Do you spray toxic chemicals around baseboards, leave poisoned bait in dark corners, bug-bomb your home and office, or douse yourself (and your kids) with DEET to keep pests at bay? Using pesticides might rid your surroundings of pests, but what are you doing to your health in the process? ~ Julia Wasson, Publisher
Studies indicate that a lot of the pesticides that were used even a decade ago can present short-term and long-term poisoning symptoms in both people and animals. Some of the safest pest control products can be made at home in your own kitchen, while at other times you’ll need to use a company that specializes in organic non-toxic pest control solutions. Here are some ideas for approaching pest control in healthier ways.
Prevention is Part of the Cure
There are a lot of things you can do to prevent a pest infestation from occurring or to keep one from becoming worse. By making sure that there are no food particles around for either insects or rodents to eat, you’ll have a running start at prevention.
Take the trash out every night, and wipe down your cupboards and kitchen counters daily to get rid of all the sources of food. Sweep the floor often and go through your kitchen cupboards and pantry to make sure that all food supplies are sealed tightly.
An easy way to deter insects and rodents from entering your home or letting the ones that are already there know that they are not welcome is to use bay leaves. These are readily available at the grocery store, and bugs and small rodents simply hate them! Place these leaves around your kitchen, and you’ll start to see fewer of these pests.
Dried whole nutmeg, chili pepper, mint, cloves, and basil are also effective for natural pest control and will send a message out to insects and small critters that they are not allowed in your home.
Because these are natural food substances, you won’t have to worry about accidental poisonings and can safely position them near any food supplies. (Do be careful to keep them out of reach of toddlers, of course. Bay leaves and chili peppers can cause severe discomfort if ingested.)
Certain essential oils, such as peppermint and citronella, will also help to keep the pest population under control in your home. Dilute these oils with water and spray the areas where the pests are entering your home or where you have seen them lurking.
Ants and fleas hate vinegar. To control fleas in your home, add one teaspoon of vinegar per quart of your pet’s drinking water. This will help keep the fleas off your pet while you are busy vacuuming them up around the house.
For ant control, wash your floor, cabinets, and counter tops with equal parts of water and vinegar.
When You Need the Experts
When an infestation becomes too big to handle, it’s time to call in professionals. Be sure they use only natural, organic pest control products. Most pest-control companies today have these products available and are more than willing to use them to help get your pest problems under complete control.
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About the Writer
Remember the “clap on, clap off” jingle for clap-sensitive lights? For years, we’ve been honing and perfecting our lighting systems, including finding ways to control a room’s brightness from bed.
These days, the truly devoted can hook all of their lighting (and even the coffee maker, for that matter) into remote systems controllable from a smartphone. Apart from switching to more efficient bulbs, however, the simplest and most affordable way to take a big bite out of your lighting energy usage is simply to install motion-sensitive light switches.
Who hasn’t opened a closet, bathroom, or guest room door to discover that a light has been left burning unnecessarily for hours, days, or even weeks? That wasted power costs us on our monthly bill, and it unnecessarily draws from an electric grid that, depending on where you live, may still rely on carbon-generating coal as its source.
Automatic sensor switches turn on when a person enters a room and off soon after they depart. Many are programmable to allow a manual override or to set the amount of time without motion before turning dim. These switches range in cost from around $20 to $50 models with elaborate programmable settings.
Making the ‘switch’ will require a small upfront investment, but you’ll end up saving money in the long run through the power you save.
Gather Your Tools
With your new switches in hand, gather the following tools:
- Flat head and Phillips head screwdrivers
- Wire stripper
- Electrical tape
- Wire nuts (these typically come with the switch, but check)
- Voltage tester (these are inexpensive and worth having for future projects as well)
11 Easy Steps
Our first step is the most important!
- Turn off the power to the switch at your circuit breaker. If you’re not 100 percent positive that you’ve done this, shut power to the entire house, turn off multiple rooms, or put down your tools and hire a handyman. It’s a simple step but it can save your life!
- Remove the wall plate at the switch.
- If your circuit breaker includes fuses, remove that too, and leave a note to let anyone else in the house know not to flip the switch back to “on.”
- Check (one more time) that the power is off by using the voltage tester.
- Remove the screws that mount the switch to the wall. Go ahead and take a picture of the back of the switch, just in case you need to refer to the wire placement later.
- Remove the wires from the back of the switch.
- Strip ¾ of an inch of insulation from the end of each wire.
- Reconnect the wires to the new switch. Automatic sensor and dimmer switches usually have splice connections instead of the screw-on terminals on a standard switch. This shouldn’t make the connection of your new switch any more difficult, but it’s important to note.Begin with the ground wire (usually green), using the pliers to twist the ends together before screwing on a wire nut (the little plastic caps that likely came with your new switch). Do the same thing with your two house power wires, for a total of three connectionsIf there’s an extra wire behind your switch that you don’t know what to do with, it’s for the installation of a 3-way switch, the scenario when multiple switches control one light. Don’t be deterred by an extra wire or different colors — follow the directions that come with your switch to make the proper new connections.
- Use electrical tape to wrap the wire nuts securely and ensure that the wires are not exposed.
- Remount the switch into the wall, replace the screws, and replace the wall plate.
- Check your work by turning the power back on and testing your new switch.
