Welcome to Green Boot Camp

Welcome to Green Boot Camp blog, a 52-week program to help you become a greener you in 2008. This is the companion blog to The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Green Boot Camp Black Out

Sorry, readers, about the Green Boot Camp black out. I just haven't been able to keep up with the weekly posts. The Lean Green Family has grown so much in the past year that, with five postings weekly--and a freelance writing business to run--I just don't have the time to post on Green Boot Camp as well. It was a good idea, but one that I've had to give up on. I hope you'll continue to follow me over at The Lean Green Family. Thanks.

Leah Ingram
November 21, 2008

Monday, September 8, 2008

Week 34--Reusable Water Sources

This past weekend we were treated to the remnants of Tropical Storm Hanna, which dumped about four inches of rain on our thirsty landscape. As most gardeners know a great way to get your potted plants watered without wasting water is to set them out on your step or in the front yard when you're in for a good downpour. The plants will get a great drink, and you won't have to turn on the tap to quench their thirst.

There are other ways that you can create reusable water sources throughout your house, and this week in Green Boot Camp, I want you to figure out what those reusable water sources are--and how you can use them.

For example, my daughters take refillable water bottles to school each day in their lunch boxes. At night when I'm cleaning their lunch boxes out, if there is any water left in the bottles, I'll use it to water the indoor plants. Sure, the easiest thing to do would be to dump it down the drain, by why not get a second use out of it?

Over the summer, when we were swimming in our pool nearly daily, I had everyone get into their post-pool shower with their bathing suits on. I explained that you could clean yourself and your suit at the same time. That is after soaping up with shampoo, you could take your bathing suit off and let it wash itself in the bottom of the tub. Then, when you rinsed your body, your bathing suit got rinsed, too. This saved me from having to hand wash bathing suits, and the quick washings has extended the bathing suits' life because we're getting the chlorine off of the fabric pretty quickly.

I've also found my dehumidifier to be a terrific source of free water. Here's how I've taken to reusing that water:

* Pouring it into the washing machine as I'm filling a load. I have to do this when the load is filling, otherwise the water goes right down the drain. I figure that if the dehumidifier water helps to fill up the washing machine's tub, I use less water (which I pay for, now that we're on a public system) when washing my clothes.

* Using it to flush the toilets. Yes, I admit that we often subscribe to the notion of "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown flush it down." That is, if you don't have to flush the toilet every time you use it, don't do it so you can save water. Of course, if I were having guests over or I was at someone else's house, I wouldn't ever do this. I'd flush with each bathroom use. But when it's just the four of us around, it works for us.

* Filling the kitchen sink with the water to let dirty dishes soak. Because dehumidifier water isn't potable--and therefore I can't refill the dog's water dish with it--I can use it to soak of stuck-on gunk before placing anything in the dishwasher.

* Dumping it in the pool. Of course, this option will stay viable for only as long as the pool stays open. But, then again, I tend not to run the dehumidifier during the cold weather months, because it isn't humid out.

Let me know if you come up with other ways to reuse water during this week of Green Boot Camp.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Week 33--Top 10 Tips for Greener Living

(Note: This post also appeared on The Lean Green Family)

Now that we're more than halfway through Green Boot Camp's 52 weeks to a greener you, I thought it was the perfect time to do a refresher course in greener living--most of which we've already covered here but which bear repeating:

1. Get compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL).
These energy-efficient bulbs last way longer than regular incandescent bulbs--CFLs give you about 10,000 hours of light whereas incandescent bulbs give only 1,000 hours. (Note: when your bulbs do eventually burn out, don't toss them in the trash. Instead, drop them off at IKEA, which will recycle them for free, or figure out another green way to dispose of them.)

2. Stock up on reusable bags.
While most supermarkets sell reusable bags these days, save the money and dig out all of those canvas bags you've picked up at conferences or maybe on vacation. Bring these bags with you whenever you go to the store--whether it be grocery shopping or a day at the mall. Or, keep them in the trunk of your car so you'll never forget them at home. If you remember to bring a reusable bag, when the checkout person asks you, "Paper or plastic?" you can reply, "No, thanks. I brought my own."

3. Be cool (or warm) in winter and summer.
That is, make your house or apartment a couple degrees cooler in the winter, and then run the a/c a little warmer in the summer. Just a few degrees difference can cut your energy consumption and lower your bills, too. Also, when you can, open the windows and let Mother Nature cool your home. We were able to do this during our exceptionally cool August, and our electric bill went down by $100. Unfortunately, now that it's September, it's ragweed season, and my allergies require us to keep all the windows shut and the a/c on.

4. Embrace daylight.
There is no reason to have lights on during the day if it's bright and sunny out. Try to turn on lights only when it's getting dark or if it's a gloomy day. Also, get in the habit of turning lights off when you leave a room to save energy as well.

5. Start composting.
I got my composter for free off of Freecycle, and now I put all of my food scraps (except for meat and dairy) in the compost. Since I started composting, I would estimate that we've reduced our garbage output by at least half.

6. Recycle more than just paper and plastic.
Of course everyone should be recycling paper and plastic as their town or city might require, but you can find ways to recycle and reuse other items so that they don't end up in landfills. Case in point: old towels, sheets and t-shirts can become rags (saves on paper towels), or you can donate them to a local SPCA, which uses them to line pens or dry off animals after baths. Need to get rid of a piece of furniture? Don't throw it out--list it for free on Freecycle or Craigslist.

7. Shop locally.
Spring and summer are great times to take advantage of local farms and farmer's markets for fresh produce, eggs and other locally grown or made items. Tonight, for example, I picked up honeycrisp apples at the supermarket, and as soon as they're picked in a local orchard, that's where I'll go to get our favorite apple variety. By shopping locally you can feel confident that you're getting fresher fare, and you don't have to feel guilty that the tomato in your salad traveled 1,000 miles or more to get to your table.

8. Leave the car at home.
I realize that for city-folk, walking everywhere is a no-brainer. But people like me who live in the suburbs can find a way to walk more so we can leave the car at home. Whenever I need to go to the post office, the bank or even take the dog to the vet, I walk. Or, if walking from home isn't an option, you can park your car in one central place, and then walk to all of the stores where you need to run errands. Also, get yourself a pedometer so you can keep track of how much walking you are doing, which does a body good. Yesterday, I barely got in the car, and ended the day with 19,000+ steps (that's close to eight miles)!

9. Dispose of disposables.
Get yourself out of the habit of using disposable anything, whether it be paper towels, plastic spoons or paper plates. You'll do Mother Earth right if you throw out less trash. Besides, even though it might seem logical to use paper plates instead of running the dishwasher, the dishwasher is actually the greener choice. Just think about the trees that had to be cut down and trucked, and the energy that was used to make paper plates. No, your everyday plates washed in the dishwasher wins hands down every time.

10. Change how you use (and drink) water.
An easy way to green your water use is to install aerators on all of your faucets and low-flow showerheads in your bathrooms. These can cut water consumption in half, simply by allowing less water to come out at a time. In addition, as every kids knows, you shouldn't let the water run when you're brushing your teeth or waiting for it to get cold enough to drink. With the latter situation keep a pitcher of water in the fridge so you've got chilled water on hand to drink at all times. And speaking of drinking water, ditch the disposable water bottle habit and get yourself a reusable water bottle that you can use to quench your thirst without adding to landfills.

Have any tips to add to my top 10? Post a comment. I'd love to hear your ideas!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Week 32--Start Thinking About Stocking a Gift Closet

Will back to school about to get into full swing here on the East Coast--and already back in session in many parts of the country--I'll guarantee that you'll find school supply sales galore. I'm sure this has a lot to do with the fact that retailers are forecasting a soft back-to-school shopping season. But that shouldn't bum you out. No, this is a great time for you to think about stocking a gift closet back-to-school and end-of-summer items. In fact, a gift closet is your task for this week on Green Boot Camp.

What's a gift closet? It's a place in your home, be it a closet, shelf in the garage or drawer in a dresser, where you keep onhand gifts that you might need at the last minute. These kinds of gifts would be hostess gifts, thank you gifts, children's gifts and more.

Some of my other favorite items to keep in a gift closet include bags of whole-bean coffee, savory bottles of olive oil, picture frames, bottles of wine, and serving or decorative bowls. For kids I'll get games, puzzles and anything having to do with arts and crafts.

Around the holidays I add bottles of wine and boxes of chocolate, which I keep in the refrigerator. But they serve the same purpose--should I need a last-minute gift to bring to a party or a dinner to which I've been invited, I don't need to hop in the car (wastes gas) to get to the store and make a purchase I probably can't afford. No, I stock up when things are on sale and in one trip so I'm saving gas.

OK, so at the end of the summer, what cool things might you find for your gift closet?

