What is Green Power?
It is power that is sourced from the sun, the wind, the water and waste. It is clean and renewable and reduces greenhouse pollution.
What is sustainable development?
Building in a way that maximizes the use of renewable materials that are in the most natural state possible (i.e. earth, wood, straw, etc) and limiting the use of non-renewable materials (i.e. steel, vinyl, aluminum, etc). Sustainable building utilizes energy that naturally exists within the environment, such as the sun, wind, water, and earth. The most basic elements are to build so the structure works with, not against nature and that as a whole system it reduces costs and pollutants while gaining durability and longevity. Sustainable building takes into consideration the use of water, the disposal of waste and the capturing of energy. It also relies on the surrounding eco-factors for design and planning decisions. It’s goal, perhaps, is to create a synergy of sorts, an equal exchange between all building materials, styles and systems within the house to create a more holistic living structure.
For years I heard terms flying around my house as my husband sat as his drawing space and penned and calculated plans for our future home. This would be the home our children breathed in, slept in and played in. It was to be a passive solar, straw bale, earthbermed, water harvesting dwelling. I was excited; I knew all this meant never writing a bill again to any company for power, I knew it meant an end to wasting water, and I knew that because of this home I would learn so much about the flow of nature as each building devise was meant to create a sense of health and harmony on a greater scale. We were going to build a house that was alive. All we needed was a perfect piece of land to dig into.
To be honest, most of my interest in these plans stopped at trying to figure out how we would store energy and how the water filtering system worked. I use to just barely listening to my husband when he explained to me why and how we needed find a position on a south facing hillside. I was just too excited about my own writing room with earthen walls and cork floors, I dreamt about our greenhouse that would be perfect for year-round veggie growing in and envisioned what the view would be like from our bedroom looking out the glass wall opposite the bed.
The more I spoke of the plans for our “sustainable and green” home, the more questions I was asked. Too many of them embarrassingly could not answer. I realized that until we actually built the house and it could speak for itself, I better learn some technical stuff. I really wanted to be a sustainable living advocate but my knowledge was so superficial and idealistically based. As I explored books and questioned by husband I realized there was not much too really learn. The reason: it is all pretty simple in theory and method. Sustainable building was not brain surgery…it was common sense and relatively easy to understand. It is perfect for those of use who don’t want to do a lot yet want our home “to work” with little hassles and maintenance. We are given an abundance of natural resources to utilize in a smart and conscious way. By interconnecting these resources through thoughtful planning, sustainable homes will pretty much “run” themselves. The simplicity and accessibility of most sustainable methods should be reason enough for it to be the future in building.
This is the green power. This is the stuff we all need to tap into. I have just about had it with paying people for water, heat, air, and electricity. I was born onto this Earth and is should be my right to use the earth’s energy to survive, if not for free than a cost I can afford and one that does not deplete the earth of resources.
For our particular home we plan on using Passive Solar Energy as a main source to heat, cool and run things. But I have compiled a list of all the sources of energy available tap into. Some involve more serious construction and money, but the initial start-up is well worth the long-term karma, the effort in helping secure some healthy air for your kids, and of course the utter taste of satisfaction of never writing a check to the Electric Man again. The following compilation is f energy sources and methods that are most commonly used in their simplest terms. On the links section of this blog you can find your way to more in depth sites.
Ever drive the I- 10 West? If you got as far as Palm Springs then you have seen the massive crop of windmills scattered on either side of the highway. That’s wind power. Wind power lowers fossil fuel dependency…a wonderful way of cutting down on carbon emissions. Wind energy is abundant. It is inexhaustible. Unlike oil which is rapidly being depleted, where there is air there is wind. Wind energy is also cheap. According to the federal government’s 2001 report on Powering America With Wind, wind costs less tan 4 cents per kilowatt-hour which makes it the cheapest source of electricity generation, competing with gas.
As far as privately generating wind power at your home, you would need to find a suppler of windmills or perhaps find a source which can help you construct your own. Wind power can be especially useful to power a pumping station of a well. If the land we end up building has a well on it, then we will use a small windmill system to generate the pump.
Solar energy is simply energy from the sun. It can be stored in a couple different ways:
Thermal or Passive: This is when the sun heats something up and then gets stored–like heating a swimming pool or heating a room through windows on a sunny day. By orienting your home specifically for the sun’s ray to penetrate your space, you can store that warmth for continual use with specific flooring such as solar slab.* The same method can be used for cooling your house along side techniques such as earthberming.
Electric: This is using the sun’s power to produce energy through solar cells. It can be applied in 3 ways:
Stand alone: not connected to a grid and relying on the sun to heat your space and water through solar panels. This energy can be stored in a battery for use when there is not a lot of sunshine.
Grid-Connected: When the electricity is supplied to the property through the grid. First energy is used from a solar energy system, then the connected battery and then finally from the grid if there is a need.
Back-Up: This is a system for power outages. A small solar system is used as back-up when grid power has blacked-out.
*solar slab flooring is built so that additional thermal heat can be stored and then re-radiated for many hours afterwards.
This type of power uses water to run machinery or make electricity. It uses the motion of the water for potential energy by the use of turbines*. Available to homeowners are min-turbines, which are perfect for harnessing energy if installed in a near-by river or stream. Water is the fuel and because the water cycle is endless, this kind of energy is considered renewable.
