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The Bottle House: A LEED Platinum Endeavor
In recent years, it is becoming alarmingly clear the effects humans have on the planet. It is now necessary to consider the long-term repercussions of human impact. From carbon emissions to water supply, the time to take our resources and actions seriously is here. This shift in awareness makes it logical to consider green technology and apply it anywhere possible, including homes and travel. One small change doesn’t alter the system, but it is proven that many small decisions over a period of time can truly make a difference. This essay will focus on green building technology, specifically under the guidelines of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Using comprehensive research, many areas of sustainable development and technology will be addressed, describing how the system will function as whole and how this project ultimately affects future sustainable development.
Sustainability is described as a system that takes into consideration three areas of impact, or “the triple bottom line”. This includes Economic, Social, and Environmental sustainability. In order for a project to be sustainable, it needs to embark in a balancing act between these three areas. John Dernbach, author of the book, “Acting as if Tomorrow Matters: Accelerating the Transition into Sustainability” describes the affects total sustainability will have on human existence:
Policies that promote sustainability will reduce risks to our national security, improve our economic efficiency and productivity, enhance our health and communities, improve the lives of the poorest among us, and foster greater human well-being. Sustainability can provide these multiple benefits while protecting and restoring the environment for our generation and for generations that follow. (2012, p. 1)
When talking about green buildings, these areas are applied greatly. For example, how much money will be spent on the project initially versus the life costs and the payback, how will the building affect the community as a whole, and is the building benefiting or degrading the environment? The Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, is a points system that certifies buildings based on how they meet these standards. In order for a building to obtain platinum, the highest rank, it must reach eighty or more points in an evaluation conducted by a licensed official (Clevenger, 2008, p. 1). So, how does a building abide by these standards to gain platinum status? Once again, three areas must be addressed:
1. Materials – What is the building made of and are the materials sustainably harvested?
2. Energy – Is the building energy efficient and what affects does it have on the grid?
3. Waste – How are the unused materials dealt with following the construction of the project?
By understanding how materials, energy, and waste all pertain to overall sustainability a truly green building can be constructed and throughout this essay, a theoretical project will be developed to illustrate the points that are addressed.
Contrary to the common perception of truly sustainable buildings, a house does not need to be constructed of twigs and mud. There are many materials that are being sustainably developed in our technologically advanced era. According to Joe Peach, a journalist for thisbigcity.net, an online publication site designed to promote sustainable development, there are five materials that could “transform construction”:
Wool Bricks - Made from a polymer mixed with actual wool and because the bricks dry not required.
Solar Tiles - Integrating solar technology directly into the tiles that make up the roof. Sustainable Concrete - By adding recycled materials to the concrete, the overall waste production is reduced.
Paper Insulation - Insulation may be the most important feature of sustainable construction due to the unnecessary loss of heat, therefore insulation that is made from recycled newspapers also cuts down on the waste that is produced and the building becomes more efficient.
Triple Glazed Windows – Windows that have two or more panes of glass contain a pressurized layer of argon gas between each pane and this adds to the overall insulation that is provided preventing any loss of heat. (2010, p.1)
Other options can be considered for a more traditional style building. Sustainable wood harvesting is an option in that the lumber is collected through practices other than what is commonly known as “clear cutting” or completely clearing out a section of forest. Also, the indoor features like the floors and built in surfaces must be addressed for overall sustainability. Companies like, Carlisle Wide Plank Floors specialize in providing customers with reclaimed wood floors from condemned barns and houses. Counter tops can be composites of recycled glass or other recycled materials.
To cut costs and for originality purposes, there are other recycled options to consider in green building. Straw bales are used to add structure to walls, as well as tires which are abundantly available. For this project, all of the outside walls will be composed of glass bottles. More often than not, beer bottles that can be collected from recycling facilities or directly from the source; bars. The air that is trapped within the sealed bottles acts as an efficient insulator and the translucency of the colored glass will let in plenty of natural light, which will inevitably cut energy costs. Glass bricks can be formed by cutting each bottle wear the neck expands into the body and by sealing two of these halves together, a cylindrical tube is formed. Conversely, in the 1960s, Heineken manufactured rectangular bottles to be used as building materials and to enhance transport and storage. The bottle bricks were discontinued however, and it wasn’t until recently that the beer company released the Heineken Cube which would serve magnificently as a sustainable building material.
