Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Surprises on the 2009 Tour of Solar Homes & Green Buildings

Last year I took the Tour of Solar Homes & Green Buildings. The 2009 Tour was informative and full of surprises for me, plus I got to meet some interesting people. I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I plan to go on the 2010 Tour of Solar Homes & Green Buildings on Saturday, October 2nd, 10am-4pm.

To whet your appetite for the 2010 Tour, descriptions of three of the places that I visited last year, along with some photos, are shown below.

First stop, Depew, NY:
I wasn't sure what I was going to find at the so-called "Straw Bale House", having read the story of The Three Little Pigs and learned that straw is not necessarily the preferred building material. I was pleasantly surprised to find the beautiful home pictured above and to find out that, in addition to straw bales, wall construction included wood framing and structural insulated panels. Features of the "earth friendly" home include passive solar and radiant floor heating, solar- and gas-heated water, solar photovoltaic electricity, recycled materials and natural finishes with earthen plasters.
At the home I met the builder, David Lanfear of Bale on Bale Construction, and the architect & designer, Kevin Connors of eco_logic STUDIO, pictured at right inside the home. In recognition of their achievements, these men along with homeowner, Carrie Zaenglein, received a commendation for outstanding leadership in sustainable design from the WNY Sustainable Energy Association Trust.

Second stop, Lancaster, NY:
The photo shows part of the Global Headquarters for Ecology and Environment, Inc.. It looks like a nice place to work, doesn't it? The building interior is not only very beautiful, it is energy efficient and environmentally friendly. In recognition of these and other features of the building, E&E Inc. has been awarded a Platinum designation from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

Upon entering the building, visitors can meet ED, the "Earth Day" buffalo, and will see extensive, plant-filled atriums. My tour was led by Robert Gibson, who explained all of the eco-friendly features of the building. Windows open and close automatically depending upon the outside temperature. Solar panels on the roof are linked to a "GreenMeter" that monitors the building's usage of electricity and natural gas as well as the outside temperature. In the parking lot, there is an area reserved for car pool, hybrid, and alternative-fuel vehicles.

Third stop, Buffalo, NY:
The smallest building I visited housed the biggest surprises. The building is an adobe and straw bale greenhouse warmed by the sun and located on Buffalo's West Side, as part of the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP). Inside I saw elevated shelves of various green plants, a myriad of pipes and heard the sounds of dripping water. Looking down at the floor level I saw a large water tank filled with fish...lots of fish. What's going on here?

I met the person in charge, Jesse Meeder, who explained that the system is called "aquaponics". The fish eat duckweed and other small plants grown inside the greenhouse, and they live in rain water collected on site. The waste water produced by the fish is pumped up to the green plants to fertilize them. The plants thrive on the waste and, at the same time, clean up the water which is then returned to the fish. Brilliant! A more-or-less self-sustaining eco-system, requiring only a small amount of electricity for the pumps.

Meeder built the system himself using available materials and a small budget. Thinking that Meeder was some sort of bio-engineering grad, I asked him what his major was in college. "English" was his reply. Hmmm, I thought, clearly a Renaissance man!

Last year when I saw the fish, called tilapia, they were tiny. When grown to full size, around 10 inches, there is a market for the fish, and Meeder already had advance orders from restaurants. There is a market for the greens, like parsely, lettuce, and watercress too. Meeder also mentioned plans to expand the operation. Sounded like the makings for not only a good neighbor but also an environmentally-friendly, local business growing on Buffalo's West Side.

Plan to Attend the 2010 Tour of Solar Homes & Green Buildings:
Saturday, October 2nd, 10am-4pm.
The tour is sponsored by the WNY Sustainable Energy Association.
For a List of Homes & Buildings for the 2010 Tour, click here.

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