Living the Greenest Possible Lifestyle with Author Margaret Hyde

March 7, 2011

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited and honored today to have author Margaret Hyde on the phone with us. Welcome to Green is Good, Margaret. MARGARET HYDE: Thank you so much. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, Margaret is talking with us, Mike, from one of the greenest homes in America, her home in Southern California. Margaret, you not only talk a great talk and are an amazing writer, photographer, publisher, etc. but you actually really do walk a green walk. MARGARET HYDE: I certainly try to, and every aspect of my life and my business and my home, I really try to be mindful about the impact I’m having. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re going to be talking about your great book series today and the Mo’s Nose and the series that you have, but we also want to start with our listeners and give a little inspiration to them on greening their home and how and why you did it, and just explain your wonderful journey because Mike and I got so inspired and excited when we read your story and your journey. That’s why we wanted to have you on, because you’ve truly done something that very few have done and so many are intimidated by, taking that first step. So, explain a little bit how you came to work and live from one of the greenest homes in this whole country. MARGARET HYDE: Well, my journey started probably like five years ago. I had a bigger home that consumed more and was raising my children in it, and we used very little of the space in that home. The excess use of energy and water and all that felt really wasteful, and it didn’t feel like the message I wanted my children to have about how to live. And so I started looking for what would be a more mindful way to live, and I found a 1910 Craftsman that was in very bad shape, and I decided to see how green I could make the home, how sustainable, how many things I could reuse in the home and how I could really use less resources living in it. Because it was an old home, at the time I had no idea what kind of adventure I was embarking on or how green the house was going to turn out, but we’ve been able to make this house so sustainable and green that is the first LEED-Platinum remodel in the United States, and I believe it’s one of the greenest homes in America right now. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You said it was a 1915 Craftsman in Southern California. MARGARET HYDE: Yes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk a little bit about taking that first step. Have you or your husband come from the contracting or architecture industry at all? Is there any of that in your family? MARGARET HYDE: No, my husband had worked with some people in the green industry as their representation, so he was familiar with the USGBC guidelines of the LEED program, but no, we really had to start from scratch and really learn. A lot of times what’s green or sustainable is not obvious because there are plusses and minuses to all the different things you can do, and it really has to be particular to your particular home and the part of the country you’re in, about what is really going to really be green and sustainable. We had to learn a lot. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s important. Talk about the learning. Obviously, you’re a writer, so you live in the book world and the information and the original content world. Did you go to the Internet? Did you go to books? This is such a new industry and such a new journey that so many in the United States, so many of our listeners, want to take. How did you go about getting the information so you can make some good decisions? MARGARET HYDE: Well, I mean, I did research online, but there’s so much information out there, and the technology is evolving so quickly, that I would find a cool product and be like, “That would be great to have in the house,” and it would just be something that was still in development. So, we really found we had to turn to some green consultants. Luckily, now there are in most communities people who are starting to specialize in that. Beyond that, we had to look for people who were experts in different areas. For example, we have the first legal greywater system in Santa Monica, where we are. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. Explain what that means for people who don’t know what greywater system is. That’s fascinating. Explain what that is, though. MARGARET HYDE: Here in Southern California, we all really need to be mindful about the water we’re using, so that was really important to us. Greywater is actually the water from your sinks and shower and washing machine, that’s the water we primarily use. The greywater system takes that water after it’s been used and filters it, and stores it in a tank outside underground, and it’s used in our irrigation. It’s actually cleaned before it goes into the garden, so a lot of people get concerned. They don’t understand. They get confused between grey and black water. Blackwater is sewage water. It’s not that water, and it’s been filtered completely before it goes into the garden. That means we don’t have to use any water in our garden. We chose to use drought-resistant plants and indigenous plants, and really limit the water use anyway. But using the greywater system, we really have more water than we can use most of the time. