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Wednesday, 06 February 2008 00:00

Living with a green state of mind: Western North Carolina residents take steps to reduce their carbon footprint

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By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

Living “green” is a way of life for Mark and Darcia Bondurant. The Haywood County family of four works diligently everyday to reduce their carbon footprint by doing everything from buying locally produced food to heating their two-story mountain home with a passive solar design, a technique that utilizes the sun’s rays for warmth.

“We’re just strong environmentalists,” Darcia said from her home on Beaverdam Road.

As worries about global warming creep into the everyday consciousness, more Americans are taking measures like the Bondurants to lessen their dependency on fossil fuels. Everyday humans release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere when they drive cars, turn on lights, and crank on the heater or air conditioner.

Reducing the amount of carbon produced is a new approach individuals are taking to slow down climate change.

“A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide that an individual is responsible for reducing in their daily activities,” explained Matt Siegel, director of Western North Carolina Green Building Council, a nonprofit the promotes environmentally sustainable and health conscious building practices.

“Everything we consume has a carbon footprint,” Siegel said. From the food that we eat to the clothes that we buy, it takes energy to make all of these products.

Just think about the process to make a book, Siegel said. From cutting down trees, transporting them to a paper factory, getting that paper to a book maker, running the printing presses, and finally shipping it to the bookstore — this process releases a significant amount of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Some organizations — like the Green Building Council — are encouraging individuals and businesses to reduce their CO2 emissions. About a year ago several members of the council decided to start Appalachian Offsets, a voluntary program that gives Western North Carolina residents the opportunity to counterbalance the emissions they produce each year.

“We wanted to have a local solution for carbon offsetting,” Siegel said.

Area residents can offset their emissions by using a carbon footprint calculator, a tool that calculates the amount of CO2 emissions a person produces each year through their consumption of electricity and the number of miles they travel by vehicle or airplane.

The number calculated is calculated, believe it or not, in tons, not pounds. Individuals and businesses can balance their emissions by paying a fee of $15 a ton, Siegel said.

Since forming, the program has raised more than $16,000. All of the proceeds are going towards the promotion of local renewable energy projects, Siegel said.

The first project the program completed was replacing 5,500 light bulbs in Asheville Housing Authority’s homes with compact fluorescent bulbs. Compact fluorescent bulbs use much less energy than standard bulbs. According to one report, if every American home replaced just one light bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb, enough energy would be saved to light more than 3 million homes for a year and greenhouse gas emissions equal to the output of more than 800,000 cars would be eliminated .

 

Calculating your carbon footprint

So you know your weight and your cholesterol level, but what’s your carbon footprint? There are several Web sites that feature carbon calculators that will determine the amount of CO2 individuals release.

At Appalachian Offsets Web site — http://www.wncgbc.org/offset/index.php — its calculator asks for the amount of electricity, natural gas, oil, propane gas, kerosene and wood used in a year. It also asks your vehicle’s gas mileage, and the number of miles you travel this year.

Answer these few questions and click on the calculate button that appears at on the bottom left of the web page. Your footprint will be calculated and you can then offset your carbon emissions by paying a fee that will be used on energy-saving projects.

 

Changing behavior

Individuals can reduce their carbon footprint just by changing their behavior, said Lauren Bishop, energy manager at Western Carolina University.

Bishop has been busy passing out pamphlets promoting ways students, faculty, and staff can save energy.

She says that a person can reduce their CO2 emissions by 10 to 15 percent just by changing their daily living patterns. Turning off the lights when leaving a room, packing a lunch, and walking or riding a bike are a few easy lifestyle modifications that will reduce energy consumption, she said.

In addition to changing behavior, homeowners can reduce their electricity consumption and save money on their utility bills by replacing a few household items with energy saving products, said Paul Quinlan, a senior associate at the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association.

The sustainable energy association is a nonprofit group based in Raleigh that promotes the use of renewable energy sources through public policy, education and economic development.

In addition to switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, he suggested putting new weather stripping around all doors and windows and installing a programmable thermostat.

Individuals can go one step further and have an energy audit completed on their home or business. An energy audit examines a structure to find leaks in the duct work or air holes in an attic crawl space. The audit will offer tips to the owner on how to fix these problems, Quinlan explained.

Homeowners in Western North Carolina can contact Home Energy Partners in Asheville to have an audit completed of their house or business.

There are a number of elements to an energy audit, said Kelly Johnson, office manager for Home Energy Partners. Customers have the option of having a written report with photos that identify all the problem areas or they can just receive verbal recommendations, she explained.

One option offered in an energy audit is the use of an infrared camera that shows different temperatures throughout the house through the use of color. If a specific color appears, it illustrates where the energy is leaking out, explained Johnson.

Another component of the audit is an examination of the heating and air conditioning unit, Johnson said. “A lot of people lose energy through leaking ducts.”

The cost for an energy audit of a home or business can range from $400 to $700.

The last step in making a home more energy efficient, Quinlan says, is installing a solar hot water heater.

