Category Archives: Home and Garden
Think about how much time you spend at home — sleeping, relaxing, eating, hanging out with friends and family. You want the air you breathe while you’re in your house to be the cleanest and safest it can be. But even if your carpets, countertops, and furniture are as clean as a whistle, your indoor air quality might not be up to par. Perhaps it’s time to consider a clean air system.
How an Air Purifier Works
An air cleaning system or air purifier does just that — it removes certain pollutants from the air and improves indoor air quality. These systems use filtration or another method of pulling pollutants from the air you breathe.
Particles in the air that can be removed by some air cleaning systems include:
- Dander from pets and other animals
- Cigarette and pipe smoke
- Dust and dust mites
- Viruses and bacteria
- Smoke from cooking
Gases in the air that may be removed by some air cleaning systems include pollutant chemicals from:
- Paints, stains, and varnishes
- Cleaning products
- Gas ranges in the kitchen
- Adhesive substances
- Cigarette and pipe smoke
- Car exhaust
- Certain furniture and construction materials
Types of Air Cleaning Systems
Here are a few types of air cleaners, and what they remove from the air:
- Air filter. An air filter removes small particles from the air using materials or electrical charges to capture particles.
- Gas filter. A gas filter removes harmful gases using a material, often activated carbon, that absorbs them.
- PCO air cleaner. This device removes some harmful gases by turning them into a safe gas using a catalyst and UV light. They’re not the most effective at destroying harmful gases indoors. and they don’t remove any particles.
- UVGI air cleaner. This type of air cleaner uses UV light to remove germs such as mold, allergens, some bacteria, and viruses. Not all bacteria and viruses can be destroyed without longer exposure to UV light.
- Ozone generator air cleaner. An ozone generator air cleaner removes gases, particles, molds, allergens, bacteria, and viruses using ozone. But ozone itself is a harmful substance that can also cause health problems.
Do You Need A Clean Air System?
First, it’s important to figure out what’s in the air in your home and if it’s affecting your health. Contaminants like mold and allergens can impact your respiratory health, so there may be some benefit for you in installing an air purifier.
No air purifier can remove all contaminants and give you completely clean air, but the right system can certainly reduce pollutants and improve air quality.
Air purifiers have not been found to be particularly effective in improving health problems for people who are most susceptible to them: the very young and very old, asthmatics, and those who have allergies. They’ve also not been found to be very effective in reducing asthma and allergy symptoms caused by contaminants like cat dander, dust, and other allergens.
Whether you are limited on space, growing plants that don’t usually survive your local weather or just looking to create focal points, container trees and shrubs can be a lovely addition to your landscape. However, there are some considerations that you will need to remember in order to help them stay happy and healthy.
Research to Determine What Trees and Shrubs Are Best
One big mistake that some gardeners make is falling in love with a plant online or at a nursery and whisking it home with nary a thought as to whether it will actually work in your garden. This is especially true when you are trying to place a tree or shrub in a container. The cute little sapling that you spied at the garden center can turn into a tree that is over 100 feet tall.
The basics that you should check out for potential candidates include:
- Preferred hardiness zones
- Height and width at maturity
- Light and water requirements
- Potential for litter
Use Dwarf Cultivars as Available
You are asking a lot of a tree or shrub when you place it into a container.
The roots have far less space to work with and can naturally become crowded. When you choose dwarf cultivars and species that are naturally on the smaller size, it is easier for them to adapt to the limited area presented. This is especially important when you are working with fruit trees since they will need extra energy to produce fruit and you want a good root base.
Choose Your Pot Size Carefully
Picking the right size of container for your tree or shrub can be a bit tricky at first. You do not want one that is too small, of course, as this will leave little room for root growth and it is likely to become rootbound and struggle or die. Since it is a large plant, you might naturally think to place it in a very large container so it will have room even when it is fully grown.
