Greening up your Spring Cleaning

A couple of years ago after being fed up buying bottles of “green” window cleaner that never offered a larger sized re-fill version–I started making a few of my own cleaning products for everyday use around the house. Since then I have enjoyed a home free of that stinky cleaning product smell-which absolutely nauseates me just thinking about it, and keeps my lean budget a little meatier. I also get a great sense of satisfaction making something that works just as well and sometimes even better than some chemically engineered toxic compound.

I’m not saying to dump all your cleaning products down the sink—that would be insane and it could actually come back to haunt you by ending up in your water supply in diluted form! Use up what you have and then if you can try to reuse the spray bottle container. If you can’t reuse what you have a simple trip to your local hardware store or janitorial supply store will do the trick.

Here are some of my favorite solutions that are easy to make—and more importantly…they smell great and are effective!

Here is what you’ll need to pick up to start making your own cleaners:

Baking Soda

Lemon Juice (bottled works-fresh is best!)

White Vinegar (I buy it by the gallon)

Kosher Salt

Pure Castile Soap (I like Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap)

Tea Tree Oil (Try your natural food store)

1. Great abrasive cleaner *works fantastic in the bathroom and kitchen

In the tubsprinkle surfaces with baking soda, then scrub with a stiff bristled brush or scrubber sponge. To tackle soap scum, sprinkle on some kosher salt w, and work up some elbow grease.

You can also make a paste out of baking soda and water for tough stains or really grimy areas like the oven—even letting it sit overnight …spray on little white vinegar let the chemical reaction happen and watch that stainless steel sink, stove top, or refrigerator shelves and bins sparkle!!

Mold or mildew in the shower or on the curtain? Try spraying white vinegar or even lemon juice—let it sit for a few minutes then hit it with a stiff bristled brush or a hard toothbrush in between grout lines.

2. Disinfectant that smells fabulous *great bleach alternative.

Mix 2 cups of water, 3 tablespoons of castile soap and 20 to 25 drops of tea tree oil. This works great in the bathroom in the sink and around/in the toilet! You can adjust the fragrance by selecting a scented castile soap…I like eucalyptus and peppermint!

3. Windows with a streak free finish

Combine 4 tablespoons of white vinegar per gallon of warm water and pour into a spray bottle. Spray solution on windows or any glass surface (coffee tables, bathroom mirrors etc.) and use one of Dad’s old undershirts or even newspapers to produce the cleanest windows you’ve ever seen.

*If you don’t like the smell of white vinegar you can use a mixture of lemon juice and club soda.

4. Floor cleaner *can be used on hardwood, tile or linoleum

You can keep your floors clean by combining 3 ¾ cups of warm water and ¼ cup of white vinegar in a spray bottle or a bucket, mop floor as you usually would. If you need some grit for hard to clean areas try using kosher salt for a scratch free abrasive floor cleaner that is safe.

Use caution when washing walls—this solution did discolor a piece of painted wall when I became a little over zealous in my cleaning efforts…try a test area first in a very unnoticeable spot!

5. Drain Cleaner *works for slow moving drains—untested on a blocked one

Drain cleaner is probably the most dangerous chemical I have ever brought into my house…recently I had a slowly draining bathroom sink and tried a non lethal remedy…guess what—it actually worked!

Pour 1/2 cup of baking soda into the drain (unscrew the stopper if you can for better access) pour an entire tea kettle or if you are using a nuker about 4 cups of boiling water into the drain.

If that still doesn’t do the trick—replace the sink stopper and add more baking soda then pour ½ cup of white vinegar into the drain. Cover tightly by closing the stopper, allowing the fizzies created by the chemical reaction to break down the greasy grimy clog. Flush with another tea kettle of boiling water.

Happy cleaning!!

Posted by Amanda | Follow me on twitter

Blue is the New Green: Water Conservation in a LEED Home, Part 2 Outside

Continuing my post from yesterday, we put together a very agressive exterior water collection and conservation plan in an effort to conserve what we consider a very precious and diminishing resource.

