Innovative solutions for creating healthy, efficient, eco-friendly homes

January 2004

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Fireplace Fix: Gas Inserts Are Hot

Fireplaces top many homeowners™ wish lists, but reality rarely matches the romance. In fact, a recent survey by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association found that most people who have a fireplace don™t use it. Why the chilly reception? During conventional, or open, fireplace operation, warm air gets sucked out of the house and up the chimney. Meanwhile, in come cold drafts -- more work for your furnace. Older masonry fireplaces reach 10 percent fuel efficiency at best, and only when they are in operation!

Soak Yourself in Hot Water

Water therapy has long been a part of our collective culture -- from Roman baths to Finnish saunas to geothermal mineral soaks in Iceland. However, what used to be a communal experience is today often practiced at home, transforming many a simple bathroom into a personal health spa retreat. Restorative and therapeutic benefits are often attributed to cleansing the body through long soaks, circulating water and steam.

Planting Cleaner Indoor Air

Back in the 1970s, houseplants were everywhere. Then decorating went high-tech and houseplants lost their cachet. But it turns out there are some very good reasons for growing plants indoors, and you might want to bring some into your 20th-century home. Houseplants are beneficial in a number of ways. There are aesthetic benefits, of course houseplants add color and soften the architecture of a room. Decades of research have shown that working with plants has psychological benefits, too.

Smart Windows

Forget miniblinds, verticals, curtains and shades. If you want privacy in your bathroom, you might want to consider getting SPD-Smart Windows. These windows have a small electric current passing through the glass. When the electricity is off, the window is dark; turn on the juice, and the window becomes clear. Several window manufacturers have licensed this technology, including SPD Systems, Razor's Edge Technologies, ThermoView, Cricursa and Traco.

Outfitting the Modern Garage

The American garage has changed considerably in the past 100 years as the automobile has become an ever larger factor in our lives. At the turn of the last century, a carriage house was rare. If one existed on your property, it was not attached to the main house and it was simply a smaller version of a barn. At the turn of this century, the garage has emerged as our personal entry point into our house, the storage spot for garden tools and sports equipment, and some of us even park our cars there. That can make it a cluttered and even dangerous place.

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