editor's desk  |   links  |   green market  |   comment  |   earth maps   |   press  |   advertise  |   team  |   about  |   news room   |   greener advice

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Greener consumer alert

An Ill inois wind blows COLD

Hurricane season is indeed once again on our charts according to World Changing, but perhaps the greater threat to homeowners this year will be their insurance providers. This week Allstate announced to Florida policy holders that they intend to raise premiums by 28% to help offset the losses they incurred during last season's unprecedented destruction.

Florida officials, the insurance commission and Governor Bush, immediately challenged the proposal and promised to block the 'requested' increase - unfortunately those same officials had previously set a rule which allows insurance providers to collect the increased fee while it is under consideration by the commission. The theory is that if a provider asks for an increase from the commission it is entitled to collect that increase until the fee hike is approved. If not approved why then the company simply refunds the monies as a credit to policy holders and everyone is forgiven.

The timing is unfortunate as Allstate earlier this month issued a very sunny quarterly report showing a considerable profit taking from the most recent period which was well received, as may be expected, by its shareholders.
Homeowners in Florida should check with My Florida regarding their insurance 'right to' options and the Deconstruction Institute if they want to protect their homes and the environment.

Top of Page

2:00 PM

Friday, June 10, 2005

Begin your spring greening

Everyone faces the same issue when it comes to spring cleaning, where to begin. Should you start upstairs and work down or begin with the kitchen, bedrooms or baths, perhaps the garage or better yet- maybe the garden, after all that, at least, is outdoors and now with spring here and pleasant weather why not just throw open the windows, air out the house and spend an afternoon in the Sun. Sounds like a plan.

The EPA has determined that indoor air pollution is one of America's foremost health risks. On average we spend 80-90% of our time indoors with the windows shut, the air recirculated and filtered. Household cleaners emit large amounts of chemical residue that persists on surfaces and in the air within your home. These chemicals over time contribute significantly to indoor air pollution. So we thought we would re-examine the annual rite of spring cleaning by taking a look at the basic tools of the task and see if we couldn't green up the process and at the same time let in some fresh air.

To start your Spring Greening begin by sorting the cleaners you use by their function and set aside any that duplicate one another. For instance if you use a separate surface cleaner for kitchen counter tops and bathroom counters, eliminate one. They likely will have more or less the same ingredients. Continue this elimination process until you have just one cleaner for each type of surface area in the house. Floors for example where you may have several surfaces: carpet, tile wood etc. Other surfaces include walls, windows, appliances, bathroom fixtures, kitchen fixtures, furniture and laundry. If your home is like most households you are down now to just a handful of cans bottles and boxes. Put the set asides in a box and store them safely away from children and pets. We'll tell you how to safely recycle these later in this article.

You'll notice that the main ingredients in the remaining cleaners are water, inert propellants, and a combination of ammonias, alcohols, ethanols, alkalies, bleaches and acids along with a bewildering assortment of perfumes, colorings - oh, and a whole litany of product warnings, cautions and liability disclaimers. Eliminate the items that use spray propellants, most propellants are mildly to dangerously toxic and have an unfortunate chemical reaction when exposed to sunlight that breaks the compounds into gas components harmful to the atmosphere. Now you are left with two types of cleaners, liquid and dry. You may still have several versions of each however, for instance a liquid soap for dishes and a liquid laundry detergent, they may look and even smell similar but they're not interchangeable.

On the other hand you may find that other cleaners can be used for more than one purpose. For instance glass cleaner makes a perfectly suitable countertop cleaner and a little dry laundry detergent mixed with cold water to make a paste will clean tub and tile surfaces. With some experimentation you will be able to further reduce your collection of cleaning products. To help you get started we've included this list of natural cleaning materials their uses and some easy substitutes made from common non toxic ingredients that will green your home. You might want to save a copy for future reference.

For some more tips on improving air quality both indoors and out go to Earth 911. And, as promised, what to do with all those excess cleaning products. Do not dispose them down the drain or send them to a landfill, rather donate them to local charity organizations such as soup kitchens or church run shelters which will in turn be able to safely dispose of the materials through local government recycling programs. For more information go to the National Agricultural Safety Database.

If you are searching for 'green' cleaning products that are ready made rather than making your own we suggest a visit to

Top of Page

9:49 AM

Monday, June 06, 2005

Singing in the rain

Summer arrives with its busy season of new home construction and Greener Magazine presents the first in a summer long series of reports on green building practices and products for your new or seasoned home project. First we examine an alternative flooring material from an unusual source, the ancient bamboo forests of Hunan Province in China.

China has been using bamboo for centuries for everything from building materials to utensils but the sturdy plant has only recently found its way to the United States as a building product. Usually thought of as a decorative plant species for garden and interior scapes, bamboo has had limited value for builders; used primarily for fencing and surface materials like wall covering or cabinetry detail. That changed in the mid 90s when importers started to supply a unique bamboo substitute for traditional American hardwood floors.

Last summer Greener Magazine installed this new product from Teragren in our offices overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. We had just relocated to our new site and the floors were much in need of resurfacing. The original carpeting was beyond salvation. We wanted something that was upgrade and resilient to heavy traffic, our staff includes among others, 5 dogs, the occasional wet bathing suit mob and a crew of hungry, camera wielding paparazzi. We decided to try bamboo because of its claim of superior hardness, exceptional good looks, low maintenance and a stellar “Green” rating. What we had not counted on was the 2004 hurricane season and one terrifying afternoon when the storm came calling.

Bamboo flooring is made from mature 3 year old bamboo stalks which are harvested as a pruning function that allows new shoots to emerge and continue the growth cycle. Bamboo is not a wood at all, but rather a grass that grows to maturity in 3 years requiring virtually no fertilization or pesticide. Although bamboo grows in water it uses almost none and returns what it does use cleaner than when found; it is one of nature’s original water filters. Strong, dimensionally stable and naturally termite and bug resistant bamboo is most importantly infinitely renewable. Bamboo replaces the need to harvest old hardwood forests that can take 40 years or more to mature and makes possible the preservation of natural habitat thus protecting the environment.

The floors were installed just as any hardwood flooring the process requiring a good deal of correct measuring, cutting and sweat equity but the results were spectacular. Every vistor to our office can not help but exclaim their wonderment at the beautiful new floors. For more information on the manufacture and installation of bamboo flooring see BuildingGreen.com. There have been concerns raised regarding the finish treatment of this product using a compound of formaldehyde and the resultant out gassing that is inevitable after installation however new technology has nearly eliminated the problem. Today’s bamboo flooring is formaldehyde free and the finish coat is accomplished by a process called annealing which uses high pressure and a natural resin polymer top coat to fix the hard, gloss finish.

A final chapter to our home office product test was provided unexpectedly with a visit from one of 2004’s 4 hurricanes. During one frightening afternoon as clouds gathered ominously from the east we sat watching the track of Jeanne as she made her dash across Florida - straight at us.

As winds increased steadily from the north Jeanne turned slightly and the eye wall passed about 28 miles north of us and out over the Gulf – it rained for hours. Water drove horizontally at our buildings window wall slowly penetrating the sill framing and accumulating a thin layer of water across the entire floor as the wind topped 85 mph. The new bamboo floors were soaked. We mopped up the water and waited for the inevitable warp and ruin of the new floor.

The following morning the sun broke bright and clear revealing dry, straight, perfect bamboo floors; the water had dried away to nothing and we remembered the most important feature of bamboo, bamboo loves water and we love bamboo.

Top of Page

12:33 PM