With the first rainy days of autumn having arrived in the Northeast, homeowners are beginning to prepare their apartments and houses for the colder weather.  As the days grow shorter and cold, more people will be spending time indoors.  Heating and energy costs will rise, and exposure to household chemicals and other dangerous substances will increase.

Green Depot is fortunate to be able to recommend and supply any number of innovative, safe, and energy-efficient products to help anybody survive the autumn chill as winter hibernation draws ever more near.  This season, we are glad to suggest these nine ideas to make the season more comfortable.

1.  Humidifiers

Home heating systems, whether through radiators or ventilation systems, sucks moisture out of the air and can leave one with dry skin and eyes; dry air can also seriously aggravate respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, and nosebleeds.

Choosing a humidifier isn’t a terribly difficult decision to have to make, but it’s important to ensure the humidifier is antimicrobial so that unwanted bacteria aren’t released into the air.  Green Depot carries multiple models of safe and healthy humidifiers – some of which are Energy-Star rated.  They range anywhere from $49.95 to $199.99.  Click here to see Green Depot’s full catalogue of humidifiers.

2. The Electrolux Ergorapido

The Electrolux Ergorapido is a cordless two-in-one vacuum cleaner that converts from a stick vacuum for cleaning bare floors, to a hand vacuum for spot-cleaning around the home.  There are no bags to buy, since it sucks all of the dirt into a dust cup.  What makes it green?  The Electrolux Ergorapido is deigned to remove dust, particulates, and allergens, helping to clean the air in your home – certainly a more comfortable way to spend the autumn, especially for people with respiratory conditions.

3. Air Filters: Easy Breathing

Air filters come in any number of sizes and styles for a wide range of applications, from purifying the air of allergens, to removing odors and gasses.  In terms of environmental benefits, all of the green products that Green Depot carries are either produced locally, or are energy efficient, or are built by companies that manufacture responsibly.  The Andrea Air Purifier, for example, uses living plants and soil to clean the air of toxic gases such as formaldehyde, and is produced using responsible manufacturing practices.

4. Air and Water Test Kits

Many common household items can be hazardous to the health.  Green Depot recommends visiting the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, whose website has a wealth of information on carbon monoxide poisoning, leading poisoning, and other environmental chemicals.  For the individual looking to determine if there are environmental chemicals present in the home, Green Depot offers a full spectrum of home test kits – allowing the homeowner to easily test their house or apartment for mold, pesticides, radon gas, water quality and bacteria, asbestos, lead… the list goes on and on, but the test kits are always available at www.greendepot.com.

5. Insulation

We’ve touted the environmental and personal benefits of insulating your home before, and of course the cool autumn weather is a simple reminder that colder winters are ahead.  Insulating the home saves energy and cost of heating, and Green Depot carries a variety of different insulations – some of which can be shipped  directly to your home, in certain states – all of which has significant health and environmental benefits over standard insulation.

6. Weatherization

We’ve also discussed weatherization in the past.  Filling in the nooks and holes where cold air is let in, and heated air is let out, is an important part of ensuring that the home is energy efficient.  Weatherizing saves energy – benefitting the homeowner’s environmental footprint as well as the pocketbook.

7. Household Cleaners

Using green cleaning products is a sure way to make the household environment healthier for both the people living there and for the earth.  A green home has been tested for allergens, molds, and other hazards like formaldehyde and radon gas.  It uses cleaning products that keep our watersheds clean and safe for marine life.  Green Depot carries whole categories of green cleaning products – tools, recycling containers, cleaners, drain openers, laundry supplies, mold remediation, pest control, reference books, and vacuums.

8. Pest Control: Bed Bug Free

We’ve already discussed the current bed bug epidemic that’s affecting thousands of people in all metropolitan areas – the idea of encountering bed bugs in the autumn is perhaps more troubling than in the summer.  The idea of living in a shuttered autumn home with the incredibly toxic conventional sprays is even more harrowing.  Using an environmentally-friendly and healthy bed bug repellant like Bed Bug Free is a welcome solution for everyone cursed by bed bugs.

