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Wednesday, April 20, 2011 • Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber


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s we celebrate the 41st anniversary of Earth Day, consider what’s happening on Vashon. A solar community project is gaining traction. A pair of women are tackling one of the Island’s most invasive weeds. A swath of land once slated for mining is safeguarded. And individuals, in homes and businesses, are finding ways to conserve energy. Problems still abound, of course. But those who care about the planet should also take heart. Here on Vashon, as this issue of The Beachcomber suggest, we’re doing our part.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011 • Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber

Stamping out ivy

Two Island women launch an effort to free Vashon of ivy’s noxious grip By LESLIE BROWN Staff Writer

Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

Sarah Driggs (left) and Cynthia Young have started Ivy-Free Vashon, an effort to beat back a plant that is destroying forests and natural areas on Vashon.

Talk to anyone who knows anything about the ecological health of Vashon’s woods, and they’re likely to bemoan the presence of English ivy, a noxious, fast-spreading weed that envelopes forests and smothers their understory. Now, two women with a passion for the outdoors and a love of native plants want to address the issue. They’ve joined forces to create Ivy-Free Vashon, a campaign to do what some might think impossible — eliminate ivy’s pernicious grip on Vashon. Cynthia Young and Sarah Driggs recently submitted a small grant request to Puget Sound Energy that would enable them to take the first step. Should the money come through, they’ll send out surveys to every Islander asking them about the ivy in their own backyard — an outreach effort that will enable them to get a sense of the breadth of Vashon’s ivy problem. With that information in hand, the two women say, they’ll be better positioned to take the next steps — garnering more grant dollars to begin the arduous and possibly decades-long effort to remove a plant once considered ornamental. “It’s a totally daunting issue,� said Young, an ecologist with King County’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks. “I’m looking at a 20-year project.� Even so, they say, they’re encouraged by the success some other communities have had in beating back ivy. (“Eradication� is a word few are uttering yet.) And they’ve decided that even a daunting effort has to begin somewhere.

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“We share an interest in native plants,” Driggs, who does communications work for the county’s Department of Transportation, said matter of factly. “And the ivy problem is glaring.” The campaign began innocently enough: Both women ride the passenger-only boat from Vashon to Seattle each day, and there one of them — Young said it was Driggs, but Driggs denies it — said she wanted to do something about the pervasive presence of ivy on Vashon. They didn’t like it in part because it just looks so bad. They also knew it was killing the forests. So they organized a meeting with the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, Vashon Forest Stewards and other groups, received a lot of encouragement and, working under the auspices of the land trust, submitted their first grant proposal earlier this month. Tom Dean, who heads the land trust, applauds the two women’s effort. He’s wanted to tackle Vashon’s ivy problem for years, knowing, as he puts it, “that we ignore it at our peril.” But the small organization — highly dependent on volunteers — couldn’t carve out the staff time to begin an anti-ivy campaign. “It’s wonderful to have these two volun-


teers step forward and take it on,” he said. Ivy got its foothold on Vashon decades ago, when cabin owners planted it as an ornamental near their homes, Dean said. The sinewy vines soon spread up the banks, creating carpets so thick they stifled all the native plants in their wake. With the help of birds that spread their seeds, ivy soon took hold in Vashon’s forests — leapfrogging across the Island much the way a wildfire might, Dean said. Now, it’s particularly bad in some of Vashon’s publicly owned lands, like Winghaven Park, Burton Acres and Lisabeula Park, Dean said. But plenty of private landowners have ivy growing in their own back 40, he noted, making Driggs and Young’s notion of starting their effort with a survey of Islanders a great idea. “The beauty of that is that in the process, you point the problem out to people, you get them engaged, you get them to look at their back acre and assess it,” Dean said. Dean, like Young and Driggs, knows it will take considerable time and money to put a measurable dent in Vashon’s ivy problem. But he, too, thinks it’s possible, especially with these two women leading the charge. “They’re a great pair,” he said. “I think they’re a force to be reckoned with.”

