For many, Labor Day weekend is one of the last opportunities to get outside and get grilling.

But, before you reluctantly send off summer, consider entertaining with sustainable practices in mind. The backyard grill session is the perfect place to implement some green techniques to share with the family, friends and community. It may be your last shot for this year, but “better late than never,” we like to say.

Here are our top tips to get all fired up!

Grill veggies

Keep it vegetarian! This is the most sustainable move you can make when it comes to grilling green. For meat-eaters, we encourage you to at least buy your products locally to reduce that carbon footprint. Most farmers markets are still open well into the fall, and that’s a great spot to get locally sourced meat, dairy and produce.

Use an electric grill

Gas is preferable to charcoal...but electric wins the eco-grill game! Charcoal emits VOCs that are harmful to the environment and to the guests breathing in all that smoke. It also releases ground-level ozone, which we know to be a major smog factor.

According to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a gas burner emits about 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide per hour, compared to 11 pounds per hour for cooking over the coals. Additionally, about 90 percent of propane makes it out of the production process as useable fuel, whereas only 20 to 35 percent of the source wood ends up as a charcoal briquette (the rest burns off into the air).

Electric is best, especially if you are already sourcing your energy from alternative sources such as wind or solar. For some, flavor profiles matter a great deal, and there is insistence that fire is necessary for the best taste. If so, give the pellet grill a try! Also, check out the Rainforest Alliance Smartwood program. They carry environmentally certified products that may suit your needs.

Put out reusable plates

Reusable over disposable: one of the most impactful ways to entertain sustainably is to use reusable cookware and utensils. If disposable is your only option, one of the best recommendations for maximum recycling potential is Leafware. It’s compostable, versatile and sturdier than many other plastic or paper products out there.

Keep it clean

Clean up! Naturally, even in your own backyard, you are a guest of the Earth you inhabit. Be sure to tidy up after your engagement, putting all materials in the appropriate receptacles. However, with these tips in mind, regular old trash should be hardly existent!

Find even more great tips on green grilling and suggested menus from some of our favorite earth-friendly sites.

Clean green with our DIY kitchen cleaner recipe

On Fridays, USGBC shares green home-related content curated from around the web. If you see a great article on aspects of environmentally friendly home living such as green building, renovation, energy use or cleaning, please send it our way.

  • Going zero-waste can sound intimidating, but reading "Trash-free Is the Way to Be" on Green Living Ideas, you'll see that it can be simper than you think. The blog links to resources on textile recycling and zero-waste grocery shopping.


Get tips on sealing your butcher block countertops has plenty of resources for keeping your home's electric use manageable, with advice on how to save energy with heating and cooling, insulation, lighting and appliances.

They even have a quiz, Test Your Home Energy IQ, with 13 quick multiple-choice questions that will give you a snapshot of how much you already know—or don't know—about energy conservation in the home. Are you an energy genius? Each selected answer expands to show you more facts on the topic.

If you wish, you can then move on to the site's other quizzes, such as Test Your Lighting IQ and Test Your Climate Change IQ.

Take the home energy quiz

How do you get your children to participate in keeping a green home and caring about the Earth? Whether your kids are first-graders or teens, there are age-appropriate ways to talk to them about green living and sustainability. These tips will help you get your kids enthusiastic about pitching in.

Reuse and recycling

  • Even fairly young children can learn to sort items to be recycled from those to be thrown away. Place your bin for recyclables in the kitchen and have kids deposit cardboard, metal, glass and plastic materials into the bin themselves as you use them up. Ask your child if a particular item can go in, and let them be the expert.
  • When you're at the store, teach your kids about "precycling" by making wise choices in purchasing products. Lovetoknow shares how you can talk with your children about buying in bulk to save money and resources, as well as choosing items with recycled or no packaging to reduce waste.
  • Children quickly outgrow clothes. If siblings can't use the items, show your child how to select used clothes and toys in good condition and pass them along to the Salvation Army or another outlet so that someone else can enjoy them. In addition, you and your child can peruse these stores yourselves rather than buying new every time.

