Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Staying warm this winter

One way to enjoy winter is to stay warm but keeping your home cozy can be expensive. Heating can account for up to half of your home energy bill and most of your home’s carbon footprint so for the sake of your wallet and the environment the more efficiently you can heat your home the better.

Start by doing everything you can to keep the heat in. I know it sounds obvious but there are many sneaky ways that heat can escape a home.

Air leaks can increase your heating bill by 10% a year so caulking & sealing every crack can keep your hard-earned heat from escaping. Caulk around window and door trim, caulk the top and bottom of your baseboards and quarter rounds and not just those on exterior walls. No crack is too small to be sealed. (Be sure to use indoor caulking.)

Insulate your light switches and outlets with special foam gaskets designed to fit neatly behind your light switch and outlet cover plates. Child-safety outlet plugs help too.

Check your weather stripping around windows and doors and replace any that isn’t doing its job. Use a feather to see if drafts are coming in (or heat is going out).

Install programmable electronic thermostats and set them at a constant heat for when you’re home. Set them a bit lower for when you’re sleeping or not home. You’ll save 5% on your heating bill for every degree you lower your thermostat below 70.

How you heat your home is of course something else to consider. High efficiency furnaces (90% efficient) are great but if you have an older model keep it well-maintained. Have your furnace cleaned annually and clean your furnace filters monthly during heating season.

If you heat with electric baseboard or an electric furnace, ensuring your home is nice and tight can have a huge environmental impact since in NB our power generating plants are big polluters.

If you have a fireplace, outfit it with an insert. This can become an eco-friendly source of heat but also make your fireplace airtight so heat doesn’t go up the chimney. From an air quality standpoint a natural gas or propane insert is preferred (they emit fewer VOCs and particulate matter). But those who burn wood will likely tell you that the quality of heat from a wood stove or wood insert is superior. If you do choose to burn wood follow these tips to ensure you’re burning as efficiently and cleanly as possible.

To improve combustion and decrease wood smoke, use an EPA-certified woodstove or insert. Well-seasoned wood burns more efficiently (and more cleanly) and hot fires burn more cleanly too so refuel often and don’t let your fire smolder. With a good hot fire the gases coming out of the chimney should be practically invisible. Don’t shut down the damper at night. Although this keeps the fire going through the night it also creates more emissions. Burn only wood in your woodstove or fireplace.

Heavy woolen socks will help you stay warm too.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Is your deodorant safe?

The other day a friend asked me about deodorant, wondering if there is a link between deodorant and breast cancer and if aluminum in the product is still a concern. These are tough questions, mostly because there are no definitive answers.

There is no conclusive evidence that the aluminum in many deodorants contributes to the development of Alzheimer’s. And no study has conclusively linked the chemicals in deodorants to breast cancer. But studies haven’t proven otherwise either and ongoing research continues to raise questions about the safety of one of the most frequently used personal care products.

What we do know is that most deodorants contain chemicals that have been linked to a number of health problems. Here is a rundown on four very common deodorant ingredients: Propyleyne glycol (also known as antifreeze in 100% concentrations) is a chemical you’ll see in many brands, including some “natural” brands. It and related chemicals (like polyethylene glycol) are a concern because they may be contaminated with 1, 4-dioxane which may cause cancer. Parabens are preservatives suspected of interfering with hormone function. The mixture of chemicals in synthetic fragrances has been linked to allergies, cancer and nervous system disorders. And finally, triclosan is an antibacterial that may cause thyroid problems. These chemicals are environmental toxins too.

With so many unanswered questions about the safety of chemicals in deodorant I prefer to err on the side of caution. I figure, if science raises doubts and there are alternatives available, why not switch?

Yesterday I did an interesting test. I put aside my eco-friendly deodorant and used a deodorant crystal that I was given a few years ago. The crystal is an actual chunk of rock salt (alum) that you wet any apply like regular deodorant. After a full day of work, two walks back and forth to the bus stop and an evening out I’d say it worked well.

But since everyone’s body chemistry is different another option is Green Beaver deodorant. This product is made in Canada and carries the Ecocert logo, meaning that the plant ingredients are organic, production and packaging are eco-friendly and it’s free of synthetics, chemicals and aluminum. Green Beaver works well for me and is my everyday brand. (My favourite is their citrus scented deodorant but they offer three other scents and one unscented.)
On my list to try is Olivier deodorant (made in NB) As with all Olivier products, the ingredients are natural and uncomplicated. This is a spray deodorant and is on the pricey side.

A few other brands to consider are Aubrey Organics, Avalon Organics and Alba. Look for these in the natural food section of the grocery store. If you’re wondering how safe your current brand is check out Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database.