Modern technology has made leaps and bounds when it comes to energy. From a green perspective, one that does not degrade the environment in any way, there are several options to consider where energy is involved; solar panels, wind turbines, hydropower, and geothermal, just to name a few. The purpose of green energy is to get away from the common carbon fuels currently powering the world. Oil, gas, and coal are key contributors to the overall carbon emissions being thrown into the atmosphere, which is theorized to be one of the main causes of global warming. In an analysis conducted by Mukund R. Patel, he describes how much energy is consumed by the United States alone; “About 40% of the total primary energy consumed is used in generating electricity. Nearly 70% of the energy used in our homes and offices is in the form of electricity.” (2006, p. 3). The importance of conducting and channeling electricity independent from dwindling resources that emit harmful gases is growing ever clearer as the unpredictable nature of our planet becomes present. These alternatives vary greatly in initial costs and payback time therefore choosing the most efficient energy system is essential to sustainable building. In this section, two technologies will be explored to gain a better understanding necessary to make a choice for the developing sustainable project.
Solar power is defined by the NC Sustainable Energy Association as; “Solar energy refers to the conversion of the sun’s rays into useful forms of energy, such as electricity or heat.” (energync.org). Solar power is available in two forms, active and passive. Passive solar systems cannot convert the energy absorbed from the sun into usable electricity, but throw heat instead. Passive solar panels are easy to construct and can be used to heat rooms with a simple duct set up. Passive heating also occurs when a home is strategically placed with windows that face in a southerly direction. This floods the home with natural lighting for the longest amount of time throughout the day, effectively heating the house with no energy imputed. Active solar is different in that the energy harnessed from the sun is transformed into usable electricity. There are two types of active solar converters, Photovoltaic, when solar cells convert the sun’s energy directly into electricity, and Concentrating Solar Power Plants, which use the sun’s energy to heat a liquid which produces steam that powers a turbine that effectively conducts the electricity (ncenergy.org). Many residential solar power systems are connected to the grid, or the area’s main source of electricity. This is useful for both participants because if there is not enough sunlight available at a given time, the converter will take energy from the grid, and vice versa. If there is a surplus of solar energy, it goes into the grid in which case the homeowner would receive a payback for the energy they contributed. This is a constant process because energy cannot be stored, there needs to be an outlet at all times, otherwise it is lost.
There are important building features to consider as far as solar power is concerned. If a homeowner is considering a roof mounted system, it is necessary to make sure the roof faces south, which exposes the panels to most sunlight. Many people choose to put their panels in their yards if roof mounting is not an applicable option. Also, depending on the location of the house, a latitude will need to be configured so that the panels are tilted at the proper angle to absorb as much energy as possible. (see figure 1 for a description on the last page)
Geothermal technology is designed to harness the earth’s natural heat and convert it into heat and electricity, just as solar power does. However, where solar works outside in the sun, geothermal takes place deep in the ground where the temperature stays steady all year round. How does this technology work? Geothermal Heat Pumps filter water through piping systems where the water absorbs the heat being conducted by the earth and the water is then brought back to a compressor that controls the temperature for household purposes. In a general description, the more surface area of the piping in the ground, the more heat can be harnessed. There are three types of piping designs used in geothermal systems that effectively form a closed loop that brings the water from the house, back to the house: slinky, vertical, and horizontal piping. Kevin Rafferty with the Geo-Heat Center describes the technology within compressors; “The foundation of any GHP system is the heat pump unit itself… High efficiency equipment generally contains a high efficiency compressor, larger air coil, higher efficiency fan motor, and sometimes, a larger refrigerant-to-water heat exchanger.” (1997, p. 2). (see figure 2 on last page)
When deciding what sustainable technology to use, location of the building and total investment must be considered. The basis of green energy systems is that the energy is renewable and therefore the system can sustain itself. For this project, solar technology will be used primarily to conduct the necessary electricity the building needs to function.
