Eco-Friendly Home Updates That Save You Green

Invest in home improvements that benefit the environment (and your budget) year-round.

banknote house icon concept; Shutterstock ID 99611015; PO: Cat Overman; Job: blog post

banknote house icon concept; Shutterstock ID 99611015; PO: Cat Overman; Job: blog post

Each year, Americans save billions of dollars by employing energy-saving measures and investing in energy-efficient homes. Some upgrades — like Energy Star appliances, new hot water heaters, or geothermal pumps — can be pricey upfront, but there are plenty of small, inexpensive updates that will make a big difference in your budget over time. Here are some places to start.

Go low-flow

Thousands of gallons of water go down the drain every day. Toilet flushing and showering are the two biggest culprits. One solution is to upgrade your home’s plumbing fixtures so you use less water to accomplish the same task.

Low-flow fixtures, which are both inexpensive and easy to install, can reduce your home water consumption by as much as 50 percent, and save you up to $145 a year on electricity, according to Energy Star.

Insulate, insulate, insulate

Upgrading your home with energy-efficient insulation is one of the quickest energy payback projects you can undertake. If your house doesn’t have enough insulation (and many homes don’t, especially those built before 1980), bringing it up to current standards will not only make it more comfortable all year long, but you’ll save money — anywhere from 10 to 50 percent on your heating and cooling bills.

Consult the Department of Energy’s ZIP code specific recommendations for the right amount of insulation for your climate.

Use compact fluorescent light bulbs

Yes, fluorescent bulbs are more expensive that regular bulbs, but each bulb can save up to $40 over the lifetime of the bulb, and they last 10 times longer than conventional bulbs.

Install a programmable thermostat

Did you know that the average household spends about $2,000 annually on energy bills, and that close to half that figure can be attributed to heating and cooling?

Enter the programmable thermostat. When used properly (don’t be intimidated!), this little gadget, which you reset when you’re asleep or away from your home, can pay for itself in a matter of months. Annually, you’re looking at saving up to $150 or more.

Posted by Vera Gibbons on Zillow

 

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How to Cool a Home (And Save the Planet While You’re At It!)

These tips can help you cool your home without burning a lot of excess energy.

HowToCoolAHomeKeeping your home cool is easy when you blast your air conditioner all day. If you want to keep your home cool while saving the planet, though, you have to consider alternatives to reduce wastefulness.

Use Blinds to Block the Sun

Direct sunlight will make your home hotter. By keeping your blinds closed, you prevent those rays from coming inside. You’ll get the best results from closing the blinds tightly with the opening facing up.

Use Ceiling Fans Properly

Most ceilings fans have summer and winter settings. The winter setting moves the blades clockwise to push cold air to the ceiling while pulling warm air down. During the summer, set your fan to move counter-clockwise. This will create a better breeze that cools the room and helps sweat evaporate so your body stays cooler.

Change Your Air Filter Once a Month

Air filters prevent debris from circulating through your home. If those filters get too dirty, they make it harder for your air conditioner to do its job. That means it stays on longer and uses more electricity. You can cut about one to two percent off your energy bill by replacing your filters once a month during the summer.

Use Solar Windows

You don’t have to avoid solar panels just because you think they look ugly. Solar windows offer a new option that will help you cool your home without pulling more energy from the grid.

Solar windows create electricity from the sunlight that shines through them. You can then use the electricity to power your home.

Companies are working on a variety of solar window products, including those made for commercial and residential properties. If you don’t want to purchase new windows for your home, you can get a clear solar window film that attaches to your window.

Use a Programmable Thermostat

A programmable thermostat makes it easy to keep your home comfortable without burning excess energy. For instance, you can program the thermostat to let the indoor temperature get warmer during the day while you’re at work. An hour before you come home, the thermostat will adjust to a more pleasant temperature. You won’t even notice that your AC isn’t running all day. That could save you $65 to $100 by the end of summer.

Place Plants Strategically

Knowing where to place plants outside can lower the amount of energy you use by controlling the temperature inside your home.

If possible, plant deciduous trees on your home’s west and south sides. Three strategically placed trees could help you save up to $250 a year.

You will also use less energy by plating shrubs that give your AC unit some shade. Those that operate in shaded areas use less energy cooling homes. Make sure the plants won’t clog the unit when they drop their leaves in fall.

What other eco-friendly methods do you use to keep your home cool while protecting the environment?

