The Whole LIFE

The Whole LIFE details my attempts at living intentionally for excellence in WHOLE ways, including how I’ve learned to go against the grain to live more sustainably, what greener products work and which don’t, and how I’m working to protect my family from the toxic hazards of modern-day living.

Time Off For Good Health

Hey, guys, I hate to do this but I’ve needed to take some time off to take care of my health. I hope to be back soon!

Meanwhile, check out my articles on Squidoo! 

Can Hanukkah Candles Poison You?

A Hanukkah Menorah

Silver Menorah by Ladislav Faigl used under CC license Wikimedia Commons.

Petroleum paraffin wax candles, of which most Hanukkah and Christmas candles are made, contain a slew of chemicals not meant for human inhalation–especially not inhalation by small children or those of us with sensitive respiratory systems such as expectant mothers, the elderly, those with asthma and allergies, and pets.

Paraffin wax, aka petroleum paraffin, emit toluenebenzeneformaldehyde and soot. The first three chemicals are carcinogens, neurotoxins, and reproductive toxins while soot acts as a respiratory irritant and contains suspected carcinogens.

Furthermore, many candles, especially those made outside the United States though also including some made within the U.S., have metal core wicks made of pure lead or lead-containing alloys such as commercial-grade zinc (the same alloy recommended as a lead wick replacement by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission).

Each of these substances release into the air when such candles burn.

Luckily, plenty of safer Hanukkah and Christmas candle alternatives exist which reduce or eliminate these harmful air pollutants including vegetable wax, beeswax, and olive oil lamps.

 

To learn more about the harm of petroleum-based chemicals and to find vegetable wax (including soy) and beeswax Hanukkah candles and olive oil lamp menorah cups, visit my more in-depth Squidoo page:

Keep Your Family Safe This December With Healthier Hanukkah Candles

 

Remember: Science is now finding that many man-made chemicals we’ve used for years is harmful to our health. We can’t eliminate everything all at once and will live in fear if we try to do so. I suggest taking things with stride and replacing one thing as a time as we buy new things and replace the old. Make your next candle purchase your next step.

Sources:
Healthy Child Tip 62: Not All Candles Are Created Equal
Quick Tips: Enjoy Healthy Holidays

Energy Audit & Efficient-izing My Home: TO DOs

Visit Home Green Home's Website

Two weeks ago I invited Joe Page, Home Performance Specialist from Home Green Home, into my home to take a look around and tell me what I could do to make my home more energy-efficient. According to the company, our homes consume 60% of the energy that people consume and 20-40% of that energy is wasted; I wanted to fix these problems as soon as possible and especially before our first St. Louis winter in our new home. The energy audit took about an hour and a half and included a blower door test, thermal photography, visual and smoke inspections, and combustion safety analyses.

I knew my new home wasn’t efficient—it’s rarely comfortable in every room at the same time—but I laughed a little after the blower door test when Joe told me how much our house leaked air. An efficient home replaces about 25-30% of its air an hour, he said. Mine? 104%. Not the worst Joe had seen, but not good.

We couldn’t get into the attic (no entryway—I know; our new house is strange in other ways, too), but he showed me thermal images showing that there was, in fact, insulation in the slanted ceiling walls, though he couldn’t be for certain whether anyone installed insulation in the top of the roof.

Part of the air problem, he told me, lies with a lack of insulation between the lower portion of the gable roof and the inside of our home. We’d need to either attempt to create a block, seal it, and spray paper insulation around it—a challenging and probably messy but not impossible DIY task—or let a professional handle that one.

Things we could do ourselves:

  • Seal the leaks in our HVAC duct system (okay, technically he didn’t suggest this because I knew it needed doing  and so took care of this a week before he came by)
  • Install an insulation blanket around our gas water heater and add pipe insulation to the first five feet of hot and cold water lines (check!)
  • expanding foam sealant around a hose

    I sprayed expanding foam sealant in a large gap in the wood paneling around a hose in my utility room. After it dried I used my fingers to break off the pieces that stuck out. Not the prettiest job, I know, but it was quick...and it's in my utility room anyway.

    Caulk gaps in window and door trim and sills and spray and expanding foam sealant in larger gaps such as in the hole made in the wood paneling for our dryer (check!)

