Taking A Turn To Sustainable Living

Award-winning Charleston, SC, architect Whitney Powers, AIA, has spent her entire career advocating sustainable design and the adaptive reuse of existing structures – the ultimate form of “recycling.” For her efforts, Skirt! Magazine in Charleston dubbed her a “green goddess” last year. Here, she offers some common sense tips for embracing a more sustainable lifestyle.


Whitney in "Skirt!" magazine
Whitney in "Skirt!" magazine

By Whitney  Powers, AIA, Studio A, Inc.
January 15, 2008 (CHARLESTON, SC) — Apart from building a brand new “green” home with all the technological bells and whistles, trading in your gas-guzzler for a hybrid car, and all the other obvious steps toward greener living — recycling, compact fluorescent bulbs, carrying your reusable bags to the grocery store – consider these simple suggestions for assuming a more sustainable lifestyle in and around your home.

• Appreciate rituals that enhance your indoor air quality. Clean, bag and stow out-of-season clothes and bedding that add so much lint to the air. Change those HVAC filters once a month if you use a fireplace, every other month if you don’t. Vacuum and dust often. And open your windows whenever the weather is temperate and humidity levels are at or below 70 percent.

• To save money and reduce energy consumption, increase your thermostat setting to 75°F in the summer, decrease it to 68°F in the winter, and turn it off completely during those magical, lingering “shoulder” seasons. Since central air conditioning became widespread in the 1960s, we have become remarkably accustomed to overly conditioned interiors. If you’re over 50, wax nostalgic for a moment and consider the hum of the whole-house fan. For the rest of us, it is time to wake up and recognize just how wasteful we’ve become. How often have you wished you had a sweater when you go to grocery store in July? That’s a serious example of air conditioning overkill!

• If you need to do some around-the-home renovations beyond normal maintenance – say, replacing your kitchen cabinets — consider donating items you’ve slated for demolition so that they can be reused. A call to the Harmony Warehouse, Sustainable Warehouse, or Habitat for Humanity can result in demolition assistance and a tax write-off for the items they remove to reuse. This also counts should you opt to replace any of your old, inefficient appliances with “Energy Star” models.

• Turn off the television and read a book, especially if you have one of those energy-hogging plasma or LCD models. Join a book club or start one in your own family. We’re reading Sherlock Holmes with our nine-year-old. What about a little Dickens for these uncertain days: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…“ And remember to take advantage of the county library or your local used bookstore. Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston has a good selection of classics at bargain prices.

• Get a bicycle and use it. How much time do you spend in a car every week? Is it really necessary? Commuting by bicycle makes much more sense in downtown Charleston than driving a car: no parking problems and it’s a great family experience. The advocacy group Charleston Moves has been hard at work to make this easier and Holy City Bike Co-op has a monthly workshop at Marion Square for tips on maintaining and safely making your trip.

• For the gardeners among us, the Lowcountry is a paradise and the possibilities for enhancing the home landscape and habitat are almost unlimited. Plant shade trees where none exist. They’ll help you cool your home in the summer and can lower the ambient temperature in your entire neighborhood. Choose native plants with the help of our Lowcountry chapter of the South Carolina Native Plant Society. Their annual plant sales, usually held at Charlestowne Landing, include plenty of advice. Consider the four-part gardening series at Mepkin Abbey, “Gardening with Native Plants,” that starts on February 14. Take a walk through the Unitarian Churchyard for a little insight into the wild “English” garden potential on this count. And remember: A cistern or rain barrel can provide more than enough water for your needs (make sure it has a top to keep mosquitoes out). A compost bin (with a mesh bottom to keep out the varmints) can provide you with a continuous source of rich hummus for your planting areas.

• Gardening in the urban landscape is also something to promote. The “guerilla gardening” concept, founded in London, has found its way to Charleston through the efforts of Annie Mueller, founder of the floral design business A New Leaf Studio. The first sojourn was in Eliotborough in October. The concept is simple and includes planting in public areas that are woefully disused. Check out the London website: http://www.guerillagardening.org. Community gardens are another possibility. I’ve spied excellent plots near some of the churches along the crosstown. Wouldn’t a community garden as part of the Moultrie Playground/Colonial Lake renovations be great? Community gardening has become huge in New York. If they can do it, why can’t we?

• Don’t just throw out old clothes. Put them into consignment or resale shops. Better yet, mend them or come up with a creative way to update them for an extra season’s wear.

Consider these tips “talking points” to help you open the door on your own examination of your lifestyle choices. There are so many ways that we can tread more lightly on the planet so its wonders and its resources are available to future generations.

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