Friday, October 31, 2014

Pumpkin Pyramids

Here's a challenge: Ditch the usual jack-o'-lantern routine this year and create tasteful pumpkin pillars on either side of your front door. Simply put large pumpkins in the base of several urns, then group them together and stack progressively smaller pumpkins on top of each other to create the pyramid structure. You can carve or paint faces on the pumpkins or leave them au naturel. Either way makes a statement.


Paper bag luminaries

Luminaries are a beautifully spooky idea if you have a long path leading to your front door. All you need is a stack of paper lunch bags (available in many colors at party supply stores), votive candles and some sand or gravel to keep the finished product upright on windy nights. You can draw, paint or cut out scary scenes on the bags, but they're just as effective unadorned. Simply put an inch or two of sand in the bottom of the sack, followed by the (unlit) votive candle. Arrange a luminary every foot or so along your walkway and then light the candles as the sun goes down. Instant ambiance, and it's dead simple!


Wreath for halloween

The first rule of outdoor holiday decorating is that you can never go wrong with a wreath. In fact, we'd go so far as to call them mandatory, especially if you're only decorating your entryway. If you want to keep it simple, we suggest weaving orange and black ribbon and some small bunches of fall berries through a basic frame of twisted vines and branches. Of course, it's also fun to go all out with feathers, shrunkenplastic skulls and gigantic fake spiders. The choice (and budget) is yours.



Halloween isn't exactly a "less is more" kind of holiday. In many neighborhoods, it seems to be more like "all or nothing." When faced with the task of decorating for Halloween, some people go totally insane -- the more jack-o'-lanterns, fake cobwebs, plastic tombstones, skeletons and flashing lights they can cram onto the house, the better. Add some life-size coffins, creepy music and a fog machine, and the effect is complete.
On the other side of the street are the folks who won't even stoop to set a pumpkin by the door. These party poopers turn off the lights on the big night to discourage trick-or-treaters, which makes them target number one for a midnight toilet-papering and yard egging.
So what are you supposed to do if you like Halloween but don't have the time, inclination or funds to go over the top with decorating? Our advice is to concentrate on your front porch and door, and keep it simple.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Old T-Shirts

A favorite T-shirt is like an old friend. I have T-shirts that I've worn for 15 years and others that I should have stopped wearing a decade ago. When the holes on your favorite T-shirt are big enough to accidentally stick your arm through, it's time to consign your old friend to the rag drawer.
Cotton T-shirts make the best all-purpose rags for dusting, wiping off counters, washing cars. OK, that's not exactly true — old cloth diapers are the absolute champion of rags, but harder to find.

Toilet Paper Tubes

When American brothers Clarence and E. Irvin Scott invented the toilet paper roll in 1890, they created more than a convenient way to dispense an indispensable product; they ignited our collective obsession with the humble cardboard toilet paper tube .For children, a handful of toilet paper tubes is fodder for hours of fun in the form binoculars, rockets, submarines — and that's without the addition of paper towel tubes.
They have adult uses too. Instead of throwing out those cardboard tubes, put them to work around the house with the following brilliant ideas:
  • Stuff a bunch of plastic grocery bags inside a paper towel tube to make a handy dispenser.
  • Organize hair bands and hair clips in the bathroom by wrapping them around a toilet paper tube.
  • Keep extension cords from getting tangled by folding them neatly inside a paper towel tube.
  • Keep holiday lights from tangling in storage by wrapping them around the outside of a paper towel roll and taping down the end.
  • Safely store important documents like diplomas and birth certificates by rolling them up inside paper towel rolls.


There are millions of adults and children in developing countries without access to prescription eyeglasses and bifocal reading glasses. Uncorrected vision effectively renders them uneducated and unemployed, driving them even deeper into poverty. There are a number of charitable organizations that accept donations of used glasses, sort them by prescription, and ship them to people who cannot afford the luxury of good vision.
Lions Club International has been doing this good work for decades. Local branches of the Lions Club distribute eyeglass collection boxes to community buildings like libraries and schools. You can also mail eyeglasses to one of 18 Lions Eyeglass Recycling Centers worldwide.
New Eyes is another organization that distributes used eyewear to the needy. In addition to prescription eyeglasses and reading glasses in good condition, New Eyes accepts sunglasses, metal eyewear in any condition, and watches and jewelry that the organization sells to raise money.

