Low Energy Warm and Cozy

PRICE RANGE Electric heating pads range in price from HKD 200-800

PRODUCT RATING Great. Most heaters dry the air, making your skin itchy and sinuses uncomfortable. Electric heating pads keep you warm and toasty without drying the air. There is nothing more comforting on a cold night then climbing into a warm bed.

GREEN RATING Quite Green. Our previous room heater consumed over 2000 watts of electricity. The electric heating pad uses less than 100 watts.

The Hong Kong Observatory forecasts a colder winter this year due to climate change. As climate change increases occurences of extreme weather, we will consume more energy trying to keep our environment within our comfort zone. As we consume more energy we inevitably drive the climate to even greater extremes.

By becoming smarter consumers, we can find ways to stay comfortable while reducing our impact on the environment (not to mention our wallets). The electric heating pad is an example of how we can remain comfortable while drastically slashing our energy consumption. It keeps us warm without needlessly heating the space under our bed or near the ceiling for example. Continue reading “Low Energy Warm and Cozy”

Do Natural Cleaners Work?

Many commercial cleaners contain toxic chemicals that are hazardous to our health and to the environment. Chemicals in common household cleaners have been found to induce occupational asthma, reduce fertility and birth weight in mice, reduce embryo survival in fish, reduce sperm count in adult men, and cause allergies in children. This list only includes some of the proven effects of chemical cleaners. There are no studies on the effects of long term exposure to these chemicals or the effects of the interaction of chemicals in our environment.

We need to balance our need and desire for cleanliness against the effects these chemicals have on our health and the environment. What this article seeks to do is look at the science to determine if natural cleaners are a viable alternative.

In order to determine if we can replace the chemical cleaners that we find on supermarket shelves with natural cleaners, we need to first define what we expect to accomplish by using cleaners. Generally, cleaners should remove dirt and maintain hygiene. I expect cleaners to perform three specific functions: (1) eliminate germs, (2) mask or remove odors, and (3) loosen dirt and grime so it can be washed away.


The failure to remove bacteria from food preparation surfaces can have implications in the transmission of food borne diseases. Many anti-bacterial cleaners have been developed to provide convenient cleaning of food prep areas, replacing the proven method of washing with detergent and rinsing with water.

Our excessive obsession with eliminating germs  by using anti-bacterials may be having adverse consequences on our health. Germs may play a role in developing our immune system, the fewer germs people are exposed to in childhood, the more vulnerable they may be to sickness as adults. More worryingly, Anti-bacterial soaps, cleaners and toothpaste have now been shown to weaken muscle function by interrupting cellular communcation necessary for muscle contraction.

The primary benefit of anti-bacterial cleansers is their ability to provide us with peace of mind by guaranteeing the elimination of germs. This study from the University of Florida shows that anti-bacterial cleaners are able to eliminate 99.99% of E.coli, Listeria and Staphylococcus bacteria from surfaces. In comparison, a mixture of 1 part vinegar, 1 part lemon juice, 2 parts water and pinch of baking soda was able to eliminate 99.9% of these same bacteria. This test involved innoculating surfaces with bacteria and then spraying or pouring the cleaners on the infected surfaces. The surfaces were not washed or rinsed (the proven, traditional solution). From this study, we can conclude that natural cleaners can be highly effective in reducing germs (but is a statistically significant 00.01% less so). The acidic nature of vinegar makes it a good disinfectant that is also effective against mold. Continue reading “Do Natural Cleaners Work?”

Oh…So… Cool

PRICE RANGE HK$ 400 to 3000. Installation may be extra (we paid HK$ 400 to have ours installed).

PRODUCT RATING Cooool. Fans cool you gently without making you vulnerable to colds. According to a study conducted by Cardiff University, “Air conditioning itself may contribute to infection with common cold viruses. The lining of the nose is covered with a thin layer of mucus which protects against infection. Since air conditioners extract moisture from the air they may cause some drying of the protective mucous blanket in the nose and predispose to infection. The cold air may also help viruses to establish a hold in the nose as they reproduce better in a cold nose”. Not to mention the havoc that is caused to your body when you walk into a freezing cold room after having been outside in the blazing heat.

GREEN RATING Quite Green. Fans consume only one-tenth the electricity compared to an air conditioner. However, due to the inconceivably poor design of Hong Kong apartments – with large, protruding bay windows that trap heat, windows that don’t open to allow ventilation, etc – fans can only be used primarily as a complement rather than a substitute for air conditioners. Fans are simple, durable devices. In comparison, air conditioners are complex to manufacture and dispose of safely. New air conditioners contain refrigerants (flourocarbons) that do not deplete the ozone layer, but still contribute to global warming because they are potent greenhouse gases.

AVAILABLE AT http://www.smcfans.com/products

Modern humans are comfortable within a fairly narrow temperature range – according to the EPD, over 90% of building occupants feel comfortable with temperature between 22.5C and 25.5C. In Hong Kong, where summer temperatures can easily rise above 30C, we face a conundrum – do we use an air conditioner to make ourselves cooler today, while pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that will guarantee a hotter climate for ourselves in the future?

One way we can try to maintain a cooler living environment while lessening our impact on the planet is to use fans. By installing a ceiling fan in our bedroom, we have been able to reduce the number of nights we turn on the air conditioner by about 30% (the two weeks at the beginning and end of summer). Even when we do use the air conditioner, we are able to able to set it at 26C. For every 1C increase in your thermostat setting – you reduce your electricity consumption by 3%. Continue reading “Oh…So… Cool”

The Original Non-Stick

PRODUCT Cast iron skillet

PRICE HK$80 for the 10.5″ pan

PRODUCT RATING Excellent for pan-frying, braising, searing and sauteing (and quite possibly as a weapon …it is very, very heavy). Due to the excellent heat diffusion and retention properties, you can get that sizzling golden brown, teppanyaki effect that just can’t be duplicated on a non-stick pan. I think it would be great for searing meat, although I haven’t tried it myself, as I stopped cooking meat a few years ago.

GREEN RATING Deep Green. I’ve only owned it for a short time, but have a feeling that it will last forever. This is just so much greener than throwing a non-stick pan into the landfill every 6 months.

AVAILABLE AT We bought ours at a cookware shop on Shanghai Street (Yau Ma Tei MTR). There are various brands at different price ranges available at kitchen shops around the city.

Yvonne Chounard, Patagonia’s founder, defined a well made, well designed product as one that lasts a long time, is easily repaired and then finally breaks down in many places at the same time. For example, a pair of Levi’s lasts many, many years, but when its seen too many days, it gets holes in the knees, frays at the bottom, small change falls through the pockets all at the same time. He defined a poorly designed product as one where if one part breaks, the whole thing is trashed. For example, if one tiny part in our stereo, TV, or computer breaks we end up throwing the whole thing away.

Based on this definition, non-stick pans are pretty poorly designed. After 6 months of use, the pan still looks fine, but because the non-stick coating is worn, the whole thing has to be thrown away. I’ve tried many brands from Meyer to Tefal to Silverstone and they all end up in the trash within a year. I end up buying a new pan every year and throwing my old one into the landfill. Continue reading “The Original Non-Stick”