Welcome to the Sierra Club Green Home’s Healthy Home Quiz. Just by answering a few simple questions, you can learn what things impact your indoor air quality and therefore keep your family from living in a healthy home. We even offer many quick tips you can implement immediately. After all, a healthy home is a happy home.
You’d think a newborn baby would have a fresh start when it comes to toxic chemicals. But chemicals move across the placenta, so a baby emerges with some of the same pollution in its system as its mother. Tests of umbilical blood have detected chemicals that cause cancer and birth defects as well as those that are toxic to the brain and nervous system.
Once born, infants take in even more pollution, through breathing, eating, and passage through the skin, just as adults do. But they are at greater risk from these exposures because of their physical differences. They have a faster metabolism. Their bodies are still developing rapidly, and exposures to toxic chemicals may disrupt a critical developmental step. They may not be able to protect themselves from chemicals as well as adults, because their immune systems are immature. And, per pound of body weight, they receive a greater dose of any chemical they’re exposed to. Some of the differences are stark.
By Neila Columbo
September 18, 2012
Boston, Massachusetts – With an abundance of ‘green’ articles at our fingertips on how to make sustainable choices in the daily features of our lives and at home, SCGH is here to help parse through the vast web of information. Alas, these top ten smartphone apps below help us navigate through our day to manage our household and personal life, reduce our environmental footprint and learn some very interesting facts along the way that will impress even the most environmental savant.
iViro help users create more sustainable homes and living spaces. Perform a customized energy analysis to receive a detailed overview of your home’s heat, cooling, electricity, water and appliance energy consumption patterns with annual cost and CO2 emission estimates. Additional features provide ideas on energy-saving alternatives and strategies to ensure your home is energy-efficient and cost-efficient while reducing its environmental impact.
Download Here (Free)
A simple yet powerful concept, the EcoCharge app will ring an alarm when electronic devices are fully charged to increase battery life and prevent unnecessary energy use. In place of leaving a cellular phone or laptop continuously charging at home or work when the battery is fully charged, it helps users become more aware of energy use while providing great eco-friendly tips on how to stay connected and energy efficient with our favorite tech gadgets and devices.
Download Here ($0.99)
GoodGuide provides ratings for products and companies to help consumers assess their environmental, health and social performance. Its iPhone app allows users to browse its database, which includes 170,000 products ranging from food, personal care and household items, to find the most eco-friendly in each category, as well as a barcode scanning feature that provides details such as nutritional value, energy efficiency and ingredients.
Download here (Free)
Recyclebank rewards its members for making eco-friendly choices, providing points for daily activities such as recycling, water usage, energy efficiency, and purchasing green products. Members can view their points balance, report recycling activity to earn points and order rewards with its app.
Download here (Free)
Earth911.com’s iRecycle connects users to its comprehensive database of 100,000 recycling centers in the U.S.,including information on what can be recycled and what local recycling options are available. As well, the new version has a social sharing feature that allows you to share recycling searches via Facebook and Twitter.
Download here (Free)
Designed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Seafood Watch interactive app helps users choose sustainable seafood and sushi options at restaurants and markets. It provides the most current recommendations for seafood and sushi as well as information about how each item should be fished or farmed. Its new Project FishMap feature lets you contribute to the app by sharing the names of restaurants and shops in the U.S. you have found sustainable seafood as well as how to locate spots other users have found. Download Here (Free)
Farmers Market Finder
Allows users to locate over 2,700 farmers markets across the U.S. Each farmers market has been verified from market organizers, and the app provides details on how to find CSAs, the types of farm produce and meat/poultry for sale, hours of operation, contact information, and real time data such as weather cancelations. The app is currently available to residents of California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, and Washington DC.
Download here (Prices range from $0.99 to $4.99)
Users can track fuel usage and find a number of interesting statistics that relate to driving habits and fuel efficiency of one’s vehicle. By entering information when fueling your gas tank, Carbon Footprint can calculate your miles per gallon, dollars per gallon, dollars per mile, and dollars per day. It also provides your projected carbon dioxide emissions in a year as well as your total carbon emissions to date.
