My house is carbon's Big Foot. Built in 1912, it's a Portland bungalow that has never known the meaning of the word "efficiency." So setting out to conquer Chapter 7 of Graham Hill and Meaghan O'Neill's Ready, Set, Green: Eight Weeks To Modern Eco-Living seemed the biggest challenge of my eight week journey thus far.
Green decks still challenging
I've been working on my house extensively this summer, but I don't feel as if my energy consumption, my water use or my building practices have improved very much. And the main reason is cost. This is still the major Achilles heel of home greening, in my opinion. A search for green deck materials at the beginning of the summer did not yield much of use - we ended up with Trex, which our local green house store, Eco-Haus, doesn't stock or list as a green alternative. I respect their choice, as Trex is downcycling, but what is a homeowner with a tight budget to do? FSC Cedar, I suppose, which is great, but with the sticky sap trees we have overhanging the majority of the deck, the maintenance and clean-up of the cedar made it prohibitive, and we used it only for framing and railings. For the number of people who build or re-build decks and porches, it feels like the green deck alternatives are few.As the deck construction has proceeded, my spirits regarding green construction have flagged further. Stooped to recycling construction workers' soda bottles, I tried to turn my attention to the inside of the house.
I instructed my partner to get only CFLs for the fixtures in our house that needed bulb changes. We had done an initial sweep with CFLs three years previously, but one by one many of the places we had switched to CFLs have gone back to incandescents. Personally, there's no question that CFLs have not lived up to their promise of longevity. Our light bulb store, Sunlan Lighting, advised us not to use CFLs for dimmers or motion detectors - that cut out around 8 of our 24 fixtures, or dimmable CFL bulbs at $12...each! In our three outdoor fixtures, CFLs have required as many bulb changes as regular bulbs, due, according to Sunlan, to the temperature changes that work the CFL tiny motor too strenuously. The store also did not recommend them for enclosed fixtures or those that were frequently turned on and off. We ended up with only a handful of new CFLs, and a decision to look at LEDs for all new or replacement lighting needs. I do love the Solatube lighting system, but its price puts it on the "wish list" for when the roof needs replacing in the next few years.
My two sons are shower phobic and shower only once a week under orders, so the sign I placed on our shower to please shower only five minutes is really just a reminder for my husband and I - 10 minute showers produce about 4 pounds of CO2 according to David Gershon's Low Carbon Diet. We do cold-water laundry, have never watered our lawn and have no water-thirsty plants. Still, the three toilets (with the old fashioned bricks), the five to six loads of laundry weekly and the dish washing all add up. We went on a mad chase around town (half on bikes, but the other half by car) to find cool clotheslines, in order to reduce our dryer use, and only Storables eventually satisfied us. We bought a laundry rack (and also repaired another old wooden one we had at home), an excellent retractable clothesline, and a pull-out shelf for clothes drying. We have a six-month goal to give us the dryer completely.
So perhaps all in all the results are not so bad, but the process feels so slow. Over these eight weeks we've cleaned our gas furnace filters, replaced a handful of bulbs, eschewed air conditioning for one ceiling fan and one plug-in fan, made a nighttime habit of checking and turning off power strips, and started to time our showers. Yet eight weeks doesn't feel like enough time for effective home greening, not with the extra cost of green materials. Eight years feels more realistic!