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Great Lakes Article:

Could your future home be an Eco-Dome? Pollution free buildings test earth-friendly products we could all use.

FOR RELEASE: January 8, 2002

Contact: Mark Sulzbach 651 296-7768

St. Paul, Minn. -- Two geodesic domes completed in 1998 near Brainerd are proof that pollution-free living actually works. It's hard to believe, but the two "Eco-Domes" totaling 10,000 square feet remain warm in winter, cool in summer and have full electrical power without contributing to global warming, air pollution, or water pollution.

By contrast, operating the average home of roughly 1,500 square feet in Minnesota, annually creates 32 tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide for heating, cooling and overall electrical needs, according to scientist Peter Ciborowski from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

Geothermal energy heats the two Eco-Domes using a heat exchanger to gather heat from the earth's core in winter, so no fossil fuels are burned for heating or hot water. In the summer the process is reversed and warm air from inside the dome is replaced with air cooled from below ground. The domes even have a concrete root cellar that stays at a constant 38 degrees.

"It was 10 degrees below zero this morning and it was nice to come inside the dome to a comfortable 71 degrees," said David Winkelman, who designed the two domes. "The buildings are testing practical affordable ways we can work and live in better harmony with nature."

All electrical energy for the buildings is created from solar panels and wind generators which will pay for themselves in 8-10 years -- proof that being earth friendly can also be economical. The efficiency and reliability of solar panels and wind generators have improved dramatically during the last 25 years. These pollution-free renewable energy sources save money and reduce pollution by decreasing our need to burn fossil fuels for power generation.

Unfortunately, the rest of us pollute every time we flip on a light or electrical appliance because coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, is used to create 75 percent of the electricity in Minnesota.

Lighting the domes with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFBs) instead of incandescent bulbs -- cuts 75 percent of the electricity needed. CFBs are available at retail outlets, hardware stores and building supply stores, so everyone can take advantage of this energy saving product. Though more expensive, CFBs last about10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. The convenience of not having to replace bulbs for five or six years may be as appealing as the money you save.

According to the U. S. Department of Energy, based on a 100-watt bulb used four hours per day, you can save $20 over three years on just one CFB compared to incandescent bulbs, including both electrical energy costs and the price of the bulbs. When they finally do expire, CFBs need to be recycled at a hazardous waste site because they contain a small amount of mercury.

Winkelman made earth-friendly choices in every design step for the two domes he calls the Living Arts Center. This includes everything from waterless, composting toilets to decks made from recycled plastic lumber (created from plastic shopping bags and shrink-wrap mixed with waste wood fiber).

Composting toilets may be ideal for cabins. They cost around $2,000 and require no sewer lines. And all wastewater from the washing machine, sink and dishwasher is treated organically and used to water indoor and outdoor plants. Recycled plastic lumber is great for decks. It won't splinter, crack or fade and it is becoming more available at building supply stores.

The geodesic dome design itself requires no load-bearing interior walls, - - saving 33 percent in building materials. The insulation used is spray-on cellulose made from recycled paper and mixed with borax that is both fire-retardant and pest resistant. Even the ceiling tiles are made from recycled polystyrene used in packaging materials and coffee cups.

Winkelman plans to test more eco-products such as solar panel shingles and solar thermal water heating systems under sidewalks to melt snow.

The Eco-Domes also house the not-for-profit WATER Foundation and The WATER Foundation Radio and Community Programs, -- a for-profit organization. For information on the foundations and energy saving products used in the Eco-Domes go to or call (218) 764-2321.

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