Tuesday, March 24, 2015

5 Tips for Painting Projects

Springtime has a way of motivating many of us to tackle those home improvement projects. Like the fresh new flowers of spring, a fresh coat of paint can liven us up. If you have a painting project on your plate, here are some tips that can help you.

1. Choose low VOC paint, ideally less than 50 grams per liter (gpl). VOC stands for volatile organic compounds. VOCs give paint its consistency and evaporate as it dries. Short-term health effects of VOC exposure can include eye irritation, headaches, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness. Long-term exposure can lead to damage of the central nervous system, liver, and kidneys. Pregnant women, children, and people with respiratory problems have higher health risks. Ask your local paint vendor for low VOC paint options before you make your purchasing decision. Be aware that adding color to paint can add VOCs.

2. Buy the right amount of paint for the job. To estimate how much paint you need by calculating one gallon of paint for every 400 square feet. Purchasing the right amount of paint will reduce the amount of paint you have leftover to store or dispose of.

3. Ventilate properly. Ventilating the area well helps lower exposure to VOCs. Keep windows open and use an exhaust fan to draw fumes from the home. Regular air conditioners do not filter indoor air. Read the paint label carefully and follow the recommended safety precautions, such as wearing gloves, goggles, and a respirator. Dust masks do not protect against VOCs. If you are using oil-based paint, the health risks are greater and there is an added risk of fire. Take extra care to keep oil-based paints and materials stained with oil-based paints away from sources of flames or sparks.

4. Store leftover paint safely. Hopefully you don’t have a lot of paint leftover to store. Store it in the original container and check to see if you can still read the label. If paint has dripped down the sides, make a new label that includes the contents and the date. Cover the opening with plastic wrap and then tightly secure the lid over it. Be sure to keep all paint and paint products completely out of reach of children.

5. Dispose of paint properly. Latex paints are not considered hazardous. They can be solidified and put in the regular trash with the lid off. To solidify latex paint, mix in shredded paper, kitty litter, dried grass clippings, or a commercially available paint drying gel. When the paint is an oatmeal-like consistency and will not spill out, it can be placed in the regular trash with the lid off. When the lid is off, a garbage collector can see that there is no longer liquid paint in the container and process the garbage as needed. When liquids are placed in the trash, they can cause damage throughout the garbage collection process.

Oil-based paints are hazardous materials. Take oil-based paints to HazoHouse for free and safe disposal. You can also donate leftover paint to local theatre groups, schools, or other groups in need. You can also list unwanted items at www.2good2toss.com.

Have fun with your spring projects!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Compost – Gardener’s Gold

Heading out to your garden this weekend?  Whether you grow flowers, vegetables, shrubs, or even a lawn, compost is the key to great soil.  And great soil is the key to healthy, resilient plants!  Compost is the dark, crumbly result of decomposed plants & animals.   It helps build soil texture, holds moisture, and supports the millions of soil critters that are important to soil fertility. 

You can make your own compost in a pile, in a compost bin, or even a worm bin.  The WSU Extension Master Composters offer classes to help you learn how, or check out this great guide: Composting Yard and Food Waste at Home by Seattle Public Utilities. There are guidelines on different methods of composting, trouble-shooting guides, and compost recipes.  It even includes some really cool drawings of compost food web critters, where worms are the big guys! 

You can also buy compost - a good option if you want to start planting your garden now, and don’t have a compost pile ready to harvest, yet.  We are lucky to have several locations to buy bulk compost or soil blends that include compost.  Bagged compost is also widely available.  We recommend looking for organic compost or compost that has been certified by the Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) testing program of the US Composting Council.  A compost provider should be able to provide their latest test results. A User’s Guide to Compost has additional tips on choosing compost and helpful charts to figure out how much compost you need for the task you want to accomplish.  In other words, if you have a 5x10 garden bed and want to dig in 2 inches of compost, how much compost do you need?  And for you ambitious types – how much do you need for an acre or two?   

Improve soil fertility to grow happier plants and use less water by adding compost to your garden, yard, or lawn this spring. Happy gardening!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

HazoHouse is now open daily

HazoHouse is now open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. The hazardous waste collection site, located at the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center in Lacey, collects unused and unwanted household and business-generated hazardous waste. This service is free to Thurston County residents, and businesses pay a small fee to safely dispose of hazardous chemicals, cleaners, and other waste that can harm the environment if not handled properly. 

"I'm really pleased to see this expansion of the HazoHouse service to seven days a week," said Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero, who also chairs the county's Board of Health. "Daily collection not only helps protect the health of our environment, it also helps protect the health of our waste collection workers. This is just one more step Thurston County is taking to keep our drinking water and our environment safe and clean." 

Chemical products like household cleaners, bug and weed killers, auto care products, fluorescent bulbs, and oil-based paints and stains can be harmful to human health, wildlife, and our environment when not handled and disposed of properly. The goal of offering HazoHouse services seven days a week is to make it even more convenient for county residents and businesses to dispose of their household hazardous waste the right way, and avoid pollution from illegal dumping. 

