By Southern MN YES! Coordinator Michelle Isaacson
On a warm February 15th, 45 students and their teachers from Youth Energy Summit (YES!) teams at Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School, New Prague Alternative Learning Center, Sleepy Eye Public and St. Mary’s High Schools, Belle Plaine High School, and Mankato West High School gathered at Centenary United Methodist Church in Mankato to spend the day learning about active and passive energy strategies to building designs at the Winter Workshop.
Students spent the day with multiple presenters. Kitty Stratton, consultant for SunWindLight and Plans Examiner for the city of Minneapolis, began the day with a presentation on passive energy saving strategies, meaning the buildings discussed were ultra low energy buildings from utilizing natural elemental factors of a location. Long ago, these types of building strategies were common knowledge, using familiarity with weather, wind, solar radiation, and moisture to dictate their housing structures. Over time those skills and knowledge had been lost but we are now starting to gain back that consciousness as NetZero homes, a building producing as much energy as it uses, are being built and people are more aware of their energy usage. This is a major improvement since average household size is decreasing while average square footage is increasing.
Kitty had the students pick two materials out of her pile of Styrofoam, insulation, pool noodles, cloth and more. Their task was to insulate a glass of hot water to see how close they could keep the temperature to the initial reading, two hours later. Each team chose different materials and had various levels of success. The most successful team used Styrofoam and encapsulated the glass in it. Kitty then went on to talk about how important insulation is to minimizing energy loss in a building.
Along with proper insulation, Kitty emphasized the importance of using what is free to us. Positioning windows in correct locations can allow solar energy to be utilized to warm a space on its own or with the help of Trombe or water walls. The idea of the walls is for the materials to collect heat from the sun and store it to be released at night when the free heating source, the sun, disappears. Since 35% of heating or cooling is lost through windows, good quality windows are a huge factor to energy savings. Another free resource is wind. Using natural ventilation cuts down on cooling costs, and if done properly, can eliminate the need for an air conditioner. These are just a few of the many passive energy options to put into practice.
Gary Schollmeier, active energy efficiency enthusiast and NetZero homeowner, finished up the morning discussing active energy strategies for homes. He says that the cleanest, safest, and cheapest energy is energy that one does not use. Since it would be very difficult to not use any energy in today’s world, Gary discussed options of energy creation that are healthier for the earth. He started with solar and the various types available and moved into geothermal and wind. Technology is expanding to make it easier for the general homeowner to choose these types of energy options.
The afternoon led us the Mankato Public Safety Center with a presentation by Director Todd Miller. The center was awarded the Gold Certification as a LEED building. LEED certification means that the building has gone through rigorous steps to become more sustainable and is awarded points for each implementation, which then determines what level of certification is achieved. The building was completely gutted with a replaced roof during construction. Energy Star appliances, building materials and decorations made of recycled content, and locally derived and reused materials make up just a few of the many aspects that gave this building such a high rating. It is a mere seven points from qualifying for Platinum Certification, which is an impressive feat. Their solar panel array located on the roof, an active energy strategy, will be owned after six years of renting. The rent payment is covered by the price of electricity produced so having the panels installed costs nothing for the center.
Participants left with a broader knowledge on what is available for sustainable building options and that there are many possibilities for their schools and communities to engage in. It takes research and hard work, but there is hope for sustainable living to be commonplace.