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Green Tips for the Homeowner

Friday, February 25th, 2011
By Christa

You may or may not be surprised that little ol’ me had a passing interest in environmental issues before I started writing Green Manolo just a few short months ago. Green topics have actually come up pretty frequently at the other two blogs I author: Manolo for the Home and Manolo for the Brides.

I have been tempted to rehash topics I’ve covered at those blogs of mine, but then I thought that wouldn’t make a lot of sense. The content and, when appropriate, gorgeous images are already there, waiting for your eco-friendly eyes! So here’s a list of links in case you’re looking specifically for environmentally conscious housing:

Green Tips for the Homeowner:


DIY Draft Dodger Kit for the Thermostatically Conservative

Thursday, February 17th, 2011
By Christa

Yesterday’s post on indoor air quality in the winter included a single mention of winter drafts, which many green living enthusiasts care bunches about since we’re all apparently nutty about turning down the thermostat. Assuming you’ve nudged down your thermostat as far as it can reasonably go this winter – and what a winter! – there are always a few tricks you can user to stay warm by maximizing the warmth you have!

One old school example is the draft dodger – at its simplest, a humble tube of fabric stuffed with uncooked rice or kitty little or dried beans. It doesn’t have to be humble, however, as this DIY draft dodger kit from Banquet Atelier & Workshop shows:

The kit includes a snake front and back (expertly screen printed in water-based ink on 100% cotton), acrylic paint set with brush, needle, thread, wool felt tongue, stuffing (although you’re going to want to supplement his guts with dried beans, old socks etc), and easy-peasy instructions.

Could You Choose 10 Essentials?

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
By Christa

It’s pretty widely agreed that there’s a lot of overlap between the green movement and the minimalist movement. If you don’t have a ton of stuff, you don’t need a ton of space, which means you don’t need to waste a lot of time, money, or or energy heating/cleaning/maintaining/powering/etc. a ton of stuff or space.

Minimalism isn’t necessarily green, just as eco-friendly living doesn’t mean having to live like a monk, but taking a few minutes to consider what you own and why you own it can be plenty green.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits posted about choosing your 10 essentials a la the GQ series – not 10 essential possessions, but rather your 10 essentials for living. What you wear, what inspires you, where you love to be, that favorite food you can’t live without… that sort of thing. And I found the idea to be extremely inspiring.

When you create a list of your 10 essentials, you gain a whole new perspective on all those things that aren’t strictly necessary at all. Turns out there’s a good chance there’s plenty of stuff in your home and in your life that you could get rid of without ever feeling deprived.

What’s on your list of 10 essentials? What have you realized you can live without?

Image: Apartment Therapy

Lost Weight By Lowering Your Thermostat?

Thursday, February 10th, 2011
By Christa

When you hear someone say ‘how low can you go?’ what’s the first image that comes to mind? A limbo stick, perhaps? Or maybe a scale? Or are you like me, and a picture of a programmable thermostat pops into your head? I don’t know where you keep your thermostat in the wintertime, but around here it’s set to 65F during the day. Yep, 65F.

Used to be, we kept it at balmy temperatures – I’m talking shorts weather, all year round – but that’s because I lived in NYC where it’s pretty uncommon to actually pay for heat. In Boston, we dropped it to 68F. Then a while ago, it somehow got set to 65F without anyone really knowing how, and La Paloma didn’t seem to mind and The Beard doesn’t care and the gas bill never looked better… oh, and using less gas is green, too… so I left it.

Now you can bet when I read on Treehugger that research published in the journal Obesity Reviews seems to have discovered a link between increasing average indoor temperatures and rising rates of obesity, I was suddenly feeling pretty good about my little socks-and-slippers house.

lower your thermostat to lost weight

TIME has picked up on the story, linking to a study by researchers at University College London:

The authors of the new study note that average indoor temperatures have risen steadily in the U.K. and U.S. over the last several decades, as central heating has become increasingly available — and rates of obesity have risen too. The average temperature in British living rooms went from 64.9 degrees F to 70.3 degrees F, from 1978 to 2008. Living rooms in the U.S. have long been heated to at least 70 degrees F.

It’s all about the modern expectation of comfort – we want to be warm and we can be warm, but when we’re warm there’s not all that much going on metabolically. But when it’s just a bit colder, even when we’re not shivering, the calorie-burning power of brown fat is activated. It starts working to warm us up, and it sticks around. When we’re warm all the time, on the other hand, levels of brown fat decrease and there goes that ability to burn a few extra calories in the cold. 100 to 200 per day, but hey, that adds up!

