Tuesday, April 21, 2009


The very first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970 by over 20 million people in the United States. Almost 40 years later, Earth Day is a global celebration, marked by billions of people throughout the world. The theme of this year's Earth Day is The Green Generation. Throughout the country and the world, Earth Day Celebrations include clean-ups, concerts, festivals, educational programs and political rallies. Earth Day has also been chosen as the opening date for "Earth" a movie created by Disneynature to highlight the beauty of our planet and the threat posed to it by global warming.

How will you celebrate Earth Day? In no particular order, Green Homes offers the following suggestions:

  • Walk, ride your bike, car pool or take public transportation to school or work. For this one day, see if you can avoid using your car at all.

  • Limit your use of electronics and appliances - how about letting your hair dry naturally instead of plugging in that hair dryer? Maybe you can cut back your screen time by a half an hour, an hour or maybe keep those screens dark for the day.

  • Hug a tree. Or plant one. If your yard doesn't have room, have one planted in the rain forest.

  • Try to have a least one waste-free meal. Don't use any disposables: china plates and cloth napkins can make even the most lowly meal seem special. Send your children's lunches in reusable containers. Fill a thermos instead of packing a plastic water bottle or juice box. If you buy coffee on the go, bring your own travel mug.

  • Recycle everything you can.

  • Wash your clothes in cold water. If it's nice out, dry them on a clothes line.

  • Don't waste water. Take a shorter shower. Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Save a flush - if it's yellow, let it mellow!

  • Save a tree. Use both sides of paper. Don't print from your computer unless you really need to.

  • Write your elected officials to let them know the environment is important to you.

  • Go to see "Earth".

  • Unplug electronics you are not using. (This includes everything from your electric toothbrush to your coffeemaker to your flat screen TV.)
  • Change a light bulb. Try the new generation CFLs or LEDs.

  • Adjust the thermostat. If it's cold, throw on a sweater; or better yet, cuddle! If it's hot, throw open the window.

  • Get the on-line version of your favorite newspaper.

  • Turn off the lights when you leave the room.

  • Use green, non-toxic cleaning products.

  • Talk to your friends about ways you can reduce your environmental impact.
  • Form a Green Team at your work place or school.

  • Clean up the environment around you. Clear the garbage and debris from your local park, bike path or beach. Create a more beautiful and healthy environment for the people and wildlife in your community.

  • Say "No, thank you" when offered a plastic bag. Bring your own reusable bag, buy one at the store, or just carry your items in your arms.

  • Take an environmental pledge. Consider it a New Year's Resolution in April. What can you pledge to do this year to help the planet?

  • Enjoy nature. Visit a local nature preserve or just appreciate the beauty in your own backyard.

We hope these suggestions help you commemorate Earth Day 2009. There are literally thousands of ways you can help your planet today and every day. Let us know what you are doing. We would love to read your suggestions and ideas. Our motto is "A Greener Planet Starts at home", but it can really start anywhere you are - at home, at work, at school or on the beach. Become part of the Green Generation!

Happy Earth Day from Green Homes!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Inside!

Brrr...Why is it so cold in here? It's winter, we get that it's cold outside. But our homes should be cozy, snug and warm, right? Well, ideally. But in reality, many of us have drafty, under-insulated homes. What's the problem? Air flow. This month, continue your New Year's goals and resolve to "Go Green" by reducing air loss in your home.

Step Two. February's GO GREEN Challenge: Keep heated air from leaking out of your house.

1) Dodge the draft. It would be great if we could replace all our old windows and doors with energy efficient ones. Ultimately, that should be your goal. For now, make the best of your old windows and doors by eliminating drafts wherever possible. Simple measures like drawing curtains to add a layer of insulation are completely cost free. Other, effective measures have very modest price tags. Use draft guards to eliminate under door drafts and place a draft-blocking "snake" on your window sill. Plastic sheeting on windows is very effective in cutting heat loss. You can find many of these products at local stores or on-line through ImprovementsCatalog

2) Shut (and lock) that window! You wouldn't leave a window wide open in the middle of winter, would you? Well, if you are neglecting to close your fireplace flue, that's exactly what you're doing! Additionally, just closing your windows isn't enough. Most windows won't completely seal out air flow unless they are closed and locked. Check the locks on all your windows to ensure that cold air isn't seeping in.

3) Strip ease. When you stand next to your window, does your hair blow in the breeze? That really shouldn't be happening. Check the weather stripping on your windows and doors. They may need replacing or beefing up. Weather stripping is easy to install yourself (or ask your handyman) and readily available in many different sizes and shapes from your local hardware store or Home Depot.

