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Green Preschools: An Early Start for Sustainable Living

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Young children’s minds are like sponges. They absorb just about everything — good and bad. Often, they pick up on things around them that we adults don’t even notice. Input from the world around them shapes young children’s lives, who they become as adults, and how they live.

Teaching a Healthy Lifestyle & Embracing Nature

That concept is reflected in Dawn Maxwell’s goal to run a preschool “… focused on living a healthy life, embracing nature and letting kids have fun.” Maxwell, a mother of four, said, “I just thought it would work. Their minds are so observant.” The Green House in Oklahoma City uses all-natural cleaners, rags instead of paper towels, eco-friendly toys, and serves only vegan, organic, gluten-free food. Whatever food is left over is recycled or composted. Dawn also teaches her students — who range in age from 3 to 6 — how to garden.

David Centola, whose daughter Clara attended The Green House, said he chose the school after exploring several other options. Ultimately, Centola picked The Green House because of its focus on teaching children about the environment. (Editor’s note, August 2019: It appears that The Green House preschool in Oklahoma City is no longer in business, but the nature-based preschool movement continues to grow.)

Growth of Nature-Based Preschools

Maxwell isn’t the only educator who believes in the benefits of learning sustainable lifestyle habits early. According to the North American Association for Environmental Education’s Natural Start Alliance, “The first nature-based preschool in the United States opened in 1966.” By 2012, there were more than 150 nature-based preschools across the country.

Some schools are taking basic steps towards a more environmentally friendly approach, while others have their entire curriculum based around nature. For example, Sunflower Preschool in Boulder, Colorado, teaches children about recycling, composting, and gardening. The outdoor curriculum at the school “honors the natural environment” and the staff encourages “a sense of wonder in the natural world” as well as active play and a child-directed classroom to stimulate development.

Do Parents Find the Difference Worth the Expense?

Peter J. Pizzolongo, a representative for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, says that the driving force behind the trend of nature-based education is the parents. “If it is something that families value, then they’re going to seek that out. … Largely, the movement within the school is recycling, reuse and alternate use, and cutting back on a lot of using of plastics and things that are thrown away.”

With the change in focus comes a slight change in price among most of the nature-based preschools. But, for the parents who are passionate about the nature-focused practices of these preschools, the difference is worth the cost.

It is never too early to start cultivating good habits and practices in children, especially since they will someday be the stewards of the planet. Teaching them how to take care of it now will eventually lead to a cleaner, greener planet.

Editor’s note: Originally published on September 16, 2014, this article was updated in August 2019.


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Green Preschools: An Early Start for Sustainable Living

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Is My Roof Too Shaded for Solar Panels?

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Many people want to install solar panels but their roofs are very shaded. Is it worth it to go solar?

Obviously, solar panels produce more power when they are in direct sunlight, but they do generate some power when shaded. Here are the typical reasons for shady roof areas and how to place solar panels to take advantage of the light that is available.

Solar Orientation

It is ideal to install the solar panels on a south-facing roof.

When the panels point either west or east, they will not get as much direct sun during part of the day. If the panels face east, they will produce a lot of energy in the morning but very little in the late afternoon. The reverse is true if they face west. It is not recommended to install solar panels facing north as they will receive almost no direct sunlight.

To determine the generation loss due to orientation, use the PVWatts calculator tool and edit the azimuth field, which represents the angle at which your solar panels must be placed. 


Although trees are wonderful for so many reasons, they are not necessarily compatible with solar panels unless they are planted on the north side of the home.

Trees on the south side can be most problematic because they can block midday sun, which is very important for overall power production. Trees can also prevent passive solar gains that can keep your heating energy use down in the winter.

There are a few things to keep in mind with trees. They could shade your solar panels more in the colder months when the sun is at a lower angle (especially if you live farther north). It is also important to consider the type of trees and how much they will grow.

Some smaller trees can be pruned to keep them small while some trees are just immense. Deciduous trees will shade your panels less in the winter months than conifers because they lose their leaves. However, even branch shade does have an impact on energy production.

