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Calculate your ecological footprint: you may be surprised

In America, our lives are not set up to be exactly friendly to the global ecology, particularly as we rely so heavily on gas guzzlers and non-local foods. Calculate your footprint and learn more about the universal challenges most don’t even know exist.

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organic produce green living

organic produce green living

Being a good steward

How much land does it take to support my current lifestyle? Before researching this, I considered myself above average in my actions to be environmentally friendly. I try to avoid waste in general (energy, food, and natural resources) and do not consider myself an abuser of the environment. I buy organic food at the market whenever possible, and try to feed my family healthy meals. We are not conspicuous consumers by my standards.

Humanity’s total ecological footprint in is estimated at 1.5 Earths. It is not surprising that the United States has the largest per capita footprint at 11 acres per person. European per capita footprint is five acres and the ideal footprint is closer to six acres.

One online quiz showed that it would take more than six Earths to support my lifestyle. I understand that there are many things that I could be doing better to conserve natural resources and live a more responsible, “greener” life. These changes are not necessarily large lifestyle changes, but I realize that there are many small changes I could make in my daily habits that would help shrink my family’s ecological footprint. Inserted here is one graphic of a quiz I took at EarthDay.org:

ecological footprint

Living Large in Rural America

My family lives in the Anthracite Coal Region of east-central Pennsylvania. The terrain is mountainous (we are in the Appalachian Mountain Range and the Appalachian Trail crosses our southern border) in most of the area, with some flat farmlands in the valleys. The area is extremely rocky and can be steep. Because we sometimes show large tracts of land by vehicle and must navigate snow and ice in the mountains in the winter, many real estate agents drive trucks and SUVs. I am no exception.

I drive a gas hog, a Hummer H3. I did drive a more conservative car for a short time period, but after getting stuck and being unable to leave my house when the roads were bad, I quickly switched back to the SUV. It’s not fun filling up the tank (which costs me about $75 as of May, 2012), but the days when I am trying to come home in the midst of a snowstorm and I shift into 4-wheel drive or when I am taking clients through a 100-acre parcel of land planted in Christmas trees, I appreciate the convenience. And it is a convenience. I understand I am using more than my fair share of gasoline when I drive this vehicle every day, but other than purchasing a second vehicle for everyday driving, I don’t see a solution.

In fact, our family of four already owns more than its fair share of vehicles, compared to the rest of the planet. My husband is a lumber inspector and drives a large truck up and down the northeastern United States, covering his large territory. My son in college did have a Ford F-150 truck which he traded for a smaller, more gas friendly car. He works construction over the summer and his commute is an hour each way, every day. My 16-year-old son is saving for his first vehicle, which we’ve already earmarked for a used Nissan truck at a nearby dealer.

Being in a rural area, I do buy a lot of my food direct from farmers. We buy produce in-season from farm stands and out of season we buy from a local fruit and vegetable market. None of that is packaged. We also buy a half a pig that is butchered nearby each year, and we are a family of hunters. Right now I have turkeys, venison, and bear meat in the freezer that we eat year round. However, each week I go grocery shopping at a chain store and do buy packaged food. I have never thought much about the amount of packaging in store-bought food, or in the distance it takes to truck the food to the market.

I also did not realize the impact animal protein and byproducts have had on the environment. We don’t eat meat at every meal as some families do, but we do eat our share of chicken and beef. I have always considered chicken to be a healthy meal, and have not thought about the impact that chicken farming may be having on the environment. When possible we do buy locally produced meat and organic products, even though these tend to cost more than at the grocery store.

Our area is not recycle-friendly. Some neighboring towns do have days that you can put out recyclables in special bins. However, being rural, our trash provider does not have this service. To recycle, each home owner would separate their trash and take it to a central point in the township to be separated. These bins frequently are full or even overflowing, so trash tends to accumulate in the area around the recycle center, which is the opposite of what the center should be for. Our township should have recycle pickups more frequently, to cut down on the trash around the bins, yet there is no budget for the increase in pickup.

Small Changes Can Make Big Impact

In reading through the online quizzes I realize that how we eat in my house matters to the Earth. As the main shopper for my family, I can choose to purchase more of my food locally, from nearby farmers and produce stands. I can also choose to buy less packaged foods from the grocery store, or choose the packaging with the least amount of waste to throw away. I already try to shop smart and don’t buy more than I think we’ll eat in a week. But waste does happen and I should be making several small trips to buy fresh food rather than one large trip with many frozen foods and cans.

As for my driving habits and our cars, perhaps I should rethink a second vehicle for myself. I could have the Hummer when I need to show farmlands and in the winter, but drive a more compact, gas conservative car during the good weather. I drive a lot of miles each year with my career, so setting aside some miles for the gas hog and driving the car the remainder of the time could save us money and gas. While public transportation (bus or train) would be a nice alternative, that is not feasible in my area. There are no bus stops in my rural area that would take me to town to my work, and the train is not an option. We have no good public transportation unless you live directly in town, which most of us do not.

