Sunday, October 30, 2005

Household Tips to Keep Your Health and Your Savings Intact

by P.W. McRandle

Whether or not the fierce recent hurricanes have been a result of global warming, the melting arctic ice cap and rising water temperatures most certainly are, and we can expect more devastating storms and coastal flooding as the planet heats up. The main culprits? Greenhouse gases that trap the sun's heat in our atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, nitrous oxides from synthetic fertilizer and methane from cattle and waste dumps. Our transportation and product choices can make the problem worse or make things better. Petroleum-based plastics, synthetic fibers, forest products resulting in deforestation, cosmetics and even the foods we eat can contribute to global warming. We pay for it with more plants allergies as they bloom earlier and in greater numbers, not to mention the spread of tropical diseases like malaria and hantavirus as warming climates create habitats for disease-bearing pests in formerly colder climes.

Products that use less fossil fuel in production are also healthier for us since they don't release petrochemical toxins such as particulates, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide. These toxins are a major trigger in asthma and other respiratory illnesses, as well as cancer, heart disease and smaller fetal size. However, more oil exploration will result in destruction of pristine wilderness and more oil spills decimating our already reduced fisheries.

In every room of the house, there are dozens of opportunities to improve our energy use, air quality and health. Now that energy bills are skyrocketing, here are tips from attic to basement, play room to medicine cabinet, that will help keep your family healthy, keep down the greenhouse gases and save a few bucks in the process.


Even while you sleep, you can help reduce the burden on the planet. Northstar Beds, handmade by Amish families, come in organic cotton, organic wool and natural latex, a replenishable rainforest resource. Wool provides fire protection without the use of hazardous flame retardants that have been shown in the breast milk of American women. Unfinished, organic cotton sheets fromNative Organic Cotton keep pesticides out of the earth and with a 240 thread count are comfy as well. For more options, see the Mattresses and Box Springs Product Report and "Sleep Better! On Chemical-Free Bedding."


Before it gets to your dinner table, produce travels an average of 1,500 miles, burning needless gallons of fuel when so much can be bought locally in season. Choosing local and organic fruit and vegetables will also cut out petroleum-derived synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Buy in-season produce and organic grains in bulk to save trips and use your local farmer's market to make sure food travels a shorter distance from the farm to your plate. Sad when the summer's bounty comes to an end? Freezing fresh fruit is an easy way to keep them available when out of season. See "Freezing and Conserving Local Produce" in The Green Guide #110.

Petroleum-based plastics are all over kitchens, from vinyl floor tiles to storage containers and handy wraps. But the phthalates used to soften plastics and vinyl enter the air and our food, affecting the hormones of developing children. Choose phthalate-free, recyclable containers and wraps such as Gladware containers, Tupperware's freezesmart line and Glad Cling Wrap. For phthalate-free kitchen floor tiling, iFloor's cork tiles and Forbo Marmoleum natural linoleum tiles are good choices. For more, see the Flooring and Plastic Containers Product Reports.

By making more home cooked meals using fresh ingredients, you'll be reducing your consumption of unnecessary quantities of sodium, sugars and processing aides. It's also a great way to reduce packaging waste, energy and money.

To cut down your energy bill, pick Energy Star-certified appliances, such as Sun Frost's R-19 Refrigerator, which is 53 percent more energy efficient than conventional models, and Asko's D3531XLFI dish washer, which is a whopping 159 percent more efficient than regular models. That takes a big chunk out of the greenhouse gases produced by powerplants making the energy we use.

For more energy-saving tips, see "Cutting Costs in a Fuel-Scare World."

Thinking yet about the holidays? Consider buying an organic turkey, now available in most supermarkets. And organic wines like Badger Mountain's 2004 Johannesburg Riesling, a great gift, are coming into their own. Certified organic and fair-trade chocolate, which are grown in ways that don't harm the rainforest and return a fair price to the farmer, are also yummy. TryEndangered Species Chocolate Company's chimp mints. For more gift ideas, see The Green Guide's Top Product Picks special year-end buying guide issue, with over 100 healthy, eco-friendly product ideas for your home and family.

Under The Sink

Cleaning supplies and pesticides are major sources of indoor air pollution, releasing chemicals that can provoke respiratory problems and asthma attacks. Choose simpler ingredients like vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda for your cleaning needs, or choose from among the growing number of safer brands, such as Seventh Generation,Ecover and Dr. Bronner's now available in most major supermarkets.

Keep pests away by sealing all cracks and entry points, cleaning all foods and residues that could attract them and fixing any dripping taps that provide pests with water. Boric acid can help keep down roaches, or try aVictor Insect Monitor pheromone glue trip that to lure them to their doom (but keep both boric acid and glue traps away from pets and children). The Green Guide'sHousehold Cleaning Supplies and Pest Control Product Reports give more tips and product advice.

Laundry Room

Launder clothes on the warm or cold water setting for washing, and always use cold water to rinse clothes. Hang clothes to dry whenever you can either outside or on a rack, such as the collapsable Wall Shelf Drying Rack at Doing all of these will shave up to 9 percent from your energy bill (that's an average of $162 savings annually for a family of four).