* Stationery store items, such as notecards, writing journals, and arts and craft supplies
* Summer/pool accessories, such as beach towels, goggles or inflatable pool toys
* Housewares or home decorations, such as candles and greenery.

Soon enough the stores will be overflowing with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas items. And once each of these holidays has come and gone, I would recommend taking a day to stock up on those seasonal items for next year's gift closet.

Let me know what kinds of ideas you come up with for your end-of-summer gift closet.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Week 31--Green Your Break Room

My friend DeeDee has determined that the break room in the real estate office where she works needed a green makeover. With an abundance of paper plates, plastic flatware and disposable drinking cups, the trash cans there overfloweth with garbage while the recycling bins remained empty. Just as bad as no one recycling, no one was making the effort to use anything reusable. That's when DeeDee decided to bring in a couple of sets of old dishes, coffee mugs, flatware and cloth napkins to stock the break room. While it's been tough converting her fellow realtors to her reusable ways, I'm convinced that soon enough she'll succeed.

Around the same time that I heard about DeeDee's efforts, my mother sent me an email suggesting that I write a post about making refreshments at meetings green. (She serves on a number of non-profit boards, and at their regular meetings, there's always food served.) Here's what my mom had to say about the greening of her meetings:
"The only paper we now throw away are napkins. By shopping @ Goodwill or Yard Sales, we have enough dishes, bowls and silverware....NO more plastic or paper. To avoid using paper towels, we also have dish cloths (which I bring home to launder) to dry the dishes."
You go, Mom!

This is all leading up to this week's task for Green Boot Camp. I want you to figure out how you can green the break room at your office. Or, if you're a teacher getting ready to go back to school (or have already gone back to school), I want you to come up with ideas to green the teacher's lounge.

Some ways you can achieve this, that tap into what DeeDee and my mom have done, include:

* Stocking the cabinets with reusable silverware, flatware, coffee mugs and drinking bottles

Are you an ardent yard sale shopper? Do you like to troll for bargains at thrift stores? Have you ever seen an "offer" on Freecycle for old place settings? If you've answered "yes" to any of these questions, then you realize that these are all great options for finding free or very low-cost dishes and other serving utensils that you can use in the teacher's lounge or break room.

Also, teachers tend to get way too many coffee mugs as gifts from their students--ask any teacher and she'll tell you this is true. So maybe if you work in a school, all you need to do to is ask your colleagues to reach into the depths of their storage cabinets in their classrooms to find all of those gifted coffee mugs that they never knew what to do with.

Finally, if you work in a school, you might want to query your physical education teachers to see if they have overstocks of refillable water bottles. I know that at my daughters' schools, mini sports bottles are often the "prize" they get for doing some sort of fitness-oriented fundraiser like Jump Rope for Heart. Might your PE teacher have an abundance of these that can go into rotation in the staff lounge?

* Bringing in cloth napkins and washable dishtowels

Again, the idea here is to reduce the amount of trash that ends up getting thrown out after a lunch break or prep period. Ideally, you can get a couple of teachers or work colleagues to agree to bring home the cloth napkins and towels at the end of the week to wash, like my mother has volunteered to do for her meetings. I'll bet that yard sales are a great place to pick up mismatched cloth napkins sets. Who cares if they don't match?

* Providing a compost bin for food scraps

I know plenty of people who aren't as lucky as I am to have a compost bin right in their backyard, but that doesn't stop them from being committed to composting their food scraps. These folks truck their scraps to a community composting pile or bring them to a local garden that collects organic matter. Perhaps the teachers among us could convince their school district to work with the cafeteria to compost their food scraps, and then the teachers could contribute their leftovers as well. At the very least if you have a compost pile at home and are willing to bring home organic matter to add to your compost pile, then you could provide an empty bucket, tucked under a sink or in a cabinet, and then let your colleagues know that they can dump their food scraps (except for meat or dairy), including coffee grounds, in that bucket.

* Making food and drinks on-site

Most people know that a great way to save money on workday nourishment is to bring in or make your own. Well, brewing your own coffee in the office or in the staff lounge is also a great way to cut down on people having to bring in disposable cups filled with coffee from the local coffee shop or Starbucks. At the same time, wouldn't it be great if you could have a freshly made, hot lunch that cost barely anything to cook up? Why not consider bringing in a Crock-Pot and having a schedule that you and your colleagues can use to Crock-Pot lunch? They could bring in the ingredients and dump them in the Crock-Pot before the first bell, and by the middle of the day, lunch is served! (For great ideas on easy Crock-Pot recipes, check out the blog A Year of CrockPotting.)

* Providing recycling bins

While most offices and schools have finally gotten around to recycling office paper on a regular basis, I'm convinced that not all of them are recycling plastic, metal and glass like they should be. So why not set up a clearly marked set of recycling bins in your break room or staff lounge so that when someone finished a can of Diet Coke or a bottle of water (gasp: bring a refillable bottle!), she has an easy way of tossing that can or bottle in a recycling bin instead of right into the trash.

I realize that all of these ideas are great in a vacuum and maybe you don't have colleagues who will buy into this notion of using reusables and then washing them afterwards. But you'll never know unless you try. Let me know if you can bring this up at your next staff meeting and what kind of reception your idea gets.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Week 30--Don't Bust Your Budget for Back to School

This week's task on Green Boot Camp may not be for everyone. Why? Because it's focusing on back to school. Now I realize that not everyone has kids that will be going back to school shortly--or may have already gone back if you live someplace where school started last week--but I promise that some of my advice and suggestions may apply.

OK, for starters, do not--I repeat, do not--head out to go back-to-school shopping before you've had the chance to do an inventory at home. The easiest way to collect more stuff, and therefore create more trash, is to buy and bring home items that you actually didn't need. And with too much stuff comes clutter. And as Flylady always says, "You can organize clutter."

So how do you get your inventory started? Well, if your kids are like my kids, they came home on the last day of school with a backpack full of half-used school supplies. That means that your first stop is to locate that backpack (I found both of my daughters' backpacks on the floor of their respective closets) and see what you've got inside. Turns out I had at least two packages of lined, three-hole-punch notebook paper that were never opened. I also discovered those stretchy Book Sox book covers, which I tossed in the laundry, and now they're good to go for the next school year. I tossed all of these into my all-purpose school supply box, which I learned about creating before the start of the last school year.

Next I want you to take a look around your house and see if there are any paper products, writing utensils or other items that you could easily reuse as back-to-school supplies. For example, last year had me attending a number of business meetings, which ended with my coming home with a pocket folder full of information. I know enough not to toss these kinds of pocket folders--once I've emptied them out and filed whatever it is from inside that I want to keep--so a few days ago we raided that stash of pocket folders to see if anything would work for back to school. Three such pocket folders did. We also discovered a few unused three-ring binders (not enough for both girls), some empty spiral notebooks, and three Rubbermaid-like container each filled with colored pencils, markers and crayons.

You can bet that I'd like to dip into each of those containers to fulfill the writing-utensil portion of my daughter's supply lists. I mean why buy new when I've got all of these perfectly good (yet not in a package) pencils, markers and crayons? Truth be told is my youngest is embarrassed to reuse colored pencils; she wants a fresh package. So I made her buy her own.

Speaking of supply lists, that should be your next step. Download them from your kids' school website (assuming your district is technologically advanced), and review the list with what you've already got in stock. Chances are you'll still need to buy some new supplies, but wait: don't head out to Staples or Wal-Mart or Target just yet. Now you've got to troll the sales, assuming you've got the time to buy a little bit of supplies each week.

For example, a few weeks ago Staples was having its penny sale, so we stocked up supplies we needed that were dirt cheap. In the end we spent only 13 cents on supplies. Last week Staples had other items on sales--like those marble-covered composition notebooks for 25 cents and filler paper for 10 cents a pack. On that trip, we stocked up on those items. For us now the only thing we've got left on our list are three-ring binders, and hopefully those will go on sale before school starts in September.

My wait-for-the-sales approach to back-to-school shopping assumes that your trip to a store selling school supplies isn't so far that you'll eat up your savings in gas by making multiple trips. I'm lucky that Staples is less than a mile away from where I live, so I can stop in on my way back on an errand day, when I'm in the car anyway, or we can walk to the store.

In the meantime, I can't stop thinking about those containers of colored pencils that we'll probably never use. So I'm thinking of culling them and putting them up as an "offer" on Freecycle. Maybe some other family will be able to put them to good use.

In fact, if you don't have kids going back to school, maybe this is how you can use this week of Green Boot Camp to your advantage. You could figure out how you can declutter your school-like supplies and give them away on Freecycle (or another kind of swap site, like I discussed recently on my other blog) so that your stuff doesn't end up in the trash, you'll have less stuff around that you're probably not using anyway, and you'll help out a family that maybe can't afford to get its children all the school supplies that you're going to give away for free.