This article appeared on Trulia Blog.

 

The Truth About Organic Home Remedies for Your Lawn

We might love the idea of maintaining our lawns with nontoxic pantry items—soda, vinegar, and dish detergent—that help keep pesticides and other chemicals out of the environment while saving us a little money.

SolStock/iStock

SolStock/iStock

But do these home remedies really work as organic alternatives to traditional pesticides? And if so, do they really save money?

Not so much, say turf professors and pros.

“I wouldn’t waste my time,” says John Boyd, a University of Arkansas professor of weed science. “You can kill a weed with vinegar—in the better neighborhoods they use balsamic. But it’s not all that effective or cost-efficient.”

Also, home remedies—especially bug-killing concoctions—don’t have the same precision and accountability of store-bought lawn care products.

“They’re not labeled as pesticides, and have not been through any review or screening process,” says Dan Gilrein, an entomologist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in New York. “Materials may not be as benign as assumed—particularly when not used as intended.”

So are organic home remedies for lawn care a waste of time and money? Some are; some aren’t. Below, we break it down for you.

Boiling water

Reputation: Weed killer

Reality: Undoubtedly, dumping boiling water on a weed will scald and kill some shallow-rooted, annual weeds, like chickweed. But it won’t wipe out the deep roots of perennial weeds, like dandelions, unless you repeat it for days.

What’s more, the boiling water treatment is nonselective; not only can you scald yourself, but you can also kill grass and prized plants around the weed, says Craig Jenkins-Sutton of Topiarious Urban Gardens in Chicago.

Cost: How much is your time worth? By the time you boil the water, run it out to the garden before it cools, and carefully dump it on unwanted weeds, you could have grabbed a good weeder and dug up a garden full of dandelions—and those won’t come back.

Vinegar

Reputation: Weed killer

Reality: Acetic acid is a good general herbicide that sucks water from common weeds. But most pantry vinegar has only a 5% acetic acid concentration—too weak to kill all but the most tender, annual weeds. Perennial weeds—fuggedaboutit!

If you want to kill weeds with vinegar, you’ll need a commercial solution that’s 20% acetic acid. It’ll suck weeds dry, but will also dry out your prized plants, so be careful when spraying.

Cost: Distilled white vinegar: $2.40/gallon; commercial vinegar: $33/gallon. (Note: Diluting it 1:1 with water will give you twice the amount of vinegar at a high concentration.)

Dish detergent

Reputation: Insecticide

Reality:
The Iowa State University Extension says it’s OK to use dish detergent, like Ivory or Palmolive, to kill soft-body insects, such as aphids, scales, and whiteflies. The soap destroys the waxy shell that protects the bugs, causing them to desiccate (dry up).

In a spray bottle, combine 1 tablespoon of dish detergent with 1 quart of water. Then thoroughly saturate the infected plants to completely wet the insects you want to kill.

One problem with dish soap, however, is that it can kill plants along with the insects. That’s where commercial insecticidal soaps have the advantage. Their formulas usually have a stabilizing agent that helps prevent the soap from damaging plants. Of course, you pay more for that formula.

Cost: Palmolive dish washing liquid: $3.30/10 oz.; Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap spray: $6.40/24 oz.

Soda and beer

Reputation: Fertilizer that greens-up lawns

Reality:
Home remedy guides say beer and soda contain carbohydrates and phosphorous, which feed lawns. Turf scientists, however, say that grass makes its own carbs from photosynthesis, and that soil generally has all the phosphorous a healthy lawn needs. Actually, phosphorous runoff is a watershed pollutant, and some municipalities are banning commercial fertilizers that contain phosphorous.

Spraying flat cola or beer on your lawn essentially just waters the grass, which can help it turn green.

Cost: Six 16-oz. cans of Bud: $7.80 (enough for a 10-by-20-ft. lawn)

So what’s a greenish lawn-owner to do?

First, know this: Lawns suck up more water than any other irrigated crop in the U.S.—so their very existence, arguably, is eco-unfriendly. If you’re dedicated to protecting life on Earth, replace your lawn with indigenous, drought-resistant plants or artificial turf.

