More from The Realist Idealist: Sustainable living and home improvement

More from The Realist Idealist: Sustainable living and home improvement

Susan Carpenter on sustainable living and home improvement -- with a budget-minded bent.

After two years of eco-living, what works and what doesn't

October 16, 2010

After two years of eco-living, what works and what doesn't

It started with gray water, then escalated to chickens, composting toilets and rain barrels. I'm talking about the two years I've spent transforming my humble California bungalow into a test case for sustainable living — an experience that's cost me hundreds of hours of my time and thousands of dollars, an endeavor that has tested the limits of not only my checkbook but also my sanity — and my DIY skills.

Are store-bought soils safe for growing vegetables?

November 7, 2009

THE REALIST IDEALIST

Are store-bought soils safe for growing vegetables?

In September I wrote about an unsettling incident in which I'd found high levels of lead in the chard I'd grown in a backyard planter box filled with store-bought soil. According to the head of the lab that did the testing, I shouldn't have eaten more than one-quarter pound of the leaves a day or I'd risk lead poisoning.

The Realist Idealist: Trying to undress my ‘water footprint’

March 13, 2010

The Realist Idealist: Trying to undress my ‘water footprint’

I used to look at my closet and see clothes. These days, whenever I cast my eyes upon the stacks of shoes and hangers of shirts, sweaters and jackets, I see water. Specifically, I see the "virtual water" used to make it all.

Water conservation? The sky's the limit

January 23, 2010

THE REALIST IDEALIST

Water conservation? The sky's the limit

It isn't often that it rains in L.A. for six days running, as it did this week. The inches Mother Nature dumped on us may not have cured the drought, but they did more than just wash our cars for free. They offered proof of what many water sustainability experts believe: that much of the water we need at home already falls from the sky and can reduce our dependence on ever-dwindling and expensive-to-import supplies.

A city slicker and a farmer in one

September 19, 2009

THE REALIST IDEALIST

A city slicker and a farmer in one

There are certain phrases I never expected to utter in my lifetime. Things like, "Excuse me if I don't shake your hand. Mine's covered in horse urine." Or, to my son, "When you're finished with dinner, clear your plate and feed the scraps to the worms." Yet those are exactly the sorts of things I've found myself saying in the months I've been an urban farmer.

Recycling bath water takes muscle

May 30, 2009

THE REALIST IDEALIST

Recycling bath water takes muscle

Even before L.A.'s new water restrictions were scheduled to kick in, I'd been using a bucket to haul the murky bath waters from my dirt-encrusted 6-year-old's nightly scrub-down into my garden. I was on a mission to save as much water as possible, and the 30 gallons he was defiling every night seemed like an excellent resource.

Welcome to the world of waterwalls

April 18, 2009

THE REALIST IDEALIST

Welcome to the world of waterwalls

I'm not the sort of person who's easily enamored of plastic objects, especially big ones that cost $1,150 apiece. Working in an uncertain industry in uncertain times, I'm hardly the target market for an expensive, 187-pound piece of injection-molded, candy-colored, food-grade polyethylene, which doesn't do much to explain why I now own two of these things.

Taking the plunge with a composting toilet

February 28, 2009

THE REALIST IDEALIST

Taking the plunge with a composting toilet

Inspiration comes in many forms. For me, it was my toilet backing up into my bathtub -- a situation that was not only disgusting but potentially expensive to fix.

Homemade cleaners get the job done

January 31, 2009

THE REALIST IDEALIST

Homemade cleaners get the job done

Something green and drippy is growing on store shelves. It's the assortment of "green" cleaning products many people are spraying, scrubbing and wiping all over their homes in an attempt to keep things fresh, sanitary -- and environmentally benign.

Pet hens and chicks

December 6, 2008

THE REALIST IDEALIST

Pet hens and chicks

Being the not-so-proud owner of a gecko and a goldfish, I didn't put another un-cuddly animal high on my list of future pets. A chicken? The thought hadn't occurred to me until a recent visit from friends who had spent the last few years downsizing their lives from San Francisco to Santa Cruz to a tiny Canadian town in the middle of nowhere. Over a scrambled egg breakfast at my place one morning, they began clucking about the hens in their backyard and the delicious organic omelets they feasted on almost daily.

Solar power incentives make it easier to switch

November 1, 2008

THE REALIST IDEALIST

Solar power incentives make it easier to switch

Like most Angelenos in this fragile and declining housing market, I won't be buying a different home any time soon. I want to make the most of the property I've got. I want to turn it into the most efficient, self-sustaining and worry-free space I possibly can.

Gray water: from the washer to the garden

THE REALIST IDEALIST

Gray water: from the washer to the garden

I was never more excited to do laundry, and it wasn't because my son and I were running out of clean underwear. I had just installed a system to divert gray water from my washing machine to my xeriscaped frontyard, and I was anxious about whether the $312 and two days I'd spent installing it would pay off.

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