Let me know how this week's Green Boot Camp tasks work for you.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Week 29--Dust Off Your Library Card

In our 24/7 retail world, it almost too easy to buy anything--day or night. With websites like Amazon.com, why would anyone ever go to the library? Well, that was my thinking for many years, which is how I managed to spend about $800 a year on books. Yes, that's also why my home looks like a library but I don't receive state funding or grants or anything. Nonetheless, it really is wasteful to think about reading a book once and never touching it again.

One of my resolutions when I started The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal) was to stop buying books and start borrowing them from the library. And since I made that resolution more than a year ago, I've purchased one book for myself. It was Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. The only reason I ended up breaking my resolution was I was going on a business trip, needed something to read, and the wait list for Three Cups of Tea through the library was just too long. (Great book, by the way. While it was a bit overwritten, I highly recommend it, and I hope it gets made into a movie.)

Now that I'm back on track with borrowing books from the library, I'd like you to make this change as well. So this week in Green Boot Camp, I'd like you to get out your library card and start using it. Don't have a library card? Then get thee to your local branch and apply for one. (You'll need to bring identification that proves that you live locally.)

Some libraries charge a nominal amount for a new card--especially if you once had one and lost it. Yeah, I learned this lesson the hard way when I had to fork over $3 to "reactivate" by library account. But that's OK. Three bucks is just a drop in the bucket when compared with the cost of a new book.

Hopefully, your library system offers an online option like mine does. It's great because I can do this: when I read about a great book in a magazine or newspaper, or hear an author speaking on TV or the radio, and want to read his/her book, I can log onto my library's website and reserve the book. Sometimes the staff just has to pull the book off the shelf at the library around the corner, and call me to come pick it up; other times they need to "order" the book from another branch, and it gets to me in a few days. In those rare instances where there is a waiting list, it could take weeks to get the book I'm dying to read (which is how I grew impatient with Three Cups of Tea).

One of the reasons that I love this online-reservation option is it allows me to "get" books the same way I used to when I was buying them off of Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I would hear about a book that piqued my interest, and I would log on to buy it. With the library system, I get to go through the same motions, except I don't have to enter my credit card number to complete the transaction. I just click on the "reserve" button, and then I can expect a call or email from the library when the book is ready for me to pick it up.

It really was a painless change to make. Think you can do it, too? Good luck and happy reading.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Week 28--Recycling DVDs and CDs

Every good green citizen knows the importance of recycling. If you're like me, you are diligently putting your plastics, paper, glass and aluminum out whenever it's recycling day. Or if you live in a state that has a bottle bill, you are religious about taking recyclable bottles back to the store so you can get your five or ten cents refunded to you.

Believe it or not, there is way more that you can recycle but that you can't put out at the curb. I've discussed this during other weeks on Green Boot Camp, such as Week 20, which talked about giving things away that you would normally throw away. And then way back during Week 3, we discussed "recycling everything else," which included motor oil and computers.

This week on Green Boot Camp we're going to focus on how to recycle some things that are actually pretty ubiquitous in most American homes. And that would be CDs and DVDs.

For starters have you ever really looked at a CD? They are kind of pretty, especially on the data side, which has all kinds of pretty rainbows and star burst patterns on it when you hold it in the light just so. That's why last Christmas I took some of my useless CDs, strung them with ribbon (recycled from somewhere else, of course), and hung them on our Christmas tree. I've also seen folks reuse CDs as drink coasters. And last spring, when my older daughter participated in an Odyssey of the Mind competition, we marveled at a team in her division that has crafted a butterfly costume out of used CDs. It was gorgeous--and food for thought for our costumes next year!

What about CDs or DVDs that are still in perfect working order but you're not interested in them anymore? Well if you have the cases for them, you could always put them up for grabs on Freecycle or Craigslist.

Might your library like them as a donation? I know that not every library can take books but with DVDs taking up much less room, perhaps they have room on their shelves for your used DVDs.

Or you could join some of the online swap sites that focus on DVDs and CDs (and books and computer games, too). The ones that come to mind are Zwaggle.com, SwapTree.com and, despite the name, Bookins.com.

Finally, if you've got CDs that you can no longer use and you can't figure out how to reuse them, then, believe it or not, you can recycle them. I just discovered The CD Recycling Center of America. Based in Salem, New Hampshire, not only does this company recycle the metal compact discs but also it will recycle the paper inserts and the jewel boxes that normally hold CDs, DVDs and software programs. This company works with everyone from individuals to schools that want to have a recycling drive, and you can get all of the details about sending them your CDs to be recycled here. Note: you will have to pay to send the CDs to the company, but at least it isn't charging you a fee to do the actual recycling, which some of the older-school CD recycling facilities once did.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Week 27--Drive Yourself Green

I don't need to tell you that gas prices are at an all-time high. Unless you can afford to buy a hybrid car--or at least find one without a waiting list--you're going to have to make do with the car you have.

This week in Green Boot Camp, your goal is to figure out ways to drive yourself green. In the process you should improve your gas mileage and, hopefully, cut down on how frequently you need to fill up on gas.

Start with checking the air pressure in your tires. (You'll find their proper pounds per square inch, or psi, on the side of the tire itself.) This is important because when tires are about 20 percent below where they should be as far as air pressure goes, you can expect to increase how much fuel you use by 10 percent.

Here's another reason to ensure that your tires are properly inflated: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that under-inflated tires (along with worn out or simply old tires) are a leading cause of traffic accidents. That means that if you keep your tires properly inflated--and you replace them when they get worn out--you'll reduce your risk of a tire-caused traffic accident.

Next, lighten your load by clearing out stuff in your car that your really don't need to be hauling around with you. You know how airlines are trying to lighten their loads to save fuel? Well the same applies to your car. If you haven't ever bothered to clean out your kids' heavy sports equipment or you've been toting around an extra case of bottled water (shame on you), just in case, then you are driving around extra weight that is weighing down your ability to get good gas mileage.

Try to practice hypermiling as much as you can--and I mean the safe kind of hypermiling, not the drafting kind that puts you in danger. This crazy term hypermiling is all about getting the most gas mileage out of each tank of gas by changing how your drive, brake and park. One excellent hypermiling tip is always to pull through a parking spot so that you're facing outwards to leave. If you park the traditional way, where you have to back out to drive away, you're using twice as much gas to get in and out of a parking spot. However, if you pull in nose first--and then pull all the way through--you can drive right out when you're done with your errands, thus saving you gas.

Finally, and I realize that this is a no brainer, probably the best way to green your driving is not to drive at all. Are there ways that you can work walking, carpooling or public transportation into your life? Figure out if any of these is doable, and I'll bet you'll see your gassing-up bill going down.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Week 26--Choosing the Right Cooling System for Your Home

Now that things are really heating up in July--well, at least they are in the Northern Hemisphere--chances are that you're spending time at home trying to get cool. We've already talked in Week 24 about using ceiling fans to move cool air around. But in some instances you've got to have air conditioning.

If you've ever wondered if your window a/c made the most sense or if you should upgrade to an Energy Star-certified central air conditioning system, now is the time to think about that. So this week in Green Boot Camp, I'd like you to determine which kind of air conditioning is the greenest--and most financially feasible--option for your home.

How do you determine if you should have a window a/c unit versus central air? There are a number of factors that affect whether or not you should use window units versus central air. According to experts what really matters is the climate where you live (hot and humid Houston versus dry Denver), how your home is insulated, and what your personal preferences are. Let's start with climate.

If you're looking to cool your home and lower the humidity, a central air system is your best bet, hands down, as far as efficiency goes. There are two reasons that window units are all wet when it comes to reducing humidity are that they tend to sweat (especially if they are overworked) and therefore introduce moisture into the room. And since it's harder to seal window units, you tend to get hot, humid air sucked in from the outside.

That said, if humidity isn't your problem but you'd just like to cool your home, you could get away with one window unit on each floor, if your home is well insulated. (Check out this Energy Star website to figure out the right-sized air conditioner based on a room's size.) Insulation isn't just in the walls, by the way. We're also talking about well-insulated windows and, believe it or not, a well-insulated attic.

Keep in mind that while window units are cheaper in the short run, if you're looking to purchase more than a few of them, you're probably better off going with a central air system. A central air unit will use less energy overall and cool more efficiently than a series of window units running in tandem. On the other hand if you need to cool only one or two rooms in your house--and you can live with the rest of the home being unairconditioned, then all you would need would be a window unit for each room you want to be cool.

Keep in mind that just like appliances with Energy Star ratings, air conditioning units come with their own efficiency ratings. This Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy website offers a guide to understanding central air efficiency ratings so you can make the best choice for your budget and the environment.

Air-conditioning talk aside, here is some parting advice for keeping your home cool, whether or not you have a/c.

* If your home faces south or west--or simply sits in the sun all day--and you don't have any shade trees helping to cool your home, you're going to have a tougher time keeping your house cool. (See Week 23 for more about "acting shady.")

