Energy Efficient Schools – Good Sense and Good Politics?

In the late 1990’s after my bride and I had put a stucco addition on our home, I discovered a company called Solarcrete. I wish I had discovered it before.

When I set up state government’s purchasing of natural gas from the wellhead, rather than from various gas companies in 1996 or 1997, the price was 20-some cents per therm. My October NICOR bill was $1.125 per therm.

Clearly heating costs are going to be a growing part of every school district’s budget.

I can’t remember how I found about Solarcrete, but its president, Pete Konopka, educated me well. (The firm is located in Union with a mailing address in Huntley.)

He told me that two—maybe three now—superintendents ago in Huntley, the school superintendent complained to him of heating costs. Konpoka told him of how his construction system could make new schools so much more energy efficient.

From the schools constructed since Huntley and Lake in the Hills populations skyrocketed, one would assume that more recent school superintendents were not as concerned about energy efficiency as the man Konpoka talked with.

Here’s what the firm does that traditional designers and builders of schools don’t.

It provides an energy efficient building…and at a competitive cost.

On its web site are a series of thermal images for Solarcrete buildings, steel buildings, masonary buildings, and pre-cast concretebuildings. The evidence of heat loss from the non-Solarcrete buildings is stunning.

But school architects apparently aren’t much for innovation, if it concerns non-traditional construction modes.

There is a Solarcrete building in its second ownership on south side of the Northwest Tollway just past the Elgin toll plaza. It has a bluish glass entryway. The warehouse part of the building can be heated with its overhead lights. Over time, the inside becomes warmer, as the ground below becomes heated.

What’s a warehouse got to do with a school? Think of gyms, auditoriums and pools. Immense spaces without a real need for windows.

The most important difference between traditionally constructed schools and a Solarcrete school would be that a Solarcrete school would have walls with an R-value of 36. And, there is little energy leakage at the foundation, as can be seen in the thermal image links in the paragraph below. That’s where it pours out of most buildings. Solarcrete ties the concrete of the walls and the foundation together better than other construction methods.

The walls 12 inches thick, with 7 1/4 inches of Styrofoam covered with 2 3/8 inches of fiber reinforced concrete on both sides. The wall is stronger than a concrete block wall and, of course, more energy efficient.

A school can put whatever covering on top of the concrete that it wishes. Want bricks? Lay them. Want stucco? Lather it on. Want economy? Leave it concrete.

In the case of my house, it would still have been stucco, to match the rest of the house. But, it would have so much more energy efficient.

For the life of me I also cannot understand why all new prisons are not built of Solarcrete.

Contract specifications would not have to be limited to Solarcrete. Any firm that could provide walls with an R-factor of 36–or pick any big energy efficient number—could bid on a project.

If I were running a school bond referendum, I think I could make energy efficiency a selling point.

In the interest of full disclosure, Konpoka did contribute to my campaign fund.


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