MOUNTAIN VOICES: Building on ideas
One of the best-known acronyms to come out of the green forest is LEED, and it stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a part of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), and its stated mission is to provide “building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.”
Historically commercial buildings have been trash bins for energy dollars. Through the buildings’ inefficiency and the managements’ disregard, the cavernous spaces have over the decades provided for the belching of untold mega-tons of CO2 into the air. LEED is changing that all over the world.In Asheville, NC, the Asheville Independent Restaurant group, (AIR), received a quarter-million dollar grant to be used to install green features in the different buildings that house the eateries. The grant came from the NC Board of Science and Technology’s Green Business Fund, and work is currently underway at some of the AIR restaurants. One, the Posana Café, recently had its solar water heating system installed on the roof of its downtown location. Owner Peter Pollay is enthusiastic about the changes, and in mid-January he had become eager to receive his next gas bill, to see what difference the solar heaters make in supplying him with hot water. “I get enough bills and invoices,” he said, “but I’m actually looking forward to getting that bill.”
On the residential end of green building, new standards are finding their way into the mainstream, even though some of the ideas, if not outright obvious, could be seen as questionable. One in particular is to abandon the standard 36-inch wide hallways of old in favor of new ones that span 42-inches. A 42-inch wide hallway that is 20 feet long and has a standard, eight-foot ceiling height amounts to an additional 80 cubic feet of mostly unoccupied space that the homeowner will need to heat and cool. It amounts to 10 square feet, and in homes that receive credits for being smaller than normal, the logic of the wider hall is elusive
So, okay, maybe committees don’t always get it right. But the big picture indicates there is a steadily growing awareness by people all around the world of our collective need to conserve our resources and better manage our waste. We may be able to move to a different neighborhood. Moving to a different planet is a whole other story.
Haywood County resident Mark Liverett has no intention of leaving either the planet or his beautiful green home in the Hemphill area. With his wife, Linda, Liverett began planning his mountain home about eight years ago.
Liverett is not your average do-it-your-selfer. His spent his career as a facilities supervisor, and as though that were not enough, he simultaneously taught technical classes at Harper College and Elgin Community College, both near Chicago. His expertise is in the area of design criteria for heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems in mostly commercial applications. But he is a hands-on guy, too, and he installed much of his two solar systems by himself.
The Liverett’s home is kept warm in winter by a solar-powered water heating system. On the roof of the house are about ten square feet of vacuum tubes that collect the sun’s heat, producing on a sunny day 68-thousand BTU's. That energy is captured in glycol, a liquid that will not freeze, and transferred by a heat exchanger into the potable hot water system of the house. There it circulates through tubing attached to the underside of the floor, and the result is warmth without the familiar hum of an air handler, or the sometimes obnoxious movement of air blowing through ductwork.
He also has installed on his roof a series of solar panels that capture the sunlight and turn it into electricity. His system is connected to the power grid, so that excess energy generated by his panels is fed backwards through his meter and back into the grid. The power company is obliged by law to accept and pay for that power, and the result is that Liverett’s power bill is greatly reduced.
Liverett is an enthusiastic proponent of things green. “What pleases me,” he said, “is that I can capture the sun’s energy and put it to use for myself. And I’m happy that my systems will reduce the carbon footprint of my home.”
But Liverett’s green systems were not cheap, even when taking into account the tax breaks he received from the state and federal governments. Currently in this area any individual can receive as much as 65 percent credit against his or her tax bill for installing eco-friendly technology.
And Liverett readily admits that the credits were an important factor in the design of his house. Of the approximately $25-thousand he spent on his solar equipment, he will receive about $15-thousand in tax credits. But the tax write-offs were only one factor in making his home a more comfortable and efficient structure. Liverett understands and appreciates that there is something infinitely appealing and fascinating about using the sun to heat and cool our homes. It’s up there, shining down through the CO2, as if patiently waiting for universal recognition, and people like Liverett are the vanguard of that awareness. There is also the not unsubstantial benefit of heat and light when icy winds knock down the power lines to your neighborhood. Here’s to sunshine.
— By Scott Muirhead