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.

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.


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!

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.

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.

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/

So you’re renovating, or maybe even building something new, and you’ve finally finished framing out your new walls. Now you’re ready to put up your drywall and maybe some tile, or maybe even wallpaper—but what about the ceiling? Sure, you can just drywall it too (and hopefully you’ve been using recycled-content drywall), but there are several other options to consider as well.

The decision of how to make your ceiling can be influenced by a number of factors beyond your decorative choices. A few things to keep in mind are how much sound transmission in and out of the room you want to allow, whether water and/or humidity will be present, whether the room’s activities require any particular kind of acoustics, and whether you’ll be applying tiles.

Here are a number of green products designed for ceiling use that you may want to consider, and some ideas on how they might best be used in your building project.

1) Recycled Content Drywall
If you’re not already using drywall with recycled content for your walls, your ceiling may offer another opportunity to include it. Typical drywall is made of a core of mined gypsum and two outer layers of non-recycled paper. The mining of gypsum typically launches large amounts of particulate matter into the air, threatening both the respiratory health of the miners and the air quality of the surrounding areas. And like most mining, the extraction process leaves large scars on the landscape at the mining site, and often contributes to soil erosion on the slopes where it is mined.

Instead of mined gypsum, recycled-content drywall is made of synthetic gypsum—a byproduct of the process coal-fired power plants use to limit the amount of acid-rain-causing emissions they release into the air. And not only does the use of synthetic gypsum reduce manufacturing waste, but it’s purer than mined gypsum, making for drywall that’s stronger and easier to work with. As an added benefit, the paper facing used on recycled content drywall is 100% recycled.

2) Tectum Interior Ceiling Panels
A dropped ceiling of rectangular panels, typically made of sound-absorbing (acoustical) materials, is another option. A dropped ceiling consists of a grid of lightweight metal strips that are hung from either exposed beams or a drywall ceiling, which hold the panels in place without screws or adhesive. This allows for easy access to any wiring or ductwork underneath, as well as easy replacement of any panel that needs it. Acoustical panels reduce the amount of noise bouncing around within the room, while also limiting the amount of sound traveling through the ceiling to rooms above.

For a green option, Tectum interior ceiling panels are made of wood fibers that are bound together without chemicals and come from Aspen trees grown in FSC-certified forests. The air-drying, low-energy binding process uses only sand, limestone, salt, magnesium oxide (from seawater), and water that gets recycled after use. The finished panels don’t off-gas at all, and are non-toxic enough to be added to compost piles for soil amendment. So not only do you get a quieter room, for a healthier indoor environment, but you get it without hurting the outdoor environment either! And for even further reduction in the noise coming out of the room , take a look at QuietRock Soundproofing Drywall.

3) Durock Cement Backerboard
If the room you’re building is a bathroom or kitchen, or any other room where high humidity and spilled water are common occurrences, you’ll need to use backerboard –commonly called “blue board,” because a common brand is (you guessed it) blue. Backerboard is typically used underneath tiles even in dry areas, where it acts as a surface stiff enough to keep the surface from flexing and pushing them off—and in wet areas, it provides a layer of water-blocking protection for the framing and surrounding rooms.

Durock cement backerboard is not only resistant to moisture, but mold as well, protecting the room’s air quality. And concrete is so durable that it’ll be a long time before you have to replace it, which saves the waste of valuable resources. And it’s even made of recycled materials—it’s 10-20% recycled fly ash.

Here in the Northeast, the first signs of autumn have arrived: brisk evenings, golden leaves on the trees, the smell of wood smoke.  As days grow shorter and the weather colder, we’ll be turning to our furnaces and stoves to keep us warm.  Of course, we should keep in mind that however we choose to heat our homes – with wood, oil, or gas – there will be an environmental impact.

The more we heat our homes, the more money we spend, the more resources we consume and the more greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere.  The EPA estimates that in the United States, approximately 4 metric tons of CO2 equivalent are emitted each year from residences – a major percentage of which is related to home heating.  Since most homes rely on furnaces and boilers that burn fossil fuels, it is essential to ensure that our homes are heated as efficiently as possible, saving the individual both energy and money.  Hence, the importance of insulation!

Using conventional insulation can only go so far in achieving environmental sustainability.  Conventional fiberglass insulation is a suspected carcinogen, and is typically produced using new materials, by melting down glass and spinning it into tiny fibers.  Those fibers are painful – touching fiberglass insulation leaves an itching, burning sensation as those fibers lodge themselves below the skin.  Fiberglass insulation dust becomes airborne during installation and can become embedded in the lungs.  Finally, the chemicals used to bind fiberglass batting together are often petroleum-based and are suspected to “off-gass” toxic phenol, formaldehyde, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

It’s fortunate that there are several green products available that can help keep homes well-insulated (indeed, better than conventional insulation), their inhabitants safe, and are more environmentally-sustainable in their use of recycled materials.  They are exceptional products – composed of recycled paper, cellulose fibers, and blue jeans.

Three of these green products are featured below:

1. Bonded Logic Ultratouch Recycled Cotton Insulation is constructed from recycled blue jean material – and is remarkably soft.  While touching fiberglass insulation can result in pain, cotton fiber insulation is soft enough to use as a pillow.  Bonded Logic insulation in particular is chemically-treated by anti-fungals and fire retardants that are EPA-registered and environmentally sound.  The R-Value (that is, a measurement of insulation efficiency.  The higher the R-value, the better the material retains heat) is notably higher than that of fiberglass insulation – 3.5”-thick fiberglass insulation has an R-Value of 10.9, while Ultratouch is rated at 13.

The product is also LEED-certified and can installed easily at home.  Green Depot is also able to quick ship Ultratouch Recycled Cotton Insulation in pallets to specific states.  For more information on where this product can be shipped as well as all technical specifications, please click here.

2. Knauff’s EcoBatt Glasswool is an comfortable option for homeowners wanting to insulate their homes with a more familiar – and significantly safer – fiberglass option.  While conventional fiberglass insulation has any number of problems – it is energy- and material-intensive in its production, it puts out significant amounts of dust during installation, and outgases formaldehyde – EcoBatt is far more kind of people and the environment.  Constructed out of a minimum 30% post-consumer recycled glass bottle content, EcoBatt as contains no formaldehyde and is low-dust.  Conventional fiberglass uses binding materials that are petroleum-based; EcoBatt, on the other hand, uses a binder that is made from renewable organic materials.  All told, EcoBatt’s production practices and materials are more mindful of the environment and the individual – up to 70% less energy-intensive than traditional binders.

EcoBatt is also a bit more versatile than Ultratouch – it comes in a number of widths, R-values, densities, and facings.  For technical specifications, you can either visit Green Depot here, or view the product brochure here.

3. National Fiber Cel-Pak Cellulose Insulation is a third option.  Cellulose insulation is notably different from familiar batten insulation — it is fill insulation, meaning that it is pumped in with vacuums into walls, attics, and ceilings.   Cellulose insulation is made from 100% recycled newspapers and treated with non-toxic borate fire retardant.  A substantial benefit of cellulose insulation is that it fills every nook and cranny.  Batten insulation, and especially fiberglass insulation, leaves large gaps between pipes and beams that can reduce insulating efficiency for the home, costing energy and money.

For installation, material, and safety specifications, you can click here.

(Autumn house photo credit to  ktylerconk)