However, you can definitely run into problems if the pot is too large for the plant’s current size. When there is an abundance of soil present and not enough roots to take up the water, it can retain moisture for too long and cause root rots that can ultimately kill the plant.
For best results, plan on moving up in 2” increments every couple of years until it reaches maturity. Repot sooner if you notice roots escaping from the drainage holes. If it is rootbound when you change containers, perform root pruning by use a box cutter or other sharp instrument to score along the sides of the root ball and remove the mass of roots. This will stimulate new root growth and keep the plant healthier.
Drainage is Essential
Even if you have the correct size of container, you can run into root rot and other problems if there are not enough drainage openings present. Check your pot (especially if you are using an alternative form of planter like a barrel or bucket that is not necessarily sold with drainage holes) and use a drill to create more as needed.
Protect the Roots in Freezing Weather
Many trees and shrubs have adapted for survival through the harsh conditions present during winter. Growth slows and the plant goes into dormancy. The roots are protected by the ground surrounding them and the temperatures are at least a little higher than in the air above.
In a container, there is a lot less buffer present for the roots. It is much easier for the soil to freeze completely and cause damage. Options are to bring the plant inside, bury it in the ground or place it somewhere like a garage or basement. If you choose to bury them, add mulch on top for extra protection and leave a space around the trunk to prevent insect and disease damage.
Don’t Forget to Harden Off Your Plants
If you are trying to grow plants in containers so that you can bring them inside when the temperatures drop, take it slow when you reintroduce them to the outdoors in the following spring. This process is called hardening off and is an essential step in protecting your trees and shrubs from harm.
Imagine that you are used to sitting quietly on a couch while listening to classical music. One day you are drifting off into a nap, but suddenly are jolted awake as someone throws you into the front row of a rock concert. This is the sort of experience that a plant will be subjected to if you do not harden it off first and let it adjust. Outdoor conditions are harsher than indoors since the light is magnitudes brighter, environmental conditions like drought, salt and wind are present, and insects or diseases are more likely to strike.
Efficient methods like square foot gardening can be used to maximize production and are easy to lay out in a grid system within the box.
Types of Construction Materials
There are a variety of options available if you want to create a raised bed. Wood planks are a common choice. Make sure that chemicals have not been used to treat them, as these can leach into the soil and into your vegetables, fruits and herbs. For this reason, if you are going to re-use found wood or pallets, source them carefully as in many cases, they have toxins and/or pesticides present in the wood. Choose fastening materials like bolts or screws that are made of a substance that will not rust, like stainless steel.
Cinder blocks are another possible option for your raised bed. They will last almost indefinitely and weather better than wood. If you lay the concrete blocks so that the holes are facing up, the sides will create a solid wall. Use rebar inside each opening to keep the blocks from shifting. Plants that stay on the smaller side (some herbs, onions, radishes, etc.) can even be grown in the holes. Watch on your local classifieds, Freecycle and Facebook yard sale groups as they are sometimes offered for free if you haul them away.
If your garden is naturally rocky, use that to your advantage by building your raised bed for free with those stones. These are also a common item given away on classified groups if you are willing to pick them up.
Another great option is to buy a raised bed made of fabric. One of the advantages of a fabric bed is that at the end of the season, you can dump out the soil, wash off the fabric, fold it up and store it for the winter. You can even make a raised bed from a kiddie pool.
A raised bed is your opportunity to compensate for natural soil that is too sandy, full of rocks, poor in nutrients or otherwise problematic for your plants. The simplest method would be to buy bags of potting mix to fill the box. Depending on the type and brand you choose, as well as the height of your raised bed, this can turn out to be very expensive.
You can mix up your own potting soil using equal parts of materials like topsoil, peat moss and compost. Adding perlite or vermiculite is helpful to stop the soil from becoming compacted and make it easier for water and nutrients to flow through. Place your materials into a compost tumbler or large wheelbarrow and mix them together. Use this opportunity to add in organic, slow release fertilizer, following the directions for amounts. You can also to add aged manure or compost instead of fertilizer.
