At the time of the inaugural Southern Energy and Environment Expo, green technology was still a fledgling industry. Sustainable living was widely considered the stuff of hippies living on communes; hybrid cars were still viewed as concept-vehicles.
Times have changed in the past decade, however. The S.E.E. Expo, billed as the South's largest and longest-running sustainable-technology and green-building event, returns this weekend, and interest is as strong (if not stronger) than ever.
In the expo’s early days, the Hendersonville-based Environmental and Conservation Organization used to host the Clean Air Car Fair. "It was a nice way to allow people to sit in the cars and smell that new green-energy car smell," says David Weintraub, the ECO’s executive director. "In those days, there wasn't a Prius in every parking lot."
Eventually, hybrid technology became a widely understood concept, the car fair folded into the expo as workshops and displays, and ECO's organizers decided that it was time to move on to other horizons. These days, ECO’s major goal is to see solar panels and recycled flooring become as ubiquitous as the Prius.
They moved on from cars to homes, in short.
"Green homes are a critical part of the picture," says Weintraub. "Looking in the paper every day at what's happened in the Gulf of Mexico, we can see what havoc cheap oil and dirty fossil fuels have wrought on our air and water."
ECO hopes to instill the impression that having a green home is not necessarily out of reach for the ordinary consumer. That's why the organization is hosting the third annual Green Home Tour on Saturday, Aug. 21, in conjunction with the S.E.E. Expo. (To learn more about the expo, please refer to the event preview by Green Scene reporter Susan Andrew elsewhere in this issue.)
The self-guided Green Home Tour features five local homes that feature solar and geothermal utilities, as well as green "finishes" (think recycled flooring, tiles and countertops). ECO will also host a workshop for ticket-buying tour participants on Saturday, offering hands-on practical experience for those interested in solar-outfitting their own home.
Weintraub says that the workshop focuses on how solar power works, as well as its actual financial impact. People are often surprised, he says, just how little money it takes to go solar. "Costs to outfit a home with solar technology have gone down substantially over the years," says Weintraub. "There are now some great federal and state incentives for those who go solar and geothermal," he says.
Adding even further to the value of going solar, says Weintraub, is the view that it’s “very much like having an insurance policy." As fossil fuels become harder to find, they'll surely become more expensive, he explains. Outfitting a home to run on renewable energy helps to protect its owners against the financial and energy shocks of the future.
One of the stops on the tour, the Hamilton home, is outfitted with solar panels, giving people a chance to see what a newly built solar-powered house looks like. The Hamilton house, says Weintraub, is a good example of how a home can be green from concept to construction.
In contrast, the Woodruff home is an updated older home, located in the heart of Asheville. "They say the greenest home of all is the home that's already there," says Weintraub. "The Woodruff home is an example of a brown home that's been turned green." The 60-year-old house has been newly renovated with solar panels, bamboo flooring and other green features.
If a new construction or full remodel seems out of reach, Weintraub says that the Green Tour is fine for those who want to take baby steps down the path toward going green — or simply engage in a little harmless voyeurism. "This is a great opportunity to go to the homes and see firsthand what local home owners have done," he says. "These aren't mega-mansions, these aren't big major developers who are building these homes, for the most part. These are local folks who have turned their brown home green, or who have decided to build from the get-go using all-green features."
Weintraub hopes that tour attendees will ask themselves what they can do to make their own homes greener. "Not everyone's going to have the funds to invest in solar or geothermal, but here are some good examples of how, slowly but surely, many of these homes… got to the point where they're truly green."
For more information about the tour, go to www.eco-wnc.org. Tickets are $15 per person (or $13 for those carpooling with three or more people).