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Dear EarthTalk: Summer’s going to be a scorcher this year, and I’d like to know how I can keep cool indoors without just running my energy-hogging air conditioners all the time. Any tips?
-- John McGovern, Cohasset, MA

According to Harvey Sachs of the non-profit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the movement of air over the skin is what’s key to keeping the body cool. So instead of turning on that A.C., see which direction the breeze is blowing outside (no matter how minimal it may be), and then open a few windows strategically to try to get it flowing through the house from end-to-end or side-to-side.

If the breeze alone isn’t enough, apply some fan power. Even small tabletop fans, which can be had for $30 or so at Target and similar stores, can really whip the air around. Placing one facing in by the window where air is coming in, and one at an opposite window positioned to blow warm air out, can create a nice “wind tunnel” effect in pulling air through the house.

This strategy can be especially effective at night when it is cooler. But then it’s important to shut the windows when you leave for the day in the morning to keep the cooler air in and the warmth of the new day out. Keep blinds shut and curtains drawn, too, as sunlight pouring into the house only creates more heat. And remember that lights left on are not only wasting electricity—they’re creating heat, as well.

Ceiling fans also do a nice job of circulating air in the rooms you occupy most, and though they do require some up-front costs for installation they use only about 1/30th the electricity of a room air conditioner.

Beyond moving the air around to keep cool, the website WikiHow.com lists several tips for using water to keep cool sans AC. One tried and true method is to wet your wrists and other pulse points with cold water, and then keep those spots cool by holding an ice cube wrapped in a face cloth against them. The relief is immediate, and this method will cool down the entire body—by as much as three degrees Fahrenheit—for upwards of an hour. Another WikiHow suggestion: Wear a short-sleeved shirt and keep the sleeves wet with cold water (from a squirt bottle, faucet or hose). Keeping the pant legs of long pants wet is also a good way to keep your legs cool. Add in a breeze or a fan, and you can actually get cold.

Of course, if you just can’t live without air conditioning, there are greener options out there. For starters, a single window unit that keeps one room cool is far less energy intensive and polluting than central air conditioning that keeps all the rooms in the house (including those you’re not using) cool. Look for new models sporting the federal Energy Star label, which marks units as energy efficient.

Another option for those in hot, dry climates is an evaporative cooler, which cools outdoor air through evaporation and blows it inside the house. These units make for a nice alternative to traditional central air conditioning, as they cost about half as much to install and use only one quarter of the energy overall.

CONTACTS:
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy; WikiHow; Energy Star.
Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that the DEET used in most mosquito repellents is toxic? If so what problems does it cause? And what are some non-toxic alternatives for keeping mosquitoes at bay?
-- Tom Pollack, Oakland, CA

DEET is commonly known as the king of mosquito repellents, though not everyone is keen to slather it on their skin. A study conducted in the late 1980s on Everglades National Park employees to determine the effects of DEET found that a full one-quarter of the subjects studied experienced negative health effects that they blamed on exposure to the chemical. Effects included rashes, skin irritation, numb or burning lips, nausea, headaches, dizziness and difficulty concentrating.

Duke University pharmacologist Mohamed Abou-Donia, in studies on rats, found that frequent and prolonged DEET exposure led to diffuse brain cell death and behavioral changes, and concluded that humans should stay away from products containing it. But other studies have shown that while a few people have sensitivity to DEET applications, most are unaffected when they use DEET products on a sporadic basis according to the instructions on the label.

The upside of DEET is that it is very effective. A 2002 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that DEET-based repellents provided the most complete and longest lasting protection against mosquitoes. Researchers found that a formulation containing 23.8 percent DEET completely protected study participants for upwards of 300 minutes, while a soybean-oil-based product only worked for 95 minutes. The effectiveness of several other botanical-based repellents lasted less than 20 minutes.

But a number of new concentrations of botanical repellents that have hit the market since are reportedly better than ever. In 2005, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) granted approval to two healthier alternatives to DEET—picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus—for protection from mosquitoes. Picaridin, long used to repel mosquitoes in other parts of the world, is now available in the U.S. under the Cutter Advanced brand name. Oil of lemon eucalyptus, which is derived from eucalyptus leaves and is the only plant-based active ingredient for insect repellents approved by the CDC, is available in several different forms, including Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, OFF! Botanicals, and Fight Bite Plant-Based Insect Repellent.

Some other good choices, according to the nonprofit National Coalition against the Misuse of Pesticides, include products containing geraniol (MosquitoGuard or Bite Stop), citronella (Natrapel), herbal extracts (Beat It Bug Buster) or essential oils (All Terrain). The group also gives high marks to oil of lemon eucalyptus, such as that found in Repel’s Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent.

Another leading nonprofit, Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), likes Herbal Armor, Buzz Away and Green Ban, each containing citronella and peppermint as well as various essential oils (cedar wood, lemongrass, etc.). PANNA also lauds Bite Blocker, a blend of soybeans and coconut oils that provides four to eight hours of protection and, unlike many other brands, is safe to use on kids.

CONTACTS:Comparative Efficacy of Insect Repellents against Mosquito Bites,” ; National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP); Pesticide Action Network North America .

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php


www.Dishmag.com / Issue 87 - September 3952
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