Sunday, February 15, 2009

Urban "Arking"

I dragged my wife to a Newton Green Decade Coalition event over the weekend on the topic of creating more independent homes within the milieu of suburban Boston.

The event was held at the private home of David and Elva Del Porto's in Newton, MA. They have a greenhouse patched to the south side of the house providing space heat, (some) food production, (some)air purification and (some)wastewater treatment. From thew description of the event, the name "Urban Ark" was coined when Green Decade founder Louise Bruyn, noticed the Del Portos' poster of the old New Alchemy Institute, featuring their "Ark" greenhouse, and christened the Del Portos' home the "Urban Ark" (I took this from the Green Decade Coalition's website).
David Del Porto (bio) describes the key points of the "Urban Ark:"

Solar heating: "While the greenhouse only has a 500 sq. ft. foot print, it is two stories high! It has approximately 750 net square feet of glazing and heats the thermal mass on the inside of the house by a thermo-siphon loop. As the greenhouse gains heat, the volume of air in the space becomes lighter and increases in volume. It pours through the open windows on the second floor displacing the cooler and denser air inside the house, which falls back into the greenhouse through first floor vents and windows only to be reheated and cycled again and again until the sun goes down. We feel that one good sunny day will heat the house for three cloudy days (the average of cloudy days in Boston before the sun reappears). We estimate that on average our $8,000 investment has paid for itself many times over as the solar energy provides 80-90% of the space heating requirement of our approximately 5,000 sq. ft. home during an average winter."
Green House Living: "I like to say that we have increased our Quality of Life while lowering our Cost of Living during the past 23 years and expect to receive this bounty for years to come. This is especially important to the elderly who are on a fixed income."
Energy & Water Conservation: "We have replaced most of the incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents, saving 50% of the lighting bill. Water conserving fixture and appliances also save more than 50% of our water and sewer bill. When our five children were residing with us we grew a significant amount of organic food both in the greenhouse and outside and learned a great deal about the benefits of pesticide-free system ecology as it applies to the house operation."
My take on the event was that there was a bit too much lecture (I was into it, but anyone not "converted" would probably fall asleep, like my wife wanted to!) and not enough focus on the way he built it. Also, for the sake of making this common, it's gotta be aesthetically pleasing and complimentary for the rest of the house and neighborhood. I do not own a home, nor do I have a deeply set relationship with my immediate environs, BUT I am convinced that most people are not interested in being outliers (the local green freaks or the more than 3 standard deviations away from the mean).

I like the idea of passive solar heating and cooling, it makes so much sense. The diversion of some grey water for the feeding of vegetation is a great idea too, aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sensitive. What other possibilities exist?

So, how might we make urban homesteading more popular?


waste water treatment said...

I hope this so-called fad about building homes with sustainable and renewable energy sources continue to become the standard to be used from the drawing board to the completion of any project to be.

Wayne Maceyka said...

Thank you for your comment. Yes, it would be nice. I'd like to incorporate some of the design elements I learned about that day in a future home.