Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 47
 
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
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Environmental Commission Offers Green Home and Garden Tour

Dilshanie Perera

The Princeton Environmental Commission curated a Green Home and Garden Tour this Saturday, which included nine locations in Princeton. Homes with green elements including a geothermal heating system, sustainable renovations, and others were featured alongside gardens that assist in stormwater retention, and commercial spaces with environmentally-friendly attributes.

One home on Wheatsheaf Lane showcased a geothermal heat pump, which uses the subterranean temperature of the earth to either heat or cool homes. Since the temperature of the earth is usually warmer than the outside air during the winter, refrigerant liquid is pumped underground to absorb heat. It then evaporates into a gas, is compressed, and pressurized, and works to heat the building air. A by-product of the process is hot water, which is collected in a water heater.

In order to cool homes, heat is extracted from the air in the building and transferred into the earth through a reversal of the process mentioned above.

Gary Eschenburg, of Ground Source Contractors, who installed the geothermal system was on hand during the tour to answer questions. He said that heating a home with the geothermal heat pump, which works electrically, is not only more environmentally friendly, but also cheaper than heating with oil and gas, particularly given the current economic climate.

“Back then it didn’t make sense to switch from natural gas because gas was cheap, which isn’t the case now,” Mr. Eschenburg said.

Four years ago, Mr. Eschenburg, who had worked with oil, gas, and geothermal systems for the preceding 19 years, began a business devoted exclusively to installing geothermal heat pumps. He said that upon servicing a geothermal unit, he realized that “this is the future.”

The “SRC RainGarden” was another stop of the environmental Tour. Located just outside of the Senior Resource Center adjacent to Harrison Street, the garden features native plant species that are adapted to wet soils.

Designed and installed by Borough Shade Tree Commission member Curtis Helm and Princeton Environmental Commission member Stephen Hiltner, the rain garden absorbs stormwater and snowmelt that would otherwise run off impervious surfaces into storm drains, carrying pollutants with it.

According to the informational plaque at the site, a natural process called bioretention occurs in the garden to treat the rainwater. After collecting in the soil, pollutants are treated through plant uptake and biological processes occurring in the soil itself. The water drains into groundwater supplies.

The SRC RainGarden is projected to treat about 25,000 gallons of water per year.

Another stop on the Green Home and Garden Tour featured a residence on Meadowbrook Drive. Redesigned and renovated by architect Ronald Berlin, the formerly one-story ranch house now has 1,000 square feet of living space, with an addition of only 60 square feet of impervious surface to accommodate that, according to the Environmental Commission.

The design strategy was to “build upward instead of outward” and to preserve the existing building instead of demolishing it and bringing in new materials. A “long list of little things” is what makes the renovations sustainable noted Mr. Berlin, who said that “wherever we had a decision, we went the right” — that is, environmentally sound — “way with it.”

“It makes you think that if everybody did this, we’d be saving enormous amounts of energy and materials,” Mr. Berlin observed. All of the paints, adhesives, and solvents used in the construction emit minimal volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and construction waste was recycled by Construction Waste Management, a company that specializes in such things.

The heating and cooling system is divided into zones, according to Mr. Berlin, which has “an incremental cost, but a good payback.”

In addition to the concrete elements of environmental sustainability, Mr. Berlin mentioned appreciating the philosophical aspects of the process as well, saying “there is a deep beauty in bringing something new into the world that exists in closer harmony with the world.”

“I’ve been here a long time,” Mr. Berlin said, adding, “I like the idea of doing projects that improve the community as a whole.”

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