* Having lights on throughout the day inside the house or even running the oven or dishwasher will inch up the indoor temperature.

* If you don't block out the sun, you're just going to bake inside your house. That's why window treatments play an important part in keeping a house cool--and your cooling bills lower.

Bottom line: to keep your home cool, with or without air conditioning, plant shade trees, keep curtains, blinds and shutters closed during the hottest part of the day, and limit lights on (especially halogen, that burn bright and hot) and appliances used during the heat of the day.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Week 25--Reduce Your Garbage

Recently, I wrote a post on The Lean Green Family about a new, "green" garbage bag that I'd discovered. It is green because it's coated with a "secret formula" to make it biodegradable (in ideal landfill conditions) and it's green because, well, it's a green bag, not a black bag.

Soon thereafter I heard from someone who was interested in this green bag but confessed that she rarely throws away any garbage, so buying garbage bags just wasn't a priority for her anymore. How the heck can she not have garbage to throw away?

I thought it was so great when we had cut our garbage output in half when we started composting last year. But not to have any garbage at all? How is that possible?

This week your goal is to reduce your garbage by at least one bag, and you can easily do this through composting. If you haven't already started composting, I want you to get started now. You can get a free or low-cost composting bin from your local state university's co-op extension program, your municipality's recycling facility or on Freecycle (like I did).

Here is a composting primer:

First, you can throw any organic matter in your compost--vegetable peels, apple cores, seeds, popcorn, coffee grounds, eggshells and more. What you can't put in the compost are three key things: no dairy, no meat, no bones. (These smell super rancid and they attract pests.)

Next, since you keep your compost bin outside, you should have a small collection bucket inside. I have a leftover sherbet bucket that I keep tucked under the sink. My mother used to keep a bucket right in the sink (we had a big sink, and I think she dumped the compost daily).

When your bucket is full, bring it outside to the compost bin. Every time that you dump "green" matter (i.e. your organic matter described above) into the compost bin, you need to cover it with a thin layer of "brown" matter. I use fallen leaves or extra dirt. Some people use mulch (though that seems to be an expensive option that could easily become cost prohibitive). I've also dumped cold fireplace ashes in the compost as my "brown" (even though they were gray).

Every week or so, you should turn your compost so that the air circulates and everything begins to break down into beautiful, dark dirt that, soon enough, you can use in your garden.

Because composting works with heat, your compost will decompose and turn to dirt faster in warm weather months (now!). During the winter, it won't look like much is happening--and it'll just seem like your food scraps are piling up--because they are. Just wait out the winter, and as soon as the weather warms again, the compost will start getting smaller.

Speaking of warmth your compost pile will do best if it's partially in the sun (to help heat things up).

You may be surprised to learn that there are ton of things around the house that you would normally throw away but which you can compost--and I mean things beyond the obvious food. Guess what else can go in the compost? Shredded paper, paper towels, coffee filters, cardboard toilet paper and paper towel rolls, dryer lint--even Sweet n Low packets.

Let me know how your garbage-reduction plan is going and how you like composting.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Week 24--Blowing Cool Air Around

Last year I wrote an article for All You magazine on how to green every room in the house--and save money in the process. That article appeared in the magazine just in time for Earth Day, but it never appeared online (or I would provide a link). In researching that article, I learned a lot of interesting things, but there is one piece of advice that really resonates now that it's summer. It's the notion of using ceiling fans to cool the inside of your home without having to lower the thermostat.

Now I realize that on most home makeover shows, the first thing that these designers usually get rid of is the ceiling fan. In fact, I would feel confident says that the designers on "Trading Spaces" are no fans of ceiling fans. (For fun, check out this "Trading Spaces" fan site called No Ceiling Fans. Very cute.)

It's true that some ceiling fans are ugly, but you know what? If you're trying to live a greener life, ceiling fans are quite handy.

For starters if you can change the direction of the blade rotation, you can suck up the hot air during the summer and then push down the hot air during the winter. Also, while a ceiling fan may not actually cool a room, the act of the breeze going across your skin will cool down your body. (The breeze helps to evaporate sweat, which cools you down automatically.) That means that on a hot day you could get away with raising your air conditioning to, say, 74 degrees, and then if you add in a ceiling fan, the room feels way cooler to you.

Some experts estimate that using a ceiling fan can help you save up to $500 a year on heating and cooling costs. Plus, ceiling fans use very little energy, and they don't cost too much either to buy and install. (Look for Energy Star-rated ceiling fans.)

So this week on Green Boot Camp, as the mercury rises outside (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), I'd like you to think about how you can using ceiling fans to keep your home cool. If you've got them, use them.

(Quick note: if it's been awhile since you last turned on a ceiling fan, give it a good dusting before your power it up. If you skip the dusting part, you're going to send dust particles flying around your room.)

If you don't have any ceiling fans, you can use a box or portable fan to help make a room feel cooler. Only problem with a fan that's not overhead--it might start blowing stuff around on you, which could be very frustrating.

Keep in mind that ceiling fans cool the body, not the temperature in the room, so make sure you turn them off when you leave a room. Leaving them on will only waste energy (albeit small amounts of energy) and won't make the room any cooler for when you return.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Week 23--Acting Shady

Today is another 90 degree, summer day, and though I just returned from the food shopping, I didn't have to turn the car's air conditioning on at all during my drive home. Why? Because I managed to park my car in a shady spot. This allowed my car to remain cool even though I was in the store for almost an hour and the mercury was pushing 90.

The same shady principles apply to your home. If you've got shade trees planted on your property, you know what I'm talking about. They usually allow your home to remain cool even when it's boiling hot outside. If you don't have shade trees and you're looking to redo your landscaping, then think about planting some deciduous trees on the southern and eastern sides of your home-- the sides that get the most sunlight during the days.

FYI, deciduous trees are those that lose their leaves when the weather gets cooler. Evergreens, on the hand, stay green all the time and don't lose their leaves, thus their name ever green.

Having deciduous trees in your yard not only helps your home to stay cool during the warm-weather months, but, when they lose their leaves in winter, they help with temperatures, too. That is, without their leaves, these trees let more sunlight get to your home and can help warm things up without turning up the heat.

If you don't have any of these shade trees to work with, then you can create shade by closing shades, curtains and blinds during the hottest parts of the day. This way your home won't bake when it's hot outside, and you won't have to crank the a/c to cool down a room that's burning up from sunlight.

So this week on Green Boot Camp, I'd like you to think about ways that you can create "shade" to keep your home and car cooler. On sunny days try to close up the house so that the sun can't get in and the cool air can't become warm air. Similarly, when you have to run errands, find a shady spot to park your car so it will stay cool while you shop. Of course, finding a shady spot may mean that you have to park further away from the stores than you'd like, but it never hurts to squeeze a little extra exercise.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Week 22--Fix Any Water Leaks

Today in the mail I received a newsletter from my local water authority, and in it, there was a small article on 10 ways you can save water. Many of these tips I knew about already, such as running the dishwasher and washing machine only when you have a full load, and doing things like taking shorter showers. Two tips caught me by surprise, because they were all about leaks. I had no idea how much leaks could wreak havoc on a water bill.

This week in Green Boot Camp, I want you to check on any leaking faucets or toilets in your house, and get them fixes. You know the ones I'm talking about--the shower head that seems to be constantly dripping or the toilet that never shuts off. Here's why I want you to fix them: a leaky toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water each day. And that leaky faucet? Over a year you could have just had 2,000 gallons of water go down the drain!

Don't think you have any leaks to worry about? Well, go look at your water meter (assuming you have public water) and, when nothing in the house that uses water is on, see if the meter is still spinning. If so, then you've got a leak because the meter shows you that water is running from a tap or toilet somewhere in the house. You may be able to sleuth out and fix the leak yourself, or it might be time to call in a plumber.

One of the things we've done in our house that helps a little bit with leaks and it helps to reduce our water consumption is this: we've "faked out" our toilet bowl into filling with less water in the tank. That is, we put a couple of big rocks and bricks in the toilet tank so that they take up space and, therefore, it takes less water to fill the tank and trigger the shut-off valve. The toilets still flush fine, and this way if I do have a small leak in the toilet, hopefully less water will be leaking out since there is less water in the tank to begin with.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Week 21--Go Low Flow

Now that we're almost into the warm summer months, people are going to be thinking about water. Of course, we're all keeping the flooded folks in the Midwest in our prayers, but in other parts of the country, soon enough they'll be dealing with searing heat and droughts. And with droughts come water conservation.

This week and next in Green Boot Camp, I'd like you to nip your water usage in the bud by adopting certain water-saving practices. In Week 21, here's what I was thinking: if you haven't already done so, now is a great time to install a low-flow shower head in all of the showers in your house.