Still, you might think life on Earth isn’t worth living unless you can wiggle your toes through cool fescue that’s not covered with toxic chemicals. If so, here’s some advice:

  • You’ll have to devote yourself to precisely mowing (with a push mower, if you want to be green), watering (deeply and less often), and fertilizing (with nutrient-rich compost). Diligent lawn care will keep out weeds naturally and promote beneficial insects that will eat the ones you don’t want.
  • Forget the idea of lawn perfection. Without chemicals, a few weeds will grow and some patches will turn yellow.
  • Spend a few extra bucks and buy organic lawn products that take the guesswork out of applying nontoxic solutions.

This story was written by Lisa Kaplan Gordon and originally appeared on HouseLogic.com.

Solar Panels Are Cheaper Than Ever, So Why Aren’t You Getting Them?

Solar power used to be a prohibitively expensive technology, but recently, the cost of residential solar panel systems has dropped … by a lot. And what once seemed like a futuristic option is finally taking off.

Solar Panels Are Cheaper Than Ever, So Why Aren’t You Getting Them

Cleaning solar panels. Credit: Flickr user bkusler

“Solar is one of very few home improvements that starts paying for itself the minute it is installed and turned on,” says Mike Newman, an outreach manager for Clean Markets, a firm in Philadelphia that works with businesses to maximize energy efficiency.

In general, he says, homeowners can recover the upfront cost in as little as three to four years—or as far out as 10 years or more—depending on local utility, state, and federal incentives, as well as the cost of electricity.

Now that China and other nations are churning out lower-cost panels, prices have dropped across the board. Improvements in technology have also driven down costs, Newman says. The Solar Energy Industries Association reported in January that prices had dropped 53% since 2010, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory forecasts continuing double-digit declines for the next few years, although perhaps at a slower pace.

And companies offering solar leases allow homeowners to take advantage of lower prices without the upfront cost of buying the solar technology, or the cost and hassle of maintenance.

“In every market we aim to be at least 20% cheaper than what the utility offers in that market, and sometimes we can be as much as 50% cheaper,” says Dagen Olsen, national sales trainer for LGCY Power, an authorized dealer for Sunrun, which offers solar leases.

Jim Nelson, CEO of the Santa Barbara, CA-based solar company Solar3D, says that now is the time for homeowners to take the solar plunge.

“That precipitous drop [in solar panel prices] has a bottom, and the instability of those economics opens the door for an opposite reaction of consolidation and stability,” he said. “As such, the industry is now projecting a modest decline in material pricing to the tune of only 15% over the next two years.”

So if you’re thinking of going solar, here are some things to consider.

Is your roof too old for new technology?

Newman advises homeowners to assess the age and condition of their roof, as well as its orientation toward the sun. For maximum efficiency, panels should be installed in a place that receives optimal sunlight at peak daytime hours.

If a roof is too old, faces the wrong direction, or is shaded by nearby trees, owners can opt for a ground-mounted solar system, he said. This carries a higher price tag, however, because installers need to build a structure to hold up the panels, dig trenches, and lay cables that carry electricity to the home.

Which type of panel is right for me?

Most solar power systems use photovoltaic cells, typically made of crystalline silicon, to convert solar power into electricity. Newer thin-film cells can be used as roof tiles or even skylight glazing. There’s no “best” panel for a residence, Nelson says. Much like choosing a car, homeowners must decide which factors they value most—price versus performance and efficiency.

And don’t dwell too much on where the panels were manufactured, Nelson says.

“Chinese panels, American-made panels, American companies with [overseas] assembly facilities—be it in the Philippines or Mexico—basically are all puzzle pieces that the consultant and the customer have at their disposal to assemble the best possible project design for the customer and property,” he said.

How many panels do you need?

Three factors are used to determine the size of a solar panel system: the usable roof area (or ground mount area), the annual amount of electricity the home uses, and the homeowner’s budget. A good installer will work with homeowners to determine what works best in the allotted space and budget.

And solar doesn’t have to be all or nothing. “A homeowner may have enough roof area for a solar system that would offset 75% of their annual electricity costs,” Newman said, “but their budget may only allow for a system that can do 60%.”

If you’re not ready to commit, lease

The advent of leasing options has been a game changer in the solar power market.

“Because there’s no upfront cost, it makes solar really accessible for all income levels,” Olsen said. “Everyone can take advantage of solar, as long as they’re a homeowner.”

Olsen says that while conventional electricity through California’s Pacific Gas and Electric can run from 16.5 cents to 33 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending on usage (heavy users pay a higher rate), Sunrun charges California consumers 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, with a 2.9% annual increase. Customers can also opt for a flat rate of 19 cents per kilowatt-hour, over 20 years.

