Better to sit on the dock of the bay than to ruin the lake with gas-guzzling jet skis.
Q: Though I feel a little guilty about the drive, I love going to the cottage. Any advice on greening the experience?
A: Come summertime, penned-in urbanites like me madly scramble to find pals like you with the mystical ability to crack open a Corona on a loon-speckled lake any weekend they please.
Of course, stuck in the smoggy core, we can at least brag that our conscience and patience aren't burdened with that tedious bumper-to-bumper drive that frays all you poor Kawartha and Muskoka kids.
Plenty of enviros gripe that even owning a second home is bad news for the planet, especially if you have to get in your fossil-fuel wagon to get there. But I won't pretend I would turn down a charming shack nestled in the woods if it were served to me on a recycled silver platter.
The trick is keeping the whole experience as in tune with Mother Nature as possible. No Princess-Margaret-lottery-style beasts, please.
If your cottage has all the amenities of your regular house, you're sucking way too much from the grid. That means no dishwashers, no clothes dryers, no curling irons, no giant plasma TVs and definitely no AC. You're in the wilds, people - embrace it. (Yes, that means you should cancel that Jacuzzi installer, too).
Lighten your load wherever you can by switching from 100-watt incandescents to 11-watt compact fluorescents, use a toaster oven over a real oven and a coffee press (boiling water in an electric kettle) instead of 900-watt coffee maker.
If you really mean business and you've got a chunk of savings, get yourself some solar panels (Energydepot.ca has off-grid system packages for cottages from $11,099 to $20,000). Too pricey for ya? Start with a solar hot water heater.
You'll want to get rid of the that old energy vampire of a fridge you have in the country when you get a chance, too. A Sun Frost fridge, even a full-sized one, uses about 80 per cent less energy than a regular fridge.
Keeping the place toasty in the cooler months with an ancient wood stove? Start saving up for a fall shift to a high-efficiency wood stove or, cooler still, a pellet stove.
But it's not all about what goes up (like coal plant and wood pollution). Time to reassess what goes down in places like your loo. Forget leaking septic tanks. Envirolet (envirolet.ca) makes totally waterless composting toilets for peeps with and without basements.
Some composting toilets can get tricky if you have lots of guests coming up to party every weekend. You might be better off with something like an Envirolet ultra-low-flush composting toilet that sends as little as a pint of H2O down per flush with the press of a pedal.
If you plan on sticking with your regular water closet, look into a grey water recycling system. Brac (bracsystems.com) makes some starting at $1,890 that recycle the H20 from your showers, bath or laundry (if you have one), filter it and reuse this water for the toilet tank. Or, for $32, get a quickie sink-top water catcher at envirosink.com.
Grey water system or not, make sure to use all-natural, highly biodegradable soaps like Nature Clean on your bod and dishes. Dr. Bronner's Magic Pure Castile Classic Liquid Soaps are organic, fair trade and can replace at least 18 other products (including shampoo, laundry soap and toothpaste - yep, toothpaste).
Get yourself a big ol' rain barrel so you can water your roses without pulling out the hose. And while we're on the topic of roses, leave the water-intensive flowers out from now on and stick to hardy native plants that can survive without your help.
More importantly, resist the urge to jump on gas-guzzling, water-polluting watercrafts like jet skis. A 1998 report by Cali's Air Resource Board found that a full day of jet-skiing on a 100-horsepower craft released more polluting hydrocarbons than driving a 98 car a jaw-dropping 100,000 kilometres. You heard me.
And remember, as secluded as you feel, you don't live in a bubble. Get involved in protecting the community around you. Ask around about environmental issues weighing on the town. There's probably a dump expansion or water protection battle being waged nearby that could use your help.
As for all that commuter guilt, check into whether there are any choo-choo trains that come close to your cottage. Sadly, the elaborate rail system of yore was decommissioned years ago, but you can still catch an Ontario Northland train to Gravenhurst, Huntsville, Bracebridge, Washago and more. (Kawarthans should keep their ears to the ground for a revived Peterborough train.) At the very least, encourage guests to hop the rails or catch a bus and offer to pick them up from the station.
If your trip up north must involve a car, you could try to minimize the driving involved in someone else's.
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