This past Sunday I was lucky enough to catch the East Side Eco Tour, an open house of sorts where visitors get the chance to tour “10 forward thinking homes” in my local area. The idea, set up by Farm Feliz, a local organization thats mission is “homegrown action for a better neighborhood” is simple. Find ten local homes that have taken steps toward living with a smaller environmental footprint, open them to the public, and have folks come and check them out.
I’ve been involved in many environmentally themed educational activities, and this one was by far my favorite. While going to hear a lecture is great, and watching educational documentaries visually informative, the eco-tour was a chance to see what real people are actually doing, and right in my own back yard. The houses varied from the modern to older homes, from homes that have had complete remodels to homes that have had simple changes made, and everything else in between. Some homeowners allowed walk-throughs with signs here and there and were open to questions, while others gave 10 minute walking tours answering questions as they went.
As we walked through the different houses, we were treated to gray water systems, both hand built and professionally installed, photovoltaic systems, tankless water heaters, low VOC paints, cork flooring, waterwalls, and even composting toilets. It was a great treat to be able to see these systems in place, hear what the pros and cons were from the actual users (not salesman or engineers) and see how some folks went one way and others went another.
I think my favorite moment was when Sara, a divorced mother of one confided in me that she uses her composting toilet for liquids but couldn’t get her mind around using it for solids. She pointed out that that was where she drew the line, but she still saves thousands of gallons of water by what she is doing. It was this kind of end user honesty that made the tour so helpful. Many of us want to try different changes in our homes, but are afraid to do so because of the hidden pitfalls we may not see. The eco-tour allowed average people the ability to ask questions of those who have gone before and see the fruits of their labours up close and personal.
Now I know a lot of people who are reading this may not live in communities that have something like the Eco Tour. So why not start one yourself? Get together with your local home-owners association, chamber of commerce, or even just post something up at the library. Seek out others who have made steps towards decreasing their homes footprint and share the information. While it may seem like a lot of work, and I’m sure it was, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming if everyone chips in and helps. And remember, since most people are just beginning on this road, you don’t have to live in an Eco-castle to share ideas. Even a simple composting set up has value to people who haven’t seen one, and believe me, they’ll have questions.
As for me, I think the best two things that I took away from the tour were a website that lists all of the government rebates available around the country for environmental retrofits, and enough knowledge to finally install a gray water system on my washing machine.
Very cool stuff indeed….to the hardware store!