Certified Organic Foods and Their Meaning

A recent Q&A article from a NYU professor answers some questions regarding Organic food and Nutrition.  Some of the most interesting tidbits from the article:

Certified 100% Organic means that all the ingredients in a product have been grown or raised according to the USDA’s organic standards, which are the rules for producing foods labeled organic.

Certified Organic requires that 95 to 99% of the ingredients follow the rules.

Made with organic ingredients means that at least 70% of the ingredients were organic.

USDA organic rules are about the letter of the law, not its spirit. Food marketers, however, take advantage of public perceptions that “organic” implies spirit – sustainability and better nutrition. Companies that follow the rules can legitimately market highly processed foods as organic, taking advantage of their health aura to command higher prices.

Q: Aren’t organics elitist? People can’t buy organic foods if they aren’t available at an affordable price.

A: I once heard Eric Schlosser answer a similar question aimed at his book, “Fast Food Nation.” He pointed out that social movements have to begin somewhere and that several began with elites but ended up helping the poor and disenfranchised – the civil rights, environmental and women’s movements, for example.

I would add the organic movement to this list. It has already forced mainstream food producers to start cutting down on pesticides and to raise farm animals more humanely. As the supply of organic foods increases, and the Wal-Marts of the world sell more of them, organics should become more democratic.

CSA or Community Supported Agriculture

CSA is becoming a more popular way for people to buy local, seasonal, sustainable food directly from a farmer. A farmer usually sells a box of vegetables or farm products to consumers on a weekly subscription basis. The consumer gets extremely fresh food that is usually organic and helps local farmers directly.

New rules for Organic Meat and Milk

New organic food rules have recently been announced by the US Agriculture Department (USDA) regarding organic meat and organic milk.  Organic Milk and Organic Meat must come from livestock grazing on pasture for at least 120 days a year, and that 30% of their feed must come from grazing pasture during the grazing season.  Producers must have a pasture management plan and Ranchers must have a plan to protect soil and water quality.

Previously the rules state that livestock needed to have  “access to pasture”, which could mean the door was open but they never went out.

New rules took affect in June 17, 2010.

Winter Green Pest Control Tips – Ants, Organic Pesticides

Green pest control with orange guard

Winter time brings on the bugs, seemingly at the same time every year. The ants in our area seem to love to visit our kitchen when the first heavy rains hit. Almost everyone has to deal with pests.  Whether indoor or outdoors, we need to think about eco friendly, green alternatives to toxic pesticides. Here are some Winter Pest Control Tips that we have found from trial and error.

Access control – Finding Where Ants are Coming From

We try to first watch where the ants are coming from, then plug the holes with caulk.  Unfortunately these pests came come through holes slightly larger than a pin size, so that strategy works up to a point. Also examine the perimeter of your house. Make sure all branches and plants are not touching your building.

Keeping food in sealed containers, the tables and counters free of any crumbs, and the kitchen immaculate also helps. Place sweet items like sugar, candy, syrup inside Ziploc plastic bags. If you have some problem prone areas, you may have to rearrange her kitchen during the peak insect infestation season.

Be sure to check plants for insects. They love the moisture in the soil. You may need to mix the soil with the insecticide to prevent ants growing in your plants. We have also found leaving the plant outside in the cold for a couple hours, drives the ants away.

Green Pesticides

We also use Orange Guard, which is d-Limonene (orange peel extract) based to keep ants away.  Spray and leave it on for a while to soak in and deter other ants from coming back. This spray helps remove the pheromone trails that ants leave.

Green Pesticide

Safer Ant & Crawling Insect Killer is another product we use. It contains diatomaceous earth (77.69%).  Diatomaceous earth consists of fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae. OMRI-listed and compliant for use in organic gardening.  We dust the cracks where ants may come out of with this stuff.  It also works on Cockroaches, Ants, Earwigs, Silverfish, Crickets, Millipedes & Centipedes. Avoid inhaling this stuff.

You can make your own ant traps by combining 1/4 cup sugar with 1 tablespoon of borax.  Sprinkle it in ant infested areas. Ants will take this mix back to the nest and slowly eradicate it. Be patient and do not move the trap around, as it takes several days for this to occur.

You can also sprinkle baking soda, talcum powder or food-grade diatomaceous earth (not swimming pool quality) in areas where ants are active, and also in any cracks, crevices, or wall openings. Vinegar or bleach can be sprayed on ant trails.

In 2015, we learned that corn meal was a good way to stop ants.  We sprinkled some around problem areas and it actually worked.

EcoPCO ACU contact insecticide is another eco-friendly insecticide. It is made from plant essential oils.

Niban, moisture-resistant, fine granular bait made of Boric acid, is a good product for ants and silverfish control.

Greenbug for Outdoors is a good cedar-based outdoor product to spray on your foundation.

Other Green Pest Control Tips For Ant Problems

This website has a good list of eco-friendly or green insecticides. Others have suggested using coffee grounds, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, laundry detergent, cornstarch, or Vaseline.

Eco-friendly or Green Bed Bug Treatment and Removal

organic mattress, organic bed

Bed bugs infestations have been popping up all over the country lately. Hotels, movie theaters, dorm rooms, have all been found to harbor bed bugs. Acquiring bedbugs from a hotel in bringing them home, is a worst-case scenario. Removing bed bugs is extremely difficult and there is controversy as to whether natural sprays are effective. Strong pesticides can pose health risks and researchers have found that bedbugs have evolved stronger biochemical defenses against common pesticides. Bed bugs can live up to a year without feeding! Bed bug bites are nothing to laugh about.

In May 2011, one person was so desperate to get rid of bedbugs, she applied pesticide to her chest and soaked her hair in the pesticide and placed a plastic bag over it, causing severe health problems leading to respiratory failure.

Here are some green bed bug treatments:

  • Encase your mattress and box spring in special barriers. Most of these also help with dust mite allergies
  • Sanitize your clothing and pajamas in the microwave. Only do this if there are no zippers or metal parts on your clothes
  • Buy or Rent a Portable Steam Cleaner and clean any fabric or surface in your room. Repeat this as necessary. 140 degrees Fahrenheit or higher is needed to kill them
  • Washer clothes in hot water after returning home from a hotel stay
  • Act fast and be extremely thorough, these bugs circulate quickly
  • Try a Climbup Insect interceptor

If all else fails, call a professional as fast as possible, to prevent infestation from spreading.

Verilux CleanWave Sanitizing Wand

Verilux CleanWave Sanitizing Wand is a new ‘eco-friendly’ wand that uses UV-C light to get rid of viruses, mold, dust mites, germs and bacteria. They also make a smaller travel version.

This wand works by disrupting DNA present in bacteria, viruses, allergens, etc. to cause the cells to collapse. It automatically shuts off to minimize unwanted exposure. A timer helps you use it in a consistent manner.

It is akin to cleaning without cleaners or chemicals as they put it, but the jury is out on how useful this device is.

If you want to try one, Costco carries it, so you can buy it and return it any time.

There you have our Pest Control Tips for the Winter. Feel free to chime in with solutions you have found worthwhile. We will probably have to try new things next year!

15 Water Saving Tips – Save Water and Money

California drought resistant native plants

Water is a very valuable commodity. Many states can no longer assume that they will get enough rain to cover their consumption needs. California and many other regions are having droughts that are lasting for several years. Mandatory cutbacks are in effect for 2015 and probably beyond.  Water bills are sky high. Time to save water and money. Here are some tips to help you conserve water.

In the Bathroom

  1. Replace older toilets with water saving dual flush toilets or stick a displacement bag in your old toilet. These will have a half flush for liquid waste and a full flush for solid waste. Fix or replace leaky toilets. Don’t flush trash away. A high efficiency toilet will save roughly 19 gallons of water per person per day. Check for leaky toilets.
  2. Install low flow water saving shower heads with aerators. Average 10 minute shower uses 40 gallons of water. A bath can use 30 to 50 gallons of water. Look for shower heads with aerators that use 2.5 gallons a minute or less rather than the usual 5 gallons per minute. They can cost $5 or less.
  3. Fix leaky shower heads.  Shower less and use more deodorant. Keep showers under 5 minutes. You can save up to $65 a year on water and water heating with low flow heads.
  4. Turning off the shower while you are washing your hair will save you almost 150 gallons a month.
  5. Collect and reuse water in the shower that comes out as the water warms up.
  6. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth or shaving.
  7. Turn off the water while soaping up or shampooing in the shower
  8. When rinsing a shaver or razor, plug the sink and fill it with water instead of letting the water run. You can save up to 300 gallons of water a month.

In the Kitchen

  1. Fill a bowl and then wash fruits and veggies
  2. Keep a jug of water in the fridge to keep cold water
  3. Collect and reuse water from unfinished glasses, pasta cooking, etc. Use it in the toilet or to water plants.
  4. Install a gray water system to reuse water.
  5. Replace water inefficient dishwashers, clothing washers with efficient ones when they break.
  6. Wash clothes in cold water. Do only full loads of laundry.
  7. Use your dishwasher instead of hand washing. Do only full loads. A modern dishwasher uses less water and can sense when dishes are clean. They can use as little as four gallons per cycle, while handwashing will easily use double or triple. No need to rinse dishes ahead of time.
  8. Whenever you drop ice cubes on the floor, toss them in a plant or outside instead of throwing them in the sink.

In the Garden

  1. Redo your garden with drought resistant plants and lots of mulching. Green lawns require a lot of care. Ditch the lawn or replace it with artificial turf. Lawns use 50-80% of  a household’s water. During hot weather, lawns need 1/2″ of water ever other day. Flowers use less water than grass.  Pathways use no water. Mulch prevents soil erosion, helps keep moisture in the soil, and keeps weeds away.
  2. Water your garden in early in morning (3AM) to lessen evaporation, but not at night or else lawn disease many occur. Water more deeply, not more often. Water every other day. Allow water to soak into soil by watering in intervals. (Instead of 10 minutes, do 5 minutes, wait 15 minutes, water another 5 minutes) check for leaks and broken sprinkler nozzles.  You can save 25 to 50 gallons of water easily every time you irrigate.
  3. Verify the aim of your sprinklers. Install a smart irrigation controller with rain shutoff sensors. You can save up to 15 gallons by preventing any runoff from occurring.
  4. Clean outside with a broom rather than a hose.
  5. Switching grass or other plants to hardscape such as paver stones will save you water and money forever on.
  6. Wash your car in a carwash, they recycle water.

While you are at it reduce water heater energy use and see if your local water district has water use Audits.

EBMUD Free Water Conservation Survey

Alameda County residents: East Bay Municipal Utility District has free water conservation surveys of homes with in their service area. Free showerheads and faucet aerators are offered if existing fixtures are not low-flow models. Such a deal!

Check with your local water utility to see if they have similar programs.

Water Generator – Pure Water from Air

dewpointe makes some interesting machines that makes water from atmospheric moisture in the Air. It uses purification to output some very clean water. At 70º and 60% humidity, the Dewpointe creates more than four gallons of pure water a day. Units start at $1595. Clean Water is becoming more rare and expensive all the time, so machines like this may become commonplace soon. It does not function well in low humidity regions.

  • 11 stage filtration process
  • Average cost of $.60 (USD) a gallon
  • Up to 8.4 gallons of water per day

Fresh drinking water is only going to get harder to find. Consider that only 1% of the world’s water is fresh and unfrozen. Most is underground in aquifers. Only 0.3% of world’s water is fresh surface water.

Lower Your Water Bill with a Grey Water System

water sprinkler

Grey Water home systems or gray water systems divert waste water from laundry machines, showers, sinks, etc through filtering systems and recycle water onto a home’s landscape irrigation system. Toilet water is not part of a graywater system. These systems are great way to save on water and reuse wastewater and reduce water consumption by 10 to 50%. Some systems require filters, others are more simple, utilizing gravity. Complex graywater systems can filter and disinfect graywater before it is used to flush toilets. They are expensive to have professionally installed, so some renegade sites have popped up with plans on how to roll your own cheaply.

On August 4, 2009, California changed its grey water standards, following Arizona, Texas, and other states. The new code lets you install basic, inexpensive systems yourself, with no permits needed for most. No expensive filters or pumps are needed.

  • Grey water cannot stagnate or pool up
  • It cannot make contact with animals or humans
  • Cannot touch fruits or vegetables, nor can it run into other people’s yard
  • The pipes need to be several inches underground or under mulch

Grey Water Resources:

Rainwater Harvesting Systems

rain water barrel

Rainwater harvesting or rainwater collection systems are simple ways of taking advantage of mother nature to reduce your water bill and become more green. Collect, store and dispense rainwater from your roof.

It looks like a possible drought year for the San Francisco Bay area again.  Thoughts turn to capturing any rain we get to reduce our need for water and commensurately our water bill.

You can get started with an easy barrel or bucket under areas where rain comes off the roof.  You could easily make a downspout feed into a barrel.  Every 100 square feet of roof can yield 55 to 60 gallons of water per inch of rainfall. Irrigate using a shutoff valve and a garden hose. Amazon even sells Rain Water Harvesting Barrels.

Rainwater capture – Costco Eco Round Wooden Rain Barrel

Home Depot is keeping up with the green wave. They have a 57-Gallon Wooden Rainwater Barrel for $149 shipped Free. A lot more expensive than using a trash can but certainly a lot more elegant.

It has a connector that attaches to your rain gutter’s downspout. A heavy duty bladder inside actually holds the water. It even uses FSC Certified Canadian Spruce wood. A solid brass tab lets you access the water

Rain Garden

Store harvested rainwater in the soil by diverting roof downspouts towards shallow basins full of water tolerant plants.

More complex rainwater harvesting can be done using a living roof full of plants or a street curb side planter.

HarvestH20.com is a site with lots of tips on capturing rainwater.  Several interesting videos too.

ARCSA – American rainwater catchment system association has a link page with many useful resources and examples of what others have done.

Fixing a Leaky Toilet

How do you know if your home has a water leak? The most common method is by getting a HUGE bill.  Having encountered that, here are some tips for finding water leaks.

This page has some good tips on finding your water meter, turning off water, and checking toilets for leaks.  They key thing is to find your water meter so you can see whether water is being used, and how much has been used.

First turn off all water and see if the meter shows any use.

Check for sprinkler system leaks. To isolate leaks I turned off my sprinkler system’s water and then made sure no water was being used in the house.  If use is being shown on the meter, you have a leak in the house. After an hour, I turned on the sprinkler systems water valved and checked the meter to see if it moved at all.

To isolate a sprinkler leak, simply turn off values on zones until you find the culprit.

Days when the sprinkler is on cause our water usage to jump almost 10x, so optimize your sprinkler’s water use and coverage. Fix leaks as they are costing you money and not helping your garden.

Check under all your sinks for leaks. Look for dripping showers or faucets. Fix them

Finding a Toilet Leak

To isolate a toilet leak, put several drops of food coloring in the storage tank, wait 20 minutes and see if any color leaks out into the toilet bowl.  Replace the $5 flapper valve if a leak is found.  The flapper valve should be replaced every 3-5 years.  People have lost hundreds of dollars due to old flapper valves.

