Geo Answers: Sustainability – Part 4: Installation Impact

When installing any important, durable system in your home, such as a heating solution, it is important to consider that there are environmental impacts associated with this as well.  The largest concern is, usually, the resulting waste products that have to be dealt with such as product packaging and construction waste. No matter what, whether you install a new or upgraded system for an entire home, or just need to get extra heat into those problematic ‘cold’ spot’ areas, some waste products will result. This may not be much from smaller projects – maybe some small bits of sheetrock and pieces of wire. Or it could involve larger quantities of old sheetrock, wiring, insulation, etc.

First, it is important to note that sheetrock is recyclable. In some respect, the resulting recycled product is superior to brand-new. So, if you recycle the old sheetrock and use recycled sheetrock to replace it, you will likely save money and reduce the impact of this exchange. Old copper wiring that may no longer be safe and needs to be replaced can readily be recycled as well as it is in high demand. Fiberglass insulation is tougher in this respect. There aren’t a lot of options for recycling fiberglass and there is a good discussion of this you can find at Recycle Nation. Still, while there is likely at least some recycled glass in the fiberglass insulation in your home, recycling it when you are replacing it is, currently, not easy. Even disposing of it is more difficult than ordinary construction waste.

This leads to another consideration when doing any project that may require replacing or adding insulation. When it comes time to recycle, at the end of its useful life, what you are installing, how hard will it be? Staying away from fiberglass would be good, although recycling this should become easier in time. However, while it is relatively inexpensive and effective, spray foam insulation should be avoided whenever possible – which is usually always. Why? Because not only is spray foam not recyclable, it basically encases everything in the walls with a toxic, unrecyclable mess, making the sheetrock, the framing, and even, in some cases, the wiring impracticable to separate – so it will all go into the landfill.

As is becoming clear from this series of articles, every stage of getting products from raw or recycled material, through its lifespan, and either disposed of or recycled, there are environmental costs involved. And to increase sustainability means decreasing the impact as well as moving to a circular economy where most materials are not disposed of at the end of their life, but made into useful materials for new products.

(see also: Part 1: Definition of Terms | Part 2: Environmental Impacts | Part 3: Embodied Carbon


Geo Answers: Sustainability – Part 3: Embodied Carbon

Often, when we think about the energy we use, we  only consider the energy it takes to run our tools, appliances and devices. However, when examining the sustainability of a product, we need to also include all the energy that went into making and transporting it to where it will be used. This ‘built-in’ energy is called embodied energy. And the carbon emitted generating that embodied energy is the embodied carbon of the thing. Embodied carbon represents a specific type of environmental impact as it contributes to all the negative effects of Climate Change.

In a globalized economy with its extremely complicated supply chains, the embodied carbon of a thing can rapidly become high regardless of the energy efficiency involved in using it. Often, garnering the raw materials, transporting them to be refined and made into component parts, and assembling the product itself happens in places where labor is cheap,  regulations are weak, and the distances involved to get the finished product to the end-user are great. All of these things tend to vastly increase something’s embodied carbon.

For this reason, Mighty Energy Solutions only sells products where everything from the basic materials, to the component parts, to the end products are made in the United States. This means everything is manufactured under US regulations. They are transported shorter distances than products that may involve several overseas facilities, etc. This policy of US only supply and manufacture of our products means keeping jobs in the US, and the embodied carbon low – even for replacement and repair. As a result, yet another factor of sustainability is supported. 

(see also: Part 1: Definition of Terms | Part 2: Environmental Impacts

Geo Answers: Sustainability – Part 2: Environmental Impacts

The products we use impact the environment at every stage: from manufacture to use to dealing with the ‘waste’ at the end of that usefulness.

Manufacturing, in most cases, means extracting and harvesting raw materials followed by refining those resources so that they can be made into components that are assembled into useful products.  Extraction (mining, drilling, and fracking,) and harvesting (especially trees or crops grown using petro-based agriculture) are 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. There is a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi because of all the farming chemicals that drain out there. And, of course, energy is used throughout all of these processes including transport, waste products that need to be disposed of are generated, and carbon is emitted into the atmosphere.

Now landfills, garages, and even the ocean, are full of ‘stuff’ that no longer has any productive purpose and, often, represents ongoing environmental damage. Repairing, recycling, reusing, and repurposing are all 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 help mitigate what are, often, the worst causes of negative environmental impacts in a product’s lifecycle. So, any products that are designed to have a long, efficient, useful life, be readily repaired, and/or easily recycled when that useful life is over can be said to be deliberately sustainable.

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

So, not only do Ducoterra infrared radiant heating panels have a lifetime warranty because they will last for decades of effective use, the materials to make them are not transported across oceans, they are energy efficient, and 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.

(see also: Part 1: Definition of Terms)


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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • A Cradle-to-Cradle Approach: 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.
  • Social Equity and Justice: Finally, it is critical to point out that the whole human carbon footprint must shrink, and this cannot happen if large populations at the poorer end of the socio-economic spectrum, are not included in the solution.

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.

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.