Eco-friendly house looks to increase reputation
In an effort to increase their presence as a green building, Michigan Energy Options, a local non-profit organization dedicated to environmental and energy conservation, is updating its amenities and attempting to become more beneficial to the East Lansing community.
The building, located at 405 Grove St., is leased to Michigan Energy Options by the city of East Lansing, and a lease renewal for the building was approved at East Lansing City Council’s Aug. 23 work session, said Lori Mullins, community and economic development administrator for the city of East Lansing .
The structure is a demonstration house, offering both walk-in and scheduled tours to give community members ideas for how to make their own homes greener, said Bruce Wheaton, commercial and residential energy programs manager for Michigan Energy Options.
Wheaton said improvements will include many different changes to both the interior and exterior of the building, such as creating a “green roof” display showing examples of environmentally friendly roofing, shading and protecting the windows, improving accessibility, adding bike parking and installing a rain garden to capture water from the rain to use for plant watering.
Mullins said the organization is looking to obtain certification from an internationally recognized green energy certification system entitled Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. The certification would place the structure on the national map as an energy conscious building, Mullins said. The certification is based on a 100-point scale, grading buildings on sustainability, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources and indoor environmental quality.
The organization was started in East Lansing in the 1970s and has a second demonstration office in Marquette, Mich., Wheaton said. About 30,000 people come through the East Lansing location each year.
Michigan Energy Options has received more phone calls and visits than usual in the past year and attributes this increase to new interests in bringing environmental sustainability to the home.
“I think the interest in becoming more energy efficient and becoming more environmentally friendly is rising,” Wheaton said.
Mullins said having such a unique offering in the East Lansing community was beneficial to students and residents because the amenities offered by Michigan Energy Options not only help people become more environmentally friendly but also saves them money on home energy costs.
“It’s about conserving energy and also about saving money. … If you can save money on energy costs, housing is more affordable,” she said. “(Michigan Energy Options is) a great asset to the community.”
Karl Brunsman, a general management senior, said he had never heard of the building before but thought the concept of Michigan Energy Options was a good commodity for East Lansing to have. Because of an increased interest in energy conservation, Brunsman said it might become a greater interest to MSU students as time goes on.
“I can see it becoming more of a big deal over the years because of the way Michigan State promotes green energy,” he said.
Eco-Friendly Ways to Build a House
Improvements in modern home-building methods are helping to reduce the impact humans have on the environment. Eco-friendly building techniques include using materials that take less energy or require fewer resources to produce; designing homes to be more energy-efficient; and incorporating alternative energy and waste water management into home designs.
Green Building Materials
Recycled lumber can be used for studs. Insulation made of recycled jean material may be used for walls. Many of the plastic wood products are made from recycled material. Materials that last a lifetime reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills — and save resources that would otherwise be used to replace them. These products include cement board siding, stone and brick, and stand and seam metal roofing. It is also important to use materials that don’t release toxins (labeled LOW-VOC for paints and formaldehyde-free for particleboard).
One of the most important features of eco-friendly houses is that they are designed for energy efficiency. Of course, it is essential to use high-efficiency appliances, heating and cooling equipment and water heaters. But green design can also include windows placed to allow ventilation throughout the house, south-facing windows that take advantage of the sun’s warmth, and shade trees and awnings for summer (see References 1 and 2). Skylights in interior rooms reduce electricity use during the day.
Alternative energy sources are becoming more common in private homes. Some systems generate electricity directly, like photovoltaic (PV or solar electric) and wind power systems. Other systems, such as geothermal and solar hot water, use the sun to heat or pre-heat water for domestic use or for space heating and cooling. Usually, the PV and solar hot water systems can be mounted on a roof, while wind systems have land requirements.
Managing water is an often overlooked component in an eco-friendly house project. It is important to reduce rainwater runoff, which can carry too many nutrients to nearby watersheds. Minimize impervious surfaces and use rain barrels to catch water running off the roof. Water can then be directed to gardens and lawns. Gray-water systems recycle water from sinks and showers for use in gardens. Installing low-flow toilets conserves water and reduces waste, while composting toilets go a step further by not using water at all.
Obama bypasses Congress again on climate change
President Obama, who said last month that divisions in Congress are “too deep” to tackle climate change, bypassed Capitol Hill again this week with another effort to reduce climate-warming emissions.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Thursday, accompanied by officials from Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico and Sweden, a joint effort to curb the short-lived emissions of pollutants including soot (also called black carbon), methane and hydrofluorocarbons that account for 30% to 40% of global warming. The United States plans to contribute $12 million and Canada $3 million over two years to begin the project, which will be run by the United Nations Environment Program.
“One of the benefits of focusing on pollutants that are short-lived is, if we can reduce them significantly, we will have a noticeable effect on our climate in relatively short order,” Clinton said at the State Department announcement. Scientists estimate that cutting these emissions can help prevent millions of deaths from pollution and lower global temperatures 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.
Clinton said it’s still important to reduce the primary culprit of climate change: carbon dioxide emissions, which remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and which the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has been trying to address for decades with little success. Yet she said action is needed on short-lived pollutants that can also cause extensive damage.
“Millions die annually from constantly breathing in black carbon soot that comes from cookstoves in their own homes, from diesel cars and trucks on their roads, from the open burning of agricultural waste in their fields,” Clinton said. “Furthermore, methane – a greenhouse gas more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – can also be an abundant source of energy if we capture it instead of just venting it into the air or flaring it.”
In a recent study in Science, an international team of 24 scientists led by NASA climate modeler Drew Shindell identified 14 methane and black carbon control measures that include installing filters on diesel engines and capturing methane from oil and gas wells.
John Podesta, chairman of the board of the Center for American Progress, welcomed Clinton’s initiative but said it’s not the first time the Obama administration has tried to reduce these pollutants. In a review article, he said a handful of countries have blocked in the last few years an effort by the U.S., Mexico and Canada to reduce the emissions of hydrofluorocarbons.
In the announcement, Clinton said the Obama administration is taking other steps, too, to address climate change. She cited its efforts to double the fuel economy of cars and trucks by 2025, boost the energy efficiency of commercial buildings and home appliances, generate more power from renewable sources and put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.
Last month, in his State of the Union address, Obama mentioned “climate change” only once — to say that divisions were too deep ” right now” in Congress to deal with the issue. The House of Representatives passed a broad plan, which he supported, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 but the effort died in the Senate.