Quick Tips

Home and DIY

Check Your Energy

796px-YardstickUse a home energy reader as your yardstick. These gadgets make gauging your home’s power – down to the last night-light – easier than converting Fahrenheit to Celsius (and when you know how much you’re using, you’re way more likely to conserve).  Just unplugging that plasma, stereo system, and the battery pack for your laptop can make a difference in your yearly power bill!

MGB recommends: “The Energy Detective” – a plug-in device that gives you info on how much power (and associated cash for energy bills) you’re using throughout your house ($145).  For a more budget friendly energy bug, check out the “Kill A Watt” to see how much energy your individual appliances are using ($24).



Cold Water Washing

laundry 5 Go for cold-water washes to conserve energy and cash. Except in cases of gross-out dirtiness, cold water can often be just as effective as hot water,   keeping your clothes (and you) looking great! You don’t even need a cold-water detergent – really…just ignore the commercials.

· Around 80%-90% of the energy typically used by a washer goes to heating the water.

· In a year, each household that washes with only cold water keeps 1,281 pounds of CO2 from entering the air.

· Washing in cold water keeps your clothes looking newer, longer than hot water washing.

· If 10,000 Birmingham households switch to cold, in a year we’ll avert the CO2 equivalent that 6,405 trees suck up over their lifetimes.



DIY Incense Burner

incense holder

Incense holders are fun household accessories, but they often require cleaning or replacing. Make your own incense holder with just a shred of bark & a button! Find a piece of bark with natural grooves to lodge an incense stick in. Use a button to keep the incense tilted while it burns & enjoy!


Turn the Dryer Off & Get Back to Basics

line_laundryYes, we know this may seem like a throwback, but instead of running your clothes dryer, consider drying your clothes on a drying rack or even a clothesline. It can be as simple as tying a sturdy rope between two trees!

There’s no disputing it — most dryers use 10-15 percent of domestic energy in the United States.  However, you can reduce  your electric bill by as much as $25 a month by simply skipping the drying and instead, opting for hang drying methods.

Line drying the open air of a backyard is typically the best choice, yet for those who live in a neighborhood with association covenants, there’s always the option to use a dryer rack instead.

There are many great options available, including those available at laundrylist.org or one of our favorites, this cool Bamboo Clothes Drying Rack from Household Essentials!


Containing Food Safely

plasticIf you think buying plastic products labeled BPA free puts you in the clear, think again. A 2011 study in Environmental Health Perspectives shows the majority of plastic products still capable of leaching health hazardous chemicals-even those advertised as being BPA free.

To stay on the safer side, avoid exposing your plastics to heat (re-heating leftovers in the microwave) and storing food in plastic that has significant wear and tear (scratches or bubbling). Alternatively, consider nixing plastic containers altogether and replace them with more Eco-friendly options, such as glass or stainless steel.


Simple, DIY Draft Stopper

draft stopperRe- purposing some old clothing and make your own draft stopper to prevent cold air from seeping into your house through a window or door. Simply take an old wool scarf, sew the seams together along the sides and the bottom to make a tube. Stuff it with cotton, sand, or even beans, and sew the top side closed. Place it along the bottom of a door or window jam, and enjoy your draft free home! This can also be done using old knee socks or even a sweater.


No More Wire (or Plastic) Hangers!

Bamboo-Hangers3Don’t imediately throw out all of your current plastic or wire hangers all at once, but considerreplacing them as they break with with eco-friendly hangers made from bamboo, corn, or wheat. It’s the greener lifestyle option – bamboo is a highly renewable plant, and options made from wheat are actually compostable.  Petroleum-based plastic, on the other hand, never fully biodegrades.

Also, try taking the gazillion wire hangers you’ve accumulated from years of dry cleaning back to the cleaners – most will gladly reuse them!  Check out your local Wal-Mart or Target to purchase your new green hangers.



Cheap and Natural – the best way to unclog a drain

Drain-CleaningSo it’s happened again… the drain is clogged! Don’t run out to the store and purchase toxic chemicals to get things flowing again.

To fix a slow drain, pour half a cup of baking soda down the drain and follow it with half a cup of white vinegar. Let it sit for twenty minutes to a half hour, then pour about two quarts of boiling water down the drain.


Coffee Grounds For All Around

120px-Coffee_(2)All across our city pots and pots of coffee are brewed every day. From the home to the office, many of us can’t function without that morning cup of java. Take your coffee experience one step further by reusing the coffee grounds as fertilizer for your plants, and as other household remedies.

