Green Living

For many of us, when we think of sustainable homes, what comes to mind are new concept homes: tiny homes, pods, smart homes, and Energy Star appliances. But at Harvard, a group of students and faculty are looking to revolutionize the way we think about environmentally friendly homes. Not by building new, cutting edge homes, but rather by renovating one from the 1920s.
The HouseZero Project’s plans are simple, if ambitious: to provide a blueprint for other homeowners to maximize their own home efficiency on the cheap. The initiative, which is a part of the Harvard Center for Green Building and Cities, plans to make their prototype ultra-efficient by utilizing sunlight to minimize carbon emissions.
Still, they may be fighting an uphill battle; 48% of home buyers prefer homes that have never been lived in before. Unfortunately, construction of new buildings has a significant effect on the environment.
In total, more than 160 million tons of debris is created each year by a combination of construction and demolition, of which just 20-30% is collected and recycled, according to a 2009 report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
However, the Harvard group remains optimistic about the future of green housing.
“In the U.S., most of our building stock has already been built,” Ali Malkawi, a professor of architectural technology and the leader of the CGBC program said to “We’re shattering the belief that you need to build new building to be efficient. We want to show how this can be replicated almost anywhere, and solve one of the world’s biggest energy problems, inefficient existing buildings.”
In order to change beliefs, the HouseZero Project has selected a 1920s stick-built home as the target for their renovation project. The house, like many in its Cambridge neighborhood, requires near constant heat or cooling during winter or summer, a tremendous contribution to the home’s environmental footprint.
To rectify the problem, the Harvard team will install geothermal wells to help regulate the temperature inside the house, even in the seasonal extremes, as well as triple glazed windows, a solar vent, and a concrete slab designed to soak up heat from the sun.
They also plan to remove a parking lot and replace it with a rain garden, with specially selected soil to help retain water, which is important since maintaining a lawn can also cause a significant increase in your home’s footprint.
There are 20 million acres of lawn currently in the United States, which experts in lawn care recommend feeding up to an inch of water each week. While some more temperate regions can rely on natural rainfall to satisfy this requirement, others have to heavily rely on watering their garden, which requires a lot of resources.
This water waste is also mitigated by the HouseZero Project’s efforts to ensure retention of rainwater.
All this is part of the HouseZero’s holistic approach to improving the efficiency and sustainability of older homes.
While the current goal is to create a house that is completely emission free, the real purpose of the HouseZero Project is to provide a way for homeowners to effectively and efficiently renovate their home to reduce their environmental impact.
“While a homeowner may not be able to implement every aspect of HouseZero,” their site reads, “applying one or more of its components could positively impact its environment, the health of its occupants, and building operating costs.”

Salmon are slowly but surely losing their sense of smell and fear for predators, according to researchers at the University of Washington.

Previously, salmon were able to sense that predators in an area were leaving, but now that their natural waters are becoming more polluted with carbon emissions, their sense of smell as a breed is becoming obsolete. Salmons use their sense of smell to navigate, hunt, and avoid danger, but the toxins in the water are making it harder and harder to do so.

According to Chase Williams, a researcher at the University of Washington, salmon are able to smell predators by smelling a certain compound that is released when the predator is eating another fish. By smelling this chemical the fish swims away to a safe space, but now the ocean is changing.

So what’s causing this change? A fatal mixture of carbon dioxide emissions, deforestation, and global warming has caused an increasing amount of heat to be trapped within the ocean waters. Because of this, the water’s natural chemistry is changing to be more acidic.

The researchers had been noticing that wild salmon were acting a bit strange, so they decided to run a test where they made all environmental factors the same as in the wild to see if they could pinpoint the problem. During the experiment, the salmon living in more acidic water stopped avoiding the scent of their predators like they would in the wild.

With this finding in mind, scientists are quite worried about the livelihood of salmon in the wild if they are slowly evolving to become vulnerable prey. Ocean ecologist Francis Chan from Oregon State University explained to a little about how salmon function and the possibility for their survival in the future:

“Pretty much all fishes have that acidification-sensitive neurological pathway. Now that will probably get played out differently depending on species, but the results that are being reported suggest that more and not fewer fishes face challenges from acidification.”

