Eco-Friendly Appliances: Should You Go Green?

Today’s home appliances are light years better than those of just a decade ago. Their superb energy-efficiency helps you create an eco-friendly home -- and they also save you money.

Many appliance manufacturers have partnered with the federal government in the Energy Star program, which makes it easy to identify energy-efficient home appliances. When shopping for a new appliance, you’ll see the purchase price and a yellow EnergyGuide label, which lists the energy rating for that particular item and compares its operating cost with similar models. This number could mean the appliance is anywhere from 10 to 50 percent more energy efficient than traditional versions.

Nearly 20 percent of a household’s energy use comes from appliances, which means buying eco-friendly machines could save you upwards of $80 a year, based on the samples below. But you’ll pay more upfront for most eco-friendly appliances -- so is it worth it to go green? Here’s a comparison.

FRIDGES AND FREEZERS

Green versions are about 15 percent more energy efficient than their conventional counterparts because they have more precise temperature and defrost controls, better insulation and high-efficiency compressors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

To make sure you’re saving money, buy the right size fridge or freezer for your family. Using a model that’s too large won’t save you as much if you can’t keep it filled. And to save even more, use freezer trays instead of the icemaker. A model with an automatic ice dispenser can use 20 percent more electricity to cycle on and off.

Lastly, don't look for the Energy Star label alone; efficiency standards vary by refrigerator type, say the experts at Consumer Reports. A top-freezer that isn’t Energy Star-qualified might actually be more efficient than a side-by-side unit with the label. For an apples-to-apples comparison, use the annual operating costs and the kilowatt-hours per year the refrigerator uses, which are listed on the EnergyGuide.

Traditional: Frigidaire 20.5 cubic feet with top freezer
Price:
$819.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
509 kWh

Energy Star: Frigidaire 20.6 cubic feet with top freezer
Price:
$1,149.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
356 kWh
Estimated savings per year:
$38

DISHWASHERS

Dishwashers with an Energy Star label are, on average, about 10 percent more energy efficient and 20 percent more water efficient than standard models, according to the EPA.

These dishwashers have “smart” sensors that tailor the machine’s cycle length and water temperature. They also have energy-efficient motors and efficient washing action to get dishes clean. This is good news, since the average household runs its dishwasher four times a week, for a total of more than 200 times per year. An Energy Star -qualified dishwasher will save an average 1,900 gallons of water over its lifetime.

Traditional: Westinghouse 24-inch
Price:
$229.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
330 kWh
Estimated Yearly Operating Cost:
$35 with electric water heater / $24 with natural gas water heater

Energy Star: Whirlpool 24 inch
Price:
$329.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
282 kWh
Estimated Yearly Operating Cost:
$30 with electric water heater / $24 with natural gas water heater

CLOTHES WASHER

Full-sized washers that have Energy Star labels use about 35 percent less water and about 20 percent less energy than conventional models, says the EPA. A green washing machine also saves 700 kWh of electricity, more than 2 million BTUs of natural gas, 27,000 gallons of water and approximately $315 over its lifetime, according to the EPA.

Green washing machines need less detergent to get clothes clean and extract more water from laundry during the spin cycle, so you can also cut time and costs for drying, too.

Traditional: GE 3.7 cubic feet top load

Price: $449.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
477 kWh
Estimated Yearly Operating Cost:
$51 with electric water heater / $29 with natural gas water heater

Energy Star: Kenmore 3.6 cubic feet
Price:
$563.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
128 kWh
Estimated Yearly Operating Cost:
$14 with electric water heater / $9 with natural gas water heater

CLOTHES DRYER
There is no EnergyGuide labeling for clothes dryers because the basic construction hasn’t changed much. Most clothes dryers use about the same amount of energy.

Where you need to make decisions is how the machine is powered and how it shuts off.  Dryers dry via either gas or electricity. Gas dryers cost about $50 to $150 more than comparable electric models, say the experts at Consumer Reports, but you can save in the long run with lower fuel costs. They also found that dryers with a moisture sensor can save you money over dryers with a traditional thermostat. Because a moisture sensor is faster at recognizing when laundry is dry and shuts itself off, your clothes won’t be damaged by unnecessary heat and you’ll be using less energy in the process.

