There are many shades of green, and no “best” way for someone to reduce his or her impact on Planet Earth. Some options entail little work and a lot of money, while others demand hard work and vigilance but can be done with conventional approaches.
Most can easily pick among the low-hanging fruit of recycling, water conservation and reducing fuel consumption. Beyond those measures, there are many paths to follow.
City Weekly interviewed people from two end of the green spectrum, each doing what they can within their respective means.Pay Now, Save Later
Peter and Pam Bain’s 2,800 square foot, two-bedroom home is an anomaly, modest next to the neighboring ski-town mansions just outside of Park City. But they don’t envy their neighbor’s house size. They begrudge the carbon footprint those giant homes create. “One of my gripes with those huge houses is that people build them and only live in them part of the year or part of the house, for that matter. I don’t care how you’re building—it’s a waste of material,” says Peter Bain, who built their green home by hand, from the ground up. Their house does not lack for bells and whistles, including a 1,200-square-foot garage and wood shop. But many of the amenities are intended to reduce the environmental impact of the couple’s retirement home.
Bain cut his teeth building a similar self-sustaining home in Warren, Vt., where he lived for 35 years before moving to Park City in 1997. He developed real estate around The Canyons Resort and retired after four years. The Bains fell in love with the highdesert climate and settled in Utah. “We built houses all of our life.
After buying a couple of houses here, we decided to build one [for ourselves], and we knew what we wanted,” Bain says.
Houses built from scratch can benefit from technology and sustainable building methods more easily than those that are retrofit, but it’s expensive—the Bains’ home cost more than $500,000 to build, a price that could have doubled had they hired a general contractor. However, their upfront costs have resulted in significant savings and increased their comfort in a climate that swings between hot and cold extremes. The house’s design takes advantage of passive solar heat with a south-facing orientation, Lego-like insulated concrete forms in the walls, triple-paneled windows and radiant floor heat, all of which keep them warm in the winter and cool in the summer, without an air conditioner. “Passive has the smallest cost and, not only does it provide heat, it provides comfort,” Bain says.
To produce electricity, they have seven solar panels on the roof providing photovoltaic energy, and a wind generator, which uses a six-foot in diameter blade atop a 45-foot pole adjacent to their house. Those improvements mean their electric bill has never been higher than $30 in a month and is often below $10. But, “these technologies are not cheap,” says Bain, relating that upfront costs can reach $25,000.
Finally, they collect rainwater and are installing a garden. To store their food, they’ve built a root cellar. “It might sound like a hippie shack, but it looks pretty normal, a fairly contemporary design,” Bain says.Green on the Cheap
Andy Hultgren and his wife, Kira Dominguez-Hultgren, do what they can to be eco-friendly on a limited budget. Andy, a sustainability consultant for SWCA Environmental Consultants, bikes downtown to work every day from their Sugar House home. Kira stays at home with their children—Pace, 4, and Satya, 2—and runs a fair-trade, organic-cotton T-shirt business called Say It Green (SayItGreen.com). Together, they have steadily worked to reduce their environmental impacts, especially in their home.
“I definitely feel like all of this is a process; every step takes us in the right direction,” Kira says. But, it’s difficult for 20- to 30-somethings because taking root in one place can have the greatest impact. “The hardest part of being environmental is our generation’s mobility. We don’t want to get stuck to a piece of land for a long time; we want to be traveling.”
When they moved to Salt Lake City in August 2007, they bought their house and started making small improvements to it, like changing every light bulb to the more energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs. It’s a balancing act, they say, to make choices they can feel good about without compromising too much.
In winter, the heat stays at 67 degrees, although the front room only reaches 58 degrees. “You wear a lot of clothes sometimes,” Andy says. They encourage their kids to flush the toilets only when necessary, which, upon moving in, were switched to low-water models. All of the children’s toys are recycled, as is all the furniture. “It’s an environmental decision. There’s a certain statement we want to make: We don’t need to have these easily consumable things. We’re in the class of yuppies’ children shunning wealth and trying to live simply,” Kira says.
They were vegetarians before moving to Sugar House, but once in their house, they wanted to be closer to their food sources and so became urban homesteaders. They hired a consultant, who saw everything in their relatively small backyard “as a resource, instead of tearing the yard apart and farming from scratch.
That was really cool to see,” Andy says.
They used available resources for planting their garden and began raising chickens and transformed the backyard into a nearly self-sustaining system.
Environmental stewardship and homesteading stemmed from having offspring. “It forced us to live intentionally, in terms of locally and setting an example for them, from simple living to growing and eating our own food,” Kira says. Now, they say it’s so gratifying when they walk down the street and Pace gets excited about a mint plant before snipping a leaf, knowing that he can eat and enjoy it.