"We've seen an increase in the number of residential customers at HazoHouse each year since 2012," said Scott Schimelfenig, Manager of Thurston County Solid Waste, "It's great to see that more people are bringing their household hazardous waste to HazoHouse and disposing of it the right way. We're happy to offer expanded hours to meet the growing need for safe and convenient disposal of hazardous waste." 

HazoHouse is located at Thurston County's Waste and Recovery Center at 2420 Hogum Bay Road NE in Lacey. To get to HazoHouse, use the entrance to the right of the main entrance. When you bring your items to HazoHouse, please stay in your car and wait for attendants to assist you. HazoHouse is an easy and free option for county residents to safely dispose of hazardous household products. 

Go to www.ThurstonSolidWaste.org/Hazo for a complete list of items accepted at HazoHouse. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Septic Sense: Regular Maintenance Saves Money

We know that regular maintenance of large investments such as tools, cars, and homes can save money. Regular maintenance of our septic system can do all of that and protect our drinking water, lakes, rivers, streams and Puget Sound.

What many of us want to know is, what exactly does “regular maintenance” of our on-site septic system really mean? 

Annual inspections can help find problems when they are small and easier and less costly to fix. Hire a professional to do the regular inspection or learn how to do it yourself. This septic system inspection video and can help you inspect your own septic system. We suggest that you watch the video and hire a professional for your first inspection. You will learn a lot about how your septic system works, and be better able to maintain it, even if you decide to keep hiring a professional for future inspections.

Set up a regular pumping schedule. All septic systems need to be pumped at some point. Most of them need to be pumped every 3-5 years, depending on how many people live in the home, types of products used and the amount and type of waste put into the system (like water, fats, oil, wipes). The professional who does the initial inspection can help you determine how often to pump your tank.

Everyday ways to keep your septic system healthy
  • Be careful of what goes into your septic system. Only water, poop, pee, and toilet paper are meant to enter your septic system. Other items like wipes (even flushable ones), condoms, tampons, cotton swaps, medicine, food, and pet waste (even flushable litter) should not be flushed or put down the drain.
  • Keep your drainfield in good condition. Plant only shallow-rooted, low-water-use plants on and near the drainfield. Keep cars and livestock off of your drainfield and make sure to never pave or park over it. This includes the reserve drainfield area that you (hopefully) have in case the drainfield ever needs replacing.
  • Use safer products for household cleaning. Baking soda, castile soap and vinegar can tackle most of your cleaning needs. Check out these green cleaning recipes. Avoid using household products labeled with the words “Danger” or “Poison” to protect your septic system and your health.
  • Avoid the use of septic tank additives. These are not proven effective and do not replace the need for regular maintenance. 
  • Conserve water. Remember the statement above that says pumping schedules depend on the amount of waste treated? All of the water that goes into your system goes through the tank for treatment. Less water means less treatment is needed.

Regular septic maintenance can save you money and protect the health of you and your family. Septic system care begins with you.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Common Sense Gardening: Five outdoor tasks you can do right now

The recent unseasonably warm weather is allowing for more opportunities to get outside and do some yard work. You may be wondering what kind of tasks should be done this time of year when the weather is so mild. Well, we’ve made a list to answer that question!

1. Pull weeds and mulch. You probably don’t have a huge amount of weeds right now. So this is a great time to get ahead of them. Once you’ve weeded an area, lay mulch (straw, woodchips, leaves, or compost) on top, leaving space around the plants. This helps keep future weeds from sprouting.

2. Prune trees and shrubs if needed. Prune dead branches any time.  Prune trees and shrubs for shape, to encourage flowers or fruit, or in some cases to improve the health of the plant. WSU Pruning Landscape Trees discusses about the pros and cons of different pruning times on page 8.

3. Transplant trees and shrubs. Prepare a hole that is twice as wide as the plant’s root system but only deep enough to fit the roots. Set the plant at the same level it was previously growing and fill in with the native soil. Research has shown it is better not to mix compost or additional organic matter into the planting hole to encourage the plant to root firmly into the soil.  Be sure to water right away.  Adding mulch on top of the soil helps conserve moisture.  Read more in the WSU publication Planting Trees and Shrubs in the Landscape.

4. Clean and organize tools. Take some time to go through your yard and garden tools. This is a good time to sharpen blades, replace handles, and toss out those old work gloves you never use anymore.

5. Plant roses. Late winter or early spring are the months to plant roses. Our Common Sense Gardening Guide to Roses can help you choose the varieties that grow best in Thurston County. It also has great tips to help you grow beautiful roses… that hopefully the deer don’t find out about.

And the sixth unofficial task is daydream of beautiful spring and summer days spent enjoying your yard and garden!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Winter Storms - Be prepared

In Thurston County, we aren’t strangers to winter storms. Days of heavy rainfall, power outages, and strong winds are all too familiar to many of us. But many of us need reminders for how to prepare and how to respond in these situations. So let’s review the basics of winter storms.

