It's easy being green after all

Published January 19, 2007

Anyone who has watched the new HGTV reality show Living with Ed might have gotten a few laughs out of the actor's efforts to live "green" in a smallish house with his wife, Rachel Carson, who, like a lot of us, likes her digs comfortable with a little glamor sprinkled in.

But Ed Begley's sincere - albeit slightly over the top - approach to environmentally responsible living offers a deeper message in a time when interest in the subject seems to have burgeoned.

Last fall, the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., unveiled an exciting new exhibit, "The Greenhouse: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design." The 7,000-square-foot exhibit, which runs through June 3, provides an up-close glimpse at attainable, green technology on the home front. In particular, the exhibit features a full-size replica of architect Michelle Kaufmann's beautiful, modern "Glidehouse" that offers visitors an actual chance to walk through a prefabricated, environmentally sustainable house that can be built anywhere.

And an article by the national green-building expert Jerry Yudelson in Environmental Design and Construction: The 2007 Green Book states that the green home market is "ready to surge." Green developments that highlight solar and conservation features are sprouting in the Sunbelt states, including Florida. The trend is particularly strong among baby boomers, who at the very least want to upgrade their existing homes to be more energy-efficient.

Over the years I've visited and written about green homes in the Tampa Bay area, houses that were designed and constructed by a handful of truly innovative architects and builders who were clearly thinking ahead to the future.

But what about ordinary people? What about those of us who already own an older, not-so-green Florida home and who can't afford to make the leap to a new home, or at the very least, energy-saving upgrades.

Going green costs money: An acquaintance just spent about $24,000 replacing windows, and a new Toyota Prius costs $22,175.

There are things you can do little by little, starting with the obvious: running the air less and opening the windows more, recycling, running less water, and biking rather than driving to destinations whenever possible.

It all sounds good in theory, but I still like my house cool, hate the way energy efficient fluorescent lights make anyone over 40 look and find that a good (water-hogging) bubble bath a day definitely chases the blues away.

The National Building Museum and the ASID Foundation of the American Society of Interior Designers, in connection with the Green House exhibit, offer a place to start - baby steps, if you will, that we can all start taking. They're actually plausible, doable ideas - things we can all implement immediately or plan for as things around our homes need replacing.

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at

Fast Facts:


19 ways to go green

Green living doesn't have to be complicated. Here are some simple tips.

1. Conserve energy by buying major appliances with an Energy Star rating, and by adding timers and automated thermostats to control usage. Also, consider switching to fluorescent light bulbs and adding more natural lighting with additional windows or skylights.

2. Repair leaky fixtures and install low-flow shower heads and faucets.

3. Use water-based paints, finishes and sealants. Some milk-based paints are available, also.

4. Look for wall coverings that are made of paper or natural fiber, rather than synthetic materials, and printed with natural inks.

5. Choose carpeting, rugs, window treatments and other textiles made from natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, which are untreated and free of toxins, such as pesticides or chemical cleaners.

6. Ask for flooring products made from rapidly renewable resources, such as bamboo or linoleum.

7. Select solid woods, when possible, for furniture or cabinets, rather than pressed woods or composites that may contain formaldehyde or other chemicals that may be toxic.

8. Reuse materials, such as brick, stone, glass, tile or metal, in new and interesting ways. Old wood also can be safely treated and used for accents.

9. Consider the "life cycle" of furnishings and accessories before purchasing: Are they made of materials that can be reused or recycled when the item eventually wears out or is no longer needed?

10. Recycle packing and shipping materials from any newly purchased items, and safely dispose of paint cans and other containers whose contents could potentially contaminate the ground or water supply.

11. Install lights with sensors that turn on when they detect movement and automatically turn off after a few minutes.

12. Don't let the water run when brushing your teeth or washing your face.

13. If every household in the United States replaced one roll of 1,000-sheet bathroom tissue with 100 percent recyclable rolls, we could save 373,000 trees, 1.48-million cubic feet of landfill space, and 155-million gallons of water.

14. Scrape - don't rinse! When using a dishwasher, prerinsing is no longer necessary with today's technology and detergents. You may be using more water to prerinse than the dishwasher uses for a full wash cycle.

15. Check your refrigerator's seal by closing the door with a lit flashlight inside. If you see light seeping out, the door should be adjusted or the seal replaced to stop energy leaks.

16. Buy locally produced products and materials whenever possible to reduce additional energy use and pollution associated with transportation.

17. Eliminate waste by choosing products that are biodegradable or recyclable.

18. Look for reclaimed wood products salvaged from older structures and certified wood harvested from sustainably managed forests.

19. Hang damp laundry on an outdoor clothesline or indoor drying rack instead of using an electric dryer.

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