Archive for April, 2009

Make it REALLY Green

Several years ago, the inimitable Jim Henson forever changed the environmental movement when he had one of his little muppets (I believe it was Scooter) sing “It’s not easy being green”.  I’m often reminded of that phrase in my work (in which I’m developing a plan to make the Boise State campus carbon-neutral) and at home, where I’m constantly looking for ways to save a kilowatt-hour or a BTU.  The ‘not easy’ part of the equation is to save energy while not completely altering your lifestyle.  Hence the tag-line of this blog.  I’m not an ascetic, by any means.  I enjoy my creature comforts and have a collection of internal combustion engines that I use for both convenience and recreation.

On the other hand, I think I’ve stumbled upon a significant truth about being green. It’s easier if you take a long view.  If you don’t mind taking small steps and allowing them to come to fruition, being green becomes significantly easier. I’m fortunate (for many, many reasons) to be married to a renaissance woman who, in a previous career, was a PhD plant scientist and remains to this day, a master “plantswoman“.  Her extensive knowledge of the plant world coupled with her sense of aesthetics (she’s now an artist) combine in wonderful ways around our house.  Here’s an example.

As I’ve mentioned before, the house is an old farm house with many additions.  The best addition is a long room that runs the length of the first floor with a total of 9 double-glazed windows that afford a view of our heavily-treed side lot to the south and the backyard to the east.  The windows bring a sense of light and openness that really make the house a special living space. They also offer significant challenges in the summer, when excessive sunlight can turn the house into an oven.

The southern exposure isn’t too bad, we’ve got enough trees (dominated by a large silver maple) that pretty much eliminate the hellish southern sun in mid-summer. The real problem is the two windows that open to the due East.  This area is a nice little corner nook, just perfect for enjoying a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper.  Starting about mid-April, the morning sun comes directly through those windows making that corner quite uninhabitable for several hours while warming the house considerably.  Here’s what it looked like a few mornings ago.

hops-004

The East-facing windows, 7:30 AM, 27 April 2009

Not too bad in this picture, but trust me, it’s awfully hard to read a paper with the sun streaming in.

We’ve got bamboo roller shades on the inside of the windows and they’re quite effective, but they don’t eliminate the heat load problem.  THe shades themselves get warm, thus heating up the room.  A far superior solution is to install external shades to keep the sunlight from hitting the windows in the first place.  Of course, you want to remove the shades in the winter when both the light and warmth of the morning sun are welcome.

What to do?

Here’s  shot of the windows from the outside, showing the solution growing into place.

External Shade, 27 April

External Shade, 27 April

Those plants are hops (the same thing they use for beers). They are perennials, meaning they return year after year, but completely die back in the fall. They’re also incredibly fast growing.  As you can see, even at this early date they’re starting to impart some shade to the windows.  I’ll post another picture, from the same vantage point every week to track their progress.

The point is, it took some forward thinking to implement this solution.  Few garden centers carry hops, you have to order them and it takes a season or two to establish them.  Barb even took some time to “layer” the plants — a way of propagation that takes advantage of the way hops will root if you bury the runners.

They’re now 4 years old and in a month we’ll have a solid wall of green that not only shades the room from the harshest sun, but also adds a jungle-like quality to the interior.

More on that at a later time.

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April 29, 2009 at 2:40 pm 1 comment

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