9. Door Mats and Boot Trays

Rainy winter days mean wet and muddy boots.  Purchasing a boot tray or doormat is simple enough, but choosing one that is kind on the environment can be trickier.  Green Depot carries two products to address this – a tray made from recycled polypropylene (which doubles as a planter in the summer!) or a recycled lobster rope doormat.  The lobster rope doormat is produced locally, using responsible labor practices, with recycled rope used to tether lobster traps in Maine.

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Many of our readers are familiar with the two most popular rating systems for how energy-efficient a given home is: The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star for Homes (the most popular) and the US Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes.

Both require much greater energy efficiency than traditional American building methods even come close to offering–and for that alone they are invaluable. But an organization called the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS), featured in a recent New York Times article and based in Urbana, Illinois, is setting a new, much higher bar for energy conservation: By making a home’s envelope close to completely airtight, making the most of the sun’s natural heat by way of big windows facing south and using a combination of Institute-mandated building techniques and green products to keep that heat in the house when it’s wanted (and let it out when it isn’t), a house that passes the Institute’s certification process uses on average 75 to 95 percent less energy than most new buildings built in the US!

Building a home to the Institute’s standards is somewhat more expensive than traditional building, though the extra expense is often more than offset by the savings from lower energy bills. But because most low-income people can’t afford to spend an extra cent more than necessary on building, but stand to benefit from green housing as much as anyone else, Habitat for Humanity has begun to experiment with Passive Solar housing itself.

H4H Vermont’s Green Valley chapter is currently building the first Passive Solar house in New England, on a city-donated plot in the colonial village of Charlotte. And the house is not only PHIUS-certified, but pre-fab, too–it’s made of modular units that are made in a factory and then trucked in and assembled in near-complete condition. This way of building saves vast amounts of construction waste and goes a long way to protect the natural environment of the building site. The house will be the first pre-fab, modular Passive Solar house in the country, and hopefully will kick off a long-lasting trend in this kind of homebuilding.

The project is in collaboration with the nonprofit Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, builder Preferred Building Systems, Charlotte-based passive-house specialist Peter Schneider, and Boston-based architect JB Clancy.  The house was completed this month, and a family of four is expected to move in by Christmas.

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New York City and other metropolitan areas have been hit by what some people are calling an epidemic – an epidemic of of bed bugs.  While long considered eradicated through the use of DDT in the 1950s (the toxic effects of which proved devastating to birdlife, as detailed by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring), bedbugs have seen a major resurgence in population in the last decade.

The bed bug – Cimex lectularius – is a tiny nocturnal insect about the size of an apple seed.  They sleep in the crevices of one’s bedding during the day and emerge at night to feast on the blood of humans, piercing the skin with two hollow feeding tubes.  One of these tubes injects its anticoagulating and anesthetic saliva, and the other extracts blood from the host for about five minutes.

No one wants to be infested with bed bugs – their bites leave large, itchy red welts over the body.  They’re notoriously difficult to get rid off, too – their eggs are microscopic and can fill very tiny corners of beds, blankets, carpets, nightstands, and chairs.  Anyplace where there is a crack or crevice is a potential living space for bedbugs, and they can survive for up to two months without feeding again.  Bedbugs have even been known to live behind peeling paint chips.  In other words, they are notoriously tenacious critters.

bedbugregistry.com

Bedbugs have captured the popular imagination, and for good reason.  There have been confirmed infestations of bedbugs in both the Brooklyn and NYC District Attorney offices; movie theatres and hotels in midtown pose challenges to local tourism; triage rooms in hospitals have had to shutter their doors.  There have been major infestations reported in every neighborhood and in every borough and populations seem to be spreading rapidly – in other words, there isn’t any place one can go to escape the threat of bedbugs.  Even the swankiest penthouse apartment is at risk of an infestation.

