From buying a house to saving the world.

You know you’re getting old when you think it’s fun to sit around and shop for houses, trying to figure out the best combination of bedrooms, bathrooms and great rooms. This is not something my hip, younger self would have enjoyed.

So my wife and I are house shopping. This probably has to be one of the most stressful decisions of my life. Planning a wedding? Piece of cake. As long as you picked the right girl you really couldn’t screw too much up. The wedding is only one day–it’s the marriage you have to sweat about. But buying a house isn’t so simple. It’s not one day. You have to live in the freaking house. And it’s not just the house I think is great, I have to find a house someone else thinks is great — namely my wife. And to top it all off, we’re trying to house hunt across country. Joyous.

The truly fun part is imaging the perfect house (how old did that statement sound?). I’m talking built in bookshelves and secret passageways. OK, I’m joking. But I’m serious about the secret passageways. The housing industry is such an old place. The most common (and usually cheapest) house you can find is the cookie cutter development. Every house on the block looks the same, and they actually are the same. The floor plans are identical, maybe reversed for a little variety. Every tree around is clear cut, so you’re left with this manicured, fluorescent green lawn with no shade, interrupted with spurts of concrete. Not exactly what I call home. You’d think developers would realize the value of a tree. It takes 20 years for a sapling to reach an even respectable size, even longer if you want a reasonable amount of shade. Yet they mow ’em all down like they’re nothing. It’s odd how little we value nature.

If I had my way with a house, I’d like to make it environmentally friendly. As people, we’ve come a long way from living on the land. Now we don’t even know how. It’d be nice if our homes were more nature-conscious, even in minor ways.

My electric bill came the other day, and a pamphlet about solar power was included. If you install a solar panel on your roof you can hook it up to the electric grid and get money back. Now why isn’t that common place? The sun’s going to beat down on your roof all day anyway, why not harness a bit of that power? It’s not a big money maker (if it makes any at all), but it’s sustainable. You’re not clouding the air or polluting the water. You’re just soaking up the rays (and this method doesn’t cause cancer).

I’d also love to see a house that uses water more efficiently. How about a gray water system? Rather than flushing any bit of slightly dirty water down the drain, you store that reasonably dirty water (gray water), and use it for things that don’t require perfectly filtered water. So you wash the dishes and then you water the plants with it. The water from your shower can water the lawn. And if that’s too complicated, how about collecting the rain water that streams through your gutters and storing it to water your lawn? Why do we bother wasting so much water to keep the grass green? Seems like there’s easier, cheaper ways to have a green lawn.

And speaking of a lawn, why is the manicured Kentucky blue grass lawn the ideal? Why do we want a mowed down prairie? What happened to nature? The lawn has to be the least healthy, least stable, most susceptible to disease and most expensive natural system to want to put around your house. Having some open space to run around in is great, but can’t we have a little diversity? Why are dandelions and clover the enemy? I like dandelions. Forgive me for not endorsing the manly vision of the Saturday lawn warrior, but I’ve got better things to do than spend my Saturday killing weeds and trimming plants. Let the grass grow, I’ve got things to do. Having some typical lawn is great, but let’s be realistic. Do you really need to trim back the weeds in the farthest corner of your yard? Let it go. Throw down some wild flower seeds and bring back some native grasses and plants. The diversity will require less maintenance, less money, less time.

Of course you can’t exactly find a home with any of these simple modifications. Despite the widespread acceptance of environmentalism, no one is willing to back it up with anything more than recycling their pop cans on the corner once a week. Never mind that being environmentally conscious isn’t just about saving the planet. It’s about being simpler. It’s about saving time and money by letting nature do it’s thing.

From buying a house to saving the world. Sometimes I don’t know how I do it.

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