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7 Laundry Hacks That Save Time, Money and the Planet

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Laundry is a drain on the modern green household. It sucks up energy, water, and time — three things very precious to any eco-warrior. Fortunately, technology has some excellent solutions to our laundry problems. Here are seven laundry hacks that help you make sure your washer and dryer are doing their part for the planet.

1. Upgrade to an Energy Star Model

If your current washer and dryer are more than 10 years old, upgrading them will save you significant time doing your weekly laundry and also reduce your utility bills. Energy Star–rated washers can reduce your water use by 45 percent and your energy use by 25 percent. An Energy Star–rated dryer will save you around $245 in energy costs over its lifetime. If upgrading isn’t an option yet, be conscientious about using your current washer’s settings correctly. If you have water level settings, make sure to set your washer to the lowest one. If not, always use the correct load size setting — small for small loads, medium for medium loads, and so on. You could save more than 1,200 gallons of water per year.

2. Wash Your Clothes in Cold Water

Almost 90 percent of the energy a washer needs is used to heat water. If you wash your clothes in cold water, you’ll cut down your energy use significantly and save $66 or more a year on your energy bill, depending on the amount of laundry you do. New high-efficiency (HE) washers clean just as effectively with cold water. Make sure to use a specially designed HE laundry detergent.

3. Select the Fastest Spin Speed

Choose the fastest spin speed your washer (and your clothes) can handle. The faster the washer spins, the more water is whisked out of the load, and the less time it needs to spend in the dryer. Be sure to use this for towels, if nothing else.

4. Take Advantage of Sensor Features

Load and moisture sensors will intelligently adjust your washer and dryer cycles. Load sensing assesses each load you put in the washer and determines how much water is needed to clean it properly. Similarly, moisture sensors are more efficient than setting a timer on your dryer. These sensors can tell when your clothes are dry and stop the machine, reducing your dryer’s energy use by about 15 percent.

5. Opt for Models That Use Less Water

Traditional top-loading washing machines fill up the entire tub with water and rub clothes against the agitator in the middle of the tub. New top-loader models don’t have an agitator — they flip and spin clothes through a stream of water instead of filling the whole tub, which significantly reduces water usage. Front-loading washers tumble clothes to clean them instead of using an agitator. Either option is an eco-friendly choice that will reduce the amount of water you use to do laundry.

6. Turn Down the Dryer Heat

Longer drying cycles on a low heat setting use less energy. Be sure to clean the filter in between loads to keep the dryer in top working order.

7. Toss a Tennis Ball into the Dryer

This old-school trick really works. When you’re drying large, bulky items — such as down comforters, jackets, blankets or pillows — throw in a couple of new tennis balls with the load. The balls bounce around in the dryer to separate the waterlogged, heavy material, which reduces drying time and energy usage.

Follow these laundry hacks to take advantage of today’s washer and dryer features that save time, energy and water for a super-green laundry routine.

Jennifer Tuohy is an earth-conscious mom who writes for The Home Depot on a variety of green, tech, and parenting topics. She provides advice on easy, simple ways to be greener when doing your laundry. To see a selection of Energy Star-rated washers and dryer like the ones Jennifer mentions in this article, visit The Home Depot here

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7 Laundry Hacks That Save Time, Money and the Planet

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The Many Benefits of Swale Landscaping

Does your property have excessive runoff from rainwater or melting snow? All that liquid can not only make your yard a soupy mess, it may even threaten the structural stability of your home. Digging a swale in your yard will reduce or eliminate this serious problem. A swale will also help conserve water and create a lovely, low maintenance landscape for your home.

What is a swale and why build one on your property?

The landscaping term ?swale? refers to a shallow trench, which may be dug on a property for 3 important related purposes:

  1. to catch storm water
  2. to direct the water away from your home
  3. to slow the water?s movement so it can be gradually absorbed into the ground

A swale usually is designed to follow the natural contours of the surrounding landscape, often with a berm (a human-made ridge of earth, which may be sown with plantings for stability) along the lower edge.

A driveway swale flanks your drive on one or both sides, in order to keep runoff from flowing into your garage or your home.

A swale may be combined with underground piping to handle your roof runoff.

The standard swale dimensions generally range from 6-18 inches deep and 8-24 inches wide, depending on the volume of water you are dealing with.

The many benefits of swale landscaping

Digging a swale will benefit your landscape in a number of ways. You will:

Avoid storm water pooling around your house and prevent damage to the foundation.
Help hold off flooding of your house, garage, and yard ? and perhaps your neighbor?s property.
Reduce soil erosion and loss of high quality top soil.
Collect rainwater much more easily than with a barrel or tank system.
?Recycle? rainwater to irrigate your garden, for a flourishing low maintenance landscape.

