A Better Way

With spring just around the corner and the warm sun rising before 8 am, your friends and neighbors are coming out of winter hibernation chasing vitamin D and most likely a few pounds heavier. I love all seasons, but for those of you fortunate enough not to experience -30F during the dark depths of winter, I am forever envious. Spring is a great feeling; it’s the fresh start to the year and a time to start picking away at the year’s honey-do list. I don’t mean the list of groceries, hanging shelves, and replacing the smoke detector batteries, but the rather large projects that require time and planning, resulting in a great deal of self-fulfillment once complete.

On a typical weekend, my wife and I take one afternoon to walk our dogs and catch up with each other. These walks usually consist of me thinking of what I should be doing or asking when we can turn around, but she always insists I keep going, which I am grateful for. Last Sunday, we wandered by some new construction, which is never a good idea, as this is where my project ideas come from. I put my head down and picked up the pace, thinking it would go unnoticed; I was wrong. Growing up the son of a home builder, this was a very familiar sight, and it’s something I enjoy, but the projects to come out of them can be a little taxing. This day was quite warm but very windy, so the recently thawed topsoil was blowing in the wind, reminding me of a book I read on the dust bowl. Do you remember the dust bowl of the thirties? If you are reading this, it’s doubtful you were there. To be brief, the dust bowl was a mass exodus of topsoil due to poor soil management by way of the plow and changed farming in the plains forever. Even though farming is the primary industry related to topsoil loss, it is not the only one. Every time we disturb the earth via plow, shovel, or dozer, we destroy the beneficial microorganisms that live there, which keep our soil alive. I am not against economic growth but somewhat aware of the repercussions.

While walking, we voiced concern that there must be a better way to keep soil in place, not only to keep neighbors happy but to help the new homeowner with a successful lawn. With a background in agriculture, we talk about keeping the soil covered by incorporating cover crops in our crop rotation to maintain soil structure and keep those beneficials alive. Can cover crops be used in construction? Can I plant rye before Kentucky Bluegrass? How can we maintain soil biology and build a home? These questions really had me thinking about a better process of building. Green homes and LEED-certified buildings are on the rise throughout the nation with a 19% increase in the past 3 years. Sustainable construction saves money from both energy consumption (42%) and water (34%) when compared to traditionally built structures. Twenty years ago green homes and practical efficiencies were just a pipe dream meant for people who wanted a dirt roof and a place for goats to live but now it is much more than that, it is a way of life. Aside from the perpetual cost savings, there is the quality of life improvements as well. At biotechnology giant, Sanofi Genzyme of Cambridge, Massachusetts which recently moved into new real estate noted a 15% increase in productivity, 5% fewer sick days, and a 58% rise in employee satisfaction caused by the improved atmosphere free from toxin leaching materials and increased natural lighting. Now that we are gaining traction building green structures we can continue the innovation into the green building of structures involving the process itself into the ideology.

We continued our walk, and upon returning home, I was informed that we are building a garden with our neighbors, with a goal of natural fertilizers and great soil biology. It turns out walks are not only good for me but good for the earth.