Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Let There Be Light

   I think it's fair to say that everyone has experienced a night time power outage. We scramble to get candles and spend the next period of time frustrated and bored because it is so difficult to see. Imagine what the world was like before the introduction of the electric light bulb. It wasn't until the 1800's that lightbulbs were mass produced and electricity was available in most homes. Prior to that people read, sewed, ate and lived by candlelight or light from oil lamps.

Flash forward more than 200 years and we find ourselves strapped with the unfortunate burden of what was originally viewed as the invention of the century. Oh, don't misunderstand me, I know that the lightbulb revolutionized the industrial age. That being said, the lightbulb in it's original version has created some pretty serious environmental issues that many people are not aware of. The EPA considers incandescent lightbulbs to be the third most environmentally harmful product on the market today.

The typical lightbulb up until recently was an incandescent lightbulb. A small wire called a filament is tightly wound between two electrical sources. As the electrical current passes across the filament, heat is generated causing the gases inside the bulb to glow. These gases are an inert gas called Argon and the more toxic Mercury. The length of the filament determines the brightness of the bulb because they can tolerate a higher wattage to be passed across it. These filaments eventually burn out leaving behind a pressurized "jar" if you will, of some stuff that's pretty bad for the environment. Compared to other types of electric lighting, they have a rather short lifespan making them in the end more expensive and more harmful to the environment because so many more are needed over any period of time.

Fluorescent bulbs have been used commercially for a long time in the form of tube style bulbs. There is no filament and much less mercury in fluorescent bulbs. The glass tube is heated using a much smaller amount of electricity. This excites the fluorescent coating on the inside of the glass causing it to glow.The brightness of these bulbs are measured in "lumen" instead of wattage. Up until fairly recently, fluorescent bulbs gave off a harsh unpleasant light. It was hard on the eyes, often flickered and required time for the bulb to "heat" up before reaching it's full brightness. This made it very undesirable for residential use.

Now, however, the technology has changed. Fluorescents are now softer in color, do not require time to warm up and do not flicker. As a result, more consumers are willing to switch over to the safer option. That being said, 600,000 incandescent bulbs are still going into landfills every year. This creates 30,000 pounds of mercury leeched into the environment every year. The CO2 used to create incandescents has been shown to have significantly impacted the ozone layer. Incandescents use 60-75% more electricity per hour used than household fluorescents. 

Overall, this makes them the much smarter choice for the environment. although these facts should drive consumers to make the simple switch, people are still not convinced. Most are driven away by the face value cost of compact fluorescents. They fail to realize that dollar per hour, fluorescents are 25% cheaper than incandescents because they are 4 times more efficient.

 They are also a much smarter choice for your electric bill.  In response to environmental concerns the federal government has started enforcing some energy efficiency standards due to start in 2012. This will force lighting companies to produce lightbulbs that are 25% more energy efficient. It will not eliminate the production of incandescents but will at least make them a bit more environmentally friendly and cost effective. The change will save consumers 6 billion dollars in energy costs over the next 3 years.

So what can be done? Well the easiest solution is obvious and yet shockingly overlooked. Turn out the lights! It sounds simple but it is surprising how many of us take for granted the cost of lighting a room we are not in. Like I said, 200 years ago you were surrounded only by candlelight making it difficult to even see across the room.

The other solution is just as simple. Change your incandescents to compact fluorescents. Budget the increase in cost into your groceries one room at a time if you feel like the cost is too great. Here are some things that may encourage you. If every household replaces ONE lightbulb with a fluorescent, it is equivalent to taking 85,000 cars of the road. If everyone in California were to do this, they would reduce energy costs by 600,000 kilowatt hours a year. It would keep 1 billion lightbulbs out of landfills and keep 974,000 pounds of CO2 from being released into the environment reducing global warming and that is just in ONE state!

The question of what to do with all of those incandescents still out there still remains. Honestly, there isn't much that can be done. Sooner or later they will break and the gas will be released into the environment. There are some interesting craft projects out there but there is a certain risk to working with this type of material. Here are a few of the more clever ones.

Pretty little oil lamps

beautiful covers for small white twinkle lights

mini geraniums or vases

We, at Earthlove, are on a mission to pass on information about how to be a little kinder to the planet. We also have a full line of earth friendly products made from repurposed materials. Please check us out at:

Friday, February 10, 2012

"Beautiful" by Lisa Schultheis/Earth Love Arts Gallery

In a continued attempt to find earth friendly products that I still wanted to use, a few years back I started studying up on bamboo. At the time I was considering it as a new flooring project. That project never actually happened and the house has since been sold but I have a renewed interest in bamboo because I see it now used in so many different applications.

First, lets take a look at the things that you may or may not have known about bamboo. 