4) Insulation Nation! The federal government will support your efforts to reduce energy use. A tax credit is available for energy efficient home improvements such as insulation, roofs, windows and HVAC. Increasing insulation is one of the best ways to reduce air flow, thus preventing energy loss and saving you money. The U.S. Department of Energy offers detailed information on how to check your home for leaks and properly increase your insulation. If do-it-yourself is not your thing, ask your handyman or contractor. Green Homes can also assist you in identifying leaks as well as in finding qualified professionals to increase your insulation.

5)Think small, save big. Even small leaks can cause increased energy use and correspondingly increased heating and cooling bills. Seal mail slots, insulate light switches and outlets that feel cold to the touch. Little advances in making your home more air tight can add up to big savings!

6) Schedule an eco-audit. A Green Homes eco-audit can identify the areas in which you are experiencing air loss. We thoroughly audit your entire home, checking insulation levels and identifying air leaks. Our detailed report includes a checklist you (or a handyman) can use to remedy the deficiencies. Contact us at http://www.greenhomesllc.net/.

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Year's Resolution

It's that time of year again;  resolution time.    Resolutions are an interesting phenomenon.  Their intent is positive but, I find, there are many who avoid the whole idea because they don't want to risk failure.  Or endure change.

We find this same fear of change and failure is what often prevents people from even attempting to 'go green.' "Won't I have to spend a lot of money to go green?"  "Will I have to lose all my creature comforts?"    "Will I have to make my own clothing from my recycled six-pack-holders?"  The answer to each is a resounding NO.  Going green is easy.    It's doable.  And even your smallest efforts make a difference.   

So at GreenHomes we're keeping it simple this year.  

2009 New Year's Resolution:


There, that wasn't so hard, was it?  And that's the key:  it's NOT so hard.  In fact, it's easy.  And we're going to help you, step by step, with simple, practical steps you can take to lighten your carbon load and ease your guilty conscience.  

Step One.  January's GO GREEN Challenge:  Wash your clothes in cold water.  

Did you know:
  • The washing machine accounts for about 25% of a household’s hot water usage. 
  • Eighty percent of the electricity used by your washing machine goes towards heating the water. 
  • Washing your clothes in cold water can cut your washing machine’s energy usage by 50%.  
  • Unless your clothes are heavily soiled, cold water will do just fine.  

In the old days, our detergents required warm water to work effectively.  Detergents now are soluble in cold water so heating it is just not necessary.  Try it!  

Here are some other tips from Green Homes to green your laundry 

  • Only run the washing machine with a full load.
  •  Line dry clothes whenever possible.
  • When using the dryer, don’t over dry – use your dryer’s moisture sensor setting. 
  • Use the medium or lower temperature setting for your dryer. A lower setting will be     easier on your clothes and your energy bill.
  • Always dry a full load and clean the lint trap before each load. It  improves the air circulation, drying your clothes faster.
  • Choose a green detergent - like Shaklee's Get Clean laundry detergent


So there you have it - Green Homes' resolution and first challenge of 2009.  GO GREEN!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Green Your Christmas! (Or is stress a green house gas?)

We all want to do right by our friends and family during the holiday season. But how to keep everyone happy while maintaining your green sensibilities? There are many ways to green your Christmas. Here are Green Homes' suggestions for 5 easy ways to keep the holidays green and just maybe reduce your stress level.

1) Try to do as much shopping on-line as possible. Don't feel guilty as that big brown truck pulls up in front of your house - yet again. Less energy is consumed when people order on-line and then have it delivered than if everyone takes multiple trips to various shopping sites. Think of it as buying in bulk or having a retail co-op with a bunch of strangers. If you are one of those people who needs to walk the aisles to be inspired or who likes to touch and feel the goods, then try to group your errands to make as few trips to the mall as possible. If you and a friend or relative drive togethe,r you can make a small contribution to reducing carbon emissions. And that's one fewer car in the mall parking lot!
2) Rethink the wrap. We know it looks pretty; but waste, waste, waste. Did we mention: WASTE!!! Re-use gift bags, use cloth to wrap gifts, decorate gifts with a candy cane and bow or a pine cone and some cinnamon sticks instead of wrapping paper. Think of the money you'll save! (Not to mention the trees, ink and land-fill space!) Target has very attractive, printed gift boxes made of 100% recylced materials.