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Margaret, that’s fascinating. Wow, that is amazing, but is there an ROI? Is there a savings for you family? Does Santa Monica give you an offset on your water bill because you’re recycling your greywater? MARGARET HYDE: Well, they don’t give us an offset, but our water bill is much lower. We don’t have to use all that water in the garden. We reuse our water, so it’s cut our water bill in half. MIKE BRADY: Yeah, it’s really more of scalability and efficiency, right? MARGARET HYDE: Yeah, and also they had not had a real process for making this legal, so Santa Monica used us as a case study. Now for other people who are going to do it, they have a process they can go through. MIKE BRADY: So, now there’s the template because you and your husband were the pioneers on this. Real quickly, was it expensive to excavate and put in the proper kind of tank and get the pumping, so that you could get it to irrigate your vegetation? MARGARET HYDE: You know, the greywater system was not outrageously expensive. If you’re redoing a house completely like we’re doing, you’re going to be digging and doing pipes anyway, so that was something we were going to have to put in new irrigation. The house really didn’t have any. So, there are companies now that actually are starting to design these systems, so you can actually buy a system, so you don’t have to do the kind of research we did. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is so great. So, you set the protocol, and you’re really, as Mike just said, one of the pioneers in this. That is fascinating. Margaret, one of the greatest things that everyone hears about on the news all the time is energy. From An Inconvenient Truth to what’s going on today around the world, we’re all affected by energy and our dependence on foreign oil. Talk a little bit about what you did to make your house more energy-independent and also more energy efficient. MARGARET HYDE: I think energy efficiency is the key. Of course, we have some solar. We have both types of solar, solar for heating our water and also solar for our energy use. But beyond that, one thing we really did to cut our energy use is we really made the house efficient. A 1910 Craftsman, before we got to work on it, the energy was just flying out because the insulation was old and all of that. So, we really had to get the house sealed and reinsulate, and we chose to use materials that are easy to get into crevices in an old house. We used blue jean insulation in places where they needed to blow it in, so we weren’t destroying the house. Then we also put a new roof on the house. We put a metal roof that has lots of insulation underneath it and it’s also reflective, which is a really great green feature, and doesn’t need maintenance and ends up paying for itself. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What’s the metal made out of, if you don’t mind us asking? MARGARET HYDE: It’s 40% recycled material, so it’s a bunch of different metals, but it’s light and reflective, and that’s really good for the environment, but it also increased our energy efficiency. We chose appliances that all are very energy efficient, which is something that everyone really should do. Getting a new appliance now will actually end up saving you money in the long run. Then we used geothermal heating and cooling, which in the old days was known as Roman cooling because the Romans actually invented it. In our front yard, for us we needed about 16 holes down deep into the ground and then a pump pumps the cool air into the house from down deep in the Earth, and we don’t use Freon, and it uses a tenth of the energy that regular air conditioning and heating use. So, those were really important things we did. We also used double and triple pane windows, which keeps the temperature consistent in the house. So, all of these things are really important things we did. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You really took a compendium of all the greatest hits of what is right now state-of-the-art when it comes to energy savings and energy efficiency, from Energy Star appliances to wind turbines which create power for your children’s tree house, which is the cutest thought, actually, under the sun, and the photovoltaic solar panels. You really are using a mixture of all the state-of-the-art that’s out there today with regards to energy sources. MARGARET HYDE: I think that’s really the key because you have to look at your location, your home, and see what will really work. We didn’t put as many solar panels as we could have on the house because we only put them where we got sun. You have to look and see what’s really going to be efficient for your location. By combining a lot of these different technologies and efficiencies, is how you really get to that really green, sustainable goal. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is just amazing. MIKE BRADY: And, you know, one of the things that you just touched on too, and it’s been kind of a constant thing that John and I have been discovering, Margaret, is that when it comes to energy solutions to replace our dependency on cheap foreign oil, there really is no one particular solution that is going to the be-all and end-all. It’s a combination, and it sounds like you’re doing exactly that in your home. How cool to go from something as high-tech and 21st century as photovoltaic panels, and then go old school, like back to the time of the ancient Romans, for your cooling. MARGARET HYDE: Exactly. I think Roman cooling is one of those things that people all over the country should really embrace. I’m originally from the South. I think people would be stunned to see how their bills would go down from using it. It works so well. It gets the house so cool so quickly. We don’t need it as much here in California, but it works incredibly well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You also incorporate, as you said, the jeans in your