A home profiled in Wired has six very interesting zero-carbon elements, but it’s the last two that fascinate me – thick walls and ultra-efficient windows. Thick walls mean “two 8-inch-thick concrete layers that protect the interior from outside temperature fluctuations. On hot days, the concrete absorbs and retains heat, keeping rooms cool; at night it slowly releases that heat to maintain steady temps around the clock.”
And the windows, “three coats of glazing give these windows more than twice the thermal resistance of standard double-paned glass.”
Both focus on the thermal energy efficiency of a home. With the goal of completely insulating a home – no heat lost or gained, no cool air lost or gained. Several homes are being built with the goal of 100% efficiency and that completely alters how a home functions. Things like the heat created by our 98.6 degree bodies become important. Facing a home in the sun (cold climates) or away from (hot climates) becomes essential.
And a lot of this can be accomplished with simple building materials, like concrete walls – which can easily be incorporated in building new homes. And the more complicated materials, like nanotech windows discussed in the article, can be placed on existing homes:
There’s some revolutionary nanotechnology that’s about to go into the glass—different kinds of coatings that make them five to 10 times more energy-efficient than double-paned windows. These windows are as energy-efficient as walls.
With these improvements the energy costs of heating and cooling should plummet, and traditional heaters and HVACs can be downsized or turned off for weeks at a time.
A great technology for water conservation is available called the point-of-use tankless water heater. These small box-like devices can be installed underneath the sink in a kitchen or bathroom. They offer a simple way to avoid running cold water for minutes while you wait for hot water. For showers, the EPA says the average output is 2.5 gallons/minute and assuming a few showers a week that adds up 500+ gallons of water wasted every year.
In most houses this waste occurs because the water heater is located a significant distance from the faucet or shower. The hot water has to travel that distance to reach the user. The tankless technology shrinks the size of the water heater allowing you to place it right where it is needed.
One can imagine eco-friendly homes of the future skipping the central water heater altogether and placing point-of-use heaters wherever water is used. Not only would this save hundreds of gallons of water but also cut energy costs by 27-50%, according to the Dept. of Energy. For existing homes, like ours, we can place them in our heavy water use areas (i.e. bathrooms, where we use 50% of our water) as a supplement to traditional water heaters.
On a side note, replacing a traditional water heater with a tankless version can reap incredible energy savings, up to 30%. Traditional heaters keep 40+ gallons of water hot 24 hours a day, even though we only use it for minutes a day. A great waste of energy compared to tankless versions which heat water only when needed. However, if you want to conserve water then installing a tankless in the same place won’t work. You will need to put one at your point-of-use.
The heaters run $100-200 and are found at every major hardware store, including Amazon. They may need minimal electrical or plumbing work. I have not installed one myself but research shows it is not hard (depending on your skill level). I would recommend researching your situation before purchasing – intended water use, plumbing/electrical needs, reading reviews.
Point-of-use tankless water heaters are the ideal solution for water conservation. They cut out waste and don’t require a change in habits, allowing us to treat water like the precious resource it is and still enjoy our favorite comforts. Plus, as more people begin to install them the price should drop and make it easier for everyone to afford this eco-friendly upgrade.
To explain all this let’s start with what Zero Waste means. The concept isn’t about throwing things away, like most think, it’s about sustainability and recycling. We are all consumers and will continue to be, and the goal isn’t to get rid of consumption but to modify it. To create a system where everything we use ends up someplace other than a landfill.
California set a goal of a 50% reduction in 1989. In the last decade, most of the state has achieved that and surpassed it (the current statewide rate is 65%). Now, the government has upped the ante, asking for 75% by 2020.
I am often frustrated by the lack of depth in articles about sustainability. It’s as if all writers and “experts” are recycling the same content. We all feel this impending sense of climactic doom and want to make changes, but then we are fed the same tips we already know. I think I’ve discovered why this is happening.