How “green” are you? If you’re like most, you think protecting the environment is important. But when it comes to translating well wishes into action, it often boils down to two things: cost and effort. Thankfully, many Memorial residents are discovering a wealth of opportunities to help the world around us, without breaking the bank or consuming too much time.
Memorial residents Ann and David Ronn never considered themselves card-carrying environmentalists, but have stumbled into an amazing home building project. The Ronns planned to tear down their existing house and rebuild on the lot, but before taking the plunge into new construction, they looked around at the housing market. David was shocked that “everything had electric bills that were $800 to $1,000 per month.” With that bit of costly knowledge, they went back to the drawing board to build their own, in the most energy efficient way possible. They contacted both green architect Kathleen Carrier of Evergreen Design Studio and GreenHaus Builders, and were amazed at the ways design ultimately determines energy efficiency.
“We didn’t mind spending more on the front end if we could drive monthly cash flow by keeping the electric bill down,” said David. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the house is that the exterior walls are made of concrete. “The insulation value on these concrete walls is double, maybe even triple, what a normal house would be,” said David. Once the house is completed (scheduled for spring 2007), the concrete will not be visible and the house will look like one that was traditionally built.
The Ronn’s home will also feature a variety of environmentally friendly elements, like a solar powered hot water heater, heat resistant windows, and Energy Star appliances and light fixtures. While the exact financial payoff from the green design isn’t yet known, preliminary calculations suggest that the extra 10 to 15 percent building expense will save 25 to 30 percent in electric bills. “At the end of the day, it hits home in the pocketbook and that’s where people make their decisions,” David said. He hopes that other people will be inspired to incorporate similar elements into their own new construction. “I’m no ‘Mr. Environmentalist,’ but I really hope people learn that what you do impacts not only yourself, but others.”
Environmental friendliness may seem like a foreign way of life. It’s quite daunting to think we have to throw out all the food in our pantry for organics, set up a compost bin in the backyard, and trade in our car for a pair of good walking shoes in order to make a difference. Let’s face it, reality doesn’t allow us to change our entire life. And, besides, it’s too hot in Houston to walk everywhere in August.
• Change your light bulbs. Compact fluorescent bulbs last years longer, and use a fraction of the energy of traditional incandescent bulbs.
• Donate your old items. Furniture, appliances, office equipment, and clothes are gladly accepted by a variety of charity organizations—give them a second life.
• Call to get your recycling bin. Both the City of Houston and the Memorial Villages offer convenient curbside pick-up. For more information, call 3-1-1 or your local city office.
Lifetime Memorial resident Larry O’Donnell is another example of how each individual can make a difference. As president of Waste Management, North America’s largest recycler, Larry has a deep appreciation for protecting the environment. At work, he lives and breathes such protection because “we’re an environmental company and it’s our primary concern.” He brings his work home with him, as his family is also involved in recycling and neighborhood clean-ups, and he is “always looking for energy saving equipment for the house.” Larry believes that “it takes each individual to do his part…together, individuals create volume that can truly make a difference.”
Fonn Villas’ Sarah and David Valerius recently installed an environmentally friendly mosquito system that emits a mixture of repellent cedar oil and water. “We were worried about the traditional systems that kill mosquitoes, but also all the beneficial insects,” said Sarah. “We do want bees to pollinate the flowers.” And, daughters Lillian and Grace can play in the yard without worrying about insecticide exposure.
Some people take huge steps, others small, but they’re all important. If everyone made one change, we could make a huge difference.