  Bamboo is plentiful. There are approximately 1500 different species of bamboo.It grows naturally in it's native China and therefore needs no pesticides, herbicides or additional irrigation outside of the natural rainfall to sustain it.

 Bamboo is a grass. That makes it faster growing and more easily sustained than wood. Bamboo does not need to be replanted after harvest. It simply gets cut a few inches from the ground and will regrow from there kind of like your lawn. It is the fastest growing plant on the planet with some species growing as much as 47 inches in 24 hours. Aren't you glad that's NOT like your lawn?! What this means to you and me is that it is replaced in 3-5 years as apposed to 10-20 years for trees.

It is edible. We humans can and do eat the shoots when they are small and tender. It is also ideal as animal feed because it is easily produced and has 22% protein. This eliminates the makers of feed to add protein sources like they do with traditional grains. Those Pandas are pretty smart I think!

It is amazing for the planet and for those of us who live here! A grove of bamboo releases 35% more oxygen into the air than a similarly sized grove of trees. It tolerates many environmental and climate changes. In fact, it was planted in mass to regreen China after the Hiroshima attacks in the 1930's

Bamboo is really good for our bodies. It is naturally antimicrobial and antifungal. It is hypo-allergenic as well. There are several studies being released now that are addressing whether wearing bamboo socks reduces or eliminates athlete's foot. I am doing a small personal study of my own. I have an autoimmune disease. As a result, I have developed what is believed to be a systemic fungal infection on my right heel. It has been there for years and I have tried everything short of cutting off my foot to get rid of it. When I read this report I decided to give it a try. Stay tuned for updates!

It is amazingly strong and sturdy.  In structural engineering tests, bamboo has a higher tensile strength than many alloys of steel, and a higher compressive strength than many mixtures of concrete. It even has a higher strength to weight ratio than graphite. Mild steel has a tensile strength of 23,000 psi while the humble little bamboo has a tensile strength of 28,000. A little David and Goliath-like!

That being said, it makes lovely soft fabrics. It is softer than cotton, silk and cashmere while being more durable and washable so it lasts longer. The fabrics that are now being produced from bamboo now are luxurious and soft. Anyone who knows me, knows that I WILL NOT sleep on anything but Egyptian Cotton sheets. Recently I came across bamboo fiber sheets and I have to say I am a convert. They get softer and softer with each wash just like the cotton but they are sturdier and last longer. On a broader level, bamboo requires 1/3 less water than cotton and does not require pesticides like cotton because of it's natural antimicrobial qualities.

So what are they doing with this wonder grass? Some amazing products being put out from bamboo these days, things that usually require the leveling of trees or the manufacturing of toxic man made materials. Like I stated before, it makes stunning, strong, durable flooring. It also is being made into commercial and residential cutting boards. The bamboo is naturally antimicrobial so it is safer to prepare food on than just about any surface without needing harsh toxic cleaners to clean them. I am a chef by trade and trust me this is BIG!

Bamboo has been and continues to be used as a building material all over the world. It is much lighter while being much stronger than its wood and metal counterparts. It is vastly renewable in almost all regions of the world. This also should keep the cost dowm making it a much more economical choice. Understandably, right now the price of products made from bamboo are a bit higher. As the trend swells and demand becomes greater, the price will come down. I believe that as companies here in the states and all over the world outside of bamboo's native China realize the benefits of this natural resource, they will not only start to use it more frequently in the production of their products but also start to grow it here for that purpose. This will bring the price down as well.

There are so many beautiful products on the market now. VoilaAndreanna on has made this beautiful dress.

This skirt from sandmaiden on looks lovely and soft and flatters any figure.

Lokimonkey on has this AMAZING cabinet for sale. This would be so beautiful in a kitchen or as a bar.

And check out this totally cool hammock made by slingshotsws on

I hope that this has given you something to think about the next time you are deciding on a certain product, be it flooring or furniture, clothing or bedding. I hope you will take a second to see what is available out there made from bamboo. You will not be disappointed in the quality.

To see my products made from other upcycled materials and high quality fine art like the painting done at the top of the page, please visit:

To check out the products mentioned above, please visit:


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Couch Potato

I was driving home the other day, passing through town and noticing it was Bulk Pick Up day in my district. I have a reasonably environmentally responsible municipality. We have to recycle. The township has made it very simple. we don't even have to separate paper from glass or aluminum. One day a month we are able to put out bulk trash. So I got thinking about how much waste accumulates in landfills from bulk waste,all of those couches, wall units, and mattresses. I was surprised at what I found out.

Furniture accounts for 9 million tons of landfill trash annually.

Although the life of furniture is long compared to other sources of waste like paper, furniture companies have started to use less expensive materials for construction shortening the furnitures overall life.

