Author Tara Rae Miner is here with Home and Living to discuss her new book, Your Green Abode.
Q.: Tara, welcome to Home and Living, thanks for visiting. Talk to us about who you are.
T.: I’m a mother, outdoor enthusiast, and writer and editor who has covered the environment for over a decade—including most recently as managing editor of Orion magazine. I first became interested in creating a green home for my family when my husband and I purchased a 19th-century schoolhouse in western Massachusetts and began the long, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately rewarding experience of restoring and remodeling it.
Q.: What is green living and why should we care?
T.: Green living means different things to different people and can encompass everything from your daily commute to what kind of shampoo you buy. For the purposes of my book, green living means making smart, conscientious, and environmentally responsible choices about how you inhabit your home. Why is this an important act? Doing so will have a major impact on you and your family’s health—for example, in terms of exposure to chemicals—and the health of the planet—including everything from reducing your contribution to climate change to keeping forests and our precious and limited water resources intact.
Q.: How is your book: Your Green Abode laid out?
T.: Your Green Abode is not your typical how-to guide. You’ll find more than bullet points and product lists. I come from a literary background, and my work at Orion magazine emphasized an attention to quality writing, deeper explorations, and personal connections. Most of all, I wanted the book to be accessible and engaging. You won’t be overloaded by dry, technical information.
In terms of content, I divide the book into three main parts: “Your Carbon Homeprint” (your home and its energy use); “A Personal Clean Air Act for Your Home” (chemical exposures and how to reduce them); and “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Remodel”(how to lessen your home’s impact on the planet). Within these chapters I cover everything from green energy sources, appliances, and homemade cleaning recipes, to gardening, recycling, and remodeling.
“Don’t be daunted by the task of greening your home.”
Q.: What makes something “sustainable”?
T.: “Sustainable” is another slippery word that is often difficult to define. To apply it to your home, think about how your next remodeling project or your energy use or your purchases might be better for, or even give back to, the planet. Conserving energy by hanging your clothes out to dry is a sustainable act. So is buying less and buying used, building a rain garden, and net metering (or feeding your excess solar or wind energy back into the grid, otherwise known as spinning your meter backward).
Q.: A lot of green products, say, for example solar roof panels, are prohibitively expensive, is that a drawback to all green changes?
T.: Not at all! (And, in fact, there are great incentives and programs out there that can even make solar panels a little more affordable.) Many of the changes you can make right now are super easy, insanely cheap, and will save you more money in the long run. Get an energy audit done on your home. Caulk, insulate, and weatherize. Use salvaged materials on your next remodeling project. Add some essential oils to common pantry ingredients such as vinegar and baking soda to clean your home. And conserve energy through simple acts like turning off lights and turning down the thermostat, unplugging electronics or plugging them into a smart strip that will do it for you, and taking shorter showers.
Q.: What is an “energy audit”?
T.: An energy audit is something you can perform on your own or—even easier, usually pretty darn cheap, and in many cases free—hire a professional to conduct. Either way, a whole-house energy audit will focus on air leaks, insulation levels, heating and cooling, and lighting, and then point out your weak spots in these areas. Professionals can give you information on financing and incentives and weatherization assistance programs to help you implement the changes you need to make (this info can also be found online at the Department of Energy’s website or through your state or local utility). Then, either hire a professional to caulk, seal, weatherize, insulate, and upgrade, if needed, your heating and cooling system, or DIYers can perform these things on their own. The result: an end to indoor temperature extremes, lower utility bills, and a happier planet.
Q.: What are some things that homeowners can do to their already existing home?
T.: Your Green Abode was actually written specifically for folks who want to green up their existing homes—anything from a condo to a studio apartment to, like my former house, a nineteenth-century schoolhouse. I also provide tips for renters, who can actually do quite a bit to make their home more sustainable—gardening, weatherizing, energy conservation, green cleaning, buying used, recycled, and certified. You might not be able to achieve the same results when you compare a new, uber-green-from-the-ground-up home with an older home that’s had green retrofits, but if you consider the impact of greening up all of our nation’s existing house stock, and factor in the natural resources saved by working with that stock, the act of greening your existing home becomes that much more important and essential.
Q.: What is new and important on the home appliance front?
T.: Most new appliances these days are much, much more energy-efficient than their predecessors. The Energy Star program can help you compare and find the best model to meet your needs. In the very near future, look for “smart appliances” or demand-response appliances that are connected to smart utility meters and an interactive grid. This scenario will allow utility companies to charge more when energy usage is particularly high (making it more expensive to run your dishwasher at 6:00 p.m., for example), thereby encouraging you to use your appliances at nonpeak times of day. The demand-response system will also allow your stove to tell (via your home’s power lines or a wireless network) your washing machine to delay the clothes wash, and your washing machine to advise your dishwasher to begin after it has finished its job. Or you’ll be able set up a monthly utilities budget and watch your appliances modify their behavior to meet it!
Q.: If someone was remodeling, what is their first step for a green remodel?
T.: See what you can repair and rehabilitate first. This very important act will save both money and planetary resources. For example, we decided to restore and weatherize our home’s century-old, handmade windows rather than toss them out and replace them with new ones. Secondly, make plans that create less waste. Choose remodeling dimensions that match lumber dimensions, or choose structural materials that might look nice as finished material—like concrete floors and exposed wooden beams.
Q.: Where are customers going to find your book and do you have a website for more information? Is there also a blog?
T.: You can purchase Your Green Abode at various online sites, including Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Your-Green-Abode-Practical-Sustainable/dp/1594852758
I also have a website, http://www.tararaeminer.com, and am posting related news and helpful links on the Your Green Abode Facebook page:
Q.: Is there anything else you would like to tell Home and Living Readers?
T.: Don’t be daunted by the task of greening your home. We all naturally invest a part of ourselves, our personality, into the places we live. Take that inclination and just add eco-friendly finishes to it. Love bright colors or patterns? Consider no-VOC paints or PVC-free natural fiber wallpaper. Are you a clean freak? Find out what homemade cleaning recipes or conventional green brands finish the job to your satisfaction. Got a green thumb? Plant a kitchen garden or backyard that is filled with wildlife habitat. In to energy independence? Consider solar hot water or panels. Since our homes can reflect who we are, here’s a great opportunity to make yours stand for what you believe in.