Controlling these insects is difficult, but it behooves any person who doesn’t want to be fed upon by the noctural insect to attack them as soon as an infestation is suspected.  Early infestations can be controlled through the use of targeted killings.  Larger and later infestations have to be handled by professional exterminators, some of whom use bedbug-sniffing dogs to discover where nests are located.  These inspections and exterminations can run in the thousands of dollars, and typically all bedding – including mattresses, blankets, and pillows – have to be thrown away.  Every article of clothing has to be washed in hot water – a laundry bill that could easily run into the hundreds of dollars.

So it is truly incumbent upon the person who suspects an infestation to attack the infestation early.

However, anyone concerned with the environmental and health consequences of cleaners or pest control products would surely want to avoid using anything particularly toxic or poisonous.  It’s not especially surprising that most bedbug killers are highly, highly toxic.  To spray toxin upon the mattress, nightstand, or anyplace near where one sleeps seems dangerous – especially when there are pets or children living in the household.

Several green products do exist, though, to address this issue.  Two of the green products that Green Depot carries are Rest Easy and K4 EcoBugFree for Bed Bugs.

Rest Easy

Rest Easy is an entirely natural product, which both repels and kills bed bugs.  Active ingredients include cinnamon, lemongrass, cloves, and mint and is also effective for killing fleas and dust mites, the latter of which is a common allergen.  Folks suffering from bed bugs or allergies could potentially benefit from this product.  Additionally exciting for anyone planning to travel – since bed bugs have been reported in numerous hotels throughout New York City alone – is the fact that this green product comes in a 2 oz. travel size – ensuring that no one picks up an infestation of bed bugs while away from home.

EcoBedBug

EcoBugFree is another option.  It is an environmentally-sensitive, minimal risk pesticide that qualifies for EPA Exempt status.  It has been designed to keep pets, children, and employees safe from toxins, poisons, and pesticide residues that are potentially harmful to one’s health.  In particular, this product eliminates the eggs of the bed bug – ensuring that the next generation nestled between the sheets never matures.  A bane for the bed bug, and a boon for the bedroom!

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Cleaning and Greening

September 23rd, 2010 | Posted by tjones in Environment - (1 Comments)

One of the most dynamic focuses of the green movement right now is the emphasis on sourcing products and ingredients locally with reusable, rather than disposable, materials.  The benefits of buying locally, reusing, and ensuring the environmental safety of any product is substantial.

Cleaners, which nearly everyone uses, have any number of negative ecological consequences.  They use significant amounts of material and energy to produce and ship over long distances; their chemicals are often petroleum-based; they cannot be refilled with any convenience; and they are far from being biodegradable.  Indeed, the synthetic chemicals that most cleaners use can be toxic and flush directly from our homes into the watershed with consequences for marine life.

The toxic solvents, fragrances, and chemicals present in common cleaners also poses health threats to the human people as they evaporate.

Finding green product alternatives to conventional cleaners, then, is paramount.  Choosing a cleaner like Green Depot’s cleaning line – not only available at Green Depot but at Whole Foods as well – is likely one of the most viable solutions available.

These cleaners are remarkable for a few reasons.  Their ingredients are entirely biodegradable, non-toxic, and water-soluble.  The larger-sized bottles are intended for reuse – especially compelling is the ability to refill the products at Green Depot’s filling station in NYC.

Moreover, the products are made in New York City – sustaining the local economy and saving on transportation and shipping costs.  Especially for people in the tri-state area, the decision on choosing a cleaner – both to protect our homes and our waterways – is simple.