insulation. We’ve had them on our show, by the way. Wonderful people, the people who make those recycled jean insulation materials. Talk a little bit about the other recycled or local materials you used for the finished materials in your house and other things. MARGARET HYDE: We tried to use and reuse things that had been in the house. We did fun things like the house had had old solar panels from way, way back, first generation when they used to be all copper, and they had just been left on the side of the house. They weren’t being used, and they had that beautiful copper dark browns and greens, so we reused those all throughout the house. We used them on our front gates, we used them inside as part of a TV cabinet, so we reused materials as we were dismantling things to remodel the house. All of the wood in the house is reclaimed wood from different places. Our floors are all old barn wood that we found. Our bathroom countertops are all reclaimed teak from boat hulls. We also, like I said about the metal roof, it’s 50% recycled metal. All the hardscape and all that, we really tried to find things also within a 300-mile radius of our house. We were really focused on also the carbon footprint too. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. And, last but not least, your vegetable garden. Talk a little bit about what you’re growing in your background. MARGARET HYDE: Well, it’s actually in our front yard, which was really the fun part. It was the only place where we really got enough sun, so we have these wonderful raised beds where we’re growing organic vegetables. Right now we have some wonderful sugar snap peas out there and greens and beets and carrots and herbs, all sorts of herbs. As the seasons changed, we changed what we had. In summer, we had amazing squash and zucchini, more than we could use. That’s the amazing thing when you start doing this, is that you really do need to share with your neighbors. You can produce so much vegetables and greens, way more than one family can eat, and it’s fun and it’s exciting. My youngest son, he knows the garden better than I do. Even as he gets older, it’s still an exciting experience for him. One thing we did, which I had been a little scared of initially, is we compost for it, which I had been kind of like, “I’m not sure about doing that.” It works so well in the garden and it’s so much easier than I could have imagined doing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We could sit here all day and talk about this house because there are so many other facets of it that we want to share with our listeners, but you’ve inspired Mike and I. I’m sure you’ve inspired our listeners. What was the final LEED score that you got when your house was assessed? MARGARET HYDE: 104 out of a possible 108 points. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Unbelievable. You truly are living in one of the greenest houses in America. But also, I want to now talk about how you pay the bills, which is as a creative author, publisher, photographer, talk a little bit you work out of your home also, Margaret, correct? MARGARET HYDE: Yeah, I’m sitting in my home office right now. I’m very fortunate to have no commute. I’ve been working on the last four years my Mo’s Nose children’s book series, which is about Mo the dog, and he uses his nose to see the world as dogs do. Our books feature press-to-smell technology, which we patented, which enables children to actually smell what Mo smells. Our books are also all aura cacia aromatherapy for kids. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How cool is this? Mike, have you heard of this ever? MIKE BRADY: No, but I have heard of the link, where they’re starting look at kids sometimes diagnosed rightly or wrongly with ADHD and hyperactivity using aromatherapy to help get the kids into a calmer space. MARGARET HYDE: When I was imagining this, it doesn’t sound like it could be true, but I woke up with the idea in the middle of the night and wrote the idea for the stories, and then you could actually smell what he smelled. I still thought it was a good idea the next day. I had been inspired, I think, because as a kid I loved scratch and sniff and those stickers and the smelly markers. We know they didn’t smell exactly like they were supposed to, but I loved them. I thought, “How great would it be to find something that was like an update on that, which actually smelled like what it was supposed to smell like, and actually was good for kids?” So, we started down this road of looking into what different technologies there were and finding out all about essential oils, which at the beginning I didn’t know a lot. We really made these books so they’re a fun, engaging experience for kids to keep them reading and interacting with a book, and also they get these wonderful aromatherapy scents. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is just incredible. First of all, Mike, I know you’re on Margaret’s great website. If you just joined us now, listeners, if you’ve got your iPad or a laptop or computer open in front of you, you’ve got to go to Margaret’s great site, www.mosnose.com. Mike, you’re in front of the site right now. MIKE BRADY: John, it is so cool. I mean, it is just so engaging, the artwork alone. I’ve fallen in love with Mo the dog. Margaret, there’s a real Mo, right? You want to do the backstory on that real quick? MARGARET HYDE: Yeah, there is actually a real Mo. I actually dreamed about my best friend’s dog. Mo lives up in Northern California, and he is a rescue dog. When I had written this story, I called my friend and I said, “I wrote a story about your dog, and I really think you should illustrate it. I want you to do it in Japanese ink