The only problem? Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, a Harvard Medical School professor who does research on brown fat, says people don’t like to keep their houses chilly and won’t stick with it. What do you think? Is weight loss enough of a reason to drop your thermostat in the wintertime?

Just Like You: Smart, Good Looking, Eco-Friendly

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
By Christa

I love bags and I especially love these bags from Plaid Doctrine. Those sweet plaids and checks and stripes? All of them are high-performance recycled fabrics sourced domestically whenever possible. And that leather? It’s vegetable tanned leather, instead of the stuff I was talking about last week that’s tanned using the kind of stuff that ruins rivers.

Plaid Doctrine bags are made for work and travel – we’re not talking about some sissy purse that’s going to get a hole in it after a few weeks of use. Their totes, sleeves, briefcases, and organizers are sewn to last, all while being pretty darn low impact. (I should also mention that all that low impactness doesn’t exactly come cheap, but when does it ever?)

Can Greener, Smaller Cars Make a Dent In the U.S. Auto Market?

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
By Christa

Right now, from my window, I can see SUVs, van/wagon hybrids, full-size vans, and I kid you not, a Hummer. There are a lot of smaller cars, too, but I wouldn’t exactly call them small cars. At least not by the rest of the world’s standards. I remember being surprised when I lived in Germany and then in Costa Rica at how little the cars were. Even families with three kids were driving diesel hatchbacks – squeezing everyone in using wee carseats like the Coccoro.

It seems like in a lot of places, if you’re not contractor or hauling something, your car probably has just enough room to transport you, yours, and some travel gear. Not nearly enough space to haul a dog sledding team and a secondhand piano.

smaller green cars

But do we ever love our big cars here in the U.S.! Even though most of the time, a smaller car with a smaller engine means a more fuel-efficient car, which means a car that uses less gasoline and emits fewer emissions.

As it turns out, people shopping for cars talk a green game – there’s a growing interest in greener cars and smaller cars among buyers – but when it comes time to sign on the dotted line, shoppers in the U.S. are still more likely to go large. And that’s made it really hard for greener cars – including smaller cars – to gain a foothold in the market.

A clear example is shown in the seesawing fortunes of the Smart fortwo, which sold 24,000 in 2008 ($4.50 a gallon) and just 14,000 in 2009 ($2.50 a gallon). “People had their hands in their pockets in 2009,” said Jill Lajdziak, president of Smart USA, who undoubtedly had her hands full supplying dealers with the right number of cars.

In 2010, the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. was the Ford F-150 pickup truck. And in 2010, sales of gas-electric hybrids declined quite a bit. But in just a few months, GM is all set to get the ball rolling on the Chevy Sonic – the smallest car currently mass-produced in the United States. And people do seem pretty excited about the Nissan Leaf, the first mass-produced electric car for sale from a major manufacturer. It’s almost as if, as a nation, we have no idea what we want. Ideally, the U.S. would like a a ginormous electric pick-up that can haul sixteen racehorses up a mountain face and is made in China for a dollar.

Do you think smaller, greener cars will make a dent in or even take over the U.S. market? In the long-term, I think they’ll have to. But in the short term? Like I said before, we sure do love our big cars…

Earth’s 10 Commandments

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
By Christa

Ernest Callenbach, author of Ecotopia and Humphrey: The Wayward Whale as well as plenty of other books with a green focus, wrote a wonderful list of 10 green commandments that I wanted to share here in case you’ve never seen it:

Thou shalt love and honor the Earth for it blesses thy life and governs thy survival.

Thou shalt keep each day sacred to the Earth and celebrate the turning of its seasons.

Thou shalt not hold thyself above other living things nor drive them to extinction.

Thou shalt give thanks for thy food to the creatures and plants that nourish thee.

Thou shalt limit thy offspring for multitudes of people are a burden unto the Earth.

Thou shalt not kill nor waste Earth’s riches upon weapons of war.

Thou shalt not pursue profit at the Earth’s expense but strive to restore its damaged majesty.

Thou shalt not hide from thyself or others the consequences of thy actions upon the Earth.

Thou shalt not steal from future generations by impoverishing or poisoning the Earth.