20 Clever Uses for Plastic Bags

Even with the world going green, plastic bags seem to be everywhere. Americans use approximately 1 billion shopping bags a year, but they recycle less than 1 percent of that amount, sending 300,000 tons into landfills, according to the Clean Air Council. Those bags that are dumped into landfills don’t biodegrade. Instead, sunlight breaks them down into particles that contaminate our soil and water.

Why let this happen when there’s a solution? It’s easy and eco-friendly to reuse plastic shopping and sandwich bags. Try these ideas to put plastic bags to new use. (Of course, remember to wash well before reuse!)

SANDWICH BAGS

 

  1. Pastry bag. Why buy a pastry bag when you can use sandwich bags? Put your icing, deviled egg mixture or whipped potatoes into a sealable bag and push the air out. Seal the bag and snip off a corner. Start with a small hole and try to pipe. If necessary, you can make the hole larger.
  1. Funnel. Just snip a corner off, fill and funnel. You’ll be able to pour anything from peppercorns into a peppermill to olive oil into a decorative container.
  1. Cheese storage. Fresh cheese just tastes better than pre-shredded. Save the time of having to grate cheese for every pizza and make up a bulk batch. Double-bag and store in the fridge or freezer to preserve freshness.
  1. Chocolate melter. Mess free! Put chocolate in a sealable freezer bag. Fill a pan or bowl with hot water. Put the bag in the water and, in a few minutes, you’ll have melted chocolate. Double duty alert! Snip off a corner of the bag and you have an instant pastry bag (see above).
  1. Closet cedar. Love the smell of cedar but don’t have the cash to do your whole closet? Buy a bag of hamster bedding chips and place a handful in a resealable sandwich bag. Punch some holes in the bag and hang it on a hanger in the closet. The cedar will also keep fabric-munching moths at bay.
  1. Pencil case. Make sure your students always have pens, pencils and crayons ready by putting some in a zippered sandwich bag. Punch three holes in the bottom of the bag and slip it onto the rings of a three-ring binder for even more organization.
  1. Makeup case. Keep your luggage free of goopy spills by putting toiletries into plastic bags. You can do this for jewelry too. Use one bag per “outfit” so that necklace and earrings are together, and all your necklaces don’t get tangled into one mess.
  1. Clutter keeper. Corral junk drawer items in bags. This is perfect for batteries, marbles, crafters beads and even rubber bands and clothespins.
  1. Cold pack. Freeze a wet washcloth (or several of them) in a sandwich or freezer bag so you’ll always be ready when the kids twist an ankle or hit their head.
  1. Baby wipe holder. Save some money by making your own baby-safe wipes, then storing them in zipper-lock sandwich bags. The earth-friendly wipes will stay wet for months. To make the wipes (courtesy of www.babies411.com): Cut a roll of paper towels in half width-wise. Place the paper towels in a deep bowl.  Combine 2 cups water, 2 tablespoons baby wash or shampoo, and 1 to 2 tablespoons of baby or olive oil. Pour liquid over towels and soak through. After 10 minutes, flip the roll over. Take the cardboard center out, place the paper towels in a sandwich bag and you’ll be able to pull the wipes out one by one.

GROCERY BAGS

 

