L.A. at Home

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Category: Green

Review: Insteon remote-control LED light bulb

The dream of a fully technology integrated and automated home can make a tech geek downright giddy: coffee machines that grind coffee and brew at a set hour, power sockets with built-in USB outlets, steaks cooked medium rare thanks to a Bluetooth thermometer. For every person who thinks a thermostat that learns personal temperature preferences is excessive, there's a tech geek who calls that cool.

Take the new LED bulb by Insteon. Released a couple of weeks ago, this bulb can be turned on, off or dimmed by remote control (included with bulb) or by iOS and Android apps. It's the next step in automating your home lighting: No special lamp attachments needed, no dimmer plates to attach to your wall.  The bulb and remote communicate via radio frequency.

We tested the device and found installation to be simple. Hold down a button on the remote until it beeps, screw in the lightbulb, then wait for a confirmation double-beep from the remote and bulb. The setup worked the first time we tried. At $29.99, the Insteon bulb presents an easy, albeit limited, alternative to much more expensive home automation systems.

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Vision House in Pacific Palisades opens for public viewing

Vision House L.A., a newly built home meant to showcase some of the latest in green technology and design, is a project of Green Builder Media, L.A.-based builder Structure Home, L.A. architecture firm KAA Design, the Newport Beach firm P2 Design, Calabasas interior designer Jill Wolff and Westlake Village landscape architect MJN Design Studio
Green "demonstration" houses loaded with what are touted as the latest in environmentally conscious technology and materials may have ebbed with the real estate crash, but a development-and-design team in Los Angeles is about to revive the idea with the Vision House.

Billed as a luxury green demonstration home, Vision House is a collaboration of Green Builder Media and L.A.-based builder Structure Home, which worked with L.A. architecture firm KAA Design, the Newport Beach firm P2 Design, Calabasas interior designer Jill Wolff and Westlake Village landscape architect MJN Design Studio.

Vision House L.A., a newly built home meant to showcase some of the latest in green technology and design, is a project of Green Builder Media, L.A.-based builder Structure Home, L.A. architecture firm KAA Design, the Newport Beach firm P2 Design, Calabasas interior designer Jill Wolff and Westlake Village landscape architect MJN Design StudioSome of the house's features -- an ultraviolet light air-purification system, mold-resistant shower and duct systems, solar panels, a central vacuum system, Gaggenau appliances that include a countertop steamer and a refrigerator with motorized shelves -- are more about function than design beauty. But decorating fans won't be disappointed.

The kitchen, laundry area and bathroom have dramatic textural wall finishes using Porcelanosa tile, at right. Eco-friendly furnishings from Cisco Home include side tables made from repurposed car parts and light fixtures made from reclaimed blown glass. (Asked if the cotton and linen fabrics were kid-friendly, Wolff said she washed all of the slipcovers, brought them to the house in a garbage bag and put them on -- without an iron.)

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Garbage Maven: Look for a new, improved recycling label [Updated]


Anyone who tries to do the right thing and recycle has experienced it: the utter confusion that certain products induce with their packaging. But a new label tries to address the vague and oftentimes misleading recycling messages.

The How2Recycle label, pioneered by the nonprofit environmental group GreenBlue, will soon appear on Yoplait yogurt packs, Aveda acne pads, Orville Redenbacher popcorn and a few other brand-name products as part of a pilot program to reduce consumer confusion and to encourage more recycling.

The new label is based on the On-Pack Recycling Label used in Britain and can include up to four icons indicating if a material is widely recycled (such as cardboard), recycled in limited cases (such as Yoplait's plastic yogurt cups), not yet recycled (such as mylar) or requires store drop-off (the case in many cities for plastic grocery bags).

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Summer blackouts beware: Cars can be turned into backup generators

Leaf reverse flow chargerSummer is almost here and with it, the high temperatures and cranked air conditioning that often lead to power outages. Some Angelenos may have considered a costly gas-powered generator for backup power, but another option is already sitting in their driveways: cars.

Power inverters on the market connect to car batteries to keep home appliances running. Just pop the hood, connect the inverter directly to the battery of a running car and thread the power cord from the inverter into the house. A refrigerator, television, lights or other devices that usually plug into a wall outlet would instead connect to the inverter power cord.

PowerinverterThe inverter, similar in size to a hardcover book, converts direct current, or DC power, coming from the car battery into alternating current, or AC, used in most homes.

PowerBright, based in Coral Springs, Fla., makes inverters in a variety of power configurations. A 900-watt version, costing about $60, is strong enough to run a sump pump, freezer or refrigerator, and it can handle the peak power surge from first plugging in a refrigerator, Chief Executive Gil Hetzroni said. A 2,300-watt version, Hetzroni said, can power many appliances at the same time.

Power inverters work with gas-powered cars as well as electric vehicles, but Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. have both developed equipment specifically for electric cars. The bi-directional electric vehicle charger, which Nissan calls the Leaf to Home electricity supply system and Toyota dubs V2H for vehicle-to-home charging system, can reverse the flow of electricity from electric car to house in case of blackouts.

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Mercado farmers market bag: Squished tomatoes no more?

The Mercado bag has multiple pockets and is made by Quirky.
Anyone who has returned home from the farmers market to find costly heirloom tomatoes crushed beneath the weight of fingerling potatoes may appreciate the new Mercado tote.

