Sustainability – Part 2: Environmental Impacts

Environmental impacts come in many forms, but, in terms of the larger concept of sustainability, this is a subject almost as large as sustainability itself and there are distinct stages or periods in a product life that all impact the environment.

To make a product, raw materials need to be garnered and transported to all the various facilities that make the components, assemble the product, and make and pack the packaging  (even the packaging is a kind of sub-product itself for the purpose of this discussion. )Then the product must be distributed to all the outlets where it is sold and resold. The products they must make it from the seller to the end-user. Finally, the user will use the product for a time, and, finally, once it has past its useful life, it needs to be ‘disposed’ of in some way.

Obtaining resources for manufacturing has mostly meant extracting and harvesting raw materials followed by refining those resources so that they can be made into components to be assembled into useful products.  Extraction (mining, drilling, fracking) and harvesting (especially trees and many forms of petro-based agriculture) is extremely harmful to the environment. Whole mountains have been torn down in South Africa to obtain diamonds, and in West Virginia to obtain coal. The Amazon and the Olympic rain forests have dwindled drastically in size, destroying natural habitat and watersheds in the process.

Now, mostly landfills and garages and even the ocean, are full of these resources that are no longer used for any productive purpose and, often, represent ongoing environmental damage. Repairing, recycling, reusing, and repurposing are all simple ways to reduce the impact of gathering materials to be made back into useful items or to extend the life of these products. These approaches all reduce what is, often, the worst causes of negative environmental impacts in a products lifecycle. So, any products that are designed to have a long useful life, and to be easily recycled when that useful life is over, can be said to be deliberately sustainable.

Ducoterra infrared radiant heating panels are made from four basic component parts which are all sourced as close to the factory as possible, to reduce the energy (and emissions) needed to transport them. They have a steel plate on the ceiling side, which is a highly recycled material.  Aerogel, a high-tech insulation made from silica, which is originally found in sandstone and other common rock, is non-toxic and completely recyclable. The heating element is next (moving down from the ceiling-side) and is made from specialized wire which is, again, can be recycled. And, finally, the whole thing is enclosed in a unibody (one-piece) box that closes in the sides and front (room-side) of the panel. And that’s it.

So, not only do these panels have a lifetime warranty because they will last for decades of effective use, the materials to make them are not transported across oceans, are easily recycled, and even the process of taking them apart and separating the materials for recycling couldn’t be simpler. When measured over time, the environmental impact of the panels is extremely low, and they represent a new and necessary approach to sustainability called cradle-to-cradle, which mimics natural cycles in how products are made and remade.

Geo Answers: Sustainability – Part 1: Definition of Terms

There are a lot of terms out there relating to technologies and techniques designed to help reduce the effects of climate change and environmental harm: green, ecofriendly, energy efficient, etc. They range from vague to specific. And there is the opportunity for some marketers to muddy the waters with what is known as ‘greenwashing’ – a practice that involves exaggeration or even false claims in order to cash in on people’s concerns about climate change. Even the term ‘climate change’ really ought to be ‘climate chaos’ or ‘climate catastrophe.’

The overarching term ‘sustainability’ is also bandied about, usually in more serious circles, but it also can be vague in the way it is applied. So, I am writing a series of short articles to help clear it up and examine it in depth. I’ll start with an overview of the terms and concepts that sustainability encompasses.

  1. Environmental Impact: Everything we use has an impact on the environment when it is produced, used, and dealt with after it is no longer useful. Even the energy of installing something can have environmental impacts. In fact, it’s possible to look at environmental impact as the other side of the coin. Lowering somethings environmental impact increases its sustainability.
  2. Embodied Carbon: This is a specific form of environmental impact since everything we use requires energy before it is even in use – from garnering the raw materials to manufacture to all the transportation involved. This is called embodied energy. How much this carbon is released into the atmosphere making and using that energy is a thing’s embodied carbon. In some cases, this includes greenhouse gas emissions such as methane leaks from fracked natural gas, for example.
  3. Installation Impact: When something is installed, it takes energy and can often result in waste products that have to be dealt with, energy to install such as all the equipment it takes to build a building, and even the energy it takes to get the installers to the site.

  4. Operational Emissions: This is the amount of carbon and other pollutants released during the normal operation of something. The more energy efficient something is, the less energy it takes to operate it. The less pollution emitted when producing the energy in the first place, the less pollution is emitted per unit of energy. There are additional impacts involved as well. Even carbon-free hydroelectric power has environmental impacts associated with its production.
  5. Durability and Reliability: Many times, we fail to consider that, since the environment does, over time, ‘repair’ itself, the longer something reliably works and remains in use, the lower its overall environmental impact. This includes how much energy it takes to maintain and repair something’s functionality. Repair trucks, new parts, etc. are all part of how reliability can contribute to something’s environmental impact over the lifespan of that thing.
  6. Resilience: This is related to durability and reliability but includes how well something continues to operate, recovers, or otherwise remains useful after unforeseen disasters, changes in land-use, and upgrades in technology.
  7. End-of-life Impacts: Once something is no longer useful, as all things become, it has to be dealt with. Perhaps it ends up in a landfill. Perhaps it is recycled, reused, or repurposed. Or, often more likely, it ends up in a landfill. And of those things that cannot be put back into use, there will be further impacts. Something that is biodegradable and is industrially composted is much more sustainable than something that contains toxins and has not further use.