Download Here ($0.99)
Created by Water Efficiency magazine to provide an accessible way for individuals to interactively learn about their ‘water footprint’ and how to reduce water consumption, this app calculates how much water you use across four categories: food, beverages, products, and household items. Users can search through items by category or alphabetically, and its “total” function calculator compares the water footprint of various items.
Download Here (Free)
Calculate your personal ecological footprint with statistics from the World Wildlife Fund with this multi-functional app, including your daily energy consumption, the food you eat (and how far it has to travel) to your carbon emissions from commuting activity and travel. The section “Ways to Improve Your Result” educates and shares ideas on ways to reduce your footprint.
Download Here (Free)
© 2012 SCGH, LLC.
When we purchase food, toys, household items, and other products for our infants and children, we rely on the manufacturers to create safe merchandise. Some toys are not what they seem, however. In fact, many contain substances that harm infants and children. California recently joined 10 other states in banning the chemical BPA from infant and children’s products. Here is some background on BPA and its brushes with the law.
BPA, or bisphenol A, is an ingredient in many hard plastic products, including baby bottles, sippy cups, and toys. It is also used as an ingredient in food product can liners, including canned infant formula. BPA is a known endocrine (hormone) disruptor, which may cause child development problems. BPA has been linked to autism, breast cancer, childhood obesity, early puberty, and hyperactivity.
The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reports that recyclable plastic products marked with a number 3 or 7 may contain BPA, but plastic products with the numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 are unlikely to contain BPA.
The DHHS and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) state that the benefits of plastic packaging, including packaging that contains BPA, outweigh the health and environmental risks. Both agencies also state that more research is needed to assess potential BPA health hazards. The EPA is continuing to investigate the health and environmental effects of BPA. Instead of waiting for the EPA’s test results, however, California legislators went ahead and banned BPA based on the strong evidence already available.
There has been a nine-to-one margin in laboratory studies indicating that BPA causes harmful health effects (90%), as opposed to no health effects (10%). When harmful effects occur 90 percent of the time with any ingredient or product, it cannot be considered safe to use.
This October, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Toxin-Free Infants and Toddlers Act (Assembly Bill 1319) into state law, and it will go into effect on July 13, 2013. The purpose of the law is to protect children from potential health hazards that may result from BPA exposure and consumption. It bans the use of BPA in all products related to babies and children. California Assembly Member Betsy Butler (D) introduced the bill into legislation, which gained the support of the governor and many legislators.
California has some of strictest health and environmental laws and regulations in the United States. The banning of BPA in California further widens the gap between state and federal health laws and regulations. The California Legislature Assembly Bill 1319, which bans the use of BPA in children’s products, can be reviewed online.
© 2011 SCGH, LLC.
Are you thinking about installing solar panels, a wind turbine, or a geothermal heating and cooling system for your home? Do you want to create your own electricity from renewable resources? How do you work with your local utility to set up net metering to sell unused energy back to the grid?
Before starting down the residential renewables path, make sure you are already maximizing your home energy conservation efforts. Review our article 10 Quick Ways to Green Your Home, or check the US Department of Energy site for more ideas.
Once you’ve got your home and behaviors as green as can be, think about your goals for energy production. Do you want to reduce your energy costs? Make money from an abundant natural resource on your property? And how important is the length of the payback period for your investment?
Solar, wind, and geothermal all are free and sustainable resources, but the initial residential installation costs are higher than conventional electrical or heating and cooling systems. Solar and wind also are variable resources, meaning that they are not available 24/7—so the energy produced must be used, stored, or sold back to a utility. In contrast, geothermal is a steady resource but must be tapped through pipes installed deep within the ground. (See our stories on solar and wind or geothermal for more information.)
Four steps to becoming a renewable energy resident
Call your local utility to understand which renewable options and resources are available in your area. According to a workshop co-sponsored by Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (NW SEED) and Puget Sound Energy, homeowners can take four steps to become part of the local energy movement:
Step 1: Assess needs. Determine how much energy you currently use and estimate costs to install solar panels, a small wind turbine, or a geothermal pump.
Certain states and regions offer energy production incentives for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) produced with wind and solar as well as tax exemptions for systems less than one kW in size. The federal government also is offering until the year 2016 a 30-percent tax credit for the installed cost of small wind systems and geothermal pumps. Your state energy office or local utility may offer rebates for renewable energy systems as well. (For more information on state incentives, see the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency .)