Who knows, you might have a small leak that is costing you some money.

Waterless Urinals

I encountered a waterless urinal the other day. This would be a great way to save water.

As they put it: “A Waterless fixture saves up to 45,000 gallons of water and more per year per urinal and supports our intent for sustainability of our natural resources. ”

They have several versions for the home. Urine flows through their $5.50 EcoTrap drain insert down to a drain. They have a liquid barrier to prevent sewer vapors from escaping. It does need to be changed every 1500 uses. They claim it costs $1 per 1000 uses vs $2-$6 for a conventional urinal.

Kohler sells one for under $400.

McDonald’s in France has some of these waterless urinals installed. They said it would save 150,000 Liters of water a year.

Drain Water Heat Recovery Systems

Drain Water Heat Recovery Systems heat up water by using heat from your waste water. Not many people know about these interesting systems. They are usually hooked up to sinks, showers, dishwashers, and clothes washers.

Systems cost only $300 to $500 with paybacks ranging from 2 1/2 to 7 years depending on the particular situation. Some states offer rebate, making pay back even faster.

wetwipes of Thailand
Creative Commons License photo credit: ~~~Weltenbummler~~~

Flushable Wipe Pipe Clogging Problems

Are wipes flushable? When are wipes not flushable, when they are flushable wipes.  Flushable wipes are clogging sewage systems, causing sewage overflows and clogging.  They are designed to break down but do not.  Kleenex has the same problem.

Kimberly-Clark, maker of Cottonelle and Scott flushable wipes, has done extensive testing to make sure the wipes won’t clog a properly functioning sewer system, but like other manufacturers, Kimberly-Clark advises customers to flush only one or two wipes at a time.

Kimberly Clark’s Dickson said it’s possible that people are putting too much down in a single flush or that the wipes are getting caught up with other materials, such as baby wipes that aren’t designed to break down. Still, he would not advise ignoring Raleigh’s plea. People need to follow guidelines and perhaps other items are also causing problems in the sewer line. They go on to say that bagging wipes and tossing them out as trash is better.

So toss rather than flush those wipes.  It is better if you do not use them in the first place.  Perhaps wetting some layered toilet paper can achieve the same results.


Water is a precious commodity that needs to be conserved and not taken for granted. With a little bit of time, all of us can change our habits to save money and water.

Artificial Grass – Artificial Turf Synthetic Grass – Save Water and Money

artificial grass, artificial lawn
Many of us spend a lot of water, mowing, and hence money, keeping their grass green.   We decided to see if moving to artificial grass would be a cheaper proposition.  Some of the newer ones look pretty good.

Costco even sells artificial turf.  15′ x 25′ costs $1399.  Not exactly cheap but a lot cheaper than before. It comes with upto an 8 year warranty and is pet friendly. Many are made of recycled tires or water bottles. No more weeding, watering, or mowing. Costco surprisingly has a link to a MSDS sheet that shows it is Heavy Metal free (lead free) and is primarily made of polypropylene.

Dupont has added Forever lawn that has a 12-15 year lifetime, 8yr warranty.

There has been some controversy with regards to hazardous substances in some faux grass, primarily lead in older astroturf.  It does help people with pets tearing up grass or grass allergies.

Morningstarturf has analysis showing that synthetic grass pays for itself in 4 years.  Of course the analysis assumes you are installing new real grass. Without installing new real grass, the cost savings is faster.

We decided to stick with our lawn for now, but will be moving to something more native and water thrifty soon.

Our Water savings tips also help you reduce your water bill.

Alternately, we decided to just put paver stones over parts of our lawn. This eliminates the need to water the area and to pay a lot of money for artificial grass.

Green Permeable Paver Stones

Creative Commons License photo credit: justinbaeder
We have some broken concrete areas that need to be repaired, so we are investigating replacing them with paver stones.  Pavers are versatile because they can be individually replaced or removed and re-leveled should the need arise.  The problem with ‘normal’ ones is that water can pool or water requires special water drainage. Water cannot soak into the ground, it runs off into storm drains.

‘Green’ or permeable paver stones eliminate standing water, allow natural drainage, and allow recharging of groundwater.  Restore the natural water cycle and reduce your properties footprint. They can also be used to divert water to rain water capture systems.

Specially designed pavers can be installed that are include gaps in the center of or between pavers. These gaps are filled with gravel, grass, or vegetation and allow for water infiltration. Maximum openings of less than 1/2″ are required for ADA regulations so this cannot be done in public areas.

Unfortunately these special green paver stones cost more than normal ones but your water management costs would be lower.  Paver stones are usually made of concrete, material that is not the most eco friendly as it takes a lot of energy to make concrete.

A lower-cost option is to leave large gaps between concrete or stone pavers. Alternately use steppingstones or pea gravel. Decomposed granite can also be used.