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Preserve Our Islands wins prestigious environmental award

Jeff Dunnicliff Photo

State Senator and Preserve Our Islands (POI) founder Sharon Nelson and POI director Amy Carey will accept a King County Green Globe Award for the organization’s work to stop Glacier Northwest’s mining expansion on Maury Island. They will receive the award at 11 a.m. Friday, April 22, at Seattle’s Westlake Plaza as part of the county’s Earth Day Expo celebration. Above, Nelson (left) and Carey demonstrate how much of Maury would have been lost to a gravel mine at a POI celebration in January, while POI board member Patrick Christie looks on.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011 • Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber

An energy detective pays a visit, clipboard in hand

The future is here: One family finds it’s time to address their energy use By JULI GOETZ MORSER For The Beachcomber


hen the north wind blows, my family feels its frigid air — right in our living room. When the electric bill arrives we feel its impact — right in our wallets.

Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

Michael Laurie, above, a sustainability consultant, recently visited Juli Goetz Morser’s home, a lovely but drafty house on Maury Island that she shares with her husband Bruce Morser, her daughter Madeline Morser and her two dogs, including Hazel, shown above.


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Like many folks on Vashon, we live in a house that was built when energy awareness and conservation were topics for the future. Well, the future is here. So last November, anticipating the chilly months ahead, I made inquiries about home energy audits. Islander Michael Laurie, a sustainability consultant, emerged as the go-to guy. A quick phone call and I discovered that the process for an audit is simple: I fill out a short form, Laurie sends it to Puget Sound Energy (PSE), we set a date for the inspection. And the clincher? It doesn’t cost me a dime. Laurie arrives at our house the next week with a car full of equipment. Out comes the blower door, the infrared camera, a box of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), a headlamp, kneepads and clipboard. Then come the questions: For a household of three, how many loads of laundry do we do per week? How old is our refrigerator? Washer? Dryer? Do we use natural gas or electric heat? Incandescent light bulbs or CFLs? I answer this energy detective as best I can and gather a few facts myself: Replace your refrigerator if it is more than 10 years old because the latest models use 40 percent less energy. Ditto the washing machine. Typical washers require 40 gallons of water per load compared to Energy Star and some front-loading machines, which use as little as 14 gallons. Duct-less heat pumps can reduce energy bills by 25 percent. We move on to light bulbs. CFLs rule in our household, so we win brownie points there. For those fixtures still sporting incandescents, PSE offers free CFL replacements. Laurie comments that one home he inspected needed 50 CFLs, all of which he installed at no cost to the customer. Next up? The attic. Laurie straps on his kneepads and headlamp and climbs up through the ceiling. The insulation looks good, he says, but the dryer air duct needs

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011 • Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber

rerouting. From the top of the house he descends to the bottom, checking the crawl space for insulation and noticing small pools of water on the floor’s vapor diffusion barrier. Laurie suggests we redirect the driveway runoff away from the house and into a rain garden where excess water can soak into the soil. Then there’s the electric furnace. Let’s just say replacing it with a new heat pump would save us a lot of money on our heating bills.


Finally, Laurie pulls out the big toy — the blower door, a powerful fan that mounts into the frame of the front door. The fan sucks air out of the house, lowering the inside air pressure. That allows the higher outside air pressure to flow in through all the unsealed openings. Like a CSI investigator, Laurie employs an infrared camera to detect the offending leaks. The images show big blue sections around the back door and the living room wood-

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stove where that biting north wind sneaks inside. Other drafty spots include the space around recessed lights and the small cracks between windows and walls, around pipes and at electrical outlets. “All these little gaps add up to a lot of air leakage, a lot of lost energy,” says Laurie. “Sealing them can significantly reduce your energy costs.” Four hours later, Laurie packs up his bag of tricks, promising a detailed report.

