Just over a month ago, I attended the New York State Green Building Conference in Syracuse, NY. The two day event was developed by SUNY's Environmental School of Forestry and the Upstate Chapter of the NYS Green Building Council. Day one took place at the Gateway Center, a new building recently completed by ESF that has achieved LEED Platinum certification. It is a really cool building! Because ESF is a forestry school, the design incorporates a lot of wood, all of which is FSC certified. It also features a green roof that provides a wonderful view of the city below, populated by an interesting assortment of native plant species. But the building's neatest feature has to be the power plant in the basement (with the exception of solar generation, most buildings have to bring their power in from off-site--and while campuses tend to have their own power plants, almost all have them in separate buildings). They have a bio-fuel (wood pellet) fired furnace that generates steam for power production along with three natural gas micro turbines that will provide the balance of electricity for heat and cooling. In addition, this power produced on-site will provide four other campus building with thermal and electric energy, and will reduce the College's carbon footprint by over 20%. They'll have interactive exhibits to view the system in the near future, and after that, you can go visit the new cafe and Roosevelt exhibits on the main floor. Here's a link to with more information about the building: http://www.esf.edu/welcome/campus/gateway.htm.
On day two, one of the more interesting talks at the conference was given by Alex Wilson on the topic of Resilient Design. Alex is the founder and President of the Resilient Design Institute, and he began his presentation with some pretty eye-opening statistics about the dramatic increase in summer temperatures, annual precipitation, the expanding periods of drought in some of the most vulnerable regions of the country, and the rising number, frequency, and intensity of high impact storms (Katrina, the Labor Day storm of 2011 that hit New England, and Superstorm Sandy were just some of the featured events). The costs associated with these storm events are just staggering (and still being amassed to date). So, what is Resilient Design? According to the Institute,
"Resilience is the capacity to bounce back after a disturbance or interruption of some sort. At various levels —individuals, households, communities, and regions — through resilience we can maintain livable conditions in the event of natural disasters, loss of power, or other interruptions in normally available services.
Relative to climate change, resilience involves adaptation to the wide range of regional and localized impacts that are expected with a warming planet: more intense storms, greater precipitation, coastal and valley flooding, longer and more severe droughts in some areas, wildfires, melting permafrost, warmer temperatures, and power outages.
Resilient design is the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in response to these vulnerabilities.”
The talk made me think about the design of our house and wonder how resilient it would be if challenged by the conditions mentioned above. Certainly the winds that come off of Onondaga Lake are significant, and the 90 degree days that spanned a good bit of July last summer created some uncomfortable temperatures, but the big question is how long would our house maintain a comfortable temperature if we lost power in January? I'm not sure. We don't have a wood stove to fire up and keep us warm, and the solar we have wouldn't even work to provide hot water without the on-demand system that it depends on for distribution.
I think the work that Alex is doing to get the building industry and the public at large to think about resilience is worth consideration, and I'll be interested to see what impact his ideas have on the building industry and standards in the coming years. For more information on the concept or the Institute's work, here's the link: