A forensic investigation revealed the intruder had dug under its edges, so I fixed the problem by driving stakes deep into the ground and nailing pieces of wood to other possible areas of entry. Although I wasn't 100% confident that these beady-eyed villains wouldn't return to the scene of the crime, I nevertheless journeyed back to the animal shelter to purchase two more chicks, only to be woken up at 1 in the morning to the sound of distress. Running outside, I found a lady bird dangling from the mouth of a shiny-eyed raccoon. The other chicken was missing.
Cost: $530 for coop, feed and chickens
If I had to do it over again: I would skip the coop and find a local alternative.
SIDEBAR: EASIER FIXES
Green home improvement doesn't have to mean elaborate new systems or expensive construction projects. Some small steps for a greener life:
Laundry line: Clothes dryers account for 5% to 10% of a home's energy use. I have one, but I use it only if I'm desperate. My laundry line is strung unobtrusively across my backyard deck, and the sun dries clothes in mere hours. For me, the low-tech laundry line is about the easiest and simplest thing I can do to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Cost: about $50 for equipment.
Diet: My home improvement retrofits have convinced me that more environmental savings could be obtained by eating less meat and dairy. The cattle business creates more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, according to a 2006 United Nations report. So, although I love burgers and can't give them up entirely, I eat fewer, and I'm mostly substituting almond and soy milk for dairy.
Composting: About 26% of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream is yard and food waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Composting that waste is how I produce only a small grocery bag's worth of trash every other week. It's one of my greatest achievements. About a quarter of my trash savings comes from composting food scraps. Cost: $20 for a bin through a city of Los Angeles composting workshop.
Recycling: The other three-quarters of my trash savings comes from recycling, for which I have an almost-religious fervor. About 80% of what Americans throw away is recyclable, yet only 28% actually is recycled. Cost: nothing but the time it takes to throw something in the blue bin.