A HEPA filter. Image credit: Flickr user John Loo licensed under Creative Commons.

Standard vacuum cleaners can actually aggravate allergies in a home because of the allergens and pollutants they can recycle into the air.  Texas A&M University provides a guide to allergens in the home and vacuum cleaner use, which illuminates a few interesting facts:

1. The average vacuum cleaner – one without a HEPA or UPLA filter – filters particles from 30 to 50 microns in diameter, exhausting harmful allergens that are smaller than this back into the home.

2. The most common airborne particle size is 2.4 microns.  Human hair is 60 – 100 microns; a dust mite is 125 microns; dust mite waste is 10 – 24 microns; mold is 4+ microns; pollen is 10 – 40 microns; bacteria is 3 – 50 microns; fungal spores are 2 – 10 microns in diameter.

3. HEPA filters and ULPA filters are the two most effective and common air filtration systems found on vacuum cleaners.  Of the two, ULPA (Ultra Low Penetration Air) filters are the most effective: they filter out 99.999% of air particles.  HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are the next most effective air filter: they filter our 99.97% of air particles – more than enough for all but the most sensitive of allergy sufferers.

For more facts on the effectiveness of air filters for a healthier home environment, visit the aforementioned guide by clicking here.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

Green Depot is having a vacuum cleaner sale at the moment, which can help to ensure that the indoor air quality of your home is the healthiest it can be.  Take a look at these green products:

The Electrolux Versatility Upright Vacuum is a full-featured vacuum cleaner.  This cleaner includes a quick-release wand, allowing you to vacuum hard-to-reach spaces on the ceiling and in difficult corners.  High impacts plastics and rugged construction make this a durable product, and the anti-odor HEPA filter captures 99.7% of pet dander, dust mites, pollen and mold for healthier indoor air.

For something a little more basic, the Electrolux Egrorapido is a cordless two-in-one stick vacuum for cleaning floors, and a hand vacuum for spot jobs around the home.  It includes a motorized brush roll, has no bag to dispose of, and includes attachments for a variety of uses.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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an intensive green roof in manhattan. image licensed under creative commons.

In terms of sustainability and reducing one’s impact on the environment, living in a city can have – perhaps surprisingly – distinct advantages over living in the suburbs or countryside.  New York City, in particular, is consistently ranked as one of the most energy-efficient places to live in America, thanks to our proliferative public transportation system, reliance on natural gas as our primary energy source, walkability, and mixed-use zoning laws.  Indeed, an average New Yorker’s carbon footprint is about one-third that of an average American.

I don’t meant to offer unqualified praise of New York City and its efficiency, because there are significant environmental drawbacks to living in a large city, as well.  The issues we face in New York are substantial: lack of access to green space; the relatively long distance food must travel to feed our massive population; elevated asthma rates, especially in children; the urban heat island effect; and severe water pollution from heavy rains, thanks to our combined sewage-storm water pipes.

But fortunately, different governmental, nonprofit, and civic organizations are working to address these issues, and Sustainable South Bronx is one of them.

In particular, Sustainable South Bronx (SSBX) is working on the expansion of green roofs – the environmentally- and socially-beneficial effects of which are substantial and numerous.

Green roofs, in their most basic form, are living vegetation systems, or gardens, on the roofs of buildings.  They come in numerous forms, shapes, and sizes, but this is one of their great strengths – they can be adapted to function in nearly any scenario, providing substantial benefits to the buildings and communities where they are located.

Typically a green roof consists of an impermeable membrane across the surface of the roof.  On top of this is placed a drainage layer, a filter fabric, a lightweight growing medium, and finally vegetation.  Roofs which are capable of bearing very heavy loads can support even trees and large shrubbery; roofs which are a little weaker typically support lighter-weight flora like grasses and wildflowers.