Dormers, Gables, and Chimneys 

These roof features are another culprit for solar electricity production. Aside from strategically placing solar panels where they aren’t shaded, there are few ways to get around these architectural obstacles.

An experienced solar installer will be able to place the panels where they receive the least amount of shading. Unfortunately, this might limit the size of the array.

Other Locations for Solar Panels

Keep in mind that you can install panels on a garage, as an awning, on a carport, or even on a trellis. This will probably increase the installation cost, especially if you need to purchase materials to reinforce the trellis or carport. Yet, these structures can be useful solar locations and provide other benefits. 

Join a Community Solar Farm

Community solar gardens or farms are owned by a group of people or a company. They allow a group of households and businesses to use the renewable energy that off-site solar panels generate without installing the solar panels on their properties. Solar farms are ideal for renters, apartment dwellers, low-income households, and people with shaded roofs.

Some states have legislation in place making this arrangement more feasible and economical. Currently, Massachusetts, New York, Minnesota, and Colorado are the the top states for community solar farms. But 15 other states also have policies supporting community solar projects, and in several other states, utility providers and other groups are working to offer community solar. If you live in one of these states and have a shaded roof, joining a community solar farm might be a great option.


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Protests grow as millions demand resignation of Puerto Rico’s governor

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Protests grow as millions demand resignation of Puerto Rico’s governor

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Guinness and Other Brewers Get Greener Packaging

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Green beer used to be a St. Patrick’s Day gimmick, but a sustainability movement seems to be taking off in the beer packaging industry.

Diageo, the manufacturer of St. Patrick’s Day favorite, Guinness, announced in April that they will eliminate plastic from their beer packaging. In the two months since the Guinness announcement, the brewer of Mexican beer Corona has introduced a new can that doesn’t require plastic ring carriers.

Plastic-Free Guinness

This isn’t the first time Guinness has tried something revolutionary. They were the first brewer to establish a scientific research lab, which led to the use of nitrogenation in beer. Now, beverage distributor Diageo has poured $21 million into a plastic-free packaging program. Diageo also owns the Harp and Smithwicks breweries. It will eliminate plastic packaging from those brands as well.

Plastic currently accounts for only about five percent of Guinness’ packaging. But by replacing plastic ring carriers and shrink wrap with 100 percent biodegradable or recyclable cardboard, the company will eliminate the equivalent of 40 million plastic bottles worth of waste annually.

Diageo’s announcement promised to roll out the new sustainable beer packs in Ireland by August 2019 and expand to international markets by summer 2020. But some American consumers can already take advantage of the company’s changing direction.

In May, Guinness’ Baltimore-brewed limited release canned multipacks switched to eco-friendly carriers. These carriers are made from compostable waste materials and are themselves fully compostable and biodegradable.

Plastic-Free Corona

If you’re not a Guinness fan, take heart.

Long considered a beer for the beach, Corona was the first beer to be sold in a clear glass bottle. While that packaging innovation was designed to highlight the brew’s clarity, more recent changes have the environment at heart. Through its partnership with Parley for the Oceans, Corona has adopted the A.I.R. strategy to avoid, intercept, and redesign to eliminate plastic pollution.

Corona’s intercept campaigns include attempting to clean 2 million square meters of beach in 23 countries this summer. A promotion in several countries (including the U.S.) will trade three empty PET (#1 plastic) bottles for a bottle of Corona.

Last year, Grupo Modelo, a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev and the maker of Corona, ran a pilot program to replace plastic ring carriers with biodegradable ones.

Now, they have taken a different approach to reduce plastic from packaging. Instead of redesigning the secondary packaging, Grupo Modelo chose to redesign the cans themselves. New Corona Fit Packs screw together into stacks of up to 10 cans, eliminating the need for any packaging to hold them together. This is similar to the Carlsberg Group’s new Snap Pack, except that Carlsberg’s cans will rely on an adhesive to join the cans.

See how the Fit Packs fit together in this promotional video:

In a move that could ultimately have more impact than just eliminating their own ring carriers, Grupo Modelo has promised to make its interlocking can designs open source. If they do, any canned beverage company will be able to reduce its impact on the environment without research costs.

