Eco-friendly home moves in, brings green energy to C-U

By ME Online

Monday marked our entrance into a major deficit with a larger impact worldwide than the two-trillion dollar tab we’ve racked up in the Iraq War. According to the Global Footprint Network, an American-based think tank, the global community will be taking out loans on natural resources for the remainder of this calendar year. The organization has established an “Ecological Debt Day” annually since 1987, with the first falling on Dec. 19. The unwelcome holiday marks the day of the year in which we exceed our annual allotment of natural resources. The Ecological Debt Day has creeped up the calendar steadily ever since, with its earliest stance occurring this year.

The change in Ecological Debt Day is an urgent reminder that we can not continue to rely on fossil fuels to support our daily habits. A serious change needs to be made in the way we go about our lives from the ground up.

Sustainability is one facet of positive change. This concept involves making decisions while taking the environmental, social, economic and institutional impacts of an action into consideration. Sustainable design takes a conscious look at man-made materials, structures and products in regards to how they interact with the natural world.

E-Co Lab, a non-profit organization based in Urbana, works to apply sustainability to the local community. Established by Katrin Klingenberg in 2003, the group aims to provide sustainable housing to the low-mid income demographic. The group’s current project, the Fairview House, located at 1005 W. Fairview Ave. in Urbana, is an application of basic principles of sustainable design.

The Fairview House is categorized as a “passive house.” The concept behind these homes, based on German efficiency standards, is maintaining an internal atmosphere using the least amount of energy possible. This means that the building needs to be designed so that heat is retained during cold weather and kept out during the warm months. The Fairview House accomplishes these tasks by using relatively simple strategies. The key factors employed by the Fairview House are increasing wall thickness to provide the house with more insulation and strategically placing windows so they will provide light – and thus heat – only at desired times. Additional consideration is put into air circulation as the house needs to be sealed as much as possible in order to conserve energy.

As well as making energy-conscious choices during the building process, the Fairview House is constructed in part from recycled materials. The foundation of the house was taken from the remains of a local school. Additionally, a layer of plastic was applied before building the house on the foundation so it can be dismantled with minimal effects on the surrounding environment.

Estimates indicate that the Fairview House will use approximately 90 percent less energy than a typical house of its size in the Urbana area. According to Cunningham’s Principles of Environmental Science, approximately 37.6 percent of the energy consumed in the United States is used to maintain conditions in residential and commercial buildings. The continued development of energy-efficient housing will significantly decrease the amount of energy used on a national level.

While sustainable design is still a developing concept, it is one of the most promising methods of reducing our dependency on natural resources. The city of Urbana has recognized this promising local organization by providing partial financial support to the construction of Fairview House. Further support of organizations like E-Co Lab will aid in the continued development of sustainable design.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held Sunday at Fairview House as a concluding event to the fourth annual Ecological Construction Symposium. E-Co Lab sponsors many other events this weekend in conjunction with the Symposium, including a passive housing and energy efficiency training today at their office in Urbana. This event will provide important information on how you can aid in reducing energy use in your own home.

For more information visit www.e-colab.org.