Very energy efficient buildings

Very energy efficient buildings By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The knowledge and technology to build new or retrofit existing buildings to very high levels of energy efficiency are available for those motivated to take advantage of these approaches to sustainable development.

While cheap natural gas has temporarily slowed public willingness to invest in energy efficiency, we know from past experiences that energy prices can shoot up rapidly as supplies dwindle.

Numerous examples prove our homes and buildings can be far more energy efficient if we choose to make the investment. Initial eye-openers for us were the very energy efficient buildings in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin and Osage, Iowa. The late Richard Williams built an energy efficient house near Cherry Valley based on a model provided by the Rocky Mountain Institute. Victor Zaderej built an energy efficient home near Oregon based on modified principles of the German Passive House Movement.

The Drake Landing Solar Community in Alberta, developed in 2007, demonstrated how 52 homes could secure 90 percent of their winter heating needs from hot water collected off garage roofs in the summer and pumped underground to be drawn up in winter to meet their heating needs.

A firm near Calgary, Adaptive Habitat, is building a new home in which heat from the attic is collected from spring through fall and drawn into a storage facility under the building in winter to heat it in winter. The process uses no more power than venting the heat directly to the atmosphere.

The Empire State Building in New York was completely reworked to dramatically reduce its energy consumption. The Environmental Law and Policy Center’s Chicago office is located in a LEED Platinum rated space.

The newly completed Innovative Center of The Rocky Mountain Institute in Basalt, Colorado uses 74 percent less energy than the average building in the coldest climate zone in the United States. The 15,620 square foot building could serve as a model for 90 percent of the commercial buildings in the U.S. under 25,000 square feet. The focus is not on making the building comfortable but rather on keeping its occupants comfortable.

Public buildings in this area have been built with energy efficiency in mind or upgraded to higher efficiency standards. The Courthouse in Oregon and the Public Library in Byron exemplify current opportunities including the use of geothermal systems. Freedom Field in Rockford installed a solar hot water system to provide both heat and air conditioning.

Several homes in the area use geothermal systems, high levels of insulation and PV systems to meet much of their energy needs as Bob and Sherry Piros have done at their home near Chana.

The IREA Fair will feature an efficient buildings thread. An exhibit by Scott Niesen, manager of WaterFurnace, a geothermal company, will explain the system’s functioning. Sergio Zamora will inform his audience about innovative lighting, building automation and electrically efficient buildings. Owning a very small home can provide an efficient housing solution. Doug McWain will help people learn how to buy or build their own “on a shoestring.” Long time presenter Dave Kozlowski, green builder, will help people consider innovative, low cost and low-tech alternatives for cooling homes in a warming planet and Marty Davis, designer and builder, will showcase his earth sheltered homes. Jim Hutchison will discuss his straw-clay building and its energy efficiency advantages.

Major sponsors of the fair are the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Rock River Times, Northern Public Radio and the Ogle County Waste Management Department.

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