Even for those whose hearts are green, knowing which types of energy-efficient or renewable resource products to use in building a home can be extremely daunting due to the sheer number of earth-friendly options in every category: roofing, siding, insulation, plumbing, wall systems, roof trusses and so on.
That’s where the Go Green Assistance Center at UTB-TSC’s ITEC Center comes in. The center houses an actual walk-through display house built with green and energy-efficient materials, such as recycled concrete block, K-Tech wall panels and PEX plumbing. Visitors can see and touch these innovative products and get an idea of exactly how they’re used in construction. The center’s emphasis is on how to build low-income housing with energy efficient and green components.
"We help them to know about what it is, how much it costs, where the incentives are and who to go to," says Ricardo González, program director of the Go Green center. "Like with different types of insulation: Instead of seeing it on a slide, there it is. People can see it and it’s properly installed."
The center also features cut-away displays of structural systems and large flat-screen monitors on which to view information via the Internet.
The center was made possible by a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that the International Innovation Center at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College applied for in May 2007. The money, part of which was used to build the model home, is spread out over three years. IIC director John Sossi says his department was looking for a grant that would have a positive impact on the local community and he had no idea at the time just how big of a splash "green" would make.
Another mandate of the grant was for the Go Green center to create partnerships with other like-minded individuals, businesses and organizations, and Sossi was surprised by just how fertile the ground was for something like the center.
"It was more than we could have imagined, how many people, who were either energy efficient or green-type people, were really out there in the wings," he says. "It was surprising how many people were aware of and interested in it and wanted to do something. You didn’t have to really go and convince people. As soon as they found out what we were doing they were onboard right away."
For example, local suppliers donated all the building materials, while participants with the YouthBuild program of the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville took those materials and turned them into the center’s model home. UTB-TSC’s new architecture program has been a key partner as well, Sossi notes. González says the center’s displays will change as needed, depending on trends in the industry.
"The building industry is going to change tremendously," he says.
The third requirement of the Go Green grant was that the center sponsor educational workshops. To date, the center has played host to workshops on the basics of solar and wind power applications, and Energy Star appliance-equipped homes and what it takes to become Energy Star certified. On a recent Wednesday, an instructor from Austin Energy was leading a well-attended training session on home weatherization.
Sossi says additional workshops are being planned. Details will be posted on the center’s Web site calendar once dates are nailed down. IIC started working on the Go Green center last January. In March it hired interns from UTB-TSC to develop presentations on renewable energy for fifth-grade classrooms. In April the interns delivered their presentations at schools, the Children’s Museum of Brownsville and the zoo.
"We got a great reaction from the science teachers," González says. "We’re going to start doing them again in January."
Meanwhile, the center has won another grant, for $200,000, to develop curriculum in solar and wind power and green building. As it turns out, the Lower Rio Grande Valley’s surplus of sun, wind, seawater and land ideally situates it as an incubator for green energy — with huge potential for the region, Sossi says.
As for what happens when the HUD grant runs out, the center will be on the lookout for other grants and types of training that it can charge money to host, Sossi says.
"Once the center grows, if it gets to a certain level, there could be other forms of revenue that come," he says. "Mainly what we’d look at is other training and other grant potential. We’re always looking for grants and now we’re looking for green-related ones."
The Go Green Assistance Center will begin regular hours of operation on Jan. 4. The center will be open 9 a.m.-noon. and 2 p.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.