Did you know that the average shower head pushes out 2.5 gallons of water per minute? That means that in one, 10-minute shower, you've washed 25 gallons of water down the drain and, really, what do you have to show for it? Low-flow shower heads, on the other hand, have water coming out at 1.6 or 1.7 gallons per minute. That can add up to a significant savings during your average 10-minute shower--16 to 17 gallons of water used versus 25 gallons.

When looking for a low-flow shower head, go with those that try to mimic the "water fall" of the water-guzzling shower heads. Some ways that these shower heads do this is by having the shower head send out bigger water droplets or deliver the water in a more condensed spray so if feels like you're getting more water than you actually are.

While you're at it, I would recommend putting aerators on your sinks and faucets as well. These also cut down on the amount of water that can come out whenever you turn on the water.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Week Twenty--Give Away What You Would Normally Throw Away

Recently, I renewed my love affair with Freecycle. Earlier this week I wrote in my Lean Green Family blog about how I turned to Freecycle as a way to find landscaping plants without having to spend any money doing so. Truth is, I was saving money, and I was saving plants for getting tossed in a dumpster.

Four tiger lily plants, one lilac bush, one Rose-of-Sharon tree and one St. John's wort shrub later, I've got all the plants that I can fit in my front garden until we move some other stuff around to make a second flower bed. In the meantime I helped out one family that needed shrubs removed so they could install a fence, and I saved two plants from their imminent demise in the trash. This person had gone on a Home Depot shopping spree but never got around to planting these two flowers I took off of her hands. Unbeknownst to her, they were slowly choking to death in their pots. You should have seen the roots when I transplanted them!

Getting back in the Freecycle mode inspired me to do some cleaning out of my basement to see if there were any items I might have stored down there that I could bless someone else with by giving it away to free. Boy, did I.

I found enough bubble wrap to fill three large garbage bags, and gave it a way to a fellow Freecycler yesterday. Today I'm waiting on another Freecycler to pick up seven flattened moving boxes that I've got left over from my move last year. If she doesn't show up, I've got two other Freecyclers on a "waiting list" for the boxes.

I'm due to thin my magazine collection, so this weekend I plan to tackle that pile. And, instead of just tossing the magazines in my recycling bin, I'm going to post something on Freecycle and see if there's a magazine junkie out there that might enjoy reading these magazines.

What this is all leading up to is this week's task for Green Boot Camp (even though I'm posting at the end of the week and a week late--sorry!). I want you to take some time and figure out items that you normally would toss in the trash or put in recycling, and see if you can't give them away to someone else. You can join your local Freecycle group, put up a posting on Craigslist or just send out a mass email to the people you know through the parent-teacher group at your kid's school. The idea here is to keep these items out of the waste- and recycling-stream for as long as possible.

Maybe you want to go on a hunt in your basement like I did or look through your book collection and see if you might have some titles to donate to your local library. Let me know what you come up with and what you were able to give away--and how.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Week Nineteen--Shop Locally for Memorial Day Weekend

Now that the unofficial start of summer is here, chances are you're going to be attending or hosting a backyard barbecue or some other kind of food-centric celebration. Since Green Boot Camp is all about making small changes to adopt a greener lifestyle, this weekend I want you to figure out how you can shop locally for your Memorial Day celebration fare. This is your Week 19 task.

I know that my CSA is opening up shop next week (too late for Memorial Day cooking) and that our town's farmers' market is open for the season. Chances are there's a farmers' market or farm stand near to you where you can at least get the fixings for your burgers--you know, lettuce and tomato.

With this notion of shopping locally in mind, here are eight tips on how to make the most of your locavore, local-shopping and farmers' market experiences, courtesy of FruitandVeggieGuru.com, a website with tips and recipes on all kinds of fruits and vegetables, ranging from apples to zucchini.

1. Ask before you buy.
Some farmers' markets have stalls where vendors can offload their overstocked, distressed or supermarket-rejected produce, which they've purchased from local wholesalers who unload it cheaply to sellers for fruit and vegetable stands. While you can get good deals from these sellers, they are not a source for fresh local produce. You want to ask first if this person actually grew the produce he or she is selling, or if that person is just a reseller. When in doubt, stick with the farmers only.

2. Shop early in the day for selection.
When the first-of-season blueberries or peaches or honey crisp apples (yum, my favorite!) arrive, they often disappear from market tables before noon. Even less time-sensitive foods like pickling cucumbers might be gone if you wait until late in the day to pick them up. Remember: just like the early bird and the worm, the early shopper gets the best choice on farm-fresh produce.

3. Let the produce
du jour guide your meal planning.
Since farmers' market selections come from just 100 or 200 miles away, the local climate dictates what you'll find on any given day. That means you'll get leafy greens, herbs and sprouts early in the season, and you'll have to wait for items like corn, berries and tomatoes. Build your menus around produce availability to take full advantage of the season's bounty. That's one of the reasons I love my new CSA: each week they post recipes on the farm's website, and these recipes specifically include the produce that was picked--and we picked up--that week.

4. Buy for value.
At a farm stand, foods like corn, green beans, herbs, squashes, cucumbers and fresh peas may be less expensive than their store-bought cousins. Tomatoes are also a good value. However, many other items may be pricier than your neighborhood grocer because small farmers lack economies of scale, use more expensive heirloom seeds, and care for their crops by hand rather than machine. The reward: you'll get peak-of-season taste that is hard to find at your neighborhood grocer.

5. Understand the history of heirloom produce.
Local farmers typically use heirloom seed stock passed down through generations without human engineering. Often, fruits and vegetables grown from these seed varieties have more flavor than grocery store produce bred from seeds developed for their high yield, ability to withstand long-distance travel, and/or tolerance to drought and frost.

6. Look for organic growers.
You'll usually find a few organic farmers that offer foods that are grown and processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, hormones, antibiotics, germ-killing irradiation, and most pesticides and fertilizers. But don't expect to find "certified organic" goods. Many smaller producers are not big enough to justify the expense of getting inspected and certified under the National Organic Program. So when you're at a farmer's stall at the market, question him or her about the farm's use of chemicals and pesticides, and then make your purchasing decision accordingly.

7. Ask when produce was picked.

The sugars in foods like peas and corn turn to starch quickly after picking, so be sure you know when they came out of the fields. Some vendors pick fresh in the morning, while others pick the night before because they have to drive two or three hours to set up for a 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. market. A 12-hour pick-to-market difference is no big deal, but tell the farmer "no deal" if it turns out that produce was picked a few days ago.

8. Befriend the farmers.

Remember, the people you're buying from are most likely the people who grow the food. They can steer you to the best buys of the day, teach you about foods you might not be familiar with (how often do you buy fennel or celeriac?), and perhaps reserve something special for you the following week. Besides, part of the enjoyment of farmers market shopping is that it's personal.

To find a farmers' market nearest you, visit the Local Harvest website, which has a directory of not only farmers' markets but also food co-ops and CSAs.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Week Eighteen--Leftovers and Storage

When I was a kid, my mom had the knack for turning any container into something that could hold leftovers. In my mind it was normal to reuse the plastic tubs that yogurt or margarine came in, or even Chinese food containers, for storing the remnants of that night's dinner. More often than not, one of my parents would bring those leftovers to work the next day for lunch.

Of course, any Pyrex dish in which she'd cooked something--and which had a cover--was fair game for leftovers, too. I don't think my mother ever spent a penny to purchase a Tupperware, yet we always had plenty of places to put our leftovers.

In addition, my mom was a big Velveeta cheese fan, and any drawer organizers we had in the house were those rectangular Velveeta boxes--without the cheese, of course. She also turned jelly jars into glasses, and reused baby jars for storing thumbtacks and other objects.

As I wrote on The Lean Green Family in "Neat and Tidy and Green," it's fine to find receptacles that you already own for storing household items. Heck, even professional organizers do it.

So this week as you think about green ways to store leftovers or to reuse food containers, I'd like you to think about creative storage uses for everything from coffee cans to those Velveeta boxes.

Please note: while my mother liked to reuse plastic tubs for storage, I don't believe that this is safe in the long run--especially if you clean those items in the dishwasher. Sooner or later the plastic is going to start breaking down, and who knows what kinds of chemicals might leech into your food. These plastic tubs were made for single-use only, so err on the side of caution and recycle them.

In the meantime you might want to check out these nifty plastic food storage containers from Recycline that are made out of recycled plastic.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Week Seventeen--Greening Your Cooking

Now that it's gotten warm outside, one of my favorite ways to cook dinner is to use our gas grill. It's so easy to marinate chicken breasts during the day and then throw them on the grill around dinner time for a quick-and-easy dinner. But I've always wondered if grilling was a green cooking option?

According to the Sierra Club, it is. In fact, your best grilling option is a propane-powered outdoor grill. It is supposedly the cleanest-burning grill type out there. Electric grills are a fine green option, too. What's not a great green grilling idea is a grill or barbecue that uses charcoal. Not only is the charcoal a culprit in increasing your carbon footprint, but so is the lighter fluid that you inevitably have to squirt on the coals to get them to become red hot and ripe for cooking.