3) Guilt free giving. Consider giving experience-oriented gifts instead of adding to our already over-wrought consumption and packaging culture. Give tickets to a show, take someone on a special outing, plant some trees in honor of a friend or donate to your recipient’s favorite charity. There are some truly over-the-top experience gifts if you want to dazzle a loved one: your baseball fan could attend fantasy camp, the animal lover could be a trainer for the day at an aquarium or zoo, your culinary connoisseur can have a private lesson with his or her favorite chef. Some great web-based offerings can be found at Cloud9living.com and xperiencedays.com. At these site syou can find something for everyone on your list, from private art or cooking lessons to a Cardio Strip Tease Dance Package or a Fighter Pilot for a Day experience.

4) Call, don't write. Consider skipping Christmas cards, sending on-line versions, shortening your list, or making it an every other year tradition. We bet Aunt Maude would love to hear the kids' voices in a holiday phone call!

5) Go Easy. If you travel this Christmas, travel light. Heavier cars and planes mean heavier fuel consumption. Consider purchasing offsets if you do engage in air travel this Christmas. (The Nature Conservancy and Terra Pass make it easy.) If you decorate (and who doesn't?) remember that less can be more. A few LED candles in the windows makes a prettier picture, and uses far less energy, than a flashing neon Santa with robotically moving reindeer!

Green Homes' December Challenge: Green Your Christmas!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Yes, Even YOU Can Compost!

We've heard it many times: people are more than a little squeamish about composting. They're worried about odor, bugs, vermin and just the general "ick" factor. Let us put some of your fears to rest. It's really easy to compost. It really isn't gross, and it is surprisingly satisfying.

First of all, what's the big deal? The big deal is you can divert about a third of your household waste to compost; turning it into rich food for your garden and diverting it from landfills. Wouldn't the organic waste compost just as well at the landfill? The answer is no. For the composting process to work properly, oxygen is needed. Material in landfills is compacted so tightly that biodegradable material does not receive enough oxygen to break down efficiently. Instead of turning into rich nutrients for the Earth, the food waste takes much longer to break down and releases the greenhouse gas, methane, in the process. In the U.S., organic materials rotting in landfills account for nearly 40% of man-made methane emissions. Besides that, our landfills are being filled to the brim; many states have to truck or ship their waste elsewhere. Anything that can be diverted from our over-burdened landfills should be.

The next question the compost-fearful have is, "Doesn't it smell?" Not if you do it right. To break down properly, the compost pile needs to have both nitrogen and carbon rich elements. We'll call these "green" and "brown" material. Green materials are nitrogen rich and enable the decomposing microorganisms to grow. Brown materials are carbon rich and add energy. Green Homes recommends a ratio of about 3-1, brown to green. Too much green material and your compost will smell, too much brown and it will decompose too slowly.

So what should you use to reach this magic ratio? For your brown material, include: leaves, bark, wood chips, chopped brush, shredded newspaper, non-recyclable paper, sawdust, fireplace ash, vacuum cleaner and dryer lint, wool and cotton rags. For your green, use: grass, yard trimmings, fruits and vegetables (including peels), bread, eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, house plants and manure from vegetarian animals. To keep your compost pile pest and odor-free, DO NOT include the following: Oils, fat, meat, fish, dairy products, bones, cat or dog manure, sickly plants, peanut butter.

I keep a bowl or pot on my kitchen counter, put my kitchen waste in it throughout the day and dump it in the compost bin after dinner.

Now that you are completely sold on the idea, you're probably wondering how to begin. Just follow these easy steps:

1) Find a partially shaded, level spot in your yard, not too far from your kitchen.
2) You can create a pile or use a bin. A pile works as well as a bin, but a bin will prevent things from blowing.
3) Now you just need to start adding your compostable material. (See above.)
4) When adding kitchen scraps, dig a hole in the pile, drop the scraps, and cover them.
5) Every two months or so, turn over the materials and mix up your pile a little with a shovel or pitchfork to make sure oxygen is getting through.
6) In about six months, you will have compost or hummus at the bottom of your pile. This can be used on your lawn, garden and houseplants.

For more detail, check out the information available at Compost Guide. You can find a compost bin for purchase at this super-thorough web site or find instructions on how to make your own compost bin.

The type of composting described above can be done all winter long, the process just slows down in the colder months. However, some of you may be interested in indoor composting as well. There are easy kits that can be purchased for use in your kitchen or pantry. Some can be found at the Compost Bin Store on Compost Guide or at Low Impact Living.

Indoor composting is great for apartment dwellers, those with limited outdoor space, and people who just don't want to bring their waste outside in the winter. Indoor composting can be done with or without worms. (Yes, I did just say that you might actually WANT worms in your house, and, indeed, in your kitchen!) This process is called vermicomposting. The little wriggly guys use their natural taste for organic material and their biological need to then rid themselves of it (read "worm poop") to hasten the composting process and minimize any potential odor.