Unfortunately, these researchers don’t believe there is much they can do about this problem until the Trump administration releases their final budget for the NOAA Sea Grant program. This is a program that would focus on providing cleanup to seaside communities and water filtration programs in hopes of eliminating the acidic water. As for right now, the federal government has not given any updates on the standing of this bill.

This acidic water also brings up another problem, the quality of the salmon found in the wild. Even though farmed salmon has more than three times the amount of saturated fat as wild salmon, it may be a good idea to stick with the farmed fish to cut down on the number of toxins consumed.

Making the transition to a greener lifestyle doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Even small changes, in even the smallest room of your home, can make a difference. Here are five tips to make your bathroom more eco-friendly:

1. Switch to eco-friendly light bulbs.

When LED light bulbs first arrived, they were cost-prohibitive and some found the color to be off-putting. Today’s LED light bulbs are much more affordable and available in both cool and warmer colors more similar to what you’d get from incandescent lighting. More importantly from an eco-friendly perspective, LED lightbulbs use about 80 percent less energy and can last 25 times longer than a comparable incandescent bulb! Your energy bill will undoubtedly reflect the change, and it will be years before you have to replace the bulbs. LED light bulbs also are available in many different sizes and shapes, so chances are good that you’ll be able to find replacement bulbs for your existing bathroom light fixtures and light bars.

2. Install a low-flow toilet.

With each flush, you’re flushing away one of the earth’s most precious resources: water. As one of your home’s biggest water consumers (representing up to 27 percent of all water used in your home), the toilet is a prime candidate for an eco-friendly makeover. If you have a traditional toilet, it could be using up to 7 gallons per flush. By contrast, low-flow toilets often use less than 2 gallons per flush. Many low-flow toilets on the market today have solved a common problem previously attributed to them: Less effective flushing. Today’s low-flow models have plenty of flushing power to handle the job, despite their lower water consumption. If you prefer, a dual flush toilet is an option. With these models, a single flush is used for liquid waste and a second flushing option, which uses slightly more water, is used for solid waste.

3. Install water-saving fixtures.

Speaking of water conservation, installing aerators on your sink faucets and a low-flow showerhead can save a significant amount of water in your home. Models are available that slash water consumption, yet still provide plenty of water pressure, and look good while doing it. Not only will replacing your showerhead with a low-flow model cut your water bill, you can expect some energy savings related to heating less hot water for your showers each day.

4. Switch to all-natural cleaning products.

Are you still cleaning your bathroom with toxic chemicals? If you need to wear a mask and gloves while cleaning and then store your cleaners in a locked cabinet due to their toxic nature, it is time to make a change. A mixture of plain old vinegar and water, maybe with a splash of lemon juice, is an effective alternative for cleaning hard surfaces. But there are also many companies — from Seventh Generation to Mrs. Meyers, The Honest Company and Airbiotics — who are making nontoxic cleaning products that perform comparably to traditional ones.

5. Install an eco-friendly bathtub.

When it’s time to replace your bathtub, consider one made using non-toxic materials and an eco-friendly process, such as a Badeloft freestanding bathtub. According to Badeloft, “Our products are manufactured with special detail to the material used in the production process and are eco-friendly, non-toxic materials that are safe for the client’s body. Our stone resin is 100 percent non-porous and therefore unaffected by fluctuating moisture or humidity.”



Disclosure: I received product to facilitate this review and compensation for my time and effort in creating this post. As usual, all opinions below are completely my own.

When I was pregnant with my now 3-year-old, I already knew that I would be very careful about the personal care products I use for her. This meant that for everything from baby soap and lotion to hair products, I would be choosing organic and natural alternatives that minimized her contact with toxic chemicals as much as possible. Even when washing her clothes, I knew I needed to choose laundry products carefully.

With my older daughter who is now 11, I used Dreft laundry detergent. I received several bottles at my baby shower and I loved it so much that I kept buying it. So I admit that I was a bit disappointed when I had Juliza that Dreft wouldn’t be an option, as I was trying to avoid traditional products.

The great news? Dreft finally has a product for parents like me who want more natural alternatives to the products we otherwise love.

