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Green to the extreme: not the type to play it safe? Maggie Cramer shows you several green options off the beaten path.

Taking things to the extreme is the manner of the day. Rock-n-roll bands boast that they turn their amps up to a non-existent level eleven, a live audience sits hushed until Emeril Lagase shouts "Let's kick it up a notch!" and participation in the adventure version of every sport means shorter lines for old-fashioned basics.

So, it's no surprise that going extreme has caught up to going green. If you're feeling like the steps you take to reduce your footprint are too small, these products and ideas can help you tread heavily on the green path.

COMPOSTING TOILETS

The idea of composting may not be new to you. Perhaps you toss leftover food scraps into a compost pile in your backyard and then use the results of nature's process in your garden. But, using your body's waste in the same manner, many would argue, is a bit extreme.

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Without going into graphic derail (an in-depth explanation can be found in this National Geographic video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNMs9oiPuvo), composting toilets trap human waste in a way that allows air (often along with worms or microbes) to decompose the material, ultimately providing you with a soil-additive as the end product.

In addition to the usable fertilizer, composting toilets are mostly or entirely waterless, thus offering you and your household significant savings. And, since the toilets function independently of a sewer system, you can also experience savings in sewer rates.

On a communal and global scale, the use of composting toilets reduces water consumption (which also creates a reduction in the amount of chlorine in our water), decreases the amount of waste released into oceans and streams, and limits disruption to local soil systems and groundwater by reducing the need for pipeline installation and the chance of sewage leakage.

A variety of models are available with varying price tags. Look for names like Envirolet (see photo below left), Biolet and Sunmar. * Note: Municipalities may have regulations governing the use of composting toilets in your area, so if interested, be sure to check with local leadership.

Want more info? Local green builder and New Life Journal Green Home Experts Board member Clarke Snell discusses composting toilet options in his book The Good House Book. Also check out The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins, which provides a how-to for creating your own.

EARTHEN FLOORS

What's better than digging your toes into the sand on a summer day? In order to get that communion with nature, many of us load everything up in the car or hop on a plane for a few relaxing days on the beach. Some would argue traveling that distance for sand is going to the extreme. So, what about kicking up your choice of sustainable flooring beyond bamboo or cork and giving yourself the chance to feel grounded to the ground in your own home everyday of the year?

A variety of methods may be used, but the basics premise of an earthen floor involves the mixing of natural earth with straw or other fibers and natural oils to create a secure product. Stabilizers, like glues or starch pastes, can also be used to create a harder floor for high-traffic areas where extra protection is needed.

The installation of an earthen floor eliminates construction waste and produces minimal if any, pollution: the materials require little or no transport, so the final product comes to you with almost no embodied energy.

While you may have seen earthen floors in outbuildings or sheds, it's safe to say their installation in residential and commercial buildings is not widespread. Therefore, many contractors are inexperienced with the construction process. But, with proper preparation, creation and installation, an earthen floor can be a durable option to feel great about. Check out our Green Home Resource and Green Living Guide in this magazine, along with websites like www.usgbc.org, www.greenbuilding.com, www.greenbuilder.com, and www.wncgbc.org (local resource) to help with research and shopping around for local builders that are up for the challenge; by creating a demand for this approach to green building, you'll in turn create an earthen floor culture right here in our area.

AUTO AMENDMENTS

With gas prices soaring, evidence of a global fuel crisis mounting, and endless amounts of data showing the connection between fossil fuel consumption and global warming, there's no denying that going green includes reducing this dependency. But in a predominately commuter-based society of sprawling suburbs, rethinking the use of a car, much less forgoing the use of one altogether, can be a bit extreme. If you're up in it, consider these changes:

* If you're a multiple car household, try to figure out ways to get by on one less ear. It may mean having to wake up a bit earlier to drop off your partner at work, or driving your annoying sibling to school, but the results are worth it.

* It's definitely hot in the summertime, and no one wants to get to work all sweaty, but cutting out or reducing your use of the AC can save significant amounts of fuel.

