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Insulation: First the Body, Then the Home

Sunday, March 13th, 2011
By Christa

In light of last month’s post about lowering the thermostat to lose weight, I was totally jazzed to happen upon a really fascinating article about how clothing impacts comfort indoors in Low-Tech Magazine.

There is another way to reduce energy consumption for space heating that does not have any of these disadvantages: lowering the thermostat and putting on more clothes. Although room temperature is hardly ever mentioned as a factor in energy use, it is a decisive factor in the energy consumption of heating systems…The insulating properties of clothing can be expressed in “clo”-units, where one “clo” equals the thermal insulation required to keep a resting person (for instance, a couch potato) indefinitely comfortable at a temperature of 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit)…The clo is an interesting unit because it allows us to precisely calculate which clothes we have to wear to feel comfortable at any given indoor temperature. According to the “Encyclopedia of occupational health and safety”, the required clo-value to maintain a neutral thermal sensation rises to about 2.7 at an indoor temperature of 10° Celsius (50°F). When the indoor temperature drops to 0° C (32°F), the required thermal insulation rises to 4 clo…The energy savings potential of clothing is so large that it cannot be ignored – though in fact this is exactly what is happening now. This does not mean that home insulation and efficient heating systems should not be encouraged. All three paths should be pursued, but improving clothing insulation is obviously the cheapest, easiest and fastest way.

I don’t know about you, but it’s nice to hear some advocating the wearing of a little more clothing over jacking the thermostat. Particularly since I’ve got myself pretty well trained to reach for another layer when I feel a chill instead of bumping the numbers. Now that I read the article I linked, I’m really excited to get some awesome high-tech, slim-fitting thermal gear for next winter. What about you? Are you rocking the long undies?

Neckwarmer by Cushy Company

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:


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?

Painting? Think Twice Before Grabbing a Can of Something or Other at the Home Depot

Friday, December 10th, 2010
By Christa

With a baby in the house, we’re pretty careful about what chemicals we use, and paint was high up there on our list of concerns. Made from petrochemical sources and full of stinky volatile organic compounds, regular interior paint can seem pretty shady when you’re thinking of your home improvement from a green point of view. One sniff in a freshly-painted room and you can’t deny that you’re probably breathing in some not-so-great gasses.

That’s why we’re big fans of Green Planet Paints, a line of ecological, clay-based, no-VOC paints developed in southern Arizona. Their non-toxic, plant-based paint formula combines 11 ingredients including water, marble, porcelain clay, mineral pigments, and a soy-based resin. You can breath easy while you’re painting. You can paint with kids present. And unlike the no-VOC paints of the past, which only came in boring pastel colors, Green Planet Paints can color match just about anything in their flat, eggshell, and semi-gloss finishes.

Have you tried the new no-VOC paints? How did you think they compare to standard paint?

Green Window Cleaner: 4 Eco- and Wallet-Friendly Window Cleaner Recipes

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010
By Christa

Blue and purple window cleaner sprays do work a treat, but they’re not exactly full of the sorts of things you’d want to soak your hands in for any length of time. And most of the squeaky clean folks I know aren’t willing to pay double for certified eco-friendly window cleaners. So what’s a green-minded clean freak to do? Make their own window cleaner, of course.

Unlike making one’s own detergent – which usually requires things like Borax and washing soda that not everyone has on hand – homemade window cleaner is made from stuff you more than likely already have in your kitchen and bathroom cupboards.

I know some people are suspicious of homemade cleansers, but as someone who’s made their own green window cleaner from scratch for years, it works just as well as the blue stuff – and not just on windows! We use it for countertops and sinks and just about everywhere you might think of using an all-purpose cleaner. The only downside? Use too much vinegar, as you might end up with visitors asking if you’ve been cooking sauerkraut. For real, my brother did just that. Small price to pay, I think, and the vinegar smell doesn’t last long.

Here are some recipes that have worked for me in the past – personally, these days, I just eyeball it and hope for the best. A method that, I should add, hasn’t let me down yet.

1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 tsp mild liquid castile soap or detergent
2 cups of water

1 gallon warm water
1/2 cup white vinegar

1 cup water
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 cup rubbing alcohol

1 gallon water
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup vinegar
squirt liquid dish detergent

For all, just put everything into a spray bottle and shake it up.

These green window cleaner recipes are just recommendations – you can adjust all of the proportions until you hit on something that works for you. Unless, that is, you’re not as comfy as me eyeballing homemade green cleansers or following recipes you found online. In that case, let me recommend a trio of great books on the subject of green cleaning:

Green Clean, Green Housekeeping, and Nontoxic Housecleaning are all great how-to books that will help you reduce or eliminate your use of chemical cleansers, rid your home of toxic substances, and improve your indoor air quality while making sure your home stays squeaky clean.

People In Straw Houses Shouldn’t Fear Fires

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
By Christa

Let’s talk about straw bale construction! Hey, wait, before you zone out, straw bale construction is pretty darn cool, and renewable building materials are something everyone who’s interested in owning a home or building some day should think about. At least a little. What’s so great about straw bale construction in particular?

For one thing, straw is what’s left over when grains – like wheat, rice, barley, oats, and rye – are harvested, so it’s not in short supply. Sometimes fields of straw are just burnt, releasing not insignificant amounts of air pollution. And since straw is a secondary waste material, its embodied energy is low. Straw bales are great insulators, which means less energy spent on heating and cooling.

If you’re worried about fire, don’t be. Researchers at the University of Bath determined through testing that straw bale homes have fire resistance as good as houses built of conventional building materials. The main worry that straw bale construction enthusiasts worry about is moisture, but fungus or mildew growth can be avoided with smart building practices.

Sounds good, right? And straw bale construction doesn’t have to look like some wacky eco house. There are two flavors of straw bale construction: load-bearing and in-fill. Load-bearing straw bale construction doesn’t require a frame – weight from the room is distributed on the bales themselves. The drawback to this flavor is that you’re limited to a relatively simply one-story structure. With in-fill straw bale construction, you have more design flexibility because the bales are integrated into a wood frame.

In either case, you’re not simply looking at straw, whether you’re inside or out – walls are plastered and covered with a variety of materials. Straw bale construction can result in some very beautiful homes, a la the eco-friendly country home above.

Two books I recommend looking into are The Straw Bale House and Strawbale Home Plans. The first is a great comprehensive guide to the whys and hows or straw bale construction – basically, it’s a great primer for anyone interested in eco-friendly building. The second contains 30 inspirational pictures and plans to help anyone who wants to delve deeper into the world of straw bale construction take the next step.

P.S. – Speaking of homes and housing, go check out my post about the Small House Revolution on Manolo for the Home!

Disclaimer: Manolo the Shoeblogger is not Manolo Blahnik
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