Sunday, February 22, 2009
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 www.SalvageIt.org.
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.