Here are some ideas:
• Old coffee grounds are nutrient-rich for plants that thrive in an acidic soil; Add used coffee grounds to the pots of indoor plants and work used coffee grounds into your garden soil before seed planting. After your plants start to emerge, work in coffee grounds near the plants.
• Wipe out nasty scents in your fridge with a bowl of coffee grounds and a splash of vanilla
• Remove furniture scratches with wet coffee grounds and a diaper rag.

If you want to pick up some extra grounds for composting and fertilizing or for your other household needs, stop by your local coffee shop and offer to take them off their hands. Many will be happy to share them with you!



Look for the (Green) Seal of Approval

MGBgreenlivingWith the green movement taking off around the world, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the new products hitting the shelves claiming to be green. If you need a guide to navigate the green aisles consider looking for the trusted source for consumer assurance: the Good Housekeeping Seal.

In its April, 2011 issue, Good Housekeeping announced it has added a green category to the 119 year old seal of approval.

The magazine partnered with a California consulting firm to develop a green-criteria based on a product’s manufacturing, composition, and packaging.

For more information, and to learn which products have already made the coveted list, visit http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/product-testing/reviews-tests/green-products/.



Get Unplugged

626px-USB_TypeA_PlugUnplug, unplug, unplug!  Even when electronics and appliances aren’t powered on they are still drawing electricity – which costs money and energy. Watch your power bill go down and the energy you save go up by snatching a few plugs out of the wall.

Think of everything that is plugged-in at your home: cell phone charger, computers, coffee pots, lamps, hair styling irons and blow dryers, televisions, DVD players, stereos, the list goes on…

Electricity is the biggest source of power for your home.  Soften your impact on the Earth by getting unplugged.

Don’t forget to unplug at the office too!



Holiday Quick Tip: Enough with Tradition, In With the New

natural tree 2The holidays mean many things for many different people – family, good food, and presents under the tree. Many of us kick this season off by spending hours decorating our homes to add a little holiday cheer. Before you bring out that box of old lights and sit in the floor trying to untangle them and determine which ones still work, consider purchasing more energy efficient lights to get that holiday glow.

Save energy, and money, this holiday season by switching your old strands of incandescent bulbs with new LEDs (light emitting diodes).

Appearing during the darkest time of the year, holiday lights brighten hearts, as well as neighborhoods and landscapes. The good news is LEDs use a fraction of the energy of conventional light bulbs (up to about 15% currently), and they last for many years. Based on semiconductors, they’re cool to the touch and extremely durable, meaning they are great for many applications (especially where there is a fire hazard).

In the past, LEDs have been relatively expensive, but prices have been steadily coming down. Today, a strand of LED holiday lights typically goes for between $20 and $30. They are available in a wide range of colors and styles, from icicles to snowflakes and more, and can be ordered online, from local hardware stores or big box retailers like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target and Big Lots.



Choose Screens Over Trees

recycle-computerIt takes 500,000 trees to produce the paper needed for Sunday’s newspapers each week. But there’s no need for eco-aware individuals to forgo the in-depth environmental reporting that can be found in newspapers. Reading mostly online is the obvious green alternative. If reading a real paper is your thing, consider reducing your subscription to a weekend or Sunday-only format. Don’t forget to recycle when you’re done — recycling every newspaper that gets printed would save 250 million trees per year.

Thanks to the Sierra Club for this tip!


Clean Your Closet, Clothe An Actor

Walk_In_Closet_-_Expandable_Closet_Rod_and_ShelfDonating clothing and furniture to various charities is not only a way to help others, but it keeps these donated items out of our overflowing landfills. But, have you ever thought to donate these items to local community theater groups, or college or high school drama departments? Local theater groups are always on the look out for furniture for their sets and clothing and accessory items to dress the cast. Donated goods help to defray costs. Also consider donating leftover paint and building supplies needed for creating the backdrops and sets for their productions.

An internet search or checking out your local newspaper will supply you with a list of theater groups in your area.


Stop Flushing Away Your Money!

DIY Dual ConverterAccording to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. population has doubled over the past 50 years, our thirst for water has more than tripled, and by the year 2013, at least 36 states will have faced water shortages.  Help conserve water at home AND save money by replacing old 3.5 gpf (gallon per flush) toilets, or 1.6 gpf toilets with a 1.28 gpf, 1 gpf or dual flush version.  Be sure to shop for toilets with the EPA’s “WaterSense” label.  We recommend low flow or dual flush toilets from TOTO.