Green Homes November Challenge: Try Composting! It's easy, it's good for your garden (and the planet) and it's a fun, practical science project the whole family can be involved in! So, start composting and watch your garden grow and your garbage shrink!


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Green Homes in the Tribune!

Check out today's Chicago Tribune to see Green Homes' tips: 5 ways to make your home healthier.  

My friend Julie Deardorf, who wrote the article, covers health and fitness for the Trib.  She's also in my book club.  Well, she never comes, but she's always welcome.  Anyway, Green Homes is thrilled to lend our expertise to the subject at hand.

Julie sent an email a while back  asking for tips to make your home healthier as a sidebar to a larger story entitled "Is your highrise healthy?"  Healthy.   It's a tricky topic.  Does healthy mean green? Non-toxic?  Active?   So Catherine and I decided we'd combine all of the above.   Here, again, are Green Homes' five tips on how to make your home healthier.

1.Get rid of toxic cleaners. Why would you put on your floor something you need to lock up under the sink?
 - Simple truth, right?  There are a lot of good, all-natural cleaners out there, but we are partial to Shaklee's Get Clean products, (http://www.shaklee.net/greenhomes) which we also distribute.  They work, the company's carbon-neutral, and the stuff smells good. 

2.Buy local food. Avoid excess packaging, eat fresh food and eat together as a family.

- Try to buy like the europeans do.  Go to the market regularly, buy fresh food that's in season and build your menus around it.   And everyone's healthier and happier if you have a family dinner as often as possible. 

3.Wash your hands regularly with regular soap. Don't use anti-bacterial soap that contains chemicals such as triclosan. (Waterless hand sanitizers are OK.)

-It's the best thing you can do to stay healthy, especially if you live in cold weather climates.  And some germ exposure keeps your immune system on its toes, so to speak:  good old fashioned soap does the job just fine.  

4.Ditch the plastic food and beverage containers. Never reheat in plastic, don't use plastics No. 3, 6 & 7.

-In sum, plastic leaches dangerous chemicals when its temperature fluctuates.  Don't heat plastic in the microwave.  Don't leave plastic water bottles in the car.  And get rid of all plastics 3, 6 & 7 in your house.  It's not worth it.

5. Leave your shoes at the door. So you don't track in the pesticides and pollutants from outside.

-It's the best way to improve your home's indoor air quality.  We track in tons of toxins, dirt and pesticides that eventually turns to dust and settles on your stuff and, eventually, into your lungs.  Ick.  Take 'em off.

It's the little things.  They add up.  


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lunch Duty

Let me be clear: I hate making lunches. Loath may be more accurate. Abhor. Every morning when I take that ten minutes to put my kids' lunches together I get grumpy. But while I would love the convenience of hot lunches, the options at both of my kids' schools are below par at best. And it's important to me that my kids have a decent midday meal. 

So while the lunchable, pre-fab meals would solve these problems, I just can't do it. They're a crime, in my opinion, both nutritionally and environmentally. They're over-packaged and over-salted. So what's a lunch-packing person to do?

Consider the average elementary school lunch. If you're lucky your kid uses a reusable lunch bag. But there is where many, if not most of the waste reduction stops. Plastic baggies for sandwiches, ziploc baggies for snacks, individual containers of applesauce or raisins, plastic spoons, paper napkins; does any of this sound familiar? The amount of food that gets tossed each day is bad enough, but the packaging that goes into the trash with it is cringe-worthy. Yes, those disposables are convenient, and on field-trip days there's just no getting around them, but on a day-to-day basis, we can do better.

That brings me to the next Green Homes Challenge:  
No disposables in our or our kids' lunches! 

We can do it! I promise!

The key is making it easy. And with a little effort out front, it is. Green Homes has found some lunch containers that virtually eliminate your need for disposables.

You can buy 'lunch kits' that have compartments for all the different food groups, or you can buy loads of reusable plastic containers in varying sizes. Here are a couple places to find them:

 Your classic Tupperware - never goes out of style!

            Aren't they cute??

Locally, Healthy Green Goods on Main Street in Evanston carries the laptop lunch kits featured above.

So buy a couple kits, fill up the compartments, and send a cloth napkin and real silverware with their lunch. It's easy, it virtually eliminates any waste and maybe it'll catch on in your school cafeteria.  Most importantly, bring your kids into the process.  Tell them we're trying to have zero waste.  Maybe ask them to challenge their friends to do the same.   Remember, when you throw something away, there is no away.  It goes somewhere!

Small steps.  Big impact.  

Good luck!