The benefits are indeed surprising, and actually mitigate many of the urban environmental issues I listed above – even childhood asthma rates.  Green roofs provide insulation from the sun, and lower the temperature of the building, reducing cooling costs in the summer, and reducing heat loss in the winter.  They also perform important functions for the urban water cycle: green roofs absorb rainwater, preventing excess water from running directly into the sewage system which exhausts into local waterways (including the East and Hudson rivers in NYC).  Green roofs also reduce the urban heat island effect through natural shading, insulating, evaporative and evapotranspirative properties.  They also provide more green space to area residents, and reduce air pollution by trapping particulate matter, and reduce greenhouse gases by absorbing more carbon dioxide.  To read more about the numerous benefits of green roofs, feel free to read this report by Sustainable South Bronx on the urban heat island effect. [PDF].

SSBX was founded in 2001 by environmental justice activist Majora Carter.  SSBx actually built the first green and cool demonstration roof in NYC above their offices in the Bronx; in 2007 they expanded their mission to a for-profit green roof installation company, Smart Roofs LLC.  But what is perhaps most innovative about SSBx’s approach to sustainable community development is its keen awareness of the intersection of social issues and environmental issues, the hallmark of an environmental justice approach.  To that end, SSBx has built green roofs with the community in mind, for the purpose of increasing green space in one of the most dense city neighborhoods, with the least access to green space.

A rendering of the Bronx Greenway. Image: NYCEDC.

And not only does SSBx support the expansion of green spaces throughout the Bronx, they do so through community green job training programs, boosting employment and worker activity, while at the same time improving the health of people and the environment in one of the most underprivileged and polluted parts of New York City.  The Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training Academy (BEST) is one of the city’s most successful green collar training programs.  The program has trained numerous people who continue the upkeep of other SSBx projects – like the Bronx Greenway, where they have planted and continue to maintain over 400 trees.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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It may be surprising that it hasn’t happened earlier, but formaldehyde has now been officially included in the Health and Human Services Report on Carcinogens, paving the way for further regulation of the chemical.

As Treehugger reports, scientists and politicians have known about the risks for years, but the formaldehyde industry has fought long and hard to prevent its inclusion on the HHS Report on Carcinogens.  The Report is a federally-mandated document that “identifies agents, substances, mixtures, or exposures… known to be a human carcinogen.”

The commission responsible for the report, the National Toxicology Program has noted of the particular dangers posed to certain segments of the workforce – namely, industrial workers and embalmers – which include myeloid leukemia and rare cancers in the sinuses and parts of the throat.

We at Green Depot especially care about this issue, because it turns out that urea-formaldehyde is often added to the adhesives used to produce conventional particle board, plywood, and other lumber products.  Formaldehyde is a volatile organic compound (VOC) meaning that if products made with the chemical are found in the home, they can offgas into the household environment for years to come, meaning long-term exposure.  This is of tremendous cause for concern as homeowners push for higher energy efficiency through weatherization programs, which limits the draftiness of homes – confining offgassing formaldehyde in living areas.

It should be noted that wood intrinsically contains a small amount of naturally occurring phenol-formaldehyde. The levels of formaldehyde naturally found in wood is not considered to be hazaradous, and is not a cause for concern in the same way that the formaldehyde that off-gasses from many plywoods, insulations, particle boards can be.

Green Depot carries a number of no added urea-formaldehyde plywood, flooring, green building materials and other green products.  You can visit our Green Wood Supplies department by clicking here.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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image credit: flickr user pfsullivan_1056 on creative commons license

For some folks, having a cool indoor temperature during the summer is a matter of health.  But for many of the rest of us, having indoor air conditioning is a matter of comfort, rather than health.

But what many of us don’t realize is the extent of the impact that air conditioners can have on the environment – and on our utility bill.  In many instances – especially here in the Northeast U.S., where Green Depot is headquartered – a fan can prove to be significantly more economical and environmentally-friendly, and create a home environment that is just as comfortable as it would be with an air conditioner.