*A Turbine is device used in the generation of electricity. It has a shaft with blades at one end and electromagnets at the other. Water or steam or some other energy source pushes the blades, which make the shaft and the magnets spin very fast. The magnet end is surrounded by heavy coils of copper wire, and the spinning magnets cause electrons in the wire to begin to move, creating electricity.
Tidal power is a means of electricity generation achieved by capturing the energy contained in moving water due to tides. Two types of tidal energy can be extracted: kinetic energy of currents arising between ebbing and surging tides and potential energy from the difference in height between high and low tides. The former method - generating energy from tidal currents - is considered much more feasible today than building ocean-based dams or barrages, and many coastal sites worldwide are being examined for their suitability to produce tidal (current) energy. Since I live in the dry-as-bone desert, this type will do us no good. But if you are a lucky one who dwells where sand meets sea…it would be worth it to investigate further on this fascinating energy source.
Biodiesel is a vegetable oil-based fuel that runs in diesel engines - cars, buses, trucks, construction equipment, boats, generators, and oil home heating units. Mostly it is made from soybean oil or canola oil…and yes…you can even eat it (yuck)! It reduces our nation’s dependency on foreign oil because it can be made domestically (if you are a real crafty type, you can even brew it yourself at home, which proves to be much less expensive). Biodeisel is 100% renewable. When used as a heating source, biodiesel is sometimes referred to as “biofuel” or “bioheat.” Made from new and used oils or animal fats, this fuel is biodegradable and non-toxic as well. While fossil fuels took millions of years to produce, fuel stocks for biodiesel can be created in just a few months, and the plants grown to make biodiesel naturally balance the carbon dioxide emissions created when the fuel is combusted. What’s more, the resulting fuel is far less polluting than its petroleum-based alternative.
Sustainable Building Techniques
This style of home is constructed with at least 2-sides of the structure built into the earth. The underground area will provide both cooling (in the summer) and heating (in the winter) to the living space. The cold weather cools the Earth all winter so by the summer it is stored up and can aid in keeping your place cool. The opposite is true for the summer. By the end of the summer the heat has become trapped in the Earth and as winter moves in the warmth helps in the heating of the house. This is a technique that is really fascinating. I have watched my Huskies very deep holes in the earth in the summer, hop in and stay cool with the dirt. I have also watched them dig holes deep into the snow during the winter, hop in and stay warm. It’s a wonderful example of how perfect the Earth works for its inhabitants. To stay warm or cold…dig a hole live. I also like it aesthetically– the thought of my house half tucked into the side of a mountain is pretty cool.
To harvest the rain is to collect the water, and then filter it through a purification system and run it back into your house. The most common way to harvest is to collect it on your roof through a roof catchment system (part of your home design) so it will drip into a storage system such as a cistern or barrel and then when it is then fed into a purifying system and run back into the house. The plans for our home has a roof that is somewhat of a V shaped and slanted so the water collects then drains downward into a cistern built underneath it.
Gray Water Recycling
All the water that you use in your house (except toilet water) is called gray water. All the “waste” water we use from washing dishes, showering, and laundry can be recycled. This recycled water is primarily used for landscape irrigation and is great for gardens if it is not contaminated. You may also recycle is back into your house to use for toilet flushing as well as sink water, but is a more extensive process.
Straw Bale Insulation
Instead of using toxic materials or brick and block, hay is used to create exterior walls. The R value or insulation you get when using it is greater than any other completely natural material. It’s typically used either as infill in wood framing or as a shell around a timber or steel frame structure. It’s cheap, easy to do yourself, it does not mold (if done correctly) and it is flame resistant.
It’s practically a perfect material to use in many climates, just like….
All the same benefits of straw bale, except now the house is made of earth and can actually support structures on its own (unlike straw). By mixing a perfect blend of earth, water, and gravel and “ramming” it all into the structure of your house the end will create a durable, seriously insulated and totally eco-friendly home.
Different from rammed earth in that adobe are bricks that can be prefabricated in locations other than the project sight. Adobe is made from earth all the same is awesome for keeping dwellings cool in dry, hot locations.
All these styles can be incorporated together as well. For instance Cob Walls are walls made from a mix of heavy straw and clay with the earth content being much greater than the hay. The advantage of cob is that it is wonderfully sculptural and can be styled without use of framework.
Adobe block can be mixed with any other type of non-toxic recyclable materials, as well.
There are so many other styles and merging of wood, water, earth, hay, sand, paper to build that it can be overwhelming. But if you are interested in sustainable design, start by thinking how you can incorporate small things into your already existing home, or if you are remodeling, use it as an opportunity to create a gray water recycling system or perhaps even using hay as insulation for an addition. Design your new space using some earthen walls. You can always purchase solar panels and it’s pretty easy to harvest water wherever you are. If you are like me and want to build from the ground up, start by reading some of our favorite books:
Serious Straw Bale, a home construction guide for all climates by Paul Lacinski and M. Bergeron
The Passive Solar House, By James Kachadorian
Ceramic Houses and Earth Architecture, How To Build Your Own, by Nader Khalili
The Rammed Earth House, from Real Goods Independent Living Books
ANYTHING by Rob Roy