Our firm specializes in restorative design for upmarket residential, workplace and community clients, so renewable resources are an important element in our work. The economic, social and cultural benefits of these resources are too important to be reserved for the affluent, so we encourage their use in more Upstate residential, multi-use and commercial projects.
There are various renewable energy technologies that deliver outsized economic benefits, including rainwater harvesting, gray water re-use, solar power and solar-assisted water heating. These technologies work as elements of new design and construction, or retrofitted to existing structures — either way, they continue to generate significant savings long after they’ve paid for themselves.
Let’s look at some of these technologies:
Rainwater harvesting — It’s basically plumbing
This is a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you want lower water bills and a lighter storm water load on the sewers? The beauty of rainwater collection is that you can match your water supply to your demand (and budget).
You have a choice of systems, including rooftop storage, open ponds and cisterns. And they can all cut your water bills for irrigation, laundry and bathrooms.
There are additional costs associated with separating rainwater piping from fresh water piping, along with a pump to move water from storage to your fixtures. These costs are minimal compared to the cost of fresh water you save.
Access to fresh water will become more and more costly as the world’s population increases, so this is an easy way to shrink your fresh water footprint. JDG has incorporated these systems into several projects in the past few years, including private residences, remote field stations for the College of Charleston, The David Shi Center for Sustainability at Furman University and the headquarters for the non-profit Upstate Forever.
Gray water recycling — Less money down the drain
According to the EPA, the average American household uses almost 280 gallons of fresh water a day to bathe or shower, run laundry and do dishes (a bathtub averages about 40 gallons, so this family is filling and emptying that tub seven times a day).
Washing machines, tubs, showers and sinks produce gray water… you wouldn’t want to drink it, but your plants could use its nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Gray water recycling needs a plumbing structure similar to the kind rainwater harvesting uses, with gray water piped separately from the “black water” toilets produce. Gray water isn’t sewage, but it’s no longer safe for human consumption.
This water is excellent for gardening, watering your lawn, or even flushing your toilets. It collects in the same way as rainwater, to be pumped back into fixtures that don’t need potable water. We can direct gray water to a constructed wetland, where living plants absorb and cleanse the water, so the system can collect it for re-use or to recharge the aquifer.
Solar power and water heating— The case only gets stronger
If you’re developing multi-family, workplace or community properties, you need to look at solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. You’ll cut owner or tenant electricity bills, which is a big plus, and you can take advantage of tax benefits too.
Federal and state tax incentives take a good sized bite out of your capital costs and you can always use the depreciation. Beyond the tax savings and increased property values, you also have a chance to make sustainability a shared value and reduce your construction’s long-term environmental impact.
Solar power generates more media buzz in the media than these other sustainable technologies, as countries such as China, Japan, Germany and the US create a large installed base. We expect to harness more energy from renewable sources, like solar and wind because fossil fuels are finite resources.
Depending on where you live, there are varying tax incentives and energy rebates for installing this technology in your home or business. In states that allow net metering, you can sell excess energy back to your electric utility to the provider, which means you can even turn a small profit!
JDG has been at the forefront of promoting renewable energy. We’re encouraged by the growing number of clients who’ve seen the benefits and reaped the rewards.
What are you waiting for?
The U.S. has always enjoyed plentiful resources, unlike other countries where population density or limited resources have forced people to be more efficient and less wasteful. Today, we’re smarter about our choices and how they affect our environment, and these are lessons we need to share.
If you’re interested in learning more about restorative design and the benefits it brings to your project, give us a call. We’ll be glad to discuss the return on your investment.