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Desert Companion

Sail your home

Home means a lot of things — sanctuary, roots, multimedia escape pod — but say “investment” these days and you’re likely to get a round of rueful, bitter chuckles. Many Southern Nevadans were laughing all the way to the bank in the Great Stucco Boom years, but the joke was on us. Now thousands of Las Vegans are clinging to — or letting go of — bloated mortgages like the bobbing flotsam of a sinking cruise liner.

That bracing splash of reality has prompted a sober rethink of what home really means, but it’s also sparked a trend of reinvesting in our homes and resetting the stakes in our community. In many cases, that reinvestment means more than new kitchen cabinets and a fresh coat of paint in the living room. It entails people upgrading their homes — and their communities — by feathering their nests in more environmentally aware fashion, installing features to slash energy consumption.

No preachy eco-sermon from the snore pulpit, promise. I’ll cut to the chase and propose a new conception of home in Southern Nevada, one both exotic and ironic: Your home is a sailboat.

Steve Rypka will explain. He’s the president of Green Dream Enterprises. He helps people not just shave a few extra bucks off their energy bills, but retool their lives to make good green deeds a habit. We’re not necessarily talking about hammering a solar array to your roof (not yet, anyway). We’re talking about things as simple as cracking open a window in the evening.

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“I’ve had clients complain about their air conditioning bills or that the house is getting too warm, and all they had to do is open a window at the right time of day,” says Rypka. “You’d be surprised how disconnected people are from operating their house.”

Ah, yes. Operating is the operative word. “I liken operating your house to sailing a boat,” he says. “As opposed to, say, turning a key on a power boat, with a sailboat you’ve got to work with the wind, the seasons and temperatures to operate your house more consciously. You can save a lot of energy doing just that.”

That’s how Rypka wants us to think of our homes: Not as mere static lifestyle set pieces that stand as shrines to consumption, but as happiness factories whose pistons and levers we consciously control. Many of us already are thinking that way. “There’s a great industry emerging in Las Vegas that has to do with retrofitting the existing housing stock to consume less energy,” he says.

And like so many Las Vegas stories, this one involves addiction — the good kind. Rypka guarantees that after you get a taste of energy efficiency — with your first head-snapping double-take at your power bill — you’ll get sucked into an ecstatic feedback loop.

“I’m addicted to energy efficiency, and look where it got me,” he says with a laugh. “I’m driving on sunshine.”

Seriously. Rypka’s house is a veritable solar energy plant that produces more power than it consumes, so he pours that excess juice into his Nissan Leaf. He likes to boast he hasn’t paid a dime for electricity for seven years. And while Rypka is an exceptional pioneer, he points out that his holistic approach — which encompasses everything from family planning to diet — started off with things as elementary as installing weatherstripping to tight-fist a few extra bucks.

“Take it in stages,” he advises. “Tackle what’s the most attractive to you, what’s the most interesting, and what your pocketbook can afford.”

Where to start? With an energy inspection from an organization such as nonprofit HomeFree Nevada (homefreenevada.org). A smart person with a clipboard and scientific gadgets will frisk your house top to bottom and tell you where you’re wasting energy. The first steps could be as simple as changing out your old incandescent light bulbs. You may just see your home in a whole new light. Happy sailing.

***

Mark Earth Day this month by coming out to Nevada Public Radio’s April 7 Recycling Day event. Whether you’ve got stacks of old paperwork, bags of soda cans or an old Windows 95 doorstop, we’ll shred it, recycle it or repurpose it — safely and securely. It happens from 8 a.m. to noon April 7 in our parking lot at 1289 S. Torrey Pines Drive. For more information, visit www.knpr.org/common/recycle.cfm

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