Feature image courtesy of DIAGEO


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Rain – Cynthia Barnett



A Natural and Cultural History

Cynthia Barnett

Genre: Earth Sciences

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: April 21, 2015

Publisher: Crown/Archetype

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

Rain is elemental, mysterious, precious, destructive.   It is the subject of countless poems and paintings; the top of the weather report; the source of the world's water. Yet this is the first book to tell the story of rain. Cynthia Barnett's  Rain  begins four billion years ago with the torrents that filled the oceans, and builds to the storms of climate change. It weaves together science—the true shape of a raindrop, the mysteries of frog and fish rains—with the human story of our ambition to control rain, from ancient rain dances to the 2,203 miles of levees that attempt to straitjacket the Mississippi River.   It offers a glimpse of our "founding forecaster," Thomas Jefferson, who measured every drizzle long before modern meteorology. Two centuries later, rainy skies would help inspire Morrissey’s mopes and Kurt Cobain’s grunge.  Rain  is also a travelogue, taking readers to Scotland to tell the surprising story of the mackintosh raincoat, and to India, where villagers extract the scent of rain from the monsoon-drenched earth and turn it into perfume. Now, after thousands of years spent praying for rain or worshiping it; burning witches at the stake to stop rain or sacrificing small children to bring it; mocking rain with irrigated agriculture and cities built in floodplains; even trying to blast rain out of the sky with mortars meant for war, humanity has finally managed to change the rain. Only not in ways we intended. As climate change upends rainfall patterns and unleashes increasingly severe storms and drought, Barnett shows rain to be a unifying force in a fractured world. Too much and not nearly enough, rain is a conversation we share, and this is a book for everyone who has ever experienced it.

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Rain – Cynthia Barnett

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An easy, cost-effective way to address climate change? Massive reforestation.

This story was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

As the implications of climate change become starker and the world faces up to a biodiversity crisis that threatens humanity’s existence, a group of campaigners from across the world are saying there is one clear way to get us out of this mess, but that governments are ignoring it.

In an open letter published in the British newspaper, The Guardian, the group tells governments that the best and cheapest way to avert a climate catastrophe is to heal nature by restoring and replanting degraded forests and by better conserving the natural world.

“Defending the living world and defending the climate are, in many cases, one and the same. This potential has so far been largely overlooked,” say the 23 signatories to the letter.

“We call on governments to support natural climate solutions with an urgent program of research, funding, and political commitment,” they added.

Vast amounts of carbon can be removed from the air and stored by restoring ecosystems razed by palm oil plantations, cattle ranching and timber, and fish production, the letter says. The 23 signatories include the  teenage school climate strike activist Greta Thunburg, authors Margaret Atwood, Naomi Klein, and Philip Pullman, U.S. climate scientist Michael Mann, and environmental campaigner Bill McKibben.

“The world faces two existential crises, developing with terrifying speed: climate breakdown and ecological breakdown. Neither is being addressed with the urgency needed to prevent our life-support systems from spiralling into collapse,” say the signatories.

They call for the defense, restoration and reestablishment of forests, peatlands, mangroves, salt marshes, natural seabeds, and other crucial ecosystems, to remove and store large amounts of carbon from the air. The protection and restoration of these ecosystems can help minimize a sixth great extinction, they say.

The group says that nearly a third of the greenhouse gas reductions needed to hold temperatures to a 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) rise can be provided by the restoration of natural habitats. But natural solutions are calculated to have attracted just a small fraction of the funding so far committed, according to journalist and author George Monbiot, one of the signatories.

Technology alone cannot solve climate change, Monbiot wrote in The Guardian. Much of the technology proposed to capture carbon is expensive and could pose problems at scale. The cheapest and surest approach, he wrote, is to restore natural forests and allow native trees to repopulate deforested land.

Regenerating and conserving nature to address climate change is expected to be a central recommendation of next month’s landmark study of the state of the natural world, compiled by hundreds of scientists. The United Nations-backed report is expected to confirm that nature is in rapid decline in many regions, with ecosystems on the point of collapse.