Step 2: Evaluate feasibility. Consider your site and think about the feasibility of a renewable energy installation.
For solar, consider the typical weather patterns in your region, your home’s orientation to the sun, available space on the roof, and whether the roof is shaded by trees.
For wind, evaluate the wind speed on your property, by using a professional service or by viewing wind maps of your region. Small wind turbines usually are suitable only for residents with more than one acre of land and a Class 3 or greater wind. Wind turbulence from buildings can be a deterrent, and towers need to be at least 60 feet high, often more. Urban dwellers, especially, must consider their city’s building parameters, including height restrictions, as well as neighborhood covenants that may preclude residents from modifying their home’s exterior.
For geothermal, consider your property size, landscaping, and access. In a small lot, a contractor will need to use a drill rig to create bore holes up to 400 feet deep to install vertical pipes. A less expensive alternative called a horizontal loop system often is used in rural settings. Flexible pipe is laid in coils in shallow trenches below the frost line. For retrofits, also consider the system that the geothermal heat pump is replacing. Using existing ductwork will reduce costs.
Step 3: Get a contractor and permits. Find reputable solar, wind, or geothermal contractors in your area and discuss your goals and site. Compare bids and make a selection based on which solution will best meet your goals. Once you have selected a contractor and signed a contract, you or your installer will need to apply for an electrical permit and building permit, if applicable. If you are planning to generate energy from solar or wind, your utility or contractor also will add a DC-to-AC power inverter near your existing utility billing meter. This inverter is critical to converting the energy produced by your solar panels or turbine into a form that matches the grid. (Geothermal pumps are used only for heating and cooling the home and not for energy production.)
For wind and solar, you also will need to contact your utility to understand and apply for an interconnection agreement. While it varies by utility and state, this process may include installing a production meter in conjunction with the solar or wind installation. The production meter keeps track of energy that you do not use to power your home and can sell back to the grid. Some utilities reverse the meter for the energy sold back; others cut an annual check and send it to participating residents.
Step 4: Follow up with tax credits and maintenance. Once your system is installed, you can apply for your state’s renewable energy system certification for a state production credit as well as applicable federal tax credits. You also will need to maintain your system per installer guidelines and monitor production to help make sure that it keeps working over the lifetime of the system.
Congratulations! You’ve taken the first steps toward joining the local energy movement.
Debbie Van Der Hyde is an experienced freelance writer with a strong interest in sustainability, clean energy, and the green economy.
© 2011 SCGH, LLC. All rights reserved.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency studies indicate that elevated concentration of household chemicals persist in the air long after being used. Long-term exposure to chemicals inside our homes can be harmful to our families.
Find and replace the toxic products in your home: Under almost everyone’s kitchen sink is a collection of toxic chemicals in the form of bug killer, disinfectants, furniture polishes, and many others. When you are using these products, you are bathing your home in poisons, which eventually could have a negative impact on your family’s health. In addition, household poisonings are one of the highest threats to the health of children.
An excellent first step in greening your house is to grab a note pad and a garbage bag. Go around to all the cabinets that store household chemicals, and take a look at their labels. If it says poison, danger, warning or caution on the can or box, write down what function it performs and throw the unused portion in the garbage bag (if it is sealed tightly). When finished, seal the bag, put it in a well-ventilated area (such as outside or in a garage) and look up when the next Household Hazardous Pickup Day is in your neighborhood.
Buy nontoxic household cleaners: Standard cleaning products contain chemicals that may affect ecosystems by contaminating soil and groundwater. Alternatively, natural, biodegradable household cleaners break down easily in the environment and rely on natural ingredients that protect the water and wildlife near your home.
A growing number of eco-friendly cleaning products are coming onto the market. Be sure to watch for greenwashing! Products that claim to be a greener choice because they use less packaging or water will most likely have the same dangerous chemicals in a more concentrated form. Try to find products that advertise that they are nontoxic and don’t use fragrances.
Make your own household cleaning supplies: There are many inexpensive, easy-to-use natural alternatives which can safely be used in place of commercial household products. Recipes for homemade cleaning products can easily be found on the Internet and they will cover every aspect of home cleaning. Some of the most commonly suggested ingredients include baking soda, unscented soap, lemon, borax, and white vinegar.
