Thursday, July 2, 2015

Highlights of Our Earth-Friendly Home

We often take friends and neighbors on a tour of our earth-friendly home, so we'd like you to take a virtual tour. Over the past year, we've cut our water use by 50% and our electricity use by over 90% and we've had fun making our yard as green, beautiful and productive as possible. We'd love to share it with you!
Let’s begin at Faith Park, the area in front of our home with benches, a drinking fountain and a Little Library. We’ll then walk along the driveway to the chicken coop and compost bins, and finish at our back house. Along the way we’ll explain our theology (love your neighbor, neighborhood and watershed) and share practical ways to be good stewards of God’s creation.

  1.   Faith Park is an expression of our core theology: “Love Your Neighbor(hood).”  This front yard park was designed so that neighbors of all ages would come by and enjoy it.  The Little Library that our formerly homeless friend Mark built has become a magnet for book lovers. The peace pole in eight languages invites our neighbors to think about peacemaking. The hammock (which kids love) was purchased through Ten Thousand Villages, supporting handicrafts in developing nations. The drinking fountain was donated by our plumber Ziggy. The benches were restored by Mark. Most of the stones were recycled, except for the serpentine, California’s state rock, which Jill found and added.
  2.   Turf removal. This was made affordable thanks to the City’s incentive program ($2 per square foot, or $2000 for the entire job—about half what our landscaper charged us). Many yards in California reflect the aesthetics of an English garden, or a manor house, with a grassy lawn. Our drought-tolerant and native plants express love for our California landscape: the chaparral, the Hahamongna Watershed. The theologian Ched Myer speaks of “watershed discipleship”: be aware of where your water comes from, for it is the source of life and therefore sacred. About 40-50% of our domestic water comes from ground water. If we cut our home water use by 50%, we wouldn’t have to import water from elsewhere. Water is considered a right in some countries (like France) and a commodity in the US (the poor are deprived of water when they can’t pay their bills). Water is an important symbol in the Bible. It signifies transition from slavery to freedom (crossing the Red Sea and Jordan), from spiritual death to spiritual life (baptism). Water (and the lack thereof) was also source of conflict and a moral concern in the Bible, since Israel, like California, was prone to droughts. See Jeremiah 17:79; Amos 4:7; 2 Chronicles 7:13-74; Isaiah 35:7; Haggai 1:8-12.
  3.  Decomposed granite and permeability. Grass soaks up water like a sponge. Rain that falls on concrete and asphalt usually ends up flowing to the street and down to the ocean. Decomposed granite allows rainfall to percolate down into the water table, where it can be reused locally.
  4.   Raised beds. 70% of domestic water use goes to water lawns and landscape.  Use of drip water system reduces water use by more than 50% and produces fewer weeds than surface watering. “Spaghetti” hoses allow water to be directed to specific plants. Netaphim, a self-cleaning drip system, can be placed underground where the roots are.
  5.   Mulch. Reduces water use, deters weeds, and helps to fertilize and aerate the soil. Straw has the added benefit of repelling sow bugs from strawberries, thereby eliminating the need for pesticide.
  6.   Monarch butterfly garden. Milk weed is the only plant where monarch butterflies lay their eggs. Over 80% of milk weed have been destroyed by pesticide, thereby putting these butterflies at risk of extinction.
  7.  Organic gardening. Use of chemicals in gardening and farming has proved to be extremely harmful to humans as well as to other animals. Herbicides and insecticides degrade soil and kill many useful plants and animals, leading to a loss of biodiversity, with dozens of species going extinct each day. Good stewardship of God’s creation means avoiding pesticides and herbicides and gardening organically.
  8. Solar panels and plug in hybrid car. Our system supplies 90% of electricity for our home and plug in car (a Chevy Volt, that goes 40 miles per battery charge and averages 88 miles per gallon). For those who can’t afford solar, the City offers a plan to purchase renewable energy for an extra 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour. (That would mean an extra $130 per year, assuming you use 5500 kilowatt hours: about $11 per month.)
  9.  Grape vine and fig tree. Vision of Micah of a world without war, and with affordable housing for all. “Every one ‘neath their vine and fig tree will live in peace and unafraid. And into ploughshares turn their swords, Nations shall learn war no more.” This is the theme song of our marriage, and we love to sing it to our guests!
  10. 10)   Gray water from kitchen, washing machine and bathtub. Saves 10,000-30,000 gallons of water per year. Tucson, AZ, offers up to $1000 in incentives for homeowners to install a gray water system.  California state rules require that gray water be emitted 2 inches below ground. Gray water systems also require rethinking our cleaning products. We must avoid harsh chemicals like bleach, boron, salt, etc. and rely on earth-friendly products like vinegar, Castille soap, lemon, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and detergents that are specially designed for gray water use. We have also trained our cleaning ladies to use these products, so they can advertise themselves as being “eco-friendly.” See for a list of recipes in English and Spanish.
  11. Our nineteen fruit trees watered by gray water. Besides providing delicious fruit, home-grown fruit trees save water and fossil fuel. For example, each commercially grown orange requires 14 gallons of water and must be shipped using fossil fuel. We produce hundreds of pounds of apricots, citrus and avocadoes, using recycled water!
  12. Compost from yard and kitchen waste, chicken poop, and worm farm. Provides natural fertilizer and mulch and reduces the amount of waste sent to the landfill.
  13. Back house.  Second units are legal statewide and could provide a significant amount of affordable housing, but local ordinances in Pasadena and other cities make them very hard to get permitted. This back house meets legal requirement because of its size (10X12) and the way it was built on pilings (making it technically a shed and requiring only a $35 permit). Use was made of recyled material, such as old denim for insulation.
  14. Passive solar. The passive solar unit on the roof of our back house was a science experiment built with recycled material by a high school student. Sunlight heats a water heater that has been stripped of insulation and painted black. It was placed in a glass enclosure that provides at least 2 inches of air as insulation and retains the heat. Water flows down to a bathtub shower outside. (The tub belonged to Jill’s grandmother.) This simple solar system heats water to over 100 degrees in the summer!
  15.  Open your home to a homeless person. By welcoming a formerly homeless man into our home, we are not only being good neighbors, we are also making good use of extra  space (American homes are typically twice as large as they were a generation ago). Since our friend Mark is a handyman, his presence is mutually beneficial.


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