Protecting and restoring natural forests is seen as vital. Trees suck carbon dioxide from the air and store it. Nearly one-quarter of all the emissions reductions pledged by countries in the 2015 Paris agreement could come from tree planting and restoration. The U.N. has challenged countries to restore 865 million acres of farm and forest land by 2030 — an area bigger than India. And countries are responding.

Initiative 20×20, an international effort, hopes to restore 49 million acres by 2020 in Latin America and the Caribbean. And the multicountry African Forest Landscape Restoration initiative intends to restore 247 million acres of degraded forests in Africa by 2030.

Pakistan has just planted 1 billion trees. China plans to create forests totaling the size of Ireland. And in Africa, Ethiopia, Niger, Mali are among countries that strongly back the reforestation of degraded land.

But there’s a snag. A new paper in the scientific journal, Nature, suggests that 45 percent of the land area that nations have so far pledged to allocate for carbon drawdown is being used to for commercial plantations.

There’s a huge difference between restoring natural forests and planting trees for commercial use, for example the large-scale monoculture of oil palms to provide us with the palm oil so ubiquitous in snacks and cosmetics. The latter are less efficient at carbon storage, and in fact release carbon emissions by replacing peatland, as well as being detrimental to wildlife.

These natural solutions also go beyond trees. They include the restoration of peatlands, salt marsh and seagrass. They also mean the protection and recovery of animals like rhinos in Africa, which act as a natural protection against devastating wildfires, and wolves in North America, which some studies suggest could protect forests by controlling populations of animals that feed on plants and trees.

Still, Monbiot cautions: “We don’t want natural climate solutions to be used as a substitute for the rapid and comprehensive decarbonization of our economies. The science tells us both are needed.”

“But,” he continues, “what this thrilling field of study shows is that protecting and rewilding the world’s living systems is not just an aesthetically pleasing thing to do. It is an essential survival strategy.”

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An easy, cost-effective way to address climate change? Massive reforestation.

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Cosmos – Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan


Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $2.99

Publish Date: October 12, 1980

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

RETURNING TO TELEVISION AS AN ALL-NEW MINISERIES ON FOX   Cosmos is one of the bestselling science books of all time. In clear-eyed prose, Sagan reveals a jewel-like blue world inhabited by a life form that is just beginning to discover its own identity and to venture into the vast ocean of space.  Cosmos retraces the fourteen billion years of cosmic evolution that have transformed matter into consciousness, exploring such topics as the origin of life, the human brain, Egyptian hieroglyphics, spacecraft missions, the death of the Sun, the evolution of galaxies, and the forces and individuals who helped to shape modern science.   Praise for Cosmos   “Magnificent . . . With a lyrical literary style, and a range that touches almost all aspects of human knowledge, Cosmos often seems too good to be true.” — The Plain Dealer   “Sagan is an astronomer with one eye on the stars, another on history, and a third—his mind’s—on the human condition.” — Newsday   “Brilliant in its scope and provocative in its suggestions . . . shimmers with a sense of wonder.” — The Miami Herald   “Sagan dazzles the mind with the miracle of our survival, framed by the stately galaxies of space.” — Cosmopolitan   “Enticing . . . iridescent . . . imaginatively illustrated.” — The New York Times Book Review NOTE: This edition does not include images.

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Cosmos – Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan

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How Brazil’s presidential election could eff up the planet for everyone

As the vast Brazilian rainforest steadily dwindles, so do our chances of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. And with the possible election of Jair Bolsonaro, the so-called “Trump of the Tropics” and far-right frontrunner in the Brazilian presidential election, a crucial part of the planet’s carbon emission-curbing toolkit might be in jeopardy.

Bolsonaro has indicated he may open Indigenous areas up to mining, even potentially introducing a paved highway through the Amazon. The environmental impact of those policies would be “the biggest threat to the Amazon since Brazil was under a dictatorship,” said Doug Boucher, Scientific Advisor for The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Tropical Forests and Climate Initiative. “It’s a threat to the climate of the entire planet.”

