Jan 272013
 
CFL

Wise and progressive people are both environmentally-friendly as well as frugal. I suppose because these two concepts marry the ideas of recycling, reducing, and re-purposing.

At each rental property I have lived in, one of the first things I did was switch all the old incandescent bulbs the place “came with” to compact fluorescent light bulbs.

It made me feel confident that my electric bill would be about a third the price of what it would have been if I didn’t switch bulbs, and it also made me feel good knowing that when I left the place, I’d leave the new tenants with money-saving, environmentally-friendly light bulbs. Compact fluorscents last 9-16 years, but I hope that someday if a bulb goes out, the next “owner” will be more likely to replace it with the same thing.

When I visited my parents home around Christmas, I noticed how many lights were left on in rooms people were not in, as well as the sheer volume of bulbs in that house. And, my parents always raised us kids on “always turn out the light when you leave a room.” I guess that idealism has slipped a bit in their empty nest.

Slightly miffed, (energy-sucking hypocrites!) I went around the house and counted the number and type of bulbs. This included lamps, overhead lights, oven, refrigerator, and garage door opener lights, as well as bulbs in the attic, basement, closets, and outdoors.

I did not count lights that were not in use, like old, unplugged lamps, holiday decorations, or lights in other buildings, like the cabana, gazebo, and pool pump house.

I approached my parents separately and asked them to guess how many lights they have in their house, and how many were currently on.

My mom guessed 49 lights total, with five on.

My dad guessed 30 lights with three on.

They have 121 light bulbs plugged in and available for use in their house. 67 are normal bulbs, 34 are “flame” bulbs (they like their colonial charm), 12 are indoor recessed lighting spotlights,  5 are outdoor floodlights, 2 are small bulbs and they have just 1 mini-flame.

At the time, 19 light bulbs were on.

This is sick!

So, I knew then and there just what they were getting for Christmas.

Santa came with loads of presents: for my parents. Boxes and boxes begged to be opened, their contents yearning to be played with. Usually, they enjoy watching my sister and I open our gifts, but this year, the spotlight was on them. Santa brought them thirteen boxes of compact fluorescent light bulbs, amounting to 64 “regular” CFL bulbs. Because nothing says “I care about your carbon footprint” like the gift of Compact Fluorescents. Previously, I had bought them a pack of CFL spotlights since a few went out, unnoticed. But this would be a sea-change, a huge hit, replacing almost all the regular bulbs.

Because this was my idea, I spent a good portion of Christmas afternoon unscrewing and screwing in bulbs until my wrist ached.

“Save the old ones in case these go out,” my dad suggested. Bull-shit I will. Those things went straight to the recycling bin.

Even with a freezing January, necessitating the use both of the furnace as well as multiple space heaters and much more indoor activity, the savings to their following  bill was immense.

Besides the “green factor” and the long life of CFLs, my favorite thing about these fancy bulbs is that you can put as bright a bulb as you want in any socket. This is because the 19 Watt CFLs are comparable in lumens to a 100 watt incandescent. There is almost no way you can put too high a wattage CFL bulb in, because the watts just don’t go that high. You can make your home as bright as you like.

I also love that there are different “color temperatures” offered. Go to Home Depot and check out the live display. You can get cool, bluish lights or very warm, yellowy lights, depending on the mood you want to create.

Additionally, these bulbs are very safe around children because they don’t get hot like incandescents. They get a little warm, but you can absolutely touch them while they are on.

I vividly remember the first time I touched an incandescent! I was about six or seven and touched a peach-colored crayon to the bulb of the lamp on my nightstand. When I attempted to wipe off the melted way, boy, did my finger turn pink then white fast. It was a bad burn that I will never forget. I am glad my future spawn will never have to learn that lesson.

See if your state is running any special funding or promotions for compact fluorescent light bulbs. Recently the Connecticut Energy commission had a grant where light bulbs at Walmart were deeply discounted. Yes, I know how bad it is to shop there, but this was worth it: a pack of four 19 watt (comparable to 100 watt brightness) were $3.78, and four 14 watt bulbs (as bright as a 60 watt) were $0.76! Often, just one CFL bulb cost $9-$15, so if you have a program like this, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity and load up while you can.

Have you switched your home or office to CFLs? How much did you save? Have you had one burn out yet? I’d love to hear about your experiences: Missy@melissamiko.com

 

Jan 272013
 

My concerns about indoor air quality led me to investigate a number of natural, healthy options to clean up my air.

Read: Homemade Air Freshener.

