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Could Resilience Become the New Green?

Posted March 1, 2012 11:40 AM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Behind the Scenes, Resilient Design
The latest EBN feature article is new available. Click on image to enlarge.

A new feature article in Environmental Building News examines how a focus on resilient design could advance green building more quickly than our current focus on sustainability.

Sometimes advancing sustainability feels like pushing a boulder uphill. Are we like a modern-day (benevolent) Sisyphus who keeps pushing the idea of sustainability uphill only to have it roll back down as other priorities grab society's attention?

Local Food and Resilience

Posted February 14, 2012 12:30 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Resilient Design
The highly productive Kingsbury Farm in Waitsfield, Vermont in mid-August, 2011. Note the tracking PV modules in the background. Photo: Alex Wilson. Click on image to enlarge.

In this final installment of my ten-part series on resilient design, I'm taking a look at where our food comes from and how we can achieve more resilient food systems.

The average salad in the U.S. is transported roughly 1,400 miles from farm to table, and here in the Northeast, we get most of our fresh food from more than 3,000 miles away. Even in Iowa, where 95% of the land area is in agricultural production, one is hard-pressed to buy locally grown produce.

Resilient Communities

Posted February 7, 2012 12:55 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Resilient Design
A pedestrian-friendly, walkable community was created in Annapolis, Maryland, making getting around without cars much more feasible. Photo: Dan Burden. Click on image to enlarge.

In this ninth installment of my ten-part series on resilient design I'm focusing beyond individual buildings to the community scale. Following a natural disaster or other problem that results in widespread power outages or interruptions in vehicle access or fuel supplies, people need to work together. We saw that throughout Vermont with Tropical Storm Irene last year when some communities were cut off for a week or more. Where there were cohesive communities in place--where people knew their neighbors and worked cooperatively on issues of common concern--dealing with the crisis was a lot easier.

Resilient Design: Water in a Drought-Prone Era

Posted January 31, 2012 7:00 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Resilient Design
July, 2011 dust storm in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: Militec, Inc. Click on image to enlarge.

Periodic drought is something that a significant portion of the U.S. will have to get used to in the coming decades. Climate scientists tell us that while precipitation will increase overall with climate change, certain regions, including the American West, will see increased frequency of drought.

I certainly saw that last year, when I spent six weeks bicycling through the Southwest, from San Diego to Houston. Most of the 1,900 miles I covered had seen barely a drop of rain since the previous fall. Statewide, Texas had an average of just 15 inches of rain in 2011--barely half of the typical rainfall.

Resilient Design: Emergency Renewable Energy Systems

Posted January 24, 2012 5:20 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Resilient Design
Our pellet stove has DC fans and a kit that allows us to hook it up to a battery to power those fans in the event of a power outage. Photo: Alex Wilson. Click on image to enlarge.

House location and design are the starting points in achieving resilience--where the house located, how well it can weather storms and flooding, and how effectively it retains heat and utilizes passive solar for heating and daylighting. Beyond that, we should look to more active renewable energy systems for back-up heat, water heating, and electricity. This week we'll review these options.

Wood stoves

Resilient Design: Natural Cooling

Posted January 17, 2012 5:30 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Resilient Design
This exterior window shade in Florida blocks most of the solar gain, yet allows some view out. Photo: Alex Wilson. Click on image to enlarge.

Over the past month-and-a-half, I've been focusing on resilient design--which will become all the more important in this age of climate change. Achieving resilience in homes not only involves keeping them comfortable in the winter months through lots of insulation and some passive solar gain (which I've covered in the previous two blogs), it also involves keeping them from getting too hot in the summer months if we lose power and our air conditioning systems stop working. This week, despite the freezing weather, we'll look at cooling-load-avoidance strategies and natural ventilation.

Orientation and building geometry

Resilient Design: Passive Solar Heat

Posted January 10, 2012 12:50 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Resilient Design

Passive solar design is a key element of creating resilient homes.

A passive solar home in Halifax, Vermont. High-SHGC, triple-glazed, south-facing windows were used to improve the direct-gain passive solar performance. Click on image to enlarge.

As I discussed in last week's blog, a resilient home is extremely well-insulated, so that it can be kept warm with very little supplemental heat--and if power or heating fuel is lost, for some reason, there won't be risk of homeowners getting dangerously cold or their pipes freezing. If we design and orient the house in such a way that natural heating from the sun can occur, we add to that resilience and further reduce the risk of the house getting too cold in the winter.

Passive solar heating

Resilient Design: Dramatically Better Building Envelopes

Posted January 3, 2012 1:20 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Resilient Design

A resilient home is a highly energy-efficient home that will maintain livable conditions even during power outages or interruptions in heating fuel.

A superinsulated "Passive House" being built by Dan Whitmore in Seattle. These wall trusses provide about a foot of insulation. Photo: Dan Whitmore. Click on image to enlarge.

When most people think about resilience--resilience to storms or terrorism, for example--they think only about resilience during the event. Equally important, if not more important, I believe, is resilience in the aftermath of that event. Hurricanes, ice storms, blizzards, wildfires, tornadoes, and other natural disasters not only have an immediate impact, for which we may or may not be able to prepare, but they often have a much longer-term impact, usually through extended power outages.

The same goes for terrorist actions; some suggest that smarter terrorists of the future may target our energy infrastructure or hack into power system controls to wreak havoc (cyberterrorism).

Resilience: Designing Smarter Houses

Posted December 27, 2011 8:55 AM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Resilient Design
On August 28th Tropical Storm Irene flooded downtown Brattleboro, totally submerging Flat Street. Photo: Charlie Boswell. Click on image to enlarge.

As we look to create homes and communities that will keep us comfortable and safe in a world of climate change, terrorism, and other vulnerabilities, there are a handful of strategies that I group loosely under the heading of "smarter design." Some of these strategies come into play more at the land-use planning scale, or are relevant only in certain locations that are at risk of flooding, but all are worth thinking about when planning a new home.

Where we build

Resilience: Designing Homes for More Intense Storms

Posted December 20, 2011 12:30 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Resilient Design
Route 4 near Killington, Vermont was closed for more than a month due to flooding from Tropical Storm Irene. Photo: Lars Gange and Mansfield Heliflight. Click on image to enlarge.

Anyone who was in Vermont in late August of this year and witnessed the raging floodwaters from Hurricane Irene and the havoc they wreaked, gained an intimate view of the vulnerabilities we face from intense storms and flooding. Hundreds of miles of roadway were heavily damaged, dozens of bridges washed away, and some communities were cut off for weeks. Vermont is not alone. Throughout the Northeast, there was a 67% increase in heavy rainfall events (defined as the heaviest 1% of all rainfall events) from 1958 to 2007, according to the multi-agency U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Climate scientists tell us to get used to it.

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