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In August, vice-president Biden announced that 200,000 homes had been weatherized under the Recovery Act.  It’s been estimated by the Department of Energy that weatherizing a home can save nearly $350 annually (pdf, 1.1mb) on heating and cooling, or nearly a 32% reduction in heating costs alone.  Indeed, since the establishment of the Weatherization Assistance Program in 1972, which helps low-income peoples insulate their homes, the DoE estimates that over 6.2 million homes have been weatherized, and the current pace of weatherizing homes will save the U.S. 1.5 million barrels of oil annually, the equivalent of taking 107,000 cars off the road.

So, weatherizing a home presents significant opportunities to save energy.  While earlier this week I wrote on the importance of insulating your home, weatherizing is just as important and goes beyond insulating.  Weatherizing involves filling in the cracks of a home where outside air can leak in – and energy and money leak out.

A few green products are on the market to help individuals weatherize their homes.  Energy Star notes that the best way to insulate the home is through sealing and caulking all cracks and drafts.

The diagram above demonstrates some of the most common places where air leaks into and out of a home.  Fortunately there are any of number of ways to seal these leaks, independent of the major investment of insulating a home.

1. Piping insulation, shown above, keeps pipes from freezing, sweating, and losing heat.

2. Indoor window insulating kits seal windows airtight.

3. Switch and outlet gaskets prevent drafts through places we might not consider particularly drafty, but are a source of energy loss.

4. Water heater insulation jackets make home water heaters more efficient.  Handheld adhesive foam prevents leaks around doors and windows.

5. Bonded Logic Ultratouch Mini Rolls help to seal known gaps in insulation, reducing noise and energy loss.

6. Air conditioner weatherseals seal the gaps around air conditioners and in windows; air conditioner covers prevent winter air from entering through a window unit air conditioner.

For these and other weatherizing green products, you can visit Green Depot here.

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If you’ve been in the market for paint lately, you’re surely seen and heard the marketing noise about low- and zero-VOC paints. You know it’s something green, and clearly VOCs are something bad, so you’re intrigued and may even have bought some of this paint by now…. But you may also be wondering: What, exactly, are VOCs?

Well, as it turns out, there is no single definition of a VOC that is agreed upon by regulating agencies worldwide. But the letters stand for Volatile Organic Compounds, which the EPA used to refer to as  reactive organic gasses (ROGs), if that’s any help. Some occur in nature; others are man-made.

In the world of green products, VOC usually refers to a man-made, liquid solvent that gives off toxic fumes. You can often smell the VOCs in paint and other liquids you find in hardware stores–it’s that not-so-nice, often headache-inducing smell you get from wet paint, turpentine, varnish, and products in that vein. But a substance can continue to emit VOCs even after it has dried and you no longer smell anything, often for years at a time.

This is why VOCs are such a big deal when it comes to paint. According to the EPA,  indoor air pollution is one of the top 5 hazards to human heath–and VOCs are a major contributor to it. The EPA recommends the use of low- and zero-VOC paints, and it defines low-VOC as having 250 grams or fewer VOCs per liter. GreenSeal has an even lower limit of 50 grams for low-VOC paints.

Things become tricky, however, when color is added to a base: The VOC rating applies only to the base color, not whatever pigments might be added. So be sure to find out whether your tints are low-VOC, as well.

Then there’s zero-VOC, which is of course the best option. Most zero-VOC paints actually do have very low levels of VOCs, as the EPA requires only that they have less than 5 grams per liter to carry that label. But truly zero-VOC paints do exist–to find them, you simply have to know what you’re looking for on the label.

To start you out in the right direction, Green Depot’s house line of paints and primers, Ivy Coatings, is truly zero-VOC, even when tinted. And it’s available in a huge range of colors, including a set of four subtly different premixed shades of white–for just the right white, which can be more important than many people realize.

Green Depot also carries a number of other low- and zero-VOC coating options, including non-toxic Ana Sova Food Paint (which really is made of mostly food-grade ingredients, including milk proteins), Yolo Colorhouse paints, and a range of not only paints but wood stains, polyurethanes, concrete stains and more from AMF and EcoProCote.

Yellow paint photo credit: Even Roberts/Flickr.com

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