Energy conservation

  • Kids love being in charge of an important duty! The Once Upon a Child blog suggests electing a child "Captain Energy."  Let your child keep track of the family's electric and water use. You could even encourage them to make an official badge for their job, and let them be the enforcer of turning off light switches when family members leave a room.
  • Young people may not think about how much water it wastes when they take long showers or leave the tap running, so throw some EPA stats their way to make the idea more concrete. It's an easy fix to turn off the tap while brushing teeth or set a timer for a five-minute shower. Make it more interesting by charting daily progress with stickers that lead to a reward after a month of saving water.

Valuing the great outdoors

  • Help your kids enjoy being in nature so that they evolve a desire to protect the Earth. Visit forests and seashores, bicycle through urban parks and point out wildlife in your own backyard. Depending on the age of your children, there are different approaches you can take to talking about subjects such as climate change—check out this article from Scholastic for tips.
  • Gardening gives children an absorbing, hands-on activity and a sense of ownership. Start your own veggie and herb garden in the backyard or set up a community garden in your neighborhood, let your kids help plan the layout and assign them times to work in it. 
  • Worms! Dirt! Composting is an activity that seems made for kids. Gardening Know How offers simple directions for ways to engage your children in managing their own composting containers.

How to home compost without the hassle

On Fridays, USGBC shares green home-related content curated from around the web. If you see a great article on aspects of environmentally friendly home living such as green building, renovation, energy use or cleaning, please send it our way.

  • More than 70 percent of electronics, including old cell phones or televisions, may be recyclable. Earth 911 has created a helpful search feature for you to look up places to recycle electronics. Just type in a term such as "cell phone" and your zip code, and generate a list of stores and stations near you that accept that item.
  • Going out of town this summer? You can travel and still be green. Take a look at these tips from for ways you can be environmentally conscious while flying, staying in hotels and sightseeing.
  • If you've been thinking of switching over some of your old incandescent light bulbs to LEDs, read this article from CNET. They'll show you what lumens measurement you'll need, what color type to buy and whether you'll need a dimmer.

Get more reuse and recycling tips

Buildings are the backdrop of our everyday lives. We spend the majority of our time inside, and a growing body of research indicates that indoor air may be more polluted than it is outside

A possible fix to this issue? Houseplants.

In the late ‘80s, NASA published a study that examined whether plants could double as air filtration systems. The federal agency, exploring long-term space inhabitation, knew that volatile organic compounds released by the materials used to make a space capsule's interior could pollute the air inside it. 

NASA found that specific plants could filter out air pollutants, such as benzene and formaldehyde. Other research since then also concludes that houseplants could help reduce the amount of air pollutants. 

Looking to spruce up your home with shrubs but perhaps your thumb isn’t that green? Take a look at these six plants that are easy to care for and that can also help you breather easier at home.

1. Spider Plant


Photo by madaise via Flickr under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic

Removes: Formaldehyde

This grasslike plant, with its long narrow leaves is a popular for its ease and speed of growth. Spider plants grow best in bright, indirect light and typically reach 2 to 2 1/2 feet wide and 2 to 3 feet long when in a hanging basket. 

2. Peace Lily 

Removes: Ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, TCE trichloroethylene, toluene, xylene

Peace lilies thrive in indirect sunlight, making them great for rooms with few windows. Place this hardy plant around 5-7 feet away from a window, and make sure they're in a room with a temperature between 65 and 80 degrees.

You can water peace lilies around once a week. They usually signal when they need additional water when it starts to sag.

3. Snake Plant 

Removes: Formaldehyde, benzene

Also known as Mother-in-Law's Tongue, the snake plant has leaves that grow upright, some with variations of yellow or white edges. It can grow in a variety of lighting conditions and in any normal room temperature. 