6. Landscape Irrigation: Our irrigation was designed from the ground up according to the specifications of the LEED-H program. From determining how much grass we would have in relation to our overall permeability to specifying a custom local URI blended grass that is both drought and disease tolerant to designing beds that have grouped native, drought tolerant plants, trees and bushes, we have been working on this landscaping plan for nearly a year. The irrigation system is critical in the overall success of the design because we still want use as little water as possible. Right now, we think we have absolutely maximized what we can do here. From measuring our evapotranspiration rate  to measuring how much water we are using in our control system, we left nothing out. With measure nozzles and heads for accurate spray, rain sensors, and even humidity sensors, our irrigation system is a complex tool deigned to work with our land.  Our system is not even connected to the municipal water supply. We achieved such as high GPM water flow from our geothermal well, that our system is designed to call to the well for water when we haven’t collected enough water in our rainwater harvesting system. All our water is our own, that which we take out, filter and put back just keeps circulating from our well for the ultimate in blue…I mean green building.

7. Rainwater Harvesting: As mentioned, our rainwater harvesting system collects the rain from more than 80% of our roof and disperses it through an interconnected gutter system that directs all of the water to our 5000 gallon underground storage tank. We collect more than 3500 gallons from a 1 inch rainfall and here the water sits until we need to irrigate our grass, plantings or even our garden. Fitted with two floats that measure how much water is in the tank and one communication device that calls to the well when water is needed, the system, works in

8. Outdoor shower: We live by the beach and I love the days we spend sitting in the sun, riding the waves and building sandcastle-like structures. But I’m a sand-a-phobic. After living the past five years without an outdoor shower, it’s like the dark ages for me. Sand belongs outside, not tracked in to multiply on the floor, clog our indoor showers and then ultimately find its way into our beds.  My plan?  A hot/cold outdoor shower for everyone to get clean before coming in. Brilliant! Using a 1.75 gpm Kohler showerhead attached to removable outdoor shower system that is filtered and sent to our collection well for distribution into our grass and beds, it’s just another way for our family to conserved and reuse the water we use.

I realize that our approach to water conservation was aggressive. I would not expect most families to unilaterally attack each section in order to conserve water. But, everyone can do something. You can easily add an aerator to existing faucets at a cost of about $1.59 each. You can upgrade an old 2.2 gpf toilet that is leaking and past its day to a 1.28 or even 1.1 gpf toilet for a cost of approximately $550 – $750 per toilet. Rainwater harvesting system installation? All told based on size, you’re looking at about $12k for the gutters, tank, excavation, piping, communicating devices and landscaping. The irrigation system for an acre of land will run you another $10k.

 posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter :  newscaster

A Year of Greener Living

Earth Day 2009 marks the one year anniversary of our family’s transition to sustainable living. For us, this meant more than simply taking advantage of our town’s recycling program; it is the one year mark of changing the entire way we live and how our family will impact the earth. Some of our changes were simple, some of our changes were massive, some were inexpensive, some have upped our budgets; all of our changes are innate now and that was always my goal.


Pictured below: Abby and Max after one year of green living.


 Max and Abby on 4.18.09

 When we decided to build our new house environmentally friendly and sustainable in April 2008, I realized that we there were things we weren’t doing that we could be doing. Our family has made a lot of changes this past year, and I decided that our Earth Day post 2009 could serve  to review how we’ve gone green and to challenge others to review their lifestyles and see if there were more things they could be doing.


1.       No more bottled water. Seems simple right? We had always recycled all our plastic bottles but I never thought about the waste stream we were creating. We all bought Kleen Kanteens or equivalent and have switched completely to tap water.