Why get an energy audit? Because most houses leak energy By DEBORAH REILLY

Concerns about climate change and the current economic recession have made many folks more aware of their personal energy consumption. A home energy audit is an important first step for any homeowner or renter who’s serious about saving energy — and money. Whether your home was built last year or back before Washington state adopted energy codes in 1978, you can be pretty sure it’s leaking energy. Houses are complex systems of building materials, insulation, heating equipment, lighting, appliances and, of course, the biggest wild card, people. An energy audit evaluates each of these components and then prescribes an integrated plan for improving your home’s energy performance. The plan might involve simple do-it-yourself steps like weather-stripping doors or more complex and costly tasks like replacing damaged ductwork. The energy audit will help you figure out which projects to tackle and in what order, based on how much each will cost and save. (An energy audit should also look for any health or safety problems associated with proper ventilation and the combustion appliances — like furnaces, woodstoves and hot water heaters — in your home. Improving your home’s health and safety often produces energy savings too.) Here’s how an audit works. A certified energy auditor will spend the better part of a day at your home. Using infrared cameras, a device called a blower door and other equipment, the auditor will analyze overall airflow and ventilation, check insulation and ductwork, locate any air or gas leaks, check for carbon monoxide and test the combustion efficiency of your furnace and water heater. The findings may surprise you. Energy loss from single pane windows, for

example, often pales in comparison to leaky ductwork or poorly installed insulation. Can lights and attic hatches are often a big source of heat loss. So are the spaces behind light switch plates, electrical outlets and the junction between floor and walls. Energy auditors also evaluate a year’s worth of energy bills and suggest easy lifestyle changes and/or cost effective home improvements that will lower your energy bills while raising your comfort level. Kits to insulate your can lights, for example, run about $17 apiece and are well worth the investment. Puget Sound Energy offers rebates for weatherization. If you decide to have an energy audit, be sure to check the auditor’s credentials and ask for references. HERS (Home Energy Rating System) and BPI (Building Performance Institute) are two regionally recognized certifications. You can check the WISEnergy website ( for recommendations on certified energy auditors on Vashon. Energy audits aren’t cheap. Depending on the size, age and complexity of your house, they can cost between $300 and $500. But if you follow through on the audit’s recommendations, you can reduce your home’s energy use by 25-30 percent and, in some cases, by 50 percent or more. So, should you get an energy audit? Heck, yes. It’s the best way to learn how to improve the efficiency, health and comfort of your home.

When it arrives, I notice the report not only highlights the best savings opportunities, but also provides names of professionals who can do the work, plus links for PSE rebates and for federal tax credits. Recently, Laurie told me that PSE restructured its energy audit program. Now, there’s a two-step approach. Step one, called a PSE HomePrint Assessment, is a stand-alone inspection. You schedule an appointment with Laurie, who does a oneto two-hour assessment of your house free of charge, providing energy-saving recommendations and free CFL replacement bulbs. With step two audits, you pay $450 for a detailed analysis and a full report. Laurie worries that the $450 fee will scare people off. But if customers complete three or more of the recommended energy saving improvements, then PSE will reimburse that $450, once Laurie inspects and signs off on the work. He suggests starting with the free HomePrint Assessement, which can give him — and you — a better idea about whether to go on to step two. I ask the energy detective for his take on the overall merits of energy audits. Laurie doesn’t hesitate. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” he says. “You don’t realize the savings opportunity unless you get an audit. Even in my own house, I wasn’t aware of a lot of air leakage until I used the blower door. We have better tools that find the not so obvious problems.”

— Deborah Reilly is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified architect and a board member for WisEnergy, an organization working to reduce Vashon’s energy consumption by 12 percent by 2012. Learn more about WisEnergy by visiting its website,, or its energy hut at the Village Green, open most Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Watch for this section on the Beachcomber website

— Juli Goetz Morser is a freelance writer on Vashon.

For more information about Puget Sound Energy HomePrint Assessments, call Michael Laurie at 567-5492 or visit his website at www.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011 • Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber

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Did you know that buildings generate 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions and consume 40 percent of our energy? Did you also know that Vashon buildings are among the worst offenders? That’s right. We’re an island of old farmhouses, drafty beach cottages and remodels that skimped on the insulation. Whether we’re heating with fossil fuels or more earth-friendly alternatives, we’re leaking energy like crazy. We can fix this. We’re Vashonites. Crafty, innovative, DIY. And WISEnergy can help. We have plenty of How-To and Whom-To-Call information, to reduce our energy consumption, create a healthy indoor environment and save money through lower energy bills and available rebates. And it’s all FREE. Check out our website (; drop by the WISEnergy hut next to the Farmer’s Market (every Saturday, May through November), and visit the upcoming Energy Fair on June 18th (adjacent to the Farmer’s Market).

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011 • Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber


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We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011 • Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

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