Environmental activist Etta Kantor made headlines about 10 years ago when she retrofitted her Volkswagen Jetta to run on used vegetable oil she would get for free from Chinese restaurants.
But wanting to go one step further, Kantor took a major step toward sustainability and built what's known today as New Canaan's "greenest" house.
The Adirondack-style home, located at 482 Trinity Pass Road, receives energy from large solar panels located in the front yard.
The roof is made from recycled plastic and rubber, the wood in the floors and frames are either Forest Stewardship Council certified or antique reclaimed oak, and the insulation is made of recycled newspapers.
Four years after she moved in to this environmentally friendly paradise she calls her "dream house," Kantor has decided to sell the 5,000-square-foot home. The house hit the market about a month ago with a $4.5 million price tag.
Her decision comes three years after Kantor's husband passed away. She said the 4.6-acre property is too large for her.
"It's kind of a bittersweet transition because I love the house," Kantor said.
"But it's a lot of house for one person. And it's also kind of isolated here, so I'd like to move to a community where there are more people, more activities, less to take care of."
Kantor's home features a system that harvests rainwater to irrigate the property, radiant heating in some rooms and even a compost toilet in the master bedroom. The toilet has a system that decomposes human waste, which Kantor then uses as fertilizer for her plants.
Despite some reluctance from her husband when the compost toilet was built, Kantor said the system has always run well.
"Before I built this house, I had been studying it," she said. "I wouldn't have done it unless I knew what I was doing."
She said the practice is common in other parts of the world, where in exchange, she said, they have less chemicals on their food.
"It's the nature cycle," Kantor said. "We're meant to return it back to the soil, but we don't in this country. That's why we have more than 50 percent depleted soil. And that's why we need to use chemicals every year to grow vegetables."
Besides the compost toilet, the water used from showers and sinks is reused to flush the other toilets.
The house has a platinum certification from LEED, Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, which the highest honor in green building, as well as several sustainability awards.
The property, which borders the Rippowam River, has a spa, a heated pool, a pond, a gazebo, an organic garden and a labyrinth.
Kantor said the house might not be the greenest in the region, but she said it is unusual in this part of the country. She said solar houses are more typical in California, Florida and Arizona, "places where the sun is out more."
"Some houses have solar (energy), some have geothermal, some have hydro power," she said. "But I don't know of any that has encompassed everything. We made this as sustainable as possible."
Kantor noted that some houses are not even on the power grid. Her property is on the grid so that she can maintain a solar bank, but her electric bills are still very low. In 2013, her total electric bill for the year was a little more than $1,100, she said.
But Kantor's efforts to minimize her impact on the environment are not just about where she lives or what she drives. She lives "green" everyday.
"I don't use any chemicals, I use only products that are natural, that are environmentally friendly," Kantor said. "Because it's not only better for the earth, but it's better for our own health.
"I buy organic cotton sheets. I stay away from pesticides as much as possible. And when I go to the grocery store, I use canvas bags from years ago. Now it's fashionable, but I was doing it when no one knew about it."
After eight years driving a car that made her garage "smell like egg rolls," she now drives an electric Nissan Leaf.
Kantor, who does presentations on sustainability at schools, said she hopes her house has helped raise awareness for today's environmental issues in New Canaan and the surrounding area.
"We're running out of resources faster than the earth can replenish itself," she noted.
Kantor said one does not have to be rich to save energy and minimize the impact on the environment.
"Sustainability can be achieved at any price level. It can be a one-room cabinet or it can be even bigger than this house," she said. "You don't have to build a house. You can make a house more energy efficient by spraying in more insulation because that's so key."
Most people, Kantor said, don't realize how many ways there are to save energy.
"I've had hundreds and hundreds of people come here for a house tour," she said. "And lots of times, people are amazed at what can be done. It's not hard and it doesn't have to be a house like this either. It can be a very simple house."
Kantor noted that the smallest actions, like recycling, also count. "I hardly have any garbage because I recycle so much."
Though she's leaving the most sustainable place she's ever lived, Kantor said she's glad to have seen people follow her lifestyle and will continue to speak at schools and give back to the planet as much as possible.
"By living a sustainable life, it's healthier for people and it's healthier for the planet," Kantor said. "And it's not rocket science. It's really going back to basics."
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