Before you start to dig a swale

Contact a one-call center for clearance before you begin swale construction, or any other home improvement that involves digging. Otherwise, you run the risk of hitting underground utility pipes or cables … and the hefty fine that can result.

In addition, check with the building authority in your area to see whether you?ll need a permit for the job. Many local governments have enacted strict laws concerning landscaping work that could possibly affect the groundwater system.

Consult a professional landscape contractor to plan and implement your project in the best and greenest way.

A swale as part of your landscape design

Plan your landscape design to include your swale. Make sure that any new feature you install, such as a fence, will not block the flow of runoff through the swale.

The swale does not need to be an unappealing stretch of bare earth. You can seed it with grass, but be sure that your swale?s sloping sides won?t make it too difficult to mow your new patch of lawn. An alternative is to plant it with low care wetland species such as cattails or lovely marsh hibiscus.

You might prefer to line the swale with nice-looking pea gravel or river rocks. Besides permitting storm water to infiltrate the soil more efficiently, small stones will give your swale the attractive appearance of a dry creek bed.

Finally, permeable pavers are perfect for stabilizing the bottom of a swale which will double as a garden walkway during the dry season.

By Laura Firszt, Networx.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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The Many Benefits of Swale Landscaping

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How to Protect Your Fall Garden from Cold Weather & Strong Winds

Regardless of which hardiness zone you live in, fall weather can pack a punch. Whether it?s sudden wind storms or plunging temperatures, your garden needs to be prepared. Check out some of the following tips to get your garden in top shape for the cold season ahead.

Keep Your Soil Moist

If you?ve had a dry summer, it?s always beneficial to give your garden a thorough watering before cold weather sets in. Cooler fall temperatures reduce evaporation, which helps water absorb into the ground more easily than in the heat of summer.

Moist soil is ideal during cold snaps because it holds heat longer and insulates roots better than dry soil. Just be careful not to overwater; very wet soils can promote rot and disease.

Mulch Your Beds

Another excellent way to keep heat and moisture in your soil is to apply a good layer of mulch to any exposed areas in the fall. This will also help protect any tender surface roots.

One of the easiest methods of mulching is to leave plant debris on the ground. Any fallen leaves can be left on top of your soil, as well as the remains of any annual or perennial plants that have died back for the year.

Many other types of mulch also work well, check out these great mulch choices for your yard.

Cover Tender Plants

Plants that are borderline hardy in your climate zone often need to be wrapped or covered before freezing temperatures start.

You can use any fabric that breathes for wrapping, such as burlap, commercial frost blankets or your old blankets from home. Landscape Ontario has helpful step-by-step instructions on how to wrap a plant.

If you have smaller plants that don?t need a full wrapping, such as vegetables, you can use a fabric row cover instead. Row cover is a light material that?s sold at most garden centers. It can be placed directly over your tender plants and weighted down on the edges with rocks, bricks or staples. You can also install short hoops over your plants for the fabric to rest on. PVC or other thin, flexible materials are good for hoops.

Protect Container Plants

Plants grown in containers are less cold tolerant than plants in the ground. The limited amount of growing medium in a pot has far less temperature buffering capacity, so plunging temperatures can spell disaster for potted plants.

Bring potted plants indoors for the cold season when possible. Even moving them into your garage or other non-heated space may be enough protection, depending on the plant and your hardiness zone.

If you need to leave a container plant outside, at least move it to a protected location, such as up against your house or under dense trees. Wrap it well in fabric, and remember to wrap the pot as well. Containers can easily crack during cold weather when left to the elements.

Don?t Fall Prune

Do you have any plants that consistently have tip damage in the spring from cold damage over winter? You can avoid this by simply not pruning them in the fall. This year?s growth will take the brunt of the cold and protect the core of your cold-sensitive plants.

Tuck Your Veggies in for Winter

Many root vegetables like leeks, parsnips, carrots, beets and garlic overwinter well when they?re left in the ground and covered for the cold season.

You can cover them with straw, fabric row covers, dry fallen leaves or other dry material or fabric. Avoid covering with extra soil or anything that will absorb excess water and promote rot. It?s also beneficial to allow the soil to remain somewhat dry. This reduces the chances of excess water in the soil freezing and heaving, which can damage your crops.

Create Windbreaks

Windbreaks are typically tall, dense plantings of trees and/or shrubs. These block strong winds, which helps moderate temperature changes in your yard and prevents physical damage to outdoor plants.