You can also easily install a dual flush converter to your existing toilet–for less than $30! See our simple tutorial HERE.


Slow Your Flow and Save Some Dough!

money-houseDid you know that average indoor water use in a typical single-family home is 70 gallons per person per day?  In addition to taking shorter showers and turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth and washing your hands, you can make these simple upgrades to easily help conserve water in your home and reduce your water bill:

  • Swap standard bathroom sink faucets which typically flow in excess of 2 gpm (gallons per minute) for “WaterSense” versions that lower the flow to 1.5 gpm-a reduction of over 30%.
  • Change out existing showerheads which tend to flow at 2.2 gpm or more, to a “WaterSense” showerhead which flows at just 1.75 gpm or less.  An average family of four using a low flow showerhead can save approx. 29,900 gallons of water each year.


Want Hot Water? Why Wait?

Clean water is a goal for many Americans.Tired of standing at the sink watching water run down the drain as you wait for it to warm up?  Try installing a retrofit pump which will help eliminate the wait-and conserve water. We recommend the D’Mand pump by TACO. Determining proper equipment sizing will depend on your home’s water tank type, or if your home has a tankless water heater, so discuss this with your contractor first, but don’t be deterred-the long term savings from water and energy related costs almost always far outweigh any short term, upfront expenses.


No Dumping Allowed-Proper Dispoasl of Meds

92px-Pill_Bottle.svgRecent studies have revealed that the water in our nation’s lakes and oceans are chock full of hormones, medications and other toxins. If you are dumping your meds down the drain or simply throwing them in the trash, sadly, you are most likley contributing this very dangerous problem. “Disposal via the toilet takes your drugs into the local sewage system. Modern water treatment plants are not fully designed to deal with medication disposal. The long-term health risks posed by consumption of even minimal quantities of these medications in drinking water and the full extent of environmental damage remains unknown.” (about.com) Yikes!

Instead of trashing your expired meds or flushing them down the toilet, consider taking them back to the pharmacy from which they came.



Increase HVAC Efficiency and Improve Air Quality in Your Home

air filtersMake your HVAC system more efficient and the air in your house healthier by performing this simple maintenance task: change your air filter!  Dirty filters make the equipment work harder and can reduce efficiency. A completely clogged filter can make the coil freeze up, causing water problems and reducing the life of the system. Regular cleaning and changing of filters ensures the best filtration, enhances the unit’s efficiency and longevity, and provides healthier, cleaner air for the home environment.  Most 1 inch filters should be changed once every three months, but as often as once a month if you have several animals and/or allergies.


Renewable Is So Doable

Alabama Power logo(1)Purchase renewable energy:

Did you know that buying two 50kWh block of Renewable Energy per month for a year is equivalent to planting 125 trees or not driving 2,000 miles, according to Alabama Power Company? Wow!

Doing so can help reduce emissions from fossil fuels and, is also relatively inexpensive with a minimum $2.25 per month premium to replace 5% of your average energy usage.

To learn more about Renewable Energy, visi thttp://www.alabamapower.com/residential/renewable.asp



The Lights Are Out – Now What?

tree_recycleAfter hauling all of Christmas lights down from the attic, you anxiously plug in the first strand only to be dissapointed by a big fat nothing. What can you do with old, broken holiday lights?

Recycle them!

Many home improvement stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s will recycle used holiday lights, but for a local resource, try Technical Knock Out. They will take your used lights for free. All you have to do is drop them off!

Look them up in our Green Guide under “Recycling.”


Pack It Up

Pile_of_junk_mailEven though they’re so much fun to play with, ditch the foam peanuts (polystyrene) when packing items to ship.

Use crumpled newspapers as packing material instead. The production of polystyrene depletes the ozone and takes several hundred years to degrade in landfills. Need we say more?



Smarty Pants

laundry 5If you are still trying to figure out the green thing, at least let your appliances take some of the guesswork out of it for you.

Purchase energy efficient, “smart,” appliances, like a dryer with a moisture sensor setting. The dryer will automatically shut off when the clothes are dry, saving energy, water, and wear and tear on your clothes.


The Number Game

800px-Nestbarer_Behaelter04So if you are going to break the greenie cardinal rule and buy plastic, at least buy “good plastic.”

When buying plastic containers, try to buy those that are labeled with a 1 or 2 within the chasing arrows symbol. These two types of plastics are widely recycled. Avoid buying plastics with numbers 3 through 7 – they are difficult to recycle.


