In our current mini series, we get to meet the Morgans, a typical American family, who tell us about their life in the suburbia* of the United States. After last week’s introduction to the Morgans’ busy life, this week, we will talk about their living situation and their house. I wanted to know if the Morgans considered sustainable options when building their house in 2011.
Their mansion doesn’t look like the typical sustainable home, which I imagine would be built smaller and simpler in order to reduce its ecological footprint. But as Bane tells me, they did focus on eco-friendly elements like insulation, energy efficiency, and solar panels. Here is is part of my interview with the family about their house.
Lea: And tell me a little bit about your house.
Carla: So, I feel, we have a pretty big house. We each have our own bedroom, and there are two guest bedrooms. And we got a pool, which is nice.
Julia: And the entire basement is like an extra apartment.
Lea: Do you know if there is anything about your house that is sustainable or that your parents did specially to make the house more sustainable?
Julia: We are getting solar panels.
Carla: Yeah, we are getting solar panels, and we already use all clean power from wind mills. And we’re putting in a bee hive.
Bane: So, I think, the first thing that was really big when we built the home was thorough insulation. So, attic* insulation was huge. We have zippers* on all the attic accesses to keep that down. It’s a sprayed insulation, so it’s actually wider. And actually, the crazy thing is, with our home, it’s so energy efficient … There was a rating when we built the home, and it’s a rating based upon energy efficiency; our builder made sure it was the premium one, which is important to us. But with that energy rating, one of the things you notice, the snow will already have been off the grass and it’s still on our roof. That’s really interesting, because that shows me, we don’t lose any heat through the roof.
»There was a rating when we built the home, and it’s a rating based upon energy efficiency; our builder made sure it was the premium one, which is important to us.«
Sophie: One year, we came home from Nana*’s house, and there was a power line down. There had been an accident, and all the electricity was out for the whole night, and it was freezing. In our old house, when the electricity would go out in the winter, it was terrible. I remember we were in our blankets, and I ran around getting all our stuff. We got into the car and went to my mom’s home, because it was so cold we couldn’t be in our house. So, this time, I thought: “Oh my god Bane, what are we going to do?” It was like 1:30 a.m. We had just arrived at home. There was no electricity. Bane was like: “Well, let’s just put everyone in blankets. We’ll go to sleep, and it’ll be fine.” And we woke up the next day and our house was still warm. We thought: “Oh my gosh, we didn’t do anything.” I mean, it wasn’t super cozy, but we were definitely not hightailing* to anyone’s house. The power came back on 24 hours later, and we didn’t leave because of the snow.
The pilot light in a gas fireplace. (photo credit: George Shuklin/ Wikimedia Commons)
Bane: And obviously we have double pane* windows and that kind of stuff. One thing that I jumped all over, this year, is: We have three different gas fireplaces. And we use them a lot for heat, in the wintertime. We like the ambience* of it, but we also use it to heat. We have chosen fireplaces that are furnace* capable. So, they actually can heat the home if we need to. And there is a pilot light*that burns on the gas stove, all the time. And even the people that come to maintain the fireplace, they’re like: “Oh, leave that on, all the time.” I was like: “No.” They’re like: “Well, you should do that. It keeps the dust and spiders down, inside.” But I’m like: “No, I’m not doing it.” To me, it’s not acceptable to burn that and have the gas constantly running.And the final one for us would be the solar panels. Our solar panels are going to cover 61% of our output. It won’t be a 100% but 61%. And what we are not using will actually be sold back to the grid*. So, all the people in that grid will use that power if we’re not using it. It is never wasted that way. We also do a thing right now called Green Mountain Energy. We pay – I think – 20 % more for our power and it only comes from wind or solar, right now.1 And we’ve chosen to do that as a way to help eliminate the fossil fuels. And then my electric car. It’s a hybrid, but we still try to decrease that output.
1 This is surprisingly more expensive than in Germany! Read this newspaper article from the “Welt” for further information: “Grüner Strom ist kaum teurer als herkömmlicher”.
suburbia: an area where people live that is outside the centre of a city
attic: a room or a space immediately below the roof of a building
zipper: a thing that you use to fasten clothes, bags, etc.
to hightail: to move at full speed
pane: a framed sheet of glass in a window or door
furnace: an enclosed structure in which heat is produced (as for heating a house)
pilot light: a small permanent flame used to ignite gas at a burner
grid: a network of conductors for distribution of electric power
Solar Energy in the United States https://www.energy.gov/eere/solarpoweringamerica/solar-energy-united-states
Should I turn the pilot off on my gas fireplace in the summer? https://www.andersonfireplace.com/should-i-turn-my-pilot-off-on-my-gas-fireplace-in-the-summer/pilot/
Green Mountain Energy https://www.greenmountainenergy.com/
Where Is Solar Energy Headed? https://www.teachaboutus.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=2253
Some Exciting Developments in the Solar Industry https://www.teachaboutus.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=1284
Elements of Smart and Sustainable Housing https://www.hpw.qld.gov.au/construction/Sustainability/SmartSustainableHomes/Pages/SmartSustainableHousingElements.aspx
Podcast with Elon Musk on The Future of Energy and Transportation https://podcasts.apple.com/de/podcast/the-future-of-energy-and-transport/id610290348?i=1000410391676
Video on Incredible Small Off-Grid Earthship Home https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1UjbmksKYI
- Would you consider the Morgans a middle-class family? Why or why not?
- What positive/negative aspects do you see in installing solar panels? Does that reduce your environmental footprint? What aspects must be considered?
- Discuss with a partner what other options the Morgans could have considered to make their house even greener?
- What steps are you and your family taking to make your house or apartment greener?
Meet the Morgans How one American family is going green
In Going Green, you come across different cases of sustainable lifestyles on both sides of the Atlantic. And in times of globalization—easy mobility between nations, expanding trade relations, communication through social media in real-time—we're led to believe that we already know exactly what life in another country looks like. But is that really so? Luckily, Lea Meimerstorf was able to visit and interview a family of six from western Pennsylvania during the past few weeks and she got an interesting glimpse into their daily life. The Morgans welcome us into their home and along their daily routines. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to explore what steps this American family takes—or doesn't take—to go green, including the areas of housing, transportation, food, shopping, and more. What do you do to go green? And how do your family's efforts compare to those of the Morgans? Stay tuned and find out in this mini-series.The views and opinions expressed in these interviews are not necessarily reflective of Teach About U.S.'s mission.
Lea Meimerstorf is a primary school teacher student in the 2nd Master's semester at Leuphana University Lüneburg. Her subjects are English and German. She has been supporting Teach About U.S. as a project assistant since 2019.