Living Green In a World of Color

Urban Overhaul House

Being responsible as stewards of the land and, in my case, “urban lot” makes us inherently environmental activists; it can also be seen as a  spiritual act to bring consciousness to the very way in which we use our resources. I for one, could use an overhauling in this arena. If it wasn’t for my love of organic gardening, hiking and selling rural property,  I’d be completely divorced from the mouth of a spring,  the rivers meeting the ocean or the geology best suited to drill a producing well. Like so many other urban folks, I  turn my water on by a twist of the wrist and utilize electricity day and night .  I still burn firewood to keep warm and regulate the air in my house,the old fashioned way, with doors, windows and ceiling fans. Being a recipient of city services has its advantages and how I use these resources is a personal choice that can further align me with mindful living principals. In the vein of adapting my home systems for optimum sustainability, I am going “green” with definable creative acts in community with  others. Acts that allow me to live green in a world of color.

I was sure there was some kind of checklist for homeowners  going green however much to my dismay after an hour of online research I have come to believe there is no such downloadable next actions list, until now:

GOING GREEN CHECKLIST FOR HOMEOWNERS

  1. Identify systems of home
  2. Schedule initial inspections of pertinent systems.
  3. Prepare for inspections.
  4. Inspect and evaluate systems with appropriate professional support.
  5. Determine budget
  6. Decide on priority of systems to be addressed based on practicality and budget.
  7. Brainstorm potential system upgrades for living green concepts and determine what is most viable.
  8. Begin design and installation of chosen systems improvements in order of necessity, affordability and creative inspiration.

This checklist is a work in progress. As I go through the process of greening myself and my life, I am expanding upon each subject with a complete blog for your education, information, and perusal.

IDENTIFY SYSTEMS  SCHEDULE INITIAL INSPECTIONS

The six basic systems of a home are electrical; plumbing; sewer/septic (waste); air quality which include heating and air conditioning; landscaping and the actual structure itself, the bones. Many of these systems are often identified and evaluated in a basic way in a home inspection generated during the buying/selling of homes. Generally, home and pest inspections are two excellent  evaluations that will help advise as to  whether or not more specialized inspections are warranted. The overview a home inspection provides is invaluable for determining next steps. Often outstanding dysfunctions or noticeably  deteriorating elements of a home get clarified and can be considered a punch list to work off of once the issues are prioritized. I like to think of health and safety factors first and then move into addressing system upgrades for sustainability and function.  Since I plan on using a contractor for some of the improvements I’ll  also consult a few green certified building professionals for more in depth evaluations where needed, as a home inspector often is not a licensed contractor.

 It has occurred to me that the carpenter bees and the occasional termite I see in the wood pile could warrant a pest inspection. I have avoided calling any professional pest treatment company because of the chemicals often used to eradicate problems, not to mention my vow not to kill. It’s been such a dilemma to address the termites thought to be gnawing on my house and the  carpenter bees setting up shop in my pergola (and possibly the siding to my bungalow) that I have procrastinated for years.  Since I am on a fact finding and facing mission I may as well bite the bullet and resolve these nagging concerns and add a pest inspection to my next actions list.

After some research I made an appointment with Northwest Termite-Pest Inspection as they are in the Northcoast Builders Directory and are a company who does their best to minimizes the toxic use of chemicals. It turns out they have a division that does attic clean up as well, so both tasks are on the calendar.  I also scheduled a home inspection and a visit with a landscape contractor . Collaborating with other professionals to gather facts and make informed decisions is truly an inspiring and enlightening process.

PREPARATION FOR INSPECTIONS

Generally the home  and pest inspections will jumpstart home owner awareness, and in my case, proved to be great myth busters. For the sake of visibility and ease of the inspections I was under the impression thorough clean up is invaluable (first myth).  However, I was surprised and relieved to learn that  too much clean up is counterproductive for a pest inspector as the hardcore evidence of existing pests can be removed.

It’s a good rule of thumb to make sure all plants and stored items don’t interfere with accessibility. Move, recycle, repurpose as much clutter way from exterior and interior walls to give access to the inspectors to see the structure from top to bottom but leave those spider webs that have bugs in them and the scat of creatures not a house pet. The bugs and scat tell a story that the pest inspector appreciates. I wouldn’t have known this if Northwest Termite-Pest Control hadn’t called at the last minute to see if they could come a day early. I was apologizing for not having cleaned the bathroom or having vacuumed the house until the principal of the company, Bill Mashek clued me in on the benefits of how my home presented.

UNDERSTANDING THE VALUE OF HOME AND PEST INSPECTIONS

At the completion of the site visit the inspectors verbally go over their findings. It’s a great time to ask questions, be visually directed to areas of concern and to come to understand what the potential solutions are. Hard copy and/or a digital file of the inspection are provided for reference as well. Inspection results can be surprising as otherwise hidden conditions can come to light. There are all kinds of possible discoveries, some costly and others liberating, all of which help determine the most mindful approach to living green.

