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!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Healthy Holidays: Safe Electronics Recycling

Did you get a shiny new technology upgrade this year?  Even if a bigger, brighter, flatter tv isn’t in your immediate future, you may have the need to dispose of some old electronics.  What is the best way to get rid of old electronics?  

Donating your older device to a family or community member is a great option. Websites such as Freecycle and 2good2Toss are available for posting unwanted items. But if you’ve got them rolling around in your back seat and want to simply drop them off, it is easy and free to recycle electronics safely.  

Thurston County Solid Waste has a wonderful online resource called, “Where do I take my.” It tells you where to recycle almost everything that you can think of!

The locations listed below recycle electronic products such as TVs, computers (desktop and laptop), monitors, E-readers (like a Kindle or Nook), and DVD/Blu-ray players for FREE.

  • Staples
  • Office Depot
  • Best Buy
  • Goodwill
  • Free Geek Olympia
  • Office Depot
  • Value Village
  • Staples
  • RadioShack
  • Batteries Plus

Cell phones can go to many of the above listed locations for recycling.  Most service providers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc) also accept them and donate them to charity or survivors of domestic abuse.

Upgrades can be fun, just make sure that you donate or recycle the downgrades!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Healthy Holidays: Foodborne illness – Bah, humbug!

Nothing ruins the holiday festivities quite like becoming ill from a delicious holiday feast. It just seems so wrong! It doesn’t have to happen. You can take steps to prevent foodborne illness. Just remember: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill

Maintain a clean space for handling food. Not just counter tops - this means that cutting boards, dishes, utensils and all hands that touch food and any kitchen items are clean. Discard paper towels or put cloth wipes through the laundry after wiping countertops, especially after cleaning up raw meat juice, otherwise you will be spreading germs around. When someone leaves the kitchen and comes back, be sure they wash their hands again before handling food.

Raw meats should always be separated from other foods. This includes in your shopping cart and bags and in storage. Raw meats from the grocery store often leak through the wrapping. Transfer them to a container that will prevent leaks better, like a zip sealing plastic bag, and keep a plate underneath to catch any possible leaks. Use separate cutting boards and dishes for raw meat.

A food thermometer is your friend. Cook food to a safe internal temperature.

- Turkey, chicken, and poultry: 165° F
- Roasts, steaks, or chops of beef, pork, veal, and lamb: 145° F
- Ground beef, pork, hamburger or egg dishes: 160° F
- Fish: 145° F
- Keep hot foods hot – above 135° F.
- Keep cold foods cold – below 41° F.
- Reheat leftovers to 165° F.

Refrigerate foods right away. Don’t leave it out to cool down. Cut food up and let it cool in open containers in the fridge. Once they are cool, put the lids on.

Here is a great video about Clean, Separate, Cook, ChillFollow best food handling practices and do your best to keep everyone saying “Happy Holidays!” and not “Bah, humbug!”

Friday, December 12, 2014

Healthy Holidays: 5 tips to reduce holiday stress

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can be overwhelming. Take time for yourself and remember what the “happiest time of the year” is really about – sharing time with family and friends, honoring the gifts that fill our lives, and appreciating what we already have. A big impact to our personal health is stress.

Here are some quick ways to reduce stress.

1. Try to take a walk or step outside for a few minutes each day. Lack of light has been well documented to affect moods – make time to step outside into natural light (however diffused that light might seem!) each day. Take ten deep full breathes outside every day, even in the rain! Thurston County has some great trails to explore.

2. The environment around us impacts our health. We spend a lot of time in our homes. There are some easy ways to make your home a healthier environment. Wash blankets and bedding in hot water every week to kill dust mites and germs. Avoid scented items like candles, room sprays, or plug-ins to keep their chemicals out of the air, and bring in fresh air by opening windows for a couple of minutes each day. Bathroom and kitchen fans also help circulate air in the home. For toxic free holiday scents, simmer cinnamon and cloves in water on the stove or hang a fresh holiday wreath or cedar garland.

3. Exercise. Whether it is light, moderate, or intense, exercise can reduce stress levels. Some ideas for daily exercise include: brisk walks, indoor swimming pools, yoga classes, martial arts, dance classes or even just dancing in the living room. Anything that gets you moving helps… even though the couch tempts you for another round of Netflix.

4. Take a break. Giving yourself a break by focusing on something else, like a puzzle or a craft project can give your brain a break from the holiday stress. Perhaps a friendly game of Monopoly, Scrabble, or Jenga will give your household a break together.

5. Lose yourself in a good book! Is there a book you've been meaning to read? There is no better time than now to crack it open.

Being overly stressed can impact your health and well-being. Many studies show the negative impact of stress on our bodies. So do your best to set aside some time to de-stress in a healthy way.