Even furniture should be considered from an ecological perspective. I am currently shopping for new outdoor patio furniture. In my research I see some patio sets are being advertised as ecological friendly, long lasting, and the green choice. Furniture made of teak and eucalyptus are especially favored on the websites I am shopping at this week, and the website has a green leaf next to any furniture it has decided are green friendly. This will impact my decision on which set to buy.

The Earth and Her Daughters

There is an intertwined, synergistic relationship between our planet Earth and us. No single human, no organism, can survive without the Earth being in balance. If we use and misuse our natural resources, we will suffer as humans. When we pollute and waste what the Earth has given us, we all suffer. We are guardians of the Earth and must make rational, reasonable choices in how we use the resources around us. Otherwise, we have nobody to blame but ourselves for the mess we could leave for future generations.

We are stewards of the Earth, and of finite natural resources. It is up to us to use it wisely and protect it for our children. While my efforts to buy local and feed my family healthy food, to conserve energy and resources, have been good, they can be better. By making small efforts in purchasing smart materials and not supporting waste and pollution are a good effort, I should make a better attempt at living a greener lifestyle. The Earth and our children deserve a better legacy.

Erica Ramus is the Broker/Owner of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, PA. She also teaches real estate licensing courses at Penn State Schuylkill and is extremely active in her community, especially the Rotary Club of Pottsville and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce. Her background is writing, marketing and publishing, and she is the founder of Schuylkill Living Magazine, the area's regional publication. She lives near Pottsville with her husband and two teenage sons, and an occasional exchange student passing thru who needs a place to stay.

Green Live & Work

Regenerating architecture: green building product innovations

(Green News) Sustainable design has evolved beyond robotics, and has tapped into the basics, using pre-historic methods: bacteria. Genius!

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bio-concrete

A Third Grade Teepee

Remembering back to third grade science class, about ten sticks bound together at the top with twine of some sort, and a little beansprout planted at the base of each pole, eventually became the coolest shelter this eight year old had ever seen. Seedlings wound their way up, tendril by tendril until their leaves reached just far enough to clasp and join, and create and fantastic teepee that was actually a food source, too! Talk about the ultimate in sustainability – but that was old school.

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Making Something Out of Nothing

Enough about my blast from the past. I was seriously thrown into nostalgia when I thrust onto the path of this fantastic article by Gary Wollenhaupt earlier this week regarding some of the most inspirational green-building products I have heard about in quite sometime. It must have something to do with the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute’s Innovation Challenge and building products that seem to become something from nothing! Apparently these folks were up to the task!

So, maybe the little teepee which was representative of the sacred “three sisters” or corn, beans, and squash that the Native Americans utilized as their staple crops symbolized something else to me. The regeneration of soil, the regeneration of the land, and a regeneration of that happy little elementary school structure, covered in beans which became the perfect hiding spot.

Obviously, the teepee wasn’t innovative, but for this little kid, the shelter “appeared out of nowhere” once those leaves filled in. The Forbes article pulled together an arsenal of truly innovative products that are not only environmentally friendly, sustainably-minded products that will certainly turn many green-builders on their heads!

The Home that Regenerates Itself

Innovation comes in many different forms. Lots of great builders looking to build sustainable homes look towards energy efficiency in a hard-core way and building with products that take building to a new level; however, these innovators have gone and created building products that supposedly grow themselves, or are fire-retardant, or are -say what?- regenerating when they are broken? Oh, ok? This sounds like something out of the future, and we don’t even have our hoverboards yet!

Seriously though, it is amazing to think that there is a product made of a bacteria which will regenerate itself. Self-healing materials have been around for a while, but not necessarily for home building. Wollenhaupt noted that the”Bacteria engineered to thrive in dry climates is helping to create a concrete that can repair itself.

The bacteria are mixed into the concrete and release calcium carbonate, similar to limestone, as part of their waste process. The material fills in holes and cracks in the concrete, making it last longer and reducing maintenance costs.” As someone who is incredibly interested in developments like these, I am quite curious as to their durability and what the testing has been like for the products, but can’t wait to see what the future holds for green building products that bring us full circle! Fascinating, isn’t it?

Watch it Grow

It will be fascinating to see what happens when these homes are built out of these biologically and ecologically innovative building products, and if they will indeed withstand the test of time and do as they say they will. Take some time to view the entire roster of impressive applicants to the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, the California based non-profit who put on the event, check out their information, and applaud their achievements in green-building and design!

Now I want to go in the yard and build a little pole-bean teepee, and watch it grow. I don’t think my back yard is at the “coral-like” regenerating concrete bio-product level quite yet.

