Conserving water in the garden – 10 tips

Conserving water and sticking to your budget this summer go hand in hand. Keep this fact in mind: As much as 40 percent of our water usage during the warmer months goes toward keeping our lawns and gardens green. By conserving water in the garden you can save water and money.

Saving water outdoors  is actually pretty simple. And there are many ways in which you can cut back and have an impact. Try these 10 simple outdoor water conservation tips to cut back on your water usage this summer and save some money in the process.

Water Conservation Tip Number 1: You can save water by using a drip irrigation system to water container gardens, trees and shrubs. A typical spray irrigation system wastes water by spraying it into the air. Much of that sprayed water evaporates before it reaches the plants, especially in hotter temperatures.

Water Conservation Tip Number 2: Saving water on your sprinkler system is easy if you install a rain sensor, which ensures it won’t turn on unnecessarily during rainfall. Moisture sensors are great as well; they detect when dew has formed overnight so you don’t need to water the lawn as often.

Water Conservation Tip Number 3: How can you save water with plants? Native plants, which are available at most of your local plant nurseries, are generally more tolerant of the weather conditions in your area, including typical rainfall amounts, and thus require less frequent watering.

Water Conservation Tip Number 4: A good way to conserve water is by fixing drippy outdoor faucets? Fix them! Even a slight leak adds up over time. Start by tightening the nut behind the faucet handle with a wrench. If this doesn’t do the trick, hit your local hardware store for more specific instructions on fixing your system.

Water Conservation Tip Number 5: Rain barrels will also help you save water (Fiskars has good, affordable options). Place them at the end of your gutters to collect rainwater. Use the collected water to hydrate your plants, wash the car and fill birdbaths.

Water Conservation Tip Number 6: Purchase a downspout extension, which will allow you to direct rainwater to the places that need it most -- instead of it just dribbling off the side of your house into a wasteful space!

Water Conservation Tip Number 7: Have a pool? Use a bubble-wrap pool water cover when it’s not in use. The cover sits on top of the surface of the water and helps keep pool water from evaporating, so there’s no need to top it off as often.

Water Conservation Tip Number 8: Invest in some mulch! Adding a 2- or 3-inch layer of quality mulch in plant beds helps them retain moisture, thus requiring less water.

Water Conservation Tip Number 9: Replace leaky hoses (Neverkink is a well-tested brand that doesn’t tangle or kink, which is the primary cause of leaks) and nozzles. Also replace the rubber washers on the connections between the hose and the house and/or between the hose and the nozzle. These easy, inexpensive fixes will save you money in the long run.

Water Conservation Tip Number 10: Aim to do all your watering first thing in the morning when it’s cooler. This will ensure that less water will be lost to evaporation.

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Pool Photo: Flickr, Joey Parsons 
Main Photo: Flickr, Christopher Craig 

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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.


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
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
509 kWh

Energy Star: Frigidaire 20.6 cubic feet with top freezer
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
356 kWh
Estimated savings per year:


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
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
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
282 kWh
Estimated Yearly Operating Cost:
$30 with electric water heater / $24 with natural gas water heater


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
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
128 kWh
Estimated Yearly Operating Cost:
$14 with electric water heater / $9 with natural gas water heater

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!)



  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 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.



  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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 Tips for A/C Upkeep

Welcome to steamy August, when the last thing you want is for your air conditioner to conk out on you -- especially with this summer’s record temps across t he country. Whether you rely on a window unit or central air, easy A/C maintenance tips will keep the cool air flowing when you need it. We asked the pros for easy ways to ensure your system is running through Labor Day and beyond.

1. Change your filter.
It’s the easiest thing you can do to ensure your system keeps you cool, says Bobby DiFulgenitz, director of product management at Lennox. “A clogged filter forces your system to work harder, using more energy,” he says. He suggests changing the filter on central air systems every other month -- or more if you have pets that shed. Not only will you save money on your energy bill, you’ll be breathing cleaner air.

"Just make sure it’s the right filter for your model, but also the correct type of filter,” adds Terry Frisenda, regional account manager for LG Electronics USA Commercial Air Conditioning. He cautions that too fine a filter will make it harder for the unit to push air through. If you have a window unit, Frisenda says, “Simply wash and replace the filter -- but be sure it’s completely dry before you put it back.”

2. Clean the coils.
Like a clogged filter, blocked fins and coils on the outside unit can cause your system to work harder and subsequently break down, according to Frisenda. Use a nylon brush or broom and your garden hose -- never a pressure washer -- to rinse leaves, grass and other debris from the fins, he says. If you have a window unit, do this in the spring, before you install the unit for the season, and again in the fall, before you put it away.

3. Remove obstructions.
Make sure there is nothing blocking the flow of air around your outdoor unit: Any plantings, hedges or fencing you might have to hide your outdoor unit need to be at least 12 to 15 inches away, according to Frisenda. Inside, don’t cover your window unit with drapes or curtains when it’s on.

4. Program your thermostat.
For a central system, set your thermostat to a slightly higher temperature during the day, when you leave the house, and a lower temperature when you get home from work, says DiFulgenitz. The newest thermostats are designed to be more user-friendly, and some even work via WiFi or your smartphone, so you can raise the setting when you leave to run errands, and then remotely turn it back down when you are on your way home. This lowers energy bills as well as reduces strain on the system.

Shut window units off when you are gone. “Window units are designed to cool a room quickly, and they also use a lot more energy, so it’s more efficient to turn it off,” says Frisenda.

5. Get a tune-up.
The best way to keep your whole-house cooling system trouble free is to have an HVAC pro give it a tune-up once a year -- in the spring, before you need your A/C is best. “It’s like changing your oil in your car,” says DiFulgenitz, “and it helps everything run better and last longer.” As part of the tune-up, the contractor will check and clean filters, test the internal mechanisms and charge the unit with refrigerant. Howeverer, window units don’t need this. “And if anyone tells you they want to top off the coolant in your window unit, they are ripping you off,” says Frisenda.

More easy checks and fixes:

• Examine the cord on your window unit for frayed or worn spots. It may need to be replaced.

• Use drapes and blinds to block the sun from warming rooms so your A/C doesn't need to work as hard.

• Protect outdoor units from corrosion -- especially if you live near salt water -- with paste wax. Just apply and buff it in, says Frisenda.

• Look for and seal air leaks around windows and doors with a caulk gun. “When cool air escapes, or hot air can find its way into your home, your air conditioner has to work harder to keep the temperature where you like it,” says DiFulgenitz.

Photo: Corbis Images