In a new survey sponsored by Siemens and the Economist Intelligence Unit, San Francisco outpaced 27 other major metropolitan areas to win bragging rights as the greenest city in North America. Vancouver, New York City, and Seattle followed in the overall rankings, while Detroit finished last, just behind St. Louis, Cleveland, and Phoenix. Nine categories, ranging from land use and carbon emissions to air quality, transportation, and buildings, were used to calculate which urban hubs were doing the best job of cleaning up the environment.
A powerhouse on the eco-scene, San Francisco came by its first-place win fair and square. The city recycles 77% of its municipal waste, mandates composting, and boasts the longest public-transportation network in America. Retrofitting residential and commercial properties with water-efficient plumbing fixtures has been mandatory in the city since 2009, and San Francisco offers free low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators as well as rebates on toilet replacements—measures that will potentially save the city up to four million gallons of water daily by 2017.
Thanks to the determination of six enterprising coeds at Dartmouth College, a landmark cabin razed by fire was rebuilt the old-fashioned way—one log at a time.
In 2009, when Greg Sokol, a student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, discovered that a nearly 60-year-old cabin owned by the college’s Ledyard Canoe Club had burned to the ground, he knew he had to do something. Like scores of undergraduates before him, Sokol had used the humble cabin on the Connecticut River’s Gilman Island as a base camp during canoe-club outings.
Up to that point, Sokol, an engineering major, hadn’t built much of anything. Nonetheless he secured the administration’s permission to reconstruct the cabin on its original footprint and recruited five of his fellow canoe club members to help with the project. Sokol, who admits he and his crew lacked log-cabin expertise before they started, chose his team because they shared his desire “to build something beautiful and long-lasting.”
Just over a year later, the students got started by choosing 97 pine and spruce logs culled from a woodlot owned by the school and removing their bark. Then the wood, along with most of the students’ building supplies—toolboxes, plywood, cement mixer, chainsaw, etc.—were floated downstream via canoe and non-motorized boats to the worksite. Once on dry land, a Grip hoist helped the team haul the logs up the island’s steep embankment.
Just like early pioneer builders, the students learned to scribe, notch, and fit the logs together through trial and error. When the several hundred pound logs didn’t fit seamlessly, a 60-pound mallet nicknamed “Gorgeous George” was used to nudge the wood logs an inch or two for a snugger fit.
Photo: Lucas Schulz
After erecting the structure’s four walls, the crew hoisted a 21-inch-diameter ridgepole into place to support the peak of the roof, which was later covered in green metal roof panels. By the second summer, a covered front porch had taken shape, doors and windows were fitted, gables were shingled, and a wood stove and hearth for both heating and cooking was installed. The log cabin’s exterior was stained, and oak flooring—one of the team’s last major projects before graduation— now covers the ground level (there’s a sleeping loft upstairs).
Photo: Lucas Schulz
After two summers of intense work, the little log cabin in the woods, built by hand by an enterprising young DIY crew, will now welcome the next generation of Dartmouth students ready to set out on bold new backwoods adventures.
Although roughly 75 percent of the Earth is covered with water, the reality is that less than 1 percent of that water is fresh and readily available to humans—making conserving the planet’s most precious resource more important than ever. Happily, changing water-guzzling habits doesn’t require herculean sacrifices or big investments, just modest changes. Bonus: saving water saves money, too!
With rising energy costs and the lingering effects of the mortgage crisis, demand for smaller houses has never been greater. Which is a boon for Jay Shafer, who’s been preaching the gospel of downsizing since 1997, when he founded Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. in Sebastopol, California, and began designing and constructing homes that range in size from 65 to 172 square feet. But his petite abodes pack a lot into their wee footprints. The company’s 65-square-foot XS-House, for instance, offers built-in storage, a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping loft, and front porch.
Shafer himself resided in an 8’-by-12’ house that measured just 100 square feet until he married three years ago. Now he and his wife (and their toddler son) reside in the relatively spacious 500-square-foot home he built next door. “Once I moved into a tiny house, my life opened up, says Shafer. “There was less maintenance, less mortgage, less waste—more time to live.”
Fully constructed with electrical, plumbing, and heating systems, Shafer’s Tumbleweed Tiny Houses start at about $39,000. Most customers, however, just buy the plans, which cost from $99 to $859, and build the diminutive structures themselves. Because the tiny houses have wheels, the structures are considered travel trailers and do not require a building permit. “You can pretty much put one anywhere you can place an RV,” notes Shafer.
In August, the company plans to launch its new Box Bungalows, a line of Craftsman-style tiny houses that feature mix-and-match modular components. To learn more, visit Tumbleweed Tiny House Company online or pick up a copy of Jay Shafer’s book, The Small House Book (Paperback-2009), at Amazon.