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Greening Barbie’s Dream House

Architect Barbie is building a new Dream House, and she needs help! Members of the American Institute of Architects can submit plans that fit Barbie's criteria, which include a house that "should reflect the best sustainable design principles." But Barbie's idea of "sustainable design" needs a little tweaking. Girlfriend wants a huge closet for her "unlimited fashions and accessories" and a garage that accommodates at least three cars. And basically every room, she says, needs to be "large" or "spacious." Barbie should know that sustainable design or green materials can't make up for the impact building a new, gigantic house …

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Dim bulbs: Umbra on the supposed dangers of CFLs

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, My sister recently posted a story about CFLs causing cancer to her Facebook feed. Is there anything to this latest attempt to vilify the little lamps? Brian Spokane, Wash. Are these maybe not such a bright idea? More research is needed.Photo: Derek GaveyA. Dearest Brian, Those little lamps. They need defending again. I don't know what it is about compact fluorescent bulbs. The odd, gentle curve of the bulb? The way they, oh, save people energy and money? How they reduce pollution? Something about them brings out the haters. No haterade for …

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TV vs. Computer: The energy use showdown

Given a choice between spending an hour watching TV or surfing the Internet, which should you choose, assuming, of course, that your goal is not entertainment but consuming the least energy possible? This handy graphic provides the answer: It's surfing the Internet: At .09 kilowatt-hours per hour, your computer consumes the least energy of any of these four appliances. A better option, though, would be to turn the computer off and go outside to hang dry the laundry.

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Turn a month of trash into a month of treasure

A couple of Austrian design students have issued a challenge -- to themselves, but you can get in on it. They're posting an upcycling project every day for 30 days, and for every guest submission they post, they'll extend the project one day. Send in your upcycling ideas and help them rehabilitate a month -- or six months, or a year -- worth of trash. Some of our favorites: Coat hangers made of metal measuring tapes have an advantage over the regular kind: They can fold up to travel. A lot of bakeries and bread companies discard loaves that are a …

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A very, very, very fine house: Ask Umbra on communal living

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, How do I reduce my carbon footprint in a house full of people? Hannah HulsePort Orchard, Wash. A. Dearest Hannah, How best to keep it cool in a communal house?Photo: sheepwoolinsulation.ie You're on one of those reality shows where they all live together, aren't you? America's Next Big Brother of the Jersey Shore, I think it's called. I'm glad you wrote in -- now I have your autograph! Maybe I can barter it at the farmers market for some of their lovely goat's milk cheese. Communal living, filmed or not, is tricky …

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Bad in the sack: Ask Umbra on neighborhood recycling deviants

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, My neighbors do not recycle appropriately -- they throw in frozen food boxes, bag their recyclables in plastic bags and who knows what else! Does that mean that all my efforts are in vain? Elizabeth Raley submitted via Facebook What can you do about a neighbor who messes up the garbage?Photo: Jerry WongA. Dearest Elizabeth, I suggest hiding in the bushes and performing a citizen's arrest. Practice your air-handcuff moves, and once you spy the offending neighbors hauling yet another plastic bag full of junk mail out to the curb, leap out …

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Five ways to green your marijuana habit

Happy 4/20! Sorry to harsh your buzz, but indoor pot growing is a major bad trip for the environment. (All right, no more mixed drug metaphors. Maybe a couple.) Let’s be blunt (okay, one more): If marijuana ever becomes legal in the U.S., we'll have to start thinking about how to keep it from bogarting all our energy. (Done now.) Fortunately, cheeba lovers of the world are already way out ahead on this one: 1. California's Organicann has started dispensing its medical marijuana in biodegradable packaging.  2. Lighting hipsters know that CFLs are for squares, and were only ever intended to …

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How to build a prefab high-rise

Prefab houses are pretty awesome. Dense living is definitely awesome. And Sustainable Living Innovations is getting the prefab peanut butter in the density chocolate, designing modular high-rise buildings that unfold like cootie catchers. This video shows how it works. The result is a block of modern, open-plan apartments that is LEED Silver certified, and maybe a little ugly from the outside but no more than any other high-rise. It costs about the same to build as a conventional building, but takes as little as half as long to construct. This is perhaps not welcome news for Teamsters, but the idea …

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A warm welcome: Ask Umbra on green housewarming gifts

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, A friend has finally been able to buy a home in Florida, and I want to send a gift card.  I know she will have plenty of occasions to patronize the big chain hardware stores, but I am wondering whether there is a green alternative -- either a chain that might have a brick-and-mortar store nearby, or a versatile general-purpose online vendor of things that will help make her infrastructure more sustainable? Deborah RoherNew Bedford, Mass. A. Dearest Deborah, A considerate friend, you are. A less-thoughtful (and less eco-conscious) pal would poke …

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With a rain barrel, April showers can bring more than flowers

Barrel essentials.Photo: kierkierAs the old adage goes, April showers bring May flowers. But for those looking to green their homes, April showers also provide an easy way to reduce water bills and water waste. Rainwater harvesting is a simple and efficient way to capitalize on the naturally occurring precipitation in your area, and reduce dependency on irrigated or treated water. Provided you live in a region that receives above a certain amount of annual precipitation (the EPA recommends a minimum of 8 inches), rainwater harvesting can be a cost-effective means of greening your home. The most basic way to harvest …