Eco Friendly Green Dog Waste Disposal – Natural Pet Food

dog waste bag, dog poop

Dog waste is a public health issue. Keeping parks and streets clean is an important problem that needs to be addressed daily. Our dog needs to use these bags one to two times each day.  Over the lifetime of the average dog, we will uses 5,000 of these.  Multiply that by the number of dogs in the US and you have a ton of dog waste.

Dog Waste Bags

Saw man’s best friend doing his business the other day, and the owner responsibly picking up the waste with a reused plastic bag.  Petroleum based plastic bags take forever to decay.  Biodegrabable dog waste bags made of starch are available that degrade in only 90 days to 18 months. If these bags reach the landfill, they will take even longer decompose. Landfills are designed to protect the environment and prevent leakage, so it is hard for air and liquids to circulate, which help facilitate biodegradation. When organic matter decays in a landfill, it usually creates the greenhouse gas methane. Make sure dog droppings are not put into the compost bin.

Flushing Dog Waste

A greener alternative would be to flush only the dog waste (no bag)  into the sewer system or to use an inground dog waste digester like the Doggie Dooley or Staywell Eco Clean. Do not do this with cat poop as it contains toxins that affect marine life. You need to consult with your local municipal waste provider to ensure you follow their guidelines.

You could also make a worm farm or do composting or buy or make a dog toilet aka doggy loo.  These are not for mainstream America alas.

Natural Dog Food – Natural Cat Food

Halo Spot's Stew natural cat food

We saw and ad for a Healthy Pet Kit with Halo all-natural meals and snacks for dogs and cats. Halo’s tag line is “You are what you eat” is true for animals as well as for us. Read the ingredients. Can you identify them? Are there inferior by-products, “meals” or chemicals?” Many mass produced pet foods are made with items humans would not want to eat. The FDA has some regulations for pet food.

organix natural dog food, organic dog food

Organix dog food with organic ingredients. Note the name is bordering on misleading as there is no definition for organic dog food. It is great that this food has never been recalled and uses no chicken meal or other rendered meats, but will it make your pet healthier? Halo gets a plug from Ellen DeGeneres for helping her cat. Even Amazon sells the stuff and has some positive reviews. Newman’s even makes organic pet food.

There are books like Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food covering the ‘shocking facts’ like the one from Ann Martin. Recommendations for the best pet food is balanced food that is home made. A pain to make but you probably guessed the answer. All Recipes has a section full of pet food recipes.

The bottom line is affected by reality.  Our dog is a picky eater, so she may not even want to eat the natural dog food.  We try to purchase a small bag and test it out on her before we commit.

Pet Obesity

Unfortunately pets are mirroring their owners obesity epidemic. Obese pets are 30% above their normal weight, making 1/5 of dogs and cats fit this description. It is important to not overfeed pets, to exercise them regularly, so that you prevent common diseases including diabetes, arthritis, kidney failure, and cancer.

Eco Friendly Cat Litter


Some cat litters contain bentonite, a strip mined material that is hard on the Earth. Instead look for litter that uses sawdust or corncobs. Slowly transition from your present litter to the new one by mixing more in slowly. They might be as effective, but you are not killing the planet for your cat.

Be sure to use all natural kitty litter that has no fragrances and no silica that can cause health problems.

More Green Pet Tips

To get rid of those pet odors on your carpet, sprinkle baking soda and vacuum.

Pet Flea Collar Dangers

tima with no ears
Creative Commons License photo credit: me and the sysop

Natural Resources Defense Council analysis reveals that some pet flea collars can create toxic chemical residues on pet fur that threaten human health.

“In new scientific analysis also released today, NRDC found high levels of propoxur and tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP), another carcinogenic neurotoxin common in household pet products, on pet fur after use of ordinary flea collars. NRDC is also petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), calling for the removal of these chemicals from pet products.”

Their Green Paws website has guides on what to avoid.

Winter Season Home Preparation Tips

winter, snow on the road

Winter is the time of the year to help protect the value of your home and save energy by making several adjustments.  Now is not the time to remodel or repaint your home, but a time to fine tune the operation of your home. You’re basically dialing in any changes you may for Fall, and should move major fixes to springtime.

In October/November when the daylight savings time change occurs, it is time to work on your Smoke Detectors – Carbon Monoxide Alarms.

Carbon Monoxide Detector – Smoke Alarms

Carbon monoxide detectors are required to be installed within California single-family homes by July 1, 2011. 35 states have similar laws.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a odorless and invisible but can poison you quickly. Homes needed to be guarded against this deadly gas. CO can leak from fuel burning appliances, wood stoves, cars, fireplaces, leaking chimneys, heaters, etc. Carbon monoxide poisoning is more common during the winter season, when heaters are in use. Carbon Monoxide detectors must be installed outside every bedroom, on every level, and in basements.

Carbon Monoxide alarms should not be placed in garages, kitchens, too close to fuel-burning appliances, or very humid rooms.

Carbon Monoxide detectors have gotten more advanced. New models like this Kidde unit have a digital display showing level of carbon monoxide the unit is sensing. Peak level memory displays the highest CO concentration measured since the last reset. This information is useful to rescue personnel treating victims. Advanced Carbon Monoxide detectors may have end-of-life warning alerts, digital displays, special lights for the hearing-impaired, or maybe interconnected throughout the whole house.

