrating effects. 

* Add a squeeze of lemon juice to cleanse your liver.  In traditional Chinese medicine, poor skin indicates an unhealthy liver - which makes sense, as these are our two main organs of detoxification.

2. Bring on the fats

* For your skin to remain plump and supple, applying moisturizers can help, but taking healthy fats into your system will also have a deeper, healthier effect on your skin. 

* Flax, olive, and fish oils, as well as clean animal fats such as organic butter from grass-fed cows, and expeller-pressed organic coconut oil, should be incorporated into the diet. Eat fatty, cold-water fish such as salmon at least once a week, but make sure it is from a reputable source so that you are not adding to your body's toxic overload by eating fish that have lived in toxic waters. Only eat wild-caught fish - never farmed.

3. Fresh fruits and vegetables

* In addition to hydrating the body, fresh veggies and fruits provide vital skin-healthy nutrients and antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C and E and toxin-absorbing fiber.  Lightly steamed or raw are the ideal ways to consume these foods, in order to preserve their vitamin and antioxidant powers. 

4. Nuts and seeds

* These little gems include important blood-building nutrients like iron, and healthy circulation and blood are key to good skin health.

* Nuts and seeds also contain healthy fats which, as noted above, keep the skin smooth and glowing.

English: A honeycrisp apple from an organic fo...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
5. Go organic

* If you have not already, switch to organic foods.  Your body needs to be as free from toxins as possible for your skin to be healthy, and organic food is not contaminated with synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.

* These harmful substances can also cause hormonal imbalances, which are strongly implicated in acne and other skin problems.  This goes for produce, as well as meats and dairy products. Speaking of dairy products...  

6. Limit dairy products

* Except for plain yogurt, you should sharply limit your dairy intake if you want healthier skin.  Most modern dairy products are likely to contain hormones or antibiotics or other toxins. Only eat dairy from organically raised, grass-fed animals.

7. Limit junk and fast foods

These "foods" are full of artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, and unhealthy fats.  Cleanse your skin from the inside by eating whole, fresh natural foods instead. They taste better and are more satisfying too!

There you have it - 7 ways to get healthy, glowing skin - naturally!  And your whole body will be healthier as well.

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