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Your Dishwasher is More Efficient Than You May Think

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This is one of those rare and wonderful cases when what is right lines up with what is easy. Washing your dishes by hand isn't environmentally superior to running them through the dishwater— the latter actually saves water these days.

Experts from Consumer Reports, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Program, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy all agreed that our modern dishwashers are so energy and water-efficient that you actually end up wasting water if you clean your dishes by hand.

"In order to wash the same amount of dishes that can fit in a single load of a full size dishwasher and use less water, you would need to be able to wash eight full place settings and still limit the total amount of time that the faucet was running to less than two minutes," Jonah Schein, technical coordinator for homes and buildings in the EPA’s WaterSense program, said in a statement.

And don't bother with pre-washing before loading the dishwasher. The modern breed of dishwashers are really good at getting your plates clean—much better, in fact, than plain old elbow grease and a sponge—especially since our hands can't stand the high temperatures used to get your dinnerware squeaky clean.

"Old dishwashers, to generalize, didn’t get dishes very clean unless you pre-washed," says Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "The new dishwashers, that is not an issue. Almost all of them have what’s called soil sensors. Depending on how dirty the dishes are, they will wash more or less. They will get the dishes clean."

And if you really want to save energy, look for a dishwasher with a "no heat" dry option, which uses a fan to circulate air.

All of this is great news, and just one more reason I wish my apartment had a dishwasher.

[h/t Apartment Therapy]

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Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
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History
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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DIY
5 Simple Seating Tricks That Will Transform Your Living Room
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Seating arrangements can make or break a social event. Whether it's a cocktail party, a book club get-together, or a Game of Thrones binge night, you want a setup that makes socializing easy and enjoyable. The right combo of comfortable chairs, tables, and other furniture is the key to making your abode more inviting and homey. We’ve got five ways to hack your living room seating for social occasions or everyday life.

1. MAKE THE TV THE FOCAL POINT OF THE ROOM.

When people are over to watch the season finale of your favorite show, the TV becomes the obvious focal point of the gathering. You can easily calculate the optimal viewing distance for your seating based on the size of your TV. For 1080p screen, double your TV's diagonal measurement to get the proper distance in inches, which you can then convert to feet.

Let's say you have a 43-inch TV—multiply that by two and you get 86 inches, or about 7 feet, as your best viewing distance. A 48-inch screen, which is one of the most popular sizes for living rooms, will allow you 8 feet of viewing space. If you have a higher-def 4K TV screen, you can sit a little closer: Experts recommend a distance of one to 1.5 times the screen size.

Now that you have the right distance in mind, arrange your couch in front and place other chairs at varied heights at the sides and behind it. Have plenty of comfy floor cushions for those who don’t snag a sofa seat so that everyone has a good sightline to the TV.

2. CREATE A CONVERSATIONAL CIRCLE.

When the social event doesn't require everyone to face the same direction, arrange the seating in a circle around a central point. This setup works best for book club meetings and gatherings where casual conversation is the main draw. Opt for a round table at the center for setting drinks and snacks. “At a round table you can see everyone at once, whereas at a rectangular table, there’s a chance you’re not seeing the faces of people on your side two or more seats down, making it difficult to chat with them,” Whitney McGregor of Whitney McGregor Designs in Greenville, South Carolina, tells Mental Floss.

A 2007 study suggested that people are drawn to circles and softer organic shapes because the rounded edges are perceived as less dangerous than sharp edges. Create a similar feel of safety, comfort, and inclusiveness in your living room with a set of chairs around a circular coffee table or a large tufted ottoman.

3. LEAVE SOME SPACE—BUT NOT TOO MUCH— BETWEEN SEATS AND TABLES.

Seating arrangement with turquoise curtains
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To keep conversation flowing, leave at least 3 feet of space between each seat (not including couches, where people are expected to chat more intimately). For example, place arm chairs about 3 feet away from the ends of the sofa or 5 to 6 feet across from the sofa. The coffee table, whether round, square, or rectangular, should sit about 14 to 18 inches from the front of the couch—far enough to provide comfortable legroom, but close enough to set a drink down without getting up.

These cushions of space prevent guests from feeling like they're sitting on top of one another, according to Apartment Therapy. But a stretch of 10 feet or more is too much to converse easily, so pull out the tape measure as needed.

4. FRESHEN A STUFFY ARRANGEMENT WITH ASYMMETRY.

It's possible to switch up the whole feeling of your room—without purchasing new furniture—by changing the existing seating and accent tables from a symmetrical to an asymmetrical arrangement, and vice versa. “Asymmetry versus symmetry can be a fickle thing,” Christy Davis of Christy Davis Interiors in Columbia, South Carolina, tells Mental Floss. “Symmetry gives a sense of wholeness and completeness, whereas asymmetry makes you think a little more because it’s not as common as symmetry.”

Do you crave that whole and complete feeling? Put two matching chairs on either side of a table to make the room seem more visually balanced and formal. For a casual look with more energy, take those same two chairs and put them in a random order: One to the left of the couch as a discrete conversational seating area, and the other on the opposite wall and farther down in the room, along with a side table and lamp, as its own smaller conversation nook.

5. ADD SURFACES FOR DRINKS AND MORE.

With every good seat comes the need for a place to set a drink, your phone, or the remote control. While you want your coffee table at least 14 inches in front of the couch, the rules for accent table placement are a little looser. Try sitting in each location in your room and checking if there’s a place to set your glass within each reaching distance. If not, add a side table or garden stool, then dress it up with plants and photos. According to The Spruce, the side table should be about the same height as the arm of the seat it's next to.

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