Let's say that you're not interested in cooking outdoors or it's not an option based on where you live. Then if you want to cook in the most energy-efficient and eco-friendly manner, I would recommend turning to your microwave.

Believe it or not, your microwave uses the least amount of cooking energy in your kitchen. (Plus, vegetables steamed in a microwave lose fewer nutrients than those steamed on the stovetop. Why? This New York Times article says that it's because microwave ovens use less heat and shorter cooking times than stovetops. Interesting.)

Your next best cooking option, as far as energy is concerned, is your Crock-Pot or slow cooker. I don't know about you, but I sort of have a mental block about using the slow cooker in warm weather. I associate it with winter comfort foods, not summer dishes. Nonetheless, if you're looking to cut your energy use, maybe you shouldn't moth-ball your slow cooker once winter is over.

For a rundown on how much energy each kitchen appliance uses, check out this chart on the Mr. Electricity website. You'll see that, overall, cooking doesn't use a ton of energy in the big picture, but if you really want to green how you cook your meals, every little change you can make can help.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Week Sixteen--Packing Green Lunches

The school year may be winding down for many students, but my kids still have a little less than two months to go. However, come summer, I don't get a break from packing lunches, because my children attend day camp that does not provide lunch. Others may pack lunch, not for their kids, but for themselves at the office, as a way of saving money. I mean, $5 for lunch doesn't sound like a lot when you look at that number on its own, but multiple it by five days a week ($25) and then 52 weeks ($1,300), and you're looking at some significant dough.

Regardless of the person you're packing lunch for, there are ways you can green your brown bag lunch. And for the next few weeks on Green Boot Camp, I will be discussing ways you can green your various food-related behaviors.

As far as lunch goes, the best way to green a brown-bag lunch habit is to get rid of the brown bag all together. Instead, get a reusable lunch box or insulated bag. These will likely last your for years and cut down on how much your throw out when you dispose of that brown bag.

Another way to adopt these greener lunch methods is to begin weaning yourself from baggies and aluminum foil, and start investing in reusable containers for all of your lunch goodies. I just went to a Tupperware party and purchased two Sandwich Keeper containers. These are reusable plastic boxes for keeping sandwiches fresh, and once I get my order, I won't need to wrap my girls' sandwiches in aluminum foil anymore (though my middle schooler's cafeteria has recycling bins where she's been tossing the used aluminum foil. I think that's allowed).

I have other reusable containers that are in daily rotation for packed lunches, from those little Glad Ware 1/2 cup containers for holding crackers or homemade pudding to a Nalgene screw-top canister in which I place cut-up oranges or other kinds of fruit.

Speaking of Nalgene, after getting in the habit of using bottled water in my daughters' lunches, I finally switched over to reusable Nalgene bottles, which I loved. They didn't leak, they came in fun colors, and my daughters never complained about using them. Then the BPA news broke, and now I need to find a replacement so that I don't have to go back to bottled water. Bottom line: another great way to green your packed lunch is to bring a drink in a reusable container.

If you work in an office with a kitchen area, make the effort to bring in reusable plates, utensils and coffee mugs--even cloth napkins, as long as you don't mind having to take them home to launder. By having these items around and available, you can help your coworkers and yourself succeed in ditching disposables at meal and break time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Green Boot Camp Gets Publicity

Thought you would be interested in knowing that Green Boot Camp is highlighted in the May 2008 issue of Working Mother magazine (page 52). Here is a link to the online version of that story, which includes a hotlink right back here to the blog!

Week Fifteen--Green Your Laundry Routine With Drying

Last week in talking about greening your laundry routine, I offered tips on washing your clothes in a more eco-friendly fashion. This week you'll learn how to dry your clothes in a way that doesn't harm the earth (as much) and could help your clothes to last long.

Believe it or not, good drying actually starts in the washing machine. That is, at the end of the washing cycle your machine goes into spin mode. This is very important because it helps to wick away extra moisture from the clothing so that laundry don't go into the dryer sopping wet. (Have you ever put super wet clothing in the dryer? It takes forever to dry and always ends up smelling like wet dog anyway.) If you feel that your clothes are still to moist when you're done washing, you could always run a second spin cycle, though this does use extra energy.

Now as far as drying goes, the greenest way to go is simply to hang everything up. This makes a lot of sense if you have access to a clothesline (indoors or outside), and you've got the time to hang everything up. Me, I don't like the feel of crunchy underwear, sheets or towels that you get when things are air dried, and so I throw this stuff in the dryer. Everything else though? I'll run in the dryer for about 10 minutes to get it a little dry and to decrease wrinkles, and then I'll pull them out, piece by piece, and hang them up on hangers to dry. Usually, when I'm dealing with laundry loads of clothing, all that's left in the dryer after my hanging-up routine are socks and underwear, which dry quickly and on the lowest setting.

It is possible for your to hang up your clothes even if you don't have a backyard. I have a backyard but don't want to deal with going outside to dry my clothes. So I've got two towel racks in my laundry room (which is smaller than a walk-in closet, about 4'X6'), but I never use them for towels. When I hang clothes up, I hook the hangers on these towel racks. If I've got loads and loads of laundry to dry, I'll also hang things up in the shower.

People who want to avoid using the dryer also find it helpful to have a drying rack. You can buy them as a shelving set (shelves are made of mesh to allow for air circulation) or a folding rack where you hang your clothes over the rungs to dry.

The next time that you have to run a load of laundry, I hope you'll try out some of these green drying tips. Let me know if they work for you. I love to hear readers' feedback.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Weeks Fourteen and Fifteen--Green Your Laundry Routine

For the past two weeks I offered suggestions on how you could green the products you choose to use when cleaning your clothes. Now for the next two weeks, we're going to discuss greening your laundry routine all together. I'll help you understand why you always want to wash your clothes on cold (even though your mom may have taught you otherwise), why line drying even if you don't have an outside line makes a lot of sense, and why reducing dryer time can increase your clothing's longevity and your energy bill.

For starters, here are two tips to consider about the washing process:

* Give laundry the cold shoulder
Washing your clothes in cold water is the best way to save energy, resources and money--even if it you have a water-guzzling, top-loading washing machine, so writes Eileen Smith in her recent Courier Post money column. (Smith also has a fun blog about shopping called Shop 'Til You Drop.) You'll notice that there are a number of laundry products on the market these days are allegedly formulated to work best in cold water, including Clorox Cold Water Bleach and Tide Coldwater. It's up to you if you'd like to give them a try. I haven't changed much about my laundry habits since I went all cold, though I have tried the Tide Coldwater to good results. (The PR person sent me a sample, and I have gone on to buy some for myself after the fact. I do love that smell.) Then again before I tried the Tide, my regular detergent seemed to work well, and my clothes were still coming out clean.

* Let Your Clothes Soak
Instead of running the washing cycle all the way through, let your clothes soak for an hour or two. Or, if you work outside the home, throw in a load before you leave for work, shut the washer off before your leave, and then restart when you arrive home. This way you can use the light cycle only, which takes less energy, for finishing the load. And, because your clothes have been soaking, they will come out as clean (if not cleaner) than if you ran the "extra heavy" load cycle start to finish. Note: soaking works for top loaders only. I used to own a front-loader, and soaking clothes meant that only half the pile stayed wet, because front loaders only fill half the bin with water (which is why they are so water efficient). Oh how I miss my front loader!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Week Thirteen--DIY Cleaners with Vinegar and Baking Soda

One of the best ways to go green and save money is to make your own household cleaners, our topic of discussion during this Week Thirteen of Green Boot Camp.

It's a topic in the May 2, 2008 issue of All You magazine (pictured, at right). In fact, I've got a six-page feature on greening every room of the house and saving money in the process. You'll find that feature in the center of the magazine, in an inserted booklet called "Live Green and Save."

In case you're interested in figuring out how you can make your own cleaners that won't harm Mother Earth, here are some ideas to consider using vinegar and baking soda only:

* Vinegar is fabulous as a floor cleaner.
Forget oil and vinegar. A mixture of vinegar and water can clean your floors better than any store-bought cleaner. And it's cheap, too. Only downside? Your house can end up smelling a bit like a salad bar after you're done, so you might want to open the windows to air it out.

* Vinegar works well to "fix" a pet's accident.
If your dog gets skunked or your cat pees on the rug, vinegar can help get the odors out. With the peeing-on-the-carpet instance, the lingering smell of vinegar will likely dissuade the animal for peeing there again. Hopefully she chooses her litter box the next time and not a patch of carpet six inches away.