Use all-natural drain cleaners: While the first rule in proper drain maintenance is to keep hair and other items from going down the drain in the first place, even the best maintained pipes will become clogged over time. Below are instructions how to make a safe, nontoxic drain cleaner.*
Don’t use disposable cleaning products: Disposable cleaning products end up in landfills and can account for a large portion of your home waste stream. Here are some tips to avoid these products:
This is a chapter from the book “The Ultimate Guide to Greening your Home.” SCGH readers are eligible for a 20% discount on the digital versions of this book. (Enter SIERRA when prompted for a Discount Code.)
When it comes time to paint your walls, step number one is finding a product that won’t emit harmful chemicals in your home. That means paints with the lowest possible emissions of “volatile organic compounds,” or VOCs. Such paints are widely available, and you can learn all about them in our article, “Paints, adhesives, and other finishes.”
Then comes the hard part—or the fun part—depending on your approach: choosing the right color. Should it be light or dark? Hot or cool? Stimulating or calming? By working on your emotions, the color of a room can subtly affect your sense of well-being, and in the long run maybe even your health.
Here’s where AFM Safecoat’s Ayurveda Essence Paint Tool can help. AFM Safecoat has created a color system based on the priniciples of Ayurveda, an ancient Indian healing process. The Ayurveda practice suggests that our world contains five elements that combine to create three types of human constitutions, known as “doshas.” The elements are ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Ether and air are grouped together as “vata” (wat-a). The vata constitution is like that of the ectomorph, with a lean build and thin frame. Fire stands separately as “pitta” (pit-ta), and pitta types are endomorphs, with a moderate frame and musculature. Water and earth are known as “kapha” (kaf-a). Kapha types are like mesomorphs: substantial in mass. Most of us are hybrids (such as vata/pitta or pitta/kapha), but if we go against our primary dosha type, Ayurvedic principles suggest, we can create imbalance and disharmony in our lives.
Be it basic Berber or retro shag, carpet feels good underfoot, absorbs sound, and can add color and style to a room. No wonder it covers nearly 70% of the floors in the United States.
But some indoor-air quality experts suggest thinking twice about blanketing your floors with wall-to-wall fibers. Some new carpets emit a host of noxious chemicals that you’ll be breathing for months and even years after they’re installed. Another concern is that carpet acts as a reservoir for dust and dust mites, pet dander, soot, pollen, odors, fleas, and lots of other stuff you’d rather not have take up residence in your home–especially if you’ve got young children who spend most of their time down at floor level.
Smooth-surface floors–think hardwood, ceramic tile, linoleum, or concrete–are easier to keep clean than carpet, so they’re usually a better choice from a healthy-home perspective. And carpet has a host of other environmental problems: it’s a short-lived material that ends up in landfills or incinerators. Also, the majority of the carpet sold in the United States is made from nonrenewable petrochemicals.
But you don’t necessarily have to give up on carpets. Over the past decade a number of manufacturers have led the way toward cleaning up their industry’s practices. Products are now available that are healthier for people and the planet.
When shopping look for
…to your health
Remember that old advertising slogan “better living through chemistry”? Well, it didn’t quite work out that way with most carpets. Their fibers and the pads below them often emit potentially hazardous levels of VOCs and other chemicals. The worst fumes come from the carpet backing but even the face of the carpet is typically treated with stain-resistant, soil-resistant and antimicrobial chemicals. Some health and environmental experts oppose the use of antimicrobials in particular, concerned that they may lead to the growth of strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Carpet fibers can also absorb the odors from new paint and furniture, holding onto these noxious chemicals and then releasing them into the air when someone walks on the carpet. For people who are sensitive to these chemicals, the fluff under their feet starts looking more ominous than elegant.
…to the Earth and your wallet
Carpet is also the most short-lived of the flooring alternatives, often lasting only 10 to 15 years. That makes it a problem in landfills, and a drain on your pocketbook. For example: The upfront costs of carpet and hardwood floors can be about the same. But, the hardwood floor may last two or three times as long.
Blanketing your heater. If you put carpet over radiant floor heating, you’ll reduce the heating system’s effectiveness.
