Sustainability

Single-family homes (meaning freestanding homes, not apartments or townhouses) are just about the least efficient way to store humans. Climate-control is much more difficult for multiple freestanding units than for one apartment building or row of townhouses; utilities and waste have farther to travel; and all that intervening lawn and roadway is basically a waste.

This is unfortunate, because single-family homes are also, to my tastes at least, the most comfortable way to live. I don’t want to hear my neighbors, or to worry about them hearing me. I don’t want to have to go through a landlord (or a condo-owner’s association or whatever) to make changes to my own home. And I definitely want space where I can garden.

So I’m doing my best to mitigate the inefficiency of my lifestyle. Replacing lawn with food crops is definitely one way to do that, but since I won’t be converting the entire 0.6 acres we’re on any time soon, there are other things I can do.

First, I’d like to make use of an area that’s hardly being used at all: our roof. Our house is ranch-style, so we have a huge roof area. Without spending too much money, I should be able to make use of both the rain and the sun that hit our roof, instead of letting the sunlight go to waste and the rainwater contribute to runoff and erosion.

We should be able to get Solar City to install solar panels on our roof without any upfront charge, and then pay for it over time with the money that would have gone to our electricity bill. In the long run, this should save us money, but even in the short-term, reducing our reliance on the energy grid will help offset the fact that there are four of us (with a bunch of electronics) in this big ol’ house, and we like to keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

I’m also trying to get rain barrels through Blue Barrel Systems, although they don’t seem to have a supplier in my area. They do have a form you can use to contact them with requests, though, so hopefully they’ll be able to find something. Rain barrels aren’t free up-front, but the county I live in will reimburse residents who install any of a variety of rain catchment systems. (I’m really glad I started looking into county programs. Free mulch, free compost bins, reimbursements for some projects; it’s been a gold mine.)

Rainwater that’s run across your roof and through your gutters isn’t fit to drink, but I’ll be able to use it to water my plants, moisten my compost, and even wash our cars. So that’s another way we’ll be less of a burden on public utilities (and save money, too).

I thought about trying to build the garden fence out of reclaimed or recycled materials, but it looks like doing that would be a TON more work without actually saving that much money, so unfortunately, that’s out. The options seem to be either paying for fancy-schmancy “antique” wood that people want for the look of it, or buying wood that will take a ton of work to get into the shape I want and to make weather-safe. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a more accessible way to do eco-friendly fencing, but I can see how that wouldn’t be a particularly high priority.

There will probably be more sustainability projects in the future. I like the idea of putting a decorative “rain garden” in the front yard, to take some more of that runoff, but that’s a lot of work and up-front expense. I’m sure there are other projects I haven’t thought of yet, too. Let me know in the comments if you know of a good way to make a house more sustainable!

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