Power Houseplants: Dracaena "Janet Craig"

Power Houseplants - Dracaena %22Janet Craig%22.jpg

Last week we learned about the Golden Pothos, one of the most common and easy-to-grow plants on the list of 50 houseplants that purify a home or office. This week, we're getting to know the Dracaena, commonly known as Janet Craig, one of the top five plants in this collection!

As we know, houseplants are powerful and useful feng shui adjustments and are excellent additions to a holistic space to improve mood and indoor air quality. The Dracaena is one of the best options for the latter use and is a great choice for office spaces, as it is one of the best removers of trichloroethylene, a VOC that is produced by photocopiers and similar machines. The Janet Craig is also one of the top five ranking plants in removal of formaldehyde, a much more common volatile compound produced by many household items, from fabrics to grocery bags to upholstery and more. 

Similar in appearance to the lucky bamboo we often use, the Dracaena is a lush plant with dark green leaves that can grow up to ten feet tall! If you don't have that kind of space, there is a Compacta version that only reaches about three feet. This version is actually ideal for indoor growing, especially if your space lacks light or you're a forgetful gardener. It's hearty enough to live through neglect and low light, and it can live for decades! 

To Grow Successfully:

- Look for any light available in a dimly lit space. The Dracaena can grow in shade, but it will move more slowly. Its ideal environment is shade with some sunlight.
- Keep a temperature of 60 - 75 degrees. This plant can grow in lower temperatures, but the leaves may be yellow, rather than green.
- Keep your plant's soil evenly moist, and don't let the roots dry out. 
- If possible, fertilize every two weeks in spring and summer
- Clean the leaves occasionally with a damp cloth

Check out the plants on our How to Grow Fresh Air post, and let us know which one you'd like to learn about next!

by Anjie Cho

The Ins and Outs of Sick Building Syndrome

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Much of my work pertains to homes, apartments and other personal spaces, but the importance of indoor air quality (IAQ) relates to your working environment as well. In modern times, we spend a little less than 1/3 of our time at work on average. That's a lot of time in the same space! Unfortunately, these spaces are often poorly ventilated and filled with a host of other issues that lead to sick building syndrome, which is as gross as it sounds. 

Sick building syndrome is a collection of symptoms that seem to be caused directly by spending time in a certain building, often an office. These symptoms can include anything from headaches, dizziness and sensitivity to smell to asthma attacks, flu-like symptoms and even personality changes! Long term, they can even lead to cancer, pregnancy difficulties and other more serious issues. Not only do these issues cause us to feel poorly, they can also result in higher incidents of missing work and difficulty being productive when we do make it in. 

These effects can be caused by many factors, including:

  • external pollution (think car exhaust, radon, asbestos, lead paint) that leaks indoors through ventilation
  • VOCs off gassed by a number of office supplies like manufactured wood furniture, carpet, printers and more
  • Off gassing from clothing, fragrances and personal products
  • Insect or vermin droppings 
  • Mold and mildew
  • EMFs from small appliances like microwaves
  • Inadequate lighting
  • Ventilation issues

The good news is that there are ways to avoid sick building syndrome, and while many of them are reserved as actions for landlords and building owners, some of them we can do at our desks! If you own a building you suspect of making people sick, take care to use proper ventilation, remove and replace water stained carpet, upholstery and ceiling tiles, aim to use materials that do not off gas as much, and educate yourself as well as possible to help prevent sick building syndrome in your space. Changing out your air filters regularly with HEPA filters can be very effective as well! 

If you're an employee in a sick building, be sure to bring the problem to the attention of someone who can make changes, but you can also consider bringing in a small air purifier for your office and adding plants to your desk and office space that can help to absorb harmful VOCs. Check out our favorite options

Generally the symptoms of sick building syndrome are relieved when you leave the building, but if you leave one place and head to another polluted place, you're not doing much good! So work to make your home as holistic and green as possible to give yourself a safe place to rejuvenate and heal from a long day at the office!

by Anjie Cho

This $429,000 Upper West Side One-Bedroom Could Use a Gut Reno, and Here's How to Do It (With Cost Taken Into Account!)

featured this week on Brick Underground by Leah Hochbaum Rosner

The best thing about this $429,000 top-floor one-bedroom at 140 West 71st Street in Lincoln Square is that it’s south-facing, “so it’s going to get a lot of light,” says architect Anjie Cho. Also, she notes that the prewar building, the Danielle, allows owners to sublet their units without any residency requirements—a rarity for a co-op.

That said, the apartment definitely has a few issues, most notably “the weird wavy column on the wall in the living room,” says Cho, mentioning that she supposes it might be some sort of drain. “It could be hard to work with.”

