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The Grande Finale – an Energy Audit & HERS Score

Monday, October 26th, 2009

My friend, Alva Morrison, has been in the weatherization industry for many years, working for the state of NM helping families in need tighten up their homes with insulation, caulking and funding. As energy audits got popular for the general public, his natural next step was to become an Energy Rater. Special training and equipment is needed for this job, which entails sealing up a house, running air through it, analyzing air leakage through computer software and offering recommendations.

When my construction was done, Alva and I decided to do an energy audit. Instead of guesswork, I wanted documentation of my energy savings were and how I could make improvements to further save.

A blower door test determines energy usage. Alva determined the volume of the house, then we talked about construction details. He plugged that information into his software, then we sealed up the windows and exterior doors, leaving the interior doors open for maximum air flow.

He installed the blower in the kitchen door. blower door_3631 The red canvas was sealed all the way around to make the door air-tight. The blower was plugged into his laptop, then turned on to create air movement, which was registered in the software. We looked for areas where air was coming in. Alva caulked a few old window frames, and rechecked the figures.

We were surprised at some of the results and recommendations. Here are his comments:

“Nan’s house is a great example of what can be done to turn a pretty average house, built to code a couple of decades ago, into a modern energy-efficient home. If built as is today, it would exceed qualification for the USEPA Energy Star certification, even though many of the walls still have 2×4 insulation in a 2×6 wall. The main factor driving the house’s lean performance is a thick blanket of attic insulation. But the solar hot water and the balmy sunroom, with a thick adobe wall to catch and hold the heat, provide solid backing. Add to that a refrigerator, which squeezes kilowatts until they scream, and you have a working person’s house to take us all through the next century of global warming both economically and comfortably. All these things were added to the house by Nan at moderate expense.

“Analyzing possible improvements was very interesting. Tearing off sheetrock and re-insulating the walls seemed like it should be a no-brainer. But when we ran it through the computer, it only showed a savings of around $25 a year- not much reward for all that trouble. The moral is, heat goes up, not sideways.

“However, we found another weaker spot in the building’s ‘heating envelope’: the uninsulated foundation. A quick rework of the house through the energy rating software showed that digging a barrier of four inch rigid foam in around the perimeter of the foundation would return $175 a year – and that?s if the cost of wood and gas stays the same (don’t hold your breath for that!). Get out your shovel, Nan!”

As you can see, an energy audit gives you a lot of information on how to improve your home. I had him calculate a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) score, because I wanted to be able to show others the entire process.

The number of a HERS score is based on the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which is 100. My score was 88, meaning my house is 12% more efficient than the code. The lower your number, the more efficient your home is. When I make improvements, Alva can plug that information into his software, re-analyze the results and give me new recommendations

Many municipalities, including Taos, are beginning to require HERS scores on new construction. I highly recommend an audit, and, speaking as a RealtorR, I use them as effective marketing tools for homes. Buyers can see current efficiency and how it can be improved. There are fewer surprises and disappointments after purchase.

Food has been coming out of the greenhouse year-round. Due to some unanticipated condensation problems and failing flashing around one skylight, the greenhouse is not in full use. There is no soil in the bed yet, but I have been successfully growing in containers. This picture is my tomato garden on Jan 31, 2009. Once the construction issues are resolved, I will have achieved my goal of a true food-and-heat-producing solar greenhouse.

Find a certified local Energy Rater through RESNET – Residential Services Energy Network http://www.resnet.us

The entire remodel with more details and pictures is on my website: Solar Retrofit 2007 http://www.nanfischer.com/remodel1.html

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Solar Thermal – Hot Water for Domestic Use

Monday, October 19th, 2009

My mom passed away in 2006, and her estate was finally settled in 2007. I had no idea what my brother and I would inherit, and from what the attorney, stockbroker and CPA said, it sounded meager. I was thrilled to find a check in my mailbox that would get me started on my remodel! Meager to a big-wig, perhaps, but abundant to someone living simply.

