One Green Step at a time…not enough

January 28th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

Last night I carpooled to the AIA Minnesota Committee on the Environment meeting in Minneapolis. The focus of the meeting was on sustainable integrative design.

It is exciting to be part of the effort to forge a more sustainable future, but it is sobering to hear the scientific facts about our global situation.

Exciting: The AIA is working hard toward reducing carbon emissions from our buildings. Our goal must be about 35% from today’s levels immediately, which will bring us back to the emissions levels of 1990 (or thereabouts.) This is doable! The ongoing challenge is for all new buildings to be carbon neutral.
Sobering: Even carbon neutral buildings aren’t enough in the long term. We need to be renewing our environment to absorb and sequester carbon if we hope to reverse the damage already done.

Exciting: Reducing electricity use can make a big difference in both carbon emissions and in water usage. This can be done by design.
Sobering: One kilowatt of electricity reportedly consumes about 0.4 gallons of ground water. Most of the Twin Cities Metro counties are already using more water than the ground provides. We’re not as water-rich as we thought we were.

Alright, enough sobering. Let’s think about the good stuff!

Exciting: We received a call to arms to reduce carbon emissions by upgrading our existing building stock. Our work is primarily in additions and remodelings, so we are well-stationed to accept the challenge.

Exciting: Sustainable Integrative Design is a process through which environment, social issues, and economic issues can be addressed. VIVUS already incorporates these strategies in our design work.

Exciting: The Obama administration has reportedly done more to address climate change than administrations in the last 16 years!

So, what does all this mean?

We have been working with our clients to take steps in the green direction as budget and interest allow. We will continue to do so, but we will urge you to consider going further. Babysteps are not enough to meet the baseline goals set for carbon emissions reductions. What is needed is a greater commitment to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels for power and heat to near zero. We can help you with design of such a building. Federal and state efforts support these measures, making it easier. And, in the long run, a net zero home will be better for your health, the community, and your pocketbook.

Solar home

This new home is big step in the right direction. We added onto and upgraded the existing home. It now utilizes a 9.8 KW photovoltaic array on the barn to provide more electricity than the house can use. The electricity also powers a ground-source heat pump to provide both heating and cooling for the house. On the roof to the left are two solar domestic hot water panels. Our expectation is that the house will use little or no fossil fuels, with the possible exception of the gas range and the backup boiler (required by code) for those really cold days. The Great Room will require little or no electric light during the day, due to a ceiling and high-performance windows that allow light to wash the space.

While the upfront costs of the technologies employed here are out of reach of most homeowners, the basic design approach remains the same for all buildings.

We welcome your call.

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