Physical waste is becoming a major problem for the world. Many actions have been taken to dispose of garbage, however, the only way to truly eradicate the waste we generate is to turn it into something else. Recycling has the highest success rate when it comes to waste management, and this holds true for construction as well. In order to stop burying trash with liners that will inevitably leak and burning it which releases the remnants into the atmosphere, steps to effectively transform our tossed away waste is necessary to further sustainable development.
Construction waste can be immense and if not disposed of carefully, can be hazardous to the environment. Materials separation is the key element to reducing construction waste (sustainablesources.com). By simply designating bins and dumpsters for specific types of unused materials, so much physical mass could avoid being put into landfills. Sustainable Sources is an online information panel for green builders and according to their guidelines, there are numerous waste products that are capable of being recycled:
· Appliances and fixtures
· Brush and Trees
· Cardboard and Paper
· Lumber and Plywood (in reusable form)
· Masonry (in reusable form or as fill)
· Plastics – numbered containers, bags and sheeting
· Roofing (in reusable form)
· Windows and Doors
Many of the things on this list can be made into something new and functional without ever being brought to a recycling facility. If a homeowner is willing to use recycled materials in the construction process to begin with, it seems logical to make sure every resource is used to its full potential. Also, it is essential that the separated waste that makes it off the site is taken to recycling facilities directly. Aiding in this process by reducing the size of lumber, drywall, and masonry can greatly help facilities once the materials are dropped off. In order for a project like this one to be sustainable throughout its lifetime, it needs to be sustainable during the construction process.
The three areas that have been discussed throughout this essay are guidelines that may help potential homeowners understand the affects their decisions have on the world. In truth, it is time to start making long-term decisions instead of staring down the initial costs and working only for instant gratification. Life is a gradual process and should be treated as such. That is the beauty of sustainable development. Through education, encouragement, smart decision making, and careful research, the world can be changed for the better and will be able to sustain us for many years to come. What better place to start than the homes we abide in? They say home is where the heart is, and that is exactly what green building strives to do; not only prevent the physical degradation of the environment but provide homeowners with a sense of purpose and place in the commitment to sustainability. The bottle house signifies a process that started out as a cool idea and turned into a livelihood. People affect the world every day. It’s time to decide whether that affect will be a positive one or a negative consequence.
To get a sense of some existing Platinum LEED homes, here are two completed projects that reflect the diversity these sustainable choices have provoked from green building.
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Building Council and Architectural Energy Corporation. Slides 1-49.
Construction Waste Recycling. (2014). Sustainable Sources: 20 Years of Online Green Building
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Dernbach, J. (2012). Acting as is Tomorrow Matters: Accelerating the Transition into
Sustainability. Washington, DC: Environmental Law Institute
Patel, M. (2006). Wind and Solar Power Systems: Design, Analysis, and Operation. Boca Raton,
FL: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group.
Peach, Joe. (2010). Five Sustainable Building Materials that Could Transform Construction.
thisbigcity.net. Retrieved from http://thisbigcity.net/five-sustainable-building-materials-
Platinum LEED Home: Colorado. (2014). Completed Home Undergoing Certification. In
Energy Environmental Corporation. Retrieved from http://www.platinumleedhome.
Rafferty, K. (1997). An Information Survival Kit for the Prospective Residential Geothermal
Heat Pump Owner. Geo-Heat Center. 1-11.
Solar Energy Fact Sheet. (n.d.) NC Sustainable Energy Association. Retrieved from
Tour a LEED Platinum House. (n.d.). The Kantor Home. In BPC Green Builders: Green
Building for New and Existing Homes. Retrieved from http://www.bpcgreenbuilders.