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EGLE staffers volunteer on 'carbon footprint build' home in Grand Rapids

EGLE staffers who volunteered on a Habitat for Humanity carbon footprint build projectA group of staffers from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy's Grand Rapids District office has been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity -- mostly in Kent County -- since 2007. But the build project they worked on in southwest Grand Rapids this year was the first time they worked on a carbon footprint build project.

The group got its start when Chris Christensen, geologist, organized volunteers from the then Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to work on a project in Grand Rapids.

EGLE staff this year worked twice on the carbon footprint build effort. Christensen encourages staff to use their School and Community Service Leave to volunteer on the project.

The carbon footprint build they worked on is an important part of Habitat for Humanity's commitment to help Michigan move toward becoming carbon neutral.

"A carbon footprint build project is a zero-emissions home, meaning that no fossil fuel emissions will be produced by the home in its operations," says Mark Ogland-Hand of Habitat for Humanity of Kent County. "In its 'final energy' use, it will be greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions free. In fact, there is no gas line to the house. It is all-electric, and this is Habitat Kent's first one. Since homes are responsible for 20% of all U.S. GHGs, we are learning to build all-electric homes so that when our state's utilities achieve carbon neutrality, this home won't be responsible for any GHG (upstream or final).

"To go a step further, we're also analyzing the embodied carbon in this home. This is the carbon expended to actually build a house. To aid us in this analysis, engineering students from Calvin University are tracking the materials used and will provide us with a line-by-line itemization of the home's embodied carbon. We plan to use this analysis to inform our future building practices - from design to purchasing - so that in both construction and eventual operation of our homes, they will be as close to carbon neutral as we can get it."

The thing that sets this project apart is the use of an air source heat pump, Ogland-Hand noted. "This equipment is essentially an air conditioner that cools the house in the summer and heats it in the winter (using no combustion). This is widely used in southern states where fully 45% of homes are 'all-electric.' Advances in technology enable this equipment to now work efficiently in the Midwest and Northeast. The unit installed in our Carbon Footprint Build can extract heat out of subzero air to heat the house.

"New home electrification, coupled with weatherization of older homes and then converting them to all-electric, is seen as essential if we are going to be able to achieve carbon neutrality."

Over the years Christensen has organized many groups to work on Habitat for Humanity projects, but it's the relationships he's made that is most memorable in his mind.

"Those relationships, with the homeowners, habitat staff members and especially my co-workers, are the most important things that are built on Habitat worksites," he says "Well, this journey is now 15 years old and counting. It has helped foster a positive work-family environment and made Grand Rapids District office a great place to work."

For more information on the carbon build project, watch Habitat for Humanity of Kent County's video.

Caption: EGLE staffers who volunteered on a Habitat for Humanity carbon footprint build project

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