It’s spring! Time to clean out, throw open the windows, sweep off the deck, and freshen everything up. We all seem to have the same urges when the nice weather arrives. Suddenly we want to let the sun shine in and let the breeze blow through. We want to connect with nature and dissolve the boundary between indoors and out. Maybe it’s time to do some house projects that you have been thinking about all winter. Replace windows? Paint the front door? Re-side the house? New roof? Maybe it’s even time to put an addition on or bump out for a new kitchen. Spring is the time to get things done!
A question to consider as you move forward with any of these great projects may be, How can this project affect my family and the environment? I know it feels like a heavy burden to consider the environment in your everyday life. You are just one person. What can you possibly do? But maybe think of it this way. You have a house, your own small piece of the planet for which you are the steward. So when you think about sprucing up your house, consider more than the beauty aspects.
Every time you replace siding and windows you have an opportunity to wrap your house in insulation. Save yourself a lot of money in heating and cooling and reduce the amount of oil, gas and coal that needs to be extracted from the earth.
Similarly, if you are redoing any significant interior finishes, try not pass up any opportunities to add insulation or air sealing. Maybe you’re finishing the attic or basement. Don’t forget to insulate really well! This is your last chance for a long time, and it will make a big difference.
If you replace your roof you can consider using products that don’t require harmful treatments. Cedar shingles are natural and beautiful, but if you want them to look a certain way, you have wash them and treat them every couple of years with harmful chemicals that leach into the ground. A new roof is also the perfect time to investigate solar panels. PV panels will last for a good 30 years, and payback for your house is generally in the five-to-seven-year range. Free electricity after that! But you need a roof below that will last as long.
For outdoor projects, try to choose materials and non-invasive species that do not need a lot of chemical fertilizers and treatments to keep them going. Everything you put on them will seep into the groundwater and eventually affect your own well water. Please be careful, too, of wetlands and natural habitats on your property. Dumping all of your leaves and mulch in the wetlands interferes with the habitats there.
How is your septic system? Out-of-date systems are often faulty and built too close to the well. Current code requires that the septic system be 75 feet from the well to ensure that the septic system does not contaminate your drinking water. Maybe it’s time to put in a new septic system?
A lot of these things cost big money. But wouldn’t it be a shame to do these big-ticket items and miss the one opportunity to make your house more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly along the way? Most of my clients are striving to have a net-zero, low-impact, or even off-the-grid house. This means that their goal is to have their own little self-sufficient world that doesn’t depend on the electric grid or fossil fuels and doesn’t harm the environment. Imagine if every house in the world removed its load from our infrastructure and nurtured its very own plot of land. We could change the world. Happy Earth Day, everyone!
Elizabeth DiSalvo owns Trillium Architects, an architectural firm that specializes in saving the planet one house at a time. For more information, visit www.triliumarchitects.com or call 203-438-4540.