Smoke Alarms should have a combination of both ionization and photoelectric sensors. Ionization alarms alone are too easily triggered with steam from showers for smoke from a stove. These combo units do not cost much more. Nearly 3,000 people die in home fires. A working smoke alarm can help lower this number.

Smoke Detector Battery change schedule

Be sure to change the battery whenever daylight savings time rolls around. Use a fresh set of batteries when you change them out. There have been far too many fires where batteries in smoke detectors were dead. This is unnecessary and results in a tragic ending. Almost 20% of American homes have at least 1 smoke alarm that does not work.

We like the new 10 year life Smoke alarms with built in Lithium batteries.  No need to change batteries or wake to chirping sounds.

Savings on Heating Bill

The number one concern during winter is usually your heating bill. With temperatures plunging, we need to do everything we can to maintain their comfort and lower your bills.

Winter Home Safety

Home Safety is another concern for the winter season. With heaters running, trees all lit up, and lots of indoor time, it is important we check on your safety equipment.

  • Make sure you have flashlights, the generator if necessary, battery-powered radio ready
  • Change the battery in your smoke detector
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector
  • Check or buy fire extinguishers
  • Insulate any external pipes to protect against freezing
  • Verify your supply of emergency necessities including food, water, batteries, flashlights
  • Update any insurance or flood coverage

Weather is capable of testing our homes in many different ways. Winter is the time to recheck your house for problems.

  • Check your sump pump
  • Install storm windows or doors
  • Check and clean gutters again
  • Check and clean chimney if necessary
  • Check your roof and patch or replace any damaged areas
  • Check your foundation and ensure that drainage is working

Pests also do not like the cold of winter. Finding eco-friendly green ways to eliminate pests is challenging, but can be done.

With a few hours of effort, you can help improve the comfort and safety of your home, while saving money and going green.

Chicken Safety, Turkey Safety – Salmonella, Campylobacter bacteria

zuni cafe roast chicken

Chicken in California from Foster Farms is getting people sick right now. (Oct 2013) They are not even recalling it! Foster Farms claims their factory has made changes so that it can restart them  They later got closed down in 2014 for cockroaches.

Ground turkey from Cargill was being recalled. (August 2011) The meat maybe contaminated with salmonella bacteria. A reminder that we need to thoroughly cook meat products to kill any bacteria. These outbreaks of contamination revive the debate over whether too many antibiotics are used in livestock. Antibiotic resistant bacteria can be promoted. The FDA is investigating the area.

Consumerreports.org has investigated Chicken Safety by purchasing fresh, whole broilers at various stores and analyzing them.  They found 2/3 contained Salmonella and/or Campylobacter bacteria.  This is an improvement from their last test 3 years ago.

Buying organic helps but they found 57% of the organic birds had campylobacter.  Perdue chickens were better than other name brands.  Bell & Evans did well but sample size was small. Most contaminated were Tyson and Foster Farms. Buying cleaner chickens only increases odds that failing to prepare chickens won’t make you sick.

The scary part is that almost 2/3’s of the bacteria was resistant to one or more antibiotics.

Chicken labeling:

Free range – Chicken had access to outdoors. Door may have left open briefly each day.

Natural – Chicken minimally processed. No artificial ingredients, preservatives, or added color.

No Hormones – Meaningless as USDA prohibits it.

No Antibiotics – Unverified unless chicken is certified USDA organic

USDA Organic – Certified antibiotic free, 100% organic feed, and free range.

Recommendations they suggest include:

1) It is clearly important to cook chicken to at least a 165° F level of doneness to eliminate the bacteria.

2) You also need to prevent raw chicken or its juices from touching any other food to eliminate the risk of contamination. Clean anything it touches thoroughly. Do not use these items with the cooked meat.

3) Buy chicken that is wrapped, is chilled the most, and get it right before checkout.

4) Do NOT wash chicken, it does not clean it and this causes bacteria to fly all over the place

5) Cook the chicken within a couple days or freeze it.

6) Thaw frozen chicken in a refrigerator inside its packaging and on a plate. A microwave can also be used for thawing. Do not thaw it on the counter as bacteria could grow.

7) Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours of cooking.

Mary’s Chickens Organic Farm

Mary’s Chickens, based in Fresno County, CA, is a popular brand in western specialty markets. They specialize in free range chickens, turkeys and ducks. Other good reasons to buy their products:

  • Birds have spacious yards to roam in
  • No antibiotics
  • Their barns are cleaner and warmer than most
  • All the birds are under one roof
  • They grow heritage turkeys
  • Birds rendered unconscious before slaughtered
  • Feed is not genetically modified

While in the end, the bird is killed, it lives a better life than on other farms. They also live healthier life without chemicals.

The Quest for Safe chicken – 100% Natural Chicken

USDA organic chicken

We all want to eat healthy food, but we recently read about several issues with chicken. When is 100% Natural not 100% Natural? More and more of the time unfortunately.

US Department of agriculture (USDA) defines the term “natural” as a product that contains no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed. The definition applies to beef and chicken.

