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Wishing You a Sustainable-ish Holiday Season

Whether you’re a Clark Griswold or an Ebenezer Scrooge, it’s that time of year again: the holiday season is upon us.

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A less-than-enthusiastic participant of a holiday photo shoot.

Even those of us who try to live a greener, more eco-conscious lifestyle have a tendency to abandon ship and surrender to the flow of unabashed consumerism and waste in the name of “just getting it done.” It’s hard to put added pressure on ourselves to be mindful of our environmental impact when there are gifts to be purchased, cards to be sent, stockings to be hung, and photos of dogs in Santa hats to be taken.

But you don’t need to do it all to have an impact.

Find one or two ways to improve your holiday traditions by making them greener. Perhaps pick the ones that justify you doing less work in the name of the environment (Reusable bags instead of gift wrap? Yes please). Think of it as a gift to Mother Earth or humanity, or as a way to further annoy that aunt who just can’t understand why on earth you would want use cloth diapers. Sigh.

Here are some ideas, tips, and tricks to help you be just a little more sustainable this holiday season:

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Five Year Solar Performance on Connecticut Home

Written by Gayathri Vijayakumar, VP – Senior Building Systems Engineer

Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen great strides in the solar PV market in the United States. Between the federal tax credit and utility-sponsored incentives, the price to install PV systems came within reach of many homeowners. For others, eager to make a positive impact on the environment, power purchase agreements with solar companies and no up-front costs made it possible to utilize their roofs to generate electricity.

While the calculated cost-effectiveness of solar panels relies on the future price of electricity (which we can’t predict), we can confirm that they do deliver energy. In a very scientific study of exactly one home, owned by a SWA engineer, five years of generation data is available. Sure, it’s not the pretty Tesla roof, but these panels were installed back in November 2011. At 4.14 kW, with no shading and great Southern exposure, the panels were estimated to generate 5,400 kWh/year of electricity in New Haven, Connecticut (Climate Zone 5). The panels have exceeded expectations, generating on average, 6,200 kWh/year, which is roughly 70-80% of the electricity required by the 2,500 ft2 gas-heated home and its 4 occupants.

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Project Spotlight: 1115 H Street – Transforming the Neighborhood with LEED Platinum

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Front elevation of the building

The newly constructed five-story mixed-use building located at 1115 H Street, NE is raising the bar with a LEED for Homes Platinum certification in the works. Offering 16 high-performance condominiums with an array of sustainable practices, including environmentally preferable products, and water- and energy-conserving fixtures and appliances, the project is contributing to the rapid revitalization of the H Street Corridor neighborhood. Steven Winter Associates, Inc. supported the energy and green building goals for the project, including LEED certification.

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The Adventures of Mo and Her No Mow Lawn

I always thought the phrase ‘about as interesting as watching grass grow’ conjured a vision of ultimate boredom. That was before I attempted to grow my own no mow lawn. It turns out that watching grass grow can be a roller-coaster of emotions: the angst of wondering whether my inability to precisely follow directions would matter… the excitement of seeing the first blades of green poking up… the anguish over bare spots… and the pride over healthy, lush sections.

No Mow Lawn 1

April 2015 – The lower tier is seeded; the upper tier wall-building is still in progress

For years I advised clients to consider no mow lawns in their green homes, but I had never seen the end product through a full cycle of seasons. Friends of friends who own a turf farm expressed their interest-slash-skepticism at my undertaking, which more or less echoed the sentiments of a whole stream of landscape architects before. “Sure, you could try no mow if you really WANTED to… ” A search of local nurseries turned up nothing available. I couldn’t figure out why something that sounded so ingenious wasn’t more popular! An internet search for “no mow grass” turns up Prairie Nursery in Westfield, WI as a major supplier. A colleague used their product, and they were extremely helpful on the phone, so I ordered the No Mow Lawn Seed Mix online.
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SWA Lifestyles: A Simple Weekend Cabin

By Kai Starn, Sustainability Consultant

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Autumn has arrived again in the Northeast and the foliage is in full splendor. Over the Canadian Thanksgiving / Columbus Day weekend, I headed up to Ontario to deliver one final truckload of building materials to my family’s property there, which is located an hour and a half across the Canadian border. While I am a Connecticut native, the land bordering the Frontenac Provincial Park has been in my family for generations. In the 1980’s, my grandfather logged the area, and subsequently built a road and a log cabin on the property, which is where my grandmother now spends time during the summer.

The main cottage is a gathering place for family reunions; as such, I had always envisioned building a small weekend cabin to accommodate extra people for the occasions when there was sure to be a full house. About a year ago, I began to design and build this structure. When completed, the tiny cabin will be a simple, un-insulated cottage of old. But, dang, if it doesn’t scream summer and lake and relaxation!

Lakeside living.

Lakeside living.

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