Easy and Green Home Improvement Projects for Fall – Part 2

shutterstock_18797749Autumn is just around the corner, and with the classic post Labor Day temperature dip, now is a great time to roll up our shirt-sleeves and get to work on some great projects around the house. Last week, we began a discussion about fall-related home improvement projects that are both green and accessible for the DIYer in you. In Part 2, we will continue that discussion with a few ideas geared toward the inevitable spiral downward from the high heat of summer.

While “warm,” “dry,” and “toasty” all roll pleasantly off the tongue to describe those cold autumn and winter evenings, in my opinion, “cozy” is the adjective that perfectly describes how I like to feel in the fall and winter seasons. It’s the ideal word for the atmosphere I want to achieve in my home as the leaves begin to blow across my yard and winter winds howl at my door. Granted, that visual is more reminiscent of my childhood in Pennsylvania than my current home in Texas, but bear with me as I set the mood.

How can we stay cozy during the colder months without cranking up the thermostat? Fortunately, I have a few green, energy-saving ideas that can help keep your home and family warm, while still scratching that DIY home improvement itch you’re feeling right now as you read this post.

  1. shutterstock_37825696Check Your Insulation. Like other relics of years gone by wasting away in your attic, your insulation can easily fall into the realm of “out of sight, out of mind.” Over time, insulation can lose its efficacy because of excess moisture, settling, and general degradation. Inspect your insulation every autumn, and if necessary, supplement or replace it. For information on green insulation options, check out an earlier post I wrote in December 2013: Strategic Investments in Green Home Improvements: Insulation
  2. Install storm doors. If you haven’t already done so, install a storm door on all of your exterior doors. While weather stripping will help to keep the draft out, many exterior doors have decorative windows that can rapidly allow heat to escape, and even solid doors can still lose heat due to conduction. A storm door not only keeps cold wind at bay, but will also create an insulating air pocket between your door and the outside world. As an added bonus, you’ll be able to leave your front door open to the world during those glorious spring and summer months.
  3. shutterstock_81801169Seal the Deal. There are dozens of places around your home where warm air is escaping from your home during the colder months. No DIY cold weather preparations would be complete without a trip to hardware store for some caulk and weather stripping. Windows and doors are the obvious offenders, but what about your fireplace and outlets? Make sure chimney flues and barriers are well sealed, and install foam gaskets behind outlets and switches. As cold weather sets in, it’s time to test your work, so use a stick of incense to identify any remaining air leaks in trouble areas around the home.
  4. Sew Some Curtains. A crafty DIY project for those of you who are inclined, curtains are amazing at stopping the transmission of heat through your windows. But, let’s face it: a good set of curtains isn’t cheap. To achieve that optimal blend of DIY, thrift, and crafting, head to your nearest fabric store to locate a great pattern, pull out your sewing machine (or for the Navy folks like me, your tin full of needles and thread), and go to town. The best part of doing this yourself is that with the money you save, you can make a lighter set for warmer months as well!
  5. Get a Furnace Tuneup. This one isn’t necessarily for the DIY crowd, but the overall theme of this discussion is staying warm through energy efficiency. If your furnace hasn’t been tuned up in a few seasons, it’s not running at peak efficiency, and that means you’re wasting energy and running up your utility bill. This is definitely something you need to hire a professional to accomplish.

Staying warm, comfy, and cozy this winter doesn’t have to mean losing your “green” card. Grab a few tools, find those trouble spots, and get busy. By doing a little work as autumn rolls in, you can stay toasty while keeping your energy bill low and your conscience clear. Do you have any thoughts to add to the list? If so, let us know in the comments. Now, go grab some hot cider and get to work!

3 Green Babyproofing Tips for National Baby Safety Month

3 Green Babyproofing Tips for National Baby Safety Month

September is National Baby Safety Month, a reminder to take extra time this month to go over the little things in our home that can increase the safety of your growing family. We are going to explore a few eco-friendly ways for babyproofing your home.

3 Green Babyproofing Tips for National Baby Safety Month

1) Create a non-toxic environment- While this may sound as simple as moving household cleaners out of reach, it is not that easy. In a study performed by “Good Morning America” with the assistance of Greenguard Environmental Institute, they found 300 chemicals in the air of a brand-new nursery. They decorated the room with the usual items parents may need for a newborn: new crib, changing table, rocker and decorations.

