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Sustain the earth with renewable energy: Sierra Hollister explains that grid-free living is as simple as sun, wind, and water.

What does sustainable mean? The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language definition says: 1. To keep in existence; maintain; prolong. 2. To supply with necessities or nourishment; provide for. 3. To support from below; keep from falling or sinking; to prop. 4. To support the spirits; vitality, or resolution of in-spirit; encourage. The word sustainable has many connotations and many meanings for people. I see also that the word is being commercially hijacked to suit the intent and purposes of various corporate interests. If we combine the first and the fourth definitions from the dictionary, we come closest to defining sustainable in terms of sustainable living. How about "a way of existing on the earth that can be infinitely maintained with regard to the health, harmony and vitality of the living earth"?

For the sake of a starting point, I will assume your agreement with my proposed definition. What now does a sustainable building look like? What does it mean for a home or commercial structure to state sustainability? First, we would look at site selection. Each site is going to have a unique relationship with climate and resources. Generally in the Southern Appalachian area we have both mountains and flat lands, access to forests and water, sun and wind. The building would first and foremost be sited in relationship to the most abundant (and free) energy source of all--the Sun! Solar Architecture is no newfangled approach. The ancient Greeks applied many of the principles of passive solar design in their architecture almost 3,000 years ago. Perhaps it is telling that the legacy of Socrates includes statements on the importance of building homes with a southern exposure and overhanging eaves. In addition to a southern exposure and overhanging eaves, there are some very basic rules of passive solar design: more windows on the south side, less or none on the north side; locate living spaces on the south side while placing bathrooms, closets, storage, entry ways and garages on the north side; a two story building will lose less heat than a one story building with the same floor space. Insulation is big factor in passive design as well. [For more on passive solar design, see the article on page 8 of this issue.]

What about building materials? If we could make, gather and use materials found on our building site, these would be the most energy efficient and sustainable materials. However, this is not always possible. The next best thing is to use several guidelines in choosing our materials. Consider materials that are produced locally, thereby avoiding transportation energy. The less refined the product is the less energy used to produce it. Use recycled materials wherever possible. Take things one step further and search for products produced with renewable energy. A "sustainable" domestic or commercial structure that consumes huge amounts of energy to build is truly not sustainable over time.

What is next in the quest for sustainability? How will we power our building? Can we call our home sustainable if we are using conventional power from a conventional energy grid? The reality is that fossil fuels are finite and nuclear fuels are far too dangerous and deadly to fit into our definition of sustainable. Where does that leave the person who wants to live and work in harmony with the earth? With plenty of options, fortunately!

As with building, efficiency is our cornerstone. There are many super-efficient appliances available for the consumer. You will not find these appliances in the local Wal-Mart. You can find them available through any of your local renewable energy companies. Look under solar in your phone book for a listing. Once you have taken the time to make sure that your power usage will be done in the most efficient manner available, you are ready to address the source of power.

The United States, Sweden, and Denmark lead the world in the development of wind power. Western North Carolina is one of the top places in the United States for wind generation. If there is a falling stream nearby then there is the potential for micro-hydro for powering your building. Micro-hydro is an especially enticing option as it is less expensive to develop and has a lower cost per kilowatt than solar and wind. Solar is a renewable energy that can do it all: heat our water, heat our homes and provide the electricity for lighting and appliances. Solar energy has come of age and there are many structures in place to support the builders and consumers who want to use renewable energy, including tax credits (see sidebar on page 7).

Some people will argue that renewable energy is not cost efficient. And it is not if you do a straight comparison of how much it will cost to use conventional power from the utility each month to how much it will cost (for example) to install a photovoltaic system. But this cost analysis is misleading and inaccurate. The government hugely subsidizes energy utilities and the damaging effects upon the earth is not factored into their cost. We all pay for this "cheap energy" one way or another, be it a ravaged earth, sick children, or dismal air quality.

There is the peace of mind that you cannot buy for any amount of money that is the result of right and clean livelihood. As Chief Seattle so succinctly put it, "We have not inherited the earth from our fathers, we are borrowing it from our children." I would like know that I had done my best to care for our earth, wouldn't you?

Sierra Hollister teaches yoga in Asheville, NC and enjoys off-the-grid living with her husband, Dave. Together they own Sundance Power, offering a variety of renewable energy solutions. For more info, call 877-208-1811.
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Article Details
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Author:Hollister, Sierra
Publication:New Life Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
Words:964
Previous Article:Green building Q and A: John Senechal answers commonly asked questions about building and renovating with health and environment in mind.
Next Article:Tax credits and other governmental goodies.
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