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A green home that saves the green

A century-old farmhouse gets a green home renovation – on a budget.

(Page 2 of 2)



I have always assumed it referred to sustainability, using only the necessary resources to live in an environmentally sound manner with as few fossil fuels as feasible. The goal is to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the same fruits of this world, to badly paraphrase a definition from the United Nations Environmental Program.

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But search online for “What is green technology?” and you will see that definition is simply scratching the surface.

“Green” can mean everything from using local labor and materials in order to support your local community to building with an eye toward your great-great-great-grandchildren enjoying the same home to advancing nanotechnology to create whole new industries and fields of endeavor.

You see, serious green advocates are talking revolution – not just transforming the way we produce and use energy, but changing the way we think about ourselves and how we interact with the world.

“The present expectation is that this field will bring innovation and changes in daily life of similar magnitude to the ‘information technology’ explosion over the last two decades,” explains the website of the nonprofit consortium called Green Technology in Pasadena, Calif., which advises local and state governments on the latest in green building advances. “In these early stages, it is impossible to predict what ‘green technology’ may eventually encompass.”

That sounds a bit daunting. But I find that just beginning this process has already begun to transform the way I operate – granted, probably 30 years after it should have, given our current energy situation.

But in a nod to the moral aspects of this process, I don’t want to harbor any guilt for my thoughtless, spendthrift energy ways of the past. My goal is now to turn my energy liabilities into green assets.

Take the hot water system in our current home. I now see it as a serious liability. Like many in the Northeast, we have a hot water tank that is hooked up to an oil-fueled boiler.

In addition to keeping the house warm in winter, the boiler also keeps that water tank hot in summer. I’ve started to notice when the boiler kicks in, especially on a 90 degree F. summer day, just so it can keep that 60-gallon tank of water hot in case someone wants to take a shower.

According to the US Department of Energy, keeping that water hot consumes 15 to 25 percent of the energy that an average household uses. Talk about waste! It now genuinely annoys me.
I’ve already decided that at Sheep Dog Hollow, we should go for either a solar hot water heater or an “on demand” gas system.

Solar panels can still be very expensive despite their recent price drops, and so they may not fit in our limited budget. As a result, I’m now seriously contemplating the on-demand system.
Europeans have been using on-demand hot water heaters for generations, and the concept is stunningly simple. Instead of keeping a whole tank of water hot, on-demand systems simply heat the water that’s going to be used as it passes through a pipe.

Simple, efficient, cost-effective, and, yes, very green indeed compared with the traditional boiler and hot water tank.

Over the next year, I hope to turn many more of my energy liabilities into assets and share the practicalities, discoveries, frustrations, and pitfalls of this process that was put into motion one sunny summer morning when I fell in love with that picture of Sheep Dog Hollow.

Editor's note: Alexandra Marks will be blogging twice a week about her green and budget-friendly restoration of a 1902 farmhouse in Connecticut. See a photo gallery of the early days of the project by clicking here.

You'll find numerous articles about the environment at the Monitor’s main environment page. Also, check out our Bright Green blog archive and our RSS feed.

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