East Bay residents showcase creative innovations for sustainable living
The latest in green living is on full display in the East Bay. One of the game changers: Electric space and water heating. This innovation may be in store for all Californians as the state moves to 100 percent electric energy by 2045. Listen below for the full report.
Glenn Reeder: A group of ecology conscience Bay Area residents opened their homes this weekend as part of an event to promote sustainable living. The Eco Home and Garden Tour was organized by 350 Bay Area, a local chapter of the international environmental organization 350.org.
Participants glimpsed a variety of ideas on sustainable living and got a taste of what changes could be in store for many California homes as the state moves to 100 percent electric energy by 2045. Jody strait files this report.
Jody Strait: Can making your home more sustainable make your life easier too? 350 Bay Area’s inaugural Eco Home and Garden Tour gave attendees some ideas.
These homeowners no longer have to put gas in their cars. They’ve slashed their utility bills in half—and then half again—and eliminated toxins like carbon monoxide from their homes. A crucial part of the equation is adopting electric home and water heating instead of using gas. Diane Sweet of Emerald Eco, a sustainable building renovation company, explains why.
Diane Sweet: Natural gas is not a clean burning fuel, so what that means is that you still have elements of nitrous oxides and formaldehyde and carbon monoxide that’s being emitted into your home. You are breathing it while you’re cooking on a stove.
Jody Strait: Natural gas is often used in homes for space and water heating, along with powering stoves, ovens, clothes dryers and lighting. Jane Melia, one of the eco-homeowners, eliminated natural gas from her home in a unique way. At her home in Kensington, California, she walks a group of onlookers through her organic garden into a tight alcove.
Jane Melia: Okay, so the mechanical room is this way.
Jody Strait: Crouching down, they crowd into the control room. Wires are taped across an aluminum panel. Papers replete with diagrams, measurements and temperature conversions are stuck in place with red and green push pins. What looks like an after-school science project is actually a pioneering home heating and hot water control system that has allowed Melia and her husband to reduce the home’s energy use by 80 percent.
The patented system cost six thousand dollars in parts to install. The labor and development much more. Melia hopes to reduce the installation costs, and she’s formed a business to do so.
Jane Melia: It’s expensive to install. The installation is, is a lot. It’s more than the actual equipment, and that shouldn’t be so. You could get the installation down by a factor of three, easily.
Jody Strait: Dan Johnson of Beyond Efficiency has helped Melia develop the system. He says eliminating natural gas from homes can also prevent catastrophic gas leaks, like the 2015 Aliso Canyon leak. That continued for four months in Southern California. By the time the leak was controlled, 109,000 metric tonnes of methane were emitted—the equivalent of nearly 600,000 cars being driven for one year.
Dan Johnson: The more we can cut back on gas infrastructure then we’re increasing safety around the whole city. That’s, it’s—the health and safety have always been risks with gas and there’s always been problems, but we’ve never had an alternative until now. And now that we do have an alternative there’s no reason to continue those systems.
Jody Strait: But it’s not enough to power a home with renewable energy, according to James Bill, Principal Architect at Zero Impact Architecture. Embodied carbon, he says, the carbon emitted by creating the building materials (think steel and Styrofoam insulation) have to be accounted for too.
James Bill: So no matter how flat the energy consumption is, the operational energy and operational carbon footprint is, you’ve already lost the race by having this very steep embodied carbon footprint. So we’re trying to rectify that by using materials that are grown. Hemp grows. Trees grow. We take that growth, and they grab the, they grab carbon out of the air, and then we put that into buildings.
Jody Strait: For KPFA Radio in the East Bay, I’m Jody Strait.