I feel fortunate and unburdened by the results of the home and pest inspections for my bungalow. I had unnecessarily stressed myself by worrying about issues that had simple solutions or didn’t even exist. For example, the termites I thought were digesting my house instead,  live on decaying wood debris and don’t pose a threat. The carpenter bees I feared were tunneling into my redwood siding are merely an aesthetic nuisance to the older wood pergola and do not do any structural damage to the house. Best of all, there is a harmless,non toxic remedy to discourage the carpenter bees from returning year after year. Funny, I dreaded knowing the facts and yet the facts were actually a huge relief. I shake my head at the anxiety my ignorance generated. Needless to say, I highly recommend reaching out to conscientious green professionals in lieu of wasting precious peace of mind.

DETERMINE BUDGET

I consider my budget modest. Like many people I base my prosperity on the quality of relationships I cultivate, and as a single parent my mothering is my priority not necessarily the income I produce. Providing for my son is of course an inherent necessity. It’s been a challenge for me as a real estate agent in a tumultuous market to understand how to have a budget. I don’t receive a set paycheck and sometimes it feels like feast or famine. I have come to understand that it is living within a budget that will give me some of the freedoms I strive for. The people I respect the most are not just sustainably minded, they are prosperous as well. In fact, one of the definitions for sustainability is “people, prosperity and the planet in balance with one another”.  

At face value it’s quite shocking to note the expense of organic or green products versus commercial. It’s only when I calculate the ramifications of commercial products on sentient beings and future generations that supporting organic sustainable products and enterprises  seems the least expensive route to take. I am going to have to take a hard look at how I can craft a budget and stick to it while still being able to buy organically. Monitoring my  project decisions and next actions through budgeting is going to be key in my own sustainability practices. There is no way I can thrive if I deplete my resources whether they are financial, physical, emotional or spiritual. I Practicing prudence is part of my fiduciary care to myself and my family. It’s to stressful to live  beyond our means by overextending with credit. Our culture as a whole is still reeling in an overbearing lesson in this fact.

 It is helpful to know the current fair market value of my home, the equity (if any) I have and what value the upgrades I choose will add to the over all value of my home.  Making decisions with this information in mind will help define a budget. Most of us do not have disposable income available for renovation projects. This urban overhaul is a nuts and bolts attempt to align my values with my actions towards a sustainable future. I can’t afford to expend more money than is warranted for a glorified “going green” project, I must be discerning in my choices, keep my actions simple, mindful, and authentic. In other words, don’t spend what I don’t have or more than fair market value will uphold; repurpose and reuse where possible; plan with future generations in mind and enjoy interactions with family and community in the process. For all my baulking, it’s a no brainer to commit to a budget when I view abundance as right relationship to people, planet and prosperity, collectively.

DECIDE ON SYSTEMS TO BE ADDRESSED BASED ON SAFETY AND SUSTAINABILITY

It’s a drought and unbeknownst to me I had a plumbing leak from the bathtub drain. Both the pest and the home inspections called my attention to the need for this repair along with other more minor  moisture intrusion concerns. Fortunately the plumbing repair was straightforward and I could even query about grey water system installations in the process. The preciousness of water is what I am most inspired to address and consider first in my urban overhaul. Clearly the care of how we use and reuse water is fundamental in overall sustainability practices.

BRAINSTORM NEXT STEPS

At a recent Go Local meeting I met Jesse Froelich the inventor of the Bluebarrel rain catchment system. She in turn fortuitously told me of a lecture with Brad Lancaster put on by Daily ActsOccidental Arts and Ecology Center and the City Of Petaluma. By attending this lecture my son and I were catapulted into revamping our landscape to incorporate the mindful use, reuse and harvesting of water. We have taken the Daily Acts Resiliency Challenge and attended several more events put on by Daily Acts. We are brainstorming with Daily Acts, professionals from Community Soil, Equinox Landscape, Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (to name a few) and other local organic gardeners as well as friends new and old.With the wealth of information available and the mobilized efforts of community to address the symptoms of drought there is a lot of support for installing a grey water system(s). Creating a Food Forest while repurposing water is the ultimate win/win and a fabulous family “first” project.

BEGIN DESIGN AND INSTALLATION

Initially I intended to hire a landscape design team to help in creating a grey water system and calculating the rain harvest opportunities from my rooftop as well as co creating and installing the flora. Suddenly my project took a severe budget cut, and in rolling with the punches I needed to honestly re-evaluate my budget for hired help. I’ve suited up in my Sunday best (my overalls) and dug trenches with my son. Yards of mulch and fir bark have been delivered and patiently wait attention in the driveway. To a fifteen year old boy the piles are a cushion for attempts at front flips, I on the other hand am trying to isolate next steps in a methodic simplified manner so I don’t become the ogre of overwhelm. We are picking out our fruit trees as we peruse the Rare Fruit Society website and other sources for information on the best choices for fruit bearing trees in our zone. There is nothing like going to a nursery where the owner has grown the trees from 4 inch starts and in a humble fashion imparts his/her wisdom of decades. As the plumbing gets laid and the soil and mulch gets sculpted into beds in our yard, the canvas becomes vivid in it’s three dimensional splendor. I am grateful for the budget cuts and the growing community that has enfolded as we cultivate our urban landscape overhaul. Instead of flipping out, we are catapulting forward.

Click for more on the grey water, sheet mulch and urban food forest unfoldment.

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