BUILDING A SOLAR HOME
BUILDING A SOLAR HOME
At the table in the dining room warmed by the sun and bright with natural lights, I look out the windows at patches of snow on the ground and then return to the task of paying bills. I owe the electric company $33 for the months of December and January combined ($13 for actual electricity used and a $20 service charge). The gas company's estimated bill for mid-December to mid-January was $143. But based on actual meter readings, it should have been $21, including a $7 flat fee. Given the fact that I live near Rochester, New York, famous for its lake effect snow and cloud coverage, this isn't too bad. I chuckle a little when I think of all the naysayers who told me that solar power in Rochester just can't be done. "You'll be dark and cold in January," they said.
Of course, there were times during the two years that it took to design and build our solar home, that I almost shared their "it can't be done" sentiment. My husband, Duane, and I learned early on that when it comes to building an earth-friendly home, weighing alternatives and harmonizing dreams with reality is quite a challenge. And while I'm thrilled with the house we built, it is a modest version of the one we originally envisioned.
Our visioning began after visiting a passive/active solar home that was part of a Solar Independent Home Tour. That's when Duane and I decided to disconnect from the utility grid. Under the guidance of architect Martha Gates, we created a passive solar home--a 2,500 square foot dwelling that uses the sun as a heating source. Sunlight entering through south facing windows warms thermal mass (concrete floors covered with tile, block exterior walls and a brick interior wall) which radiates heat to warm the house. Insulation (R-28 in exterior walls and R-36 in the ceiling) keeps the heat from dissipating through walls. On bright winter days, the sun alone heats the upstairs, raising indoor temperatures up to 70 degrees. The kitchen's cook stove provides warmth in the evenings and on cloudy days. Downstairs, the Russian stove, a rectangular mass of bricks and mortar, warmed by one fast, hot fire radiates heat for half a day.
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Article originally published in E/The Environmental Magazine
By Nancy Allinger
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