Dreft purtouch is a new baby detergent that is 65% plant-based, hypoallergenic and made
with naturally-derived ingredients, designed specifically to be gentle on your baby’s delicate skin. It is free of dyes, chlorine, phosphates, ethanolamine and optical brighteners, and still designed to effectively remove up to 99% of baby stains. Even better, it is safe in septic tanks and the recyclable bottle is also made from 25% or more post-consumer recycled plastic.

I was excited when I was asked me to try Dreft purtouch, as I remember my great experience with the original product and couldn’t wait to see if this would compare.

The simple answer is that I love it.

I have to admit that I like my laundry detergent to smell good. I know it’s not necessarily for my clothes to get clean, but it is a psychological boost that makes using the product that much more enjoyable. Fragrance can literally make or break a product for me. Dreft purtouch has a fragrance that feels light and gentle — nothing too heavy or overpowering for you or your baby. And though the scent lingers after washing and drying, it is really subtle.

There’s also the matter of whether it did a good job of washing my daughter’s clothes. At 3 years old, she’s in the mess stage of toddlerhood. Eating a cup of yogurt means it will end up trailed down the front of her shirt, and learning to drink from a cup without a cover leads to sticky messes that force us to separate “play” clothes from the rest of her wardrobe. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a couple of stains that had been very visible were considerably lighter after washing with Dreft purtouch.

I wish I had gotten a “before” shot, but just know that the barely visible stain shown below was much more pronounced before washing — and it wasn’t a new stain either.

I also appreciated that my daughter’s clothes came out of the wash process noticeably softer than they did with our previous natural detergent. We never use liquid laundry detergent, and even with dryer sheets, her clothes would still feel a bit “rougher” than I would like. Dreft purtouch delivered touchable softness, especially helpful now that my little one is (finally) potty trained and wearing underwear that needs to be comfortable.

I am really pleased with this product, and I have every intention of continuing to use it throughout Juliza’s toddlerhood. I can feel confident that when she’s spinning and twirling in her beautiful clothes, that there is no residue that is harmful for her and her skin.

And I now know what to get for anyone I know who is having a baby.

I also wanted to share a video that had an impact on how I think about baby clothes. Dreft recently completed a survey that revealed 9 out of 10 dermatologists recommend washing baby clothes before the first wear, as excess dyes and chemicals from the manufacturing process, along with dirt from storage, transport and handling, can stay on the clothes. Need a visual? Check out this video that drives it home:

Yeah. I promise I won’t forget the thought of some kid kicking around a sweet little onesie that a baby will wear. Just something to think about.

Giveaway Time!

Would you like to try it for yourself? I thought you might. Enter below to win a bottle of Dreft purtouch.

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Access to green spaces may have significant neurological benefits for aging populations. This is according to researchers at the Universities of York and Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, who investigated the effect that walking between urban and green environment has on the brain.

The study involved eight volunteers from a larger sample of 95 people aged 65 and older. The subjects wore a headset while walking between busy areas of the city and more tranquil green spaces. The headset recorded brain activity and recorded video of the participants describing their state of mind.

Researchers eventually concluded that switching between these two spaces changes the brain’s excitement, engagement, and frustration levels. They also found that the subjects generally preferred the natural atmosphere.

“There are concerns about mental well-being as the global population becomes older and more urbanized,” Research fellow Dr. Chris Neale, of the University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute, said in a press release. “Urban green space has a role to play in contributing to a supportive city environment for older people through mediating the stress induced by built-up settings.”

These are the latest findings on the psychological benefits of nature, adding to a multitude of other studies looking into how natural environments impact human health. For instance, a 2016 report found that women living closer to major highways are more likely to experience fertility problems. As one in eight couples, or 12% of married women, have difficulty getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy in the United States, women who live within a tenth of a mile of a highway are 11% more likely to struggle with their fertility.

The World Health Organization also warns of other, more common ailments caused by air pollution, including heart disease and lung cancer. They also point out that both chronic and acute respiratory conditions, including asthma, can be direct results of poor air quality. A large portion of the global population suffers from these conditions regularly, and upper respiratory conditions were the most common condition diagnosed at urgent care clinics in 2012.