When looking for a new clothes washer, choose an Energy Star-certified appliance such as LG Electronics' WM2677HSM, which is a 125 percent more energy efficient than the federal standard.

Living Room

Keep an eye on heating costs by turning down your thermostat, saving yourself 5 percent on heating costs for every degree lower between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. And an Energy Star-rated programmable thermostat such as Honeywell's can save you up to $100 a year. In any case, don't forget to close vents and doors of vacant rooms.

Avoid breathing solvents and chemicals from paint wood finishes by choosing products that have low- or no- "volatile organic compounds" (VOCs). No-VOC paint brands include AFM Safecoat and Old Fashioned Milk Paint, actually made with milk. In wood finishes, Tried and True's Original Wood Finish and Danish Oil are both No-VOC choices. See the Paint and Wood Finishes Product Reports for more products.

Install energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs, such as those made by General Electric, Duro-Test Lighting or Phillips. One bulb can save you at least $30 in electric bills over its lifespan and reduce greenhouse gases from power plants. If every U.S. household replaced five bulbs, it would prevent the release of as much greenhouse gas as removing 8 million cars from the road for a year. And those five bulbs would save 50 percent of your annual lighting bill. For more products and information, see the Light Bulb Product Report.

Wall-to-wall carpets are a sink for all the dirt, allergens and pesticides tramped in from out of doors which can easily end up in the mouths of crawling children. And synthetic carpets with petrochemical glues are petroleum-derived and non-recyclable. Consider wood flooring, such as Teragren's durable bamboo, a quickly replenishing grass and, for comfort, try easy-to-clean wool areas rugs from Earth Weave. Or use wood reclaimed from old farms, breweries and factories fromMountain Lumber of Virginia to help conserve trees needed to keep down carbon dioxide levels. For more suggestions and products, see the Carpet and Flooring Product Reports.


Low-flow showerheads from companies like Oxygenicswill not only cut your water usage by 20,000 gallons per year, but they'll save you 10 to 16 percent of your water heating costs.

You can be squeaky clean without antibacterial chemicals such as triclosan in soap or shampoos fragranced with phthalates that may alter hormones. Choose soaps by company's that avoid synthetic chemicals, such as Dr. Bronner's and Aubrey Organics and shampoos byTerressentials and Tom's of Maine.

See the Shampoo Product Report and "Soap and Shampoo: Personal Best."

Consider a new toilet to save water: Low-flow models such as Kohler's Rialto work effectively with a third of the water older toilets use. And stock up on recycled toilet paper and facial tissues from Seventh Generation. Buying these items in bulk saves money.

Personal Care

Sending out the kids in scary makeup for Halloween? Avoid cosmetics with ingredients like carcinogenic formaldehyde or parabens and phthalates, which may affect hormones. Keep away from petroleum-based moisturizers as well. Burt's Bees and Real Purityproduce cosmetics that can scare the neighbors without risking your child's health, and for non-petroleum moisturizers, try Kathy's Family Shea Butter Lotion orMad Gabs Body Oil.

See "Darth Vader, Dora the Explorer...or Dioxins?" and"The Dirty Dozen Ingredients in Personal Care Products."


If you're shopping for a new car, hybrids are a great way to cut down your gas consumption. Among the most fuel-efficient are the Toyota Prius, which gets 60 mpg city/51 hwy or $800 est. annual fuel costs, the HondaCivic Hybrid (47 city/48 hwy, $936 annually), and theFord Escape Hybrid (36 city/31 hwy, $1332 annually).

To really save you gas and keep you fit in the bargain, bicycles can't be beat. Giant's Cypress LX and Gary Fisher's Nirvana are perfect for commutes while being sturdy enough to handle a dirt road, but wear a helmet, stick to bicycle paths and obey all traffic laws to keep yourself safe.


Insulating your ceiling can reduce heating costs 5 to 25 percent, saving approximately $180 annually for a family of four. Innotherm's cotton insulation from recycled denim scrap will also have no impact on your indoor air quality, unlike the formaldehyde concerns from fiberglass insulation.


Replace or clean your furnace filters monthly. Making sure the furnace is lubricated and properly adjusted will save another 5 percent on your heating bill.

Home Office

With lead and cadmium circuit boards, lead oxide and barium in monitors, mercury in flat screens, and plastics and flame retardants in casings, circuit boards, and cables, computers pose a big "e-waste" problem at the end of their usefulness. When purchasing a new computer, look for companies with "take back" policies for old machines, such as HP, Dell, NEC, and IBM.

Companies that are taking the toxic substances out of their machines include HP, Dell (with its Optiplex line),Apple and Panasonic.

The Green Guide's Computer Product Report provides more options.

The Play Room

When it's the children's playtime, avoiding phthalate-laden polyvinyl chloride (PVC) vinyl toys is both a better choice for them and for the environment. Stuffed toys made of organic cotton from the Organic Gift Shop, PVC-free Lego bricks, the Beka Starter wooden block set from well-managed maple forests, even sports equipment made with health and the environment in mind are all durable items that will give years of play without years of exposure to toxic chemicals.


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