January 1, 2009

Before Tom McMurtrie became the recycling coordinator of Ann Arbor in 1991—a position that lets him shape the town’s recycling policy—he made his business selling Solarwall (www.solarwall.com), a product that uses solar energy to collect hot air for heating purposes

sunhome exterior side view
McMurtrie, believer in sustainable systems, used resuable materials like steel and reclaimed wood to build a house.

“I’ve always been a believer in sustainable systems,” says McMurtrie. That strong conviction, shared with his wife, led the family to steer away from using unrecyclable materials like vinyl siding, and instead to build with reusable materials like steel and reclaimed wood.

McMurtrie’s background in solar energy had a large impact on the features of the house, from the location of windows to the reflective steel siding, which absorbs less heat from the sun than the normal wood-clad homes found throughout the Ann Arbor
area. And the house’s six-inch-thick walls incorporate 50 percent more insulation than normal, keeping the house warm in winter and drastically lowering the need for air-conditioning in the summer.

In his 14 years on the job, McMurtrie has seen a profound change in the way residents view sustainability. “Once people try recycling, they realize it’s not that difficult and it’s really quite an easy thing,” he says. That makes him optimistic about his ability to effect change. “People are a little hesitant to experience things initially, but with time they are very accepting.”

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