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PRESS RELEASE: 3/13/06
A Letter from Hanna Doniger
Hanna Doniger, a visitor to the Thorntree website, has provided us via email with some insightful thoughts and resources, and we suspect that prospective Thorntree members and others interested in Green building will agree. We've asked Hanna for her permission to post her correspondence here, and she has kindly agreed.
If you would like to contact us in a similar fashion, please do not hesitate to send an email to David Bahle at email@example.com.
First of all, I'd like to commend you for the vigor of your vision and the thoroughness of your thinking on Thorntree Community. I wish you all the very best of luck for the future execution of all your dreams in regard to the nature of the Commons. It is most encouraging to find individuals who empower themselves and impel others to correct the excesses and blinded thoughtlessness of our present living conditions (lifestyles) in America.
I have only a couple of random thoughts to cast your way: good to see you've mentioned low or zero VOC material preferences, but there is a bit more to toxicity than just the VOC count. As to paint, I send you this website for your perusal: www.afmsafecoat.com. This is one of the few paints I have found that is also free of most of the toxins used in conventional paints, besides having low and zero VOC formulations. My contractor has been surprised that it covers so well and is so non-smelly. For carpeting, you might want to visit www.naturescarpet.com and begin recommending their carpets to people who might want carpeting or rugs.
Another thought has come to me. While living in Israel years ago, I was struck by the almost universal custom of building with tile for flooring. It makes imminent sense: tile is very cooling to the touch and coolness is much sought-after in such an extremely hot region. One very interesting aspect of this flooring was that every room was tilted slightly toward the center where a drain was located, making it very easy to keep clean. You did not need a mop and bucket, just a damp mop and perhaps a squeegee with a long handle. All the water and dirt flowed (or was pushed) down the drain! At Thorntree, you could, of course, recover most of the water with filtering devices to use in the garden. This system would almost totally obviate the need for air conditioning, along with all the other suggestions made in the guideline. This may not seem like such an urgent need for upper Michigan, but remember that Global Warming is upon us. If you were here in lower Michigan this summer, you would surely agree that we are probably in for some pretty hot times in the years to come. We had temps in the high 90's for several weeks on end, combined with the humidity factor, equalling 110 degrees on some days !!!
I was also extremely pleased to see that you are actually prohibiting lawns as well as encouraging xeriscaping. Lawns are a particularly annoying point of suburban false pride that has agitated me over the years - the fact that these little pieces of artificial orderliness are so time-consuming and high maintenance, leading to a host of related badly thought-out behaviors: chemical usage, a multiplicity of power tools, including blowers and one of the most disastrous machines ever developed, the gas lawnmower. I submit this website for your edification: www.peoplepoweredmachines.com. It has statistics on the unsuitability of gas lawnmowers for human usage.
And here are some questions for you to ponder: you have banned one important source of potential toxicity, the suburban lawn, but have you also thought of actively promoting organic gardening practices and maintenance of the grounds at Thorntree Commons both for individual homeowners as well as for the common areas? Don't forget the toxicity of your outdoor environment as well as the indoor contributes to quality of life. Will you have a "wildlife habitat specialist" or some such person on your staff or in your community to attend to the active preservation of your wildlife habitat and to educate people as to what they can do to help the local (small, innocuous) wildlife adapt to their presence? How are you going to handle the presence of deer in your community? Or other, larger wildlife that almost certainly will be around? Anyway, those are other topics perhaps a little farther afield than you had thought to tackle, yet I believe worthy of much careful consideration.
One more thing that might interest your homeowners. I recently purchased and have started using the most wonderful dishwasher. It is an Asko, made in Sweden, and it has the lowest energy rating (high Energy Star rating) of any that I had seen. At a rating of 247 kWh/yr, it is near the very lowest end of the universe of dishwashers that Energy Star tests. But this is no low-end model. It is an elegant, full-service, full-featured, beautiful piece of machinery and does an excellent job of cleaning everything. It is a little pricey for the average homeowner, but not out of reach. It retails for about $700-750. You'll be saving money on its operation, but most importantly you'll be consuming wisely by saving energy.
Again, I wish you abundant luck and careful planning to fulfill your dreams in such a wonderful community.
Hanna T. Doniger