2.       Switched to CFLs. Again, simple enough but I had a hard time justifying getting rid of light bulbs that worked to make the switch. Ultimately I couldn’t ignore the statistics that stated things like “a global switch to efficient lighting systems would trim the world’s electricity bill by nearly one-tenth”. We’re not global but in one year we’ve lowered our monthly kWh usage by an average of 180 kWh per month.

3.       Organic eating. This is one place we have increased costs. I used to shop at our local Belmont but they just do not carry enough organic produce, so out of season I head to Whole Foods. On average I spend $100 more per grocery shopping trip (which is about 2 times per month) but I have the whole family on board on the importance of eating foods free of preservatives, hormones, pesticides, trans fats and processed sugars. I’ve changes family recipes, even creating some that are simply better than they were before. I think over time, these costs will level out, but this change was worth it.

4.       Going local. From shopping at local farms to buying from local retail shops, I have dedicated myself to buying things from gifts to clothes within our community. I’m kind of lucky in that I live in a small state and nearly everything is local to me, but when it comes to this I really focus on shopping in Wakefield and Narragansett. It’s really not that hard and I’ve gotten to know so many of my neighbors!

5.       Conserving water. We added aerators to all our faucets and I only run the dishwasher when full. I scrape, don’t rinse. We pee 3 times before we flush (TMI, sorry, but we still have 1.6 gpf toilets and can’t afford buying new ones). Jeans get worn three times before washing, pajamas get the same treatment. If we have water left in a glass or a pan, we use it to water the plants. Being green means not wasting blue!!!

6.       No paper. No plastic. I always use my own bags. I don’t think about it, I always have one with me, no matter where I am from a local shop to the grocery store to the mall or the pharmacy, I always have them with me and even keep 2 EnviroSaks in my “World’s Greatest Mom” bag.

7.       Less driving. In total, since April of last year, I have only driven 7211 miles in my car. My husband and I commute together 2 days per week as our schedules allow. I shop locally when I am at work and all the shops are within walking distance or at least within a mile of my office. When I do have a lot of places to go in one day, I drive in a sensible pattern to minimize the distance travelled.   My two biggest offenses: my parents live 40 miles away (but on the way to Whole Foods!) and sometimes I have to drive for a business trip. I try not to drive needlessly and I think, do we need it before I get in a car. My gas bill is 68% less than the same period the year before, granted gas is cheaper, but I also drove almost 3000 less miles than the previous year!

8.       Educating my children about how they can help the earth. My daughter loves to pick up trash. She reminds her brother to turn off the water. They both shut off the lights. She looks for the word organic on the food she picks and will turn down treats that have been proclaimed by me as junk. When she outgrows clothes, she lists who they can be given to and she makes the same suggestions for toys. For her birthday we agreed to a home-grown party with no presents but donations to help our local animal shelter. She is turning six and she gets it; she doesn’t feel like she’s giving anything up while living a greener, healthier life. She just lives and this will change our world.

9.       I started a Green Blog. We have logged more than 18,000 readers to our website since our launch six months ago, we have shared our ideas, our views, and our knowledge with others and hopefully we have inspired them. Our green community is alive and it is growing and I hope it will continue to be a sustainable force.

10.   Building a green home. This is the biggie; this blog, our website is dedicated to our journey through building a green home. It is what has made me undergo the changes we have and preach to anyone who will listen. We are still 4-5 months from project completion, but it has taught me so much about what we can all do to green our homes.


This year has really improved me and I am proud of the commitment that I have made to living sustainably. Making the decision to build a green home was all about my children, but it changed me in a way that makes me a better inhabitant of this planet. I try to remember I am just passing through; my footprint should be in the good I can do.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster

Rethink Your Water Heater

The longer this recession drones on, the more we all should seriously investigate the options available to us in every facet of our lives. This is particularly true in terms of the nature and expense of how we heat, cool and otherwise maintain our homes.

Today, for example, let’s consider water heaters, which you usually don’t notice until they break.

How many homeowners are tired of the same-old, same-old: gas, electric and oil water heaters that not only can be operationally temperamental but also are increasingly expensive to use on a monthly basis.