Plastic Grocery Bags

Far out in the Pacific Ocean floats an island of garbage twice the size of Texas. Known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it's an accidental accumulation of millions of tons of floating debris — much of it plastic — trapped in a convergence of oceanic currents.
The single-use plastic grocery bag has been targeted by environmental groups as a ubiquitous symbol of waste. Discarded plastic bags can travel hundreds of miles on the wind and float along rivers and oceans, if they don't lodge in trees first. Every year, an estimated 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million sea birds die from ingesting plastic waste . Several states are currently considering "ban the bag" laws
Part of the trouble is that most municipal recycling programs don't accept plastic grocery bags. Most grocery stores will take back used bags, or you can give them a second or third life through a number of household uses.
  • Make a comfy pillow for a pet by stuffing crumpled up plastic bags inside an old pillowcase.
  • Protect a fragile package by stuffing the box with plastic bags.
  • Use plastic bags as makeshift gloves when cleaning the bathroom.
  • if you're really crafty, you can even make raincoats, yarn and reusable grocery totes out of loads of old bags.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wine Corks

Next time you pop open a nice full-bodied merlot or celebrate with a crisp bottle of Champagne, hold on to that cork. With some patience -- or some serious drinking – you'll collect enough corks to make dozens of cool DIY projects.
A simple bulletin board or corkboard is the classic project. Glue a hundred or so corks in an eye-catching pattern on a backing board or within a colorful frame. For a cork bath mat, slice the corks in half lengthwise and hot glue the flat sides to a sheet of shelf paper 
Even if you only have a handful of corks, you can get creative. Make a floatable keychain by twisting a loop screw into a favorite cork. Carve a cool pattern into the end of a cork to make handy stamps. Or take thin slices of cork and glue them inside cabinet doors to make them slam-proof.



In the world of high-tech gadgets, it's a short trip from "next best thing!" to a child's plaything. Computers, TVs and cell phones fall out of fashion so fast that some folks have collections of old gadgets collecting dust in the basement. If you're tempted to drag yesterday's technology to the curb, check out these numbers about the benefits of recycling electronics 
  • Recycling 1 million laptops saves as much electricity as 3,500 American homes use in a year.
  • Recycling 1 million cell phones saves 35,000 pounds (15,876 kilograms) of copper, 772 pounds (350 kilograms) of silver, 75 pounds (34 kilograms) of gold and 33 pounds (15 kilograms) of palladium.

Visit the EPA donation and recycling website to search for local retailers who accept old TVs, computers and cell phones. There are also charitable organizations like Cell Phones for Soldiers and Hope Phones that will take your old flip phone put it in the hands of someone who will really appreciate it. Another cool organization is Music and Memory, a group that gives old iPods and other audio players to dementia patients.
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Led lighting

It uses practically no energy at all compared to an incandescent bulb and is more efficient than a fluorescent while creating a warmer shade of light than a CFL. It can last 20 years, so you may only change your light bulbs a few times during the course of your life.
The LED is a marvel of energy-efficiency and longevity, consuming about 80 percent less energy than a traditional light bulb and about 5 percent less than a CFL; if you currently use incandescents, switching to LEDs can reduce your carbon footprint by hundreds of pounds per light fixture [source: Layton].
On the downside, an LED bulb can cost from $30 all the way up to $100. It'll save money in the long run, but it's a big expenditure, so it's currently mostly a commercial lighting choice. Prices are coming down, though, so ultra-green LED lighting could soon become a viable green option at home.

Nontoxic paint

Think breathing the air during the morning commute is rough on your health? Try breathing inside your home after a fresh coat of paint.
It's the volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, in the paint that are toxic both to humans and the environment. They eat away the ozone layer and contaminate groundwater.
In the last decade, though, new paint formulations have come out that are lower in VOCs. There are even no-VOC options. These greener paints are now mainstream, offered by most big paint manufacturers, and they don't cost much more than the regular, high-polluting stuff.
You might make up the money, too, when you go to dispose of the extra paint -- low- and no-VOC paint isn't considered hazardous waste, so there's no extra disposal charge

Aluminum Foil

When Reynolds sold its first rolls of aluminum foil back in 1947, the company advertised it as the foil for "1,001 kitchen miracles." Foil exhibits some unique properties of metal — moisture-proof, odor-proof, able to withstand extreme temperatures — and adds the uncanny ability to be molded into any imaginable shape. Foil is also washable, making it the material with 1,001 lives.
Next time you use a sheet of foil to cover a plate of leftovers, rinse it off afterwards, and save it for one of these unexpected household uses
  • Pot scrubber: Ball up some aluminum foil for an easy way to remove baked- on, caked-on grime from pots and pans. Also works on grease-caked grills.
  • Silver polisher: Submerge tarnished silver in a glass pan of boiling water lined with aluminum foil; then add two teaspoons of salt. In minutes, a simple chemical reaction will dissolve the tarnish without damaging the silver.
  • No-fuss funnel: Where's a funnel when you need it? Form a cone out of a double layer of foil and you're in business.
  • Scissor sharpener: If your scissors get dull, simply cut through a sheet of aluminum foil.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Binder clips