How an A/C Works

Air conditioners don’t differ much from how a refrigerator functions.  An air conditioner pumps a chemical refrigerant through a cycle of compression and expansion.  As the refrigerant moves, it absorbs heat from the interior of a home and pumps it to the outdoors.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is also known as the Entropy Law, states simply that when there is a heat differential – i.e., when one area of a room is hotter than another, the heat will move from the hotter part to the cooler until an equilibrium is reached between the two.  An air conditioner has to mechanically compress the refrigerant into a hot liquid form to suck the heat out of a room efficiently enough to cool it down.  This requires a substantial amount of energy – usually electricity – to accomplish.  You can read more about how air conditioners work by clicking here.

The Impacts of A/C

The substantial amount of energy needed to make an air conditioner function typically comes from a power plant or a car engine.  According to National Geographic, air conditioner use in the U.S. results in average of about 100 millions tons of CO2 emissions from power plants each year.  Surprisingly, that accounts for 1/5 of all kilowatt-hours consumed per year.  Think about it – one fifth of all electricity consumption in the United States goes to cooling buildings, and even this is often not enough electricity to supply Americans with the air conditioning they use in the hottest summer months: consider the brownouts and rolling blackouts that many of us experience in the hottest days of August.  And according to alternet.org, the electricity used to air condition the U.S. exceeds the entire electricity consumption of the India and Indonesia combined.

Air Conditioners and the Ozone

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the depletion of the ozone layer was a major cause of concern for governments, environmentalists, and citizens alike.  A major contributor to that depletion at the time were chlorofluorocarbons – CFCs – which were widely used as air conditioner coolants.

an image of the 2009 "hole" in the ozone layer, taken by scientists at NASA's Godard Space Center via their flickr account, gsfc, on a Creative Commons license

Thanks to international policy coordination, CFCs were replaced by the much more ozone-friendly hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) which deplete 95 percent less ozone.  But according to National Geographic, demand has grown significantly for air conditioners in India and China, and despite the 95% reduction in ozone depletion thanks to HCFCs, the volume of air conditioners being used has set back ozone recovery by 25 years.  In the U.S., ozone-depleting coolants were made illegal in 2010, but many of the older air conditioners we use still use HCFCs (and the oldest still use CFCs).  In developing nations, HCFCs will be allowed until 2040.

Air Conditioners and Healthy Home Air

One of the other major issues concerning air conditioner use are the impacts they have on human health.  A co0ler environment in the hottest summer days can make the difference between life and death for infants, the elderly, and those in poor health, but air conditioners also run the risk of becoming health hazards.  Dirty air filters in air conditioners can allow allergens, pesticides, and other particulate matter into the home which may aggravate respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

Air Conditioners vs. Fans

Fans don’t cool a home, but they do have the potential to make a home much more comfortable in the summer months, without the massive energy drain that air conditioners require, and without the risks posed to the environment and respiratory health.  Fans work by moving air around, and whisking moisture and heat away from the skin.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

The Bedfan Cooling System

Green Depot carries a wide array of green products that can be used to help make your home more comfortable in the summer, without sacrificing your electricity bill or the internet.

We carry a number of standard fans that can be used around the home (like the Vornado Compact 530 Whole Room Fan, or the Charly Metal Fan), but there are other fan options to make home more comfortable.

The Bedfan cooling system fits at the end of a bed and circulates cool air under your sheets at night, removing the heat that is trapped by your sheets, and has even been proven to stop night sweats due to menopause, andropause, diseases, or medications.

The Vornado Under-Cabinet Circulator fan affixes underneath any horizontal surface: cabinets, desks, in the kitchen, the laundry room, office, or workroom.