Lately more businesses and individuals are deciding to switch their hot water tanks to solar power, said Michael Shore, owner of FLS Energy in Black Mountain, which specializes in the installation of solar hot water heaters. Since opening his business in 2003, Shore says that he has seen a large increase in customers wanting to convert to solar hot water to save money.

“We have technology that saves homeowners and businesses money and reduces pollution,” Shore said.

By installing a new solar hot water heater or retrofitting an existing system, homeowners and businesses will see a quick return on their investment, he said. On average it costs a homeowner between $5,000 and $10,000 for a solar hot water heater. This price tag varies upon the size of the home and the number of people in the household, Shore explained.

Some may be skeptical about the solar tanks cost, but according to Shore a homeowner will start saving money once it’s installed.

Also, one of the perks of having a solar hot water heater is that individuals or businesses can qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit and a 35 percent state tax credit. For instance, if an individual spends $5,000 on a solar hot water heater they are eligible to receive a $2,000 rebate on their taxes, he explained. Additionally, homeowners will begin to save money once the system is installed Shore said.

“An individual can anticipate saving hundreds of dollars a year in their standard heating bill.”

 

Building green

Since more people are thinking green, it’s allowing contractors like Rob Moody, owner of EcoBuilders in Asheville, to combine his passion for ecology and building houses.

The former Waynesville biology teacher said he wanted to do more to help the environment, which gave him the idea to start building green homes.

“I wanted to figure out a way to get out of the confines of the classroom and still make an impact,” he said.

Since opening his business five years ago, Moody has built a number of green homes in the Asheville area. His business was the first to build a healthy built home, a certification that a home can receive from the WNC Green Building Council.

A healthy built home is a structure that features many eco-friendly design practices, which reduces the amount of waste produced when building a home. Moody is currently building eight eco-sensitive homes in the Buncombe County area.

“This area has a lot of people interested in green building,” Moody said “It’s an excellent place to be.”

 

But why go green?

When Mark and Darcia Bondurant moved to Western North Carolina to raise their family in the mountains, it was natural for them to build an eco-friendly house. The couple — both former journalists — decided living in a green house was something that fit their lifestyle.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” Darcia said as she organized some recyclables.

Mark’s love for the environment and the outdoors sparked his interest in building green homes.

“I loved being outdoors and I wanted to protect it,” he said. “It’s just a natural fit to want to build in an eco-sensitive way.”

So in 2003, the couple started building their mountain home, which features numerous energy saving components including a metal roof that can be recycled, solar panels, energy star appliances, compact fluorescent lighting, a plastic deck, a solar hot water heater, weather stripping around all doors and windows, thermo-insulated blinds and energy efficient windows.

By having all of these energy saving elements incorporated into their home, the Bondurant’s are reducing their carbon footprint significantly. An average electric bill for the house is about $68 a month, Darcia said.

In addition to living in a eco-friendly house, the Bondurant’s take their green lifestyle one step further by planting an organic garden, shopping at thrift stores, reusing Ziploc baggies, and they have even planted their Christmas trees they’ve purchased for the past three years on their property.

Additionally, the Bondurant’s children — Caroline, 9, and Mateo, 4 — are both learning to protect the environment by always turning off lights when leaving the room and recycling.

“It’s real important that kids learn how to protect the environment,” Mark said.

But living a lifestyle like the Bondurant’s may not be feasible for everyone. For instance, some of the energy saving item in their home bear a hefty price tag, such as the thermo-insulated blinds. One blind cost the couple about $200.

Building a new home can be pricey, and when you figure in the cost for these new energy saving products it may not fit in the budget.

But Darcia says that it’s a one-time cost that’s worth spending the money for.

“It’s basically buying them and saving money later on.”

 

Promoting awareness

Individuals must be aware that they are contributing to climate change, Bishop said.

She says that in order for people to reduce their impact, they need to make some changes in their lifestyle, which is why she has been handing out educational materials.

“It’s always good to have a reminder,” she said.

George Ford, WCU professor of construction management, echoed a similar opinion about encouraging people to change their daily living patterns because humans are impacting the environment.

Ford has been studying the effects global warming is having on Western North Carolina. He conducted an analysis of the daily temperatures in the Asheville area from 1965 to 2006.

“What I saw was in increase of 1.4 degrees,” he said.

Ford decided to do the study because he wanted to learn more about global warming.

“I wanted to see if it had an impact locally,” he said.

Ford was unable to say what affects that the temperature increase is having on the region, but he says global warming is happening here even though it may not be as pronounced as in areas like the Artic Circle where the average temperature has risen as much as nine degrees.

Timm Muth, project director at Jackson County Green Energy Park, says he has seen WNC weather patterns change.

Muth, an avid mountain biker, says since the early 1990s there has been a decrease in the visibility in the mountains. He believes the drought that has been plaguing the Southeast is another result of climate change.

Muth also stresses the importance of educating the public about global warming. He says children need to be educated about this issue and learn why it’s important to conserve energy.

“It you understand at a young age that you can reduce your energy consumption, it will have a huge impact,” Muth said.

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