With new evidence of the direct link between clean, green spaces and human health, especially for older adults, the York and Edinburgh University researchers are urging citizens and world governments to prioritize the protection of natural lands.

“In a time of austerity, when greens spaces are possibly under threat due to pressure on council funding, we have demonstrated that these areas are important to people’s health,” researchers wrote in the press release. “We have an aging population which places challenges on the government. As the cost of looking after an aging population continues to rise, maintaining access to green space could be a relatively low cost option for improving mental well-being.”

We may live in a digital world, but for many folks, that makes getting away from it all especially appealing. In fact, nearly six out of 10 households recently reported that one of their residents has gone camping. Spending time outside in nature provides a chance to detach from the gadgets on which we constantly depend.

But if you don’t want to completely give up your ties to modern civilization, there are some technological advancements for wilderness adventurers that make camping easier and even more enjoyable.

Don’t much like the thought of having to sleep on the cold, hard ground? If you’d rather be rocked gently to sleep without worry of bugs or other creatures making their way into your tent, the TreePod Camper will help you hang in there — literally. This two-person tent gets suspended from a tree via a rope (a precarious-sounding premise, but it’s safer than you’d think), with extra framework that helps to balance it out. Some have applauded it as an alternative to the labor-intensive backyard treehouse while still providing an option for actual camping trips. Reviews have shown that it may not be the easiest thing to assemble, but it might be a good choice for your kids’ first camping experience.

For the gadget-lovers, you can buy a portable “shower” for washing dishes, camping gear, or your hair and body. Nemo Helio makes an 11-liter tank and accompanying 7-foot hose to make it easier for hikers to access the water they need along the way. You can also find many more of these portable showers for sale, including sun-powered contraptions that make hot showers on camping trips a reality. There are also several straws and water bottles on the market that make water filtration a breeze.

When you go camping, mosquitoes aren’t just a nuisance; they can potentially expose you to serious illnesses. There are a lot of sprays, creams, and even wearable fans on the market meant to repel these pests, but they’re often smelly, noisy, or just plain ineffective. Invisaband makes a bracelet that will keep mosquitoes away for 120 hours using natural ingredients. It’s comfortable and you don’t have to remember to reapply, so it’s especially good for families, large camping parties, or even outdoor events.

And if you get lost on a camping trip (or at a music festival) without WiFi access, there’s a chic-looking alternative to a conventional compass. Lynq uses pieces of data to orient your location in comparison to others in your party who are also carrying this device. It shows your proximity in distance and direction to other Lynq users you’ve identified, which makes reuniting easy. You’ll just need to sync up these smart compasses before you set off. There’s even a “safe zone” function that allows parents to set boundaries for their children to make sure they don’t wander too far.

In today’s world, it can be hard to disconnect completely. But with these advancements, there may actually be a benefit to bringing tech along on your next camping trip.

It’s no secret that the honey bee population is in decline, but a new study reveals that a common pesticide could be impairing their ability to fly. It’s called thiamethoxam, and it’s often used on crops such as soybeans, corn, and cotton.

James Nieh, an author of the study published in the journal Scientific Reports, says that he started questioning whether or not the pesticide may affect honey bee flight after previous research had already proven that it can make honey bees unable to return to their hives.

“Bees that fly more erratically for greater distances may decrease their probability of returning home…So we wondered if it could be that they weren’t being able to get home because they simply weren’t being able to fly very well,” says Nieh.

Honey bees can normally fly up to 15 miles per hour, but testing their flying speed after being exposed to the pesticide requires technology that isn’t quite available yet.

“So we did the next best thing, which is to take it into the lab, and we used an existing technology called a flight mill, which I built and modified to use with honey bees for our particular experiment,” he says.

Considering the known harmful effects of pesticides on humans, it isn’t at all a stretch to say that they could also harm bees. It’s worth noting, however, that pesticides do have some advantages. They help maintain and preserve the freshness of nearly all plants in addition to preventing weeds, even on the grass on your front lawn — in fact, a well landscaped and maintained lawn helps reduce allergens such as ragweed, and pesticides have proven to be one of the only known options for protecting valuable plant life.