The first thing I looked into was solar thermal – hot water from the sun for domestic use. From www.energysavers.gov:

Solar water heaters – also called solar domestic hot water systems – can be a cost-effective way to generate hot water for your home. They can be used in any climate, and the fuel they use, sunshine, is free.

Solar water heating systems include storage tanks and solar collectors. There are two types of solar water heating systems: active, which have circulating pumps and controls, and passive, which don’t.

Most solar water heaters require a well-insulated storage tank. Solar storage tanks have an additional outlet and inlet connected to and from the collector. In two-tank systems, the solar water heater preheats water before it enters the conventional water heater. In one-tank systems, the back-up heater is combined with the solar storage in one tank.

solar dom hot water

After much research, like that above, I called a solar installer, Valverde Energy. The owner, Larry Mapes, came out to the house to do an assessment. We first talked about my current and future water use. My two teenage daughters were going to fly the coop in the next few years, so water usage would dwindle. All those long, hot showers, mounds of laundry and constant dirty dishes would be a thing of the past when I settled back into living alone as I had done before having children.

So instead of creating a system for a family of three, which would be big and inefficient just for me later on, we decided on a smaller system that would be adequate for all three of us, and would rely on very little natural gas back-up as our numbers shrank. This smaller system could be expanded when the house is sold and another family moves in.

Once we’d made that decision, we talked about infrastructure. This isn’t very exciting and is nothing anyone sees, but it was necessary to get it done.

I am on a shared well with three other homes. For years, we have talked about putting in new water lines, but not everyone had the money at the same time, and our bank account wouldn’t cover it all. I went ahead and replaced the aging line to my house. The stub-in had to go in a certain place to accommodate the solar system, since I was moving the hot water heater as well.

Larry suggested tapping into the natural gas line in the new road adjacent to my property. My gas supply was currently propane, which is more expensive, and he said this alone would cut my energy bills. It didn’t take much to persuade me to switch! The water line came in from the south, and the gas line came in from the north. My yard was chewed up all the way around! Ah… remodeling…

stubins_3428 The infrastructure upgrades needed to be done first, because those utility lines had to be in place for Larry’s crew to install the solar system and before we could pour a slab for the greenhouse. We joked that most women don’t care about these kinds of things in a home, because you can’t decorate them, but I was excited about the value of what he was proposing.

I quietly thanked my mom for making this possible. 515

More info on:

Solar hot water http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/water_heating/index.cfm/mytopic=12850

Valverde Energy http://www.valverdeenergy.com/

Greening up the House with Energy Efficient Windows

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Once the infrastructure decisions were finalized, Alex, the construction contractor, and I could firm up our plans. We knew where water and gas lines could go in the house and greenhouse.

Not only did I plan on the greenhouse addition, but I also made some drastic changes in the rest of the house.

1) I replaced all my single pane windows and sliding glass door with vinyl, double pane, energy efficient, low-e windows.

It’s important to choose the right windows for different areas of a home. Lighting, vies and orientation are taken into consideration.

window There are several criteria to determine a window’s performance, two of which are:

  • Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) – the higher the number, the more heat the window transmits.
  • U-factor rating of the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) – the lower the number, the more efficient the window, based on the glass, frame and spacer material.

I have big pictures windows and a slider on the northeast side facing the mountains. Sun pours in here on summer mornings, so I chose windows with a low SHGC that let in sun and but heat. Obviously, on the southwest side, that’s not what I wanted, so I chose windows with a high SHGC that allowed the sun to heat the space.

Low-e stands for low-emissivity. There is an invisible, thin coating on the glass that controls the amount of heat moving through it and affects the SHGC and the U-factor. All windows should be labeled with this information.

2) I changed the floor plan in western 2/3 of the house to facilitate heating, which was difficult due to a remodel done by a previous owner. The traffic flow was choppy, which also prevented heat from being distributed evenly. I was spot-heating separate areas, which was a continual experiment and not very effective. If I could easily get the rooms heated, I would further reduce my energy bills.

