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Wiser Living

Finding a natural solution

The Future Fit Evolution

by Nina Utne

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I can always remember how long we’ve lived in our rambling, cozy house because we moved in just before my second son was born—more than 22 years now. The house has four floors, three of which are configured so that four boys and their friends and our dogs and their friends could run in circles and chase each other up and down stairs endlessly—a great boon during long, housebound Minnesota winters.

But now I am divorcing and have only one son, a junior in high school, still at home. I love this house and want to stay until he graduates—and beyond, if I can find a way to justify it by putting the space to work in new ways. But it is a big house, and it consumes a lot of energy.

I have been immersed in matters green for a very long time—starting with becoming a vegetarian at age 3. In some file, I have a copy of a 20-year-old energy audit, which led to a spate of caulking and a long-gone insulation blanket around my hot water heater. And I bought a Prius right after 9/11.

Despite my history, the truth is I don’t know how to begin to significantly reduce my energy footprint—and if I’m confused, despite all these years of thinking green, I’m certainly not the only one. We all would like to be responsible citizens, but there is an overwhelming amount of information along with a dearth of clear direction.

Retrofitting is the term used generally used for energy conservation, but, when the word FutureFit came to me,  I trademarked it and have been thinking about all the ways that we need to futurefit ourselves and our habits and attitudes as much as our houses. (see my “Heartland” column in the July/August issue of Utne Reader)

When I talked to Natural Home's editor-in-chief Robyn Griggs Lawrence about my exploration, she encouraged me to share my process of  futurefitting my house, so this blog is the first step.

First, a few eco-confessions. I have a fair number of compact florescent bulbs, but the truth is that I don’t like the light they give off—and neither, it turns out, do a lot of other well-intentioned environmentalists when they are honest. So what exactly are the differences between CFLs, and which are the best options for which kinds of fixtures? And I know that we are supposed to install power strips to cut down on passive load, but where exactly do I need them? I got one of my kids to adjust our thermostats, but I’m not too smooth even with the TV remote control, so I’m not sure that they are really very effectively programmed. I’m planning to assemble a class of friends and neighbors (who have confessed their guilt at not having been as proactive as they’d like to be, either), and we’ll get an expert to walk through my house room by room and show us just what the basic changes are and how to make them.

I’ve found an initiative that is aggregating groups of residences in my area for a pilot project to reduce the costs for energy improvements by bundling the houses for bids and  using an innovative financing structure. I’ve gotten an energy audit with fancy infrared photos showing heat loss, but now I have to figure out where I’ll get the biggest bang per buck of investment: Better windows? More insulation? New furnace? I’m meeting with one guy in my neighborhood who is a geothermal expert and another who is launching a company that will lease solar panels to homeowners, install them and interface with the power company. I’ve even heard about someone who is training realtors on the selling points for houses that are energy efficient. And lots more…

So check back in this space and join the FutureFit evolution. It’s going to take a lot of us making a lot of changes. So let’s get going and figure it out together!