From 2005 to 2012, Brazil’s forests were doing alright. Deforestation decreased by about two thirds under the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva administration — from 20,000 kilometers per year before Lula was elected to about 6,000 square kilometers per year. Since then, deforestation has basically remained at the same comparatively low levels, reducing Brazil’s CO2 emissions by more than half, according to Boucher.

Any shift in the country’s administration could endanger that progress — Presidential elections in Brazil tend to coincide with higher deforestation rates, regardless of the candidate. But Bolsonaro’s vision for handling environmental matters is uniquely jarring. Known for his homophobic, racist, and misogynistic views, the controversial politician also has a long track record of opposing an environmental agenda. He’s against taking action on climate change at all, pledging to follow President Trump’s lead by jettisoning the Paris Climate Agreement.

Bolsonaro has also made his views on race blatantly clear: He has criticized the Brazilian government’s commitment to preserving vast swaths of the Amazon for Indigenous people, promising that he will “not to give the Indians another inch of land.” Moreover, Bolsonaro has allied himself with the right-wing ruralista bloc, which represents the interests of agribusinesses and large landholders, and has been trying to strip away environmental protections against deforestation for many years.

Bolsonaro’s proposed environmental hit list goes on. He has promised to scrap the country’s Environment Ministry altogether, putting it under the scope of the Agriculture Ministry, which is led by agribusiness.

“Instead of spreading the message that he will fight deforestation and organized crime, he says he will attack the ministry of environment, Ibama and ICMBio [Brazil’s federal environment agencies],” said Brazil’s current environment minister, Edson Duarte. “It’s the same as saying that he will withdraw the police from the streets.”

In many ways, Bolsonaro, an ex-army captain, seems to want to revert to the Amazonian policies that Brazil employed during the years of the South American nation’s dictatorship. At that time, during the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, the country promoted rapid development of the Amazon, paving roads and converting the forests into farmland and ranchland.

As the global fight against catastrophic climate change ramps up, forests are a necessary front of the action. According to a dire, new report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), halting deforestation could play a vital role in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as forests have a significant capacity to absorb and store carbon.

“We have to take carbon dioxide basically out of the atmosphere in order to prevent a very dangerous increase in temperature, and major increases in floods, severe storms, and heat waves,” Boucher said. “The best way we know to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is to preserve and rebuild forests.”And protecting the last remnants of Brazil’s forests would go a long way. The country contains 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest — by far the largest forest in the world — which uptakes CO2 year-round due to its perpetually wet and warm climate.

This past week, Bolsonaro won the first round of Brazil’s presidential election by a near majority, and yet his success is not yet certain. He will face left-wing second-place finisher Fernando Haddad in the second round later this month.

“Civil society should keep the pressure up — and they already are,” Boucher said. “We have to watch and see what happens.”


How Brazil’s presidential election could eff up the planet for everyone

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7 Green Wedding Favors Your Guests Will Love


By Marissa Hermanson

Weddings are beautiful events, but they aren’t always environmentally friendly — just think about all those little details from paper invitations to gas-guzzling transportation. However, by planning ahead, you and your beau can help ensure that your nuptial celebration is eco-friendly.

The type of wedding favor you give guests might seem a minor issue — but the wrong choice could result in significant waste. In lieu of wrapped trinkets, show friends and family your gratitude with an environmentally friendly gift. Here are a few ideas for wedding favors that reflect your commitment to sustainability, from fragrant potted herbs to jars of local honey.

1. Potted Plants

A gift that lasts beyond the honeymoon, potted plants are a thoughtful and environmentally friendly favor for your wedding guests. Head to your local garden store and buy plants in bulk that you can pot at home. If you want to give a low-maintenance plant, succulents are a great option. Or consider fragrant herbs that your guests can use for cooking and garnishing. You might want to dress up the plants by decorating the pot with your names and wedding date.

Low-maintenance succulents make attractive wedding favors.

2. Seed Packets or Bulbs

For out-of-town guests, opt for seed packets or flower bulbs that friends and family can easily transport home. If you’re a dahlia enthusiast and the flower is making an appearance at your wedding, order a variety of dahlia bulbs. Alternately, packets of wildflower seeds are a fun gift for guests who have property where they can sprinkle the seeds. Just be sure not to distribute an invasive species. (Also, keep in mind that international guests may not be able to transport seeds or bulbs through customs.)

