Renewable Energy?

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There is a lot of good in trying to be green, if you know what it means.    There’s a bill being reviewed in Maine to consider burning trash a renewable source of energy.  http://www.pressherald.com/news/the-renewable-argument_2011-03-13.html These facilities are called waste-to-energy plants and in some parts of the country are considered renewable sources. 

The bill asks whether or not Mainers should subsidize the facilities since they would be displacing some fossil fuels by offering “waste to energy” kilowatts.  Since homeowners would be charged higher rates for the “renewable” electricity generated, there is some opposition.

I never thought of burning trash as something renewable, or actually a good idea at all. It’s said that it’s cleaner than it used to be, whatever that means, and it would displace some fossil fuels.  What struck me in reading about this is the word “renewable”.   If our trash is such a great resource, might it be good to reconsider why? 

Green products raise questions for me as well.  Bamboo flooring is considered a “green” option for a new (or old) home.   It’s renewable since bamboo grows so fast, but we have to ship it from overseas, and given the limited regulations and the high demand for bamboo, pesticide use has increased and extensive planting and harvesting has caused new environmental problems.  Never mind that for some products there are high levels of formaldehyde from cheap glues.  That’s not to say using bamboo is bad—but it’s not a miracle and it’s not the place to start.

I’ve been talking about new homes lately and touched on green certifications and renewable energy.   What is behind these words renewable or green?  Sometimes trying to get it right we lose track of the goal and it is important to look at what is behind the label, or what we are trying to do.  “Greenwashing” doesn’t help the consumer or the cause.

I suggest sticking to the fundamentals.   The things that can make a home better for the environment and its occupants are often not the flashiest and they get overlooked. Like I’ve mentioned before, think about the “foundation” and “building blocks.” 

First and foremost, make sure the house is an efficient performer. A Prius is an efficient car because of the exceptional mileage that it gets.  For efficient homes that means consistent temperatures since its well insulated and air sealed.   But I can guarantee that most owners also appreciate that it is comfortable to drive.  I’m going to bet that the popularity of the Prius also has to do with the company’s reputation for durability and longevity.   What good is an efficient home if its not comfortable or for that matter ends up falling apart. 

Certainly renewable or green energy is a great thing and incorporating it in our homes is smart when we’ve done everything we can to use less energy to start with.  Make alternative energy the icing on the cake, not the cake. 

And “high-end”, doesn’t have to be “enormous”.  See the “Not So Big” writings of Sarah Susanka for a examples of beautiful, comfortable, livable, and energy-efficient homes.  

Where it makes sense keep stuff local: maybe flooring or countertops are produced in your state.  It helps our neighbors as well as keeps us all accountable for our actions.

Plan for the future:  This means good design now and for potential future remodeling.  

Remember one of the best renewable ideas is using a house that already exists it’s a great way to be green and recycle.  Building from scratch uses a lot of resources, and an old home already built can be safe, comfortable and efficient with a little bit of work.  GreenHomes America can certainly help with that!

And the less garbage and waste we produce, and less energy we use, the less we have to worry about whether burning garbage is a smart source of “renewable” energy.

 Thanks,

Jason

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