Free video: http://zero-energyplans.com/
Made by Kyle Porter, starring Ted Clifton
Reviewed by Merritt Clifton
12 Essential Steps to Net Zero Energy is a free how-to video made by Kyle Porter on commission from my brother Ted Clifton to help Ted promote his business Zero Energy Home Plans. Ted, an award-winning veteran “green builder,” never once mentions wildlife, but most of his “12 essential steps” have application to maintaining healthy wildlife/human relations.
Ted emphasizes simplicity of design
For example, Ted emphasizes simplicity of design, inside and outside the new home. Straight exterior walls minimize the opportunities for wildlife to find cover adjacent to the house. Building no more interior walls than necessary minimizes the amount of habitat accessible to insects and spiders, rodents, snakes, and lizards––all of whom tend to invade homes in surprising numbers almost as soon as the drywall is up.
Every enclosed wall houses an active micro ecology. The less that micro ecology interacts with the human occupants of a home or business, the happier everyone will be.
Ted orients windows mostly toward the south, to maximize use of the sun and minimize heat loss after dark. The same window orientation also reduces the likelihood of artificial light from windows becoming a hazard to migratory birds, who fly from north to south mostly by night as the days get short. On the return trip, from south to north, the days are getting longer, and collisions tend to be fewer.
Ted stresses the importance of limiting warm air leakage from homes by building a “tight envelope,” with as few joints to seal as possible. This has two applications to minimizing conflict with wildlife. One is that building a “tight envelope” reduces the numbers of openings that wildlife from insects to grizzly bears may exploit to enter a home. The other is that a “tight envelope” reduces the food odors that often attract wildlife, whose senses of smell are often many times more sensitive than our own.
Also important is that ambient heat escaping from a home can attract animals. Cold-blooded species such as snakes like to crawl into warm spaces; many stinging and biting insects (such as mosquitos) navigate by flying toward warmth radiating from the mammals they feed from; and even critters as well-insulated and inured to cold as deer will take shelter beside a house on a cold night if heat is escaping into a convenient place to lie down.
Inedible for wildlife and not easily shredded
The insulation sample that Ted displays in 12 Essential Steps to Net Zero Energy is a material which is both inedible for wildlife and not easily shredded into a nest. This is critically important in keeping a home free from problematic infestation by rats and mice.
I once had occasion to remove all of the old drywall from the interior of a home originally insulated in the 1970s. The builder had used spun Fibreglas insulation, a very popular and widely used material at the time, but easily crushed and shredded into rodent nests.
I was able to discern more than a dozen rodent nesting locations along the most infested wall, and found many others along the other walls, together with the dried shed skins of snakes who had hunted the rodents.
The accumulated rodent urine had not created odor that leaked into the house past the drywall, but the odor was overpowering when the drywall was removed. The micro habitat inside those walls could have become a reservoir for either hantaviruses or leptospirosis; that this did not occur was a stroke of luck rather than the residue of design.
Several of Ted’s “12 essential steps” pertain to conserving the energy used to heat water and operate appliances. The beneficial effects of energy conservation in reducing global warming and habitat damage in connection with energy development are already well-known, so these points need not be hammered heavily here. Moreover, energy conservation within any given home or business has relatively little to do with the interactions of humans and animals at that particular site.
However, mention might be made that electrical entrances and conduits are among the avenues most often used by wildlife to gain access to homes, and rodents nibbling wiring are among the leading causes of housefires.
Ted’s eleventh essential step to net zero energy is to “Light surfaces, not space.” From a wildlife-aware perspective, this approach has both plusses and minuses. The most obvious plusses are that lighting can confuse birds, and attracts flying insects, whose presence attracts bats, geckoes, and other species who eat flying insects. The less ambient light there is around a home, the fewer problems there are likely to be with flying animals. But a major drawback to reducing ambient light leakage is that nocturnal mammals tend to avoid light. Less light leakage means more shadows in which skunks, raccoons, coyotes, and even bears may lurk with a feeling of security.
Offsetting this is the twelfth and last of Ted’s 12 Essential Steps to Net Zero Energy, pertaining to the use of solar panels on rooftops. Maintaining efficiently operating solar panels requires keeping tree canopy from overhanging and shading the roof. This can appear to be an awkward requirement. Most of us want and value our yard trees.
But Ted’s prescription for energy efficiency does not mean “no trees,” nor even “no tall trees.” What it does mean is that the most appropriate places for trees around a net zero energy building will be on the north side, where the trees will help to break cold north winds. Because the light is coming from the south, the tree canopy will tend to grow thickest toward the south, toward the house.
For this reason, net zero energy builders should situate houses a reasonable distance south of existing tall trees, such that the tree canopy will not drop leaves and pollen on solar panels. Energy-conscious landscapers should plant trees that are likely to grow taller than houses equally far away.
This is essential to averting conflicts with wildlife of every size from oak moths to the grizzly bears who sometimes feast on moths during their hatching season.
Is “green building” better for wildlife?, http://wp.me/p4pKmM-PM;
27 ways to avoid hitting animals that may save your life too!, http://wp.me/p4pKmM-OM;
Deerland: America’s Hunt for Ecological Balance & the Essence of Wilderness, by Al Cambronne, reviewed at http://wp.me/p4pKmM-ws;
Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards Into Battlegrounds, by Jim Sterba, reviewed at http://wp.me/p4pKmM-wm;
Witch hunts & wildlife, http://wp.me/p4pKmM-kV.