Paul Potyen: It's not easy being green


I read the Steamboat Today's Feb. 2 front-page headline, "Stagecoach couple enthusiastic about new Green Building Program," and I thought to myself, "Wow! There's a Green Building Program?" I was especially interested, as my wife and I live in our own off-grid home west of town. So I downloaded the GBP Booklet and checklist from the Steamboat Springs Planning Department and read through them. Weighing in at 52 pages, the booklet is pretty comprehensive in its scope and vision.

It was prepared for the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County by the Architectural Energy Co., whose mission is "to be a national leader in building energy efficiency services and products based on integrated engineered solutions." The booklet's guidelines for green building incorporate three fundamental components: energy efficiency, resource conservation and good indoor environmental quality. It addresses the whole spectrum of design and construction issues, and incorporates many good ideas such as proper site setting to maximize solar advantage, shallow frost-protected foundations, the use of locally available resources (such as river rock and "beetle-kill" lumber), in-floor radiant heating, landscaping considerations and many other issues involved in the design, construction and maintenance of a low carbon-footprint home.

I was gratified to see so many of these GBP ideas manifested in our own off-grid solar-powered strawbale house, which we designed and built in 1999, a time when many of these ideas were a bit more "fringe" than they are today. Our current economy makes it more difficult to spend money on any new construction, so while the concepts promoted by the GBP are more important than ever, the timing is unfortunate.

Our idea was to create a living environment that was not only environmentally responsible in its use of materials, but one that required us to be mindful of our continued use of resources on a daily basis. For example, if we want to run our vacuum cleaner, we have a choice: If it's sunny, no problem. If it's cloudy, we have another choice to make: If the batteries are fully charged, we can run the vacuum. If not, we can run our propane generator to provide enough power, or we can use our manual carpet sweeper and wait until it's sunny to do a more thorough vacuuming job. We have designed our house to train us to be more in tune to our environment, which affects how we use our electricity, our propane and our water.

This mindset is something that - even in this economy - any of us can adopt to the degree we wish, no matter what kind of living space we occupy. It's not just about turning off our lights, or even about using compact fluorescent lights. Here's just one example: How much phantom power do you use in your home? If you have an entertainment system with DVD player, amp, TV, a cellphone charger, a computer battery charger, a kitchen stove (yes, even a gas stove), a microwave, or any system used to automatically monitor your home environment, you're probably using phantom power. You can minimize the use of phantom power by connecting an electric timer to a power strip that controls any number of your devices, and use the timer to disconnect the devices at night when you are sleeping. My wife and I don't bother with the timer; when we want to watch a DVD, we turn on our power strip, and when we're through, we turn everything off with the same power strip.

There are many ways to minimize our carbon footprint: buying a low-power, low-water clothes washer, replacing our electric coffee maker with a manually operated one, or shopping at thrift stores and consignment stores. And let's not forget Home ReSource Center in Milner for recycled building materials. You can reach them at 879-6985 or

It's all about our mindset.

And if there's anyone out there who wants to help me figure out how to use our cold Steamboat winters to make our refrigerators more efficient, feel free to contact me.

Paul Potyen wishes to apologize to Kermit for appropriating his song title. And it's really not all that difficult to be green.


Scott Wedel 8 years, 3 months ago

Regarding refrigeration - to solution is relatively straightforward - set it up like commercial systems in which the energy savings are worth a more complicated system.

And that is to take the compressor and heat exchanger out of the fridge and put them in a little outdoor breezy enclosure.

That would also save during the summer of the fridge heating the house.

That is relatively straightforward in a commercial unit where the compressor can easily be removed, placed elsewhere with copper lines to and from the unit. Most residential style fridges have the compressor more integrated into the unit so the the compressor cannot be replaced and so it would be difficult to move it.

Though, in theory you could attach a radiator to your fridge's heat exchanger and connect it to an outside radiator and have a circulating pump that runs whenever the compressor runs.


George Danellis 8 years, 3 months ago

Thanks Paul for your reasonable comments on how anyone can make small changes in their systems and their behavior in order to live a lower resource-volume lifestyle. This is not only the right thing to do, its a money saver.


skflyfish 8 years, 3 months ago

I have been working on reducing my energy load for refrigeration for quite a while. I even used a chest freezer as a chest refrigerator for a number of years. Here is what I have come up with so far and it doesn't require expensive items like a Sunfrost.

Having a freezer source in a heated space is a luxury a northern off-gridder cannot afford. My refrigeration (above 32F) are accomplished by a Danby Designer 11 cu. ft. freezerless refrigerator in my home and a 7.2 cu ft Frigidaire chest freezer in my unheated garage for my frozen needs.

Yes it is inconvenient to go outside to the garage to get frozen items but it is a choice I made to lower my electrical usage.

Here are the numbers; the chest freezer uses a low of 100 watt hours per day in the winter (West Michigan) and a high of 650 watt hours per day in summer. My Danby uses 300 watt hours per day in the winter (I keep my home cool) and 400 watt hours per day in the summer.

So during the dearth of winter and there is very little PV production I can get by for as little as 400 watt hours per day for both my cooling and frozen needs. In the summer when sunshine is abundant, then I am just over a kilowatt hour per day.

There is some thermal stratification in the freezerless refrigerator, where the top shelf can run around 44F, but the bottom shelf above the veggie crisper can run around 34F. So the cheese and meat are stored in the lower shelves and the beer and wine in the upper one.



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