Bruce and Susan Lawton’s Story –

In 2008, the Lawtons moved from an HOA neighborhood to the Purcellville countryside so they could some elbow room to explore how they can change their home to be more sustainable – specially with renewable energy options.  It was an eye-opening change and most of it didn’t require countryside afterall!

The first project was solar water heating panels mounted on a shed.  The shed was designed with a good roof angle so the panels could be embedded in the roof, have an attractive appearance, and pass muster with an HOA.  While the family started benefiting from solar-assisted water heating, soon afterward the HOA in their old neighborhood changed the rules to allow and set guidelines for installing solar panels on homes.

The success with solar hot water was a catalyst for their continual effort to improve energy efficiency and sustainability in whatever way possible.

Here are some their home improvement projects and changes for greater sustainability:

A do-it-yourself installation of 30 solar panels on the front roof of the house–with the help of friends, family, and a few  professionals– has reduced their use of energy from the power company year-round. Four months of the year, electric bills recorded 0KW hour usage, and the other eight months saw significant reductions in electricity cost. Photovoltaic panels were made more affordable by federal and state tax incentives and income from the sale of SRECs.  You can start learning more about DIY solar panels by visiting CNET Green Tech page.

Changing garbage pickup service to a company that recycles more types of trash cost no more than before. Surprisingly, single-stream recycling includes empty aerosol cans, wax coated milk cartons, and more types of plastic and paper.  Now the recycling can fills up faster than the trash can, with only a small amount of trash destined for landfill.  Composting also reduces the among of trash, and provides nutrients for the garden.  Freecycle has been a great resource, too!  The family has given away many things and acquired others that they needed.  Find out more about Freecycle an how you can participate here.

High efficiency appliances are one of the fastest ways to reduce energy consumption.  The washer and dryer use less electricity, while the washer uses less water.  Drying clothes on a retractable clothes line saves energy when the weather is fair.  There’s nothing like the fresh smell and feel of sun-dried clothes.

Transitioning to LED lighting was a higher cost initially, but the life of an LED bulb is expected to be many years.  Initially the family replaced some incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, but improper disposal of these bulbs can release mercury into landfills and groundwater.

Double pane glass windows and doors improve heating and cooling efficiency in the house.  An insulation inspection with an infrared camera revealed hot and cold spots where the insulation was sparse and made it easy to determine where additional insulation was needed to keep hot and cool air where they belong.

Loudoun County has many local food producers–meats, dairy, herbs, vegetable, fruits, grains, wines, even beer.  The family has enjoyed local, organic produce from Stonybrook Farm and various growers who sell at the Purcellville market.  We also prefer to buy meats and eggs from local producers for healthier diet, more humane treatment and to promote local agriculture.  Reusable canvas shopping bags and reusable lunch containers reduce the amount of paper and plastic consumed.  Find out more about Buy Local Buy Fresh Loudoun Guide.

Carpooling three days each week in a hybrid (~50 mpg) and telecommuting the other two days reduce gasoline consumption and congestion on the roads.  A wonderful benefit for carpoolers, bus riders, bike riders, and telecommuters is, which gives reward points for each of these commuting options. The couple’s most recent use of nuride reward points was a 25% discount at the spa in Landsdowne.

The family lot is 5 acres, but only the area immediately surrounding the house is mowed.  The other parts have paths mowed and are mowed twice a year. This is beautiful natural landscape, without use of pesticides.

For edible landscaping, there are peach, apple, pear, fig and persimmon trees.  Starting in May, the blueberry bushes produce a delicious bounty for eating, baking, and sharing.  Also, solar landscape lights provide attractive lighting along the walks and driveway.  Here is a resource for Edible Landscaping Plants.

A few small initiatives include drinking filtered well water rather than bottled water and using cloth napkins rather than buying paper napkins.

Current projects include converting a car with a gasoline engine to an electric car that will be used for a round trip commute of 90 miles,  peel-and-stick solar PV film on the barn roof, and learning mineralized balance agriculture for fruit tree care. There’s always more we can learn and do!

You may be curious about the cost of all this transition so here are some numbers:

The solar hot water system on the shed is about $1,500 in parts, plus labor if you go that route.  The solar electric was about $13,000 after the $17,000 tax credit and rebate.  Plus, they are going to start getting Solar REC checks soon that should be a little under $200/month.

Special Thanks to Lawton family for sharing their experience with transitioning to reduce their ecological footprint.  It is very inspiring.  If you or someone you know has a similar story and would like to share it with us, please contact us by sending an e-mail to