Monday, June 29, 2009

The "Rubber Ducky" Chemical

The “Rubber Ducky” Chemical

What exactly are Phthalates?

Phthalates in the homePhthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) are plasticizers used widely in consumer products such as children’s toys, cosmetics, flexible plastics, lubricants, nail polish… basically you have been in contact with them numerous times. Phthalates were first introduced in the 1920’s and promptly replaced camphor, a potent lubricant. Modern-day phthalates are popular in various product recipes, and thus are found in virtually all households. In addition, phthalates are sneaky because companies are not required to list them on labels. Next time you are reading the label in search of benzylbutyl phthalate (in car products) or diethyl phthalate (in nail polish), prepare to be disappointed. Despite the worldwide health concerns, phthalates can be very useful and at times necessary. So when you shampoo your locks be thankful for the lathering smoothness DEP (diethyl phthalate) provides.

The squeak in your rubber ducky

The rubber ducky is a bath time icon for many nostalgic parents and splashing kids. The reason your favorite bath toy is squeaky and soft is because of phthalates. They are used to increase flexibility in children’s toys and durability in a wide array of products. In addition, phthalates are used as lubricants in lotions, fragrances, adhesives, and the main component in anti-chipping nail polishes.

It is fair to say that they are virtually everywhere, but that’s not the half of it. The chemical make-up of phthalates allows them to emit from the products they are found in. That beloved new car smell is nothing but the PVC imbedded phthalates escaping into the car’s interior. The same emitting process takes place within our homes, work places, hotel rooms, and in our atmosphere.

Is the air freshener worth more than…

your health

Chances are that you have previously, and unknowingly, purchased an air freshener which may have contained DEP and/or DBP. The mentioned phthalates are listed by the California EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as chemicals which cause birth defects and should be avoided, if possible. Numerous people purchase air fresheners by the handfuls for their cars and homes without knowing the side-effects behind their favorite fragrance. But, there are many other health concerns related to phthalates. Some are known to be endocrine disruptors, which means they mimic the body’s hormonal functions and thus disrupt normal function. Studies have shown that phthalate concentration is higher indoors than outdoors, thus households with elevated phthalate levels promote asthma and respiratory issues. In addition, studies involving human and rat subjects have suggested that exposure to certain phthalates can increase the risk of cancer, cause sex-hormone abnormalities, premature puberty, organ malfunction, and fetal sex-organ malformation.

… the Earth

The top environmental concerns associated with emitting phthalates are waterway pollution and poisoned marine life. Problems occur once chemicals, like dibutyl phthalate, leach into the environment and reach elevated concentration. Since phthalates break down quickly in the air, soil and water contamination are priority areas for prevention. Once they enter water they begin to accumulate in fish and shellfish causing deformities, deaths, and fertility reduction. Phthalates may enter water sources through various ways, so identifying the precise source of contamination is difficult. Regulating industrial emissions and eliminating phthalates from various products may decrease the possibility of contamination.

What’s being done

Phthalates in the homeThe National Pollution Inventory (NPI) conducted a ranking of 400 hazardous substances which are concerning to human health and the environment. Ranking 66th is DBP (dibutyl phthalate). This is the ever-so-popular chemical in cosmetics, paints, foams, and plastics. Upon the release of such data, many urged their favorite companies to remove harmful phthalates from their products. Many companies like Dove, Lady Speed Stick, L’Oreal, Revlon and Neutrogena decided to invest in the suggestion and now provide their costumers with phthalate-free products.

On October 15, 2007, Governor Schwarzenegger signed the Stop Toxic Toys Bill (AB 1108), making California the first state to ban phthalates in children’s toys. Moreover, this bill prohibits the manufacture, sale, and circulation of toys and child feeding products that contain phthalates. As of February 10, 2009, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission prohibits the national distribution of children’s toys and child care articles containing more than 0.1% of six phthalates (DEHP, DBP, BBP, DINP, DIDP, and DnOP). Regardless of when they were manufactured, products intended for sale targeting children ages 12 and younger must abide.

In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working along with various cities to study the local effects of phthalates to human health and the environment. The study’s short and long term goals include (1):

  • Defining phthalate concerns within current regulations.
  • Placing sediment phthalate concerns in perspective with other sediment contamination risks and within the broader issue of phthalate risks from all exposure pathways.
  • Documenting where phthalates occur and identifying potential sources.
  • Identifying source control and treatment options.
  • Examining data collected by work group members and providing recommendations on next steps.
  • Sharing findings with the public.
How to avoid overuse


If not modified, the rubber ducky may soon go the way of the dodo via government policies, and then the phthalate concerns will surely decrease. So while you wait for the phthalate-free revolution in the plastics industry to take place, you should learn how to avoid overexposure.

Follow these guidelines to significantly decrease your exposure to phthalates:

· Since phthalate concentration is higher indoors due to poor air circulation, it is important to periodically keep windows open and to use an air filter if available.

· Phthalates are not required to be listed on product labels (expect in California), so look for products advertised as phthalate-free.

· Since phthalates are typically used to retain scent, purchase fragrance-free products.

· Limit your child’s exposure to oily, soft-rubber, and lubricating products, including flexible teethers or pacifiers.

