Going Green in Naples

Dave Trecker

The Peter Gilgan mansion going up on Gordon Drive in Naples will have all of the environmental bells and whistles– a smorgasbord of solar electric, geothermal heating and cooling, miles of underground heat exchangers, sun-protective overhangs, insulation galore and “smart” automation to control it all.

The buzz word is net-zero. The massive abode will be energy neutral, generating enough renewable power to run the entire place– the Holy Grail of green builders everywhere.

Now most of us don’t have the tens of millions needed to build a 32,000-square-foot home, let alone make it energy neutral.

But there are advances coming down the pike we can all use to make our living quarters more sustainable.

It’s worthwhile because homes and commercial buildings consume 40% of all U.S. energy.

Right now we could cover our roofs with solar tiles and store excess energy for when the sun doesn’t shine in “powerwalls,”massive batteries that fit in garages or basements. It’s an expensiveproposition – the tiles are not efficient and the battery is costly –but they’re available for the environmentally conscious.

Also available are reflective multi-pane windows, air-source heat pumps and sun-activated shutters. And don’t forget judiciously placed plants that not only soak up CO2 but also shield buildings from sunlight.

So-called “biophilic” designs go one step further by incorporating plants and even trees into homes while under construction.

In a few years, hardware stores will carry densified wood with surfaces that reflect light instead of absorbing it. The wonder wood dissipates heat by emitting harmless mid-infrared rays. Modeling indicates the new building material could cut energy usage by up to 50%.

Also just around the corner are windows with built-in solar converters to generate electricity on a room-by-room basis. The sun provides electricity right where you need it. High rises in New York are testing the technology now, including ultra thin line batteries to store the energy for use at night.

Then there’s a spray-on window treatment with photocatalytic particles that combines with sunlight to convert greenhouse contaminants to nontoxic gases. No kidding.

The windows act as environmental converters. Not only does the treatment reduce urban emissions, it also keeps the windows clean.

Another futuristic advance is on-site water purification. Just as in space capsules, household units are being developed to contain, purify and recycle domestic wastewater – a boon for Florida’s diminishing fresh water supply.

The units should hit the market sometime next year.

While these advances may be eye poppers, the most effective way to make your house green is simply to conserve energy. Not very exciting, but it always works. We’re talking about mundane stuff like better insulation, more efficient appliances, multipane windows, LED lighting, reduced AC usage, turning off lights when you leave the room, etc.

Jim Rogers, a retired engineer and local conservation expert,says. “To get the best return for your money, invest in energy efficiency rather than renewable energy.”

Rogers points out that conservation doesn’t require taxpayer subsidies. The key, he says, is to plug energy leaks.

Some steps include using indoor dehumidifiers instead of AC when it’s damp but not hot; installing heat pumps for space and water heating; avoiding dark roofs; using high efficiency pumps for swimming pools and irrigation; installing awnings to shade windows; using demand controlled ventilation to keep hot air outside.

“Improving energy efficiency may not be sexy,” Rogers says, “but it’s very cost-effective.”

And it’s a win-win deal: Reduce greenhouse gases and save a ton of money to boot

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