Because I am scared of changing the furnace filter, I considered making filters to put inside the central air ducting vents in rooms I use the most.

In my research, I learned that baking soda really does work for absorbing odors.

Natural fabrics such as cotton and wool (think: using an old wool sweater) are also pretty good passive air filters. Activated carbon is different from grilling charcoal.

Activated carbon has been oxidized and is clean (you can eat it) giving it an immense surface area that attracts and captures impurities. Charcoal is not oxidized, processed with pretty toxic chemicals (unless you buy the natural stuff or make it yourself), and just makes a mess. It won’t do the trick.

HEPA means High-Efficiency Particulate Air, and is a medical-grade filter that has extremely small “holes”, capturing impurities by not allowing them to pass through.

I did end up purchasing a HEPA air purifier. I chose the Honeywell 17000 and I love it.

A note on Air Purifiers: actually measure and calculate the square footage of the room you plan to put it in. Don’t estimate. Buy one that can handle a little more square footage. Be sure to buy one with a HEPA filter. The box should say “True HEPA”. If it says “HEPA-Type”, you will be wasting your money. Might as well turn on a fan.

Anyway, much to my delight, my air purifier came with an activated carbon/charcoal pre-filter that the new owner must install. I think this is because the activated carbon must be changed every month or so, while the main HEPA filter lasts 1-3 years, so they want to make sure you can and will actually remember to do it.

So the activated carbon filter had quite an overlap, which inspired me to make my own air filter for a central air vent. Even though I have the air purifier, I hope this will work doubly good as well as save energy so I can run my purifier less, and also extend the main filter’s life.

The activated carbon pre-filter is a black, clean by charcoal-y long rectangle that is meant to be wrapped around the outsider of the cylindrical main filter. Mine overlapped by about 14 inches. My central air vent is 4 x 12 inches, so I cut it down to just the size I need.

You can easily buy these activated carbon filters at Sear’s, Lowe’s, or Home Depot. Mine happens to be Honeywell Pre-filter “A”, but I’m sure any comparable product will work.

Commercial vent filters like the one I am making actually exist, but this good fortune occurred before I had the chance to run to Home Depot to look for such a product. Twelve Cheapie Vent Register Filters & Nine Feet of Pricey Vent Filter.

So, I’ve got my 4 x 12 inch activated carbon pre-filter. I considered sewing a two pocketed sack with two layers being cotton and the top wool, and putting the activated carbon sheet in the “bottom” pocket and loading some baking soda in the “top” pocket.

Homemade central air filter diagram

I didn’t end up going all the way, but I bet this would work great.

What I did do was take an “allergen filtration” vacuum bag I found and cut a 4 x 12 rectangle out of it.

Make Vent Air Filter

Now, considering how a vacuum works and which side the sucking and filtering would need to be on, and which side the clean air blowing out would be on, I layered my activated Carbon pre-filter on “top”, so it would be the first thing the furnace air hits. Then I put the vacuum bag “in-side” up, so that the direction the air is blowing is the same as it would be in a vacuum.

Homemade Central Air Vent Filter

The pieces were just a little larger than the vent hole, which was perfect because I could “catch” the edges of the carbon filter and vacuum bag when I screwed the vent back on so any air coming out of the vent would be forced through.

 Homemade Central Air Vent Filter

This filter is working great so far! All I smell is fresh air coming out of my vent. The heat still blows in just as effectively, too.

Now, I’m a big advocate of using what you have on hand. If you have vacuum bags that don’t fit any of your working vacuums, this is a perfect way to re-purpose them.

Likewise, perhaps you have leftover clean aquarium filter medium or activated charcoal supplement capsules lying around. I’d say, make or find a little sack and dump some in!

Did you try making an air filter? How did it go for you? Did you incorporate any other ideas I didn’t include here? Tell me: Missy@melissa.miko.com

 

 Posted by on January 27, 2013 at 2:34 am Healthful Living, Nature and Earth Tagged with: , ,
Jan 272013
 
Homemade Air Freshener

First, here’s my story that led me on my Odyssey to clean household air: I spend a lot of time at home; naturally, since I work here and live here.

January in Connecticut can get very cold, and in single digit weather plus wind chill, opening a window for fresh air isn’t an option.