· Shop online for phthalate-free personal products.

· When shopping, be on a lookout for abbreviations like: DEHP, DBP, BBP, DINP, DIDP, and DnOP.

· Do not park your car in direct sunlight for a prolonged period of time. Windshield sun reflectors are a good way to keep your interior cool.

· Instead of purchasing air fresheners use lemons, vinegar, coffee and other natural resources to eliminate odors.

Learn more about home health:

Indoor Air Quality

Air Purifiers

Home Health Quiz

Home Performance and Indoor Air Quality Experts


(1) Department of Ecology: State of Washington

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dark Days

The Other Solar

Daylighting Saving Time

Passive Solar 1You probably have a dark secret. No, not the one you begged your friends to take to their grave. It’s the one in your kitchen, or bathroom or hallway. It’s that spot that always seems to be dark, even with the lights on. The place where no natural sunlight can reach and the place you just wish you could go without the need of a flashlight. Unless your home was optimally designed to take advantage of natural light, odds are you have a few dim spots that could use some brightening.

Not too long ago, your only option would have been to cut a large hole in your roof and insert a skylight – literally a window to the sky. Unfortunately, the skylight probably had too many disadvantages to ever become a popular option. They tended to be leaky, they let in too much heat and after a couple of months there was a thin layer of crud blocking the view and you had to risk serious injury or death by climbing up on your roof to clean it. They have improved since those early days, but there’s still no good option to keeping them nice and clear other than a ladder and a squeegee. Nowadays we have a few more options for bringing in natural light and you don’t have to risk life or limb as most are relatively maintenance free.

Passive Solar 2

Obviously the best way to take advantage of the sun’s rays to light your home is with proper design, but for the vast majority the opportunity to design or even extensively remodel your own house doesn’t arise. Fortunately, for the rest of us, there’s light ducting. You’ve probably heard of it before, there are a lot of names for it: sun tunnels, light tubes, etc. The technology has been around for awhile, but commercial products are just now starting to gain some traction with the public. You may have even seen this type of lighting in a store and not realized what it was or what it was doing to your shopping habits. Studies have shown benefits to the bottom lines of retail operators and also to mental and physical health of those who work, learn and live with natural lighting.

Top Tips

Passive Solar 3Find the Best Fit. Most new technologies use some sort of ducting to go from your rooftop where the light is collected to the area you want to brighten up. Some products are better than others at transferring light over long distances, so do your homework on the right product for your situation. Some passive lighting fixtures have alternative sources of light installed in them so that at night you can still get usable light from the fixtures with a flip of a switch. Others will need to be supplemented with additional electric lighting.

Brighten Up a Dark Place. These types of daylighting systems work very well in areas that don’t have windows such as interior hallways, bathrooms and basements, but are also a good way to brighten up areas that don’t really capture enough light from existing windows.

A Bright Idea. Also, remember that this is natural sunlight being transferred inside so the lightmaybe a little too white or bright for some people’s tastes. Most manufacturers have diffusers that soften the light or allow you to control how much is coming in. It is best to check the products out in person if a nearby showroom offers demonstration models.

Keep Your Cool. Since the light from the sun is actually one of the coolest sources of light compared with electrical lighting, most of the daylighting systems mentioned here transfer very little heat and block out UV rays. So depending on how much electrical light you can replace with a daylighting system, you can actually reduce your cooling load during warm weather by reducing heat-emitting electric bulbs.


…to your health. According to a MIT study of natural daylighting and the effect on the body, researchers found that our bodies prefer natural sunlight to electrical light to keep circadian rhythms in balance. Sunlight has also been shown to improve productivity and a person’s feelings of well-being. This may explain why people at work are so grumpy in the morning. Considering that most people work under fluorescent lighting for about eight hours a day and are indoors the majority of the time not spent at work, bringing some sunlight in to your home might just improve your mood.

…to your wallet. Although the up-front costs of installing one of these systems may seem a little steep – anywhere from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars depending on the complexity, size and brand of the system – remember you’re getting free light from the point of installation on. The payoff period may be pretty long to be practical, but that’s not taking into consideration the health benefits that can be associated with natural light. A typical installation costs about $700 for a fixture that covers nearly 200 square feet. Factor in a 30% government rebate (on most models) and that brings the cost down to around $500. The California Public Utilities Commission estimates that daylighting can save between 23-32 cents per square foot per year. Given those numbers, you can roughly estimate that one of these will pay for itself in about 10 years.

…to the Earth. This is just one more way to reduce your carbon footprint by reducing electricity usage. If you estimate that it would take about five 11-watt compact fluorescent bulbs to light that same 200 square-foot space for 12 hours per day, you would be saving over 500 pounds of CO2 emissions per year with passive lighting. Over the 10-year payoff period, you would also be reducing your carbon footprint by more than 2 ½ tons of CO2.

Getting Started

Unless you’re really handy, you can check out our database to find a contractor in your area to install these systems. Most companies that you purchase from will also help with installation, but it still wouldn’t hurt to talk to someone who knows what’s involved.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Solar Roofs

The New Solar Roof

Not just a roof, but a powerhouse

solar-shingle-roofStreets paved with recycled concrete. Eco-friendly siding on suburban homes. Hybrid and electric cars parked in every driveway. Sounds like a perfect eco-friendly neighborhood. What’s missing? The perfect eco-roof.

