Longtime Builder Is Passionate Promoter of Carbon Neutral Building - 27 East

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Longtime Builder Is Passionate Promoter of Carbon Neutral Building

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The Hamptons Green Alliance built this house for the Dubin family of Southampton as a way to prove and test out the practice of carbon neutral building.  JOAN WOZNIAK

The Hamptons Green Alliance built this house for the Dubin family of Southampton as a way to prove and test out the practice of carbon neutral building. JOAN WOZNIAK

Frank Dalene has been committed to environmentally friendly building practices since he started his construction company, Telemark, in 1978.

Frank Dalene has been committed to environmentally friendly building practices since he started his construction company, Telemark, in 1978.

Frank Dalene's book,

Frank Dalene's book, "Decarbonize The World," presents a business and market-based approach to solving the climate crisis.

The Hamptons Green Alliance built this house for the Dubin family of Southampton as a way to prove and test out the practice of carbon neutral building.  JOAN WOZNIAK

The Hamptons Green Alliance built this house for the Dubin family of Southampton as a way to prove and test out the practice of carbon neutral building. JOAN WOZNIAK

The Hamptons Green Alliance built this house for the Dubin family of Southampton as a way to prove and test out the practice of carbon neutral building.  JOAN WOZNIAK

The Hamptons Green Alliance built this house for the Dubin family of Southampton as a way to prove and test out the practice of carbon neutral building. JOAN WOZNIAK

The Hamptons Green Alliance built this house for the Dubin family of Southampton as a way to prove and test out the practice of carbon neutral building.  JOAN WOZNIAK

The Hamptons Green Alliance built this house for the Dubin family of Southampton as a way to prove and test out the practice of carbon neutral building. JOAN WOZNIAK

The Hamptons Green Alliance built this house for the Dubin family of Southampton as a way to prove and test out the practice of carbon neutral building.  JOAN WOZNIAK

The Hamptons Green Alliance built this house for the Dubin family of Southampton as a way to prove and test out the practice of carbon neutral building. JOAN WOZNIAK

authorCailin Riley on Nov 21, 2022

Frank Dalene emigrated with his family from Norway to the United States when he was just 8 months old, but one aspect of Norwegian culture has stayed with him and informed how he’s run his successful construction business for the last 40-plus years.

Before terms like “carbon neutral,” “net zero,” “green” and “sustainable” were ubiquitous across a broad spectrum of industries, Dalene was committed to the ideals those terms entail, taking an environmentally friendly approach to the work he does through his luxury homebuilding company, Telemark Construction.

The idea of a home that operates in a carbon-neutral way has gained traction in recent years and has been done before by several building companies — including Telemark — as technologies have emerged that make it possible. But Dalene has been focused on making the actual process of building the home carbon neutral, as well. He has been so committed to that ideal that he wrote a book on it, published in October 2021, titled “Decarbonize the World: A Market-Based Solution to the Climate Crisis.”

In the book, Dalene makes the case for doing what, on the surface, may seem overwhelmingly difficult, if not impossible: making the entire process of building a home carbon neutral.

Using the expertise he’s collected over the course of more than four decades in the business, Dalene created a methodology for builders to adhere to when going for a net zero carbon impact approach to homebuilding. He has dubbed that methodology ICEMAN, which stands for “International Carbon Equivalent Mechanism Attributed to Neutrality,” that allows companies to obtain an accurate picture, on a standardized scale, of their carbon footprint for any particular project. In his book, he describes ICEMAN as “an innovative mechanism that applies established sciences and protocols developed for the calculation of greenhouse gas emissions to calculate the sum of greenhouse gases emitted throughout every part of the supply chain — for the product itself and for all the materials and components it contains. The calculation encompasses the taking of raw material from the ground, the entire manufacturing process, and the transportation of the product to market.”

In his book, Dalene not only presents the ICEMAN mechanism, but also makes the case for a market-based approach to solving the climate crisis rather than tasking governments throughout the world with enacting and enforcing rules and regulations related to reducing carbon emissions. Instead, he argues that the solution lies in “harnessing the market forces of competitive advantage” and outlines in his book ways that business owners can be part of the solution in combating climate change while simultaneously increasing their profits.

Dalene says he has always tried to adhere to Earth-friendly practices when building homes, but in recent years he has expanded the reach of his philosophies and brought in like-minded contractors to help form the Hamptons Green Alliance, a nonprofit.

Founded in 2008, the alliance includes a group of tradesmen and contractors united in their desire to promote and adhere to sustainable practices in their work. The group worked together to put their practices and theories for carbon-neutral building to the test when they built what they called the first Hamptons Green Alliance home in Southampton in 2010 for the Dubin family, who had lost their home in 2008 to a fire.

Craig Lee of Lee Architecture and Ric Stott, the owner of Steelbone Design Company and Flynn Stott Architects P.C., teamed up for the design of the home, with Telemark serving as the builder and several other HGA members performing other aspects of the job. The result was a process that they hope will set the standard for sustainable carbon neutral building for the future.