* Vinegar cleans appliances, too.
I can remember my mother teaching me to use vinegar as a way to clean out the gunk in my coffee machine without poisoning myself in the process. Just fill the coffee pot with vinegar and "brew" until the pot is filled. Dump out and then fill with water to brew a clean pot and get rid of the vinegar. It might take three or four "pots" of water to get rid of the vinegar smell, but I'll bet it will be worth your time--you'll see how your coffee brewing times speeds up after this kind of cleaning.

* Vinegar deodorizes the laundry.
At the end of the last soccer season, I never thought I could get my daughter's cleats to smell normal again. They smelled like the inside of a litter box, and no amount of airing out, or washing and rewashing was helping. Then someone told me about vinegar as a laundry deodorizer. So back into the washing machine the cleats went, with a generous amount of vinegar. After air drying, they may not smell like a bunch of flowers, but they don't trigger my gag reflex anymore either. I'd call that a success.

* Vinegar and baking soda are a green clog-clearer.
My mother also taught me how baking soda and vinegar can clear a clogged pipe better than any chemical cleaner, and if the plunger fails to work, I'll always turn to my trusty vinegar and baking soda combo in a pinch.

* Baking soda won't let you down as a scouring agent.
When my tub gets soap-scum grimy, I pour some baking soda on it and use some elbow grease with a rag to get the tub and tile sparkling again. Some people use borax in a similar way.

Let me know how your switch to these DIY green cleaners goes.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Week Twelve--Green in the Laundry Room

A lot of the national brands with laundry detergents have begun greening their products, from offering concentrated version of the liquid detergent (smaller packaging, less water used) to using recycled plastic in the packaging. Of course, you can always go with the green standby of powder detergent in a cardboard box, especially if your trash hauler will recycle cardboard for you. Then you're using a product with no water and which will, for sure, be recycled.

There are many other ways that you can go green in the laundry room--with products that are marketed as green and others that are green by nature. Here are some to consider as you consider adopting greener habits when cleaning your clothes:

* Borax
For nearly any stain my kids can create these days, all I need to do to get out that stain is wet the article of clothing, sprinkle some borax on it, rub a little and toss in the laundry. There's no having to let it sit overnight or soak in a bucket. Just sprinkle, rub, wash and voila, stain is gone. (The borax people are not paying me to say this.) Blood, dirt and chocolate don't stand a chance now that I'm armed with borax. And what's best is it's a green laundry cleaner and cheap, too--I can get a 76-ounce box of 20 Mule Team Borax at my local ShopRite for only $2.99.

* Baking Soda and/or Vinegar
Together, baking soda and vinegar make an amazing cleaner and drain un-clogger. In the laundry room, you could use one or the other to get musty smells out of laundry that's sat in the washing machine for too long. Just sprinkle or pour some on your damp clothing, add a bit more laundry detergent, and run the clothes through on a short cycle. They should come out smelling fresh and clean. Like borax, baking soda and vinegar are both incredibly affordable--and green. You can get a one-pound (16 ounce) box of Arm & Hammer baking soda for about a buck, and 128 fluid ounce gigantic jug of generic white vinegar for just a little more than $1.50.

* Earth-friendly Laundry Detergent
There are plenty of companies making earth-friendly laundry detergent's these days. Just check out this Green Guide reader-generated rating system for the best green laundry detergents. At my house I've had first-hand experience with Shaklee's Get Clean Fresh Laundry, which is fragrance free and concentrated. Shaklee does not test its products on animals, and claims that its laundry detergent is biodegradable. I found that this laundry detergent was fine for average loads of laundry, but unless I pretreated items when they were heavily soiled, the natural ingredients couldn't quite get my clothes as clean as I would liked them to be. So now I keep this Get Clean Fresh Laundry bottle on hand when I have a delicates-only wash--I find it works as well, if not better, than Woolite.

* Biodegradable Dryer Sheets
While I try my darnedest not to use the dryer, there are times when I just have to. Such as with towels, sheets, underwear and socks. I just don't have enough room in my little laundry space to hang everything up and, besides, the dryer does make things come out softer than if they had air dried. So to avoid static and to help get the dog hair off of our clothes, I like to use dryer sheets, and thank goodness I came across the biodegradable ones from Sun & Earth. These fabric softener sheets, when used, can go right into my compost pile with the dryer lint I grab every time I clean out the trap. That makes me happy in lots of ways--no static, softer items and less garbage to throw out.

Let me know if these ideas seem doable to you as you spend 2008 greening your existence.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Experiencing Technical Difficulties, Please Stand By

Due to the near-death of my beloved iBook G4 this week (sniff sniff), I am having trouble accessing the Internet so I may not be able to post for the next few days. Trust me, I am stockpiling ideas that you'll sure to want to read about once I'm online and fully functioning again. Please stay tuned. Thank you.

Leah Ingram
March 14, 2008

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Week Eleven--Rag Time

When I was growing up with my frugal and green mother, we didn't own any fancy cleaning accouterments like sponges and mops. No, our go-to cleaning and dusting tools were always rags. I know my mom used them because:

* They were free. These were old t-shirts and towels we otherwise would have thrown out.

* They were reusable. You could just toss in the washing machine when done, and use again the next time you needed to clean.

* They were recyclable. My mom would shred the fabric and toss it in the compost pile when it was too threadbare to use anymore.

I've adopted my mother's rag-favoring habits and have a huge rag bin in my basement, where, like my mom before me did, I toss old towels and t-shirts that are too stained to donate to charity but perfectly acceptable to become cleaning tools. Truth is, I still have some long-ago, leftover cloth diapers in my rag bin. They are the best dusting tool ever!

As you get ready to plan for spring cleaning, I'd like you to spend this week thinking about how you, too, might begin to use rags.

Each time you do a load of laundry this week, take a real critical look at your husband's undershirts, your kids old field day t-shirts, and any hand towels or bath towels that are simply beyond their prime. Start putting them aside so that the next time you need to clean something, you can forgo the paper towels and use your sustainable cleaning rags instead.

I keep my rags under the basement stairs in an old milk crate that, I swear, went to college with me to hold my old record albums (yes, I'm that old). You could keep yours in a similar container or even an old laundry bag. Just make sure that you keep them convenient so using them doesn't become a big old hassle.

One more thing: Spring cleaning time or not, it's probably a good idea to go through your kids' dressers, your own dressers and your linen closets on a regular basis so you can clear out clothes you no longer like, wear or which your children have grown out of. Same thing with towels, especially the ones that look like a few I have--they once were a lovely shade of red but then someone accidentally poured bleach in the wash, and now they look like something out of the electric Kool-Aid acid test.

With perfectly good clothes that have fallen out of favor or become too small for your kids to wear, and linens that might not look perfect, divide them up into items that could become rags and items that you could donate.

Clothing charities are happy to have gently used clothing (especially if they're not stained). At the same time animal rescue organizations and shelters can always used clean (but used) towels and sheets to line cages and pens, or to use after surgery.

If you think about it, either way your using rags is good for the planet. Cleaning with rags allows you to avoid paper towels and other disposable items, and use something sustainable instead. And by donating old clothes and linens to worthy causes, you keep those items out of the waste stream and help others (poor people, homeless animals) in the process.

Weeks Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen and Fourteen--Green Spring Cleaning

Now that March has come in like a lion, I can't help but think of spring. And when I think of spring, I can't help but think of spring cleaning, that annual ritual of seemingly turning over a new leaf in your house by attempting to clean from attic to basement. Your house gets spring clean when you clear out your clutter, clean the cobwebs from ceiling corners and light fixtures, and cleanse the places that you usually glance over in your regular straightening up. (I'm thinking specifically of scrubbing down baseboards.)

For the next four weeks, we are going to be focusing on green spring cleaning--from the tools you use to clean to products that don't contain any chemicals at all. Hopefully, this will help you to look forward to April with a cleaner home and one that got that way in a greener way.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Week Ten and a Half? Review Part II and Mea Culpa

To the readers of this and my other blog: I must start by apologizing for falling off of the face the earth last week. I came down with this pseudo-flu virus that might as well have been the flu virus--I was that sick. We're talking days of fever, days spent sleeping and not a useful bone in my body for blogging. So I'm sorry that I've fallen behind on the Green Boot Camp posts, but I hope to get caught up this week.

Now onto the review I started last week--and promptly got too sick to finish. It was a brief review of what we'd covered in the first nine weeks of Green Boot Camp. We got through Week Four, and that is where we will take off from now.

Week Five--Appliances
The focus of Week Five was learning how to make your home appliances become more energy efficient for you--even if you can't afford to just donate them to charity and buy all-new Energy Star appliances in one fell swoop. Some of the tips included:

* Washing all laundry on the cold-water setting. You burn the most energy when you have to heat hot water, and not so much in running the washing machine itself.

* Let laundry soak to get out stains instead of running the heavy-duty cycle, which likely uses more water.

* Never skip the spin cycle. It is what gets the extra moisture out of your wet laundry and lets them dry faster.