An ideal roof serves as an efficient barrier between the elements and the interior, is well insulated, and may even have solar modules. If you are looking for an elegant, simple, solar, and space-conscious solution, invest in solar shingles. This new solar product is a great esthetic alternative to photovoltaic (PV) panels. If you’re an environmentally-aware homeowner who is searching to lower utility bills in a tasteful manner, solar shingles are for you.

Green with style

Solar shingles are cleverly designed to blend in with regular shingles; thus a full roof makeover is unnecessary. If you are really looking to benefit the environment, while being the envy of your neighborhood, you may want to install building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs) along the entire surface of your roof. When properly applied, they overlap and provide weather protection like regular shingles. Hidden underneath the overlap are the wires, which run through the roof deck to a solar inverter or storage battery. BIPVs appear as conventional roofing shingles, except for their slightly shiny appearance and electricity generating abilities. These shingles easily merge in with other roofing materials which makes them virtually undetectable and much more appealing than traditional roof solar panels.

Watch your electric meter spin backwards

You can install enough BIPVs to sell electricity back to the local power company (where this option is available). At least 39 states allow you to sell unused wattage to the local power company; however, there are certain locations that limit the amount of solar electricity produced. For example, it can be difficult to produce all the energy necessary to power a Boston home during a cloudy day, so you may end up tapping into local power for service on rainy days. In California or Nevada solar energy is abundant and can potentially take a home powered by solar shingles off the main grid.

For example, Sheri Gage of California was recently featured on This Old House. She and her husband invested $15,000 on the BIPV system integrated into their existing cement-tile roof. Since the install, her last electrical bill was a mere $3.85. Gage says, “I am now a firm believer in the power of the sun.”


Although some may think that a solar-shingled roof requires more work, it really demands the same maintenance as an average roof. The shingles must be monitored for leaks and hail damage. It is recommended that your solar roof is added to your homeowner’s insurance policy. On occasion, it may be necessary to test the efficiency of your BIVPs to identify damaged or malfunctioning shingles. It is recommended that you occasionally hose off your solar shingles to maintain the constant supply of energy and remove debris.

Fortunately, with proper maintenance the average lifetime of solar shingles (depending on location and company) is approximately 20 – 25 years.

Incentive & Cost

Going green doesn’t have to mean huge costs. Solar shingles may be a pricier investment, but the government is helping out with incentives. The 30% Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for both residential and commercial solar installation has been extended through December 2016. To determine your local and state solar tax incentive visit DSIRE USA.


… to your wallet

A solar-shingled roof provides many economic benefits, despite its initial costs. Upon installation, prepare to be astonished by much lower utility bills and in many cases, your meter spinning backwards. Sell power back to the local electric company and/or cut back on power bills.

… to the Earth

Harvesting sunlight as energy is an excellent way to be green. Reduce your dependence on the local electric company and give your checking account a break. Solar energy is renewable, clean and can be harvested without exhausting fossil fuels or causing pollution. When you save on energy it means you are reducing toxic emissions: sulfur dioxide, nitric oxides, VOCs, toxic metals, and others. The sun will continue to shine whether we use its rays to generate electricity or not, so be energy-independent and earth-friendly by using a clean source of energy.

Solar Energy: Learn More

Solar Savings Calculator

Solar Myths

Why Go Solar?

Solar Heating for Pools and Spas

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Recycling is King in San Francisco

Recycling by Force

San Francisco is making recycling the law

mandatory-recycling-mayorYesterday, the Board of Supervisors for the City of San Francisco passed an ordinance which will be the most sweeping recycling law in the country. The mandatory recycling ordinance, proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom states that residents of the city must recycle and separate their compostable waste into three different trash bins: green for compost, black for trash, and blue for recycling. Failure to abide by this ordinance could also result in fines reaching as much as $500.

Section 1803 of San Francisco’s “Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance” states:

All persons in San Francisco must source separate their refuse into recyclables, compostables and trash, and place each type of refuse in a separate container designated for disposal of that type of refuse. No person may mix recyclables, compostables or trash, or deposit refuse of one type in a collection container designated for another type of refuse, except as otherwise provided in this Chapter.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s goal is for San Francisco to have a 75 percent recycling rate in 2010, with zero waste by 2020. San Francisco already isolates 72 percent of the 2.1 million tons of waste that its resident’s produce each year away from landfills and into recycling programs, but it’s the mandatory composting that has the city’s officials most exited.

When the nation is looking at complex solutions for climate-change reduction, we should not overlook the importance of simple things like increasing the recycling rate and composting.” says Jared Blumenfeld, who is the director of the city’s Department of Environment.

mandatory-recycling-nimitzThe city already composts 400 tons of food scraps a day, 90 percent of which goes towards enriching the soil of vineyards in Napa and Sonoma Counties. If the rest of the country were to catch up with San Francisco’s goals, we could divert more than 190 million tons annually. That’s the equivalent of 1,900 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers! Set end to end, they would stretch over 374 miles – that would almost stretch from Boston to Washington DC.