Lighting accounts for 14 percent of all U.S. home energy consumption. By eliminating waste from our usage (and switching from incandescent to CFL and LED bulbs), it’s possible for most households to dramatically reduce that percentage, translating to triple-digit savings each year. That’s extra money for your next trip exploring our amazing blue planet.
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)
Since 2000, Chris Long has been a store associate at a Home Depot in Illinois. He also contributes to the Home Depot blog, and is interested in electrical topics ranging from solar panels to home automation.
Since World War Two, more than 80,000 new chemicals have been introduced to the market. Consumers come in contact with about 3,000 of these chemicals every day in the form of cleaning products, such as air fresheners, dishwashing detergent, and floor cleaners. These products can be accidentally ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through skin contact. Unfortunately, cleaning your home with harsh, chemical cleaning products often fills it with more toxins and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than were there to begin with, making your home even less healthy than before you “cleaned” it.
Luckily, there are several ways to ensure that your home stays clean — the green and natural way. It can be difficult to comb through every ingredient on a product label, and it can be expensive to invest in a green-certified vacuum and other cleaning items. Hiring a cleaning service is sometimes the best route to take if pressed for time. Look for a cleaning service that offers an eco-friendly option, which means that they will clean your home with green-certified products and methods.
When choosing a green cleaning service, make sure you hire a service you can trust. Ask for a list of the chemicals and products they use; if the company is not able to provide a comprehensive list, you should look elsewhere. All maids should be trained in green cleaning methods to ensure your house attains a natural clean without any harsh or harmful chemicals.
Do-it-Yourself – With Lemon
If you can’t afford a green cleaning service or would simply prefer to clean your home yourself, there are other options available. Many items you already have in your home can be used as natural cleaners. Lemons, for example, are one of the most effective and eco-friendly cleaners you can use.
- Cut a lemon in half and dip the cut side in table salt. Use the salted side of the lemon to scrub copper pots clean. The acidity of the lemon, combined with the grit of the salt, will remove stains and polish away oxidation.
- Lemon juice is a great natural bleach. Dilute lemon juice, soak your clothes in it, and lay them out to dry. Your clothes will be white as new in no time.
- If you have stained counters, let lemon juice set on the counter for a few minutes. Then scrub with baking soda, and watch the stain disappear.
Other natural ingredients, such as vinegar, lavender oil, and water can also help you green-clean your home. Look for recipes on line or at the library, and enjoy cleaning your home the natural, healthy way.
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There are many things in life that require patience: the growth of an embryo into a full-term baby, the long slog through a school year, the development of seedlings into luscious tomatoes … and the turning of garbage into rich, healthy soil.
In July of 2009, Joe built a compost bin in our backyard. It was a relatively simple structure that cost less than $100 (it could have been nearly free, if I hadn’t Freecycled the “extra” cinder blocks we thought we wouldn’t need again). We started dumping our food and garden waste — along with contributions from close neighbors — and didn’t give it too much thought.
When the pile grew to the top of the bin, we kept throwing in food. Mysteriously, all summer and into the fall, the pile never grew higher than the lid. We never stopped adding food and leaves and such — even paper towels and toilet paper rolls. We were careful, though, not to add newsprint or any paper with ink on it. Ours is an organic garden.
It wasn’t until winter set in solidly that we had to add more cinder blocks. That’s when the mass froze, and the pile stopped sinking down. (Thank you, Freecycle, for providing more blocks for the extra height.)
Spring finally rolled around, and, as our thoughts turned to gardening, Joe decided to dig out the pile.
Wow! When he took off the front stack of blocks, we were thrilled. To us, it was as momentous an occasion as getting that first harvest from a summer garden. (Well, even more momentous to us, though it may sound silly to you.)
What we saw was amazing. The very top layer was recent plant debris we had cleaned from our yard, such as the dried stems from plants that had died with the first frost last fall. This was totally intact and recognizable.
Next was a thick layer of rotting, but largely intact, garbage: food scraps, eggshells, bits of branches — all recognizable as what they’d been when we deposited them.
The third layer was an oozing mass of rotting gunk. It was impossible to distinguish one sloppy mess from another. A watery goo dripped over the edge of the pile, along the side where the block wall had been.
But the wonder of all wonders was the bottom layer — DIRT! There was no mistaking this thick, rich, black soil as garbage. It was fully transformed — magically, it appeared to me — as healthy soil ready for our garden.
Less than an hour from start to finish, Joe had shoveled most of 11 buckets of thick, rich dirt onto the ground we’re preparing for our trellis garden. He had enough left over to cover a portion of a flowerbed, too. You can see the difference in the photos: The tired, gray dirt contrasts starkly against the yummy (for worms, plants, and seeds) dark soil that’s ready for our garden.
The next step was to stir the remaining compost and put it back in the bin. Half the bin is now full of this old compost, but already, it’s sinking.
Our DIY efforts from last year took 9 months, from an empty bin to 11 buckets of dirt. We may have to add another bin, now that this one has made so much progress. Or, perhaps we’ll just dig it up in the fall and see how far it’s come.
This may end up a twice-yearly “chore,” in some respects. But I hope we never lose the magic we experienced this spring, as we viewed the transformation from food to garbage to healthy soil.
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