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Green Live & Work

Superadobe: super sustainable building phenomenon

Taking something that already had the power to be awesome and making it, well, super-powered, that is what one bright-eyed architect did with an age-old building concept. Let’s take a mini-adventure into the world of Superadobe, where a blending of concepts which are thousands of years old with some new ideas has created yet another buzz in the stratosphere of sustainability and green building.

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superadobe

Superadobe, I am Your Father

I believe it was Christopher Nolan who said “Batman and Superman are very different characters but they’re both iconic and elemental.” Either way you cut it, adobe is elemental, and adobe is nothing new; I make the comparison the Batman and Superman because they are both superheros, however different…

Adobe is also something nothing short of super. From the ancient Egyptians to the Anasazi Tribe, many cultures near and far have utilized the brilliant mixture of straw, soil, sand and water tamped together to create a sun-hardened earth house for shelter through the ages. These homes are sturdy, cool on the inside in the heat of the Sun, and warm on the inside during cool nights.

It is quite possibly some of the most amazing architecture that we can find when we look at the history of our progression of architecture, next to the great pyramids and cliff dwellings. Let’s face it, in many parts of the world, because of its magical simplicity, adobe is, after caves, how humans survived the elements.

Superadobe is Born Powerful

In the present, an Iranian born architect, Nader Khalili, has discovered, well- I say present, but it was some twenty plus years ago- how to perfect the concept of adobe and bring it forward into the new age. Through modification of the structural processing of the staging of the adobe, Khalili has managed to create a product and process that he has coined as Superadobe. Khalili has said that “Superadobe is an adobe that is stretched from history into the new century. It is like an umbilical cord connecting the traditional with the future adobe world.” He has an interesting take on adobe and its re-emergence to the “new world” through his superadobe product.

Moon-dust or Sand. Take Your Pick – it is Still Super.

What this really means is that his process of taking long tube-like bags, usually made of sturdy polypropylene or sometimes straight-up burlap, and filling them with sand, or rice or any sort of fill, then creating a trench for the foundation, and forming the frame out of these tubes which are filled with the “fill of choice” and then tamped down, either by hand or with a pneumatic tamper. As the foundation is created, windows can be created by having voids not filled, or cut out after the fact. A huge part of superadobe, beyond the tubular filled bags of soil or the like is the barbed wire which reinforces the shape of the buildings, which are generally a coil of these reinforced tubes which ultimately form a beehive shape. There have been extensive experiments with the concept of superadobe, or the earthbag building concept, which Khalili first came up with after attending a symposium at NASA in 1984 where he was trying to figure out who to build structures on the moon! Imagine, bags full of moondust. That sort of sounds magical, or super! Doesn’t it. Just agree. It does.

Kryptonite-proof

From the Moon to Your Backyard it seems that not even Kryptonite will take  this stuff down! Superadobe is one sturdy building concept. It is aerodynamic, just as its predecessor, just regular old adobe is. However; with the beehive and or rounded edges that it tends to take on, it can survive hurricane force gales. A superadobe home or building can be built by unskilled labors in a matter of days by the resources available on site, either of the sandbags, or of the specific tubing and barbed wire. The buildings are sturdy, sustainable, cost effective and can be built in nearly all elements. As a builder, one would look to superadobe from the cost effective standpoint for a client who is thinking about passive solar design; it tends to stay cooler during the day in those hot climates, and warm in the evenings in cold climates. The stuccoed exterior is incredibly low maintenance and provides the client for an exceptional opportunity for reduction in utility bills, or for even being off the grid, if they so desire. New offices looking for an interesting, cost effective and sustainable building concept, could certainly look at superadobe as an option. The unique building structure of the circular and hive-like shapes lend towards something new and different. If you want to stand out from the crowd, be sustainable, and possibly have a quick build, superadobe could be for you.  It From the moon to Costa Rica and everything in between, superadobe is a sustainable building concept that has green building aficionados looking towards the sun. It’s a bird, it’s a plane. No. It’s superadobe.

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Green Live & Work

GreenSpur: sustainable construction, reclaimed materials

GreenSpur Unveils their first OneNest Project home built in Virginia, a sustainable construction project that could be duplicated across the world.

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One of a kind sustainable construction project

This weekend was full of anticipation and completed, what could be called “full-circle-excitement come to fruition” for those who have been keeping tabs on the GreenSpur construction team. Not so long ago, I brought word to you about the incredible opportunity that Mark Turner and his concept team were working on regarding a fully sustainable, green-built home constructed of Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPS) and reclaimed materials.

This project is the first of its kind and is hopefully going to be one of many that will be replicated internationally as a model of sustainable construction that meets the needs of a true nest.

