My husband and I recently built a new house. We had aspirations of being as ecologically responsible as possible, but we were thwarted at almost every step.
If our pockets had been deep enough, we might have been able to accomplish more of what we wanted, but many of the obstacles arose for other reasons. One of the complications is a lack of uniformity about what it means to build ‘green’ coupled with a lack of availability of some ‘green’ components.
We live on a lake in a primarily rural county of Northeast Georgia. There is no city water or sewer, so each property owner or subdivision developer has to make provisions for those amenities. The health department issues building permits, so regulations for water/sewerage fall under its purview.
Our new home is in a small development, and our first hurdle was to get the site plan approved. It was our and our developer’s hope to use either an aerobic or an anaerobic sewerage system to avoid having individual septic tanks on our property. Even though that decision would involve a significant initial outlay, we felt it was well worth the cost.
Our developer spent 18 months trying to get approval for this plan as it was bounced back and forth between county, region and state regulators. Some of the phrases we heard as the months passed:
–“We’ve never done it that way.”
–“A system that small has to be approved on the county rather than on the state or regional level.”
–“It’s on my desk, I’ll look at it soon.”
We finally had to go with the septic tank solution, certainly not a “green” solution with half-acre lots on the edge of a lake.
We are also in an area where natural gas is not an option, so our HVAC decision was between geo-thermal and heat pumps.
The only company in our area that offered us the geo-thermal system was owned and operated by a man about to retire, and he wasn’t sure who was going to take it over, so we decided on energy-efficient heat pumps. We were able, by spending a little more, to specify the more ecologically sensitive coolant for our system, and by spending some time with the insulation contractor, to insulate our house so that those heat pumps would operate as efficiently as possible.
Insulation decisions were assisted by a knowledgeable man who put together an estimate using a combination of materials. Because our area of the country has more severe summers than winters, he helped us understand what we needed to put where, along with the pros and cons of the materials he could use. We feel that we were able to be reasonably “green” in that area.
The kitchen was an area where I was thwarted more completely than anywhere else. I had hoped for cork floors, but could not find anyone who could both supply and/or install cork. One place could get it for me, but the installers had stopped laying it because of problems. Another place would install it, but was having problems with suppliers. One option that was available would not work with our application. We ended up using the same pre-finished hardwood floors that we were using in much of the rest of the living areas of the house.
Also in the kitchen, I investigated paper countertops hardened with “green” resin, but found that they scratched badly, thus leaving places for bacteria to gather. Then I checked on bamboo countertops, only to find that they are not available yet in our part of the country. The only “plus” was that we were successful in finding and installing highly-rated energy-efficient appliances.
Another frustration was with interior paint. We went to a great deal of trouble, and some expense, to select low VOC paint, and over our painter’s objections, insisted that it be used. It turned out our painter was correct; the paint was not suitable and ended up being the base coat for an additional coat of paint–costing us again.
On a more positive note, we were pleased to find that attractive windows and doors with excellent energy-efficient ratings were readily available, competitively priced, and even earned us, along with our insulation decisions, a very nice tax write-off.
Although we were only marginally successful in our attempts to think “green” as we built our home, we believe that God has placed us in this time and in this place, with a responsibility to honor and care for our world. A re-reading of Psalm 8, from Peterson’s translation, The Message, only reinforces our desire to make good, “green” decisions, and to keep trying, even when we run into road-blocks.
God, brilliant Lord, yours is a household name.
Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you;
toddlers shout the songs
That drown out enemy talk,
and silence atheist babble.
I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way?
Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods,
bright with Eden’s dawn light.
You put us in charge of your handcrafted world,
repeated to us your Genesis-charge,
Made us lords of sheep and cattle,
even animals out in the wild,
Birds flying and fish swimming,
whales singing in the ocean deeps.
God, brilliant Lord,
Your name echoes around the world.
Sara Powell of Hartwell, Ga., is a member of the Baptist Center for Ethics board