My Previously Published Green Home Articles
Once upon a time I wrote a recurring feature in an online magazine called Your Daily Thread. There I wrote about our journey to buying a fixer upper as a couple who had extremely lofty ideas about how we wanted to create a green home, but on a flea market budget. The column followed our progress in fixing up our house in the first few months after moving in.
Sadly, Your Daily Thread is no more, but a website called "The Healthy Voyager" picked up the entries and they are archived here, and below
- POSTED ON JUNE 21, 2010
Believe it or not, there is at least one small group benefiting from the economic downturn – young homebuyers. Many of my friends and I had been eyeing the Los Angeles housing market in despair for years. “We went to college,” we think. “We have grown-up jobs,” we protest. One friend even admitted to waiting for a natural disaster to lower house prices. “When the big one hits, then we strike,” she confessed.
But now I know more young people who purchased homes in the last year than ever before. Indeed the L.A. Times recently reported that the First Time Buyer Housing Affordability Index rose from 20% in 2007 to 42% in 2008.
So now that we have the houses we’ve wished for, the question is whether or not we can keep the green building and decorating promises we’ve made over the years. You know, the recycled glass countertops, denim insulation, low VOC paints we’ve drooled over in Dwell or in online showrooms and vowed to use in our own homes someday? Despite the increased ability of young people to purchase homes, most are not turnkey properties but true fixer uppers in need of extensive rehab. And the reality is that green rehab can be expensive for people who are just becoming accustomed to parting with the mortgage each month.
I stand in the middle of the office/future nursery of our new home and groan. While I’m pleased with the concrete floors underfoot all set to be polished, I must admit that I came to this decision less than organically. After being told how incredibly difficult and expensive it is to put eco-friendly bamboo floors (our first choice) over concrete slab, and laminate floors not fitting the green recipe for the room, we’ve embraced the idea of polished concrete and in true eco-style, are working with what’s there.
Maybe this won’t be so bad after all. While I mourn our bamboo floors and meadow-like lawn and other lofty goals, I realize that some promises will be easier to keep than others, and that compromises can also come in green.
Promises: Dream Upgrades vs. Reality: Realistic Budget Compromises
Dream: Bamboo floors throughout.
Compromise: Polished concrete throughout.
Dream: A drought-tolerant garden.
Compromise: Adding drought-tolerant plants around existing plants.
Dream: All Energy Star appliances.
Compromise: Inheriting a stove older than I am and saving up to replace it.
Dream: All new double pane windows.
Compromise: Replacing insulation on all older windows and replacing them one at a time.
Dream: Tankless water heater with on-demand hot water.
Compromise: An improvised water recycling system in which water is collected in a bucket until it heats and used on some of those less drought-tolerant plants and trees.
Dream: Bamboo cabinets .
Compromise: FSC Certified Ikea cabinets.
Dream: Recycled glass countertops.
Compromise: FSC Certified butcher block countertops.
Dream: Energy efficient lighting with skylights to take advantage of natural light.
Compromise: Energy efficient light bulbs in all existing fixtures.
Let’s just say that our new yard was not designed with the environment in mind. Grass and other thirsty plants covered the grounds and I fantasized about bulldozing it all and starting from scratch. Instead, my husband, Scott, and I decided to keep our green promises and focus on the yard’s environmental performance – specifically, how water is used and how to increase our ability to sequester rain water on the property.
In Los Angeles, we spend a lot of money and energy importing water to the region, but then waste what little rainfall we get by paving over all of our surfaces and directing runoff to storm drains and out to sea. We want to make sure our yard holds on to as much water as possible. Here’s what we did:
1. They say that to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs and evaluating water use on your property is no different. We ran the hose to assess how water flows across the yard and determine where best to set up water capturing features.
2. We exaggerated natural depressions in the land to create swales to capture water and allow it time to sink into the ground. The largest swale is vegetated and we toss yard waste into the space. In another, I created a decorative “riverbed” using smooth stones.
3. Next we planted trees and climate appropriate plants making sure to build berms to direct and hold water around each.
4. Once the plants were in, we added plenty of mulch to planters to absorb water and nourish the soil.
5. We decided to keep some of the thirsty plants but moved them to shadier areas of the yard and cut their watering frequency by 75%.
6. Finally, we ordered a rain barrel from Home Depot online. This 60 gallon tank captures water that falls onto the roof and directs it into the barrel where it’s stored until we need it for irrigation.
While we probably won’t be featured in Sunset Magazine anytime soon, these simple changes have increased our ability to hold water on the property, and therefore cut down on the amount of potable water needed for landscaping. And we’re not done yet.
To learn more about residential stormwater management check out TreePeople’s Rainwater as a Resource Report.
Candice is writing a green home remodel series for YDT as she fixes up her first home. Read part two of her quest-an eco-friendly yard-here.
I’m not proud of it, but before moving into our 1940s fixer, my husband, Scott, and I had the words ORDER DUMPSTER at the top of our remodeling list. Not very green of us right?
