Many people may want to try to live more sustainable lives — whether through energy conservation or eating more locally grown foods — but they wonder how to get started.
That’s part of the reason the Garden District Civic Association is hosting a tour of sustainable homes and gardens April 20. Those trying to live a sustainable lifestyle means they are working to be environmentally friendly or, more simply put, trying to use a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.
“There have been tours of homes (by the Garden District Civic Association) in the past and that goes back 20 years,” said Dorothy Prowell, Civic Association board member and coordinator of this year’s tour. “This is the first one that focuses on sustainable homes.”
Prowell is a retired LSU professor who taught sustainable living and has an interest in conserving energy in different ways — whether it’s the solar panels on the roof or the food she gets from her backyard garden.
“The reason we’re doing this is to educate people about what they can do in their homes to live more sustainably,” Prowell said.
Each of the six houses on the tour has solar panels. Many have backyard gardens, and one home even has a few backyard chickens, she said.
“Some people are really focused on water conservation so they have a lot of rain barrels,” she said, while others on the tour are more concerned about energy conservation.
“People can save 30 percent of their energy just by changing their behavior. It doesn’t cost any money,” she said.
One component of the tour is to educate people on how they can change the way they do daily tasks, like doing their wash in cold water or line drying their clothes.
As a scientist, Prowell said she has information on what her energy use has been as she’s worked to become more energy efficient over the eight years she’s lived in her home. She said she’s reduced here energy bills by 60 percent.
The tour will also provide information on ways to become more energy efficient, including some thatcost money such as making old windows energy efficient to one of the more expensive options of installing solar panels.
“Another component is providing your own food,” Prowell said.
Most of the homes on the tour, including Prowell’s, have vegetable gardens in the backyard, she said.
In her backyard, Prowell has a number of raised beds, including two large ones — for a rotating list of vegetables from potatoes to kale to a number of different varieties of lettuce — along with two smaller raised beds she uses to grow herbs.
In the alley behind her house, she and her neighbor are taking advantage of the sunlight along their back fence to plant additional fruits and vegetables.
“It’s really easy to grow a huge amount of food in Louisiana,” she said. “People are starting to think like that — in ways to find more local food,” she said.
Nearby neighbors David and Sandy Franz are also on the tour after working for the past 12 years to gradually make their 1930s home more energy efficient.
“We bought an older house, which in itself is already sustainable because it already existed,” David Franz said.
Over time, he said, it made economic sense to make improvements, and now they have 14 solar panels with batteries for backup during power outages as well as a garden, compost bins, rain barrel and fruit trees.
“We have kids and you try to set a good example,” David Franz said. He said for those who want to get started with improvements, he suggested doing simple things first, including installing insulation or weather stripping.
Another house on the tour, Bill and Fran Beck’s home, includes solar power and a number of energy efficient features as well as a new greenhouse the owners made out of recycled windows from a neighbor’s improvement project.
Bill Beck, 85, said he did have a raised garden in the backyard and planted it for years with foods he liked to eat before it became victim to bacteria wilt. Although he tried several methods to get rid of the problem, he eventually had to plant the area with roses and other plants.
In the meantime, a neighbor was redoing all his windows, so Beck took the old windows and had a greenhouse built that uses the windows in the walled structure.
“This last winter, for example, I had tomatoes all winter,” he said. “I like to plant heirloom tomatoes because they look better and taste better.”
In addition, he had 22 solar panels installed about six to eight months ago.
“It seems to make a significant difference,” he said of the panels.
Tickets for the tour are $10 and can be purchased in advance at Circa 1857, the Garden District Nursery or on the day of the event at the Tour Host Home, 2230 Tulip St.