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Archive for Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Green trends hold strong, even in tight economy

April 21, 2009

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Design-builder Kenton Knowles, foreground, oversees the construction of a “green” home near Oskaloosa for Tim O’Brien, who works on the roof beam above.

Design-builder Kenton Knowles, foreground, oversees the construction of a “green” home near Oskaloosa for Tim O’Brien, who works on the roof beam above.

American gas prices reached $3.50 for the first time in April 2008. Six weeks later, they’d escalated to $4 and threatened to go higher. Conversations buzzed about ways to reduce mileage and adopt more sustainable and eco-friendly living practices.

Memories are short. Gas prices fell to below $2. Conversations about energy cutbacks have subsided in some circles.

But not in those of Lawrence residents such as Kim Bellemere, Kenton Knowles and Scott Zaremba. They believe the ongoing recession is a call to further eco-friendly action.

“We need to face the facts and live within our means,” said Knowles, owner of Global Home Design Inc. “We need to hunker down to reduce the impact on our global and local resources, and in our own pocketbooks.”

Knowles believes building eco-friendly houses will help achieve this.

“Sustainable houses use recycled materials and renewable energy sources like the wind and sun,” he said. “Every building project I’ve undertaken since 2000 has had the sustainability perspective as its main design theme.”

All his projects equal or surpass the platinum level of the current favored green architectural rating system (referred to as LEED) developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Two of Knowles’ sustainable houses are in North Lawrence.

“One’s a straw hybrid — a wood framed-building with straw bale infill as insulation,” he said. “The other is mainly built with rastra, an insulated concrete form, made with 85 percent consumer-recycled Styrofoam. It’s the only building material I know of that uses so much post-consumer content as its main ingredient. The material has a lifespan of several hundred years.”

Knowles believes now is the time to start sustainable building.

“It’s the cheapest time to build since the ’80s. Material and labor costs are down, and tax incentives are available,” he said.

Fuel options

Building a sustainable, environmentally friendly fuel station — the first of its kind in the U.S. — was the goal of Zaremba, president of Zarco 66.

“I wanted to create a fuel station in line with the Environmental Protection Agency’s four R’s — reduce, re-use, recycle and renew,” he said. “Building from scratch was cost-prohibitive for an independent retailer, so I took an existing site at Ninth and Iowa and transformed it into a green location. It’s shown others how they could accomplish the same thing within their budget. Our sustainable facility is a model for the rest of the country.”

Zaremba recently spent an additional $10,000 to add a vertical wind turbine on the facility’s roof. He said he’s driven to spend the money because it’s the right thing to do.

“I believe we need to get to a point where we will be able to sustain ourselves in the future and not depend on outside sources,” Zaremba said. “I believe I’m investing in building a better, cleaner and safer future for my two children and future generations.”

Green for the family

Bellemere, a member of the Lawrence Sustainability Network and facilitator of its EcoParents Group, doesn’t have the same financial resources as Knowles and Zaremba.

“Sustainable living isn’t all about spending big money,” she said. “We can start with simpler stuff.

“It isn’t an all or nothing thing. Most of us can’t afford to sell our house and rebuild, or buy a hybrid car right now, but we can re-evaluate the way and how much we drive. We can re-use instead of always buying new. We can grow organic veggies, turn thermostats down, use less electricity and shop more wisely.”

She said sustainable living requires planning and forethought.

“Just because we can’t do it perfectly, or do really big things, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything at all,” she said.

“The important thing is that we try to make changes gradually. Our family is doing things better than we did a year ago, and we’re having fun learning to about new ways to sustain ourselves and the planet.”

She’s found the EcoParents Group to be a help in supporting her efforts at sustainable living. The group meets monthly and has plans to explore topics such as ways to eat green on a budget, how eating/food habits impact the earth, home care/cleaning and sustainable shopping.

“I hope the tough economy isn’t an excuse for people to decide not to make greener choices,” Bellemere said. “If each of us does what we can, we will make a difference.”

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