4. Aloe Vera

Removes: Carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde

Aloe vera, commonly used for burns and cuts, requires little moisture to survive like its fellow succulent species. Water the plant only when the soil is completely dry, and place it in a window, where it can receive bright, direct sunlight. 

5. Golden Pothos

Removes: Carbon monoxide, formaldehyde

These plants with heart-shaped leaves favor indirect bright light, high humidity and warm temperatures within the 65 to 80 degree range. They're capable of growing leaves that are 20 inches, but in homes, they seldom grow larger than five inches. 

6. Bamboo Palm

Removes: Benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene

In finding the right spot to place a bamboo palm in your home, look for a place that offers indirect or filtered sunlight. Water the plant only when the soil feels dry, and make sure that it's not under a vent. The bamboo plant favors temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees during the day and no lower than 60 degrees at night.

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Seeing parking garages around a city is a pretty normal thing. And besides, people use them every day, right? That actually may not be the case anymore. At least half of all available parking spaces are vacant 40 percent of the time. Enter SCADpad

SCADpad represents a grand vision for urban renewal that fits into the size of a parking spot. Given the current urban population and the new commuting trends, SCADpad is a relevant answer to the growing need for affordable, efficient housing in cities worldwide. And on top of that, this model is replicable. SCADpad is a community of three micro-residences on the fourth floor of SCAD Atlanta’s parking deck.

Each of the three SCADpad units has a unique theme and visual identity, reflecting SCAD’s global footprint. A common green space extends the living area, creating a community environment. An organic garden is fed by a graywater filtration and delivery system, while a composting and recycling center helps ensure there is minimal waste. A rapid prototyping area featuring a 3D printer lets residents customize their unit to their preferences and needs—a perfect way to maximize life in a micro house.

As the housing shortage in crowded cities becomes increasingly apparent, finding a solution seems daunting. But repurposing existing structures is an incredible way to use our space wisely, instead of attempting to build on new land and increase our footprint.

People aren't just focused on housing, though. In California, architects have taken an underutilized parking deck and turned the two-acre area into a park with basketball courts, vegetable gardens and meditation spaces.

As we move forward and encounter these issues that have to do with space, I think it's really important we focus on what we already have. Existing buildings aren't out of the question. Are there more ways we can repurpose them for future use? I think it's also a reminder how important it is to build new buildings that last. These parking decks are old, but that doesn't mean they are unusable. Let's make sure we use space wisely, and keep our footprint small! 

Learn more about SCADpad

This fall, thousands of university freshmen will call a dorm room their new “Home Sweet Home.” For the newly minted undergrad, there are several ways to transform your new home base into a sustainable space. 

1. Buy a smart power strip.

Have you heard of “phantom loads” or “vampire power?” They refer to energy used by electronics that are plugged in, even when they’re turned off.

Smart power strips, also known as advanced power strips, help save energy by essentially shutting off the power supply to devices that aren’t in use. Check out this National Renewable Energy Laboratory infographic to learn more.

2. Clean green.

Many cleaning products are petroleum-based or contain chlorine and can negatively impact air quality, physical health and the environment.

When buying products, look for ones that are certified by a third party like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or Green Seal. Also, consider making your own green cleaner.

3. Aim to buy local or used furnishings and decor.

Instead of transporting your belongings across the country, cut down your carbon footprint by purchasing gently used furnishings, decorations and appliances at thrift stores or yard sales near your campus. Sustainable Connections writes about why buying local is a great choice.

If you can't find what you're looking for at a secondhand shop, check out The Ultimate Green Store, which features eco-friendly dorm room furniture. Also, consider making your own decorations and furnishings. Babble has a great list of 25 easy DIY projects, including wall art and a rug headboard.

4. Buy reusable dishware.

Planning on eating in? Consider purchasing secondhand ceramic dishware, metal cutlery or cookware. Choosing reusable dishes and cups instead of single-use paper or plastic items helps reduce waste.