To help eliminate the amount of chemicals in your home, choose products that are certified to have low chemical emissions, including paint, carpets, crib mattresses, and furniture. Buy houseplants that will help to clean the air, but be sure to research each species for toxicity to children & pets or hang the plants out of reach.

Regarding household cleaning products, look for non-toxic, biodegradable cleaners to reduce chemical exposure to your children. Vinegar & baking soda will work wonders at cleaning your home and you can feel good about your baby learning to crawl in a safe space. Learn how to make your own cleaning products here.

3 Green Babyproofing Tips for National Baby Safety Month

2) Babyproofing items – There are many products designed to keep your child safely out of harm such as electrical socket plugs or latches on cabinets. Simple ways to protect children without buying these items would be rearranging furniture to hide outlets or moving dangerous items to a high shelf, for example. A great way to figure out what may be a danger in your home is to get down at your child’s level – what do you see when your sit on the floor? Loose cables, heavy books, sharp coffee table corners, trash cans, pet water/food bowls? Remove the dangers from the rooms you plan to spend the most time with your child and reduce the risk of injury.

If you do buy safety devices, you can find eco-friendly options that are BPA-free or recycled through online stores such as Rhoost, who make 100% recycled products. You can visit their webpage for a detailed list of ways to ensure your home is babyproofed.

There are also services out there that specialize in child-proofing your home.  They will come into your home to help you determine what you can do to create a safe environment for your baby.

3 Green Babyproofing Tips for National Baby Safety Month

3)  Toys – Your baby naturally wants to put everything they pick up into their mouth. This is one way they can explore the world around them. With this in mind, choose toys that are age-appropriate and natural or organic with non-toxic paint. Avoid plastic toys and choose natural products such as organic cotton or sustainable wood. Here’s a few of my favorite natural toy companies:

Are you ready to start babyproofing your home?  Check out this Baby Safety Month calendar from Wholesome Baby Food for one task a day to make it easier for you to focus on one thing at a time.

Easy and Green Home Improvement Projects for Fall – Part 1

Easy and Green Home Improvement Projects for Fall - Part 1One of my favorite aspects of home ownership is the ability to dig into some fun home improvement projects. If you’re like me, summer is a busy time between picnics, vacations and, let’s face it, lawn care. Well, the dog days of summer are nearly over, and so it’s time to delve into some great autumn projects around the house. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to take a look at a few easy and green projects that are likely way overdue around the house.

1) Create a Compost Pile

This topic is under the radar for most folks, but we feel that a great project for any homeowner is the installation of a composting system. While barrel systems are available for purchase, we’re going to assume that the readers of this blog are interested in DIY projects. A quick search of the Internet yields a multitude of amazing homemade compost bin ideas, and most take little more than some wood, screws, and chicken wire. These projects can be as simple as 3 walls, as complex as a multi-bin covered structure, or even homemade tumbler systems. For those of us that love a good project, this is both scalable and satisfying.

Easy and Green Home Improvement Projects for Fall - Part 1But why should we compost? There are many good answers to this question, but here are a few to get your green bug going:

  • Reduce landfill waste
  • Nutrient-rich mulch for your lawn
  • Free mulch for your lawn
  • Reduce methane production due to anaerobic decomposition of organic matter in landfills
  • Reduce your dependence on chemical fertilizers

This is the season for those gorgeous autumn leaves as we bid farewell to summer. After a couple of amazing weeks of fall foliage, those leaves will begin to add a crunchy blanket to the lawn, and, for many folks, that means rows of bags full of leaves ready for curbside pickup. With your newly built compost bin, let’s put those leaves to good use.  Pound-for-pound, decomposing leaves provide more minerals than manure, and your overall cost for making mulch will go down given the ample supply of free material strewn throughout your yard.

Some folks claim that leaf composting is difficult, but the Internet is also ripe with suggestions for making your leaf composting amazingly easy and successful. This includes a 5:1 ratio of leaf to manure (which adds much needed nitrogen) and shredding your leaves for easier processing. So, get out there and make those autumn leaves the backbone of your spring gardens!