Many associate a sustainable home with solar panels, expensive floor renovations, various purchases of Energy Star appliances, and other costly investments. But greening your home doesn’t have to be costly and time consuming. Even though pricey investments, like going off the grid, can have great ecological and economics benefits, it’s important to accomplish the basics of going green first. Here are 10 quick and cheap steps you can take to make your home more energy efficient while helping you save money.
According to the Consumer Energy Center, 31% of air leaks occur in floors, walls, and ceilings. Poor insulation can cause significant indoor heat loss. Sealing air leaks in your home can save you 20% or more on your heating and cooling bill. Learn how to seal and locate leaks in your home by reading our Air Sealing and Weatherization article.
High humidity in the summer can be uncomfortable, and musty odors in a bathroom or basement are annoying. But humidity should be kept in check for more serious reasons, too. First, there’s your health: excess moisture encourages the growth of mold and dust mites, which are known to trigger asthma attacks and cause nasal irritation, sneezing, and other respiratory discomfort. Humidity can also lead to structural problems in your home, including warped and rotten wood. It also encourages unwanted guests: rats, mice, and wood-devouring carpenter ants and termites thrive in dampness. High humidity can even boost your utility bill in summer, for the simple reason that humidity makes you feel warmer, encouraging you to crank up the air conditioner.
Plastics containing Bisphenol-A linked to child misbehavior
Yes we know, everything causes cancer, nothing is safe for our kids, a lot of paranoia, right?
Sometimes these concerns are for real. A chemical of significant importance to parents and scientists these days is Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA is a common chemical used in plastics for increased flexibility and molding. It can be found in your child’s plastic sippy cup, binkies, and even canned food. The lining found inside some canned foods is very similar to high density plastics, thus likely to contain significant levels of BPA. Numerous studies have proven that Bisphenol-A can negatively impact your health. Experts have advised people to shop for BPA-free products. In general, avoiding plastics whenever possible is a good idea.
Read on and read the label before you purchase that pair of dangly keys or canned mac’n’cheese.
Research Reveals Unpleasant News
Leaching is the process of a chemical seeping out of its original binding and into its surroundings (see example here). A university study was conducted to determine the leaching abilities of plastic bottles wherein the interaction between warm liquids and polycarbonate plastics released Bisphenol A into the drinking solution. During the Harvard study, each student was given two polycarbonate bottles, which were not to be cleaned in the dishwasher (to void increased heat) and filled only with cold water. The students’ urine samples came back positive for a BPA increase of 69 percent. Is this a concern? The unfortunate answer is “yes” because Bisphenol-A has been shown to alter the endocrine system causing early sexual development. Changes in fetal development, sperm production, and malfunctioning hormones are also results of BPA ingestion.
Recently, the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill released a study, the first of its kind, linking behavioral problems in children from women that were exposed to BPA during pregnancy. The study measured levels of BPA in urine samples at three different stages of
pregnancy- the first at 16 weeks, then at 26 weeks and finally at birth. The results showed that the women who had the highest levels of Bisphenol-A in their systems at the earliest stages of pregnancy had daughters who were more aggressive and hyperactive. To the scientists’ surprise, girls seemed to be the most affected while boys didn’t have a big difference in aggression but instead became more anxious and depressed. The greatest effects caused seem to be those of the earliest exposures. Most women can be affected even before they know they are pregnant, which can later cause even greater problems for their unborn children. Last year Canada became the first country to ban Bisphenol-A in baby bottles and Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us have announced they will stock only BPA-free bottles.
How to drink beverages without worrying about BPA exposure
It used to be simple. If people were worried about Bisphenol-A exposure, all they needed to do was go out and buy a BPA-free bottle, usually made from aluminum. However, BPA-free doesn’t necessarily mean BPA-free anymore. A major bottle manufacturer, SIGG, revealed that their supposed BPA-free aluminum bottles actually did contain BPA in bottle linings. Another bottle manufacturer, Gaiam, recently revealed that their BPA-free aluminum bottles did contain BPA, 23.8 parts per billion under extreme heat conditions. This amount is ten times more potent than the Bisphenol-A levels found in SIGG. So what is a worried consumer to do when bottles claiming to be BPA-free aren’t really BPA-free? Fortunately, more and more options are becoming available for the eco-conscious consumer. Here are some alternatives.
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