Lastly, the Solatube Solar Attic Fan is a solar-powered fan that vents all the hot air that has risen into your attic space out into the environment.  Not only does it cool your home, it also wicks moisture from the air, leaving your attic free of molds and mildews that can become a health hazard over time.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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The day after Memorial Day, and it’s finally summer.  We now get to look forward to long, sunny days full of outdoor grilling, thunderstorms, the 4th of July, trips to the beach, camping and hiking trips, starry nights… and all of the negative things that come along with the summer, too: the heat, the humidity, sunburn, and the bugs.

Bugs are something we’re equipped to help you with at Green Depot!  And unlike many of the conventional products used to combat summer pests, all of the green products that we carry are non-toxic, meaning they’re safer for you, your family, your pets, and the environment.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

1. Oak Stump Mosquito Trap and Lures: These mosquito traps are non-toxic and reusable from year to year.  They work by harnessing the power of a mosquito egg pheromone, which attracts mosquitos to lay their eggs in the jar which traps them permanently inside, keeping them away from you and your family.  Two traps handles an average-sized yard, and eight traps will cover an entire acre, significantly reducing the local mosquito population and their irritating and infecting bites.

2. Glass Fruit Fly Trap and Lures: These glass jars are aesthetically-pleasing enough to keep indoors, yet effective enough to keep pesky fruit flies out of your home.  It sits on the counter or hangs by a window, drawing flies away from fresh fruit, clearing a room full of flies in only a few hours – much more effectively than common types of bait such as red wine and vinegar.  Add the lure packet to water, add a drop of dishwashing soap, and set the trap in an effective area for 10 to 14 days, or until the trap is full.

3. EcoSmart Flying Insect Killer: This insect killer is unlike other common insecticides, in that it is made from organic plant oils, rather than  toxic synthetic chemicals.  This flying insect killer kills all kinds of insects with no pesticide residue, keeping your family safe, and is effective on flies, gnats, mosquitos, moths, wasps, and other flying insect pests.

4. EcoSmart Insect Repellant: Like the flying insect killer, this insect repellant is made from organic plant oils – not toxic synthetic chemicals – and effectively keeps away mosquitos, ticks, gnats, and other annoying pests for hours.

5. Big Dipper Citronella Candles: Lots of common citronella candles are made from a base of paraffin wax – a petroleum-based product that, when burned, gives off gases that are unhealthy for you and the environment.  Big Dipper Citronella Candles are, on the other hand, made from beeswax which is safe for you and your family.  These candles contain the pure essential oils of citronella and cedarwood, both of which are known to deter insects.  Furthermore, the wicks are made of 100% cotton and contain no lead or metal.

6. Beekman 1802 Bug Repellant Bar: These soap bars are made from a base of goat milk, and contain citronella, eucalyptus, and other essential oils that are effective at keeping bugs away.  For a long day outdoors, use them in the shower.  For shorter periods of time outdoors, you can apply the bars dry onto your pulse points, and your body heat will release the scent from the oils into the air.

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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The San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier this month an alarming trend with serious indications for the health of babies and infants.

According to a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, up to 80% of all plastic products for babies contain chemical flame retardants.  Many of these are known to be toxic, and the rest are untested.

These chemicals in particular were targeted for analysis by the scientists because they have been linked to “increased risks for thyroid impairment, reproductive problems, endocrine disruption, cancer, and other health issues.”

Scientists studied over 100 samples of child products from items such as baby carriers, changing pages, and portable cribs from the U.S. as well as Canada, and 80 of those samples contained flame retardants linked to the health issues listed above.

An abstract of the study can be found by visiting www.greensciencepolicy.org.

GREEN DEPOT SOLUTIONS

Luckily for new parents, Green Depot carries a full line of green products that are free of harmful toxins for babies.  Green depot carries books for kids, toxin-free bedding, apparel, hygienic care products, bottles, toys, and safety kits, and even has a feature page on constructing a healthy nursery (complete with a crib, bedding, paint, cleaner, carpets, rugs, and gas and C02 detector).

For green building materials, like eco insulation, as well as many other green products for a sustainable lifestyle, visit http://www.greendepot.com.

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