Greener Heating & Cooling Day Two

Today was day two of the Heat Pump installation at our new house.  There will be four interior units connected to one exterior unit.  Just photos today:

Heat pump wall mount

Heat Pump wall mount and hole for plumbing in back bedroom.

Heat Pump install

Heat Pump partially installed in front bedroom.

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Greener Heating & Cooling

Heat Pump in the boxToday is the day that Horizon Residential Energy Services is beginning to install air-source heat pumps in our new house. For most of my posts, I have not named the people or companies who are helping us in our process of going greener, but we’ve had a great experience with Horizon for our insulation and sealing as well, and I would highly recommend them.

This is what their website has to say about heat pumps:

Long used for cooling in warm climates, heat pumps are now one of the fastest growing technologies for ultra-efficient heating in cold climates. Rather than generate heat from combustion or electric resistance, heat pumps extract heat from outside air or the ground and deliver it indoors as needed. This process is a more cost-effective way to heat than most conventional systems. In the summer, heat pumps can reverse and work as air conditioners, cooling indoors and rejecting heat outside.

We are hoping that we’ll save a lot of energy, (especially when we are able to install solar PVC on the roof sometime in the spring.)  The installation will take a few days, so I will post pictures of the completed set-up when they finish.

In the meantime, we are doing more cleaning and decluttering at our old house to prepare for showings and an open house on Saturday. Back to work!

Why find greener housing, anyway?

Oil furnace DSC01553We have to wean ourselves away from our dependence on fossil fuels. Think about petroleum. The industrial economy treats oil as a resource free for the taking, with a price based only on the cost of extraction and delivery. It shaped a world which became completely dependent on cheap oil. But we have passed the time when oil can be easily extracted, and now riskier and dirtier methods are required. Deep sea drilling like that which caused the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Tar sands mining in Alberta Canada that destroys the forest, and devastates the health of the people and animals of the region. Arctic Sea drilling. Burning oil for fuel will increase greenhouse gasses and bring our climate closer to disastrous changes.

I know we have to stop burning oil. But when I look at my own life I see how big a challenge that will be. Our home is heated by oil. I drive a car than runs on gasoline made from oil, to buy food and other needed items, and also to go back and forth to the congregation I serve. It would take several hours to walk to these destinations from my house, and there is no public transportation nearby. The whole structure of suburban life is dependent upon oil. My congregation is a suburban congregation, and almost every person who comes to worship drives there in an automobile. Without oil, it is likely the church, and my house, would not have been built in these locations. The whole geographic structure of our society has been shaped by oil.

And not only that—many material goods in our lives are also fabricated from oil. Plastics are made from petroleum, and there is plastic in every room in our houses. I write on a computer with plastic components. Alarm clocks, toothbrushes, synthetic fabrics, telephones, televisions—all from oil. Modern agriculture is dependent on fertilizer made from oil, and machines that use oil, and a transportation system that uses oil. The asphalt on our roads is made from oil. If oil disappeared tomorrow, the whole system would collapse. And eventually, oil will run out. That is one of the realities we are learning in our time.

None of us have the ability to undo our dependence on oil individually. It is too entrenched, too societally enmeshed. But we can begin to imagine some partial solutions—in fact, the technology to live without oil already exists. I was inspired when I learned about “zero-carbon” houses that actually generate more energy than they use. We may not be able to fully achieve such a goal, but why not try to get closer to that ideal?

I know that even if we succeed beyond our wildest dream—even if we create a zero-carbon home from which we could walk to most functions of our lives, even if we could afford an electric vehicle that we charge from solar panels for other transportation—oil companies will still be breaking open the earth in Alberta, and spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The children living near refineries will still be getting asthma. The ice of the arctic will still be melting, and thousands of species will go extinct each year. We need not only individual change, but a social will to transform our relationship to the earth. But I believe that each change we pursue as individuals also works its magic on that larger transformative process in ways that we can’t fully understand. And so we take the one step we are able to take.

In the Talmud it says, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Prayers at Dawn for our Housing Search

I wake today about 5 a.m. and feel called to come outside to pray in the dawn light. It rained during the night and the morning is misty and golden. I am visited by a cardinal, whose silhouette on a branch is dark against the eastern sky. I hear it chirping as another cardinal a bit further away trills their evocative songs. I am visited by a tiny toad or frog (I am not sure which), who moves quietly along the edge of the screen tent where I am sitting. I am visited by a golden slug my old teacher of slowness. A pileated woodpecker pounds away on some dead branches looking for breakfast. I hear the familiar songs of many tiny birds as they wake the sun, which is starting to appear through the branches of the spruce. Later, in the light, the chipmunks and squirrels dash about.

I feel so grateful for this place of trees and birds and critters. In our search for greener housing, I pray that we can find a home where I am called outside in the morning by the songs of cardinals, where Margy can find frogs and toads where they hide in the damp. I pray for this journey we are walking, hoping to move closer into harmony with all beings. I call on the magic of the dawn and the magic of all these beings to help us find our way. And, I open my heart to change, to what is hidden and cannot yet be seen.Morning Photo on 8-4-15 at 7.02 AM

The Search for Greener Housing, Part Two

After deciding it is the right time to start searching for a more ecologically friendly house, my partner and I sit down together and make a list of what we hope for in a home.

  • One-level living that can be made wheelchair accessible (because my partner can’t do a lot of steps, and we have friends who use wheelchairs, and universal design makes sense for a house we want to get older in.)
  • South facing roof that is solar energy suitable
  • Able to be retrofitted with more insulation and air-source heat pumps
  • Location closer to Portland and public transportation, near some sort of village center
  • Quiet street
  • An area safe for lesbians and people of color
  • Privacy in the back yard
  • About a quarter-acre lot, smaller than where we are now, but still room for permaculture gardening. Some parts shady with trees, some parts sunny, and flat enough for easy access. We want to get rid of lawn to mow, and have other kinds of plantings instead.
  • And, perhaps counter to our village center idea, a location close to woods and critters?
  • About 1200 square feet of house (this number to be adapted as we actually look at houses and see what the spaces feel like.)
  • Two bedrooms plus some office space and guest space
  • Living area that can hold ten people or so for gathering together
  • Some extra space, like a basement
  • Wood floors or equivalent–no carpet, no mold, no smokers. (We have allergies. If there is carpet, plan to replace with wood floors.)
  • Big windows, lots of light
  • Two-car garage (because of Maine winters, and for now we need two cars)
  • Laundry on first floor
  • Mudroom area
  • Fireplace or wood stove, more for the feeling of a hearth than for heat
  • Deck
  • No vinyl siding (That stuff is really bad for the environment! Watch the documentary Blue Vinyl!)
  • Electric appliances

Okay, that’s our list, that’s our desire. And of course, we want a sound, well-built house that will last. The other part of the equation is that we want the price to be enough less than our current house so we can afford to do the retrofits and add solar energy without taking on more debt. Our goal is to own it debt-free before we come to retirement, and to have the ongoing taxes and utilities and maintenance costs affordable to us on a low retirement income.

There is a strange magic to finding a new home. There are practical steps we need to take, but then, it all depends on what is out there. And what will emerge in the next day or week or month. I have moved dozens of times in my life, and it always brings up a lot of anxiety for me. Will we find a home that works for us? Will we recognize it when we see it? What is essential on our list, and where can we compromise? It took us four months to find our current home when we moved here to Maine. Will it take that long for this process? If we find a house we like, will we be able to bid for it successfully? My partner has her own list of fears.

In this magic of finding a new home, we are placing our desires up against our fears. That is why it feels important to me to name our very specific desires for a new home, and also to acknowledge and honor our fears. I know that magic works that way. But there is another deeper movement going on as well. It comes to mind again as I look at houses-for-sale online. In the listings, they don’t mention the orientation of the house, so I try to figure it out by looking closely at the maps. It is discouraging how few houses have a south-facing roof.

Then I remember that we are trying to do something new with this move–we are trying to re-orient our home environment into harmony with all life on earth. The current built environment is oriented around cheap oil and other fossil fuels. It can’t last. We are trying to take our own small steps closer to a whole new way of living that is about beauty and sustainability and a future for the generations yet to be born. There is a great Earth energy that is beneath our feet guiding our way down this path.

It says to me, “Remember to embrace the process. Enjoy the whole journey, right now! You don’t have to wait until everything is ‘settled.’ Keep taking small steps until you are ready to leap. Until the time comes when it is clear. You do not have to rush. Keep holding hands with the ones you love.”

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Photo by Margy Dowzer