In addition, solar leases are transferable if you end up selling your home. The additional paperwork could intimidate some buyers, although Olsen says Sunrun has a service transfer team that works with your real estate team to finesse the transition.

Or you can buy the system

Owning is more of a long-term investment, but you’ll have more options in terms of choosing a system. It’s difficult to give a cost range for a solar system because of the different energy agencies, systems, and state regulations involved. A cost calculator—likethis one at Solar Estimate—can help determine what you’ll pay based on system size and what percentage of energy needs to be offset.

As an example, Olsen said the purchase price of an average solar system in California would run about $23,000. Plus, you can take advantage of the 30% federal solar investment tax credit through 2016, and any other local or state incentives. For more information, see dsireusa.org and energy.gov.

There has also been an explosion in the variety of credit options available for financing, Nelson said. Many programs offer zero out-of-pocket plans for the homeowner.

Think long-term

When plugging in numbers, Nelson warns potential buyers against focusing on a “payback period,” or how long it will take to recoup the cost of the investment. “That’s a very shortsighted approach, especially in the case of a long-term investment.”

Just think, the next time you enjoy a beautiful sunny day, you could be enjoying the knowledge that you’re saving money on power—and contributing to a healthier planet. With all that extra cash, maybe you can afford that Tesla—or at least a Leaf. Maybe.

Published by Deborah Huso on realtor.com.

Eco-Friendly Home Updates That Save You Green

Celebrate Earth Day with home improvements that benefit the environment (and your budget) year-round.

Eco-Friendly Home Updates That Save You Green

Each year, Americans save billions of dollars by employing energy-saving measures and investing in energy-efficient homes. Some upgrades — like Energy Star appliances, new hot water heaters, or geothermal pumps — can be pricey upfront, but there are plenty of small, inexpensive updates that will make a big difference in your budget over time. Here are some places to start.

Go low-flow

Thousands of gallons of water go down the drain every day. Toilet flushing and showering are the two biggest culprits. One solution is to upgrade your home’s plumbing fixtures so you use less water to accomplish the same task.

Low-flow fixtures, which are both inexpensive and easy to install, can reduce your home water consumption by as much as 50 percent, and save you up to $145 a year, according to Energy Star.

Insulate, insulate, insulate

Upgrading your home with energy-efficient insulation is one of the quickest energy payback projects you can undertake. If your house doesn’t have enough insulation (and many homes don’t, especially those built before 1980), bringing it up to current standards will not only make it more comfortable all year long, but you’ll save money — anywhere from 10 to 50 percent on your heating and cooling bills.

Consult the Department of Energy’s ZIP code specific recommendations for the right amount of insulation for your climate.

Use compact fluorescent light bulbs

Yes, fluorescent bulbs are more expensive that regular bulbs, but each bulb can save up to $40 over the lifetime of the bulb, and they last 10 times longer than conventional bulbs.

Install a programmable thermostat

Did you know that the average household spends about $2,000 annually on energy bills, and that close to half that figure can be attributed to heating and cooling?

Enter the programmable thermostat. When used properly (don’t be intimidated!), this little gadget, which you reset when you’re asleep or away from your home, can pay for itself in a matter of months. Annually, you’re looking at saving up to $150 or more.

Published by Vera Gibbons on Zillow Blog.

A Guide to Safe, Ethically Sourced Wood Flooring and Alternatives

It’s been a rough month for Lumber Liquidators: Reports of unsafe formaldehyde levels in its Chinese-made wood flooring have shaken home owners and builders alike.

Contemplating the challenge of ethically sourced wood flooring. Credit: Flickr user emilysnuffer

Contemplating the challenge of ethically sourced wood flooring. Credit: Flickr user emilysnuffer

Lumber Liquidators claims the dangers are overstated and the cancer-causing chemical is safely contained by lamination. Others remain skeptical, saying a layer of plastic might not be enough to hold back dangerous fumes and leaching.

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring chemical, so there’s a little of it almost everywhere. Flooring manufacturers use it as an adhesive in composite wood products like plywood—found in “all-wood” engineered flooring—and the particleboard or fiberboard at the core of laminate flooring. It’s also in countless unrelated materials like synthetic fabrics, some shampoos, and even certain cosmetics. It’s all over our homes. State, federal, and international standards seek to limit how much is used, but products made by the uninformed or unscrupulous can slip through the cracks.