5. Replace your light bulbs.

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) help save energy and have a much longer life span than traditional bulbs. Light up your future study nights by using CFLs or LEDs for your lamps.

6. Install potted plants.

Add a little green to your new digs with a plant, which is one of the easiest ways to filter out air pollutants. This Old House features several plants, including English Ivy and Snake Plants, that would make wonderful additions to any dorm room.

Looking for more green living tips while on campus? Indiana University Bloomington has a comprehensive checklist of ways students can live more sustainably. 

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This article was originally published on Houzz on May 7, 2014, as "The Passive House: What It Is and Why You Should Care," and is presented here with permission. Read the original article.

The term “passive” is getting thrown around almost as frequently as the word “green” these days. But what does it actually mean? And how does the all-encompassing adjective differ from the measurable standards of the capitalized Passive House?

I’ve mentioned before that the truth of green building is in the details. Here’s how to understand the vocabulary and the implied meanings in the world of passive design.

Photo by Hammer & Hand; original photo on Houzz.

Decoding What People Say

“This house was designed with passive solar principles” means the orientation of the house and the placement of windows have been used to gain heat through natural daylight. Perhaps shading for hot summers was also considered. These are the first and most fundamental steps toward reducing the energy consumption of a house.

“This house was designed to Passive House principles” means that the architect and builder, of their own accord, decided to pursue a set of measurable building standards that promote low-energy consumption. The term originated from Germany’s “Passivhaus.”

“This house is a certified Passive House” means that in addition to the house’s being designed and built to the Passive House standard, it has successfully undergone a certification process. Certification is managed by various entities all over the world. The original was the Passivhaus Institute in Germany, which is still widely regarded globally. It has many partner organizations throughout Europe. (For example, here in Italy, there is work being done to address Passive House standards for Mediterranean climates.)

The largest certifier in the U.S. is the Passive House Institute US, which has recently parted from the German organization to address North America separately, with regional climate-specific considerations.

So, what is the Passive House standard, anyway?

Contrary to the impression the word may give, passive homes are anything but lazy. A house designed to take advantage of the solar heat streaming through a window is actively saving energy. Taking it a step further, and into the realm of the Passive House building standard, a house can be designed to work hard in every season to maintain a comfortable and healthy indoor living environment, without consuming superfluous energy.

A home built to the Passive House standard is one that remains comfortable through all seasons without employing an active heating or cooling system.

Depending on your country and the localized standards, a project must meet maximum annual energy consumption limits to be considered. Historically, and still in Europe, this was 15 kilowatt-hours per square meter each year. The U.S. standard has since made changes to that limit in an attempt to address specific climate zones.

However, as an order of magnitude, we’re talking about 60 to 70 percent, sometimes even more, in energy savings relative to conventional buildings.

How can that be possible? Well, in a Passive House, all of the energy that would be needed to heat or cool the building is no longer needed.

Let me explain.

Photo by Wolfworks Inc.; original photo on Houzz.

We Passive House architects start out with a compact building shape. You’ll notice that most Passive Houses are essentially a box in form. We can then add visual intrigue by using unconditioned outdoor rooms and covered spaces to break up the facade. This compact box core, however, is essential and is the basis of any concept of efficiency.

In the winter, passive solar design takes as much heat as possible from the sun. This means orienting the house toward the sun’s path and making sure that the winter sun’s low angle is able to penetrate as much of the inside of the home as possible.

We add to that the heat that is created in the house just from people being there. (You’d be surprised at how much heat is generated from normal daily activities, like cooking, cleaning, using the computer and running all of the home appliances.)

We use mechanical ventilation to keep the air fresh, heating the incoming air with the exhaust air. And we use dehumidifiers to maintain healthy moisture levels and prevent mold.

In the summer, we take advantage of shading devices and the high summer sun angle. In this way, we can stop the sun from reaching windows, floors and walls, helping to keep them cool.

