Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Wish List for the Cat Sanctuary: Are We Green Yet?

This list of the "Top 15 Features that Make a House Green" definitely does not describe the Cat Sanctuary's existing headquarters, a.k.a. my home. Although I have a non-electric washing machine, due to climate change I'm still dependent on electric drying machines to keep freshly washed clothes clean long enough to get them into the closet. Although there's a wood stove in the kitchen, in order to accommodate a computer in the office room I have to run a hot-air fan...and most of that expensive hot air goes straight out through the still cyclone-damaged the roof.

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According to statistics collected by the National Association of Home Builders and reported in the Kingsport Times-News, “green” is a fast-growing trend. While only about 2% of new houses built as lately as 2006 had these features, it’s estimated that almost half the new houses built in 2010 will have them. Here are the 15 most popular “green” trends:

1. In roofs: More durable materials with steel, fiber cement, asphalt shingles, slate or concrete tiles, and standing-seam metal roofing. The longer the roof lasts between repairs or replacements, the less material has to be replaced throughout the house, and the “greener” the house is. Look for lighter-colored shingles that reflect heat upward in warm climates, dark roofs that soak up sunshine in cold climates. I'm dreaming of a white roof.

2. In windows: New materials like “low-E” glass are supposed to reduce heat exchange, keeping climate-controlled air inside. My window panes are older than my mother is.

3. Outside walls: Vinyl and fiber-cement sidings are expected to resist weather longer than wood siding. The Cat Sanctuary has wood siding.

4. Insulation: “Green” houses come with plenty of it, to reduce the workload on heating and cooling systems. The Cat Sanctuary does have insulated walls, but when a roof springs a large leak, fiberglass insulation doesn't last very long...and while it's good news that the cats have been able to keep mice from nesting in the insulation under the floors, the downside is that they've pulled down most of the insulation.

5. Window placement: Traditional houses were often planned to have the same size and number of windows on the north and south sides, to look visually balanced. “Green” houses typically have big windows on the south side and small windows on the north side...except in very warm climates. This is one Green feature we've always enjoyed.

6. Doors: “Green” houses have “covered entries,” if not actual porches. Well...the Cat Sanctuary does have porches, but they're not enclosed and don't form a climate-control buffer zone.

7. Water heaters: Trendy homeowners are opting for “tankless heaters.” When these new gadgets are working, water passes over a heating element just behind the faucet, delivering all the hot water you need without using energy to keep water hot when nobody’s using it. The initial cost is steep, but if your family plan to keep the house for many years, tankless heaters are guaranteed to pay for themselves. My water heater was zapped during April's cyclone.

8. Foundations: Ample insulation, just as in walls, and careful attention to drainage, as discussed in connection with roofs, make a house “Green.” If you're not a contractor, you don't want to know how the Cat Sanctuary scores on this one.

9. Floors: Hardwood and linoleum are the “Greenest” options. (And the most sanitary.) However, the National Association of Home Builders counted carpets classified as “low volatile organic compounds” as a “Green” alternative too. Most rooms in the Cat Sanctuary do have good-quality linoleum.

10. Prefabricated components: Pre-cut trusses and pre-hung doors can reduce the amount of wood cut (and usually wasted) at a construction site.

11. Large appliances: “Green” buyers look for the “Energy Star.” Front-loading washers are “in” because they typically use less water and electricity than top-loaders. The industry standard for energy-efficiency in refrigerators is said to have tripled in the last thirty years. Since the cyclone, the Cat Sanctuary hasn't had enough safe access to electricity to power any large appliances anyway.

12. Decks and fences: Recycled plastic is the “Green” alternative to wood. “Green” buyers don’t want a deck that will biodegrade quickly. Currently the Cat Sanctuary doesn't have fences. If we ever expand to be able to keep other animals, we'll need some.

13. New-style toilets: They’re being built to get more use out of less water every year. Ah-ha! We have a Sun-Mar composting toilet! Unfortunately, it runs on electricity, which comes through wires that run through the attic, which aren't safe for actual use yet. There are two good Green ways to dispose of solid human and animal body wastes...good for the earth, anyway. You probably don't want to know how to deal with this problem if you're not blessed with free-range possums. Luckily, although the cat Mackerel ran them off for years, we have finally been blessed again...

14. Wood: The trendy new alternative to plywood or chipboard is “oriented strand board.” It’s more durable than chipboard, requires less mature trees than plywood, and is being used as the base for 75% of new walls and roofs. We will be needing some of this stuff.

15. Landscaping: “Green” buyers would rather work with native plants than use chemical fertilizers and pesticides to cultivate imported species. Bermuda-grass lawns aren’t “Green.” Plants that may have been considered weeds in the past, like clover, are more fashionable choices. (No need to yank out all the Bermuda grass if your house came with it; just mow around a little more clover each year.) “Green” buyers also plant or replant trees in strategic places: evergreens for privacy, deciduous trees to shade those big south-facing windows. This is one other Green criterion on which the Cat Sanctuary scores high.