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Making a greener home

At some event we went to within the last few months, my husband noticed a booth sponsored by PG&E and AMBAG — The Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments. They had a program called Energy Watch, which has funding from PG&E to do free home energy audits. We’re always interested in figuring out what we can do to save energy (and money, which is not always the same thing), so it seemed like a good (and free!) option.

Each time we do something to the house, we’re trying to be conscious of balancing how “green” our choices are with the realities of life. It’s amazing to me how much our consciousness of these choices has changed since we bought our house in 1996. Then, it didn’t occur to me that living at the top of two very large hills might make it less likely that I’d ride my bike to the store rather than drive. Now that I have kids, no way am I going to race down the hill on our bikes if we need to haul a gallon of milk back up.

Similarly, back when we bought our house, solar technology existed but didn’t even enter my thoughts as I looked at the gorgeous redwoods and cypress that surround our house. I was appreciating the green… trees! Not noticing that the lack of sunshine hitting our roof meant that we couldn’t be green: no chance that solar panels would ever pay off, or even pay for themselves before they had to be replaced.

Back when we bought our house, we were charmed by the very high ceilings and the airiness of the house. Now, I shudder at all the money we spend heating up that air with our forced air heating system. When we bought our house, I was annoyed that there was a large front lawn, but I watered it anyway. Now, we just let it die every year. As someone said to me, they let their lawns die on the East Coast for months at a time…during the winter! Ours is lush and lovely during the winter, and bit by bit I’m getting rid of it through less thirsty landscaping.

We have done some very good things to make our house more efficient. When we did a big remodel (before we had kids, of course!), we replaced all the leaky windows with high quality double-paned ones. We try to keep all the doors well-sealed. We have programmable thermostats and as we get hardier, we keep lowering the temperature they’re set at. We have all low-flow toilets and showerheads, of course, and have replaced all the light bulbs we can stand to replace with compact fluorescent.

So we had our AMBAG audit, and our interviewer said that we’d probably done almost as much as we could. The big payoff of doing the audit, it turns out, is that we are going to be part of a huge survey of local homes, to find out what people are doing and what things they haven’t adopted yet. This will help set policy and make decisions about how best to create more energy-efficient homes.

Our interviewer said he was impressed by all we’d done, though I always feel like we haven’t done enough. He promised to get us some answers to our questions (such as, what’s the best way to save money on heating, individual electric baseboards in our rooms, or continue to use the natural gas forced air heating that heats the entire house?), and he gave us some ideas for which changes make the most sense now vs. later. His major point was that making changes that don’t pay off (such as installing solar panels that will end up not saving energy because of our shady location) just doesn’t make sense, so I’m supposed to stop worrying about it. (Fat chance.)

But mostly, he said, by taking part in the survey, our house and habits are going to be part of a fact-finding mission that will hopefully result in all of us finding out how to make our homes more energy efficient. If you’re interested in adding to that database — whether you consider your family a model of green living or happy energy hogs — call up AMBAG and get an appointment.

Posted in Culture.

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