Back in the 1970s, environmentally conscious house design was relegated to the fringes. Solar homes were first gaining notoriety, but were rare projects. No one built to preserve trees on new construction sites. But with a growing consciousness and improvement in materials and costs associated with eco design, the paradigm has shifted dramatically. Considerations like direction of sunlight, storm runoff, window materials, and flooring are all part of the eco package.
Simple, affordable, and great for hanging tire swings, trees are a lovely addition to your outdoor living space. They can reduce energy bills while also filtering pollutants and stabilizing soil from erosion. Leafy deciduous trees are great for summer shade and for processing carbon dioxide, the big contributor to global climate change.
Runoff from your property ends up in storm drains which lead to the bay or to a nearby lake. One way to ensure that runoff is cleaner and better for habitat is to plant a filtering system, or rain garden. Though few things sound less pretty than stormwater treatment, these swales can be beautiful.
You see the signs around town that read “food, not lawns.” What are they even talking about? You can’t eat your front lawn, can you? Well, maybe you can. There is a movement afoot to have people give up the pool table lawn for something a little more useful. By planting blueberries instead of bluegrass, you not only get more mileage out of your exterior space, you increase the absorption of on-site storm water, help out the bees and birds, and you get fewer trips to the grocery store. Have too much left over? Victory Gardens in town provide our local food banks with fresh, local produce. Small Potatoes Gleaning will come by and help harvest if you can’t get it all into crates. So get out in your yard and get planting!
Solar Panels Not only are solar panels better for the environment by making us less dependent on other forms of energy, they are making more and more sense financially. There are several local workshops to get you oriented in the world of solar. As with so many sustainable practices, there are rebates and incentives. And then there’s that check from the energy company. Not a bad deal at all.
Keeping a drafty house at a comfortable temperature can be as easy as turning up the thermostat—but that comfort comes at a price. Here are some tips and materials that keep your house cozy year-round without heavy drains on energy or your bank account.
Audit Your Usage
If your home is an existing structure you want to green up a bit, Sustainable Connections has an excellent program called the Community Energy Challenge. They will perform an energy audit to determine where your leaks and gaps are, then they help you prioritize your needs. Maybe some extra insulation will do the trick, or maybe a few solar panels will be a more effective use of your dollars. They help you sort through the options and pick a project. Not only do they get you started, they vet all the construction, so you know you’re getting reliable, quality work done on your most important asset. There are incentive programs and rebates that Sustainable Connections can help you puzzle through. In the end, you will save money and energy at the same time.
Windows’ efficiency is rated with a U-factor. Passive solar windows are generally south-facing and unshaded by structures or trees during daylight hours. According to energy.gov, these windows store the sun’s heat, much like solar panels. Unlike solar panels, they provide daylight year-round, and cooling in the summer through ventilation.
Few things have affected our planet more than deforestation. Using reclaimed and sustainable wood, you can extend the life of hardwood for beautiful wood floors that have character and style. Some great sources are our own ReStore, Duluth Timber in Bow, and Reuse Consulting. Bamboo is a sustainable, hardy, and excellent ecofriendly wood as well. For a beautiful example of bamboo, check out Village Books in Fairhaven. Natural linoleum made from tree resin is also a great versatile option.
Heating and Cooling in Comfort
Now that you have your solar panels in place, hook them up to your furnace and really get yourself off that grid. Even without the solar boost, switching to a tankless system, replacing an old, inefficient furnace with a newer one, and insulating the heck out of your home will all lead to greater energy savings. And that’s good news for your wallet and for the planet. Whether you’re starting with new construction or updating a Sunnyland bungalow, there are now more options than ever for creating an eco-friendly space that serves both your bank account, and our ailing planet.