Here’s what she’d do to deal with that peculiar pole, as well as the rest of this outdated Upper West Side residence that she calls “a major major fixer-upper.” Her recommendations:

The living room (pictured above)

The first thing Cho would do is make sure the electrical system is up-to-date. If it isn't, an overhaul is in order since “it could be quite old,” given that the building dates back to the 1920s. And if you are required to get it up to code, you’ll need a permit, which, she says, "could be costly.” But it’ll be worth the expense, removing the danger of the system shorting out when you want to plug in your hair dryer, for example, or worse. Safety is, after all, paramount.

...read full article

Q&A Sunday: LED Bulbs vs. Full-Spectrum Bulbs

In terms of BTB feng shui, what is the opinion of LED bulbs? Do they emit EMFs? I thought full-spectrum bulbs were better.

Rita, on How to Buy New Light Bulbs Without Guessing

Hi Rita, 

Thanks for your question! Feng shui doesn't really take this sort of detail into consideration, and in my work with BTB feng shui, we haven't touched on light bulbs much. In general, I believe this would be more of a Bau Biologie question. 

However, we did do some research in attempt to help, and this is what we found!

First, the term "full-spectrum" seems to actually refer to the type of light a bulb puts off, ranging from infrared to near-ultraviolet, and there are available full-spectrum options in CFL, LED and incandescent. It is worth noting that, like with greenwashing, there are bulbs that specify "full-spectrum" that actually do not include the entire spectrum and aren't much different from an average bulb. 

That said, there does seem to be evidence that LED bulbs give off more EMFs than incandescent, in the form of "dirty electricity." Most research and writing confirms that LED bulbs do emit a certain type of EMF, known as dirty electricity, which is caused by products that transform the type of electricity flowing through wires into other types (from AC to DC) in order to provide lower voltage and use less energy

If this is a concern for you, you can try halogen incandescent bulbs, which are clean, or look for high-quality, high-efficiency LED bulbs that do not use a transformer, as they are safer than traditional LED bulbs with regards to EMFs. 

In any case, I would definitely recommend researching further into available lightbulbs and Bau Biologie for more information! 

by Anjie Cho

Thanks for reading our "Q&A Sunday".  We will be answering questions submitted by our readers. Click here to submit any Feng Shui or Green Design questions!

Prep Your Holistic Space for Winter with Feng Shui

As the seasons continue to change, from summer to fall, and fall to winter, design in our homes is likely to change along with them. In the feng shui philosophy, there is a theme and science to changing up this decor as you transition from warm, bright weather to colder weather that promotes staying indoors. Feng shui philosophy embraces the same sort of changes in fall and winter as the agricultural world, in which the planting and harvest are done, and it's time for rest and planning. So how do you make your space reflect this?

One great way is to change the color scheme up a bit. Adding earthy colors (like brown, orange, yellow) to your space promotes nourishment and brings the qualities of nature indoors. Natural colors are more soothing and nurturing, meshing perfectly with the idea of turning inward and providing the support we need to stay grounded during cooler seasons.

Bringing actual nature indoors is another excellent way to balance out your space and welcome nourishing energy. You can opt for seasonal decor, like gourds, pumpkins and the like, or turn to traditional green plants, which add life energy and help clean the air in our indoor spaces, a great benefit considering we'll be spending more time indoors!

One design update that definitely adds to your comfort level is swapping out linens and blankets from thinner, lighter summer options to thicker, cozier and more warming blankets and duvets. Opting for organic and Fair Trade takes this a level further, as you're adding warmth in addition to removing harmful chemicals that conventionally produced materials can bring inside.

It's also a good idea to ensure that all your furniture is in the commanding position, regardless of the season. In the feng shui tradition, sitting without a clear line of sight to the door, or directly in line with the door, makes the flow of positive chi difficult. With our backs to the doors, we are not able to see what may be coming at us, and if we sit directly in front of the door, we are hit with all the chi coming into our space at once. Neither is good! Instead, aim to kitty corner your most important furniture so that you can comfortably see the door, while you aren't directly in line. If this isn't a possibility, use mirrors or feng shui crystals to adjust. Both are available here in the Holistic Spaces shop!

Finally, check your lighting! When we're spending lots of time out in the summer sun, lighting in our spaces isn't as important, as we're taking in Fire energy while outdoors. When we begin to turn inward and stay indoors, it's important to ensure that the lighting in our spaces is ample for all our activities, from reading to cooking to preparing for sleep, and that it benefits us where possible (think full-spectrum lighting to imitate the sun).

by Anjie Cho