  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm on the second floor (check! we already had one on the first floor)
  • Have a qualified HVAC contractor install a return register on the second floor
  • Insulate around the outlets and switches on outside walls and the switch in our stairway (optional) (check! This is nitpicking, he said, but I did it anyway)

Other things I’m taking into account: the safety of the foam crack and gap sealant. The foam Joe recommended, Great Stuff, had danger warning all over it, and one thing I know about those warnings is that companies don’t want to put them on there unless they have too, and governmental regulatory agencies, affected by politics, tells a company when they must put a label in a product. If a warning says “use gloves” or “use in a well ventilated area,” take heed. I looked for a safer, more environmentally sound foam sealant and I found a foam at sears called Max Fill. It had fewer warnings, made with renewable resources and less petroleum, and claimed to be an eco-friendly air sealing foam. I don’t know if I’d call it eco-friendly, but I would call it a better option than my alternative. As the can prescribed, I wore gloves and safety glasses. (If you know of a better expanding foam sealant, please let me know in the comments.)

Up For Discussion

Does a safe, eco-friendly expanding foam sealant exist? How about joint compound? What other home improvement products have a safe, safer, or eco-friendly equivalent?

Do You Have a Fair Trade Sweet Tooth?

Just Sweets' Andrea Reubin and her Sweet Bun

Just Sweets' Andrea Reubin and her glamorous Sweet Bun

Wednesday night when I walked into the conference room for the most recent St. Louis Jewish Environmental Initiative general meeting a tantalizing surprise met me: a table full of decadent fair trade chocolate desserts!

The night’s guest, Andrea Reubin of Just Sweets dessertery based in St. Louis, visited to discuss her efforts to make tasty deserts more humanity friendly by using Fair Trade Certified ingredients in her desserts and by selling them online nationwide.

“My story is simple:  I love dessert but it has to be worth it!” Reubin said, explaining her philosophy of using only top-notch ingredients, as many local as possible, and, first and foremost, for all ingredients produced in developing countries to be Fair Trade Certified. Fair Trade Certified ingredients, she said, translate into living wages that provide food, shelter, clean water, good health, education and the building strong, successful families.

Each of Just Sweets’ desserts have a Fair Trade story, too, detailed on both the website and in a fashionable dessert lookbook. Each ingredient follows each story with each Fair Trade Certified and organic ingredient labeled.

The Just Sweets’s luxurious desserts I sampled and recommend:

Fair Trade USAWhat is Fair Trade?

Fair Trade USA in the independent, third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S. Their requirements for becoming Fair Trade Certified revolve around six principles:

  1. Fair price and credit
  2. Fair labor conditions
  3. Direct trade
  4. Democratic and transparent organizations
  5. Community development
  6. Environmental sustainability
I was happy to learn, about Fair Trade’s commitment to environmental sustainability. It makes sense to do so, of course, as pesticides sprayed in fields affect the workers perhaps more than they do the consumer.
Fair Trade USA says so, too, noting, “To improve producers’ living and working conditions, their environment must also be clean and healthy. Environmental standards are therefore integral to the Fair Trade criteria.”
Fair Trade Certified environmental standards include:
  • Protecting water resources and natural vegetation areas
  • Promoting agricultural diversification, erosion control, and no slash and burn
  • Restricting the use of pesticides and fertilizers
  • Banning use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
  • Requiring proper management of waste, water and energy
  • Fair Trade also promotes organic farming with training for producers and a higher price for organic products. Many producers invest their Fair Trade premium funds in organic certification, which has led to outstanding results: more than half (62%) of all Fair Trade products in the United States were also organic.
Additionally, the World Fair Trade Organization, the global representative body of members committed to 100% Fair Trade, uses a similar list of ten principles to help traders implement a Fair Trade business model.

Discussion Question

What Fair Trade items do you buy, and is it important to you?

Sources

Just Sweets : The Fair Trade Movement pdf

Fair Trade USA : Understanding Fair Trade pdf

World Fair Trade Organization

At the Heart of the Beans

Ok, I’m not going to lie to ya; I haven’t been thinking much about green living recently. I’ve been thinking baseball! Our hometown team, the St. Louis Cardinals, won game 6 of the 2011 World Series with a walk-off home run by David Freese.

Game 7’s about to start as I write this, and Daughtry is singing the national anthem in front of a line of Joplin South Little League players from Joplin, Missouri.

Joplin tornado damage

Photo licensed under Creative Commons by KOMUnews on Flickr

Do you know about Joplin? May 22 this year, an EF5 multiple-vortex tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, and destroyed half the town. We were all amazed as we watched video spans of the city–nothing but debris.

Many businesses and organizations reached out to help in whatever way they could, but one stands out to me in particular, a company already dear to my heart for their environmental work: Starbucks.

My husband and I own our own LIFE leadership business. I also, however, work for Starbucks. Our manager, along with other regional store managers, recently returned from a trip to Joplin. Today he shared stories with me about his experience.