* Eliminate jack-rabbit starts. You may get angry looks or cars furiously zooming past you, but accelerating slowly from a dead stop (pushing your gas pedal to more than a quarter of the total way down) will help your carburetor function as efficiently as possible.

* Incorporate planning into your route. Yes, it's a bit like a math equation (and who really wants to solve one while driving), but accelerate before you reach a hill, not while you're on it, to save a bit of gas.

* Look for free tailpipe emission testing performed by the Asheville-based nonprofit Clean Air Community Trust at area events. They can test for levels of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide heading out of your tailpipe and into the air. For more information, visit www.airtrust.org/tailpipe_testing.htm

MOVE OUTSIDE

"Efficient envelope" is the catch phrase of green building. It's all about caulk and insulation to keep heat and cool air in. But it just so happens we live in a beautiful climate, so what about building fewer indoor rooms and expanding outside?

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Simple roof structures and intentional plant design can help you create separate spaces with particular uses, just like indoors. For example, create a simple structure around that barbeque for an outdoor kitchen, or extend that living room onto your patio or deck.

It may be hard, even extreme, to imagine forgoing indoor square footage for what's there in your backyard, but what's more green than a room complete with a treetop canopy and grass floors?

One way to take your whole living space closer to nature is by forgoing the house altogether. Set up your household in a yurt. Written up in Architectural Digest as an architectural wonder, yurts have been used for centuries by Central Asian nomads. Modern yurts are round, portable structures made from wooden lattice walls, wood rafters held together by a stainless steel tension cable at the top and canvas walls with flexible insulation. Find out more about yurts at www.yurts.com or from Red Sky Shelters, an Asheville-based builder of "yomes," hybrid yurt/dome structures (www.redskyshelters.com).

LIVING ROOFS

The American dream is all about getting to that place: owning the roof over your head. We work hard for that accomplishment, so it may seem a little risky trusting anything less than an asphalt shingle and tarpaper/PVC combo.

A living, or green roof, is covered either partially or completely with soil and plants over a waterproofing membrane. The utilization of vegetation can help reduce the heating and cooling load at your home or business, help with storm water runoff and reduce the urban heat island effect, to which materials like asphalt contribute.

Certain plants may be more ideal for achieving desired goals, but you can customize and use your imagination to come up with a living roof that suites your needs and likes. If you're in the city, it may just be the perfect place for that vegetable garden!

You can check out green roofs in action at New Hall on the UNCA campus in Asheville or Atlanta's City Hall. Visit www.greenroofs.com and www.greenroofs.org for more information about living roofs as well as examples of projects and upcoming events, like the Atlanta Green Roof Market Development Symposium on Thursday, September 10 from 8:30am-5pm, hosted by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, Earth Pledge and Southface Energy Institute (www.southface.org).

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CONSTRUCTION ON SITE CHECK

A lot of the ideas mentioned in this article and other well-known steps you can take to live green have to do with the home. After participating in the surge of green building in the NLJ area, Asheville-based green designer Stephen Beili, who along with Aaron and Calder Wilson designs "ecoglam" (environmentally-conscious glamour) homes with Dionisi, Inc., noticed a bit of an inconsistency with himself and other builders: they often stop for a quick hamburger on their way to job sites. "It dawned on me ... if we're eating at fast-.food place while we're building green buildings, we're sort of missing the point," he says, noting the amount of land and water required to raise beef for burgers, beef that's coming from all over the world rather than from local farmers.

After construction on his own home, when Stephen made significant changes to his diet, be decided to include resisting fast food on all of Dionisi's site plans. "I think many of the subcontractors probably laugh when they see something like that on the plans, but it plants a seed to say, 'Hey, we're focusing our energies on green building, let's think broader about our impact."

Whether you're a builder or the homeowner, if you notice an extreme build up of fry containers or burger wrappers in the dumpster during construction on your site, try encouraging sack lunches that may take a bit more time to create but come with less environmental baggage.
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Article Details
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Author:Cramer, Maggie
Publication:New Life Journal
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Sep 1, 2007
Words:1673
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