If you do not make your own compost, call your local waste management and recycling facilities. In some cities, green waste is collected and turned into composts and mulches that are usually priced competitively. They may deliver for a fee, but you can also use a pickup truck to transport it yourself.
When you are planning out your garden, it is tempting to maximize space by creating one large raised bed. However, it will work much better if you break it up into several boxes. If the bed is too wide, it will be very difficult to reach across to thin seedlings, keep weeds down and harvest your crops. You want to keep the width a maximum of four feet wide.
If you are working with an area that is not flat, remove soil or build up areas so that your planting area will be even. Smooth it out before adding your soil mixture to the container.
Filling your raised bed is also something to think about when you are planning. These boxes offer the opportunity to use potting soil or other mediums that mean you can still garden when your soil is poor. However, the cost can really start to add up when your box is bigger. However, if you want to grow deeper rooted plants you may want to start with a 12″ height.
If you are designing it for someone with illnesses or disabilities, make sure that the pathways are wide enough to accommodate assistive devices like wheelchairs and walkers. Allow space to go around corners and exit successfully. Make the sides two feet high to make it accessible for the gardener to reach towards the plants from a seated position. Wider pathways will also mean that wheelbarrows can be used in the area.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a highly poisonous gas that can be fatal if inhaled in large amounts. You can’t see or smell carbon monoxide gas, which makes it even more dangerous. Carbon monoxide can infiltrate your home without you ever knowing until symptoms strike.
The longer and more significant a person’s exposure to carbon monoxide, the more severe the symptoms can become, ultimately leading to death.
Carbon Monoxide in the Home
A malfunctioning or inappropriately used heating, cooking, or ventilation system in the home can allow leakage of carbon monoxide gas into the air, leaving you breathing toxic gas without knowing it.
Carbon monoxide can come from a number of sources within the home:
- Furnace systems and chimneys with leaks
- Kerosene heaters
- Wood-burning stoves and fireplaces
- Gas ranges
- Appliances fueled by gasoline
- Gas-fueled space heaters
- Fireplaces that aren’t vented
- Cigarette and pipe smoke
Carbon Monoxide and Your Health
When carbon monoxide gas contaminates the air, you breathe in more carbon monoxide than oxygen. Once it enters the body, carbon monoxide gets into the blood, where it takes the place of oxygen; this happens most notably in vital organs like the brain and heart, which then become oxygen-deprived.
The first symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
- Chest tightness or shortness of breath
How carbon monoxide affects your health depends on the amount of carbon monoxide exposure and on how long the exposure lasts. Carbon monoxide poisoning may cause some of the immediate short-term effects noted above, but it can quickly turn serious, with nausea, vomiting, and loss of muscle coordination coming next. Inhaling high quantities of carbon monoxide can quickly lead to unconsciousness and suffocation.
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
A carbon monoxide detector is a must for any home and just as important as a smoke detector. CO detectors should be placed near all bedrooms; they’re the only way you will know if carbon monoxide is affecting the air quality in your home, and can help prevent serious illness and even death.
Follow all the manufacturer’s directions, including how often the unit needs replacing, and always make sure there’s a UL (Underwriters Laboratories) certification tag on the model you buy. Unfortunately, not all carbon monoxide detectors are 100 percent effective — some brands did well during independent testing, and others didn’t. Investigate models before you buy to choose one that rated highest in tests.
Big winter snowstorms, like nor’easters and blizzards, bring on extreme cold, major snow accumulation, and other immobilizing conditions. Winter storm experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Red Cross offer advice on how to prepare and stay safe and healthy during blizzards and other winter storms.
In addition to dressing appropriately for the weather, experts recommend stocking up on disaster supplies: flashlights, batteries, candles, waterproof matches, a radio, a first-aid kit, sand or rock salt for icy walkways, a snow shovel, and extra blankets.