3) I created two separate heating zones:

  • The greenhouse, girls bedrooms, a bathroom
  • The kitchen/living room, my room, a bathroom

Do you remember that huge room where I installed that huge sunny window previously? I split it in two and gave the girls identical rooms. The doors, which I recycled from other parts of the house, opened into the greenhouse, which would help heat them and the second bathroom. This area was separated from the kitchen/living area by a steel exterior door.

remodelimg_3550 4) I added insulation in the ceiling over the kitchen/living part of the house. Since we put gas lines in the attic and access panels in the ceiling, we got a chance to look at the insulation. It was pretty thin, and we had disturbed a lot of it with our work. I decided to beef it up by having R30 shredded fiberglass blown in on top of what we guessed to be about R19 insulation. I was eager to see how my heating bills would react.

My original thought for the greenhouse was to create a 5.5′ wide passive solar hallway to the girls’ new rooms and bathroom. This would span the entire front of the space. After many measurements and number crunching, we decided to fill the entire corner with the greenhouse. It would be easier for Alex to build if we brought the exterior wall out even with the existing wall. This space was 8.5′ wide and allowed the planting bed to be included.

Once we had these dimensions, we could create a detailed design and start ordering materials.

More on energy efficient windows:

http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/windows_doors_skylights/index.cfm/mytopic=13320

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The Solar Greenhouse Gets Built

Monday, October 5th, 2009

I will spare you the entire thought and building processes and show you what we finally decided on.

remodelimg_3285 Since this is southwest orientation, my main concern was getting extra light and heat, since the winter sun does not come around to that side until late morning. I put three fixed skylights along the lowest part of the ceiling, which has worked well. The sun comes through them a few hours before it gets to the front.

In the New Hampshire house, the south facing windows were floor-to-ceiling. I wanted as much sun coming in as possible for daytime heating. Here in Taos, I wanted a planting bed close to the windows for maximum light, so the windows are in the 5′ space above the 3′ deep planting bed. In both instances there is a 1′ spacer between them for support.

Ventilation is as important as heating. Plants and people don’t like temperatures that are too hot, as much as they don’t like them cold. To keep everyone and everything comfortable, I installed:

  • A glass door flanked by two double-hung windows. This allows more sun in winter and serves double duty to ventilate in summer.
  • Two double-hung windows in the end wall
  • Two VeluxR operable skylights in the upper part of the ceiling. This is where heat will rise, which made it the most logical place for a moveable vent. Air moves in through the windows carrying the heat out of the top vents. Moving air is cool air, so opening the windows and the vents cools off the greenhouse, even if it is hot outside.

The soil in the bed is to be part of the thermal mass. It will absorb the sun’s heat to keep the temperature levels even and keep the plants warm. The concrete floor and an adobe-lined wall on the northern side are also mass that will absorb sun and ambient heat to radiate back out at night.?remodelimg_3526

The ceiling is super insulated, and exterior doors lead into the four rooms of the house. There is no supplemental heat in the greenhouse. In the event there are many cloudy days in a row or old-timey winter temperatures of 40 below, I will sacrifice the plants as the greenhouse gets cold, but the heat in the other rooms will not be lost. The girls have small gas heaters in their rooms for the coldest days and nights.

remodelimg_3531 The work was done enough by Thanksgiving to start seeing the benefits. My fuel bills that following winter were half of what I’d been used to paying. I cut my wood consumption by half with the new ceiling insulation and double pane windows, and my natural gas bill was about $40 a month at it’s peak with the girls using their heaters.

Come spring, I got an energy audit and a surprisingly good HERS (Home Energy Rating System) score.?remodel.gh.1.09_3880

Solar Greenhouse – Detached or Attached?