Someone in my domicile has taken to smoking his cigars in the basement while making fishing lures (man-crafts), rather than outdoors or at the marina as is the norm in warmer weather. Also housed in the basement is our furnace. The central air system we have recycles some of the heated air through intake vents from various areas of the house, but also uses filtered basement air, in addition to humidifying the air from down there. Well, that furnace filter hasn’t been changed yet this year, and the furnace scares me too much to try it myself yet (I feel like the kid from home alone when faced with that thing).

scary furnace from home alone

So here I have cigar-scent coming through the central air. Normally, I don’t mind the smell of a good cigar. I’ve been known to partake myself. But it’s not what I want to constantly smell every evening and weekend; not in my home.

Due to health concerns, I have sworn off commercial chemical air fresheners. I threw out my Febreeze, my peony-scented spray that sits upon my porcelain throne, my favorite woodsy pine spray, my Italian linen fabric freshener and even my L’Occitane home scent collection.

I have also dumped all commercial, scented candles. Donated my Yankee Candle jars, candley gifts I’ve accumulated over the years, and almost all chemically-scented candles. I say almost, because I know I haven’t found them all. I’ve only kept unscented tea lights, a natural soy candle from my friend’s old business, the remnants of commercial lamp oil still in my hurricane lamps (I’m switching to olive oil), and of course, my natural, beeswax candles.

So my options in clearing up this dreadful pollution in my home are limited. This was when I came across some recipes for natural air fresheners.

Following, are my tried and true favorites to eliminate that musty, smokey smell.

Homemade Spray Air Freshener

Assemble the following:

  • Spray bottle
  • Distilled water, RO water, or tap water boiled for an hour to evaporate the chlorine. If you are in a pinch, use spring water, or even regular old tap water.
  • Essential oil of your choice. I found “sharp” scents most effective, such as lemon or fir essential oil. Other good choices are lavender, tea tree, grapefruit, orange or peppermint. Note: the peppermint actually repels fleas. And people, if your mixture is too strong! Alternately, use whatever oil you have on hand or even a natural massage oil. You cold grate the peel of a citrus fruit into your bottle or use lemon or grapefruit juice, but use it within four days or it will get gross. I haven’t tried it, but you could also use pure vanilla extract, just don’t spray it directly on light fabrics as it could spot them.

Instructions:

1. Decide how much air spritzer you want. If you have a large 32 ounce bottle, just make a little bit. If you have a tiny bottle, plan to fill it almost to the top, leaving room for the sprayer straw and assembly. This  may seem obvious, but this is an important consideration due to the cost and amount of essential oil you may have on hand, and I know how hard it is to think straight when you are overwhelmed by nausea due to an awful smell.

2. Fill your bottle up with 3 parts water.

3. Add 1 part chosen essential oil or scent.

Optional: I have found recipes that also add 1 part distilled white vinegar to this. Unless you love the smell of vinegar, skip this. It works, maybe even adds some efficacy, but you can definitely smell the vinegar for longer than you will smell the pleasant essential oil. Do not try any vinegar except the distilled white vinegar used for cleaning and coloring Easter eggs, or you will have an even worse smell on your hands.

4. Label your bottle for safety: what it is (Air Freshener) and what is in it (3 parts distilled water and 1 part lemon essential oil).

5. Shake the bottle vigorously, now and before every use, especially if you are mixing oil and water.

6. Spray liberally, high in the air. Again, don’t douse fabric with this; it does contain oil. A tiny bit or falling airborne droplets will absolutely not hurt or stain anything. The scent lasts 15-20 minutes, but it leaves the air fresher for much longer afterwards.

Did you try this recipe? How did it work for you? Got a recipe or ingredients of your own you’d like me to post? Let me know: Missy@MelissaMiko.com

 

 Posted by on January 27, 2013 at 12:47 am Healthful Living, Nature and Earth, Recipes, Self-Improvement Tagged with: , ,
Dec 102012
 
beautiful woman silhouette dancing on beach sunset

Feeling good is all about enlightenment. Whether you seek perfection, or just a positive change to your life, the progression “upwards” is more of a life-long meditation than a journey to a final goal. There are many ways to feel good about yourself and the actions you take. Here are 10 of my favorites:

1. Remember your re-useable shopping bags when you go into a store. Grab more re-useable bags than you think you need. If you have two or less, make the investment and buy a few more. Some places even offer them for free as a promotion.  Alternately, if you are only buying a few items, just carry them out (make sure you get your receipt so it doesn’t look like you are walking out without paying!) Or put them in your pockets, purse, or backpack.

2. Be nice to a creature you don’t especially care for. Whether this means picking a worm off the sidewalk and putting him on the grass or smiling at OPC (Other People’s Children), it will make you feel like a better human being.