People will embrace composting just like they embraced recycling,” says Nathan Ballard, the spokesperson for Mayor Newsom, who himself began composting kitchen scraps six months ago. “Here in San Francisco people are crazy about recycling. Composting is the next frontier.

Although mandatory composting and recycling being enforced seems to be a good idea that will boost the city’s recycling rate tremendously, there are still others who are opposed to this ordinance.

Comments from the “blogging” city residents range from “outrage” to “their civil rights being contested”. One blogger wrote: “Welcome to the world of Big Brother, San Francisco! You don’t get to decide whether or not to recycle, and if you don’t the trash police will get you…” So what are the pros and cons to having you, as a city citizen, to be mandated by law to recycle?

The United States, who is said to be one of the most progressive countries in the world, is surprisingly decades behind other countries around the world. Some reports indicate The Netherlands recycling rate is 65% with Austria’s is about 60%. Greece is around 10% and Portugal about 5% while the U.S. (33%) being comparable with less progressive countries like Spain (35%) and Ireland (31%).

Punishment for Failing to Separate Recyclables and Refuse


With the newly-enacted mandatory recycling and composting law, San Franciscans everywhere need to think twice before throwing away a soda bottle in the trash, and not a recycling bin. Failing to place the bottle in its appropriate blue recycling bin could result in a $100 fine. The new law punishes those careless or perhaps forgetful San Franciscans who disobey the recycling law by collecting fines ranging from $80-$100 for the first offense.

What happens if one careless San Franciscan becomes a repeat offender? Well, for the second offense, he is fined between $150-$200. If they continue to throw away left-overs in the trash and the appropriate green composting bin, they will be fined $250-$500 for each additional offense.

The mandatory recycling and composting law, not only punishes those San Franciscans who throw everything away in one trash can, the SF government will also fine businesses $500 for failing to provide appropriate receptacles for recyclables, compost, and trash. Businesses that provide food or beverages must have appropriate bins that are easily accessible and placed next together outside at all exits for their customers to separate their trash. These businesses also must place ashtrays or other receptacles for employees or customers who smoke. All receptacles must be emptied when they are full with their designated materials and at the end of the day where the separated items need to be cleanly placed in a storage area or collection site. All San Francisco residents and businesses are responsible for separating and maintaining trash and having collection services pick up their separated trash.

There are exceptions to the law for property owners and managers, however. In section 1910, these exceptions are defined. Any property owner or manager who does not have enough space to house the blue, green, and black receptacles must fill out a form detailing the lack of storage space. If an on-site examiner concludes that the property lacks enough storage space, sharing of receptacles with other property owners is an option. Another option is for the property owner to drop-off compost and recyclables at a San Francisco transfer station that has been collected from a public trash bin.

Cities with mandatory recycling laws – Pittsburgh, San Diego, Seattle – are not as stringent as San Francisco, but others such as Honolulu mandate certain materials be recycled, but don’t have overarching laws. In 1994 South Korea initiated a policy similar to what San Francisco has just enacted. They experienced a 175 percent increase in recycling in 10 years of implementation. They make citizens pay for bags that contain non-recyclable material, that way there is a direct economic incentive for people to use recyclable materials.

Is this a wasted effort?

Maybe it’s time we all get on board with Mayor Newsom? Mandatory composting and/or recycling has been around before San Francisco’s new law, but many states and countries are still awaiting a green epiphany. According to Forbes, Ohio and West Virginia, are rated as some of the worst polluters.

Ask around and most environmentally-aware individuals will tell you that composting is nothing but a wonderful way to divert waste from the landfills. If composting is so beneficial, why not make it mandatory nationwide? Yes, it will divert tons of waste. Yes, it can be used for fertilizer. Yes, you are helping Mother Nature make things grow. However, there are concerns and apprehensions circulating around this issue.

Composting may not be an easy solution for every residential or commercial location. Additional investments may be required depending on the size and scale of the site. If you have a large property which produces loads of waste, it can involve extra time and money on your behalf to maintain.

Works Cited



Erase the effects of e-waste

Electronic Recycling 1When it comes to electronic gadgets, Americans can’t get enough. We want – no, need – to be connected at all times. We must have the latest and greatest electronics. And who wouldn’t opt for the brand new digital, plasma screen T.V. when it often costs much more to repair that ancient hunk-of-junk in the garage than it does to buy a brand new one? But what happens to that analog boob-tube when you have decided you would rather surf atop the digital wave? It is quite likely that the electronic devices you deem unworthy will end up in landfills. Your “old” video equipment, televisions, computers, cell phones and other hand-held devices, audio equipment, and video games make up more than 2% of the municipal solid waste stream. I know what you’re thinking: “That doesn’t seem like very much”. Well, electronic waste – more commonly known as e-waste – is the fastest growing waste stream in America. And that modest 2% of the waste stream accounts for 70% of toxic waste according to In the year 2000 more than 4.6 million tons of e-waste entered the landfill from America alone, and by 2007 the number almost doubled (2). Even those who believe they are doing the earth a favor by recycling their e-waste could be doing even more harm to the environment. Many companies who claim to recycle post-consumer electronics simply ship the e-waste off to developing countries with loosely-regulated recycling facilities unable to handle the toxic chemicals properly. We have a constant and insatiable appetite for new electronics, forcing countries like China, India and Pakistan to swallow our poisonous leftovers. To read more about global e-waste problems visit or

Fortunately, many computer manufacturers, TV manufacturers, and electronic retailers now offer take-back programs and sponsor legitimate recycling events. Although there are no federal laws in place regarding the management of e-waste, 19 states and New York City have passed some type of legislation to manage end-of-life electronics in a safer and more environmental way. You can view more information on state laws at

Top Tips

Electronic Recycling 2· Reduce – Do you really need that new cell phone, stereo, computer or TV? Although electronics are made to last years, many feel the need to buy new products as soon as they are available. And it seems as though companies are cranking out the next model before you even have a chance to snip your proof-of-purchase for that rebate. Basal Action Network (BAN), which is an organization that pushes for the U.S. to ratify the Basel Convention of international hazardous waste shipment, says at least 1 in 4 homes will trash their still-perfectly-good TV this year following the digital transition. Preventing waste by reducing electronic consumption is preferable to any waste management option.

· Reuse – While you are trying to find a purpose for your unused electronics, they are collecting dust in the garage. No, scratch that…the boxes they are in are collecting dust in the garage. Meanwhile, their useful life is wasting away until the time comes when you decide they need to be thrown away. Just because you had to have the newest Ipod or DTV doesn’t mean someone else won’t appreciate the perfectly good older model. Donating used electronics to schools, non-profit organizations, and low-income families is a great way to lengthen the life of electronic products and keep them out of the waste stream longer.

· Recycle – If a product is no longer in condition to be used, don’t just throw it away! There are precious parts and ingredients in electronic devices that can be recycled. The metal, plastics, batteries and packaging materials in products like cell phones can be used for new products. Metals like gold, silver, platinum, palladium, rhodium, copper, tin, lead, brass and zinc can be recovered and used for jewelry, plating, electronics, plumbing, automotive and art foundries.

Other Considerations

Electronic Recycling 3· E-waste pollution – It is important to be be careful where and with whom you send your e-waste to be recycled. Electronic equipment contains toxic compounds like lead, mercury, cadmium and brominated flame retardants that leak into soils and water supplies. Unfortunately, 50%-80% of e-waste is shipped to developing countries like China, India or Pakistan where recycling regulations are extremely loose if they even exist at all. The chemicals in e-waste are extremely harmful to the environment and cause severe health issues for the people living in surrounded areas. When recycling your e-waste, ensure that you are giving to a reputable and legitimate company. See these links for information on recycling e-waste:





…to you

· Anything that is just sitting in your home unused not only creates clutter, it collects dust, which is bad for your health. The National Safety Council ( estimates that 75% of all personal computers ever sold are now gathering dust. So, it’s likely that you have a computer adding to the clutter and amount of dust collected in your home. If you absolutely have to have the newest electronics, donating your old products (or recycling if they are no longer useful) will clear your home of clutter and help you and your family breathe cleaner and easier.

…to your wallet

· Curbing your appetite for new electronic gadgets will definitely save you money. By waiting longer to buy a product, you will probably discover that it becomes much cheaper in 6 months, or (and here is the more sustainable and environmental option) you really don’t need the unnecessary expense.

· Some recycling centers will pay you for your used products. The website claims to pay up to $75 for used cell phones.

· <
Donations to churches, schools, low-income families and non-profit organizations are tax-deductible. So donating your usable electronics will increase the useful life of a product as well as your tax-return.

…to the earth

· Reducing, reusing and recycling electronics limits the amount of e-waste generated and dumped into our landfills. It increases the collection and treatment of products with high precious metal content and prevents the release of hazardous materials into our ecosystems. Practicing safe and sustainable e-waste management conserves the earth’s limited resources by reducing raw material extraction and encouraging more sustainable approaches to manufacturing.

Works Cited

1. International Association of Electronics Recyclers Industry Report, 2006.

2. “Electronic Waste Management in the United States, Approach 1” Table 3.1 EPA530-R-08-009 US Environmental Protection Agency, July 2008.

3. “eCycling”. US Environmental Protection Agency, January 2009.

4. Palm, Erik. “DTV transition: Avoiding an e-waste ‘tsunami’”. Green Tech, June 2009.

5. Mayfield, Kendra. “E-Waste: Dark Side of Digital Age”. Wired, January 2003.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Marquis (LV, NV)

The Marquis, was chosen as "The Home of the Year 2009" to teach over 90,000 builders what the future holds for "green" and "smart" homes.

The Department of Energy from Wash. D.C. and Microsoft partnered with them to custom build the most efficient and sustainable homes in today's marketplace.

The Marquis ranked in the top .05% of green homes built in the world!

Wall Street Journal: "This New American Home was showcased at the International Builders' Show in Las Vegas earlier this year and boasted plenty of cosmetic perks but it was the stuff hidden behind the walls (and on the roof and in the basement) that I coveted most. It had an internal home-automation system that ran the TVs, stereo and security systems from one central interface -- or an iPhone."

Check them out at

Lawns on Your Roof

Green Roofs: More than Meets the Eye

The grass isn’t always greener in your front lawn. With the growing awareness of global warming Americans are becoming increasingly ecological, and breathing new life into the term eco-friendly. Environmentally conscious consumers are finding more creative ways to go green – and now they’ve found a way to raise green turf to new heights.

A green roof is much more than, well…green. A green or vegetated roof refers to a roof that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and soil, or a growing medium that is planted over a water proof membrane. It often includes additional layers like root barriers, drainage, and irrigation systems…OK, it’s a lawn. That’s right, a lawn that can lower your energy bill, lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduce storm-water runoff, lower your stress level, and provide a habitat for surrounding wildlife.

green-roof-1We can give Germany credit for giving us more than just good beer and Beethoven. They also modernized green roofs, which have actually been around for centuries in Northern Scandinavia. Now, about 10% of all German roofs have been “greenified” and the trend has spread throughout Europe. Although vegetated roofs aren’t nearly as common in America as they are in Europe, it is becoming a more and more popular way for people to green their homes – literally.

Top Tips

· Choose the right roof - There are two main types of green roofs. Which you choose is dependent upon many factors such as the intended purpose of the roof, the type of building, your budget, etc.

green-roof-2· Intensive (garden-style) - Intensive roofs resemble gardens or parks. They are often used on flat roof-tops in large cities where park space is limited. Intensive roofs usually require about 6-24 inches of soil that is able to grow shrubs, small trees, lawns, even vegetable gardens. These garden-style rooftops may raise the bar when it comes to backyard barbeques and prove to be the lawn of the future. Consult a green roof specialist before considering installation of an intensive roof because they may require more sophisticated structural support and irrigation.

green-roof-3· Extensive (lawn-style) - Extensive roofs are the most common type of vegetated roof for a home because they require low to no-maintenance. An extensive green roof only requires a very thin layer of soil (1-6 inches), and can sustain many different types of grass. It is virtually self-sustaining and only requires weeding about once a year. There is usually no access to an extensive roof except for what is necessary for maintenance. That means no roof-top barbeques. Since extensive roofs support drought-resistant, shallow-rooted plants, and grass which generally grows no higher than a few inches (which means no mowing) they are ideal for homeowners looking for an easy way to save on energy consumption and make their homes more eco-friendly.

Other Considerations

· Cost – Green roofs can cost around $10 - $15/sq. ft. for extensive green roofs and anywhere between $25 - $100/sq. ft. for intensive roofs. Of course the price depends on the geographic location, type and intent of the roof, installer, etc. A park complete with trees, walkways, and vegetable gardens is going to cost quite a bit more than a simple grass lawn. Either choice, however, will prove to be an economical and ecological benefit in the long run. Below are a few areas where a green roof can save you money.

· Maintenance – The sun can break down roofing materials over time requiring costly replacement and rebuilding. It is recommended that a conventional asphalt roof receive maintenance every 2 years, which could total up to $1,300 for a 2,500/sq. ft. roof that is about 1-5 years old (older roofs would cost more). The vegetation on a green roof acts as a barrier protecting the roof from harsh solar rays and protecting your wallet from the expense of constantly replacing worn roofing materials.

· Heating – You can save energy in cooler months with green roofs because they provide excellent insulation and retain 18% more heat than conventional roofs.

· Cooling – The temperature of a conventional roof membrane on a 95ยบ F day can rise up to 158° F. The temperature of a green roof on the same day is about 77° F. A cooler roof means lower cooling costs in the summer.

· Structure – Because of their weight, green roofs require more demanding structural standards than regular roofs. Depending on your house, roof, and the type of vegetation you plan to install, structural reinforcements may be needed. Choose a quality service provider who will inspect your home properly before installing a green roof. Check your local listings or visit the Green Pages at for a list of reputable green roof installers.


…to you

· Grass, shrubbery, and flowers obviously make vegetated roofs more aesthetically pleasing; and if your home is a little bare when it comes to front yard space, a green roof is a great way to show off your gardening skills.

· Studies show that visual and physical contact with natural greenery provides both mental and physical health benefits such as: lower blood-pressure, lower heart rate, reduced stress or mental fatigue, assistance in quicker recovery from physical illness, and they provide long-term overall improvement in health. The health advantages of vegetated roofs are beginning to grow on many hospitals and health facilities, who are installing them for the benefit of recovering patients. For more information on studies regarding the health benefits of green surroundings visit

…to your wallet

· A 2006 study by the University of Michigan comparing expected costs of conventional and green roofs revealed that, on average, installing a green roof costs about $22.10/sq. ft. versus $15.95/sq. ft. for a conventional roof. In its life, however, the green roof saves over $200,000 with two-thirds of that coming from reduced energy needs. Taking into consideration the added savings, the average cost of this topnotch turf would be about $12.57/sq. ft. - meaning you could save $3.38/sq. ft. by choosing a green roof.

…to the earth

· Green roofs are able to make much better use of rainwater than conventional roofs. A green roof can capture precipitation and influence it in 3 ways:

1) Taken up by the plants

2) Absorbed into pore spaces

3) Stored and retained by the drainage system of the roof

If the water is not absorbed by the vegetation, it is stored in other layers of the roof, and can be released back into the atmosphere rather than simply running off into a drainage system. Basically, green roofs reduce the amount of water that is wasted when it ends up in drainage systems.

· Lowering air-conditioning demand decreases the associated air pollution and greenhouse emissions. The vegetation can also remove air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions through dry deposition and carbon sequestration and storage. According to one website, a square foot of vegetation absorbs about 0.33 ounces of air pollution per year, so a mere 1,500 sq./ft. vegetated roof could absorb over 40 pounds of air pollution each year and almost 2,000 pounds in its lifetime. The impact of green roofs on large commercial buildings is obviously even greater.

Getting Started

green-roof-1· The first step to installing a green roof is contacting a roofing specialist or architect to ensure your roof is sufficiently structurally sound. Use this link to guide you in selecting the proper professional: “What to Ask Your Contractor” .

Further Reading

Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls by Nigel Dunnett and Noel Kingsbury

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World

The Blacksmith Institute in collaboration with Green Cross Switzerland recently evaluated the most dangerous pollution problems we face today. As a result, they put together this top ten list of the most deadliest factors we face:

1. Groundwater Contamination

2. Industrial Mining Activities

3. Metals Smelters and Processing

4. Radioactive Waste and Uranium Mines

5. Untreated Sewage

6. Urban Air Quality

7. Used Lead Acid Battery Recycling

8. Contaminated Surface Water

9. Indoor Air Pollution

10. Artisanal Gold Mining

Continued at Sierra Club Green Home

The Cleanest and Most Polluted Cities in the World

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World1

The Blacksmith Institute in collaboration with Green Cross Switzerland recently evaluated the most dangerous pollution problems we face today. As a result, they put together this top ten list of the most deadliest factors we face:

1. Groundwater Contamination

2. Industrial Mining Activities

3. Metals Smelters and Processing

4. Radioactive Waste and Uranium Mines

5. Untreated Sewage

6. Urban Air Quality

7. Used Lead Acid Battery Recycling

8. Contaminated Surface Water

9. Indoor Air Pollution

10. Artisanal Gold Mining

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World2

It is truly troubling to realize that many people have built their homes nearby these major pollutants. The World Health Organization has released numerous reports stating that life expectancy is still below the age of 40 in many countries. Yet there are 16 countries where the citizens can expect to live past 80 years old. Although contributing factors include war and civil strife, one of the biggest factors is disease. Many countries still lack proper sanitation and trash removal, leaving its hungry citizens to dig through polluted waste to find food. The contrast between developing nations and developed nations is far reaching, even though developed countries like the United States are major polluters. Overall there are many factors that contribute to the cleanliness and health of a city. Allow this pictorial list to display the devastating differences between the cities that have put a system in place to deal with pollution and waste and the cities that have relatively little pollution management in effect. Here is the top 10 most polluted cities in the world vs. the top 10 cleanest cities in the world:

The 10 most polluted cities in the world

1. Linfen, China

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World3

Type of Pollution: Coal

Source of Pollution: Industrial and Automotive Emissions

Linfen, China is not only the most-polluted city in China, but also the world. It includes many coal mines. Although legal coal mines create a lot of pollution, it is the city’s illegal coal mines that do the most damage, since they do not follow anti-pollution regulations. The city’s air is constantly soiled with burning coal.

2. Tianying, China

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World4

Type of Pollution: Lead and heavy metals

Source of Pollution: Mining and Processing

Tianying accounts for more than 50 percent of China’s total lead production. Because there are not many standards that regulate lead production in China, a lot of lead ends up in the city’s soil and water. Ultimately, the lead ends up in the bloodstream of children. Lead has been shown to decrease IQ in children.

3. Sukinda, India

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World5

Type of Pollution: Hexavalent Chromium

Source of Pollution: Chromite Mines

Hexavalent Chromium is a carcinogenic type of steel used for leather tanning. In Sukinda, India, studies show that the drinking water includes more than double the international standard of Hexavalent Chromium. An Indian health group estimates that nearly 85 percent of deaths in mining areas are due to diseases that stem from chromium exposure.

4. Vapi, India

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World6

Type of Pollution: Chemicals and metals

Source of Pollution: Industrial estates

Vapi, India might be higher on this list if it weren’t for its slow growth. The city’s groundwater has been found to contain mercury levels almost 100 times higher than the World Health Organization’s recommended amount. Heavy metals can be found in the city’s crops and air.

5. La Oroya, Peru

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World7

Type of Pollution: Sulfur dioxide, lead, copper, zinc

Source of Pollution: Metal mining and processing

La Oroya, Peru has the dubious distinction of being a city where 99 percent of children’s lead blood levels that are higher than the acceptable limits. According to the World Health Organization, the lead level is three times the acceptable limit. The lead is likely to stay in the soil for centuries to come.

