Achieving Sustainability Through Multiple Systems

Braås small-scale heat plant in Växjö

A small wood-fueled heating plant in Växjö.

Creating a sustainable city depends on optimizing multiple systems. It doesn’t happen with tackling just one issue.

Here’s a BuildingGreen post from Alex at BuildingGreen.com about “Europe’s greenest city.” Växjö, pop. 61,000, set a goal to be independent of fossil fuels by 2030. The city has addressed energy needs and pollution with several approaches.

A biomass combined heat and power plant burns wood chips sourced locally. The plant serves 6,500 customers with heat delivered via insulated hot-water pipes, and provides electricity to 29,000 customers. The city’s population is roughly 61,000 people. More in the Wikipedia entry.

This all reminds me of what  CCLEP is doing on Minnesota’s north shore. With projects devoted to wind, solar, district heating, transportation, and energy efficiency, CCLEP is figuring out what works. It often takes a hefty investment in infrastructure up front, but the effort should pay off over time, and pollution should be more easily minimized.

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably with

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Becoming A Very Green City

Convergence. Synergy. Whatever you call it, many different organizations in my city (the La Crosse, Wisconsin area) are coming together to learn, teach, and practice sustainable living principles. And it appears that momentum is building. La Crosse is becoming a very green city.

So many different projects are interwoven that it can be challenging to remember them all. Some are well under way, such as Gundersen Lutheran’s projects, and some are still in the planning stages. In no particular order…

Creating a community food system

Hillview Urban Agriculture Center is building a community food system. This nonprofit group is working with Western Technical College, Mayo Health System, Organic Valley, the YMCA, and others to grow and distribute food for local people to eat, addressing food insecurity, food deserts, and healthy eating.

Western Technical College will build a new greenhouse system on campus that will provide space for Hillview, as well as for the college’s Landscape Horticulture Program. The college will build three Passive Houses on the former Hillview Greenhouse site. WTC students will help build one home per year, gaining invaluable hands-on experience, integrating the different elements of the Building Innovations program, and adding to knowledge of best practices for sustainable housing. The houses will be sold, adding to the tax base of the city.

This photo shows the old Hillview site, where three Passive Houses will be built by professional contractors and WTC students.

 

Western Sustainability Institute will be a regional resource

WTC is also building the Western Sustainability Institute, which is to be a central resource for the regional sustainability efforts of business, government, nonprofits, and education. The Sustainability Institute will be advised by the Mississippi River Region Sustainable Communities Consortium (MRRSCC), which includes members from regional government, planning, education, and nonprofit entities. The MRRSCC is being developed with funding from a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Gundersen Lutheran is nearly energy independent

Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center is a national leader in sustainability efforts through their Envision program, and will be energy independent in 2014. They’ve invested in conservation, tapped the county landfill for methane, invested in wind farms, installed a biomass boiler, and more.

And the City of La Crosse and La Crosse County have adopted The Natural Step, which provides a framework for ensuring that human activities are done sustainably. And many more projects are under way.

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

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A Tiny House In the Back Yard

 

Here’s a great staccessory dwelling unitory illustrating how different housing arrangements, such as a tiny house in the back yard, can meet a variety of needs and wants. For aging parents; young adults juggling college, traveling, and volunteering; or friends who need little space, it’s a great way to stay connected to friends and family, while ensuring that everyone has some space.

Adding a tiny home is a sort of infill development, and helps to enliven older neighborhoods. Large suburban lots, of course, will have plenty of room for tiny homes, which can help to enhance the feel of community.

One of the main issues is prohibitive regulations, as adding another housing unit of any size is often prohibited. And many people are concerned about their property values and seeing junky shacks constructed as rental units. Valid concerns, but no reason to prohibit tiny homes outright. You’ll see the term “accessory dwelling unit” applied to buildings like tiny homes, and it’s an acknowledgement that building codes and zoning regulations can adapt.

Lloyd Kahn’s latest book, Tiny Homes, offers hundreds of creative examples of small dwellings, from cheap and funky to surprisingly expensive. Deek over at Relax Shacks will show you inventive ideas as well. And Kent Griswold of The Tiny House Blog covers the topic extensively.

 

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

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Learning Center Built from Straw Bales and Whole Trees

Whole Trees Architecture and Structures.

Learning Center at Angelic Organics designed and built by Roald Gundersen and Whole Trees Architecture and Structures.

Whole Trees Architecture and Structures creates some beautiful, earthy buildings. They use unmilled, whole trees that grow quickly and are a renewable resource.

 

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture

Energy Efficient Homes Can Be Beautiful, Affordable, and Durable

Here’s an article about Blue Ridge Energy Systems of Fletcher, North Carolina. Nice looking projects, with a history of energy efficiency and fine craftsmanship. In fact, they claim that heating and cooling for their typical homes will total less than $200 per year, and they can build it at roughly the same cost as a convention home.

The homes are Energy Star certified, but not Passive House certified. A $200 annual heating and cooling bill sounds a lot cheaper than meeting rigorous Passive House standards.

energy efficient home,

A project built by Blue Ridge Energy Systems of Fletcher, North Carolina.

Their building method is a pretty basic approach for this sort of house: comprehensive air sealing, lots of insulation, a heat recovery ventilator, triple-pane windows, heat pumps, and solar electric.

What’s more, today’s approach is an evolution of the methods the company’s founder, Robin Woodward, has used since the 1970s. Just a reminder that practices can evolve but principles remain constant. It’s good to know that energy efficient homes can be beautiful, affordable, and durable.

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

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Learning From Strong Towns

The Strong Towns blog

The Strong Towns blog

The Strong Towns blog has been interesting reading today. It’s a great way to learn some things about highways, streets, stroads, urban and suburban development, community development, and more. There’s loads of info about why the infrastructure we have now is failing, crumbling, ugly, miserable, and so on.

The post above reminds me of Steward Brand’s book, “How Buildings Learn,” in which he talks about cheap, ugly, adaptable buildings. Brand calls these “low-road” spaces, and they’re great for business startups, musicians, artists, and anyone who wants to hack away at a building, improving its functionality, without worrying about how it looks. Oftentimes they end up looking sort of purposeful, if not graceful.

The Strong Towns blog

The Strong Towns blog

The strong Towns blog is where I first read about the Northeast Investment Cooperative in Minneapolis. An investment cooperative sounds like a strange animal, but what a great idea! A group of citizens pool their money and buy, rehab, and manage both residential and commercial property in their neighborhood. I’m curious about how they manage the group, how they work with the local government, and those sorts of logistical issues. I’ll have to check it out further.

From the NEIC web site.

From the NEIC web site.

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

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Natural Building In Nicaragua

Liz Johndrow is a natural builder based in Vermont who offers classes and workshops, some aimed at women. You can find her blog here.

The following photos are from one of her workshops teaching natural building in Nicaragua. I wrote about the topic of building homes in Nicaragua a few months ago in Are Earth Bag Homes the Best Low-Cost Housing Option? I like the choice of materials here: locally available, rather than concrete block. She also teaches in the U.S., so interested people can learn to do what she does, and perhaps take those skills abroad, as she does.

Liz J Nica project Liz J. natural builder in Nicaragua

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

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Living With Less, Frank Lloyd Wright Style in the Haynes House : TreeHugger

Living With Less, Frank Lloyd Wright style in the Haynes House : TreeHugger.

Incredible design.

Here’s the video alone:

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And a couple more examples.

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Brandes House

 

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David Wright Home

 

The Farmhouse Media is all about living sustainably through

  • green building

  • green cities

  • permaculture