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

When I bought my house, it was an upside-down T, with the stem facing southwest. In last week’s post, I talked about installing sunny windows in the southeast and southwest walls for passive solar daytime heating. Now I was trying to decide how to further remodel for more solar gain.

floorplan before

I could have added a greenhouse on the southeast corner adjacent to the kitchen. This was very appealing as far as harvesting food and herbs. I’d also envisioned it as a sitting area, the breakfast nook, I suppose. But I enjoyed the new windows, and one was in my bedroom. I’d have missed that if it went into a greenhouse instead of to the moon, trees and coyotes.

The warmest winter sun hit the southwest corner, so I decided to add something there. I wasn’t sure what, but many pencils and eraser goobers later, I came up with this plan. Craig Simmons of Eco Builders fleshed out the details for me.

I was content enough with the heat produced through the new windows that I put these drawings away. I was also a working single mom of two young girls, and my time constraints prevented me from doing a lot of research into this project, never mind starting and completing it! I rolled up the drawings and propped them up on my desk.floorplan after

In 1997, I lived in an old block home on an irrigated acre of land in Ojo Caliente – almost the adobe dream home! I was more interested in the land than the house, and we cultivated half of it with beans, corn, tomatoes, squash, herbs and flowers that we sold to friends and co-workers.

Out near the garden, there was a small frame greenhouse with translucent polycarbonate walls. I checked the overnight temperature in early spring to see if I could start my seeds in it. It was too cold, since it was not heated or insulated. It was essentially a cold frame with an 8-foot ceiling and roof.

I started researching greenhouses and was disappointed to find all standard greenhouses need supplemental heat. This is usually generated with electric heaters for something as small as I was looking at. Aside from growing food to eat healthy, cost needs to be taken into consideration. Heating a non-insulated building of plastic walls with electricity was not cost-effective.

UdgarPujaWinterDome (2) I came across the Growing DomeR Greenhouse in a gardening magazine. It is still available, and I see them popping up across the landscape as food and energy costs rise. This is a passive solar, geodesic design with glazing on the south side and insulated solid walls on the north side. Planting beds and the concrete slab floor are the thermal mass, along with a pond. Do you remember the 55-gallon drums in the solar pods? Poisson knew water is one of the best materials for thermal mass. It must be sized properly so it can radiate heat effectively. The pond can hold fish or water plants, or boards can be placed across it to make more room for container plants.

The combination of masses in this greenhouse meant no supplemental heat. It was an environment that took care of itself – an ecosystem of sorts. I was sold on it immediately!

For a variety of reasons, though, I didn’t purchase one at the time, but this is the only greenhouse I recommend to anyone. It needs no extra heat, and the larger ones double as a small living space as well.

Ten years later, it is spring 2007, and I want to start my vegetables from seed. I am toying with the idea of buying a 12′ diameter dome greenhouse and putting it about 100′ from the house down the hill on my property. This is a sweet, quiet, sunny spot with completely different views and feel than the house. A few cottonwoods along the irrigation ditch give the space a cozy feel and summer shade. A passive solar greenhouse here would be an excellent get-away.

As I walked the land, I began to picture it. I imagined bringing in electricity and water, and building a path of crusher fines between the greenhouse, the house and the garden. I considered views, sun, neighbors and the heat the greenhouse would produce. I wanted to somehow move the extra heat back up to the house in winter. I thought of underground ductwork, insulation, fans….. My little greenhouse project was getting complicated, the kind a contractor would balk at.

In a split second, like the cartoon cliche of a light bulb going off over your head, my face went from bewilderment to wonderment and glee! I decided to build an attached passive solar greenhouse for heat and food. Remember the mention of this book??yanda.fisher.4153

I dusted off my original vision and the drawings Craig and I had worked on a few years before.

More info about:

Growing DomeR Greenhouse http://www.geodesic-greenhouse-kits.com/

Craig Simmons, Eco Builders http://www.ecobuilderstaos.com/

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Eco-friendly, Passive Solar Ranch Remodels, 1 & 2

Monday, September 21st, 2009

When everyone moves to Taos, they want to buy an old adobe home on an acre of irrigated land. I was no different. I searched for a house for three years. Some homes were perfect, but just out of my price range, some transactions fell through, and the perfect three-acre piece of land needed an expensive 1/4 mile long driveway through a swamp.

