Saving the world!
Sounds like a job for Superman, doesn't it?
Actually, this particular job would be better handled by millions of mild-mannered homeowners willing to make a few changes in the way they live by making their homes environmentally friendly.
"We have to start thinking about how to use less energy per person," says Bill Roley, an environmental science instructor at Saddleback College and the executive director of the Permaculture Institute of Southern California, an organization that provides public education on ways to live without polluting.
"Home energy consumption is a significant portion of the pollution in general. Insulating your home is addressing the greenhouse crisis because you are going to use less fossil fuel.
"We could probably reduce the 6.5 tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere every year just by using a house that's been insulated wisely."
Roley is the designer of Sprout Acres, a model environmentally friendly home in the Bluebird Canyon area of Laguna Beach that shows how people can live in a way that promotes conservation of natural resources and encourages recycling.
This "house of the future"--as Roley calls it--includes systems for solar heating and cooling, year-round organic food production, a solar greenhouse and earthworm fertilizer farming. The four components of human living--water, food, energy and waste--are part of a cohesive system designed to lessen the demand on the utility, water and sewer companies and also on the grocery store.
"You link everything together so that one waste is another resource for something else," Roley says. At Sprout Acres, for instance, household waste is composted to nourish the gardens, filtered water from the shower and kitchen sink is recycled into the garden, and air rising from the attached greenhouse heats the main house.
Eco-Home in Los Angeles is another such demonstration project. It features energy and water conservation systems such as solar-powered lights, solar-heated water, low-flow shower heads and toilets, wall and attic insulation, and weatherstripping around doors and windows. Organic gardens, drip irrigation and trees are part of the environmental-preservation effort.
"An environmentally friendly home is one that allows us to maintain our life style without damaging the environment," says Julia Russell, founder of the Eco-Home Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to demonstrating physical systems for the home that are not detrimental to the surroundings. The organization is based in Los Angeles and counts 900 members worldwide.
It doesn't take living in a model home to save significant amounts of energy, though. Roley says there are several simple energy conservation steps that any urban homeowner can take: Weatherstrip doors and windows, add attic insulation, use trees to shade the house in the summer, illuminate individual work areas instead of an entire room, use energy-efficient appliances and fluorescent light bulbs, hang curtains to keep heat inside during the winter and outside during the summer.
And there's another payoff: Sprout Acres has the lowest utility bills of any house in its neighborhood.
Conserving energy is only one facet of living in an environmentally friendly manner. Reducing the use of toxic materials can make your home more compatible with Mother Nature. The first step is to stop buying them every week.
"You have to shop ecologically. Smart shopping habits can reduce the production of carbon dioxide and CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) in the atmosphere," Roley says.
Stores such as the Natural Grocer in Laguna Niguel and Mother's Market in Costa Mesa carry products that are environmentally safe. At these you'll find nontoxic, biodegradable household items such as fabric softeners, glass cleaners, laundry detergents, cleansers and floor polishes. All are made without perfumes, dyes, phosphates or chlorine.
The Seventh Generation mail-order catalogue offers hard-to-find items such as unbleached toilet paper and coffee filters, cellulose sandwich bags and paper products made from recycled paper. To request a copy, call (800) 456-1177.
Remember that there are simple alternatives to toxic products. The Alameda County Office of Education publishes a comprehensive booklet called "Our Common Future: Healing the Planet--A Resource Guide to Individual Action." Among the information on alternatives to toxic household products and shopping with an environmental awareness are several suggestions for making substitutions: a dish of hot vinegar can be used as an air freshener; a mixture of lemon juice and olive oil can polish furniture or floors; and baking soda dissolved in water can clean ovens.
Recycling is also important.