Most cities will rent commercial-sized dumpsters to homeowners when traditional-sized municipal garbage cans won’t cut it. Having purchased a house that included one rotten wood deck, two rickety storage buildings, a bizarre wood burning spa, any piece of furniture the previous owners didn’t feel like packing and what can only be described as miles and miles of wood paneling, we were only too happy to make those arrangements. But I simply couldn’t ignore that I was about to generate hundreds if not thousands of pounds of waste for the landfill.
I had to come up with something else.
Finding someone who actually wants what you consider trash is an interesting exercise. After a bit of success with the Salvation Army and no luck at all with used lumberyards, finally I turned to Craigslist. I contacted more than a dozen individuals looking for scrap wood-everyone from a woman building a dance floor for her upcoming birthday party to a guy getting a jumpstart on a haunted house for Halloween. They came over one by one and hauled away a piece of the shed or the deck or the paneling to put to good use.
Turning to Craigslist once more I held what I think is the world’s first Free Driveway Bazaar. 67 strangers converged upon our little house in one day in search of treasure amidst our trash. Now we were getting somewhere. Gone were the terracotta flowerpots and garden hoses and I happily waved goodbye to outdated furniture that simply didn’t fit in my eco-modern cottage.
I would like to write that in the end we didn’t need to throw anything away, but that wouldn’t be true. Who knew no one would want that rotten wood? After weeks of hoisting junk into the grateful arms of my new Craigslist friends, we ended up ordering a bin that was significantly smaller than the one originally planned for the leftovers. But I’m happy that I took the time to give things away and decrease my landfill contribution by more than ½ thereby keeping another of our green promises: reducing waste.
Destinations to help you ditch the dumpster:
L.A. ReUseIt Network
Candice is writing a green home remodel series for YDT as she fixes up her first home. Read part three of her quest: “Ditching the Dumpster.”
What does green really mean when it comes to home design and décor? Is it only in the ways things are made or also what they’re made of? Is the table made of sustainable bamboo greener than the bookshelf rescued from the landfill and restored with eco-friendly wood stain? What about the stuff you didn’t buy? Can a lack of clutter make a room greener?
My husband, Scott, and I ask ourselves these questions all the time as we strive to keep our green promises and create eco-friendly home décor. We’ve decided that for us, an item is green as long as we’ve made a commitment to protecting the environment in choosing it. It’s all about consciousness.If each piece is chosen with the environment in mind then, in the end, we will have a green room.
Our sustainably-designed, harvested and manufactured items are green because of their natural materials and companies’ commitment to environmental protection. Our locally-crafted items purchased for their proximity are green because we save shipping emissions. Things we’ve refurbished or reused are also green because we’ve kept them out of the landfill.
That said, here is a first look at our green home interior starting with the living room. Enjoy!
- 100% bamboo window shades.
- Solid wood furniture purchased at an estate sale.
- Energy Star florescent lamps from Southern California Edison’s lamp exchange.
- Energy Star rated LG TV.
- VOC-free Harmony brand primer & paint base from Sherwin Williams.
- Linoleum tile–a natural product made from linseed oil.
- 100% jute rug.
- Ikea coffee table & TV stand made in part with FSC certified hardwoods & Ikea’s strict requirements for wood suppliers
We began a discussion of what makes a home green when my husband and I bought a fixer-upper a year ago. Since then, I’ve shared the details of what we’ve done to keep our green promises in each room, like in the last installment: the living room. And now we move on to the loo.
The bathroom was easily the scariest room of the house when we moved in. We gutted the whole thing (amazingly giving the cabinets away on Craigslist) and started from scratch. Here are ten ways we greened up our redo.
2 ) Our 100% cotton curtains came from Target.
3 ) We fell in love with this modern brushed nickel faucet from Moen (link below) and its water conserving technology. The fact that it’s EPA WaterSense Certified was a bonus. Plus we’ve set the sink up to drain into a swale in the yard instead of into our septic tank. It’s our version of a greywater system and waters some of the backyard plants.
4 ) You won’t find anything less than 100% recycled content paper products in our home. Seriously, we have no business cutting down trees for this purpose! We’re partial to Seventh Generation’s 100% recycled, chlorine-free versions.
5 ) The real show stopper in this space is our dual flush toilet. Duals give you a choice of a full flush for solid waste or a half flush for liquid. Ours is made by Glacier Bay and also WaterSense certified.
6 ) You’ll never guess where we got our beautiful circa 1940s clawfoot tub. We found it in our backyard! The previous owners discarded it and we couldn’t wait to bring it back in. It still needs to be reglazed, but it was definitely our best freebie find. (The tub also drains out to the swale.)
7 ) All of our bathroom linens are organic cotton and fabulous (found at overstock.com).
8 ) The lovely blue rugs on the floor are 100% recycleable at the end of their lifecycles and don’t contain harmful offgassing backings.
9 ) We decided to put polished concrete in the bathroom instead of vinyl or tile for now.
10 ) Our favorite oil painting purchased in a second-hand store to give it a second life.