In the past year, the "green," energy-efficient building movement has swept the Southern Oregon landscape like a summer wildfire, and it is not a movement fueled by left-leaning enviros.
Both here and across America, green has gone decidedly mainstream.
The National Association of Homebuilders predicts that half of its members—who build 80 percent of the houses in America—will incorporate green features into the homes they build in 2007.
On the local level, at least four green-built subdivisions are underway in Shady Cove, Grants Pass, Talent and Ashland, all of them aimed at working-class families.
The Home Builders Association of Jackson County, deluged with requests for "green" information from contractors, launched an educational program this year to help bring local builders up to speed on the latest building materials and techniques.
Solar contractors are reporting record-breaking interest in solar water heaters and energy-generating panels, while area retailers—from local hardware stores to big box home stores—are touting green products for every area of your home.
Because of this groundswell, The Fall Home & Garden Expo at the Jackson County Fairgrounds will feature—for the first time—a section devoted to green businesses and products.
If all of this activity has caught you unaware—or you've been living in a cave without media access—we've come up with a starter pack of ideas you can use to start incorporating green practices into your life.
The second heaviest water user in most homes (after the toilet), is the shower. You can significantly reduce the amount of water you use, and the energy it takes to heat it, by replacing older showerheads with high-efficiency models. Opt for models that use two gallons per minute, compared to older models, which use three to five gallons per minute.
In the kitchen and laundry, run dishwashers and washing machines only when full. Partial loads use almost as much water and energy as full loads.
Reduce Energy Use
Consider adding a programmable thermostat to heating and cooling systems, says Stephan Abrams of Spring Air Heating and Cooling in Jacksonville.
According to the Energy Star Action Guide, if one in 10 households installed a programmable thermostat, which costs between $30 and $100, 17 billion pounds of greenhouse gases would be prevented annually.
"Program it for an hour before you wake up and an hour before you get home," Abrams says. "It can cut down as much as 20 percent on usage."
Another small change with big benefits is to swap old incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent bulbs, which will save some $30 during the lifetime of each bulb.
According to Energy Star, if every home in America swapped out one bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than three million homes for one year, equaling $600 million in energy costs, and preventing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 800,000 cars.
An old-fashioned, low-tech way to save money and energy is to string a clothesline like grandma used to do (you can tell your friends it's a solar clothes dryer).
Not only will towels and sheets smell sunny fresh, line drying saves a lot of juice. An electric dryer costs about $130 a year to run. A retractable clothesline will set you back about $14.99. As an added plus, sunshine works as a natural bleaching agent and disinfectant.
Clear the Air - Improve Air Quality
For cleaner indoor air, replace harsh chemical-based cleaning supplies with plant-based versions. You can find a plethora of options at Phoenix Organics, which specializes in green products, or you can go to stores like Food For Less, Ace Hardware, Lowe's or even Target, all of which offer green options these days.
People concerned about indoor allergens are advised to get rid of carpets and fabrics that trap dirt, pollen, dander, dust mites and mold. Hard surfaces like tile, hardwood and granite are easier to clean and won't hide lung-clogging particles.
If you like your carpets, however, opt for chemical-free cleaning, says Michael Kozak, owner of New Age Carpet Cleaning. "A lot of people don't even realize the chemicals they bring into their home on a regular basis," he says. "One thing about the carpet cleaning industry is there are not a lot of rules and regulations, so you want to know what products are being used in your home."
A simple approach for cleaner air is to add some real live "green" to every room of your house. Research conducted by NASA demonstrated that 15 to 20 houseplants can effectively purify the interior of a typical 1,800-square-foot house.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
A grass roots approach to greener living is to minimize what goes into landfills. You can do this by organizing what you have, recycling what can't be used, and finding new life for usable items.
One suggestion is to cut down on wasted paper by opting for paperless billing. Get your name removed from bulk mail lists by calling toll-free numbers on junk mailers. And sign up for e-mail contact from online retailers, instead of requesting catalogs (which cost some 62 million trees and 28 billion gallons of water to produce each year.)
When the time comes to toss necessary papers, use a home shredder. Save the shreds for shipping or packing away breakables. For printer mess-ups, cut sheets into four and use the reverse side for phone messages. Finally, set up a recycling center somewhere in the home to make recycling services easier to use.
You may not be ready to install bamboo flooring or erect a windmill for power, but every effort helps in the movement towards a greener planet.