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Residents show off homes during Environmental Priorities Network South Bay Solar and Green Homes Tour

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Dency Nelson

Hermosa Beach resident Dency Nelson shows off the solar panels that heat his hot tub.

From the front, the Silver Strand Avenue home of Dency and Moira Nelson looks like any other Hermosa house, except for the rooftop solar panels. But as area residents found during a recent Environmental Priorities Network South Bay Solar and Green Homes Tour, the Nelsons have gone out of their way to be kind to the planet.

The Nelsons showed visitors their 4.2 kilowatt photovoltaic solar system, a rooftop spa heated by solar power, hot water recirculation for the whole house, a draught-tolerant, grey-water irrigated garden, composting, floors and furniture made of reclaimed wood, dual-flush toilets that allow the user to choose a lighter flush for liquid waste and a heavier flush for solid waste, and two plug-in electric vehicles in the garage.

Meanwhile, on Prospect Avenue, Robert and Monica Fortunato were showing their partially built “Green Idea House,” which serves as a case study for Southern California Edison’s Net Zero Energy Program. It is designed to use affordable, non-exotic technology to produce as much energy as it uses.

The homes were among six in Hermosa, two in Manhattan Beach and one in Torrance that opened their doors to the public for the nonprofit Environmental Priorities Network, which is a program of the South Coast Interfaith Council.

At the Nelson home, Moira stood in the second-floor kitchen welcoming people and answering questions, near a table covered with Seventh Generation cleaning and paper products and a variety of material on electric cars and solar panels.

Up another flight of stairs, out on the rooftop deck with an ocean view, stood 27 photovoltaic solar panels, the 450-gallon hot tub, and Dency Nelson, clad in Birkenstocks and a T-shirt stating, “take my car and plug it.”

“It was supposed to be my energy vice, my luxury item,” said Nelson about the hot tub.

Now, the tub stands as an example of the power of solar heating technologies. Heated by 30 solar water heaters and with photovoltaic panels powering the pump, the 300 kilowatts of electricity consumed by the tub per month are entirely solar generated.

Environmental awakening

Nelson’s fight for the environment began long before he began construction on his home in 1988. “I’ve been an environmentalist all my life,” he said.

In 1970, the year of the first Earth Day, Nelson was a high school senior in Northern California. At the time, he said, Earth Day was about educating people about ecology and the environment through teach-ins.

“I was senior class president and I asked the principal if we could have a day, April 22, for teach-ins,” he said.

This passion for environmental advocacy and education remains a part of Nelson’s life to this day. Having received his education in theater arts, he now works as a stage manager for the Directors Guild of America. However, he added, “when I’m not doing that, I’m doing this. This stuff makes me happy. It makes so much sense.”

Nelson writes a column for the Beach Cities Democratic Club’s newsletter called “Beach Cities Green” and for the Hermosa Beach e-newsletter titled “The Green Building Corner.”

The Fortunatos’ Green Idea House has many features in common with Nelson’s, as well as having some that are unique.

The project uses as much recycled building materials as possible and tries to limit the use of concrete. He explained that there’s
“nothing green about concrete. The less we use, the greener the project is.”

The house also features a hot water heat-exchanger that recycles the hot water from the shower to heat the pipes containing cold water. This allows the shower to use more cold water and less hot, preventing the home from ever running out of hot water, Fortunato said.

Trained as an economist, Fortunato first became interested in green technology when he saw a shift in the stock market. “Companies can now make more money proving that they save energy than by selling energy,” he said.

As a result of this project the Fortunato family will be “saving [money] on water, have no natural gas bill, and have an energy bill equivalent to zero.” He plans to continue working to lower his energy use beyond the house itself, though. “We will install two electric cars by the end of this project,” he said.

On the tour

The tour also showed off the Hermosa homes of Dan Inskeep on 16th Street, Ray and Carol Waters on 24th Place, with dual glazed windows and skylights in addition to solar power, Tim Vitta on Manhattan Avenue, and Alysa and T.J. Brennan on Manhattan Avenue, which has a planted roof, chemical-free, stainless steel swimming pool, radiant floor heating, solar power, LED lighting, a thermal chimney, a recirculation system and dual-flush toilets.

In Manhattan Beach the tour showed the homes of Ben Burkhalter on 31st Street, and John York and Laurel Lee of Voorhees Avenue, where the sun powers a fountain, koi pond and waterfalls.

In Torrance, Al and Mary Shadbourne showed their West 235th Street home with solar power, attic fans for air recirculation throughout the house, enhanced insulation, dual paned windows, ultraviolet-ray blocking window film, a permeable-surface driveway and 150-gallon capacity for rainwater collection and storage.

Both Nelson and Fortunato have nothing but encouragement for others interested in taking steps towards living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.

“Globalgreen.com is an international organization with all kinds of links to all kinds of great resources,” Nelson said.  Fortunato recommended his own website greenideahouse.com as a source of information on green building technology, noting, “There are a lot of people to help.” Nelson added, “This is what we have to do for the planet.”


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