Saturday, March 30, 2013

Prefabulous + Almost Off the Grid

We were contacted by Sheri Koones in 2011 about the possibility of including our home in her new book.  After several discussions, emails, and photo sharing, she scheduled a visit and photo shoot at our home in May, 2011.  Sheri, her photographer Philip Jenson, and her son as her assistant, spent about four hours staging and taking pictures of our house.  To be honest, I dreaded the "staging" part and imagined having to remove every object from my home to make it look like many homes in books and magazines - cold, stark, and empty places where children and pets are forbidden (except for the photo-shoot when they stick the kid or dog into the middle of the shot to make it look "natural").  This was not the case with our house.  We tidied up, removed some clutter, but basically, what you see in the photos is mostly representative of our house.  The book, published by Abrams, came out last Fall, 2012 and we are so proud to be included in it.  It's not only a gorgeous book to place on your coffee table, but it contains a ton of good information and resources.  It's a perfect primer for people looking for information on the many different technologies and strategies that can be used to build an energy efficient home. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Presentation and Book Signing, Wed. Feb. 15th 7pm

We rescheduled the presentation and book signing that was cancelled due to the October snowstorm and power outage. Our new date in Wednesday, February 15th at 7pm with a snow date of February 29th. The presentation will be held at the Licia & Mason Beekley Community Library in New Hartford. For more information check out the poster I added to my original post with the announcement (in October, 2011) below on this blog. Come and learn about residential solar applications and about building a super energy efficient home!

Friday, November 18, 2011

If I have a PV system, why do I need a back up generator?

First, I'll mention that the program scheduled for Nov. 2 at the Beekley Library in New Hartford was cancelled due to the storm. We are currently trying to reschedule, likely for sometime in late winter or early Spring. I'll post it when we have a firm date.
Now, on to my subject of choice today. Backup generators.
As many of us have learned this year, extreme weather events disrupt our lives and remind us of our dependence on fossil fuels. It's always a surprise to people that we also are "powerless" when the grid is down, even with our 38 PV panels shimmering brightly in the sun on our roof. I wanted to explain this phenomenon. Since we are tied to the CL&P grid, we are required to shut down our system to prevent harm to line workers. Our system is also leased, so we cannot make changes to the system, to allow us to add batteries, or other "bypass" systems to the connection we have to the grid. While there are many benefits to a grid tied system (no large room full of expensive batteries to store our electricity), this is one disadvantage. If we had to do over again (and had the money to purchase the PV system ourselves), I still don't think we would have done it differently. Batteries are expensive, dangerous, and require maintenance. Battery technology is improving, but it's still not great enough for me to consider switching to an off-the-grid system.
A more frustrating situation for me during the power outage was the fact that I had to run my little Honda generator, and burn gasoline, just to get my solar thermal loop working (and thus hot water). Duh. That made no sense. So we are currently researching installing several dedicated PV panels (that we would own) and a small battery pack, to power the pumps and sensors on our solar thermal loop in the case of an outage.
One thing I will say about the storm aftermath. Our house was so cozy even without our heating system running for 8 days. It took about 4 days for our slab temperature to drop to 65F, a testament to the excellent insulation and thermal heat sink in our house. When we had the generator running, several hours in the morning and evening, we ran a small electric space heater which was enough to keep us very comfortable.
I have a secret to reveal...I was actually a little bummed when the power came on. I so enjoyed our family time eating dinner by candlelight, having long discussions, playing games and puzzles with our kids. No ipads, laptops, TVs, fights over video games. It wasn't lemons for me, it was slightly sour, but sweet and delicious lemonaid.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Consumer Book on Solar Power

I recently gave a presentation to the Solar Energy Association of CT on our house and my co-presenter was one of the authors of a new book Convert Your Home to Solar Energy.  Finally, we have a good consumer guide to solar energy, including abundant information on solar electricity and solar water heating.  It's rare to find these two technologies discussed together in one book, and in such detail.  I really could have used this book when we were planning for our house.  The book has something for everyone, easy to understand descriptions of different technologies for the newbie, as well as "tech sections" and tables of data for people looking for more detailed information.  But, more importantly, the authors, Everett Barber and Joseph Provey, have years of experience in the solar industry and have seen (and fixed) systems that didn't work and have learned from those experiences.  There is even a section that offers guidance on choosing a solar contractor.  I recommend this book to anyone looking to retrofit a house to solar, planning to build a house with solar components, or simply wants to understand solar energy more thoroughly.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

CT Zero Energy Challenge Video

Check out the video about our house that Northeast Utilities produced for the CT Zero Energy Challenge. It was shown at the awards ceremony in Hartford on March 9th, 2011. Thank you, NU and the CT Energy Efficiency Fund for the award. Now we can afford to finish our master bathroom!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


I've had several posts partially written, but the snow storms keep interrupting my writing. So why fight it, write about it.
Oh, to be a kid on a snow day...the eighth one this winter. Growing up in Oklahoma, I didn't get to experience that. I remember Tulsa getting 4 inches once when I was in high school, and that was a big deal, closing down the schools and most businesses. This year, Oklahoma has had two snow storms dropping record amounts of snow, over 24 inches in two storms occurring two weeks apart. If the weather of this past six weeks doesn't prove global warning, than I don't know what does. Increased temperatures affecting the amount of water taken up by warm air masses, that slam into cold, northern air, producing increased precipitation (icy rain, and yes, snow too).
The picture on the right is of our kids sitting in small chairs after the first big storm (24 inches) in mid-January. Subsequent storms have completely buried the black compost bin and the chicken coop is barely visible now. The photo on the left is of our kids sitting on the top of our wood picnic table. In January we got 58 inches of snow and February is shaping up to be the same.
The shoveling kinda sucks but the snow has great insulating properties. I've noticed that our slab floor temperature is rarely dropping below 65F except on super cold days, 15F or lower. We usually keep it at 67F to 68F depending on how much sun we've had. However, I have experimented with letting the slab temp drop on cloudy days and use the backup electric heat to keep from burning propane for the radiant heat. On the occasions I let the floor temp drop, I found that it seemed to come to an equilibrium at 65F without any energy input. It's hard to tell for sure, but I think the snow is helping to insulate the foundation.
For anyone thinking of solar panels. Snow storms over 6 inches will likely require you to remove some snow from the panels. It's just too much to shed on its own, before the next sunny day comes. We put our solar thermal panels on the ground and I am so glad we did. We are able to remove snow easily so we can start making hot water (our evacuated tube solar collectors still produce hot water when it's cloudy, so we want to get them working again quickly after a storm). For our photovoltaic solar panels on the roof, we have this extension pole with a flat, soft, foam squeegie thing on the end that is great for pulling the stubborn snow patches down. Unfortunately, it still requires going up on a ladder, not my favorite thing to do.

On another note, our new batch of chickens are arriving in mid-April. The kids are excited to have cute fuzzy chicks for easter. Sadly, our old hens were picked off by predators late fall over a two week period. Word got out and they were attacked from multiple perspectives (hawk, fox, and possibly coyote). They were scheduled for culling anyway because they were getting too old to lay eggs, but I was hoping to teach my kids where chicken nuggets come from and not feed the local wildlife. I'm thankful for the "learning chickens" and I think our next coop and fencing design will be better, for both us and the chickens.