The weekend is here: a couple too-short days when, after a hectic US work week, many of our thoughts turn to cleaning up, tinkering with, and otherwise improving our homes. Based on the available evidence, we do a lot of it -- there seems to be a big box hardware store plopped into the landscape every few miles, even here in ultra-urbanized Brooklyn. Even more telling are the seemingly dozens of magazines about decorating, gardening, and getting organized (around my place these lately include the new IKEA catalog, wish book extraordinaire). And then there are the probably two dozen home improvement shows on cable television, each seeming to devote more air time to how to make our domiciles more enviro-friendly and healthy.
One thing about most of this "green home" information, though: it's usually geared at people in houses. With yards. And their own water heaters. And funds to renovate entire kitchens. Qualities that many of us may not share, living as we do in apartments, with windowboxes, a clanky old boiler in the basement, and very modest amounts of money to spend on fixing up our kitchens (certainly not enough to go all HenryBuilt or Plyboo).
I've sought to redress this imbalance a bit with my periodic "Greening the Co-op" posts on Worldchanging NYC; even when there are not answers quite yet on how to do things more sustainably in apartment settings, I try to at least get thinking about it at the scale of an apartment, and through the lens of managing the wants and needs of the many residents of a multi-unit building. Here are some highlights:
Solar Power on the Roof?
Making greener choices about the kinds of products we use inside our own apartments is a good step, especially for our own health and self-regard. But bigger impacts will come a lot faster with more fundamental changes -- like using something other than fossil fuel to power the building's boiler.
So: solar power and the co-op. In today's edition of The New York Times real estate section, the weekly Q&A feature asks, "Are there any laws governing the installation of solar panels in New York City? If our board refuses to install a buildingwide system, can I install a personal unit on our rooftop?" [Link]
According to the co-op legal expert consulted by The Times, "there are no laws in New York City that require a property owner or board to allow the installation of solar panels." And, the co-op board has the right to forbid any installations of anything at all in or on common areas of the co-op, which include the roof.
So some questions come to mind: Are there solar systems out there that can be draped outside one's own window, or off a private balcony or deck? How do you channel the juice they generate into your own apartment's electrical systems? And are there any co-ops in the city that are installing solar or other forms of clean energy?
Countertop Compost Chic
No sooner did I grumble/comment to Amy's introduction to community-supported agriculture that composting wasn't feasible in my apartment, than the following little helpmate popped up on Apartment Therapy: a compact stainless steel composting pail. It's a petite 11" high with a 7 1/2" diameter, has a capacity of 1 gallon, and features a charcoal filter to cut down on the fragrance of rotting veg trimmings and apple cores...which are likely to be minimal anyway, if the organics are breaking down at the right rate.
I wouldn't call the price especially petite -- about $45 plus shipping at cooking.com. But it's an interesting addition my current options for keeping kitchen waste out of the garbage stream: either saving everything up and periodically lugging it to the compost bins at the 6-15 Green Community Garden, or going for tabletop vermiculture.
Imagine if even five percent of the apartment-dwellers in a megacity like New York used one of these little buckets. How much biomass could we be reclaiming and making useful for our windowboxes, blocks, gardens, yards and parks, instead of trucking or barging it to out-of-state landfills as useless waste? And what might the city save on garbage hauling costs?
Least Toxic Home Pest Control Chronicles
Over the past six years in my current home, an apartment in a 16-unit building, I could have probably counted on one hand the number of roaches I saw. Between that and the cats earning their keep catching the extremely rare mouse, I felt very lucky...until this spring, when I began to spot juvenile roaches regularly in my kitchen. Strangely, ignoring the problem and hoping it would go away didn't work...[A]nd since I really don't want to bring hard-core chemical poisons into my small home, I was going to have to trade sweat equity for a quick pesticide fix.
And to my ecstatic relief, it seems to be working.
So here are the steps I've taken, largely informed by the information in "Dan's Practical Guide to Least Toxic Home Pest Control," by Dan Stein (a slim volume that has not let me down over the years). If you're facing a similar situation, dear Worldchanging reader, I hope they'll help you in your quest to live green and relatively roach-free.
Have you got tips for least toxic home pest control? Other books to recommend? Have you organized your apartment building, landlord or co-op to follow least toxic practices across the building? How the heck did you manage that?! Let us know in the comments.
Well, I've had earthworms eat my kitchen scraps for close to thirty years now and have one room basically off-grid with a couple of solar LED lights and a solar/dynamo radio that I had modified so that it also charges AA batteries. I also keep a pantry and shop at a food coop and the local farmers' markets.
Check my blog or youtube page for videos of at least the solar experiments.
George, I think you are the definition of an early adopter!
I was moving around too much for jobs and school to make any big investments in my living spaces practical. Now that I have finally settled down in this apartment, I have years of pent-up home improvement ambitions to catch up on.
For a great green cleaner around the house or apartment, try Vital Oxide. They have a website at http://www.vitaloxide.com
I'm a big fan of Seventh Generation, which is a wonderful company that makes a range of very effective non-toxic cleaning products, including a bleach substitute. I discovered this while working at a natural foods store: we not only carried their products, but also used them for our own cleaning at the registers. (http://www.seventhgeneration.com/)