UU Barn Blog

Pour Over Coffee That Pours Itself

Green Living Idea:  Pour Over Coffee That Pours Itself
By Connie Hester, conniemhester@yahoo.com

I have a Keurig that takes expensive k-cups. The machine itself contains plastic with BPA, and creates unwanted trash. So I searched for alternatives. I started filling my own reusable k-cup. But even with a special scoop, I spilled coffee grounds, and I struggled to empty the little cup.  I looked for alternatives, especially using stainless steel and glass. 

Pour over coffee looked good; but I wanted something that would pour for me. I bought Osaka parts (stainless mesh filter, etc.), put them together and stuffed a filter in the top water cup to slow down the pour. 

 

Consider trying out my invention. Just put your coffee in the stainless mesh filter (no filter needed), place your cup beneath and pour your heated water in the top. Then let it pour over the grounds for you. Shortly it stops dripping and you have a cup of coffee.  The large stainless filter is simple to fill, dump and rinse.  It is healthy for me and the environment, and is nearly as simple as the Keurig. 

Version 2 will be a little taller with more separation between layers.

Please share any ideas, questions, or stories with us; just send them to jennfontaine@gmail.com.

More Wonders of Vinegar

Green Living Ideas: More Wonders of Vinegar 

We’ve previously featured vinegar for its many uses in cleaning, disinfecting, even de-icing your car.  But there are more uses, which may be new to readers.  As a hair rinse that doesn’t leave a residue, use 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in 3 cups of water before rinsing with clear water.  To cure warts, use a daily-changed cotton ball dipped in vinegar and attached with a bandage.  To freshen breath, use 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 1 tablespoon of salt dissolved in 1 cup of water. 

To soften those pesky hardened paintbrushes so many of us are troubled with: dip the bristles in vinegar for an hour or less, wash with warm water and soap, and let dry. To freshen wilted greens:  try soaking the leaves in a bath of 2 cups cold water, ½ teaspoon vinegar.  Add to boiling water to keep egg white from seeping into cooking water. Try using a bath of pure vinegar to loosen rusted bolts or remove rust from tools.  One word of caution: some vinegar may be produced using synthetic ethanol made from petroleum; check the label or email the company to ensure that the ethanol used in your vinegar comes from safe food sources like grains.

Thanks to Peggy Trevanion for sharing a source covering all this; please send ideas, comments or suggestions to jennfontaine@gmail.com.

Monthly Subscription

Green Living Idea:  Monthly Subscription
By: Jen Fontaine

We’re all familiar with the concept of ‘subscriptions,’ which typically involve making a payment and receiving a publication once a month.  Well, we’ve learned about a different kind of subscription, called “Mighty Fix” and offered through an outfit called Mighty Nest.  Subscribers pay a modest monthly fee and receive an ecologically friendly item chosen by their team each month.  A review by TheFrugalGirl praised this service, pointing out some of its advantages: the items are said to be worth at least the subscription price; shipping is free, and the monthly surprises usually replace disposable items, so they save money over time as well as helping protect the environment.  Examples include ‘lunchskins’ that replace plastic bags, organic dishcloths, stainless steel containers for packing lunches, an all-natural deodorant, bamboo utensils, dryer balls that replace chemical-laced dryer sheets, and a soap-dispensing dish brush made from recycled plastic, bamboo, and plant fiber. You can learn about the service, see reviews, and consider subscribing at www.mightynest.com

Thanks to Susie Wood for passing on this tip from one of her friends.  Please share any ideas, questions, or stories with us; just send them to jennfontaine@gmail.com.

Winter De-icing

Green Living Idea: Winter De-icing
By Jen Fontaine

The salts that are easily bought as de-icers for our driveways and walks can damage soil, plants, water supplies, and pets. So it’s worth seeking other alternatives.  Shoveling early is energy-efficient and good exercise.  Snow-blowers (preferably electric or battery-powered) use energy, but do prevent icy buildup.  A “snow melt mat” of underground heating wires may work for a new or rebuilt driveway.