Flying into the Nest

Minimalism, with a true rustic elegance is what you find peering out at you as you make your way up the steep, curving drive to the Delaplane OneNest home set atop a perfect hill overlooking the foothills of the Shenandoah mountains. It is almost as if someone has called in the gentle fog to hover just at the top of the treeline for intrigue, mystery and sultry ambiance to pull you into the site. Recall those mystical tendrils of smoke that lure… that is what pulls you here…to something new and exciting.

Before you get to the site, strategically placed communal fire pits with site-found logs are hissing, popping and generating that delightful campfire smell and then there is that house. With the elevation of a classic barn marrying a contemporary sanctuary, OneNest sits there among newly planted native river-birch trees, nestled in yet peeking out. The patina of the tin a deliberate match to the brick-red rust of the seamed and painted hardi-plank that covers the SIPS.

The standing seam metal roof line is a delicate yet masculine balance to the reclaimed history that is woven into this home through the use of wood paneling straight from past cabin quarters of the John Marshall property. The facade wouldn’t be complete without the mirror image of floor to ceiling windows flanking a steeple like fireplace that is masoned in stone harvested directly from the site. Usable porches galore. Panoramic views of the fog rolling on and on across the pits and valleys of the foothills while the cows come home. A matching barn is just beyond the main house that has an awning wide enough for a classic riding tractor. Classic is right. This is just the exterior.

Getting Cozy on the inside

Delivering more inside, OneNest’s vaulted ceilings are welcoming and open, leaving one to be baffled by the thought that this space is one-thousand square feet. It could be thousands more; the trompe l’oeil affect of the grande windows to the view beyond pulls the eye out and into the distance. The living room has very functional usable built-ins and is open to the stunning kitchen with a wonderful amount of storage. The fantastic use of counterbalanced Connecticut-style pull down lanterns is just one more ‘trick of the eye’ and fun for the gorgeous space and means to draw the eye up to the loft space above which is the master suite.

Past the kitchen, a full bath, well appointed and glowing is to the left, and storage to the right. Beyond that, windows, again floor to ceiling brighten the space and pull in the outdoors while highlighting the spiral staircases to go up and up into the nest. Before heading up, a nosy poke into the crawl space reveals some more smart design, wine-cellar in the crawl built from galvanized metal buckets and wine-racks; a good use of space in an otherwise unusable crawl!

The second floor is home to the lofted main bedroom, which has a lovely view of the great wide yonder and can be conveniently enclosed with thoughtful curtains; wrapped around the far right of the bedroom is a little nook- great for reading, a dog-friend or maybe some lovely indoor plants for creating a nice indoor air quality. The master spa-bath is impeccable with an egg-shaped soaker tub, walk-in shower complete with rain head and well, it is simple, yet stunning. Plus, there is a fireplace above the bath. Nice… I

n the central stairwell, up once again, the next level houses the guest room with incredibly functional use of space, reclaimed wood and a sumptuous bathroom which is just incredibly well done. This OneNest space is an unbelievable four stories of beautiful, reclaimed, green living space built to help the owner truly nest in, living in what they need.

sustainable construction

sustainable construction

sustainable construction

sustainable construction

sustainable construction

Nesting as a Trend

Why OneNest? Business partner, Arian Lewis, stated “this is something that can be replicated in any country across the world. I’m currently talking with contacts in Malaysia to see about using our concept houses there.”

Lewis is the partner based out of the Oxford England team, who has been working on outreach to developing nations. These homes can be built anywhere. They are sustainable and don’t have to take up a lot of space or resources. Minimal or luxury finishes can be put into them and the product can be built an a relatively small amount of time.

Mark Turner, the brainchild behind GreenSpur and the OneNest project, said when asked what the biggest take away should be for the project, “Well, this was absolutely a labor of love and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I wanted to do something different that other builders weren’t doing and that would change the way things were being built in the construction industry.” He has proved it once before when he built a net-zero house on Capitol Hill, now he has done it again with the OneNest project’s first completed home, built in 100 days in Delaplane, VA.

Turner reminds us all that “OneNest is the context of everything in one world- a natural resting place.” Mark has also been quoted, “When I think about designing and building PLACE, I am inspired by Stegner’s quote, ‘There it was, there it is, the PLACE where during the best of our lives friendship had its home and happiness its headquarters.’ This 1000 SF OneNest Project is our team’s best attempt to capture this spirit. We are using radical approaches in design, materials and building science to capture that simple notion that we all universally yearn for: ‘happiness its headquarters.'” I love this about this team, they are so grounded in their since of duty to balance and harmony with nature, life and the elements.

What is Next for OneNest

Looking at their mission, Delaplane was a lovely place to select for the first part of this project’s journey. Just off of John Marshall Highway in historic wine country, this may be an idealistic “happiness headquarters.” The first OneNest will be open for extended stays as well as events for the next six months to continue to the conversation within the community and beyond about this intriguing and passionate design and building concept.

Where do you think we’ll see more of these beautiful, sustainable creations across the States and internationally? Start the conversation by making the visit.

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