If you're cleaning out your home office and come across a box of these butterfly-winged beauties, do not even THINK of throwing them away. In the life hacker community, binder clips are the go-to tool for a clever solution to any household problem.
Binder clips are prized for their strength — if you ever had a fingertip, earlobe or tongue caught in one of these suckers, you know what we mean. They're also flat on one side, enabling them to stand up with some degree of stability.
Among the many, many, many uses that have been dreamed up for binder clips, here are some of our favorites
  • Minimalist wallet – pinch some folded cash and a credit card in the clip; even hang a house key from the silver handle.
  • Picture "frames" – drive some nails into the wall, put binder clips on some favorite photos, then hang them from the nails.
  • Toothpaste helper – keep your half-empty tube of toothpaste locked and loaded by rolling up and clipping the bottom.
  • Cable corral – attach some clips to the edge of your desk to hold the ends of unused USB, power and audio cables.

Recycled Aluminum

Aluminum is all over -- soda cans, fixtures, industrial scrap metal, for a start. Wouldn't it be nice if it could be turned into something useful after it has outlived its original use, without having to expend a ton of energy breaking it down in the recycling process?
Companies are now recycling aluminum in a much less energy-intensive process than we typically think of when we imagine "recycling." They're cutting all that trash metal into pieces and turning it into countertops and backsplashes in the kitchen, and tiles for bathroom walls and floors.
Recycled metal isn't just for functional design, either. It's popping up in fine art, too, everything from garden sculptures to wall hangings, accent furniture and handbags. And while we're on the topic, even the medals in the 2010 Olympics contained some recycled metal.

Recycled Glass

Bet you never thought those wine bottles you recycled would end up back in your kitchen.
Recycled-glass countertops take the glass you throw in the recycling bin and turn it into a unique kitchen surface. The glass pieces can be any size and color -- recycled windshields produce clear glass, wine bottles green or brown glass, dinner plates can mean any color in the spectrum.
The glass is broken into small pieces and held together with concrete. The end result is a lustrous, speckled look. It's typically custom-made in molds, so there's very little waste, and it consumes a product that would probably otherwise end up in a landfill, will pretty much never biodegrade and takes a lot of energy to recycle.

Reclaimed Wood

Most wood floors come from trees harvested for that purpose -- they're cut down with beautiful flooring in mind. And when a homeowner pulls up old, beat-up wood floors during a remodel, that old wood is typically considered trash and is discarded accordingly.
Two types of wood floors take a more eco-friendly approach. There's reclaimed wood, which uses re-finished, old wood floors and other building elements (old beams, for instance) to make new wood floors that have a rustic look. These are antique wood floors. Reclaimed wood can be used for other design elements, like staircases, trusses, counters or mantles.
Another green option is recovered wood. This type uses trees that have been cut down for other purposes, typically in clearing land for building purposes. In this case, recovered trees that were being killed anyway are used to create brand-new wood floors.
One thing to look out for in both of these cases is the process used to prepare and finish the wood. Some companies that use reclaimed or recovered wood use environmentally damaging methods of turning that wood into your floors. Ask questions about the finishing process to make sure the green wood stays green.

Natural Plaster

Most wall surfaces are drywall covered by toxic paint. Some are fancier, sporting traditional plaster that's textured -- "hand-troweled" -- for a rustic look or mixed with pigment for a Venetian or Moroccan look.
They're custom, high-end finishes that add real interest and value to a home. The problem, from an environmental perspective, is that these plasters are typically gypsum-based, and manufacturing them has a high carbon footprint. Plus, some of the brighter pigments can contain volatile organic compounds.
A relatively new product has solved the biggest of plaster's green issues. Natural plaster, or "Earth plaster," avoids the gypsum, allowing it to be manufactured at lower temperatures. This decreases the CO2 emissions associated with the process.
The most Earth-friendly (and fume-free) Earth plaster is unpigmented, going on in natural Earth tones and often textured for an organic look. If pigments are used, VOCs can still be a problem, so make sure you (or your contractor) go with nontoxic coloring agents. Earth clay also comes in paint form, which is zero-VOC