For an eco-friendly substance to improve traction, consider sand or bird-feed over kitty litter or wood ashes, which leave messier residues. If you think ahead of the winter storms, consider using wood chips and straw to improve traction. If you feel the need to use chemicals, explore the choices.  Calcium magnesium acetate is touted for being environmentally friendly, but may be less effective at very low temperatures; urea is less damaging to pets, but possibly more harmful to plants.  In any case, less is probably best for any chemical solution. 

For a chart listing properties of a range of de-icers, please see https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2014/02/best-ice-melts/index.htm. And for some really safe alternatives, the Farmer’s Almanac recommends unconventional choices:  these include alfalfa meal, and a concoction made from sugar beet juice.  While looking for solutions new to many of us, I recently located a ‘recipe’ for de-icing a car that’s been encased in winter ice:  two-thirds vinegar, mixed with one-third water, applied with a re-purposed spray bottle.  Please send ideas, comments, or questions, to jennfontaine@gmail.com

Western PA Conservancy

Green Living: Western PA Conservancy
By Jen Fontaine

Believe it or not, a Google search for “Pennsylvania Environmental Groups” yields about a hundred titles.  About a third are located in Western PA or have chapters or offices in the western part of the state.  It’s worth checking some of these out, since they cover interesting news and events, as well as suggestions for ways to get involved. The first name on the list is the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, www.waterlandlife.org. Several recent projects are featured.  The Conservancy recently transferred 105 acres of land to be added to the Laurel Ridge State Park (the Conservancy is also the source of the original land dedicated to form the state park).  In December, the Conservancy worked on an ongoing transfer of 13 acres of cave property in Huntington County, to protect habitat for endangered bat species. An ongoing call currently on the website invites volunteer stewards for a range of community gardens.  A regular newsletter is available.  This is only one of the dozens of groups you might want to explore. To highlight your own favorite group, or to send in tips, stories or questions, please email jennfontaine@gmail.com.

Non-toxic, Re-usable, Compostable Food Wraps

Green Living Idea:  Non-toxic, Re-usable, Compostable Food Wraps
By Jen Fontaine

What do the plastics industry and the tobacco industry have in common?  What have some young energetic people learned from the history of King Tut that might help today’s environment?  If you’re wondering, you might like to check out the website listed below, and the main product it features, a food wrap that is toxin-free, can be used well over a hundred times, and can be composted after those many uses.  I’ve noticed sites starting to call this stuff “bee wrap,” presumably as it is made of beeswax, as well as tree resin, soy wax, jojoba and essential oils, applied to organic cotton fabric.  The resulting sheets take a little getting used to (they’re stiff until you work it them in your hands, and they require a light cold-water wash between uses); but they do stick to themselves; and they keep leftovers and produce very fresh.  Besides, they help keep plastic out of our refrigerators and landfills (as the author points out, “Plastic is Everywhere!”). If you visit the site below and click on “The Story,” then stick with the reading, you’ll find an interesting tale, as well as some biting commentary on humans and the planet, featuring animations by Steve Cutts.

Just about everyone has a story or an idea to share about ‘green’ living; please consider sending yours in for this column, to jennfontaine@gmail.com.

Two Week Hiatus

Green Living Idea:  Announcement
By: Jen Fontaine

Green Tips will be on hiatus during the next two weeks; but the feature will return with some exciting new ideas about both format and content in the New Year, based on all that we have learned together in 2017.

Happy Holidays!  

Recycling Pallets

Green Living Idea:  Recycling Pallets
By: Jen Fontaine

Two billion pallets are used to transport products every day in this country.  These are often discarded, are available free or at low cost, and can be used for any number of creative projects. Safety comes first, of course; if you’re handy and would like to rescue or reclaim some pallets, don’t try to use any that have visible stains, which may come from toxic spills.  Once you’ve found a clean pallet, look for an IPPC stamp (International Plant Protection Convention); avoid any that carry the abbreviation MB (Methyl Bromide, a powerful pesticide), even for firewood. Instead, look for the notation DB (“Debarked”), HT (“heat treated”) and KD, (“kiln-dried” for a pallet that’s likely to be safer. Avoid pallets carrying unfamiliar stamps unless you can find reliable information online about the stamp.