fresh painting.” She thought I was a little crazy. She’s an oil painter, but she learned this new technique, and managed to bring her real dog into these stories in such a loving and really inspiring way. JOHN SHEGERIAN: First of all, not only is your house one of the greenest houses in America, greenest homes in America, where you live with your now four children and your husband, and you work out of your home, but you also have made your books eco-friendly. Do you want to discuss that a little bit, Margaret? MARGARET HYDE: Yeah. I mean, with Mo’s Nose, in my life I want kind of everything to be mindful, and so I of course wanted the books to be as green and sustainable as possible. So, they’re printed with soy ink on recycled paper. They’re printed all here in California because we tried to keep the carbon footprint really low. Like I said, we used the aura cacia aromatherapy, which is one of the highest-quality essential oils there are. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Mike, Margaret’s very humble here. She also mandates a donation of 10% of the book’s profits to animal and children’s charities. MARGARET HYDE: Yeah. That was really important to me. In every aspect of my life, I try to give back and be of service as well. Because, like I said, the real Mo is a rescue dog and he had inspired me, I really felt like it was important for us to give back to animals in need and children. As the books have come along, we have our sixth book coming out, with different books we’ve tried to actually touch on different organizations. Our last book that came out, or the book before that, Mo Smells Blue, Mo is on a trip to the beach, so we tried to give to charities that help the ocean. We gave proceeds to plasticfreeocean.org, so we’re really trying to connect with organizations that do things that really help our environment and children and animals. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Is it our understanding that the books can be purchased both on your website, mosnose.com, amazon.com, and also in bookstores? MARGARET HYDE: Yes, they’re in Barnes & Noble across the country and other specialty stores, but we have a lot of great deals on our website. We also has a Mo’s Nose app in the iTunes store, which is for pet owners and parents, which has a national pet search where you can find anything for you pet, from a vet to a dog park to stores, and it also has games for your children, really fun games. We have a new book coming out in June, Mo Smells Pink, which is our latest book. That’s a really exciting one, which I know all the little girls will like, I hope. JOHN SHEGERIAN: This is important. There are so many things you’ve hit on today. We’re down to just three minutes, but you’ve invented this scratch and sniff technology for books. Are you licensing it for other publishers and other writers now? Is it catching on big time? MARGARET HYDE: Well, our press-to-smell technology, we just received our final patent, and we’re getting an international patent. We do have interest from major toy makers and other publishers to use the technology. We’re in the process of exploring that possibility. Yes, other people would love to use it because there’s nothing else like it. We’ve also done extensive testing with our technology. They’ve been tested in the lab where you can press it over 150,000 times, and it still smells exactly the same. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is just incredible. MARGARET HYDE: Pretty amazing. You can actually watch, I’m not sure where it is on the website right now, but there’s a video that one of our scientists did of the machine pressing the pack over and over again, testing the scent. It’s pretty amazing technology. I think it will start to be a lot of different places. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Margaret, I live in 24-hour days. Do you live in 40-hour days, because how do you have four children, a husband, have built one of the greenest homes in America, and also are a successful author and publisher? Oh my gosh. Where do you create the time for all this? MARGARET HYDE: I think because I do work out of my home, that gives me a little more time, but I will say I’m a little tired with my new baby. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, you have a great right to be. We’re down to the last minute or so. Anything you want to share with our listeners as we sign off and any words of wisdom or anything you wanted to share with regards to your wonderful concept of mindful living? MARGARET HYDE: You know, I think if people look around their lives and see things that they think they could change, start small. Make the changes that are easy to make, and living that way, I think makes you feel really good and inspired to make even bigger changes. If you take baby steps, maybe it’s changing your appliances at first, or walking somewhere instead of hopping in the car, or you’re beginning to recycle or something. Taking the small steps leads to even bigger changes and more mindful changes in your life, I think. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is just so wonderful. Margaret, we’re just honored to have you on today. You are just amazing and so inspiring. For our listeners out there again, go to Margaret’s great website, www.mosnose.com or amazon.com or Barnes & Noble, and buy her latest book. I think you’re coming out with your sixth in this series. Just thank you for being with Mike and I today. I’m sure our listeners were just delighted with this whole show. Margaret Hyde, mindful living you taught us about today. You are an eco-preneur, an entrepreneur, a writer, publisher, and photographer, and truly living proof that green is good.