All American-made composite flooring is certified safe by various accredited third-party inspectors certified by the International Accreditation Service and the California Air Resources Board, said Kip Howlett, president of the Hardwood Plywood & Veneer Association. And so is the majority of overseas-manufactured wood. But it’s also possible to get away from formaldehyde altogether—though the price of doing so can come in dollars and inconvenience. You can’t just drive down to the strip-mall hardware store and pick up a load of cheap flooring—going formaldehyde-free requires research. Good news: We’ve done some for you.

New hardwood

Toulouse wood flooring from USFloors

Toulouse wood flooring from USFloors

This is what most people think of as hardwood floors: freshly cut wood planks from recently felled timber. It’s beautiful, classic, rustic, or refined, depending on how it’s stained and treated. Some manufacturers, like Georgia-based USFloors, use advanced staining techniques to make their boards look and age like antique wood.

Is it safe? With no gluing needed, there’s zero-added formaldehyde.

Should I feel guilty using it? Maybe. Anyone who has ever walked through a lush forest into a bleak clear-cut site knows the ugly side of logging, and there are plenty of gory videos of rainforests coming down. But a lot depends on geography.

Common North American woods are generally harvested where loggers are bound by U.S. timber industry regulations. Some companies, like Florida-based Goodwin Company, are going an extra step, harvesting only lightning-damaged trees.

Around the world, however, environmentally irresponsible logging has made some of the really amazing old-world hardwood an ethical challenge. Many people in the industry will steer customers away from products logged overseas, especially from South America and China. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species closely monitors sales of some mahogany, rosewood, and other hardwoods that are now plantation-grown because of their scarcity in the wild. If questions about black-market shenanigans ever haunt your flooring purchases, check with the Forest Stewardship Council, which monitors proper forest management and chain of custody issues.

What’s it cost? True hardwood planks can be expensive, hence the popularity of cheap, easy, composite wood products. On the low end, Home Depot and other big-box shops have cherry, oak, and maple available from about $4.50 a square foot up to around $8. It’s important to check with the salesperson that the product you’re buying is solidly the same wood all the way through. Descriptions can be very tricky, with different stores having different names for the same product. On the higher end, all-wood flooring can run $20 a square foot or more, depending on how the boards are customized.

Reclaimed wood

Authentic distressed heart pine wood flooring from Mountain Lumber Co.

Authentic distressed heart pine wood flooring from Mountain Lumber Co.

Reclaimed wood is the opposite of freshly cut timber. These are disused, discarded, or long-forgotten boards and logs just waiting for someone to salvage, denail, and resaw them into flooring. Reclaimers take wood from old fences, 19th-century warehouses, and abandoned barns, leaving nothing to waste.

Goodwin Company, for example, is pulling stunning, 1,000-year-old cypress trees from riverbeds and creating gorgeous flooring. Virginia-based Mountain Lumber Co. uses its website to ask owners of old barns to sell it their wood. New Jersey–basedEcoTimber makes flooring from old orchard trees that no longer produce fruit.

Is it safe? Reclaimed wood can come as whole boards or as the beautiful top layer of engineered flooring. The driving ethos behind companies involved in reclaimed wood makes the use of nasty chemicals highly unlikely. Goodwin, Mountain Lumber, and EcoTimber use nonformaldehyde glues in their engineered flooring.

Should I feel guilty using it? Not at all! With the dirty work having been done long ago, ecology-minded buyers can enjoy this wood’s backstory with a clear conscience. And while some reclaimed-wood companies also dabble in new hardwood, they source domestically and sustainably.

“We don’t take anything out of a rainforest, so no monkeys are being killed on our watch,” said Mountain Lumber sales manager Debra Russell. The reclaimed wood community is so tight that Russell doesn’t even mind naming her worthy, ethical competitors: In addition to Goodwin, she likes Pioneer Millworks, Elmwood Reclaimed Timber, and Olde Wood Limited. “We all do things the right way,” she said.

What’s it cost? The knots and century-old nail holes in these boards make them one of a kind and labor-intensive to clean and prepare. But for many, the look is worth the cost: about $5 to $20 (or more) per square foot, depending on the grain, custom cuts, and finishes.

Engineered wood

Walnut veneer from Columbia Forest Products

Walnut veneer from Columbia Forest Products

This is where layers of less-than-beautiful wood—usually plywood—are topped with a layer of nice-looking wood. In an industry with many different names for the same product, some companies will call their pulp-core laminate flooring “engineered wood.” It is important to know the difference. One is all wood and the other is not.

