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.

How to Grow Cool-Season Veggies with Ease

When the fall and winter seasons hit, green thumbs tend to go into hibernation. But if you feel that horticultural itch year round, you have options beyond the basic perennials’ upkeep: You can grow vegetables.

Veggies aren’t just for spring and summer gardens; some varieties actually thrive in cooler, crisper seasons. No experience with growing vegetables? No worries. Horticulturist, contributing editor for The American Gardener magazine and author of Homegrown Harvest Rita Pelczar offers some expert input on getting veggies to grow in cooler seasons.

What should you grow?

Choosing what to grow depends entirely on where you live. If the weather in your area is reasonably mild, spinach and lettuce are great options. In colder regions, opt for kale, turnips and mustard, which all grow well. And if you’re planning ahead for next season, broccoli, cabbage, carrots and parsnips started in late summer will last well into winter in many areas.

When should I start growing?

It’s best to get your fall/winter crops in the ground in late summer so that they get a good jump on their growth before the cold weather sets in. If the weather is still relatively mild in your area, start immediately if you’re hoping to plant for this season. The later you start, the lower the chances of survival are, but it never hurts to try!

Use floating row covers to protect your plants, both against late-season pests and against cold, windy weather. Keep your soil evenly moist and reduce temperature fluctuations by using mulch (think of it as a winter sweater for your plants). Dig root crops before the ground freezes -- store them in a sand pile for easy digging or in a root cellar.

Can I keep it indoors?

There are plenty of herbs that will grow well year round as long as they have a sunny window. If you want to grow veggies -- such as tomatoes or peppers -- you’ll need to do so in a very bright sunroom or a greenhouse. (Have room in your backyard to build one? There’s a DIY project for fall!)

Try these tips if you’re growing spinach, cabbage or carrots:

SPINACH: If you live in milder climates, in the fall, sow your seeds one month to six weeks before the first frost date and continue sowing them through the winter. For all climates, you can also sow your seeds up to two months before the last frost date in spring, then continue sowing every three weeks until just after the last frost date. Grow spinach in full sun to light shade (more shade in hotter areas), and provide consistent water without overwatering (moist but not mushy). Your spinach seeds should reach maturity in just over a month at minimum and 150 days at maximum.


CABBAGE: Cabbage is a great cool-season vegetable. To have a fall or winter crop for use in holiday cooking, you’ll want to plan ahead and plant seeds in late summer as they’ll take about 50 to 100 days to reach maturity. (Plant in full sun or partial shade if you’re in a hotter climate.)

CARROTS: If you have mild winters (at most an occasional light frost), you’ll be able to grow carrots from late summer through spring. Sow carrot seeds ideally in early spring -- sow them again in late summer if you have cold winters. They’ll take about one to two and a half months to reach maturity. Grow them in full sun and water regularly to keep them evenly moist.

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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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New Uses for Old Things: 10 Ways to Repurpose Old Items

Our landfills are growing by the second -- but there’s plenty that we can do to help, while also adding some extra functionality or style in our homes! Find decorating inspiration in these five unique ways to reuse items you already have. Mother Nature will be pleased.

Bottle Beauties

Instead of tossing empty glass wine, beer or soda bottles, take a look at them from a different angle. Many bottles have a beautiful shape or color, and could easily stand alone as decorative vases. For a modern look, consider painting the exterior of a bottle in a color that matches your home décor.

If your bottle has a label, soak it in hot sudsy water (use dishwashing detergent) for 5 or more minutes until the label becomes soft. Gently peel it away; use a scrub brush to remove any leftover residue. Before use, clean the insides of the bottles too -- fill ¾ with warm water and a bit of dishwashing liquid. Cover the bottle with your finger or hand and give it a good shake. Rinse until the suds are gone and place upside down on a towel or dish rack to dry.

On a Roll

Empty toilet paper rolls are tossed in the trash faster than you can flush. Give them a new shot at life by using them to organize and store extra cords (the ones you’re not sure what they go to but you’re too afraid to toss them) to keep them from getting tangled. Wind a single cord into each empty paper roll and store side by side, standing up in a shoebox.

Book It

Do you have a pile of old books that you can’t bring yourself to get rid of but are just gathering dust? Opt for this unique idea: Purchase shelf brackets that are slightly smaller than the width of your favorite hardback books (from spine to opening). Secure the bracket to the wall and place the book on the bracket to create a decorative shelf. Stagger a few favorite tomes in a cohesive display and top with bud vases or small decorative items.

Display Case

Do you have an old cutlery tray that no longer has any use? Line the inside of the tray with pretty fabric or paper scraps -- or paint it a favorite color. Attach small cabinet knobs and/or tiny hooks within each segment of the tray and use them to hang and organize favorite necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

Mad About Mason

Empty mason jars have so many reuses you might find yourself overwhelmed with the options. Here are some of our favorites:

•      Fill the jar part way with sand or rocks and top with a tea light candle. A grouping of these beauties will provide lovely candlelight for an intimate gathering.

•      Use them as single bud vases, grouping three or more together for extra effect.

•      Use them as drinking glasses at backyard BBQs -- and save the planet from more tossed-aside plastic cups.

•      Store useful items such as sewing kits, colored pencils, ribbons, office supplies or any other items you find yourself stashing away in your junk drawer. The clear view allows you to easily see what’s inside so nothing ever feels too lost.

•      Create a hanging vase or candle holder: Wrap sturdy wire around the opening of the jar (under a ridge so it’s secure). Then use another piece of wire to wrap through that first wire at two points to create a handle. Hang from a wall or garden hook and fill with flowers or a tea light candle.

Bonus Round!

Looking for even more ideas? Try these five quick-and-easy reuse ideas for everyday items:

•      Turn old picture frames into cute little serving trays.

•      Use old shower hooks to hang purses in your closet.

•      An old hanging shoe rack can easily organize your pantry. Hang it on the door and separate snacks or spices in the pockets.

•      Need more jewelry organization? Use a cupcake tray to hold small items.

•      Use large clamp binder clips to keep computer and phone charger cords handy. Clip them to the edge of your desk and pull the cord end through the metal clamp hole.

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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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