Ultimately, sustainability refers to a large, complex, systemic picture that relates to effects of what we make and use on the environment over time, and that, in turn, is largely measured in something that nature does not, generally produce without our help: waste. In the subsequent articles in this series, I will explore each of these concepts in depth.

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Geo Answers: “How is Infrared Radiant Heat Different?”

Geo Answers: “How is Infrared Radiant Heat Different?”

We have all experienced infrared radiant heat when basking in sunshine. We just don’t associate this feeling with how we heat our buildings, since, in most cases when it’s cold out, we stay warm indoors by heating the air around us. The air around us is what our thermostats measure, too.

The sun shines a full spectrum of colors and we can see most of them. But at either end of that spectrum are invisible light rays: ultraviolet and infrared. Although ultraviolet light does many things, some vital to life, it can cause sunburn, skin discoloration, skin cancer, and some loss of eyesight. Infrared rays on the other hand, do not have those negative drawbacks. All of our heaters shine only infrared light at end of the spectrum that warms people, pets, furniture, and the surfaces in the room it shines on – just like the sun heats the land and the water. The air barely blocks this direct radiance, so it doesn’t heat up this way. Instead, the warmed surfaces that do block the light, like the floor, walls, and other surfaces, shed their warmth into the air and the warm air rises into the room. Also, since surfaces are warmed, it takes the edge off bare feet on a cold floor, and a warm couch is cozy. So, unlike other forms of interior heat, infrared provides heat we can feel three ways.

A kitchen with infrared radiant heat.

This is a big part of why infrared radiant heat is so efficient. Most types of installed furnaces and heaters use a noisy fan, (with moving parts that can fail,) to blow air across a hot element and into the living spaces. This means the very first stage of energy use is taken up just heating and blowing air around. This has the added effect of stirring up dust, allergens, and other particulates. And, as soon as this warmed, turbulent air enters the room (since it is lighter than the cooler air around it) it begins to rise toward the ceiling. This means the air in the room must be heated up enough to keep some of the warmth down where it is wanted. And, since all the air in the building is connected, the heat diffuses to every space even as it leaks out of the smallest cracks in the outside walls where the drafts get in.

While you feel it as warmth instead of seeing it, infrared radiance is, in fact, light. It may be useful to think of our heaters as light fixtures. You turn them on, and they shine. You can feel the warmth within minutes. There is no boom of expanding vents or white noise of rushing, dusty air – just warm radiance. The air temperature comes up and the thermostat registers it, but you will be warm even before that happens. And, just like you don’t need to turn on all the lights in the house to get the light you need, all the infrared radiant heaters in your home don’t have to be turned on just so you can get warm in the room you are actually in.

Warm family

Just as you will be warmer in the sunlight on a clear, chilly day than in the shade, even though the air temperature is the same. With infrared heat, the thermostat on the wall might read slightly lower than you used to think was comfortable, yet you will feel toasty and warm. In the sunlight on a clear, chilly day you will be warmer than you would be in the shade, even though the air temperature is the same. It is similar with infrared heat; the thermostat on the wall might read slightly lower than you used to think was comfortable, yet you will feel toasty, cozy, silent, direct heat where and when you need it – like a light coming on. You may find yourself giving your extra blankets to Goodwill, and spending less money staying cozy in your home. Mighty Energy Solutions carries several different models of infrared radiant heaters. Whether you need to heat your front porch, veranda, bedroom, bathroom or kitchen, please give Geo a call at 610.585.8851 to discuss which of our products keep you toasty.

MES and COVID-19 Production Updates

In response to the ongoing pandemic, Governor Jay Inslee has extended the Washington State “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order through end of May. You can get the details [here]. Because heat is an essential part of an occupied space, our manufacturers’ factories have remained up and running, albeit with lean staffing. However, because installers were, until recently, prohibited from doing anything but emergency work, getting your heaters installed has either been a waiting game or a DIY project.
Since the products are made-to-order, it can take up to two weeks to have your order shipped and there may be a spike in orders as the COVID-19 situation abates. This may increase turnaround times for a little while. If you are set on getting infrared heating into your home this year, or to finish an ongoing project, you may find it useful to get the process started now. Modeling for your spaces can be fine-tuned for the way you will use each room, your preferences, and what works within your budget. We are always happy to assist you with this process before you order or just tell us what you need – we guarantee to always be the lowest price for these same products.
If you have questions about infrared heat or a project you are pricing out, please call Geo at 610.585.8851 or email: geo@mightyenergy.net

Mighty Energy to Host a Site on the 2015 NW Green Home Tour

Mighty Energy to Host a Site on the 2015 NW Green Home Tour

Mighty Energy is proud to announce that we are co-hosting a site on the NW Green Home Tour! The Westside Remodel + Heat Conversion (April 25, 11-5, 3443 49th Ave SW, Seattle) is a simple and sweet, 2-story, energy efficient addition designed by Young Architecture to give this family a little breathing room. Mighty Energy supplied SolaRay infrared radiant ceiling panels to partner with a new ductless heat pump for a total heat conversion from their forced air furnace system.

Even with adding square footage, this family hadn’t seen an increase in their electrical bills thanks in large part to their new heat system as well as smart, efficient building techniques. Stop by the site any time between 11-5 to experience the difference radiant heat can make in a Pacific Northwest home.

Learn more about this and other sites on the NW Green Home Tour.