Ithaca-Area Green Buildings Open House Marks Ten Years of Inspiring, Educating and Entertaining

(view more articles in SOS Tompkins Weekly)

Tompkins Weekly 9/25/2011 by Guillermo Metz

Photovoltaics: we all know they can power our homes. We’ve seen them on homes and businesses. But how many of us have had a chance to talk with the people who use them to learn about the process of installing them and what it’s like getting their power from them?

Geothermal: there is information at the ready about how these systems work, but what is it like for homeowners to heat and cool their homes with it? Zero-VOC paints and finishes: how are they to work with and how do they wear over time? What does it actually feel like to be inside a straw-bale house?

It isn’t hard to find information about green building methods, materials and technologies, but it can be hard to gain first-hand experience with them without taking an extensive workshop. The Ithaca-Area Green Buildings Open House (GBOH), which takes place October 1 and 2, offers participants the opportunity to take a close look at these systems and building elements and to learn directly from homeowners and some of the builders and installers who worked on them.

For just $5, visitors gain access to 24 homes, businesses, and one incredible bus (under 18 is free). Wristbands can be purchased beforehand at Cooperative Extension, Home Green Home, and Greenstar Cooperative Market, and at select sites during the Open House. Please help make the GBOH self-sustaining by purchasing a wristband. Everyone who does will be entered into a drawing for great prizes from area vendors.

Kicking off the weekend, the GBOH will feature a community sneak preview of “Empowered”. This locally produced documentary tells the story of Tompkins County residents who are striving for energy independence by embracing alternatives to fossil fuels. Following the film, there will be a panel discussion with the filmmakers and some of the homeowners featured in the film. It takes place Friday, September 30, 7pm, at Cinemapolis, and costs $10.

All of the homes (and one business, Renovus Energy, that occupies a zero-energy building and one biodiesel- and solar-powered mobile production studio, the Green Guerrillas bus) on this year’s tour are exemplary, but here’s a preview of what you can find:

Right in downtown Ithaca, there are two very different strategies for achieving some of the main goals of green building, including energy efficiency, healthy interiors, and using local and reclaimed materials. Timothy Weber purchased an 1860’s-era home on Linn St. and put it through a deep energy retrofit that built out the exterior walls, added recycled cellulose insulation and sealed leaks, making it extremely energy efficient. If you’re curious about how you can make any home more energy efficient, Cooperative Extension’s Energy Corps volunteers will be at this home demonstrating how you can get on the path to energy savings by taking the first step: an energy assessment that includes such tools as a blower door and infrared camera to detect where your house is wasting energy. Weber also made extensive use of zero-VOC paints and salvaged many materials to rebuild an ailing shed and make a small playhouse.

On the corner of Cascadilla and Second Streets, Todd Saddler and Laurie Konwinski purchased a small lot in 1999 where a house had been condemned and built a beautiful, highly efficient home that is heated almost entirely with wood (in a magnificent masonry heater), gets 125 percent of its electricity from solar panels and much of its hot water from solar collectors, and incorporates local and healthy building materials and finishes. They have also cultivated a garden that produces about a quarter of their food – on about 1/50th of an acre!

Moving out to the country a little bit, you’ll have the opportunity to visit a new home in Danby that epitomizes the small house movement. The Bartholomews are putting their finishing touches on a beautiful home with just 700 square feet of living space, where they are looking forward to moving with their two preteens. Featuring a super-insulated shell and extensive use of local materials, now is your chance to take a look inside the walls and other systems and learn about their building process.

You may have visited some of these sites on previous tours; each year we have several returning sites and many new sites. This gives visitors the opportunity to revisit old favorites and check back in to see how things have changed as well as visit new sites.

Every site on the GBOH features several green building strategies and is sure to inspire, educate and entertain you! Sites are open 10-4 each day. Van tours are available and we have set up a Zimride page for those interested in car-pooling. There is a fee for the van tours of $10/person or $15/two from the same household; preregistration is required. For more information about the van tours and the Zimride page, and for complete details on all the sites on the GBOH, visit or call 272-2292, x185. The GBOH is produced by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County and the Ithaca Green Building Alliance.

Guillermo Metz is the Green Building and Renewable Energy Program Coordinator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.

If you liked this article, you may want to check out our complete archives of SOS Tompkins Weekly articles