2) Reduce Your Water Usage

Easy and Green Home Improvement Projects for Fall - Part 1

Low Flow Shower Head image courtesy of stevendepolo. https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/

Summertime watering, and the need to cut back on it, is a regular topic in the drought-stricken areas of the US, but what about those other seasons? Saving water should be a year-’round goal, even in low usage months. Starting in the bathroom, consider faucets with aerators and low flow shower heads. We have a great shower head by Delta that provides a very satisfying high-pressure stream that also cuts down on our average water usage when it’s time for that nice hot shower in the morning.

And speaking of hot water, it’s common for a homeowner to spend 30+ seconds waiting for the hot water to actually get hot. You can help to save time and water when it comes to warming up your bathwater by insulating your pipes properly, especially those exposed to your attic, crawl space, or basement.

3) Optimizing Your Toilet

Easy and Green Home Improvement Projects for Fall - Part 1

Dual Flush Toilet image courtesy of Hotel Chatter. http://www.hotelchatter.com/

While many newer toilets are designed for an efficient flush, those of us with older homes need to explore options for making our very own oval offices eco-friendly. One option is to retrofit an older toilet with a dual-flush button kit (you know, one for liquids only, the other for solids). If that’s not your style, you can purchase a divider that keeps a portion of your toilet cistern dry, thereby reducing your total gallons per flush (GPF). Perhaps the most economical option is to take an old plastic bottle, fill it with water or gravel, and place it in the cistern to displace water, again reducing your GPF.

For those of us that love getting our hands dirty, this is the perfect season for a little DIY fun, so we’re excited to share these simple green home improvement projects to jump-start the fall. Have anything to add? Let us know in the comments section below! And be on the lookout for future installments to this series later in the month.

Downsizing to Defeat the Clutter: A Personal Account and 4 Helpful Suggestions

Downsizing to Defeat the Clutter: A Personal Account and 4 Helpful Suggestions

Whoa. This is not a pleasant sight.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the “small house movement,” a topic that mystifies me and yet captures my heart because of its inherent simplicity. The ethos of the “tiny house” is simple: the less you have, the less you have to worry about so that you can focus on what’s really important in life. In a loftier sense, the more you downsize the stuff you accumulate in your home (no matter how tiny or large), the more freedom you can experience, as your life is spent less with your stuff and more in the little moments of life.

I recently spent a week in a tent at a spiritual retreat, and I was plagued twice daily by having to sort through many things and clothes. And while this did frustrate me, it also reminded me of the beauty of simple living. For those of us faced with the trappings of western living, it’s easy to drown in the weight of our things, and let’s face it, we tend to acquire “stuff” to fill every nook and cranny we have.

Also, I must admit that I’m a professional “pack rat.” If there was an Olympics for gathering and holding on to “stuff,” I’d be on a podium holding a medal and waiting for my anthem to play proudly in front of an adoring crowd. Conversely, the endless array of stuff drives me bonkers on the daily. So, I have a problem on my hands: I have a hard time letting go of material things, while daily losing my temper at the masses of things in every corner of our home.

At this stage of our family life, we would love to fit our stuff into a home 1,000 sq.ft. or less, so the question now becomes, “How do we downsize?” The query has weighed heavily on me for months now and has been an active topic in our household. In this spirit, I wanted to discuss 4 realistic problems and provide ways to solve them. Here are a few of the strategies my family employs to defeat the clutter and downsize to a more healthy lifestyle.

Downsizing to Defeat the Clutter: A Personal Account and 4 Helpful Suggestions

Look at all that clutter leaving her home!

1) 30 Bags in 30 Days. This is a trendy idea for re-prioritizing the junk in our lives. The basic idea is to fill a bag, no matter how small, each day and dispose of it (properly). A great goal is to fill a plastic shopping bag worth of needless things each day, but even a sandwich bag is a good start. In the past month, we have unloaded well over 200 pounds of stuff and we have no plans on stopping after 30 days (we have enough junk to keep it up for a year, frankly). This is a great way not only to empty drawers, but also a fantastic catalyst for assessing all of the “stuff” and “things” you pack into the endless crevasses of your abode.