“Natural” Packaged chicken can be injected with up to 15% salt water and seaweed extract (carrageenan) per the US Department of Agriculture. The tiny fine print on some chicken packages reads “With up to 15% natural* chicken broth”

Allegedly, Wal-Mart in 2003 told US chicken processors to standardize packaged weight of fresh chicken, so this scheme was employed.

So not only are we paying extra for salt water, we are getting saltier chicken.

This article offers some helpful suggestions on what to look for when buying chicken. 100% Organic, Pasture raised is the best.

Chemicals in chicken

Chemicals given to chickens have also have problems. In July 2011, Pfizer stopped selling 3-Nitro that was used in some chicken feed. FDA found a very low level of inorganic carcinogenic arsenic in the livers of chickens treated with the drug.

Tyson settles consumer class-action suit over Chicken Labeling

Chicken is in the news again. Tyson settles consumer class-action suit over Chicken Labeling. The case started in January 2008 when competitors Perdue Farms and Sanderson Farms sued them alleging that Tyson’s “raised-without-antibiotics” labeling constituted false advertising. Tyson used a chicken feed additive called ionophore that the USDA considers an antibiotic, but had not been proven harmful.

6 months later, Tyson withdrew the antibiotic wording from its chicken. The USDA approved the longer, qualified phrase for use in marketing materials at the end of 2007, so Tyson’s competitors sued one month later.

Competition helps keep industries honest and in this case helped expose more food – antibiotic connections that are hidden behind marketing.

Egg Recall – Egg Farm Practices and Organic Eggs

Bottega Yountville green eggs and ham

The recent recall of half a billion eggs from 2 large farms in Iowa is shining a spotlight on our food chain. Are factory farming practices of increasing profits by squeezing hens in close quarters causing these problems? Having just a handful of food producers due to industry consolidation add to the problem. California has new regulations taking in effect in 2015 requiring cage-free treatment of hens. It also bans all eggs coming from outside the state that fail to comply with this battery-cage rule.

Confusing Egg Terminology

Cage-free – Most cage-free hens live in very large flocks that can consist of many thousands of hens who never go outside. However, unlike battery hens, cage-free hens are able to walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests.

Organic – As certified by the USDA, this label requires some outdoor exposure.

Pasture-raised – This and other classifications indicate outside forage on vegetation and insects.

Certified humane – Endorsed by the Humane Society, this does not require access to the outdoors but has standards for air quality and lighting.

Organic Eggs

Organic Eggs have better flavor and the chickens laying them have been feed organic feed. Eating them is a good way to help minimize risk of exposure to antibiotics, or synthetic hormones and pesticides while obtaining a healthy dose of nutrients. We could not find studies that validate these suggestions though.

Egg Cooking Tips

Eggs need to be fully cooked properly to prevent food poisoning and salmonella contamination. Bacteria can exist inside an uncracked, uncooked whole egg. Avoid eating raw cookie dough with egg or making ice cream with egg or Caesar salad dressing with raw eggs. Cook eggs until the egg yolk and the egg white are firm. Cook egg custard used in eggnog, homemade ice cream, and quiches to at least 160 degrees for 15 seconds. Bake egg meringues at 350 degrees for at least 15 minutes on the lower rack of your oven. See FDA website for additional safety information.

Raw shell eggs that have not been treated to destroy Salmonella need to be refrigerated at 45°F or below.

Always wash hands with hot soapy water before and after coming in contact with eggs or foods containing eggs.

Be sure to read our Healthy Food Options to avoid Chemicals

Green Summer Preparation Tips and Season Home Preparation Tips

swimming pool, inground swimming pool, Polaris pool sweep

Summer is rapidly approaching, it is time to clean up your place. EWG Has a nice list of tips to help you clean your house the green more eco-friendly way.

  • When traveling on vacation, try to carpool, take public transportation, or walk as much as possible
  • Check the exterior of your home and repair any cracked or flaking paint
  • Check and clean gutters again
  • It is time to work on your garden, sprinkler system, and rejuvenate your lawn
  • Check and clean chimney if necessary
  • Check your water heater for leaks and sediment, turn down its temperature if possible
  • Look for termites, ants, and other pests
  • The heater will get a rest, so it’s time to check your air conditioner and its filters
  • Check your roof and patch or replace any damaged areas
  • Consider a solar electric system
  • If you live in a windy area, consider a wind turbine
  • If you your car needs replacement, consider purchasing a hybrid or all electric car

Some other useful tips include:

Clorox Green Works natural laundry detergent

Using cleaners that do not have any of these chemicals: 2-butoxyethanol, Alkylphenol ethoxylates, Dye, Ethanolamines, fragrance, pine or citrus oil, Quaternary ammonium compounds.

Learn how to check on the products and ingredients by reading MSDS documents.

Baking Soda, Arm & Hammer

Baking soda and water works well as a substitute for acidic toilet-bowl cleaner and oven cleaners.

These tips are also incorporated in their healthy home checklist.

Recycle old unused electronics and computers responsibly and perhaps get some money back.

Donate or give away unneeded items.