Windbreaks can also lower heating costs for your home. It?s estimated that winds during the cold season can account for up to 30 percent of your heating bills. These winds can be significantly reduced with an effective windbreak.

Permaculture and Sanity has a great description of how to design and establish a windbreak.

Artificial structures, such as fences, sheds and walls, also make excellent windbreaks.

Related
12 of the Best Cover Crops for Your Garden
Bee Our Guest: How to Build a Bee Hotel
12 Ways to Get Rid of Aggressive Weeds Without Resorting to Roundup

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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How to Protect Your Fall Garden from Cold Weather & Strong Winds

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Edible Landscaping: A Delicious Way to Garden

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Edible Landscaping: A Delicious Way to Garden

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Do Marigolds Really Repel Garden Pests?

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Do Marigolds Really Repel Garden Pests?

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6 Must-Try Natural Cleaning Shortcuts

As much as I dislike the process of cleaning, I appreciateit when things are clean(and so do our guests).

So, I do my bestto clean smarter instead of harder.

With a little planning and a well-stocked pantry, you can make it easier to clean your home in a safe and eco-friendly manner.

Keep reading for some natural cleaning tips that will save you time and protect your health!

Why Natural Cleaning?

The products with which you choose to clean your home can have a tremendous impact on your health. According to studies conducted by The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times and occasionally more than 100 times higher than outdoor levels. These levels of indoor air pollutants are of particular concern because most people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors.”

What causes indoor air pollution? Chemical-based household cleaners top the list, which also includes new carpet, paint, adhesives and certain types of upholstery.

Related: 7 Sources Of Indoor Air Pollution

By simply trading these toxic cleaning agents for naturally-made (but equally effective) products, you can drastically improve your indoor air quality. Ready to get started? Here are some of the basic building blocks of natural cleaning you’ll want to keep on hand.

Natural Ingredients & Supplies For Green Cleaning

Ingredients:

White Vinegar
Baking Soda
Castile Soap
Soap Nuts
Essential Oils (Lemon, Tea Tree Oil, Lavender, etc)
Borax
Olive Oil
Flour
Corn Starch
Kosher Salt
Hydrogen Peroxide

Supplies:

Newspaper
Old Socks, T-Shirts, Pillowcases, etc (to be used as cleaning cloths)
Mesh Produce Bags (for DIY pot scrubbers)
Old Toothbrushes
Empty Spray Bottles

6 Natural Cleaning Tips & Shortcuts

Once you’ve collected your natural cleaning ingredients and supplies, it’s time to put them to work in your home. It might surprise you to learn that nearly every conventional cleaning product (from glass cleaner to fabric softener) can be recreated, naturally, right in your own kitchen and at a fraction of the price.

Dirty Oven?

Make this paste out of water and baking soda, and spread all over the walls and bottomof your crusty oven (be careful not to get it on the heating elements, though!). Leave it overnight. In the morning, simply use a damp cloth to remove the paste, taking all that grime with it!

Dirty Toilet?

“Toss afull cupof baking soda right into the bowl and leave it for an hour. Then pour in a cup of white vinegar, let it sit for a few minutes and flush,” writes Chris Sosa for Care2.

Dirty Surfaces?

Use distilled water, vinegar, essential oils and some upcycled washcloths to make your ownDIY disinfectingwipes! Simply roll, stuff and soak in a glass jar that lives on your kitchen counter. Then, whenever there’s a mess that needs cleaning up, you’ve got a reusable, non-toxic wipe at your fingertips. Bonus! They can also be used in place of Swiffer pads.

Dirty Windows?

Screw a spray bottle nozzle directly onto a bottle of club soda. Instant streak-free window cleaner! (Add a little white vinegar if your windows are particularly grimy.)

Dirty Sponges?

Without proper, regular cleaning, your kitchen sponges can become horrifying breeding grounds for bacteria.Throw sponges in the microwave for 2 minutes or add them to your dishwasher’s “sterilize” cycle to kill 99 percent of the stuff hiding in there.

Dirty Ceiling Fan?

“Spritz the inside of an old pillowcase with a vinegar and water solution,” recommends A Part of Life. Place the pillowcase around each fan blade, gently wiping toward the outer end of the blade, trapping the dust inside. Rotate the pillowcase so you have a clean piece of cloth for each blade.

What’s your favorite natural cleaning tip or shortcut? Tell us in the comments!

Related:
10 DIY Green Cleaning Recipes
51 Fantastic Uses for Baking Soda
8’Shower Plants’ That Want to Live in Your Bathroom

Images via Thinkstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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6 Must-Try Natural Cleaning Shortcuts

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6 Benefits Of Natural Light & How To Maximize It In Your Home

There is nothing more glorious than a room filled with sunlight.