The Mercado bag from Quirky is made of canvas, soft cotton and mesh. It has four small interior pockets for delicate items such as peaches and grapes; two long interior compartments behind see-through mesh; one large interior compartment with two elastic loops, perhaps to hold wine, flowers or baguettes; and two exterior pockets for easy access for cash, keys, sunglasses or a phone.

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Picking up after Fido in a post-grocery-bag world

PuppycleanupAngelenos who have been giving their plastic grocery bags a second life as doggie-doo pickup receptacles and trash-can liners may be wondering what they’re going to use as a replacement once the city’s ban goes into effect. The answer is simple: Try one of the many other types of plastic or packaging that come home with you from the store. During a typical grocery shopping trip, about 7% of the purchase’s environmental impact lies in product packaging, according to Bob Lilienfeld, editor of the ULS Report. Non-recyclables such as junk food wrappers are best because they would go in the trash anyway, but bread bags, cereal box liners and dozens of other plastics can do the trick.


Pros and cons of reusable bags

Can I Recycle: The Times series

Service stops junk mail before it's sent

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Daniel Allen cleans up after his puppy. Credit: John Doman / Associated Press / Pioneer Press

Plastic bag ban: Pros and cons of reusable alternatives

Bag Monster man
Reusable grocery bags are becoming almost as ubiquitous as the single-use plastic bags they’re designed to replace, but the choices can be overwhelming. Canvas? Nylon? Tyvek? Hemp? Any bag that’s repeatedly reused is more environmentally friendly than single-use plastic, but the greenest choice isn’t always clear. Each material has pros and cons, and ultimately the best alternative to the single-use plastic bag is the one shoppers are most likely to remember to bring to the store.

Here's a comparison of some of the most common totes, including ones made of that felt-like fabric (called nonwoven polypropylene) that is so common:

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BuBees beehive: modern architecture for the urban bee

BuBees beehive
Backyard beekeeping is the buzz of urban farming, with some wanting to replenish bees disappearing through Colony Collapse Disorder and others simply wanting to harvest home-grown honey. Now a Malibu business called BuBees is making beehives that are as fashionable as the city dwellers keeping them.

Designed by commercial artist and Art Center College of Design graduate Steve Steere, the $300 hives are a blend of form and function. A so-called top bar design, BuBees beehives mimic the way bees live in nature. The 36-by-18-inch living space is equipped with 24 bars, under which the bees build their combs. Two solid boards that run the width of the hive can be moved to make the space smaller or larger depending on how many bees adopt the hive. A viewing window lets beekeepers see inside the space, which can accommodate thousands of the pollinators.

For beekeepers who want honey, the top bar system allows easy harvesting. Just lift out one of the bars, cut off the comb and smash it in a bucket.

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Garbage Maven: Recycling cellphones at the ecoATM

EcoATMMachine_01Mobile devices are discarded more rapidly than any other type of electronics, yet only 11% of them are recycled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But something called an ecoATM is working to change that.

The ecoATM is a self-service kiosk that helps people dispose of cellphones and other mobile devices. The machine uses electronic diagnostics and artificial intelligence to evaluate electronics' value and pay customers on the spot with cash or credit.

The company the makes ecoATM is based in San Diego. It began rolling out its machines in 2010 and has been operating 50 ecoATMs at malls around California, including the Glendale Galleria, Westfield Century City and Westside Pavilion. Thursday marked the kickoff to another round of openings, starting at malls in Brea and Orange and continuing later this month in Baldwin, Westminster, Ontario, Burbank and the South Bay.

Recycling needs to be convenient, financially rewarding and immediate to prevent people from throwing cellphones in the garbage, ecoATM Chief Executive Tom Tullie said.

Although California is one of the few states that bans electronics from landfills because of the hazardous materials they may contain and their potential to be reused, many cellphones still end up in landfills. Recapturing raw materials such as copper and plastic saves the energy, expense and environmental cost that go into mining and processing new materials.

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Garden hoses often contain phthalates and lead, study says

DogwithgardenhoseGarden hoses and other popular gardening products often contain toxic chemicals, including phthalates, lead and bromine, according to a study released Thursday. The report from the nonprofit environmental research group HealthyStuff.org in Ann Arbor, Mich., found that 70% of the 179 garden products it tested contained chemicals of "high concern."

The study screened 90 garden hoses, 53 gloves, 13 kneeling pads and 23 garden tools purchased from popular retailers including Lowe's, Home Depot, Target and Wal-Mart. Of the garden hoses tested, 100% of PVC hoses contained phthalates --  a chemical used to soften plastics -- which critics say may be linked to birth defects and breast cancer.

Thirty percent of all the tested products contained more than 100 parts per million of lead in one or more component. The Consumer Product Safety Commission limits lead to 100 ppm in children’s products. The study said lead and phthalates in water hoses and gloves exceeded allowable levels that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has established for other products, and that the lead in brass fittings for garden hoses exceeded standards for brass fittings in residential water fixtures as set by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

"Garden hoses are the product we're most concerned about," said Jeff Gearhart, research director for  HealthyStuff.org. Vinyl garden gloves also were of concern. Four pairs in the test contained phthalates.

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