Solar party: neighbors make learning fun

New take on Tupperware parties: Get the information with your community, over wine and cheese

Solar party
Photo: Emily Nathan

Like many people, I'm trying my best to do the right thing for the environment. My husband and I have one car. We live in a walkable San Francisco neighborhood where a quart of milk, dry cleaner, sushi bar, and bistro are just a couple of blocks away. Our house is small (less than 1,200 square feet); our windows are double-pane. We shop at our local farmers' market and buy next to none of what author Michael Pollan calls "edible foodlike substances."

Doing most of this stuff is easy… maybe a little too easy. As a kid in the '70s during a long California drought, I remember having to hop in the shower, get wet, turn the water off, soap up, turn the water back on, and quickly rinse off. There was a looming fear that a continuous shower would alert the water police, who'd storm our suburban home to catch us in the act.

Today, facing an environmental crisis of global proportions, we hear public service announcements suggesting that swapping one incandescent bulb for a compact fluorescent is akin to taking 5 million cars off the road. Or something like that. Still, replacing lightbulbs doesn't seem to go far enough. So my husband and I have begun to think seriously about going solar.

We'd actually considered it a couple of years ago, when the weary 30-year-old roof on our 100-year-old house needed replacing. But we were under the impression that it would at least double our cost. Plus, we had a new baby and could barely remember our phone number, let alone calculate the return on investment on solar installation. So we took the path of least resistance and opted for a plain asphalt roof.

That decision nagged at us, especially as we started to see photovoltaic panels pop up on roofs throughout our neighborhood. After the octogenarian across the street installed them, we truly began to feel we'd made the wrong decision. I write about this stuff for a living, for goodness' sake


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