Natural light seems to bring out the beauty, and indeed color, of everything it touches. When it fills our homes, it brings with it a sense of freshness, vitality and even makes us healthier.

6 Health Benefits Of Natural Light

Research has shownthat:

1. Employees working in natural light recorded higher levels of energy and productivity than those working under artificial light.

2. Natural light can lower the risk of nearsightedness in children and young adults by helping the eye produce dopamine, which aids in healthy eye development.

3.Exposure tosunlight, especially early in the morning for at least half an hour, increases your chances of a good nights sleep.

4. Sunlight helps the body produce thehappy hormone serotonin which combatsa type of depression calledSeasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

5. Rooms with ample sunlight have been shown tohelp hospital patients heal fasterafter surgical procedures

6. Sunlight in the classroom has been shown to havea positive impacton student test scores.

But the benefits of natural light don’t end with your health and mood.

Related:7 Little-Known Benefits Of Sunlight

Using Natural Light To Reduce Energy Consumption

As you’ll read in the infographic below, capitalizing on your home’s natural light can help toreduce your energy bills, saving money and slashing your carbon footprint.

“In a typical building, lighting accounts for 25-40 percent of energy consumption. By allowing more natural light to penetrate and controlling both its light and heat components, the financial savings could be considerable,”Marilyne Andersen,assistant professor Marilyne Andersen of MIT’s Department of Architecture, toldScienceDaily.

Simply letting the sun shine in can drastically reduce those energy costs while delivering all the benefits listed above, but it has to be done thoughtfully. By making small changes to the way you use windows, doors, skylights, mirrors, paint colors and even furnishings, you can take advantage of the free light and energy the sun provides.

Scroll through the infographic below for small tweaks and tips that can help you to maximize your home’s natural light.

Infographic via HalfPrice.com.au

Image via: Thinkstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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6 Benefits Of Natural Light & How To Maximize It In Your Home

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Medicaid Is the Most Widely Used Benefit Program in Existence

Mother Jones

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Aaron Carroll points me to this surprising result from a new Kaiser survey:

Is it really true that 71 percent of Republicans think it’s important to keep ACA’s Medicaid expansion? Yes it is, though with less intensity than Democrats and Independents. Is it because they’re confused and think this is about Medicare? Nope. The question explicitly starts out, “Now thinking specifically about Medicaid, the program for certain low-income adults and children…”

The answer probably lies here:

Even among Republicans, nearly half say Medicaid is personally important to their family. If that’s the case, it’s not really surprising that 71 percent support Medicaid expansion. That includes all the Republicans who think it’s personally important plus another sizeable chunk who have one or more friends who depend on it. (Plus, presumably, some who are unaffected by Medicaid but support it out of ordinary human decency anyway.)

These numbers may seem surprisingly high, but they’re really not. In the Kaiser poll, among all party IDs, 58 percent say that Medicaid is personally important to them and their families. In the US there are, roughly speaking:

68 million Medicaid enrollees
85 million families

If, say, there are 35 million families with one Medicaid enrollee; 10 million with two; and 4 million with three or more; that’s a total of 68 million Medicaid enrollees spread out among 49 million families. And that’s 58 percent of all families.

It’s a big number because Medicaid is the most widely used major benefit program in existence.1 Most people don’t know this.

1I think. It’s more widely used than Social Security (61 million), Medicare (55 million), food stamps (44 million), unemployment insurance (6 million at the height of the recession), the home mortgage deduction (about 60 million), 401(k) plans (about 52 million), IRAs (about 60 million), EITC (26 million), and TANF (about 4 million). Am I missing any major programs?

There is one fly in this ointment: employer health insurance. About 155 million people receive medical coverage through their employers, and they all benefit from the tax advantages of employer health plans. If you count this, then Medicaid is only the second most widely-used benefit program.

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Medicaid Is the Most Widely Used Benefit Program in Existence

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Lowering Taxes on the Middle Class Is a Loser for Democrats

Mother Jones

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Eric Levitz argues today that Democrats need to campaign on lowering middle-class taxes:

The party has plenty of internal disagreements on pocketbook issues. But there is a broad consensus on Team Blue that the tax code should be more progressive. It shouldn’t be difficult for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to unite most elected Democrats around a tax-reform blueprint.

Such a plan could combine return-free filing with a massive increase in the tax credits for earned income and child care, financed by healthy increases in the taxation of high-income individuals and multi-million-dollar estates. The party could also go more ambitious, and offer a detailed plan for overhauling the tax system with an eye toward simplicity and progressivity.