However, your most crucial disaster supplies will be your food, water, and any prescription medications you, your family, or your pets need. Even if your home doesn’t suffer any storm damage, you could have trouble getting to the supermarket, pharmacy, or doctor during extreme winter weather conditions.
Healthy Meal Plans in Extreme Winter Snowstorms
A bad snowstorm or blizzard doesn’t have to derail your regular healthy eating regimen. As soon as you hear a winter storm warning, start stocking up on emergency water and healthy, shelf-stable and frozen foods that your family will enjoy. Be sure to pay special attention to the diet-specific needs of family members with health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, celiac disease (gluten sensitivity), or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
It is essential for people with health conditions like these to pay attention to their diets during winter storms. People with diabetes must stay on a regular eating schedule to keep their blood sugar stable, and people with high blood pressure must remember to stick with low- or no-sodium canned goods and packaged foods — not the high-sodium prepared foods that are typically set aside for times when the electricity goes out.
Read the shopping lists and sample menus below to get more ideas about how you and your family can eat healthfully during a winter emergency.
Shopping Lists and Sample Menus by Condition and Special Food Plans
These healthy-eating plans help those with medical conditions, as well as people who choose a vegetarian diet, make it through in good health.
If you want to grow roses in your garden but don’t have space left, try growing them in containers. They can also add beautiful accents that brighten up your landscape and perfume the air.
Pick the Right Roses
Not all roses will work well in containers. For example, unless you put it against a trellis or otherwise provide support, one of the climbing roses would be a poor choice to pot up as it will sprawl everywhere. Grandifloras live up to their name and tend to be on the taller side in addition to large blooms. Shrub roses, species roses and older cultivars of roses also reach dimensions that make it difficult to grow in a contained space. Leave the hybrid teas to your landscape as they do not usually grow well in pots.
Four types of roses that are especially suitable for containers are:
- Groundcover These stay low and look lovely spilling over the edges of your container. Depending on the size of your pot and the groundcover variety, you could also possibly use it as a border around a larger plant.
- Miniature Since these types of roses have been cultivated to stay on the small side, they are naturally well suited to growing in containers.
- Patio If you want a rose that is not miniature, but not as big as a standard rose, try a patio rose. They are the type called floribunda, on a smaller scale.
- Polyantha These bear clusters of small roses on a shorter plant. Check the tag to make sure you are not purchasing a climbing type of polyantha rose.
There is a delicate balance to be maintained when you are planting roses (or any other plant) in containers. You want a potting medium that drains well enough that root rot is less likely, but is heavy enough to hold some water. The container needs to have enough drainage holes so that the excess water can flow out. However, this also means that water runs through it relatively quickly and the plant can dry out faster.
Keep an eye roses so you know when you need to water. A good general rule of thumb is to water when the top of the soil surface is dry–you want to keep them moist, not wet–the soil should have as much moisture as a rung out sponge. You will also have more success if you water outside of the period of 10 AM – 6 PM, as this is when it is usually hottest in the day and evaporation is accelerated. As much as possible, try to keep the water off the leaves of roses as wet leaves can lead to powdery mildew and other fungi and disease.
Drip irrigation can also be a successful way to keep your container rose happy. These systems are designed to deliver the water directly to the root zone instead of spraying over a general location.
When you place a rose within a finite amount of soil, it tends to use up all of the nutrients available. Apply fertilizer every other week to make sure that they have access to all of the food that they need for proper growth. Be sure to follow the directions as over-fertilizing can be as bad or worse than not feeding at all. Apply to the soil and not the leaves (unless the directions instruct you to do so) because foliage can be burned by the salts in fertilizers.
Repot and Change the Soil Every Few Years
If you start with a miniature rose or one that is at maturity, you may not need to repot for many years unless the roots start coming out the bottom or the pot breaks. With most other roses, though, you will need to change containers every few years as the plant grows.