Starbucks has been with the residents from day one, he said, first reaching out to Joplin Starbucks partners, then donating $25,000 into community rebuilding, and this week serving coffee 24/7 while Extreme Home Makeover builds 7 houses in 7 days for Joplin tornado victims. The region’s store managers were brought in to help, too, because the communities Starbucks stores call home are just as important to the company as profits. In fact, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz visited one of the St. Louis stores while the managers visited Joplin, my manager told us, and when Marcel, our Regional Manager, began apologizing for not meeting Schultz during the CEO’s visit, Schultz quickly cut him off saying, “You’re the one doing the real work.”

I do hold Starbucks dear. Outreach to Joplin isn’t what made me love the company, though. They’ve always taken steps to help communities flourish and to protect our environment.

Starbucks Shared Planet

Photo licensed under Creative Commons by makipapa on Flickr

Starbucks currently has two certified organic coffees, one certified Fair Trade, many more certified environmentally and ethically responsible by Conservation International; cocoa mixes are ethically sourced; full and part-time partners are given full medical, dental, and vision insurance; initiatives taken in nation-wide stores, such as the change from continually running spoon rinse dipper wells to partner-activated dipper wells, reduce water and waste; stores’ compact fluorescent and LED lighting and cups and sleeves made from less plastic reduce energy consumption and resources used (and Starbucks has a goal of making all paper and plastic cups 100% recyclable within a few years); in-store, high-pressure blasts clean pitchers rather than partners rinsing pitchers with the more-wasteful tap; spent coffee grounds go to local gardeners and farmers; and renewable energy purchases fuel 20% of the total electricity used in U.S. and Canada stores; among other initiatives. Starbucks even began making some stores LEED certified (the first at 1st and Pike in Seattle).

Learn more about Starbucks’ environmental and community objectives in the Global Responsibility Report, and then, if you haven’t visited a Starbucks recently, do it.

Greentaining: Sealing My Leaky Ducts

air duct sealed with metal tape

air duct sealed with metal tape

When our friend, Richard, an HVAC professional, installed a new air duct in our new house a few weeks back he suggested we seal the leaks in our duct system.

“Feel this,” he said, putting his hand over a joint in a duct and waiting for me to do the same. I did so and felt a rather strong current of air. “Feel that air? Your system would be a lot more efficient if you sealed these with tape. You can do it yourselves with duct tape—that is why they originally called it duct tape—though you’ll need to replace it at some point, or you can use a metal tape like I’ll use to seal this vent I’m installing.” (paraphrase)

Aside from efficiently using energy, which is always important to me, I wanted comfortable, evenly heated and cooled rooms, a high priority to my temperature-sensitive self.

Of course, it always takes two people telling me to do something before I buy in.

Today that second “person” was Energy Star.

According to EnergyStar.gov, “Sealing and insulating ducts can improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by 20 percent or more. Accessible ducts, such as those in attics, basements, crawlspaces, and garages, can be sealed using a specialized sealant called duct mastic available at home improvement stores (duct tape is not recommended).”

old duct tape from my air duct system

Old duct tape from my air duct. This is why not to use traditional duct tape.

The duct tape they’re referring to is the cloth-backed rubber adhesive duct tape of which we quickly think. Of course, I didn’t listen to that, either, and initially began sealing my ducts with duct tape until I found an old piece of duct tape, loosely hanging from a pipe, that illustrated why standard duct tape is a poor choice. (See my photo.) Ewe.

Duct Sealing: Do You Need To Do It, and How?

aluminum tape for sealing leaky ductsSo check out your air system (even you apartment dwellers). Turn on the air and put your hand in front of the metal joints. Do you feel air?

If you do, go to your local home improvement store, pick up some aluminum foil tape (Nashua Multi-Purpose Aluminum Foil Tape 322 HVAC, $6.58 at HomeDepot.com). You can use mastic tape or mastic sealant instead, if you wish. We’re literally going to tape over the leaks to prevent air from blowing out of the system where it shouldn’t.

Next, clean the joints on which we’ll apply the tape with soap and water.

Begin sealing the air leaks by taping all the duct joints you can access. Even if it doesn’t feel like air is escaping doesn’t mean it won’t in the future, so tape around the duct in every place you can reach where two pieces of duct join.

Tape all joints on the furnace including the corners.

Finally, seal vents and registers where they meet floors, walls, and ceilings.

That’s it! It may not be perfect (less easily accessible leaks may still exist) but you’ll already enjoy a more efficient air system and, likely, more comfortable rooms.

Easy peasy.

Discussion:

What do you think? Have you sealed leaky ducts either yourself or by an HVAC professional?

What other easy energy efficiency projects have you done?

Additional Resources:

US EPA Energy Star “Duct Sealing” Brochure (printable)

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