Is it safe? It can be. There are two ways to make engineered flooring without adding formaldehyde, Howlett said. One is by using polyvinyl acetate, which is best known as wood glue, carpenter’s glue, or the Elmer’s glue you used in school. It first came about in 1912 and is pretty much ubiquitous.

The second is a bit more exotic: It’s based on how mussels attach themselves to sea rocks. Developed by Oregon State University scientist Kaichang Li, who observed that the mollusks emit a special protein that gives them an extremely strong yet flexible hold even in the roughest of tides, this formaldehyde-free adhesive, made from soy proteins, is used by Columbia Forest Products in its engineered-wood flooring. The EPA liked it so much that, in 2007, it gave Li and Columbia the Presidential Green Chemistry Award. Columbia sells its formaldehyde-free wood to Mohawk Flooring, which is sometimes carried by Lowe’s and Home Depot as a special order.

Should I feel guilty using it? It depends on two things: what’s on top and what’s underneath. If your floors are a layer of rare teak logged by forest poachers in a Burmese jungle over a layer of formaldehyde-soaked plywood, you might have, uh, ethical issues. The watchdog group Green Building Supply advises being alert to “greenwashing,” where a thin veneer (pun intended) of environmental sensitivity covers an otherwise ecologically unsound product.

What’s it cost? The range is generally from $2 to about $8 a square foot, depending on a lot of variables, including how much is being purchased. Some discount sites go much lower, and one-of-a-kind flooring from reclaimed or rare lumber can go for $11 a square foot and up.

Bamboo

Amber bamboo flooring from Plyboo

Amber bamboo flooring from Plyboo

Hard and flexible, bamboo is technically a grass but makes really great “hardwood” floors. Like mowing a lawn, cutting bamboo for harvest doesn’t kill the plant, which can regrow 65 feet in less than four years.

Is it safe? Generally, yes. San Francisco–based Smith & Fong is using the formaldehyde-free soy protein to create its bamboo-based product, Plyboo. Great formaldehyde-free bamboo flooring is also available from EcoTimber and USFloors.

Should I fee guilty using it? Absolutely not. Ecologically sound bamboo harvesting has become a sustainable industry in many areas, replacing destructive logging. Companies like Smith & Fong are dedicated not only to toxin-free products but also to humanitarian causes in Haiti and Sichuan, China, and exploring how bamboo can help those and other areas hard hit by natural disaster.

What does it cost? Bamboo floors generally range from about $2 to $8 a square foot. Lower prices are out there, but the product may not be up to snuff. Young bamboo tends to be less durable than older plants.

Cork

A cork floor from Globus Cork

A cork floor from Globus Cork

Best known as a wine stopper, cork is another interesting wood-flooring option. Cork tiles are formaldehyde-free, highly resilient, easy to clean, reduce room noise, and even deter termites.

Quebec-based DuroDesign offers 54 colors and six patterns of cork flooring, all sustainably harvested and LEED-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. There are a lot of other cork-flooring companies out there, including USFloors, NYC-based Globus Cork, and many big-box stores.

Is it safe? Yes. Cork flooring is about as free of formaldehyde as anything can get.

Should I feel guilty about using it? No. Rather than cutting down cork trees, skilled craftsmen remove layers of bark, which grows back fairly quickly. Harvesters say the trees actually benefit from the process as it vastly increases their lifespan.

What’s it cost? Favored by in-the-know architects and designers, the cork flooring sells for about $6 to $7 a square foot.

Published by Mat Probasco on realtor.com.

Green Cleaning Products That Really Get the Job Done

It’s officially spring, which means it’s time to get cleaning. But with rising concern about the chemicals in conventional cleaning products, many people are turning to “green” alternatives. But where do you start?

Woman washes windows of house for spring cleaning. Credit: YinYang/iStock

Woman washes windows of house for spring cleaning. Credit: YinYang/iStock

Watch out for these ingredients on the label

First, look at the conventional cleaners in your closet. You might want to toss them if they have the wrong ingredients.

Lindsay Dellasega, franchisee owner of ECOMAIDS in Portland, OR, says to avoid common ingredients such as petroleum products, sodium lauryl sulfate, phosphates, ammonia, carcinogens, and chlorine if you’re looking to go green.

