By DONNA DeFORBES/ecoRI News contributor
When people talk about going green in winter, what usually comes to mind is weatherizing your home: sealing cracks, and insulating attics, pipes and heaters. But there also are other household tips to help make your winter more eco-friendly.
Circulate those ceiling fans. It sounds odd, but if you change the direction of your ceiling fan so that it runs clockwise, it creates an updraft that allows the fan to circulate the warm air that gathers at the ceiling down to the space you inhabit. This simple act can save up to 10 percent on heating costs.
Make your ice removal non-toxic. Chemical deicers come with caution warnings on them for a reason — they’re harmful to humans, pets and the environment. The impurities and added chemicals in road salt have been linked to aquatic dead zones, poisoned pets and plants, and increased risk of cancer in humans. Forget trying to melt the ice, and give yourself traction by sprinkling coarse sand or birdseed. Or seek out salt-free options like Safe Paws or less harmful deicers like calcium magnesium acetate and magnesium chloride.
Shovel snow the old-fashioned way. Plain old muscle energy and a quality shovel is the greenest snow-removal option and has the added benefit of keeping you fit. Snow blowers create noise and air pollution; electrical blowers are a better choice than gas-powered ones.
Tend your fireplace. As cozy as it seems, a fireplace can send up to 24,000 cubic feet of air per hour up the chimney. Reduce this heat loss by using flue sealers, installing a C-shaped heat exchanger that circulates warm air into the room, and getting an annual cleaning by a professional. Consider installing a fireplace insert or converting to a gas fireplace, which are about 70 percent more efficient. You also can choose eco-friendly fire logs. And, once cold, the ashes from your wood-burning fireplace can be tossed into your compost.
Clean your indoor air with houseplants. When you close up your home’s windows for the season, you seal yourself inside with a host of invisible pollutants with scary-sounding names: benzene, trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, xylene, ethyl acetate, acetone and chloroform. These chemicals are present in furniture, carpet, household cleaners and toilet paper, and they can trigger asthma and allergies and cause cancer. To improve your indoor air quality, introduce some new houseplants. These natural air purifiers remove those scary toxins from the air. A spider plant by the fireplace, for example, removes carbon monoxide. Click here to find out what other plants improve indoor air quality.
Take hazardous products to a collection site. While this is a great thing to do any time of year, it’s especially beneficial in winter when you are indoors more often, inhaling the noxious fumes that seep from your basement’s supply of old paint cans, automobile fluids, glues and lawn chemicals. Eco-Depots are a free service for residents to dispose safely of their household hazardous waste.
Cook with care. Reduce your energy usage by using the smallest pot possible for a dish, keeping lids on pots while cooking, and baking several things in the oven at once. Cook meals in bulk and freeze the leftovers. Or try one-pot meal recipes, since using less burners saves energy.
Turn up the heat with alternative methods. Don’t touch that thermostat; follow Grandma’s advice about donning a sweater to stay warm. Better yet, increase your internal temperature by doing chores, starting a family dance party or choosing specific foods. We all know soups, stews and hot teas will warm us up, but nuts, nut butters, sweet potatoes and root vegetables also have excellent warming properties.
Rhode Island resident Donna DeForbes is founder of Eco-Mothering.com, a blog that explores ways to make going green fun and easy for the whole family. She is a contributor to Earth911, MammaBaby and author of the e-book “The Guilt-Free Guide to Greening Your Holidays.”