  1. Package padding. Foam packing peanuts usually end up in the landfill, plus they’re a nightmare to clean up. Create an eco-friendly home by using plastic grocery bags to protect valuable items you plan to ship. Include a note asking the recipient to reuse the bags.
  1. Produce keeper. The fruit and veggie bags from the produce section are perfect to reuse the next time you go grocery shopping. Toss them in your tote and reuse during your next trip to the grocery store or farmer’s market. If the bags get wet, hang them to dry to prevent mildew.
  1. Hand protectors. Not looking forward to that messy job? Put grocery bags on your hands for cleaning the toilet or paintbrushes. You can also put one on when the phone rings and you’re wrist-deep in pie dough.
  1. Flower pot fixer. Instead of tossing that cracked flower pot or vase, re-glue the container and slip a plastic bag inside. It’ll be ready for peonies in no time.
  1. Purse reshaper. Handbags should be stored upright, not piled on the closet floor. Help them keep their shape between uses by stuffing them with crumpled plastic bags.
  1. Paint pal. Whether you’re doing arts and crafts or painting the bedroom, plastic bags have many uses. Wrap wet paintbrushes while you grab lunch to prevent the brushes from drying out. Slip one over a paint tray, or put a smaller bag in the bottom, to make cleanup a breeze. Put them under trays and cans to catch drips and spills. Spray paint a small item inside the bag to prevent splatters.
  1. Crochet material. Because bags are so durable, they make great “yarn” projects. You can crochet everything from slippers to clothing; find inspiration at BagsBeGone.
  1. Pet pillow. When the padding in Fido’s bed isn’t so fluffy anymore, take it out and replace it with crumpled plastic bags. Or, if you’re handy, make your own pet pillows for friends and family and the local shelter. Sew two pieces of fabric together (with a zipper on one end for easy restuffing). Pack with used plastic shopping bags.
  1. Travel mate. Keep clothes clean in your suitcase by placing shoes in grocery bags. Use another one as a laundry bag to keep dirty duds away from clean. You can use them for short trips, too: put wet bathing suits in a bag to contain the drips on the way home (just remember to take it out when you get home!).
  1. Small wastebasket. Grocery bags are a perfect fit for bathroom or bedroom wastebaskets. You can reuse the bags over several cleaning frenzies if you’re just tossing in used paper towels and other non-icky disposables. Keep a few bags on the bottom of the wastebasket for a quick change when you do need a refresher.

 

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Eco-Friendly Home: 11 DIY Cleaning Products

Looking to create a more eco-friendly home? One of the best ways to go green and save money at the same time is to make your own household cleaning products. With just a handful of ingredients (many of them probably already in your pantry), you can whip up all the cleaners you need to keep your kitchen, bathroom and whole house clean and odor- and germ-free without toxic chemicals.

With the exception of a couple common -- and safe -- household products such as hydrogen peroxide and Borax, all the basic ingredients used below are edible: distilled white vinegar, baking soda, kosher salt and lemon. A few drops of an essential oil -- citrus, lavender or eucalyptus, for example -- will add a fresh scent. Used in various combinations, you can tackle just about every cleaning project around your home.

DRAIN CLEANER

1. If you ever made a volcano in science class, you’ll understand the properties at work in this homemade drain-cleaning solution. Pour ½ cup baking soda followed by 1 cup distilled vinegar down a stopped-up drain. Wait 15 minutes and then pour 4 cups hot (not boiling) water down the drain.

MILDEW AND MOLD

2. Combine ½ cup hydrogen peroxide with a cup of water in a spray bottle. Spritz on problem areas and wait an hour before wiping down the surface with a rag.

3. Make a paste from equal parts distilled white vinegar and Borax (an all-natural mineral powder that disinfects, cleans and deodorizes). Apply to moldy or mildewed grout and let sit for at least an hour.

BATHROOM DISINFECTANT

4. Mix equal parts baking soda, Borax and Kosher salt. Sprinkle on the tile, sink, tub, vanity top and toilet -- any place you would use a powder cleanser.

TOILET BOWL CLEANER

5. Pour ¼ cup baking soda and 1 cup distilled white vinegar around the bowl. Let it sit 15 minutes, then scrub and flush.

GLASS AND MIRRORS

6. Mix 4 cups of warm water and ¼ cup distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle. Rather than paper towels or cloth, use old newspapers for a streak-free finish: Newsprint will leave no lint.

ALL-PURPOSE KITCHEN CLEANER

7. Fill a clean spray bottle with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water (add a few drops of an essential oil such as orange or lemon if you want to cut the vinegar smell). Use it to clean appliances, countertops, even the kitchen sink. And for a non-scratch abrasive cleaner, sprinkle baking soda on a damp sponge.

