Sunday, March 17, 2013

Traveling With Tron: Geothermal Systems

A few weeks ago, James and I had the privilege of "Traveling with Tron." That's what we call traveling with two of our board members, Trey Parsons and Ron Ferrell. Ha! These two are awesome road trip partners and because of the research Trey had done, we drove out to Marion, Arkansas to see a net-zero middle school in the Marion School District. Net-zero buildings are structures with zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emissions annually, and the size of this school made that fact really impressive!

This school district had worked with a company called Hydro-Temp to design a geothermal system for the middle school, which controls the temperature and humidity in the building. Because the building was so HUGE, I expected to enter a space that was quite hot, but I was really pleasantly surprised to find a very comfortable and quiet environment. We want SixTwelve to be an example of everything we will try to encourage through our education curriculum, so we have to do all that we can to build with the health of our environment in mind. This is a huge way that we can do it, as long as we can afford it.

The upfront cost can be pretty big, but heating and cooling utility bills can be dramatically reduced, by as much as 75%! James has been working on this part of our project for almost a year and he will give a much more detailed description of what we've decided upon in a future blog post. (He already promised that he would! Yay!) But for now, I'll just say that the biggest perks a geothermal system at 612 would hold for me are reduced utility bills, temperature and humidity control, which is huge for exhibiting art in our gallery as well as for comfort, and last, but not least, its health benefits.

The assistant superintendent of schools for the Marion School District said that they have been putting these systems in as many schools as they can. They have two elementary schools that are about five miles apart and built at roughly the same time period. The district only had enough money to put a system into one of the schools the first year and then the other during the second year. The first school experienced almost an 80% drop in absenteeism the first year and then the second school experienced the same the next year. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT? When these systems are combined with a UV Light purifying system, the air is actually cleaned. Our buildings have the ability to make us sick or to help us lead healthier lives. People with asthma and allergies don't suffer as much in buildings with these systems. Can you imagine the impact on student health and education we would see if all of our schools could trade out their heating/cooling systems for geothermal + UV Light purification systems? I'm hooked and am even thinking about doing this at my house.

For anyone who wants to see a video description of how this works, check out this video! There will definitely be more posts over this topic in the future. This one is just the tip of the iceberg!

Some might wonder why we went all the way to Marion, Arkansas to check out a company when we have Climate Masters right here in Oklahoma City. We are definitely trying to promote "local" in all that we are doing. The answer is that the people in Arkansas are the ones who have been creating and inventing a lot of the technology we're looking for.  We think Climate Master is great, but if we use Hydro-Temp's product, we'd have more control over the different areas of our building because Hydro-Temp offers more variables in the system. Also, if we want to get LEED points for whatever we use, it needs to come from within 500 miles of our location and Marion is 449 miles away. So I think we're still doing good!

On our next SixTwelve road trip, we will be visiting Austin, Texas to see Urban Patchwork Neighborhood Farms and Reclaimed Space, two entities who are leading the way in sustainable living! I'm kind of geeking out over getting to meet these people and seeing what they are doing in person. Weeeeeeee!!!!!

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