Deborah Scales: ‘A Lot of Little Somethings’ for the Environment Add Up

02/25/12 by Kathy Chaffin

Deborah Scales with bamboo flooring samples.

Deborah Scales is a woman on a mission. She has gone to great lengths not only to make her home more energy efficient but to reuse items instead of throwing them away – a concept she calls "repurposing" – and encourages others to do the same.

When Scales bought her home outside the Salisbury city limits after going to work at Food Lion headquarters in 2007, she replaced the incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs and aging appliances with Energy Guide appliances – all in an effort to reduce her own carbon footprint.

Her most recent bill from Duke Energy confirmed she was in the lowest percentile of energy users. "So not only is it saving me money," she says, "I'm helping save the atmosphere."

Scales says she couldn't justify taking up the new carpet in the home since it is only two years old, but plans to eventually replace it with sustainable bamboo floors.

She used low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint on the exterior of the house and interior walls even though it cost more.

In March, Scales is planning to have her furnace replaced with a heating system that heats water on demand instead of on an ongoing basis. As it is, "the furnace is burning and burning and churning and churning,” she says, "and it expends way too much energy."

Scales had three companies come out to her home to submit estimates on a solar panel heating system, but decided against it when she learned how long it would take to get a return on her investment.

Energy Efficiency

Determined to become more energy efficient, Scales is now researching windmills. "I know that sounds crazy," she says, "but I've got almost an acre of land and I am determined to reduce my visibility on the utility grid."

Scales also collects rainwater for her flowers, plants and grass "instead of pumping from my well and depleting the earth of its ground-level water."

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Deborah Scales with tub to catch rain from her roof.

Scales tries to reuse items in her home on other projects. "You don't have to throw everything out and start from scratch," she says. "It's just being creative with what you have."

When she replaced a couple of cabinets in her kitchen for purely aesthetics reasons, for example, Scales says she "repurposed" them in the work area of her garage.

She also does her part to help the recycling effort by buying used materials for home projects and has even used free materials people were getting ready to throw away. When Scales set out to create an outdoor kitchen, she was able to retrieve marble tiles from a mall renovation that were to be taken to a dumpster.

Sustainable Products

Scales is known for her decorating flair and when friends ask her for help with their homes, she encourages them to buy sustainable furniture or natural products such as bamboo floors instead of hardwood. "You can get them in all kinds of colors," she says, "and it's not going to require cutting down redwood trees."

She also gives them ideas on repurposing. "'One person's trash is somebody else's treasure' they say," Scales says. "I help people to realize that by showing them the vision of what could be."

When helping people on limited incomes, she says she encourages them to fix up what they have instead of buying new.

In 2005, Scales relocated to North Carolina to spend time with her mother. After her mother's death, she accepted an offer from Food Lion and moved to Salisbury.

In considering the project manager position, Scales says she researched Food Lion's sustainability projects and read that the grocery chain had been winning awards for its energy efficiency efforts and green building projects since 2004.

"One of the things I look for in an employer is what they're doing in the community and what they're doing on a global scale," she says.

Upon relocating to Salisbury, Scales became very involved in the community, serving on numerous boards and committees including the Salisbury Rowan Human Relations Council. A member of this year's Leadership Rowan class, she was honored at the recent Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration with a Leadership and Service award presented by the city of Salisbury and Rowan County.

Scales approaches community involvement with as much enthusiasm as she does creating a sustainable home. She encourages others to follow her example.

"Everybody's responsible even if you're just doing a little something," Scales says. "A lot of little somethings add up."

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The Center for the Environment at Catawba College was founded in 1996 to provide education and outreach centered on prevalent environmental challenges and to foster community-oriented sustainable solutions that can serve as a model for programs throughout the country. For more information, visit www.centerfortheenvironment.org or www.campaignforcleanair.org.

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