Make a plan. Having a plan that your household is familiar with allows for you to feel more in control of the situation, to remain calm, and to think more clearly. Plan for the three Ps – People, Pets, and Property. This Family Communication Plan from FEMA can help you organize phone numbers to call in case of emergency. Many cell phones have a special contact list for emergency contacts. This can be a helpful tool to have your emergency contacts readily available, but keep in mind that cell phone batteries die and a hard copy doesn’t need batteries. When planning for people, think about any special medical needs your family has and make a plan to cover them. Get to know your neighbors so that you can share resources and help each other in an emergency.
Planning for your pets is important too. Watch this short video by FEMA. Plan escape routes and household meeting spots. If your home is taller than ground level, plan to use an escape ladder. Make sure everyone in your household understands the escape routes and how to use associated equipment. Or better yet, hold practice drills!
Plan for your property. First things first, learn how to safely shut off natural gas, water, and electricity here. Do a walkthrough of your property to identify areas of potential hazard in a storm. Look for trees that have branches that could fall on structures and keep them well-pruned. If you cannot access the branches safely, hire a professional. Look for one that is licensed, bonded, and insured. Be familiar with locations of gas, water, and electricity lines on your property and where hazardous materials are stored.
You can’t predict where you will be when an emergency occurs. Have a plan for different locations.

Build a kit. A disaster kit should have enough supplies for everyone for at least three days.
  • Here are the basics of what a kit should include:
  • Water – one gallon per person for at least three days.
  • Food – at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food.
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio with extra batteries.
  • Flashlights, headlamps, and extra batteries.
  • First aid kit – include any necessary prescription medication.
  • Whistle to signal for help.
  • Dust masks to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place.
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.
  • Manual can opener.
  • Local maps.
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger.
  • Pet food.
  • Matches in a waterproof container.
  • Extra clothing.
  • Copies of important family documents (identification cards, insurance and bank account records) in waterproof container.
  • Hand-wipes, alcohol based hand sanitizer, paper towels.
  • Games, puzzles, books. 

Be cautious. In severe weather, be cautious of the steps you take in the situation. Be aware of your surroundings – above you, around you, and below you. Avoid standing water, wires and power lines, and large trees that could have limbs ready to fall. Be aware of hazardous materials that may have spilled or had their containers broken in the storm. To reduce the risk of hazardous exposure during storms, take unused and unwanted household hazardous products to HazoHouse at your earliest convenience. When you need to use a hazardous product for something, only purchase the amount you need. This will help minimize the amount of hazardous materials you have stored at home. When returning home after an evacuation be sure to follow these steps to safety.

Being prepared can reduce stress and anxiety when an emergency arises. Preparing for emergencies can help you make the most of a bad situation. When the next big storm comes our way, you will be glad you prepared for it!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy Non-toxic New Year!

Less toxic may be a better title but "Non-toxic New Year" has such a nice ring to it! 

The following tips will help you make 2015 is the healthier year for you and your family.

Know what’s in the stuff you buy. As a general rule, if you can’t pronounce it, you may not want to eat it or put it on your body. The Environmental Working Group has a variety of consumer guides to help you find the least toxic options for foods, pesticides in produce, personal care products, cleaning product, meat, sunscreen and more. These guides are helpful and easy-to-use!

Buy less stuff! This builds on the tip above – do you need five moisturizing skin products or can coconut oil (one amazing ingredient!) take the place of many of them? The less stuff you buy, the less stuff you have to figure out safety ratings for! Also, the less stuff you have to pay for and that you have to dispose of. Before you buy something ask yourself – Do I need to buy this? How often will I use it? What will it add to my life? Is there something healthier that can fill this need?

Leave shoes at the door. This basic advice keeps the toxins that we all pick up on our shoes from parking lots, playing fields, and treated landscapes from being tracked throughout the house. Toxins from outside get trapped in house dust and contribute to indoor air pollution. We all breathe in and even eat much of that dust.  Lower the toxins in your dust by taking shoes off at the door – a nice basket of slippers and house shoes may help guests to do the same.

Wash hands often. Similar to the tip above, washing hands in soap and water keeps toxins from the toxic world out of our eyes, nose and mouth. Think of all the items you touch each day and what kind of toxins from dust could be on them. As you probably know, washing hands can prevent the spread of illness. Washing hands is especially important before eating and after using the restroom.

Commit to a safe and healthy yard.  Weed and bug killers are toxins that most of us come into contact with on a daily basis whether in our homes, day care centers, schools, or yards.  Use common sense gardening methods to care for your own yard safely. Focus on creating healthy soil to promote a healthy yard. Check out these useful Common Sense Gardening Guides!

Use green cleaning methods. Green cleaning is easy and fun. Especially with a list of go-to green cleaning recipes. Making your own green cleaners can save money. If you prefer to buy your cleaning supplies, look for products without the signal words Danger, Poison, Warning, or Caution. You can also find safer products through the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning.

Get rid of what you have, safely!  HazoHouse is the location to dispose of unwanted household hazardous products for free. Anything with the words Caution, Warning, Danger or Poison on the label should be disposed of at HazoHouse to protect our health and our drinking water. 

If you make one change at a time, eventually you will develop habits that reduce your exposure to toxins throughout your daily life! A new year is a great time to start. 
If you have questions or would like some guidance, please call us. We love to help!(360) 867-2674

Happy New Year!