Then we make sure not to let heat pass through the building’s skin, by designing a sealed and insulated building envelope. 

Photo by Harding Construction & Sustainable Solutions; original photo on Houzz.

This photo shows rock-wool insulation. Unlike LEED®, the Passive House standard does not require that you use natural or recycled materials. Certification is based on energy performance alone.

Not only do the walls, slabs and roof need to be properly insulated, but so do all of the openings. High-quality windows are one of the biggest up-front expenses in a Passive House, but they contribute to a large portion of the energy savings.

We can insulate like crazy, but if we use subpar windows, all of the heat will exit through the glass. The building envelope, which is like its skin, is only as strong as its weakest point.

I often describe the building envelope as being like an inflated balloon. One hole in the balloon, and all the air will escape. It doesn’t matter how sturdy the rest of the balloon is. 

So not only do we want to have a consistently insulated building envelope, but we also want to avoid any air leakages where hot air can escape in the winter or enter in the summer.

One way the Passive House standard verifies the absence of air leakages is with the Blower Door Test, in which the entire house is closed up and air is pumped inside. A gauge, shown here, then measures the air-flow rate relative to the volume of the house.

Photo by Harding Construction & Sustainable Solutions; original photo on Houzz.

Tests like this, along with energy simulations, measure whether a home is built to the Passive House standard.

Whether or not a Passive House is valid without official certification is an ongoing discussion. Some professionals believe that certification is an added and redundant expense. Others say it adds transparency and verification to the whole process, keeping everyone accountable to goals. Some homeowners find it a necessary part of adding market value to their house. Others don’t see the point, especially if they are not intending to sell. 

Above all, it is vital that you trust your project team and understand the entire situation. The word “passive” is not trademarked, as LEED is, so make sure you understand the context in which it is being used.

Related articles:

Due in part to recent television shows related to the trend, tiny homes are gaining visibility as a concept as well as traction in the marketplace. Although formal definitions don't exist, tiny homes are typically spaces of 100–500 square feet. They appeal to buyers who want to downsize, to minimize their environmental footprint or to spend more on travel or other lifestyle aspects instead of a large mortgage. 

Extra small, extra green

Tiny homes are naturally greener because of their size. They consume far fewer resources in their initial construction, and the environmental cost of living in a tiny home is correspondingly smaller—for example, the average tiny home uses only six light bulbs, whereas the average regular home uses 45, and heating and cooling consumption is a fraction of the typical load for an American home.

Environmentally sound elements of most regular-sized green homes can be built into your custom tiny home, limited only by your imagination and budget, but if you prefer a prefab home, there are models available with green features. As a recent article on TakePart shared, companies such as zeroHouse and EcoCapsule specialize in self-supporting structures that employ solar or wind power and rainwater-collection tanks.

Tiny homes with solar panels. Photo by Guillaume Dutilh @ Tiny House Giant Journey

Location matters

A challenge with going tiny is that the legal definition of such structures can be blurry. Building codes and zoning laws vary from state to state, so be sure to learn the definitions in your area for what constitutes a house or an RV and how to be in compliance with building, zoning and tax requirements. Washington, D.C., for example, recently loosened restrictions on what it terms "accessory dwelling units" on the properties of larger homes. California is currently the leader in friendliness to tiny house living, based on a recent ranking.

Cities are also looking into the feasibility of tiny homes in providing low-impact, affordable housing for all residents and combating homelessness. Fab City, a temporary green home installation in Amsterdam, focuses on moveable and energy-efficient units. In Austin, Texas, Community First has built a tiny-house village that provides a home for 250 of the city's chronically homeless.

It's possible that we're just at the beginning of a trend that, beyond its "cute" factor, has real potential for our increasingly crowded world. Tiny homes make sense ecologically, socially and financially. Maybe it's an option that could work for you.

Learn more