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Thursday, April 18, 2013 09:25 pm

Home sweet ‘green’ home


The Spaulding House, owned by Harv Koplo and Annette Chinuge, was built using recycled materials and utilizes solar heat and other structural components that are energy efficient.

When Harv Koplo and Annette Chinuge met at Sangamon State University during the 1970s they had no idea their interest in preserving the earth would lead them to become pioneers for sustainable living in Springfield.

“Nobody had heard of green or sustainable, but that doesn’t mean the principles weren’t there,” said Chinuge. “I think it made an impression on us philosophically.”

Koplo, 61, a computer consultant for small businesses, and Chinuge, a 64-year-old horticulturalist, now own the first green home in Springfield. The term “green” is used to describe principles that identify with the environment, health and a sustainable lifestyle. Their home, known as the Spaulding House, boasts 3,800 square feet of living space on the main floor. The two-bedroom home offers more than one might expect. With a wine cellar, a view on top of a hill and multiple rooms with various uses, their home satisfies many needs.

The two first studied what would now be known as principles for sustainable living with professor Dan Knapp at Sangamon State University, now University of Illinois Springfield. During the 1970s, Knapp guided students in learning about depleting farmland, wind generators, recycling and the use of solar energy. They both said Knapp led the way for sustainable thinking in Springfield.

“He measured the soil to see how much topsoil was leaving. He was way ahead of his time,” Koplo said. “If Sangamon State would have kept this thing going, who knows where we’d be? Alternative energy is a real big thing now.”

Years later, after graduating from SSU, the two moved into a group living situation at a farm in Chatham. There, along with friends, they continued to learn about alternative living. They raised chickens, had a garden and learned to birth their own children. Throughout their lives, self-education has been the key to creating the lifestyle they wanted.

Chinuge said because they were students they were adept at seeking out knowledge. Due to their growing interest in preserving the earth’s resources, they taught themselves how to live sustainably.

“I think we just always had that in the back of our minds. How can you do this in a way that would be less harmful to the earth? Doing more with less,” Chinuge said. “Once that principle is in your mind you see the world through those glasses.”

Eventually those in the farmhouse would separate and build their own lives. Koplo and Chinuge had a child they raised in Chatham. Once they put their son through college at Northwestern University they began to discuss moving. They knew they wanted to return to living in the country and started looking for houses. After they couldn’t find anything to satisfy their needs, they decided to build their own house.

They purchased an old farm home on Spaulding Orchard Road on March 31, 2006, and tore it down by August. They said their biggest difficulty was finding contractors and constructions workers who were willing to try something different. Given that the construction companies were not familiar with green technology, they could not guarantee their work, and they were hesitant to try some of the couple’s ideas.

“They were reluctant to learn new things. I think part of it is they’re not use to learning,” Koplo said.

After meeting Bob Croteau, energy planner for City Water Light and Power, Koplo and Chingue were encouraged to continue with the construction of their home.

With more than 30 years of experience working with solar energy, Croteau offered ideas to help them create their dream home.

Heat and light travel freely through the seven-room open floor plan.

The Spaulding House boasts floors made from materials such as recycled eucalyptus, recycled milk jugs and recycled soda bottles. The floor in the foyer is made from eucalyptus and a combination of other trees. Their porch floor is made from milk jugs and the carpet in the computer room is made from recycled soda bottles. The countertops throughout the home are made from recycled cardboard and newspaper, which looks much like granite, but it doesn’t require constant maintenance.

In addition to the flooring and countertops, the home also has many structural features to help improve the use of energy. With a seven-room open floor plan, heat and light are able to travel through the home freely. The home uses solar heating and backup heat pumps, allowing solar heat to be dispersed through the house. Windows facing southeast and southwest let sun into the home. A two-foot roof overhang outside keeps heat out during the summer months.

With 10 photovoltaic solar panels on the roof, two kilowatts of electricity are produced. An extra layer underneath the panel unit allows the unit to capture the sun reflecting back from the roof, boosting the power produced by the panels by up to 10 percent.

Since the construction of the Spaulding House, more energy-efficient homes have been built in Springfield. Croteau said due to the strengthening of efficiency standards, sustainable living has become feasible for all homeowners.

He said there are several ways people can make their homes sustainable, the best investment being proper insulation. By using insulation and sealing any air leaks, heat that is generated within the home will stay in and less heat will need to be produced.

Recycled milk jugs are the prime material used to make this porch floor.

CWLP has efficiency rebates and efficiency audits available to their customers. The audits allow customers to have their homes examined and CWLP will suggest ideas on how to improve their energy consumption. In addition, if customers make the changes CWLP suggests, some improvements may qualify for reimbursement.

Croteau said when it comes to being sustainable, renters and homeowners have many of the same options. The biggest obstacle is getting consumers to understand energy use.

“Most people are not aware of how much they should be spending on their energy. They just blindly pay their bill,” he said. “You can build a very efficient house with no more money than you would a normal house.”

Seven years after building their home, Chinuge and Koplo said they have few regrets.

Their home meets their needs to entertain guests, have a garden, office space and a place of relaxation. For this couple, a sustainable home was an investment they made for their future. Their lifestyle provides them with peace of mind from knowing that perhaps reducing their carbon footprint will create an environment where others can live longer and comfortably.

Contact Jacqueline Muhammad at intern@illinoistimes.com.

Bob Croteau’s five tips to sustainability

1). Weatherize your home. Make sure your home has proper insulation. Use insulation to keep heat in and seal your windows to keep drafts out.

2). Water Conservation. CWLP has low flow water conservation kits available to customers. The kits have showerheads and faucet aerators. Also be sure to fix leaky toilets and faucets. Using rain barrels to collect water for a garden is a great way to conserve water.

3). Yard Waste. Use mulching, lawn mower compost, grass and leaves to add as a natural fertilizer to a garden.

4). Food. Grow your own food, this will reduce trips to the grocery store, therefore reducing you carbon footprint. Also growing your own food is good physical activity and will help develop a healthy diet.

5). Transportation. Walk, bike, carpool and use mass transit. Drive your car less, this help you save gas and once again reduce your carbon footprint.

Bob Croteau is the energy planner for City, Water, Light & Power. For more information on energy use visit www.cwlp.com

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