Old Junk, New Beginnings

Battery-Recycling-Symbol2Don’t toss it out – re-engineer it!

Stop and think before you automatically consider a broken item destine for the trash. Maybe it can be reincarnated before it leaves your home. You may be able to do some dismantling and salvage parts to reuse yourself or to recycle, donate, or sell.

For example, the wheels and handle from a broken push lawn mower can be reused in building a wagon for your little one. A broken broom handle can be used as a plant stick or hanging rod.

Get into the habit of looking at broken items differently to help divert as much as possible from the waste stream.



Adjust the Thermostat & Layer A Little

honeywell thermostatRemember, when you turn up the heat in winter time, your furnace is probably burning fossil fuels. A sweater or nice warm robe will keep you even warmer and will help conserve resources and reduce climate change.


Clean Up Your Wrap

wrapped giftsUse reusable fabrics and bags instead of traditional wrapping paper for gifts.

Did you know, if every American family wrapped just three gifts in reused or reusable materials, we’d all save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields, every year?Enough said!

Consider using tea towels or wine bags, or even craft your own bags and wrapping from cuts of old clothes or linens.

We know, it sounds like a stretch, but is saves money and won’t generate additional waste!



Sensor Your Water Usage

waterCombat water waste by incorporating rain or moisture sensors in your outdoor sprinkler system.

Moisture sensors tell your sprinklers to spray only when your garden’s dry (and save you up to 40% of your outdoor water use), while rain sensors shut your sprinklers off when it rains (saving you up to 10%).

These are savings that will definitely saturate your next water bill!

MGB Recommends: Nelson EZ Pro Moisture Sensor – reads soil moisture and other characteristics, and waters as necessary; install it beneath your lawn ($250).

Toro Wireless Rain Sensor – rain sensor that lets you choose when your sprinklers should shut off based on rainfall; setup takes as little as 10 minutes ($48).



Purify With Plants

Peace lilyFreshen up your indoor air with a little green.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently ranks indoor air pollution near the top of a handful of constant threats to human health. (Not good.) As a matter of fact, indoor air is normally two to five times more polluted than outside air. And to think, you thought you were getting away from all of the outdoor pollution by escaping to the sanctuary of your home.

One solution to this problem is to utilize purifying plants in your home. Some of the most effective plants are bamboo palm, Chinese evergreen, dragon tree, English Ivy, peace lily, and snake plant. (Unfortunately, some can be hard to find locally, so try searching on-line.)

These plants reduce carbon dioxide, reduce airborne chemicals and VOCs (stuff that comes from cleaners and paint in your home), and cultivate healthy levels of humidity.

Who knew a potted plant could be so multi-functional!



CFL breaks need a little TLC

incandescent-light-bulb-537x357Cleaning-up a broken CFL light bulb is not as easy as pulling out the broom and dustpan. CFL bulbs contain small amounts of mercury which if consumed can be dangerous to your health. Don’t worry, the mercury can’t harm you just by using the bulb, however, proper clean up is necessary if one breaks.

Check out Energy Star’s guide to cleaning-up broken CFL bulbs:


Select question #8



Shower Less, Save More

low flow shower headQuick Tip:
Give up the Hollywood showers – 20 minutes in the shower equals wasted gallons of water. Decrease your shower time and install some water saving gadgets to conserve more.

Install a low-flow showerhead to save 15 to 25 gallons of water per day (depending on the number of people showering in your home). You will also save on energy and hot water bills if your hot water tank is well insulated and the proper size for your home.

You can even go one green step further, by also installing low-flow toilets and aerators in all your faucets. You can find all theses supplies at any local home improvement store.

In case you didn’t know: “aerators restrict the flow of water, compressing it into a higher-pressure discharge than regular faucets. They also introduce air bubbles into the water, making it feel like there is a larger water flow. They reduce water flow by about 50 percent or more.”www.energyhawk.com



It’s a Fact! Programmable Thermostats Help Save $$

honeywell thermostatThe average homeowner can see savings of $180 each year on utility bills by upgrading to a programmable thermostat. During cooler months, the Department of Energy (DOE) recommends lowering the thermostat by 7 degrees at nighttime and during the day, if no one is home.


“Shoe Toxins, Shoe!” Creating a Shoe-Free Home

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany contaminants can be tracked into our homes on the soles of our shoes. Consider becoming a shoe-free household by removing shoes upon entering the house, & placing them in a designated shoe basket. This can help prevent toxins and germs from entering into your home, and also help keep indoor air cleaner.