2) Explore the Sentimental. This is a huge part of decluttering and downsizing, and I am a hopelessly sentimental sap who saves nearly everything that could be attached to a memory. For instance, I still have a pair of hiking shoes I bought over 10 years ago because I remember the first time I wore them into the apartment complex in college. Items like my grandfather’s first professional camera and his tools are definitely non-negotiable, but while those old salt and pepper shakers or the jewelry box from my teenager years tug at heartstrings, they just sit in a box in the garage.

There is no simple solution to the sentimental, but consider the following: pack these items out of sight and revisit them 3-6 months later. If they still hold the same meaning (or if you thought about them at all in that time frame), keep them, Get rid of them if they don’t. Also, if the sight of an item brings back memories, consider taking a picture instead of keeping the physical form. This one is my greatest challenge, but it’s important to tackle, as the majority of my collecting deals with things that hold more to the heart and less to the practicalities of life.

Downsizing to Defeat the Clutter: A Personal Account and 4 Helpful Suggestions

This guy needs some help prioritizing what goes into his personal space.

3) Eliminate the Dumping Grounds. In my house, any flat surface can become a place to dump whatever we have in our hands as we enter a room. This infuriates me more than any other clutter we accumulate. Look around your home to determine if there are habitual dumping grounds and eliminate the worst offenders. The fewer places you have to carelessly place things, the more likely you’ll actively put things away, which means you’ll actively pursue ways to organize and prioritize your space.

4) Zero net gain. The basic idea here is that for every one new thing you bring into the house, something else has to go. We would like to employ this concept in our house, especially with toys. While it isn’t always practical, it is a good baseline to keep from growing into (and outgrowing) your living space.

Fighting the endless stream of clutter can feel like a hopeless endeavor. Making a meaningful change starts with putting your foot down and taking a stand – even with yourself. Once you halt the inflow, it becomes easier to organize, downsize, and defeat the clutter, giving you a personal sense of freedom.

Which areas of your home life do you need to tackle? What tactics have worked for you? Let us know in the comments below!

3 Inventive Ideas for Back-to-School Crafts

The kids are going back to school! Hurrah! Many families are getting ready for a new routine with new teachers, new friends, and new activities. The beginning of the school year is always exciting, so I wanted share some of this excitement by making some back-to-school crafts to help kids enjoy the new school year.

3 Inventive Ideas for Back-to-School Crafts

1) Pencil Cases

Many students need a place to store pencils at school or at home for homework. Why use a cheap, plastic store-bough case when you can design your own?

  • Personalized Felt Pencil Case – Practice your sewing skills by decorating this case with buttons, ribbon, or felt shapes.
  • Cereal Box Pencil Case – Recycle your favorite cereal box into a pencil case with this template, some glue, and a bit of Velcro.
  • Monster Pencil Case – Craft glue & googly eyes will turn your pencil case into a pencil-eating monster!

3 Inventive Ideas for Back-to-School Crafts

2) Notebooks

Kids spend lots of time writing in composition notebooks for classes. Creating a unique cover on theirs may help prevent them from losing it or mixing it up with another student’s. Perhaps it will even inspire more writing!

  • Decoupage – The possibilities are endless with decoupage! This is an excellent opportunity to reuse old maps, stamps, comics, magazines, or sheet music.
  • Chalkboard Paint – Kids can’t decide what to write on their notebooks? They can change it up every day after they paint their notebook with chalkboard paint.
  • Felt & Applique – Let your kids pick out a favorite applique for this project and layer it onto the notebook with a coordinating felt. It would also be fun to print out or draw your own design and then make your own applique out of felt.

3 Inventive Ideas for Back-to-School Crafts

3) Bookmarks

We finally need bookmarks for my Kindergartner! As my son becomes more interested in reading, we have begun to read simple chapter books together. He also has many books with multiple stories in them and needs to mark his place. He loves to pick out his own bookmarks, but making them is even more fun!

  • Monster Origami – These hungry monster bookmarks may take a little practice at first but soon you’ll have enough to share with the entire class! I’ve also found a video tutorial complete with free downloadable template for a simple patterned corner bookmark.
  • Lacing Bookmarks – Your kids can practice their lacing skills with these fun bookmarks! You could design your own image or download the template provided.
  • Button Bookmarks – This is a super quick & easy activity! The hardest part will be deciding which buttons to use.

What back-to-school crafts are you and your family making? Share them with us!