Personally, I’m intrigued by tankless (on-demand) water heaters and solar water heaters.

In the case of the former, I like that water is heated only when it is needed, as opposed to sitting in a tank on standby and periodically reheating itself just so it’s ready when you turn that hot water knob on your sink. That’s just a lot of needlessly wasteful energy consumption, and a tankless heater would eliminate it. With tankless, you also get the benefit of not losing heat from water just sitting, stored in tank waiting to be used onkly to be re-heated at the time of use.

In the case of the latter, I love the concept of using the sun’s free and freely available energy to heat water rather than continue to fork money over month after month to the oil company and the electric company.

Now, in both of these cases, you’re going to pay more up front than you would for a traditional water heater. But consider how much less you’ll pay going forward on a monthly basis to utilities. And consider how much better solar energy in particular is for the environment. As for those costs, substantial state and federal tax breaks are available for many of these products in many areas, which can really help alleviate the sticker shock you might get when you first explore your tankless and solar options.

I encourage all U.S. homeowners to research this topic. A great example of an average American taking the solar water heater plunge can be found here. As far as info, a good place to start could be this pretty awesome microsite about water heating available from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Keep in mind that, depending on where you live, one particular water heater strategy might be a better idea than another might be.

Good luck, rethink your home energy options, and best wishes for a warm, toasty, prosperous 2009!

Posted by Joe Paone

Sustainability Works: The Intuitive Designs of Carl Mahaney

“So many of the buildings we occupy are not terribly thoughtful,” laments architect Carl Mahaney. “That has always intuitively felt wrong to me.” Thankfully, Mahaney is righting those wrongs through his firm Measured Works Architecture.

With a sensitivity to craft and detail, Mahaney has designed sustainable architecture projects for more than a decade. After receiving a Bachelor of Architecture from Kent State University and working with Seattle and New York firms for the past 12 years, he started Measured Works in New York’s West Chelsea neighborhood, placing top priority on solving problems through a “sustainable lens.”

The sustainable design movement has gained prominence in the U.S. since the 1980s, led by visionaries such as William McDonough. Although no universal standards on “green” exist, and definitions differ among industries, McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle certification and LEED standards help consumers and professionals uniformly assess the environmental impacts of buying decisions.

Mahaney is encouraged by the traction that sustainable architecture is catching in New York and nationally. But what constitutes sustainable architecture? For Mahaney, it’s bringing awareness and responsibility to his design process. “It means making deliberate decisions that think through the consequences, from each line to each material. What’s the effect on the family, the home, the neighborhood, the planet?”

One trend Mahaney thinks has certain cache is the green roof movement. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there was a 45 percent increase in installed solar energy systems in 2007 over 2006. More than 3,400 companies are in the solar energy sector, and the solar work force (installers, repairpeople, manufacturers, etc.) is expected to grow to more than 110,000 jobs by 2016. Mahaney is one step ahead; his recent design for a competition incorporated a green roof as a thermal protection and water retention measure and also as an opportunity to incubate threatened and endangered native vegetation. “Many sustainable solutions often have multiple benefits like this,” he explains, “which can make them more cost-competitive and result in more interesting aesthetic solutions than conventional building methods.”

Since consumers of high-end residential architecture tend to follow cultural trends closely, many more residential clients understand and request sustainable solutions, says Mahaney. What’s more, government rebates and subsidies can advance progress by incentivizing green on a day-to-day basis. Municipalities can help create demand by implementing green building codes and drafting long-term development plans around sustainable principals. New York City’s recently revised building code and PLANYC 2030 are excellent examples of this, Mahaney says.

The Tree House was proposed for a lightly forested site in Ohio with the intention of minimizing disturbance to the immediate surroundings.

The Tree House was proposed for a lightly forested site in Ohio with the intention of minimizing disturbance to the immediate surroundings.

