October 2010: Green Scene


One brick at a time

In the process of updating or demolishing a building? Here’s a handy source for finding and disposing of reclaimed materials—PlanetReuse. Think of it as a supplement to our local resource, the Habitat Store. The folks at PlanetReuse match up buyers with sellers, work to find materials within 250 to 500 miles of the project, and provide LEED documentation. There is no charge for posting a request and PlanetReuse provides access to a wide range of different suppliers and materials.

PlanetReuse also provides consulting for the design process as well as for deconstruction. Contractors get assistance in removing salvaged materials off site, as well as documentation for the LEED waste management program. The company assists in pricing reclaimed materials, guiding demolition crews through the removal process, and collaborating with designers to incorporate materials into the project vision.

Whether you’re looking for barn doors, table tops, steel stairwells, or a complete aquamarine 1955 kitchen, the listings are unique and let good materials find a new life instead of a place at the dump. Contact PlanetReuse through its website, planetreuse.com.—Lucy Kim


A new Habitat LEED-er


Can volunteer labor build a LEED-certified house? Looks like the answer is yes. A newly completed Habitat for Humanity house in Fifeville is registered in the LEED program and is projected to achieve gold certification. (This would be the second local Habitat LEED house; the first was largely built by students in UVA’s ecoMOD program.)

“Certainly there are challenges with volunteer labor coming in,” says Charles Hendricks, architect with the Gaines Group, which designed the four-bedroom home. Not all volunteers, for example, are experts at caulking, an important component to achieving airtightness. But, he says, “It’s definitely possible” to design a house—and train volunteers—in such a way that the resulting home can be highly efficient while making use of eco-friendly materials. 

The new house made use of precast concrete walls with embedded insulation, efficient plumbing fixtures and all Energy Star lighting. And like all Habitat projects, it was built on a tight budget. 

The upshot? LEED doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and smart building isn’t just for the experts.—Erika Howsare


Pure potential


To my eye, warm autumn embers always trump the pale tints of spring. Gardens ripen and wring out all the beauty of the growing season in one last gasp. Then a riot of colors and textures explodes into an abundance of potential rot, to lay the foundation for next year’s rebirth.

Nature teaches the best lessons.

It’s easy to throw around the term “compost,” but not so easy to make it. If you have the means to purchase it, by all means do so. Panorama Farms in Earlysville is the local top echelon provider, producing their scientifically calibrated “Paydirt” from City leaves and turkey manure/bedding from poultry farms in the Shenandoah Valley.

Excess manure from this kind of concentration camp (CAFO—concentrated animal feeding operation) is one of the major pollutants of our watershed. Since we don’t seem to be able to do anything about shutting them down on the basis of inhumanity or water pollution, we should at least do everything we can to encourage the recycling of their perfidious waste.

You don’t have to have a messy compost heap abounding with skunks and possums to keep your plants happy, throughout their life cycles, on your own place. It is insane to blow off, bag or otherwise dispose of every bit of organic debris from the yard each fall and then buy tons of mulch in the spring. That economic model works for some folks, but not for your land.

If you have lots of trees, you must learn to live with their debris one way or the other. One foot of leaves in the fall rots down on its own to four or five inches over the winter. Rake or blow them off the precious turf into borders, beds and groups of trees. Shred them with a lawn mower or attachment on your leaf vacuum and they break down even faster.

Plastic compost bins are best for small-scale recycling of kitchen waste mixed with grass clippings, non-seeded weeds and other garden clippings chopped fine. The results are great for potting soil and general soil amendment. But don’t be afraid of a good old-fashioned compost pile if you have enough room for a heap three feet all around (five feet is the max). Turn it over once in awhile with a fork or just let it molder and dig out from the bottom in the spring. 

If you want to plant bulbs, it might be too late to get what you want from mail-order (try www.brentandbeckybulbs.com or www.vanengelen.com), so this is the time to cruise the bulb aisles at the garden centers. Pick ones that are firm and dry. Don’t worry about adding fertilizer to the holes—it can burn and the embryonic bulb contains all it needs for next year. The time to feed is next spring when you let their foliage ripen and top-dress with compost. If it’s really dry, give one good soak; otherwise wait for autumn rains. 

And reap what you sow in the spring.—Cathy Clary

Now we’re furnished


As you read this, you are probably sitting on something comfortable but substantially less “green” than Mother Nature’s floor (the dirt) or a Caveman’s favorite chair (a rock). We spend hours upon hours sitting or laying down on objects that are made of a combination of wood, glues, finishes, foam, and metal springs fashioned from materials from around the globe. Betty offers the following tips for green furnishings.

*Choose furniture with the least-toxic finishes and glues. Avoid formaldehyde and other flame retardants which off-gas, compromising your indoor air quality.

*Buy FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified wood, or products shaped from reclaimed materials. I spied a beautiful bench crafted by John Shumate, a Barboursville artisan, at Artful Lodger.

*Ask lots of questions about the product material and manufacturing process.  Beware of greenwashing. Betty advocates going local, but you may have to purchase online.

*Think durability. Natural fibers are great, but can wear and tear and stain more easily.

*If you have budget limitations, consider going green with just one aspect of the product. Or get creative by upcycling a yard-sale find, or buy vintage so that the off-gassing is done. Also consider refurbishing or reupholstering with natural fibers like hemp.

*Look for the Greenguard certification or Cradle-to-Cradle certification (from local eco-firm MBDC) where the complete life-cycle of the product is considered.

Finally, when you are done with that old couch, be sure to visit Betty’s hard-to-recycle online search tool (web address below), or call a local charity.

Check out Better World Betty’s local green living resource list at www.betterworldbetty.org and blog at cvillebettyblog.blogspot.com.