Thou shalt consume material goods in moderation so all may share Earth’s bounty

I thought Callenbach’s commandments would make a nice follow-up to my post asking whether going green is humanity’s moral duty. Whether or not you think each of us is responsible for keeping the planet healthy, you have to admit that we’d all be doing pretty well if we all made more of an effort to live by them.

Let’s Talk Dirty, Let’s Talk Clean

Monday, January 31st, 2011
By Christa

I have two fun things for you today – alas, both are clean, or only dirty insofar as they deal with dirty removal. But talking dirty sells, and I’m feeling naughty, so feel free to dish dirty in the comments (provided you clean up after yourself). Whoa, I’m raunchy today! Who knew getting clean could end up so dirty? Okay, I’m done. For real. Let’s continue.

The first fun thing is this awesome soap dispenser. I hate bar soap. Can’t stand the stuff. It sits there in its own little puddle or dries all sticky. It’s wasteful in the shower since it’s constantly losing layers when the water is running, and it’s impossible to use that last little bit. How can bar soap get green (other than the fact that it’s more concentrated than liquid soap, easier to transport, and requires less packaging)? As solutions go, I like design student Nathalie Stämpfli’s Soap Flakes dispenser. Press the handle with your palm a la a pump dispenser and Soap Flakes grates a small amount of soap into your hand. The rest of the bar stays dry and intact.

The second fun – and clean – thing I want to share is soap nuts. Lately, everyone on my Facebook feed has been going crazy for soap nuts, and I’m all “What nuts now?” Soap nuts. According to the NaturOli:

Soap nuts are known worldwide by many names such as soapnuts, soapberry, washing nuts, soap nut shells, wash shells, soapberry nut husk, Ritha (Hindi) nut shell, Chinese soapberry and many more. Very simply, soap nuts are the dried shells (or husks) from the soapberry (or soap berry nut). These berries are the fruit from a quite unique tree species. These shells contain a substance called saponin that produces a soaping effect. Saponin is a 100% natural alternative to chemical laundry detergent and cleansers.

I’m thinking of giving soap nuts a try, simply because La Paloma is apparently sensitive to chemicals in laundry soap.

Anyone have any experiences, positive or negative, with soap nuts to share with the group? I’d love to have a few more real world reviews to consider before dropping any money on a bag o’ husks!

Can You Green Your Love Life?

Friday, January 28th, 2011
By Christa

Stephanie Iris Weiss certainly thinks so – her new book, Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable, is all about how to reduce your carbon footprint in the bedroom. Rawr! If you’re wondering how a roll in the hay could get any greener, it’s not the act that Weiss is greening, but rather the peripherals. It covers topics like green sex toys, low-impact lingerie, fair-trade condoms, bamboo bed linens, conflict-free diamonds, green dating web sites, and eco-friendly cosmetics, to give just a few examples.

For some, Weiss’ book about greening one’s sex life might just be the best way to introduce the uninitiated to the green movement. After all, sex sells! But I could see some people – in particular, people whose sex lives don’t require a shopping bag of accessories – raising an eyebrow at the concept. Still, this is a fun book and an easy, accessible read that won’t kill your libido with too many depressing statistics or doomalicious predictions. In other words, Weiss’ message is not that buying a pack of regular old Trojans is a one-way ticket to environmental damnation. But rather, if you can green your birth control, why not? Feeling good about your low environmental impact can only make sex hotter, right?

P.S. – Thanks to A.J. for sending me a link to this book!

An Upcycled Rocking Horse for Grownups

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
By Christa

For an example of awesome upcycling, look no further than Tim Wigmore’s clever and fun Giddyup Rocking Stool made from old leather saddles, FSC-certified marine grade Okoume, and a natural oil finish. In the designer’s own words:

“Old worn saddles have a beauty and patina of age that I find really attractive. The use of old, tired or broken saddles is an attempt to not only utilize an existing object, but also to elevate peoples perception of the old and pre-used. After having an old broken saddle sitting in my studio for some time I began to consider how I could design a piece that would utilise the beauty of the saddle.”

Tim Wigmore’s Giddyup is meant to keep you moving while you work or watch TV – and it’s supposed to be more fun than sitting on one of those exercise ball chairs. If you opt for this over that, though, I recommend investing in some all-natural leather conditioner to keep your seat supple.

Disclaimer: Manolo the Shoeblogger is not Manolo Blahnik
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