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Robinson Community Learning Center should go zero-carbon

| Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Notre Dame’s Robinson Community Learning Center is highly successful at teaching children that they can do anything to which they put their minds. In a few years, the RCLC will move into a new building constructed explicitly for their needs as part of the Eddy Street redevelopment. Why not make this building into a statement of what the RCLC teaches? Why not make it a zero-carbon building as a visible example of what we all need to do to fight climate change?

A zero-carbon building produces no carbon dioxide and thus does not contribute to causing climate change. The techniques for such construction are surprisingly simple and are commonly used in Europe. The building is made completely airtight by sealing all seams and cracks. It is sheathed in high-quality insulation, and the interior walls are lined with phase-change insulation. This remarkable product contains a gel-like substance engineered to have a freezing point near room temperature. It automatically regulates the temperature by absorbing heat through melting if the temperature is too high, or by giving off heat through freezing if the temperature is too low. All fresh outside air is brought in through a mechanical ventilation system that exchanges heat with the outgoing air, thus ensuring that no heat is lost in the process. The incoming air can easily be filtered to eliminate pollutants and allergy sources, thus creating a healthier environment for the children who come to the RCLC.

Large south-facing windows provide passive heating from sunlight in the winter, and, with proper shading, prevent direct sunlight from entering in the summer. Energy efficient lighting and appliances further reduce energy consumption. Solar panels on the roof, supplemented by heat pump coils buried during construction, can then provide all of the remaining energy needs.

The point is that no complex or costly technologies are involved. Experience shows that such zero-carbon construction costs only a few percent more than traditional construction. Then, since there will be no electricity or natural gas bills to pay, the building will actually save money for its occupants for its entire lifetime.

The end result is a building that is healthy, cost efficient and a constant reminder of how easy it is to take care of climate change. Why wouldn’t we want to do it?

Philip J. Sakimoto, Ph.D.

First-Year of Studies and Sustainability Minor

Jan. 29


The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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