Dalene’s passion comes from a relatable place — like anyone else who has been paying even partial attention, he’s alarmed by the threat of climate change and the fact that it’s already happening and poised to reach catastrophic levels if big steps aren’t taken immediately. He feels a particular obligation to address it because of a statistic he cites when delving into his arguments for carbon-neutral buildings: that all buildings worldwide use 40 percent of global energy and are responsible for one-third of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. The vast majority of those emissions come from the operation stage of the home, while the construction stage and the eventual demolition stage — whenever a home’s lifetime officially comes to an end — account for a small percentage of the remainder.

In a paper he wrote for the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, Dalene said “the greatest potential for low-hanging fruit in cost effective, quick, deep greenhouse gas reduction and mitigation is found in the construction industry. With currently available and proven technologies, reductions in energy consumption on both new and existing buildings are estimated to achieve 30 to 80 percent. When costs of implementing energy reduction technologies are offset by energy savings, there is potential for a net profit over the lifespan of the building.”

The home that the HGA built for the Dubins was the largest LEED-certified platinum home in the country at the time it was built, a particularly impressive achievement considering that the LEED standards give a 10-point penalty right off the bat for homes that exceed a certain square footage.

Dalene spoke earlier this month about the origins of his passion for carbon neutral building and why he has been so dedicated to helping forge a path for homebuilders and contractors to operate in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way, and how not only his upbringing but the circumstances happening in the world during the time he co-founded Telemark with his brother, Roy Dalene, also had a heavy influence on the operation of the business.

“Norwegian culture teaches us to be good stewards to the environment,” he said. “Norwegians are always out in nature, hiking. When I started in this business in 1978, that was post-oil embargo of the mid 1970s. There was a sharp increase in gas prices, scarcity, waiting on lines.”

The skyrocketing price of oil at that time made Dalene acutely aware of issues like heat loss and how to avoid it in homebuilding. He said building tightly sealed homes became part of the Telemark brand early on, and Telemark was an early adopter of emerging technology that made the idea of carbon neutral homes a reality. In 1991, Telemark built a 17,000-square-foot home with a geothermal cooling system and used a radiant heating system that was not common at the time. Telemark also built the wellness center at the Ross School using water-sourced geothermal energy.

“Way before they called it green building, we were doing it,” Dalene said.

Dalene said that he and his fellow contractors learned several valuable lessons from the building of the HGA home for the Dubins, and he also used his own home as another laboratory of sorts for testing out carbon-neutral ways to both build and operate a home. Dalene said he was influenced by the work of Dr. Lin-Shu Wang, an academic researcher from Stony Brook University. Dalene said that Wang’s research on homeostasis has informed some of his work in homebuilding and using building practices that he said can help build a home in a way that will make it “like living in a Yeti cooler.”

With a focus on insulation and cutting down air infiltration to zero, the requirement for heat goes down significantly, Dalene explained, making geothermal heating more viable and less dependent on electricity. Groundwater can be circulated throughout the building envelope, through the walls, and can both heat and cool the home, using the mass of the building as an energy reservoir. It takes a long time to heat up, Dalene said, but once it does, a well-insulated home will hold that heat.

Creating a home that can operate in a carbon-neutral way is now widely recognized as achievable, even if it is not seen by everyone as affordable. Dalene argues that a carbon-neutral home is more financially viable over the long term — he says that it’s financially irresponsible not to install solar panels on a home — and he added that many banks are eager to provide loans to help cover the upfront costs of the technologies needed to make a home operate in a carbon-neutral way. Making the entire process of building such a home is a bigger uphill battle, but Dalene is still adamant that it can be done. One of the main tools in achieving carbon-neutral building is the use of carbon offsets. In that case, a company like Telemark would pay to plant trees or supplement the cost of any kind of greenhouse-gas reducing activity or endeavor somewhere else in the world to offset or neutralize some element of the construction process that leaves a carbon footprint, such as the transportation of raw materials or workers to the job site. He said that while carbon offsets are an important tool of the net-zero approach to building, in many instances they become a crutch and are relied upon too heavily by some.

“In that case, they haven’t really done anything to reduce their carbon footprint,” Dalene pointed out. “First, we mitigate. And when we can’t mitigate, then we offset.”

One way Dalene and his colleagues earned carbon credits during the construction of the HGA house, for instance, was by recycling waste lumber. He pointed out that landfill avoidance is a key element of carbon reduction in building.

“When you put biomass into landfills, it turns into methane, and when you recycle, you don’t release those carbons and methane,” he explained.

In instances where a carbon offset is the only answer, Dalene said there are plenty of options.

“We bought carbon offsets from a family dairy farm in Georgia, where they take manure from the cows and put it in an anaerobic digester that breaks down and creates methane in a closed environment, and the methane is then sucked off and burns in a generator as electricity,” he said. “When I pay for that offset, that money is being sent to the family farm to pay for the anaerobic digester.”

How quickly the rest of the construction industry gets on board with the principles and methodologies that Dalene has been using and touting over the course of his career in the construction business remains to be seen, but the formation of the HGA has been a strong indicator that there are plenty of like minded people in the construction industry. Regardless, Dalene will remain true to the principles that have informed his career from the start, and to the belief that grassroots effort will ultimately be more effective in solving the climate crisis than government mandates.

“I’m the kind of person who leads by example,” he said.

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