It's all very well and good to talk the green talk of sustainability and ecology, but can you back it up with your own actions?
I put myself to the test and took most of the green initiatives that are widely talked about and put them into practice.
It wasn't easy, it wasn't cheap, and it didn't happen overnight.
But I'm practicing what I preach, and there's a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that I've done my best within my own budgetary constraints. I recently hosted a meeting of one of my favorite groups, Green Drinks, at my home to show some of the features I've implemented to the group. More than 90 members signed up, but we had to limit the group to 70.
My home is a California contemporary Swiss chalet-inspired design with post-and-beam construction. It has its major roof plane facing due south and the trees to the south of the house are pushed back by a wide driveway turnaround. It's a terrific solar site. As with most contemporary designs, it has a lot of glass.
Purchased in May of 1974, the project list started soon after move-in and doesn't seem to have any end in sight. Sound familiar? By category, here's what's been done.
Heating and insulation
Soon after moving in, I installed a wood stove insert into a family room fireplace. While fireplaces are great additions to a room, they can be big energy hogs as the convection currents go up the flue while you're sleeping all night, sucking cold air in from outside to be heated by your central heating system before going back up the chimney. Inserts also generate much more heat from wood and burn much more efficiently, lasting up to eight hours after being stoked up with wood right before you retire for the evening. I replaced the living room fireplace with a ventless gas fireplace. Not only can you tend to your company, but all the heat goes into the room -- and not up the chimney.
To keep the heat in, I next replaced all the R-19 insulation with high-tech R-30 insulation in the roof and added ventilation panels, a ridge vent and soffit vents to stop the ceiling condensation leaks from the old roof insulation that occurred each winter.
Air conditioning consumes most of my electrical energy in the summer. I replaced the old condenser with a more efficient new one with a two-speed fan. By choosing a light-colored asbestos roof shingle, I lowered the heat gain of the old roof. I also installed "heat mirror" glass panels in the roof of my solarium. They reject 88 percent of the infrared spectrum of light which really keeps the solar gain down.
Hot water production
The quickest return on solar investment these days is the use of solar thermal panels. I installed four Schüco panels which feed two heat exchangers; one to pre-heat my domestic hot water, and the other to dump excess heat into my swimming pool in the summer. The pre-heated water flows into a Bosch tankless water heater which, by itself, saves half the natural gas of the old water heater. Fed with hot water from the solar tank, it often doesn't even have to turn on to heat the water.
Natural lighting started with a great deal of glass already in the walls, a hallmark of most contemporary designs. To kick it up a notch, I added two more dimensions of natural (free, full-spectrum and beautiful) light by installing five skylights. Then came a 25-foot Four Seasons solarium room at the south end of the house. The glass in the walls was complemented and updated with the addition of decora-style glass block in the three bathrooms, home office and behind the kitchen stove. As a final touch, a 10-foot stained glass window in the living room added light, color and a design element to set off the formal living space.
Artificial lighting was next. Thirty-five recessed 65-watt incandescent ceiling lighting fixtures were each replaced with 10.5 watt LED lights that replicate the incandescent light spectrum beautifully. You do the math on the energy savings here, but they should also last about 32 years. I'll be replaced before they will.
The skylights mentioned earlier are motorized to allow a great deal of hot air exhaust in the summer or just to freshen the air in the house. Several ceiling fans were added in the kitchen and above the bed in the master bedroom to move the air and keep the open spaces more uniformly heated and cooled. They're great to sleep under in the summer, too. A two-speed roof exhaust fan was added to quickly exhaust the interior of hot air in the spring and fall.
Here's the major ticket item -- 48 solar photovoltaic panels generating up to 10.8 kilowatts of power. The system feeds my main electrical panel and is interconnected with CL&P using their net metering concept. Excess power that my house isn't using flows out to the street during the day, spinning my electric meter backwards.
I'm a big believer in EV + PV (electric vehicles charged with photovoltaics). My Tesla Roadster receives all its charging current from a 240-volt outlet in my garage, and it's set to start charging at 10 a.m. when I have enough production from the roof panels to charge it without CL&P's help.
Ride free -- that's my motto.
Paving stone driveway
My asphalt driveway was replaced with a paving stone driveway which will outlive me. It also is a green product, since it uses sand and porous cement pavers to allow water to uniformly enter the ground without runoff. As a convenience, and for safety on the hill climb area of the driveway, I installed snow melt mats operated by a snow sensor.
My last project eliminated the need for watering, cutting and fussing over my lawn. I installed more than 3,500-square-feet of ProGreen synthetic turf around my house. For a play area, I used a nylon synthetic putting green turf to create a golf hole and a croquet court. Saving water is the major benefit -- but not dumping limestone, weed killer, grub killers, and fertilizers into my soil that eventually finds its way into my well and others in the area is a great health benefit.
Now, I'm really living green since it looks green and great all year long.
This Week's Success Quote
"The supreme reality of our time is ... the vulnerability of our planet." -- John F. Kennedy
Ken Edwards is the principal Broker for Edwards & Associates and has lived in town since 1974. All opinions expressed in this column are entirely his own and not those of this publisher. Comments, questions and suggestions may be sent to K_W_Edwards@Yahoo.com or by phone or text at 203-918-4444. Questions of general interest will be addressed in this column, while others will receive individual responses.