SILVER POLISH

8. This method makes quick work of your silver flatware after a party or holiday meal, but it isn’t as effective for large pieces. Line the bottom of a glass baking dish (large enough to hold your silverware) with aluminum foil. Bring 2 liters of water and 2 tablespoons of baking soda to a boil and pour into dish. Place silverware a few pieces at a time into the dish for 10 or 15 seconds, then remove with tongs. For larger pieces, make a past of baking soda and water. Rub onto tarnished surfaces with a soft cotton cloth and rinse.

FURNITURE POLISH

9. Combine the juice of one lemon -- about a half a cup, straining out the pulp and seeds -- with a cup of olive oil in a jar with a tight lid. Shake well to emulsify. Use on a soft cloth to clean and recondition wood furniture.

CARPET CLEANERS

10. To freshen carpet odors, sprinkle with baking soda and wait an hour, then vacuum.

11. For carpet stains, spray with a solution of vinegar and water and let sit for 15 minutes, then use a brush and warm soapy water to clean the stained area. For fresh grease spots, dust generously with corn starch, wait 15 minutes and then vacuum.

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5 Ways to Make Your Home Eco-Friendly in 10 Minutes or Less

Want to save money and make the planet more green in the process? Cutting energy and water use in your home is the best way to accomplish both. These simple green living tips could end up saving you hundreds of dollars a year on your utility bills -- and they only require a few simple changes to your daily life.

Green Living Tip No. 1: Make Over Your Bulbs
Start by replacing your old incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. It takes less than a minute to change a bulb and can save you up to $50 a year. When you add up all the bulbs in your home, that’s a lot of money in your pocket! The newest CFLs produce the same type of light as incandescent bulbs, but last ten times longer and use about a quarter of the energy that standard bulbs use, according to Consolidated Edison, the gas and electric power company that helps light up New York City. For added savings, get into the habit of turning off lights in any rooms you are not using. And during the day, open window shades and curtains to light your home the natural way.

Green Living Tip No 2: Get to Know Your Thermostat
When cooling your home in summer, make sure you’re only cooling the rooms you’re using by blocking air vents with cardboard or closing vents in unused rooms. Keep the thermostat on your air conditioner at 78 degrees; any lower and your energy usage rises and your electric bill could cost up to 40 percent more. Before you leave for the day, turn off your air conditioner and close shades and drapes on east-, south- and west-facing windows to block out the sun.

In cool weather, turn down your thermostat and wear a sweater indoors. Lower your heat to 68 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night or whenever you’re away from home. During the day, warm your home by letting in sunlight -- especially from south-, east- and west-facing windows. Pull down shades and close drapes at night to keep heated air in, and move furniture away from heating vents to allow heated air to circulate.

Green Living Tip No. 3: Unplug Your Computer
When you’re not using your computer, unplug it or shut it off. Most computers have a power-down or sleep-mode feature that lowers the energy usage by about 70 percent less than a computer that is sitting idle but still drawing electricity, according to the U.S. government’s Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy site. It doesn’t use more energy to power up your computer once it’s shut down, and it only takes a few minutes. And remember: If you’re using a screen saver on your monitor, your computer is still drawing power.

Green Living Tip No. 4: Power Down Unused Items
While you’re in unplugging mode, also shut down TVs and cable boxes, as well as any chargers for smartphones, gaming devices, hand-held vacuums, battery chargers, flashlights and power tools that you don’t plan to use in the near future. These items continue to suck power in order to keep their batteries charged, which costs you money and uses unnecessary energy. “Shut things off,” says Thomas Reddoch, senior technical executive for the Electric Power Research Institute, an independent, nonprofit science and technology research organization. “Make your home a smarter place to live.”

Green Living Tip No. 5: Shorten Your Showers
Finally, make it a point to take shorter showers. You could save more than 3,500 gallons of water per year by taking a five-minute shower instead of lingering under the spray. Read more water-saving tips to help you save even more while helping save the planet.

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Image Credit: Credit: Flickr, Samuel M. Livingston