Which brings us the the dryer. You'll save the most energy by not using the dryer as much. I suggested that you put your laundry into the dryer, let it run for 10 or so minutes, then pull items out to hang dry.

Another appliance I discussed was your refrigerator and freezer--and how to make them run most efficiently. Two tips included keeping them both as full as possible at all times, and not leaving the door open so that cold air escapes. But you probably learned that tip years ago from your mother.

Week Six--Phantom Energy Suckers
This was all about those appliances and other electronic devices that you leave plugged in, even when you're not using them, which means they are sucking energy out of your house and running up your bill. The best way to deal with these suckers is to create a charging station in one or two areas of your home using a power strip. That way you can charge everything at once, in one place, and then turn off the power strip when you're done. A turned-off power strip will no longer draw power.

Week Seven--Reusable Bags for Grocery Shopping
The focus of this week was getting you into the habit of bringing your own bags with you when you grocery shop instead of relying on the disposable plastic bags at the checkout counter. Of course, you could buy the bags that many supermarkets are selling these days but why spend money when you don't have to? Some of the advice I shared included where to find free canvas bags that can become your reusable grocery bags. For example, I talked about how I dug out all of the canvas bags that I'd received as giveaways at conferences and events that I'd attended over the years. You could also ask your friends and families if they have canvas bags that you could take off of their hands or put a listing on Freecycle or Craigslist to find free canvas bags. In the meantime, until you've secured your canvas bag stash, take any of the plastic or paper bags you've received when food shopping, and reuse them until they are falling apart. It's better than not reusing bags at all!

Week Eight--Packaging Decisions
This week was all about rethinking the kinds of products you buy, based on how they are packaged. For example, I suggested that when you go to the grocery store, you try to find jarred items in glass instead of plastic, which, it turns out, is a lot harder than you might think. However if you must choose plastic, find the companies that are using recycled plastic for their containers.

Week Nine--All About Organics
We started this week with a quick review of what exactly qualifies a food as being organic--and why you might want to start adding organic items into your shopping cart and your family's menu as you attempt to live a greener life. Later that week I helped you figure out which foods you should choose when choosing organics. I wrote up a list of the Top 20 foods that absorb pesticides and, therefore, you should buy in organic form so that you are cutting down on your pesticide exposure.

For your memory's sake, here is that list again:

1. Peaches
2. Apples
3. Sweet Bell Peppers
4. Celery
5. Nectarines
6. Strawberries
7. Cherries
8. Lettuce
9. Grapes (imported)
10. Pears
11. Spinach
12. Potatoes
13. Carrots
14. Green beans
15. Hot peppers
16. Cucumbers
17. Raspberries
18. Plums
19. Oranges
20. Grapes (domestic)

In a few days I'll get you started on your Week Eleven habit changes. Again, thanks for your patience during my illness.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Week Ten--Time for a Review

Now that we've made it through nine weeks of Green Boot Camp, I thought it would be wise use Week Ten to pause and do a quick review of the major points we've already discussed. I mean, those course reviews in college helped you to study for a test and, I believe, always resulted in getting better grades, right? So why not apply the same tactic for Green Boot Camp.

Here's a quick review of Weeks One through Four:

Week One--Paper Recycling
Right out of the gate I talked about improving your paper habits, including getting used to printing on both sides of a piece of paper before tossing it in the recycling bin. Other tips to retrain how you use paper include:d

* Turning dog-eared pieces of paper into scratch pads
* Using envelopes that come with credit-card offers in the mail for writing shopping lists (bonus: the envelopes hold your coupons, too!)
* Make it easy on yourself to recycle paper when necessary by setting up a recycling area of your home and keeping your shredder out at all times so paper doesn't pile up.

Week Two--Recycling Metal, Glass and Plastic
We started talking about the different kinds of plastics and how/where you can recycle these. For example, most curbside programs take plastic #1 through #7. (Flip over a plastic container or bottle to see its number.) But plastic jugs and bottles aren't the only plastic that you can recycle.

Instead of tossing plastic grocery bags, plastic wrap that boxed items like electronics are packaged in, and those plastic bags that come over dry cleaning, you can stuff them all in the "bag recycling bins" you find outside of supermarkets. They really are recycled into something else--sometimes the decking for Trex and other times into other plastic bags.

After that we talked about recycling aluminum, steel and glass. Basically, you always want to put these kinds of containers into your recycling bins, because they are the most easily recycled and most readily accepted items in the recycling stream.

Finally, if you live in a bottle-bill state and can take back cans and bottles for dough, do it. You earn a little bit of money, and you can rest assured that these returned receptacles end up getting recycled, not tossed in the trash.

Week Three--Recycling Everything Else
Just because your trash hauler doesn't take something in a recycling bin doesn't mean that it isn't recyclable. During Week Three we discussed how you can recycle the rest of the stuff that shows up in your life. Some examples included:

* Cell phones (look for cellphone recycling drop boxes at electronics stores and places like Staples. FYI, Staples is where my husband recently recycled his old cell phone battery, after we discovered that the Verizon store didn't offer this service, despite what Verizon's PR team had told me and which I'd written about on The Lean Green Family.)

* Printer cartridges (bring them with you to your favorite office supply store when you go to buy new cartridges, and most stores should be able to send the cartridges back to the manufacturer to be recycled. Some stores will even given you a coupon for money off your purchase, a way of thanking you for doing the right green thing.)

* Motor oil (if you're the DIY oil change kind of person, your local auto-supply parts store or gas station should be able to take that used motor oil off of your hands and recycle it through its government-mandated oil recycling program)

Week Four--Home Energy Expenditures, Light Bulbs and You
In Week Four we started talking about how to lower your energy bill at home by changing how you use electricity and other power sources. One of the first suggestions I made had to do with your light sources--specifically, the light bulbs you use in your lamps and the frequency with which you either leave them on or turn them off.

As far as compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) go (those newfangled twisty kinds), they really can save you money in more ways than one--well, okay, at least two notable ways. First, they last 10 times as long as traditional bulbs, meaning you'll buy fewer bulbs over time. And second, they use significantly less energy. Case in point: when we made the switch to CFLs last fall, I watched our electricity bill drop each month.

Truth be told our electricity bill could have dropped because of another change we made--a conscious effort to turn out the lights whenever we left a room, even if we were just coming back five minutes later. We also changed how we lit a room--choosing the smallest light possible when we needed to turn a light on--a desk lamp versus and gigantic overhead light, for example. And we got into the habit of opening shades on bright, sunny days so we didn't have to use any lights at all. In fact, as I type this, I'm sitting in my brightly lit living room that is as light, if not lighter, than if I had all three lamps turned on. But I don't. I can thank Mr. Sun for this morning's free light source.

This review is something I hope to do every 10 weeks or so as Green Boot Camp progresses. If nothing else it will reinforce all of these green, habit-changing suggestions so that you will become more successful in your mission to live a greener life.

Later this week I'll review Weeks Five through Nine. Stay tuned....

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Week Nine--All About Organics

In response to my recent posting about choosing organics at the supermarket as part of Week Nine of Green Boot Camp, a reader posted this comment:

"Some foods are more important to buy organic than others, because some foods absorb more pesticides during their growth period than others. I've heard that peaches, apples, strawberries, and potatoes are particularly concentrated in pesticides and are best to buy organic."

I've heard the same thing, too--which is why washing your fruits and vegetables is so important. But choosing organics goes beyond just a good scrub in the sink. You should find foods that don't absorb chemicals as readily as others, which is why this reader went on to ask:

"Do you know a way to find out which foods you should prioritize buying organic?"

Actually, I do.

According to the Environmental Working Group (a not-for-profit environmental research organization dedicated to improving public health and protecting the environment by reducing pollution in air, water and food), there is a clear priority list when it comes to produce and asking yourself, "Should I buy organic?" On its website, it lists the top 20 produce that is mostly likely to absorb pesticides--meaning, you should choose organics whenever buying them. They are:

1. Peaches
2. Apples
3. Sweet Bell Peppers
4. Celery
5. Nectarines
6. Strawberries
7. Cherries
8. Lettuce
9. Grapes (imported)
10. Pears
11. Spinach
12. Potatoes
13. Carrots
14. Green beans
15. Hot peppers
16. Cucumbers
17. Raspberries
18. Plums
19. Oranges
20. Grapes (domestic)

A recent New York Times blog posting discussed organics and basically said, if you're going to make the switch to organics, do so with the following five foods:

1. Milk
2. Potatoes
3. Peanut butter
4. Ketchup
5. Apples

Do they even make organic peanut butter and ketchup? That's a new one on me.

Considering I have peanut butter toast for breakfast nearly every morning, I'm going to have to go check this out. In the meantime, as you consider making small steps towards adding organic products to your shopping cart, I hope you find this information to be helpful.