Once you have the pallets you need, your options are practically unlimited.  Multiple online sites provide instructions and illustrations for projects.  To name only a few attractive ones: laptop riser, coffee table or nightstand, lamp base, gate or fencing, bat box, bike rack, compost bin, outdoor chair or plant stand, and coat rack. For a polished look, pallet creations can be painted, keeping in mind the extra sanding and primer that may be needed to get smooth, even covering on porous surfaces.

Some sources:

If you have a Green Tip to share, or a comment or story, please send it to jennfontaine@gmail.com.

Some Thoughts On Renovation

Green Living Tips: Some Thoughts on Renovation
By Jen Fontaine

Many people are planning to get to long-deferred projects in their home once the excitement of the New Year has passed. It’s worth thinking a little now about plans, since a bit of early research can lead to satisfying, creative results in 2018.

So this week’s “Green” ideas are just a few random thoughts that you might find interesting, drawn mostly from the sources listed below. Look for more focused tips on individual projects in later entries.

One good idea: think about using existing space before building new additions.  An attic might be converted to create new bedrooms; or rooms can double up, serving two purposes (many of us know this, as we have ‘offices’ that turn into guest rooms when needed).

Consider salvaging stuff instead of discarding it.  Maybe that light fixture that’s no longer looking right in the dining room could be used in a downstairs family room?  This one resonates with me because of my own experience in Holland years ago.  The exterior walls of our home there had to be entirely rebuilt to enhance their strength.  But there was nothing wrong with the bricks, so we re-used them in the ‘new’ walls: I can’t imagine a wall using new bricks coming anywhere close to the amazing look we got from these old ones.

Or just donate the old materials: to a friend who is handy with refurbishing old cabinets, or to Habitat for Humanity, or any local business that can breathe new life into old things (antique shops, salvage yards and more).  These can find new homes for your unwanted items, as well as giving you a place to browse for ‘new’ pre-owned items of your own.

Floors and other structural features can be made especially eco-friendly, as well as attractive, by using reclaimed wood (oh, on that floor: remember to avoid adhesives that contain toxic substances). 

Kitchen cabinets can be upgraded and given a ‘new’ look by refacing them, replacing the doors and drawers, but leaving the basic cabinet structures in place. “Passive solar design” is an interesting concept:  it involves using concrete floors and thick interior walls that soak up heat during the day and release it at night. 

It seems that MIT students have done some work on roof color:  black roofs absorb heat, light-colored ones reflect it.  So the solution:  tiles that change color depending on the outdoor temperature (this according to houselogic.com, listed below).

For another innovative idea from the same site, consider a substance called “terrazzo,” made of recycled glass cast into a concrete slab; the illustration on the site looks beautiful.  A choice like this can make for great conversations as well as a sustainable, durable and attractive counter top (if also expensive!).

This list barely scratches the surface of ideas, practices, and products we can all think about.  We’ve not even mentioned HGTV’s list of options for materials: composite decking (made from wood waste and recycled plastic), paper-based countertops, bamboo plywood, rubber mulch, eco-friendly synthetic grass, natural linoleum, soy concrete stain, recycled plastic carpet, and more, all of which can be found on their website (hgtv.com).

One last idea that should appeal to everyone: one site suggested making your home comfortable and inviting—to encourage all who live there or visit to feel at ease, and to be more likely to have the energy to think about environmental practices!

If your project is big enough to require professional help and you’re not sure where to turn, some sources offer directories of builders that follow environmentally sound practices. These include the U.S. Green Building Council, and websites like http://thebeam.com and http://moderngreenliving.com.  Meanwhile, do approach any new architect or contractor with research in hand.

Finally, there are a whole range of degrees (shades?) of green. Budget can be a factor, as well as aesthetics and other issues, like any environmental cost of transporting ‘green’ products. 

A few sites to explore:

If you have a specific question or plan that you’d like highlighted, some experience or idea of your own to share… or for any comments about sustainable living, please send your thoughts to jennfontaine@gmail.com.