Levi’s WasteLess Jeans, Recycling Clothes and Recycling Patagonia Clothes

organic clothes

Most people do not realize that it takes a lot of water to dye fabrics used for T-shirts, jeans, and other clothing. A recent estimate stated that you could fill 3.7 billion Olympic sized swimming pools with all this water. Even worse, the left over water is often toxic and is dumped into water ways.

New technology is starting to appear which uses 90% less water and chemicals. Some new companies utilize carbon dioxide instead of water. Hopefully more clothing manufacturers will see the light and get more eco-friendly. Consider buying white colored clothes, instead of dyed clothing.

Patagonia Clothes

Patagonia has a Common Threads Garment recycling program where customers could return their worn out clothes. You can drop select Patagonia items off at their retail stores or send them to:

Patagonia Service Center
ATTN: Common Threads Recycling Program
8550 White Fir Street
Reno, NV 89523-8939

Recycling used clothing

Local Consignment stores take high quality clothes and furniture and help you sell them.
Worn out clothes given to places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army are resold if they are in good condition, otherwise they are sent to rag sorters who recycle textiles into pieces sold to 3rd world countries, cleaning cloths, or shredded fiber for other purposes.

In the San Francisco area, Non profit Campus California TG maintains clothing drop off bins all over the San Francisco Bay Area. 510-932-3829.

Other local organizations should have clothing recycle programs too.

Levi’s to Reduce Toxic Chemical Use

Levi’s has committed to stop releasing any hazardous chemicals in manufacturing by January 1st, 2020. They will also disclose all toxic chemical releases from their factories to nearby communities where there is water pollution.

They are working with Greenpeace and their suppliers to take care of this initiative and increasing sustainability. Other companies who have also joined this pledge include: Nike, Adidas, and Marks & Spencer.

Cleaning up the apparel supply chain will force changes in many countries including Poland, Vietnam, Turkey, and South Africa. Previously, Greenpeace had found that Levi’s suppliers in Mexico had the worst water pollution there.

Levi’s WasteLess Jeans

female eco conscious shopper wearing jeans

In 2012, Levi’s introduced their new WasteLess Jeans line. These are made with at least 20% recycled plastics. Plastic bottles are recycled and then chopped into polyester flakes that can be spun into yarn and woven into cotton on hi-speed machines.

With the largest makers of jeans, pushing this concept, more and more companies will be adopting this. As it turns out, 49% of the water used on a pair of jeans during its useful life, happens at the very beginning with farmers. An additional 45% of water is used by consumers to wash their jeans. A typical pair lasts approximately 100 wash cycles. 60% of the energy used to make and care for jeans is attributed to the customer. Because of this fact, Levi’s is encouraging their customers to wash their jeans less and to use cold water during the washing cycle. Drying them on a clothes line will further reduce energy use.

Through the end of 2012, Levi should sell approximately 30 million pairs of WasteLess Jeans and other clothes, saving 360 million liters of water. The products are prices from $58 to $178.

Al Borland from Home Improvement and Bob Vila EdenPURE heaters

EdenPURE heaters

Al Borland (Richard Karn) from Home Improvement is advertsing the EdenPURE home heater. He is the new spokesman for the 2013 $372 EdenPURE Heater.

Prior to this, it was known as: Bob Vila money saving EdenPURE portable heaters are being advertised nationwide in newspapers and  supplements again, with the headline “Bob Vila ranks new 2011 EdenPURE portable heater #1 in North America”, “Bob Vila’s #1 money saver for 2009″ “U.S. designed and engineered GEN 4 uses new Sylvania heat source and EdenFLOW(TM) direct air technology.” We decided to investigate.

Anytime we see a call to order within 10 days to get a $75 discount and free shipping, we have to wonder. Suarez Corporation makes the product and has an A- Better Business Bureau record but 254 complaints.

Bob Vila EdenPURE heaters facts

The EdenPURE heaters are made is China not the USA.

It’s extremely overpriced, and the advertising is misleading and incomplete. The ad does not state the wattage or BTU rating.They apparently don’t want potential buyers to comparison shop based on the wattage rating and price.

“Reduced heating bills.” This claim is not qualified at all. Naturally you assume these savings are versus a comparable electric heat (1500W). Simple math and physics will point out that if one is generating heat from electricity, you can not get above 100% efficiency. This claim is VERY misleading!

This forum thread has lots of information about the Bob Vila EdenPURE portable heater from mostly unsatisfied customers.

Per a forum posting:

“No electric heater uses up room oxygen, as can propane, natural gas, or kerosene heaters that draw their combustion air from the room. No electric heaters generate carbon monoxide, as can propane, natural gas, or kerosene heaters that are not vented with a chimney to the outside.”

Consumerreports.org analyzed the EdenPURE portable heaters and said that their Heating Claims Don’t Add Up

Alternatives to the EdenPURE heaters

A top rated Honeywell HZ-517 natural convection heater only costs $77.  It has a tip over sensor, temperature display, and hot surface alert unlike other heaters.

This product has similar issues to the Amish Heaters – Free Heat Surge Miracle Convecta-red Fireplace