While you are repotting, go an extra step and change out the soil if it has been there for more than two years. The plant has depleted some of the nutrients, and the soil has probably compacted, so a fresh batch will keep the nutrient level at an acceptable level. Over time, salts and minerals can also accumulate in the soil from fertilizers, so this may potentially damage the rose.
The second-leading cause of lung cancer could be hiding inside your own home.
Radon — an odorless, colorless, naturally occurring radioactive gas — is inhaled into the lungs, where it can damage the DNA, potentially increasing cancer risk, says Douglas Arenberg, MD, associate professor of medicine in the pulmonary and critical care department at the University of Michigan Health System.
Exposure to radon gas, which can seep through cracks in the walls and floors of your home, increases the risk of developing lung cancer. In the United States, an estimated 21,000 people die from radon-related lung cancer every year (compared with 160,000 lung cancer deaths from smoking), according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, and it’s the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, adds the EPA. And people who smoke or used to smoke have an even greater chance of developing lung cancer if they are exposed to radon.
“Lung cancer risk from radon exposure occurs over many years of high-level exposure,” Dr. Arenberg says.
Radon: The Home Invader
Radon forms when uranium in water, rocks, and soil begins to break down, releasing radon gas into the dirt beneath your home. Radon can enter your home through:
- Cracks in foundation walls and floors
- Gaps in flooring
- Warm air rising indoors
- Spaces around pipes entering the foundation
- Wind blowing outdoors
- Fireplaces and furnaces
- Open areas inside the walls
- Exterior air vents
- Water — usually well water
- Construction joints — where concrete stops and starts again
Radon is a common problem in homes throughout the country — as many as one in 15 U.S. homes has high levels of radon, according to the EPA. But certain geographic regions are more likely to be affected. In general, the Northeast, southern Appalachia, the Midwest, and northern plains areas tend to have levels over the recommended limit of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air, while coastal areas tend to have lower levels. Newer homes may also have higher levels of radon due to better porosity in soil around the house, which can make it easier for radon gas to flow in.
Fireworks add sparkle to Independence Day festivities but they need to be handled with care — and by adults, a prominent group of U.S. surgeons says.
“Many people consider consumer fireworks to be harmless fun, when in fact they can be extremely dangerous, especially when used by or near children and adolescents,” Boston orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tamara Rozental, spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, said in an academy news release.
“If caution is not used and safety guidelines are not adhered to, fireworks can cause serious injuries to the hands and fingers as well as the eyes,” Rozental said.
Americans bought more than 212 million pounds of fireworks in 2011, compared with 184 million pounds in 2010, the American Pyrotechnics Association says. In 2012, there were more than 18,700 injuries caused by fireworks, including more than 7,300 emergency department visits, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
The CPSC also says that 36 percent of the estimated emergency department-treated, fireworks-related injuries in 2011 involved people younger than age 20. The parts of the body most often injured by fireworks were eyes (17 percent); hands and fingers (46 percent of injuries); head, face and ears (17 percent); and legs (11 percent). Burns accounted for more than half of the emergency department-treated, fireworks-related injuries. There were 1,100 emergency department-treated injuries associated with sparklers and 300 with bottle rockets.
The following fireworks safety tips come from the orthopedic surgeons:
- Check with your local police department to determine if fireworks can be discharged legally in your area. If so, determine which types are legal. Never buy or use illegal fireworks. Their quality cannot be assured.
- Only adults should light fireworks. Never hold lighted fireworks with your hand or place them near the body. Read the caution label on fireworks’ packaging before lighting them and always wear safety eyewear when using fireworks. Never try to relight a firework.
- Always have water handy in case of a fire, such as a hose hooked to a faucet or a nearby bucket of water. Soak used fireworks in water before discarding.
- If you or anyone else suffers a fireworks-related injury, seek immediate medical attention.
Of them, 84 percent of the fatalities were children younger than 9. The government agency estimates there are some 43,000 “tip-over” accidents each year in the United States, and 70 percent involve TV sets and furniture.
