How a Small Net-Zero Energy Library Caught the World's Attention

CEO Khai Intela
The Valatie Free Library may be small in size, but it has big ambitions. Serving just over 4300 people in rural New York, this library has made waves on a global scale. During the United...

The Valatie Free Library may be small in size, but it has big ambitions. Serving just over 4300 people in rural New York, this library has made waves on a global scale. During the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012, the Valatie Free Library was in the spotlight. The UN's Sustainability Initiative, The Future We Want/Rio+20, recognized the library's commitment to investing in a new facility with the goal of achieving near net-zero energy usage.

A Small Library with a Big Impact

Net-zero energy buildings are incredibly energy efficient, producing as much energy as they consume over the course of a year. The Valatie Free Library, with its modest operating budget of just over $70,000, has been diligently saving to address its space constraints. With a current library building of only 750 square feet, serving the community has become a challenge.

Net-Zero Energy Library Caption: The planned net-zero energy building for the Valatie Free Library. Image ©2012 Valatie Free Library, all rights reserved. Architectural design and rendering by David Bienn.

Expanding Programs, Expanding Possibilities

Over the past decade, the Valatie Free Library has experienced a surge in activity, with program attendance increasing by over 1000 percent. The library went from offering just six programs in 2002 to almost 140 in the previous year. The growing demand for programs has forced the library to find alternative venues, such as local church halls and cafes. The limited space within the current library makes it challenging to accommodate larger groups and various activities.

With the opportunity to acquire a property on the main thoroughfare, the library board eagerly watched the asking price. As the economic situation worsened, the property owners became more motivated to sell, leading to a significant price reduction. The library expressed its interest and was able to secure the property at a price within reach.

Building for a Sustainable Future

The "new" library building has an intriguing history. Originally constructed as the Kinderhook Steam Railroad Freight Barn in the 1890s, it was moved to Valatie in the 1930s. To ensure a sustainable future, the library board opted to repurpose existing building stock rather than clearing land and constructing a completely new facility. This decision caught the attention of worldwide sustainability advocates.

Architect David Bienn, with his extensive experience in sustainable design initiatives, is leading the project. Having witnessed the application of emerging sustainable design technologies in Europe, including Scandinavia and Scotland, Bienn returned to the United States to contribute to the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Valatie Free Library Caption: The Valatie Free Library is dedicated to creating a comfortable and energy-efficient space for its community. Image ©2012 Valatie Free Library, all rights reserved. Architectural design and rendering by David Bienn.

Designing for Energy Efficiency

The design of the new library incorporates skylights, photovoltaic solar panels, and ductless air-conditioning systems. These features aim to minimize the library's energy demand for lighting, heating, and cooling while generating the necessary energy on-site. Furthermore, the building envelope, constructed using materials and techniques developed during the rebuilding of New Orleans, offers protection against fire, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, resulting in insurance cost savings.

In addition to its energy-efficient design, the new library will serve as a vital hub for the community. It will provide a comfortable environment for browsing, specialized spaces for teens, and secure and spacious rooms for children. The library will also be able to host various classes, speakers, and presentations, enriching the lives of the patrons.

A Sustainable Future

The Valatie Free Library's commitment to sustainable design has garnered significant attention. Donors are particularly interested in the library's long-term sustainability, as rising costs and an uncertain economy pose challenges for funding. With a near-net-zero energy footprint, the library can focus on serving the community and remaining open for years to come. The Valatie Free Library's dedication to sustainability is an inspiration to other institutions, showcasing the possibilities of sustainable design and the positive impact it can have on both the environment and the local community.

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