6. Dzerzhinsk, Russia

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World8

Type of Pollution: Chemicals and toxic byproducts, such as sarin and vx gas

Source of Pollution: Chemical Weapon Manufacturing

The Guinness Book of World Records named Dzerzhinsk, Russia as the most chemically polluted city in the world. Nearly 300,000 tons of chemical waste was improperly dumped here between 1930 and 1998. The city’s death rate exceeds its birth rate by 260 percent.

7. Norilsk, Russia

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World9

Type of Pollution: Air pollution such as particulates and sulfur dioxide

Source of Pollution: Nickel and Metal Mining and Processing

Norilsk is the location of the world’s largest heavy metal smelting plant. More than four million tons of dangerous chemicals are released into the city’s atmosphere every year. It is difficult to find even a single living tree within 30 miles of the city.

8. Chernobyl, Ukraine

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World10

Type of Pollution: Radiation

Source of Pollution: Nuclear meltdown

When the Chernobyl nuclear plant melted down in 1986, it sent 100 times more radiation into the air than the nuclear bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. The area is still contaminated and is expected to stay that way for thousands of years. The 20-mile area around Chernobyl remains uninhabitable.

9. Sumgayit, Azerbaijan

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World11

Type of Pollution: Organic chemicals, heavy metals and oil

Source of Pollution: Industrial and petrochemical complexes

When the factories in Sumgayit, Azerbaijan were still operational, they released upwards of 12,000 tons of harmful emissions – like mercury – each year. Even though the majority of the factories have closed their doors, the pollution is still there. There is no work to speak of being done to clean up the area.

10. Kabwe, Zambia

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World12

Type of Pollution: Cadmium and lead

Source of Pollution: Lead processing and mining

High levels of lead were first discovered in Kabwe, Zambia in 1902, but little has been done to protect citizens since the discovery. Zambian children average between five and ten times more lead concentration in their blood than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows. Approximately $40 million from the World Bank has been allocated to aid in a clean-up project in this area.

The top 10 cleanest cities in the world

1. Calgary, Canada

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World13

Calgary, Canada is considered to be the world’s cleanest city. Even though there is a large oil and gas industry in the area, the city features a well-planned out, grid-like structure that reduces traffic congestion. It also features light rail transportation, and transfer stations that sort through garbage and take out biodegradable and recyclable materials.

2. Honolulu, U.S.A.

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World14

Honolulu, Hawaii is the highest-ranking city in the United States found on this list. Honolulu has a light manufacturing industry. The American Public Transportation Association has highlighted Honolulu for its transit system, which includes dedicated bus lanes. By promoting bus travel, Honolulu has been able to reduce traffic and exhausts fumes.

3. Helsinki, Finnland

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World15

Although Helsinki is a fairly large city with more than 500,000 inhabitants, it has the feel of a much smaller city thanks to the fact that the light rail commuter system is so well used. Helsinki residents take pride in their city and do a lot on their own to make sure the city stays clean. The streets are wide, which makes them less prone to congestion and reduces fumes from cars.

4. Ottawa, Canada

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World16

In addition to having a light rail system which reduces traffic, Ottawa also has other programs specifically designed to keep the city clean. For example, Ottowa sponsors a “Spring Cleaning the Capital” program each spring. Between April 15 and May 15 more than 60,000 volunteers come out to clean the city’s parks, roadways, green spaces, and sidewalks.

5. Minneapolis, U.S.A.

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World17

Even though Minneapolis is the largest city in Minnesota, the city stays clean thanks to initiatives that have helped residents keep cleanliness a priority. One of the main things that has reduced the amount of the exhaust produced is the use of light rail systems. Additionally, the city promotes bike riding and has several bike riding lanes designated for bikers to use to commute to and from work.

6. Olso, Norway

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World18

One of the reasons why Oslo is considered to be one of the cleanest cities in the world is because city developers have taken ingenuity and finding ways to be green. Starting in 2010, city officials will introduce buses that run on by the fuels taken from human waste. It is hoped that this initiative will ultimately provide enough energy for all of the city’s 400 buses.

7. Stockholm, Sweden

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World19

In addition to Stockholm having a renowned transportation system that reduces traffic and diesel fuels, the city also has very little heavy industry. This means that much of the city’s economic growth stems from work done that does not harm the environment. Likewise, Stockholm has the largest percentage of clean vehicles in Europe. About 5 percent of all vehicles in Stockholm are hybrids.

8. Zurich, Switzerland

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World20

Zurich, Switzerland is famous for its efficient and clean public transportation system. The city makes available trains, boats, buses, and streetcars. The variety of mass transit options helps reduce fuels released into the air.

9. Katsuyama, Japan

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World21

Katsuyama, Japan is the smallest city included on this list, with a population of just less than 30,000. The city puts a lot of work into keeping the surroundings clean, because it relies on tourism for much of its income. The city sponsors several seasonal festivals which require cleanliness to be enjoyed; therefore the city’s businesses and government leaders put cleanliness high on the list of priorities.

10. Bern, Switzerland

The Cleanest And The Most Polluted Cities In The World22

Bern, Switzerland is the second Swiss city on this list. The city relies on its beauty to promote tourism. Because of this, city officials create initiatives to keep the city clean and presentable so that tourists continue to visit be impressed by the city’s cleanliness and return to visit again.