3. Use washable food and beverage containers. Invest in some glass or BPA- free plastic  Tupperware and water bottles. Don’t use paper plates, paper cups, or plastic utensils. For storing food, baggies are a no-no (unless you are really earthy and wash them, although I don’t know how sanitary that is in the long run), as is aluminum foil and plastic wrap. Likewise, don’t grab a fistful of napkins every time you go to Panera. Just take what you need, even if  you have messy kids, because you know 90% of those napkins are going to be stashed, crumpled, and unused until you deem them old and ratty enough to throw out so you can get cleaner, newer, nicely folded napkins.

man hand holding saved baby bird

4. Take the time to find out what items your waste management company recycles. This goes for home and work. Look it up online, see if it is printed on the recycling container, or make a quick call. Separate trash that is recyclable from that which is not. You’ll probably be surprised how much is recyclable!

If your area offers a refund on glass, plastic, and aluminum beverage containers, separate these out too. If you don’t care to cash them in yourself, give them to an avid recycler, a homeless person, or you could offer them to a local nonprofit.

5. Turn off lights/unnecessary appliances when you leave a room, and if you live with other people, encourage them to do the same. Nothing is worse than coming into a house with every light and TV on, when no one is even home.

Better yet, switch all your incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs. This can be an investment, and while it’s not as pricey as you may think, figure out how many bulbs and of what kind you need and make a budget and execute it, if you need to do this over time. Make a list. Include chandeliers, bulbs in the attic and basement, bulbs on appliances, and outdoor lighting. You will be astounded how much your electricity consumption goes down!

Earth Mother: Circular psychedelic image of a Woman breathing out sky, laying in the sea, with rainbow sun rays and land in the background

6. Support a local business owner. Whether it’s a quaint gift shop, a farmer’s market, or a sandwich stand that makes artisan breads, give your money to your local economy and keep it close.

7. Insist on a “TV turnoff week”. Don’t try it, do it. It’s not that hard, and if you feel like it’s hard, I pity you. What an empty life you have and you don’t even know it! Whether you live alone or with others, this is a great way to have a lot more fun connecting with other people. That may mean playing battleship one night, socializing with friends another, completing a project, or finally reading that book you’ve been thinking about.

8. Look a stranger in the eyes and smile. Say hello if the opportunity presents its self. Try this with a neighbor who is out walking, someone at a traffic light, or someone in line next to you at the market. You never know how someone’s day is going or how many unfriendly, blank stares they got. Just be nice! It’s free.

9. The next time you go to make a negative judgement on someone, whether to yourself or a friend, don’t. I don’t care if you see a 14 year-old with a baby or a lady that weighs 700 pounds and her butt crack is exposed or a guy with the most epic uni-brow you have ever seen. Think of something nice you notice about them. It doesn’t matter if you say it in your head, to your friend, or even to that person. Stop the negative, defensive, judgmental thinking. This habit will make you much more satisfied with your own life.

10. Go for a walk outside. Not a run, not a bike ride, not to the gym, and not a lap around the mall. Only about 20% of this one has to do with exercise. It’s more about observation, and awareness of your community and surroundings. Notice that your neighbors painted their shutters, or the new boat in the harbor, or all the cardinals that come out in December to look for berries. Get connected and make it a habit to actually live life in real-time, rather than through MSNBC or People Magazine or Facebook. Be that person doing things, seeing things, and experiencing life.

black and white photo of a man's hand holding out a daisy

If you try some of these, and I sincerely hope you do, think about getting in the habit of channel Benjamin Franklin, and every morning, ask yourself, “What good can I do today?”

 

Dec 032012
 
Photo collage of lettuce, oranges, lemons, limes, green and red apples, cherry tomatoes, purples, green and red, grapes, bananas, and melons

Dirty Dozen: The 12 Most Contaminated Fruits & Vegetables; Buy These Organic

1. Nectarines (97% tested positive for pesticides)
2. Peaches (94%)
3. Celery (94%)
4. Pears (94%)
5. Apples (92%)
6. Cherries (91%)
7. Strawberries (90%)
8. Imported grapes (86%)
9. Spinach (83%)
10. Potatoes (79%)
11. Bell Peppers (68%)
12. Raspberries (59%)

Each of these not only tested positive for pesticides, but from no less than 25 – 45 different pesticides!
Notice that many of these have tender or soft skin.

Clean Fifteen: Least Contaminated Fruits & Vegetables

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Onion
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Pea
  • Tomato

Notice that with most of these, you eat what is inside, i.e. you don’t eat the skin or outer layer.

Here is a Cheat Sheet you can save and print to carry in your wallet to help you: