June 2011: Green Scene

Energy house opens to the public

If you’ve been following the news about LEAP (the Local Energy Alliance Program), you probably know about its new offices in the ecoREMOD house. Even if you haven’t, chances are you’ll recognize the house. The 1922 dwelling sits at the corner of Ridge and Cherry. A few years ago, it was the kind of house where police make seven arrests in one year (that was 2006). Then the City bought it and partnered with UVA’s ecoMOD program to turn it into a model of energy-efficient renovation.

We’ve announced LEAP’s upcoming workshops on greener houses before in this space (the next one happens on June 9, 5:30-7pm, and focuses on cooling strategies for your house).
Now, LEAP will also hold open office hours every Friday, 1-4pm, during which you can stop by and check out the renovation job accomplished by designers in the ecoMOD program and lead contractor Alloy Workshop. There are truth windows throughout the house so you can see what was done to increase its sustainability—Air Krete insulation, locally sourced soapstone countertops, and foam wrap on hot water pipes, for starters. And there are posters and brochures in most rooms, a reading room full of green house info, and a computer you can use to do a home energy profile.

EcoMOD students will continue to monitor the house’s performance through heat, humidity and energy use sensors. Marilyn Moedinger was heavily involved in design while an architecture graduate student, and is now shepherding the project toward what she anticipates will be LEED gold certification. “What I would hope people get is a way of decision-making,” she says. She wants folks to look at every household choice—from cleaning products to renovation methods—through an earth-friendly lens, asking “How can we support our goal of making the house greener?”—Erika Howsare

Bathroom brilliance 

Roca’s sink/toilet combo will provoke comments of both the "Hey, what’s that?" and "How chic!" varieties.

It makes so much sense when you think about it: Our bathrooms contain sinks, which generate lots of gently used greywater, and toilets, which require lots of water that doesn’t need to be totally clean. Why not channel some of that sink water into the toilet tank? In fact, there are all-in-one toilet-sink systems that do just that. 

Such systems have been in use in Japan for years; perhaps that country’s perennial need to save space is one reason, and indeed these products would make sense in a small bathroom or powder room. The units capture greywater from activities like handwashing and tooth-brushing, filter and store it, then make it available for flushing the toilet. (The toilet is also connected to normal water lines, in case sink use doesn’t keep up.)

A company called Roca makes a high-design version of the sink/toilet combo (check it out at roca.com). Another option is the SinkPositive, which is essentially a sink that goes in place of the existing lid on the toilet you already have. This retrofit, says the manufacturer, can be accomplished in 10 minutes without calling a plumber, and features a touchless, automated faucet. Find it at sinkpositive.com.—E.H.

June blooms


Roses will make you bleed and turn away in horror at the array of insects and diseases they can host, but, hey, why not give them a try? A few drops of blood confer the ultimate gardener cred, and despite their reputation as finicky plants, there really isn’t much you can do to kill members of the genus Rosa. 

Full sun, rich soil and attention to pruning open up a world of roses that can prosper in your garden—provided you have a spot protected from deer, of course. Despite the thorns, they love the tender leaves.

I learned about the invincibility of roses on a rooftop garden with a water lily pool in the middle. Regimented beds of hybrid teas, floribundas, true teas, antique shrub types (and any other kind of rose you could stuff in there) baked on a bluestone terrace backed by an enormous L-shaped arbor. 

Beginning in March, I would work my way through the beds, hard cutting the hybrid teas to a couple of feet, thinning and taking off a third or so of the shrub roses and re-tying the canes of the giant climbers, snipping off their lateral growth to encourage flowering. I needed a ladder for the climbers. Sometimes I would step off onto the struts of the arbor, and poke my head up through the lattice to see a hawk soaring above the golf course in the front yard of the now-defunct mansion.

When I first became responsible for this collection, every gnawed leaf or aphid-covered bud loomed as the kiss of death. I soon learned that such depredations are mostly cosmetic and that close attention to hygiene (keeping fallen leaves picked up and dead-heading faded blossoms back to an outward-facing leaf), plus a bit of horticultural soap or oil sprayed in a timely fashion, will do the job. Don’t be afraid to cut and discard damaged foliage. All roses really want is to make new growth to put flowers on.

That’s why they like rich soil and lots of food during the growing season—i.e., now. Put roses in a special bed, either alone or as part of a tended perennial border, so it can be kept weeded and amended on a regular basis. Don’t just plop them out in the middle of the lawn in a little circle. Rotted manure is the classic amendment for roses, but any good compost or slow release organic fertilizer will do. 


Consider roses.

Keep them clean and feed them.

Pull that weed!

A lot of gardeners are throwing down a lot of Preen this time of year—a pre-emergent herbicide that aborts seed germination and is marketed as a way to avoid weeding. Chemicals applied to the soil wash off in heavy rains and contaminate our water all the way to the Chesapeake Bay. 

Don’t do it. The oysters say yuck! You can avoid weeds by planting thickly and mulching with an inch or two of rotted leaves, compost, pine straw or shredded hardwood. Then get out there in that garden and poke around sometime.—Cathy Clary

Cathy Clary is a gardening teacher and consultant; she tends ornamental beds and a kitchen and cutting garden at home in a hollow south of Charlottesville. Read more about her at hollowgarden.com, and e-mail her with questions at garden@c-ville.com.

What about water 

Who doesn’t remember splashing in a sky-blue plastic wading pool, flopping onto a vinyl yellow slip n’ slide, or running through the sprinklers? Nothing beats the hot summer sun like the cold splash of water. But can we have fun without all the plastic paraphernalia and water waste? Here are Betty’s secrets.


Mother Nature: Wait for a summer rain to play.

Share: Join a community pool instead of purchasing your own plastic pool or splash equipment.

Two birds: If you absolutely need to water the garden or your flowers or a brown patch of grass, turn on the sprinkler but avoid the hottest hours of the day: post-lunch to 4pm.

Save the leftovers: Use plastic milk jugs with their tops removed, recycled yogurt containers or big buckets, placing them to catch the water. See how much you can collect.  

Awareness raising: Americans uses 100 gallons of water a day compared to much of the world consuming 31 gallons or less per day. So each summer our family celebrates “water week.” 

We track our water use, using online water calculators. There’s one that takes less than 10 minutes at wateruseitwisely.com. This tool from Siemens and Facebook shows your water use compared to other friends AND to other countries.  

We borrow water books from the local library (check out our fave: A Drop of Water by Walter Wick). We study where our water comes from. And we play in the rivers and lakes. Naturally, water-saving actions arise and we have fun doing it.

Increasing drought conditions and our local water plan controversy help us realize that there is no resource more precious than water. So let’s use it wisely!

Check out Better World Betty’s local green living resource guide at betterworldbetty.org and blog at http://cvillebettyblog.blogspot.com.

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