The conventional wisdom is that sustainable building necessitates compromise, which Mahaney suggests isn’t true. A technique integral to his practice is to study the project site and program and try to coax an essential truth from them, around which the design organizes itself. For example, a recent project, the Tree House, was proposed for a lightly forested site in Ohio with the intention of minimizing disturbance to the immediate surroundings, “much like a tree house,” he says. The green roof controls the impact of stormwater runoff; narrow structural walls, a chimney, and a stair are the only elements that touch the ground. The wood siding is reclaimed from a local barn.

In Mahaney’s Family Auto House, designed as a sustainable house for a fictional family and its hydrogen powered car, water is the main inspiration. The roof harvests rainwater, which is filtered and stored underground as the sole water source. All grey water is treated and reused in a closed loop plumbing system. Mahaney explains that because the hydrogen car exhausts water vapor, “the family is (poetically anyway) producing water for their home” by driving.

Another imaginative example, The Rural Retreat, is a small weekend home in upstate New York designed on a modest budget. The materials are high in recycled content; the block walls, for example, use insulated structural block made from 100 percent post-industrial/pre-consumer EPS (expanded polystyrene). The building is passively cooled to reduce energy consumption, with cross-ventilation and roof overhangs to mitigate solar heat gain. North clerestoy windows allow ample indirect daylight.

The Family Auto House was conceived for a competition to design a sustainable house for a fictional family and its hydrogen powered car. The roof harvests rainwater, which is filtered and stored underground as the sole water source. All grey water is treated and reused in a closed loop plumbing system.

The Family Auto House was conceived for a competition to design a sustainable house for a fictional family and its hydrogen powered car. The roof harvests rainwater, which is filtered and stored underground as the sole water source. All grey water is treated and reused in a closed loop plumbing system.

“Energy consumption is really our biggest global challenge, regardless of location,” says Mahaney. Finding sustainable products and solutions is not always easy or cost-effective, but simple things like specifying low-energy light fixtures and ENERGY STAR appliances, and maximizing day lighting and passive cooling, while less glamorous than other green trends, have an enormous impact on the global environment as well as a building’s overall quality.

“Looking at a project through a sustainable lens provides an opportunity for its organizing truths to resonate more deeply, both environmentally and culturally,” says Mahaney. “The actual practice of architecture, the nuts and bolts, is more than anything a problem-solving exercise, and approaching each challenge within a project sustainably often offers more meaningful opportunity for creativity than simply relying on conventional solutions.”

Posted by Margot Douaihy

LEED-H Pre-Req: Durability Checklist

One of the pre-requisites for LEED-H is making sure that your builder has a Durability List. Since this is our builders, first LEED-H project, and since I am the LEED-H manager, I worked with Bob at Merchant Construction to create ours. We had the first draft on October 17th when we had our first sitdown with the framing team; but the document has evolved over the past 8 weeks to make sure it reflected the full scope of the project.

The thing about a durability checklist is, most builders have one, it’s just in their head. Getting them to review a written document and including all of the things they do to make sure a home is built solid, above code and able to stand the test of time is another project all together.

I’m going to share our durability checklist so anyone looking to apply for LEED-H has something to start from with their builder. Please remember our house in the northeast and on the coast so some of the items on out list like 120 mph window installation and whole-house icewater shield probably wont’ apply if you’re in Phoenix, so you will likely have to adapt. A few of the things we’ve run into that are area-specific include the pre-req of installing a radon system because we’re in a high-risk area and protecting against termites for the same reason. So make sure you address zone specific items individually. To view the Green Life Smart Life Durability Checklist, click here.

KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster


After many weeks of trials and tribulations, copy writing and image processing and research and generally driving our web guys insane with all our tweaks and changes – the Green Life Smart Life website is officially launched!

In the coming days, we’ll be officially launching the project and holding a local press day to discuss this project and its debut as the first registered LEED for Homes Gold application in Rhode Island.

Check out the website, let us know what you think!