Here’s the problem with this: Middle-class Americans barely pay any federal income tax at all. Here’s the data from the Tax Policy Center for 2013:

The income quintile in the dead middle pays 2.6 percent of its income in federal income taxes. How much less do even Democrats want to make it?

If liberals really want to have an impact on the middle class, they have to focus on other taxes. For the middle quintile, the payroll tax is about four times higher than the income tax. State sales taxes are in the same ballpark. Those are the taxes that matter. As far as the federal income tax goes, if Democrats really want to lower and simplify it, they should just propose a zero percent rate up to an income of $100,000, along with an EITC that refunds money to the working poor. That would be pretty popular.

Of course, it would also mean that Democrats have decided to battle Republicans on their home field, which is probably a losing strategy. It also means they’ll have a much harder time justifying single-payer health care, free college, subsidized daycare, and all the other stuff they support. Sure, they can pay for some of this stuff by raising taxes on the rich, but that only takes you so far.

If I had to guess, I’d say Democrats are better off focusing on more and better services for the middle class, not lower income taxes. That redistributes income at least as well as progressive tax rates. Probably better.

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Lowering Taxes on the Middle Class Is a Loser for Democrats

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The Surprising Green Benefit of Living in the City

Were not in the 60s anymore, Toto. Seems young people these days (aka millennials) no longer dream of moving to the country to try their hand at communal living and organic farming. Instead, they are turning to another way to help green the planetcity living. Huh? Well, unless you live entirely off the grid, most folks have to work for a living, and most jobs tend to be located close to urban cores. City dwelling also offer more cultural diversity, educational institutions, art galleries, museums, and nightlife, often within walking distance. And walking, rather than driving, to work or play is one of the greenest lifestyle changes you could make. Learn more.

Save money.

For families living in suburban communities, the cost of transportation comprises 25 percent of total household expenditures, making it the second largest household expense, exceeded only by the cost of housing itself. Compare this figure to thebudget of urban dwellers, where the percentage allotted for transportation drops to only 9 percent.

Save time.

Theres been a trend over the past 40 years toward what theWashington Postdubs the mega commuteran individual who, in order to get to the job every day, faces a long haul of 90 minutes each way. Do the math and youll see that adds up to an annual total of 31.3 days gobbled up traveling to and from work, an activity that many people rank among their least favorite ways to spend time. One simple solution to an admittedly complex problem is to move closer to your workplace.

Save gasoline.

Although electric cars (and the public charging stations they need in order to drive long distances) are becoming available, most people still rely on gasoline to power their automobiles. Gasoline has a number of drawbacks. To start, gas is expensive. Whats more, as a fossil fuel manufactured from crude oil, it is a non-renewable resource. But the most compelling motivation to reduce gasoline use stems from the fact that it contributes heavily to your carbon footprint. Burning a single gallon of gas produces20 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Save the planet.

In recent years, theres been a lot of buzz about taking steps to make homes more energy-efficient:installing energy-saving HVAC systems, replacing worn-out appliances with Energy Star certified models, and sealing and insulating the house exteriors. However, the Environmental Protection Agency advises thatlocation efficiencyis even more important to the health of our environment thanenergy efficiency. By this logic, the most eco-friendly home of all would combine energy-efficient features with a very walkable location.

Think like a millennial.

Millennials (young adults born between the mid-1980s and the early years of the 21stcentury) prefer walking to driving by a whopping 12 percentage points according tosurvey results. When theyre not driving, they like to bike to their destination, whether it be work, shopping, or entertainment. Compared to older age groups, they are much readier to live in attached housing, rather than the traditional single-family detached home in the suburbs, in order to shorten their commuting time.

Check theWalk Score.

If you are planning a move, consult the Walk Score for any property you might want to rent or buy. Based on accessibility to such facilities as schools, grocery shopping, restaurants, cultural activities, and parks, the score is calculated based on an ideal of 100. Anything over 70 rates as very walkable, while 90 plus is considered a walkers paradise. Not surprisingly, homes in cities tend to score highest on the scale.

Push for green spaces.

Some municipal governments are beginning to fund out-of-the-box oases such as green roofs and linear parks. Push your locality to add more and maybe even create your own community vegetable plot or roadside guerilla garden. Urban green spaces improve the air quality, soak up stormwater, and may evenreduce crime ratesin the area. Besides, they provide a pretty view when youre out walking.

By Laura Firszt, Networx.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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The Surprising Green Benefit of Living in the City

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