3. Charity Donation + Seed Paper

For the activist couple, donate money to your favorite local nonprofit or environmental cause on behalf of each guest. To make the gift more personal, write a brief note that explains why you selected the organization(s) for your charitable donation. Print the note (with plant-based ink, if possible) on environmentally friendly seed papers that guests can take home and plant later.

4. Edible Treats

Fill Mason jars or recyclable packages with yummy treats for guests to take home. Bake a batch of cookies, harvest local honey or buy fair-trade coffee from your favorite coffee shop. Your guests can savor these treats at home while they remember your special day.

5. Floral Centerpieces

Floral centerpieces can double as favors. For long tables, consider arranging tall, dramatic orchids down the center; for round tables, cluster potted perennials, greenery or lucky bamboo cuttings. Rather than purchasing new vases or pots, buy them used from local thrift stores. Make sure each table has enough plants for each guest to take one home at the end of your celebration.

6. Double-Duty Glassware

Consider using items at your reception that guests can take home. For instance, budget-friendly Mason jars printed with your wedding date can be used to serve drinks (and eliminate disposable cups). Guests can keep their jars as favors and reuse them at home.

7. No Favors

More and more couples are shying away from wedding favors because they’re costly and can have a negative impact on the environment. If you’re providing food, drink and entertainment, there’s no need to feel guilty about forgoing favors for guests to take home.

When it comes to planning a green wedding, favors are an easy place to start. Your eco-friendly approach to choosing wedding favors may help inspire other decisions you make throughout your planning process, resulting in a celebration that’s as beautiful as it is sustainable.

Did you have a green wedding? What favors did you give your guests? Let us know in the comments.

Marissa Hermanson is a wedding expert who has been published on The Knot, Southern Living, Cosmopolitan and more. She currently writes for Larson Jewelers, where you can find a wide selection of rings like titanium wedding bands.

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7 Green Wedding Favors Your Guests Will Love

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6 Benefits Of Natural Light & How To Maximize It In Your Home

There is nothing more glorious than a room filled with sunlight.

Natural light seems to bring out the beauty, and indeed color, of everything it touches. When it fills our homes, it brings with it a sense of freshness, vitality and even makes us healthier.

6 Health Benefits Of Natural Light

Research has shownthat:

1. Employees working in natural light recorded higher levels of energy and productivity than those working under artificial light.

2. Natural light can lower the risk of nearsightedness in children and young adults by helping the eye produce dopamine, which aids in healthy eye development.

3.Exposure tosunlight, especially early in the morning for at least half an hour, increases your chances of a good nights sleep.

4. Sunlight helps the body produce thehappy hormone serotonin which combatsa type of depression calledSeasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

5. Rooms with ample sunlight have been shown tohelp hospital patients heal fasterafter surgical procedures

6. Sunlight in the classroom has been shown to havea positive impacton student test scores.

But the benefits of natural light don’t end with your health and mood.

Related:7 Little-Known Benefits Of Sunlight

Using Natural Light To Reduce Energy Consumption

As you’ll read in the infographic below, capitalizing on your home’s natural light can help toreduce your energy bills, saving money and slashing your carbon footprint.

“In a typical building, lighting accounts for 25-40 percent of energy consumption. By allowing more natural light to penetrate and controlling both its light and heat components, the financial savings could be considerable,”Marilyne Andersen,assistant professor Marilyne Andersen of MIT’s Department of Architecture, toldScienceDaily.

Simply letting the sun shine in can drastically reduce those energy costs while delivering all the benefits listed above, but it has to be done thoughtfully. By making small changes to the way you use windows, doors, skylights, mirrors, paint colors and even furnishings, you can take advantage of the free light and energy the sun provides.

Scroll through the infographic below for small tweaks and tips that can help you to maximize your home’s natural light.

Infographic via HalfPrice.com.au

Image via: Thinkstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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6 Benefits Of Natural Light & How To Maximize It In Your Home

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