“Also, trust your nose. Many volatile chemicals ‘off gas’ and seem harsh to the nose or are masked with heavy perfumes,” Dellasega said. “This should be a warning!”

Johanna Congleton, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization, recommends avoiding asthmagens, which are substances that may cause asthma in otherwise healthy, nonasthmatic people. These include sodium hypochlorite, or bleach, and quaternary ammonium compounds, she said. Common forms of these compounds are alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, benzalkonium chloride, and didecyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride.

Also, Congleton says to avoid products with the chemical triclosan, which is a common disinfectant ingredient. Triclosan “has been linked to endocrine disruption and is toxic to the environment,” she said. The FDA, meanwhile, says triclosan “is not currently known to be hazardous to humans. But several scientific studies have come out since the last time FDA reviewed this ingredient that merit further review.” The federal agency is currently “engaged in an ongoing scientific and regulatory review of this ingredient.”

Don’t be fooled by packaging. A product can call itself “natural” and come in a green-and-brown recycled cardboard box but still be full of chemicals. Look for the USDA’s “Certified Organic” seal instead.

And remember—the advice to avoid things you can’t pronounce won’t necessarily protect you.

“Most people can pronounce ‘bleach’ and ‘ammonia,’ but these can cause respiratory irritation and are categorized as asthmagens,” says Congleton.

Air fresheners aren’t cleaners—and they’re not so fresh

Plug-in and canned air fresheners might smell nice, but there’s usually nothing green about them—and they’re not cleaning products, either.

“If it says ‘fragrance’ on the back, it’s a fragrance,” says Amanda Fig, owner of The Purple Fig, a green cleaning company based in Austin, TX. Look for dedicated cleaning products that use natural scented oils such as eucalyptus or peppermint, and avoid chemical substitutes.

“[Companies] engineer these products so your house smells clean for longer. But just because it smells like lemons doesn’t mean it’s lemons,” says Fig.

If you want to create a pleasant aroma in your house, Fig suggests getting your favorite scented oil, dabbing it on a couple of sheets of toilet paper and using a vacuum to suck them up. While you’re vacuuming, the scent will be dispersed.

Experts’ green product recommendations

According to Fig, Bio-Clean products are a solid choice. She says the company’s all-purpose cleaner is eco-friendly and suitable for most jobs. She even washes her cleaning rags in it after she uses its in-house cleaner. And if you’re looking to scrub away fat and oil stains on your stove, Fig says to check out the degreaser, which is made with soy and citric acid.

The Environmental Working Group also reviews and rates more than 2,000 popular household cleaning products, based on the safety of their ingredients and the information they disclose about their contents.

Here are some of the most highly rated products on its list, sorted by room:

Bathroom
GreenShield Organic Bathroom Cleaner
Seventh Generation Natural Tub and Tile Cleaner
Seventh Generation Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Kitchen
Nature Clean Automatic Dishwasher Pacs
Sun and Earth Liquid Dishwashing Extract, Concentrated
Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwasher Powder

Laundry room
Eco-Me’s Emma Laundry Soap
Sun and Earth 2x Concentrated Laundry Detergent
Planet Ultra Powdered Hypoallergenic Laundry Detergent

Floors and carpets
Simple Green Naturals Floor Care
Simple Green Naturals Carpet Care

All-purpose cleaners
Bon Ami Powder Cleanser
Bronner’s Sal Suds Liquid Cleaner
Ecover Cream Scrub
Attitude All Purpose Eco Cleaner

DIY cleaners can get the job done, too

You can also save money and be 100% sure that you know what’s in your cleaning products by making them at home. Fig suggests mixing one part white vinegar with two parts water—and add a scented oil, if you wish—for an all-purpose cleaner that’s light enough for use on most surfaces.

If your bathroom isn’t too gunked up, you can simply use baking soda to scrub the ceramic and tiles in your bathroom.

“For most people who don’t have a ton of buildup, it’s enough of an abrasive to scrub it off,” says Fig.

For wood polish, Dellasega recommends two parts olive oil mixed with one part lemon juice. Use “a small amount with a soft microfiber to wood furniture for a clean smell and shine,” she says.

And once you’re done shining the furniture, you can actually use that DIY polish to dress a salad. A nice mix of fresh, springtime greens seems like a nice reward for all that cleaning, wouldn’t you say?

Published by Craig Donofrio on realtor.com.