Still, there has to be a more natural and less harmful solution to using dangerous and toxic chemicals and pesticides to preserve the viability of crops. According to the CDC, one in six Americans gets sick by consuming contaminated foods or beverages each year, and pesticides are inevitably the cause of many contamination illnesses. And when you factor in the fact that 80% of all cancers are attributed to environmental rather than genetic factors, including exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, it can feel like you risk developing cancer as soon as you step outdoors.

Simone Tosi, postdoctoral fellow at University of California San Diego, is the study’s lead author. He says he plans to focus on other bee behaviors in the future.

“And the impact that other stressors have on them. For example, the locomotor abilities of the bee, so how do they move inside a hive, for example, and when they forage on a flower,” says Tosi.

As the dangers of thiamethoxam become more apparent, many countries are doing what they can to prevent its usage. Both the European Union and Canada are considering enforcing a complete ban of neonicotinoids, an entire class of pesticides that includes thiamethoxam. Not only that, but 35% of all households in America were growing food at home or in a community garden in 2014, and that number is still on the rise. As more environmentally-conscious people make efforts to grow and harvest their own crops, pesticides won’t be as necessary with smaller farms because humans can care for them more frequently without having to rely on harmful chemicals — unlike major farms that don’t have the human resources for farm maintenance and are forced to rely on pesticides.

What’s probably the most ironic about this discovery is that the EPA has decided to issue guidelines for the usage of pesticides, but they’re only voluntary, which means they’re highly unlikely to be followed. This decision was made on the same exact day as a federal report was released that concluded that thiamethoxam can in fact kill bees and individual larvae, but “most approved uses…do not pose significant risks to bee colonies.”

Lori Ann Burd, the director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Environmental Health program, summarized the EPA’s actions perfectly: “This is like a doctor diagnosing your illness but then deciding to withhold the medicine you need to cure it.”

Today’s home buyers are looking to check “go green” off of their moving to do list. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors, 56% of realtors said that their clients were interested in sustainability while looking for new homes.

With 40% of Americans reporting that they are likely or somewhat likely to move within the next five years, this spike in prioritizing sustainability could have a significant impact. The NAR survey also found that 71% of real estate agents reported that their clients found listings that focused on energy efficiency either “somewhat valuable” or “very valuable,” according to a report by Construction DIVE.

The agents reported that 50% of their clients were most interested in energy efficient lighting. Lighting, which makes up about 11% of residential energy use and 18% of commercial energy use, came out as the top priority for these home buyers. This feature was followed by smart home technology (40%), shared amenities (37%), landscaping to encourage water conservation (32%), and renewable-energy systems (23%), ConstructionDIVE reports.

As home buyers are seeking greener amenities, this trend toward sustainability has led to the rise of green communities nationwide. The Babcock Ranch in Florida, for example, is an eco-friendly town founded by retired football player Syd Kitson, according to a report by Muscat Daily. Around 15,000 people went to visit the community last week, viewing the selection of homes, villas, and apartments. The ranch also includes a 440 acre solar farm which offsets the energy of almost 20,000 homes.

“We are building a new town from the ground up and that just doesn’t happen very often,” Kitson said in a statement to Muscat Daily. “We can do it right from the very beginning, and that is what we have set out to do.”

Looking North to New York State, Hudson Woods is a similar eco-community made up of a series of cabins. Gear Junkie reports that with a modern design and cozy feel, the homes maximize solar energy and the builders source materials from the surrounding area. By using boulders for retaining walls and lumber sourced by the Forest Stewardship Council, for example, the community is built with a more sustainable future in mind. The company also emphasizes local economic development by working with local contractors, Gear Junkie reports.

The use of sustainable products seems to be growing in popularity. According to a recent report by the National Association of Home Builders, 14% are using reused or salvaged materials and 34% are using materials with recycled content. The survey found that 67% of builders are using construction techniques aimed at reducing material usage all together, making projects more sustainable overall.

If homeowners are feeling inspired by these statistics to create a more sustainable home, there are many steps they can take. Even just placing shrubs and trees around the home can save up to 25% on energy bills, representing the power that every homeowner has over their own energy consumption.

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