Invite Mother Nature Into Your Home

From auto dealerships to schools, groups are becoming more environmentally aware. For busy parents, however, considering a home’s “carbon footprint” may seem like one more stressor. But making green choices doesn’t have to be inconvenient, time-consuming or expensive. These tips show that it’s easy to be green.

Reduce, reuse, recycle and freecycle

Most folks know the “three R’s” of greener living: reduce, reuse and recyle. What’s more challenging is figuring out ways to put these ideas into practice. Reducing waste and saving energy may be simpler than you think. Fuquay-Varina mother Cindy Tatem tells her 4-year-old, “I see some wasted energy somewhere” and makes it a game for her to turn off the unused lights.

One easy way to reduce waste is to simply bring fewer items into your home. Most parents regularly get a tree’s worth of mail-order catalogs. Log on to www.catalogchoice.org and select only the catalogs you really want to receive and opt out of the rest.

Reusing has long been a parent stand-by from hand-me-down clothes to coloring on both sides of the paper. Ann Winter-Vann of Chapel Hill jokes that her kids have been coloring on the back side of drafts of her doctoral dissertation for so long they don’t know what clean paper looks like.

Find a new home for things you no longer need. Tatem says, “I’m a big FreeCycler on the Yahoo Groups for Wake County. It’s a donation-only group for people sharing items to keep them out of the dump. Some items are really nice, and some need repairing.”

Other free stuff can be found or given away on Craigslist.com. Local recycling centers in Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill have drop-off/pick-up areas for used items. And consignment shops, Goodwill and the Salvation Army pair things you no longer need with someone who will love them.

Be kid-friendly and bug-free

Mom-to-be Martha Waltz suggests a safe solution to get rid of summer bugs. “Original Listerine [can be] used to repel ants,” she says. “You just put it in a spray bottle and spritz it in the corners and on the base boards and around pet food dishes and doors. It has to be the original, nasty yellow one because the blue kind because the blue has sugar and sweetener in it.”

Waltz prefers this natural approach instead of traditional bug sprays because it’s easier on surfaces, doesn’t trigger her asthma, and is dog- and kid-safe.

Watch your water

Drought conditions are forcing Triangle residents to rethink water usage. Many moms recommended less frequent baths (and even sharing the tub) for young ones as a way to reduce water. According to mother of two Susan Saenger of Durham, “We used to joke that the kids got a bath ‘once a week, whether they need it or not!’ Actually, we were really bathing them more like twice a week. But now, with the drought, I feel pretty good about the once-a-week plan!”

Dawn Prince-Cohee of Clayton suggests washing dishes in a large bowl sitting in the sink instead of filling the whole sink.

Rethink mood lighting

Many parents use less energy by using compact fluorescent bulbs. Although more expensive than traditional bulbs, compact fluorescents use a fraction of the energy and last significantly longer.

Although candles provide gentle light, Jen Shapiro of Apex mentions that scented versions may be environmentally unfriendly. Her prejudice stems from research that shows scented candles usually contain artificial fragrances and can be made from petroleum-based products. For candle-lovers, look for beeswax candles and scents made with essential oils. These still release a small amount soot in the air, but they won’t increase your indoor air pollution as much.

Unplug appliances

The easiest green tip of all is the one that requires almost no effort: unplug cell phone and iPod chargers and other household, kitchen and entertainment appliances. According to a 2006 Department of Energy report, these “energy vampires” waste energy and cost money even when they aren’t in use. Some of the worst culprits are home entertainment electronics (plasma TVs, game consoles and home computers). For areas of your home with several appliances, consider using a power-strip you can switch off.

The example parents set for the next generation makes the extra effort to care for the earth through everyday practices even more worthwhile. Aim for toddler-sized “carbon footprints” instead of adult-sized traces.

Robin Whitsell is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Chapel Hill. She recently purchased a compost tumbler for kitchen scraps to create less waste.

Eight Easy Environmental To-Dos

1. Buy local. Items at farmer’s markets and some local shops were grown or created nearby. They didn’t require a truck, train, boat or plane to get them to you.
2. Wash only full loads of dishes or clothes. Look for the most efficient cycle on your machine. Wash clothes in cold water and, if you can, line dry.
3. Use gray water. Find possible uses for leftover water. Cool water used to cook pasta or steam vegetables and use it to water houseplants, for example.
4. Boycott bottled water. Buy a water bottle and drink tap water. Groups like Think Outside the Bottle (www.thinkoutsidethebottle.org) claim that Americans discard 29 billion plastic water bottles per year. It takes 17 million barrels of oil to produce those bottles, and some bottled water is only municipal water with a fancy label.
5. Consider cloth napkins instead of paper. Assign one to each person in your house and use it for a week.
6. Think before you print. Ask yourself if you really need to have that document in a hard copy.
7. Evaluate the efficiency of home mechanical systems. Outdated heating and air- conditioning systems or systems that are not in good repair are often less efficient, noisier and more costly to run than newer models.
8. Involve your kids. Teach your kids to turn out lights, turn off toys and be less wasteful. Talk to them about why it’s important.