5 Ways to Go Greener this Summer

We live differently depending on the time of year, and since living a green life is all about being in tune with your surroundings and your climate, what better reason to check out some ways to green your life than a change of seasons. Summer typically means warmer weather and more time spent outdoors, which means many opportunities for reducing your energy bills and lessening your impact on the planet. Here are some ideas:


1) Turn down your water heater’s thermostat. This is a super-easy way to minimize your energy consumption. Turning your thermostat down from 140 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit can result in savings of as much as 26%. One thing to keep in mind, your dishwasher may not clean as well with the lower temperature, however, most modern dishwashers have a “booster heater” on them that will boost the water temperature to the ideal heat of 140+ degrees needed for dishwashing. When you buy a dishwasher, be sure to ask if it has this feature either automatically or with the push of a button. From my own personal experience, I’ve had to experiment with what environmentally friendly dishwashing detergents work best with my dishwasher and turning down the thermostat (even while using my booster heater) has definitely ixnayed certain brands.

2) Take shorter showers (or even cold showers!). Heating water for showers accounts for 2/3 of all water-heating costs. So cutting your showers in half will result in 33% reduction of your water heating costs. Taking cold showers would reduce your bill by a full 66%! I frequently take short cold showers during the hot summers in Los Angeles. Saves energy and cools me off big time! We also use a shower shut-off valve (pictured at right) to easily turn the water flow off and on (without dealing with the faucets themselves) which makes using less water a breeze.


3) Eat vegetarian meals more often. It takes approximately 10 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat. So if you eat vegetarian you are cutting the need for fertilizers, gas for transportation, use of water, etc. by huge amounts. Also, it is substantially less expensive to eat vegetarian never mind the incredible health benefits that have been documented eating vegetarian. We eat animal-free meals about 66% of the time. If you never eat vegetarian, try starting out small…one meal a week. If you already eat at least one meal a day that is vegetarian, try boosting it to two meals once a week. Remember that every little bit makes a difference!

4) Install a drip system for your landscaping. Not only will your plants be happier (drip systems get water to the roots of plants where they are needed most) you’ll save tons of water because using sprinklers wastes water through evaporation (most of the water evaporates from the surface before getting down to the roots of the plants where it is needed.) Last time I ran the numbers, my husband and I each used less than 25% of the water of the average Angeleno, and that’s with significant landscaping. And drip systems are very inexpensive and really easy for a DIY type to do themself. DripWorks estimates that a system can pay for itself in one season. I’d say our drip system cost about $200 or less to irrigate rougly 700 square feet and we installed it in one weekend. Also, since a drip system is largely above ground (once your foliage grows-in it will be more or less invisible) it is easy to repair and rearrange.

5) Use a laundry line. This lowers our gas bill by 75% and our electricity bill by about another 10% or so. It was one of the easiest project we ever did around the house (once we had all the materials it took about an hour to set everything up. Read my post about how to install your own custom laundry line. Also, your whites will never be whiter!!!!

So there you go…5 tips to green your life this summer. Try one or try them all, either way, you’ll make a difference!

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The Beauty of Signature Gifts

If you’ve read my blog you know that I’m all about finding ways to make life more authentic while at the same time easier on you and easier on the planet. My strategy towards gift-giving is no different. Which is why I have 3 “signature” gifts that get me through most of the year. What’s a signature gift you ask? To me, it’s a gift that you enjoy giving and that reflects part of who you are that can be re-used again and again. Of course, a good gift should also be appreciated by the recipient and be useful (in my mind, if it’s not useful, what’s the point?)

I personally love to cook, so my three signature gifts revolve around food. The really cool unexpected part of giving signature gifts is that once you get a reputation for giving them, people start looking forward to them. For instance, as soon as December 1st rolls around my friends start asking me when they’ll be receiving my signature Christmas cookies. For many of my friends, my cookies have become a part of their own holiday tradition and that is very satisfying. Plus, by giving something that I make I can ensure that I’m not harming the environment by giving it. Also, it takes a TON of stress out of gift-giving because I don’t have to think about buying 30-thoughtful-perfect gifts every holiday season.

So here are my 3 signature gifts that get me through most of the year:

1. Signature “new baby” gift: a four-pound turkey lasagna (or eggplant parmesan for my vegetarian friends), loaf of crusty bread and bottle of wine. I was once told that a home-cooked meal is the best gift for new parents because they have so little time to cook for themselves, and eating out every day isn’t always affordable. I chose lasagna because most people like Italian food and it keeps well so the parents can freeze half of it for later if they like.

2. Signature holiday gift: snowball cookies. My husband and I begin baking these on December 1st and ship them all over the country. We try and reuse tins and bottles that we’ve kept from the year for packaging, but we’ve also been known to use new Chinese take-out boxes for this. We print out custom stickers that we seal or label the boxes/bottles with.

3. Signature cocktail party or dinner party gift: Hawaiian red clay salt. My family is from Hawaii and my favorite salt comes from there. Whenever I’m visiting I buy a few bags of the salt and I repackage it in cute glass bottles with cork tops, which are repurposed saffron bottles, with a small card that says “friends are the salt of the earth” and one of my favorite recipes for using the salt.

My signature gifts really help take the stress out of gift-giving for me, and are always well-received. In figuring out what your own signature gifts should be I’d recommend thinking about giving something that you like to put together. For instance:

– music lover: make a mixed CD of great songs from the year
– knitter: make a scarf or potholder (I can always use either!)
– artist: create a signature card and print enough copies to give everyone a dozen or so
– are you handy: give everyone a coupon for one-hour of random “fix-it” around their house

Think about what your friends would appreciate that only you can give. If you don’t like to make things, another suggestion would be to find something unique to the region where you live. For instance, there is a local soap or candle-maker in just about every city. Support your local economy AND send your friends something they can’t get anywhere else.


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