The report finds a large majority of these incidents occur when a child climbs on furniture to reach a toy, remote, or video game remote control, or to turn on a television set.
Nearly half of these accidents occur in bedrooms. The report suggests many of the televisions involved in these injuries are older, clunky CRT sets that have been moved to another room and placed on a bureau or dresser, once a family upgrades to a flat screen television.
The majority of these deaths — around 62 percent — are from improperly secured television sets, which can weigh an average 50 to 100 pounds. A great number of these accidents result in severe head injuries. There were 41 tip-over fatalities in 2011, which is the highest number, compared with 31 in 2010 and 27 deaths in 2009.
The agency urges parents take extra measures to ensure large appliances and furniture are stabilized and properly installed in their home, and also to educate their children about the dangers of climbing on furniture. As the watchdog for consumer product safety, the CPSC offers several tips to prevent tip-over accidents at home:
- Anchor all furniture to the walls or floors.
- Secure TVs to the tops of furniture that are customized to hold such devices.
- Cover appliance cords and cable wires and keep them out of reach from children.
- Use brackets for free-standing kitchen appliances and stoves.
- Childproof your entire home and don’t leave children unsupervised in rooms where furniture, TVs, and other appliances have not been properly secured.
Imagine a marketplace where retailers and manufacturers are compelled to make only safe, environmentally sustainable products from ethically sourced raw materials, produced by a fairly treated workforce. For Dara O’Rourke, it’s not an abstract idea; it’s his vision for the future. As associate professor of environmental and labor policy at the University of California at Berkeley, O’Rourke is a co-founder of GoodGuide.com, an online consumer resource that uses scientific calculations to create sophisticated ratings and assign “health” scores to thousands of products and companies.
Sound complicated? It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s O’Rourke’s way of giving consumers the information they need to understand the personal and social health costs that may go in to producing that household cleaner they’re using, the baby’s diaper, the jeans they’re wearing — the list includes more than 115,000 products so far.
“The idea for GoodGuide came about while I was putting sunscreen on my then 3-year-old daughter’s face. I started wondering about the ingredients in her sunscreen, so I went back to campus at UC Berkeley, where I teach, did some research, and found out that the sunscreen contained traces of potentially toxic chemicals. I then researched the rest of my daughter’s stuff and found that her shampoo, her favorite toys, and even her furniture contained ingredients with potential health hazards. This surprised and angered me,” O’Rourke says. “I realized that even though I have a Ph.D., and study products and supply chains full-time, I knew almost nothing about the products I was bringing into my own house. This motivated me to create GoodGuide, to give consumers the information they need to make better decisions about which products best match their health, environmental, and ethical concerns.” O’Rourke shares more of his findings and story here.
My health breakthrough: I grew up never really thinking about health issues. My family was luckily always very healthy and active. I was a swimmer and water polo player growing up and through college. My father is still a masters runner (in his seventies). So I honestly didn’t really think much about health issues until I was in my twenties conducting research in factories in Southeast Asia. While living and working in Southeast Asia, I got sick a number of times from poor water and hygiene. But more importantly, I saw firsthand the incredibly tough health conditions of workers in factories producing shoes, clothes, electronics, even food for the U.S. market. Over a number of years in the mid-’90s, I was able to get inside these factories and conduct research on worker health and safety conditions. This research ultimately led to a report on the working conditions of Nike workers in Vietnam, which ended up as a front page story in The New York Times and helped spur my interest in health conditions around the world.
My health impact overseas and in the classroom: Since the mid-’90s, I have worked in Asia and Latin America on issues related to the health and safety of the workers who make the goods we consume here in the United States. More recently, I have tried to conduct research that connects impacts across global supply chains, from workers to consumers.
In my role as a professor at UC Berkeley, I also teach a large undergraduate course on environmental justice. The course ends up focusing a lot on environmental health issues in the United States, in particular on inequitable distributions of health and environmental outcomes.