Pittsburgh Blogger Guest Post: Green in Pittsburgh

Today’s post comes from Michelle, who blogs about running and sustainability at SOLE for the Soul, and is part of a special day of shenanigans from other Pittsburgh Bloggers. You can see my post over on The Steel Trap, where I mention a few of my favorite places in Pittsburgh for a family day out, date night, and me-time.

Writing about sustainability has its advantages; sometimes you get to visit some amazing places and chat with incredible people! Today I’d love to share one of my most interesting adventures: a tour of Sota Construction near Avalon, PA.

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When Ernie Sota, president of Sota Construction, decided to redesign his business’ headquarters, he knew he wanted to do something different. He also knew he wanted his business to have a small footprint and big goals! In the spirit of green building, he set a goal to decrease material costs by utilizing as many local and natural resources as he could. Well, what does western Pennsylvania have a whole heck of a lot of? Straw! Yep, the picture above is a building constructed of steel beams and straw bales. Believe it!

Pittsburgh is full of forward thinking green business owners. I know this because, as it turns out, Ernie Sota is one of them. Not only was his straw purchased locally (it’s actually a really long process; the straw bales have to be dried in a barn for several years before they can be used), but he purchased the clay and sand that was used as a mixing medium in the walls from Greensburg, PA. Additionally, Sota chose to use organic insulation created from mushroom spores.

While it may sound like this building has a short shelf life, it’s actually quite the opposite. The steel beams that frame the building are rust-resistant and less likely to warp than conventional wood studs. The interior walls are cobb, which is a combination of straw, clay, and minute amounts of sand. The cobb combined with the straw bales create walls that end up being between 8–10 feet thick and very well insulated! Straw also naturally decreases the humidity in the space.

Inside, Sota was able to integrate some recycled building materials into this renovation, such as cabinets that were salvaged from a lawyer’s office. The counter-tops are paper-based, made from recycled materials. They were able to use some of the extra wood for doors as well.

As you walk through the building, there is an openness in the design of the building. In fact, there are several vents between the first and second floor, which naturally provide airflow without using energy. They also pull sunlight from the skylights in the roof. Essentially, the skylights in the roof are passively lighting the first and second floors!

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View of vent from first floor.

If you’re into the geeky side of green building like I am, read on!

One of the coolest things in the building is a monitoring system that senses the temperature and humidity both outside and inside the building (according to five orientation zones). This system will flash a red or green light that notifies occupants when conditions are ideals to open the windows/skylights. For example, if the humidity outside would cause less than ideal working conditions inside, you get the red light!

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Getting sticky in here!

The structure is heated radiantly using geothermal coils that are in the floors and covered in poured concrete, which in theory is meant to save on energy costs. The six geothermal wells are drilled 450 feet deep. The extensive network of compressors and the pipes/returns are located in the basement, but highly visible, which allows for detailed monitoring.

I hope you enjoyed this mini-tour of Sota Construction, a local green building. If you want to talk more about sustainability, pop over to SOLE for the Soul and leave me a comment! It will get me talking about something other than the Pittsburgh Marathon for a change!

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Here’s a list of participating #PGHgbe blogs. Go check them out, and see more of the awesome Pittsburgh has to offer:

Sean’s Ramblings

Small Town Dad

Sole for the Soul

Syntaxxerrorrr

Tall Tales from a Small Town

The Firecracker Blog

The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog

The Steel Trap

West of Mars

Ya Jagoff

Yinz R Readin

Yinzster

Yum Yum PGH

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