Many furniture pieces, especially those used in offices, are assembled using plywood or MDF, an inexpensive alternative to solid wood. These materials use formaldehyde to bond the wood together. By itself the formaldehyde releases gases into the air that are toxic and dangerous. It can lead to serious respiratory problems like asthma. Finishes on these pieces prevent the toxic gas release but wear and tear, refinishing, cutting, damage, or simply banging it around in a rehab project cause a high level of gases to be released.

Population between 1960 and 2008 has increased 69%. Households have increased by 94% because families as a whole are smaller.

The amount of upholstered furniture has increased by 6 times since 1960 with a substantial spike at the beginning of the 80's. The reason for the increase? 

Furniture in the 1960's that was discarded had probably lasted and been kept for over 20 years lessening the amount being tossed out.

Furniture at the time was made using solid woods, or at very least, plywood. Pieces were constructed using mortise and tendon joints dovetail joints,wood corner blocks, and wood glue. In the 80's furniture companies, started using cheaper materials for construction resulting in a lower quality product that needed replacement more frequently.

What can we do?

Well, I guess the first and most obvious answer is don't buy inexpensive furniture assembled using cheap materials. This actually is a win win solution. It decreases our impact on the environment both in terms of landfill space and air quality AND you have a beautiful piece of furniture that will last a lifetime. Make sure that when you choose furniture, you choose classic timeless looks for the big pieces in your home. Things like couches, hutches, bookcases, dining sets should translate through many years of changing trends. Trends can be displayed in smaller accent pieces such as occasional tables, accent chairs, and smaller shelving units. Make sure when purchasing any furniture that you check it's bones. Make sure joints on the back or bottom of the piece are made of wood, not plastic. Check for particle board or Masonite in the backs of pieces or inside the drawers. These are indicators of not so high quality furniture.

If you are like most, most very high quality furniture is out of reach financially especially in this economy. Myself included. My solution is second hand! There are tremendous stigmas about used furniture but in this challenged economy minds are changing. Great pieces of gently used furniture can be hunted down in Consignment Stores, Thrift Stores, yard sales and yes I'll say it, off of the curb.Another amazing source (my favorite, in fact) is Estate Sales. These are usually whole contents of house sales because the owner has passed away. They have them all year and you can find some AMAZING bargains at these sales! I found this120 year old grandfather clock for $75 and this table from the original Waldorf Astoria Hotel for $40.

 These are just a couple of pieces that I got for free off the curb or next to nothing at yard sales  and brought back to life with a little elbow grease. Just makes sure that you check it the same way you check the quality of new furniture. I find it a super fun challenge. I love to hunt yard sales for hidden treasures. These are some of the finds that live in my house. Reupholstering gives new life to upholstered furniture. Some is easy. Some is very challenging. Start small by picking up some great fabric and reupholstering dining chair seats. They usually come off with the removal of a couple of screws so it's an easy first project. 

Don't limit your hunt to just the type of piece you want. Be open minded and creative in your hunt.

Think outside the box about the purpose of the things you find. Repurposing furniture can make for absolutely fabulous expensive looking trendy pieces. And if you're like me, you could even start a trend with your wild creativity. These are some amazing pieces repurposed from previously owned furniture. 

Jewelry artist, KimWilhoyte ( ) came up with a creative solution when she needed a display case for her jewelry. This is  an oak medicine cabinet that has been altered slightly and painted with new glass in place of the mirrors. A leather piece from a repurposed belt makes the handle. Now she has a portable way to display her awesome jewelry.

Finally, let's talk briefly about just keeping the furniture we have a little longer. I mean, I understand that it has to be replaced when it is broken beyond repair but let's face it, the reason we replace furniture pieces so often these days is because we grow bored or tired of our decor. We have become a society of immediate gratification. I think we need to start thinking in a way that embraces a satisfaction with the things that we have as long as they are still usable. Don't be afraid to grab a book and some clamps and wood glue ( yes, has to be wood glue so it is flexible and will tolerating wood shrinking and expanding.) and do some repair work to extend the life of your furniture.

So, that all being said, we are going to have to replace our furniture pieces eventually. So what to do with the pieces that are going to be replaced? Consider donating them to a youth club, church or fire house or rescue squad. All of these places have common areas where people gather. I can tell you after being involved in rescue work for 20 years, decent couches and tables are really appreciated. 

Ask your friends and family if they could use it. My best friend is a decorator. She gets her hands on great pieces for next to nothing.She always asks me if I have a need for any of it. I now have a beautiful couch and love seat in my family room that otherwise would have gone into the trash.

I hope this inspires people to be resourceful and creative when it comes to their home decor. 

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