I stumbled across my current home in the newspaper in December 1998. It was nothing what I was looking for – 1800 sq ft of frame ranch on .87 acres of sagebrush – but it had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a studio space and incredible mountain views. Mariah Rd mt views 2The biggest selling points, though, were the two covered porches (north and south) and the established flower gardens, strawberry patch and apple tree. It was in my price range, and the transaction did not fall through, so it was mine in January of 1999.

Do you remember my advice from last week? Don’t move in until the work is done! I hadn’t forgotten, so I shelled out one more months’ rent and upgraded my new home from afar.

I painted the walls with BioShield natural paint. I bought five gallon buckets of white and tinted them. The price was comparable to five gallons of toxic paint, so money could not keep me from creating a healthy home. I replaced the dark brown, cat-smelly carpet in the living room and bedroom with an oak Upofloor brand floating floor with a non-toxic finish.

While the contractors and I beautified my new digs, I watched the winter sun.

My observations showed that the winter sun drenched windowless walls. I was so in love with the porches, gardens and views that I hadn’t noticed!Mariah Rd 3 Common to Taos, picture windows face north and northeast to the mountain views. Very beautiful, but very cold! I knew then that my next project would be installing windows on the sunny side.

The house was oriented SE to SW, with the sunny side facing southwest. In a perfect solar world, a home should have an east-west orientation with the long wall facing south. This collects the most sun for maximum heat collection. You can have a variation of 15 degrees from true south, but up to 45 is acceptable. My orientation was ‘acceptable.’

That summer, I found a local warehouse of hundreds of wood windows recycled from a company that had gone out of business. I had measured my interior walls for available space and chose windows as close to the maximum size as possible.

In early October, just in time for winter, my new southwest facing windows were installed! Mariah Rd se 2While we had the walls open, we beefed up the insulation where it was thinning and sagging.

Over the following winter, I continued to watch the sun bathe the house inside and out.

The huge room my daughters shared was a two-car garage now enclosed in a previous remodel. The sunny side was mostly blank wall with two narrow windows across the top. I hired a builder friend to put in a glass door, and a large window on one side and a trombe wall on the other side.

A trombe wall is a window installed over a wall of thermal mass (concrete, adobe, water). Vents into the house are placed at top and bottom. As the sun heats the wall, warm air moves into the house through the top vent, and cooler air replaces it to be heated and moved back inside via convection currents.Trombe wallIt is an effective way to use solar energy without having the sun directly in the house, if you don’t want to place a window to unwanted views, or if you want privacy.

The large window materialized, and the trombe wall did not (long, irrelevant story), but the solar energy I did harvest warmed the room during the day. It also hit the concrete slab and radiated a bit at night. This was not high-tech, but it served its purpose to cut the daytime heating down for that dark room.

Meanwhile, I observed the sun for several years. Plans for a major remodel percolated slowly and deliciously like fine coffee, and my restless, latent architect went to work with pencil, eraser and graph paper.

(Click for more information on trombe walls, Bioshield paint and Upofloor.)

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Passive Solar Post & Beam Home

Monday, September 14th, 2009

My first home purchase in 1985 was a summer ‘camp.’ A retired couple from Florida spent their summers in Lee, NH on a wooded acre on the Lamprey River. Their camp was a 22′ travel trailer with a 12′x18′ living room added onto the south side. They were tired of traveling back and forth, and decided to settle in Florida year-round, so they sold, and I bought, their camp.

We finalized our transaction in early October, and I desperately and quickly needed to winterize it. This was my first experience with remodeling, but I got to put into play some of the carpentry I had learned the year before.

I hired a carpenter friend to take care of the rotting roof decking and build a frame for insulation on the north side of the trailer. Then I hired a less expensive high school kid to help me insulate the frameJenkins Lane 1and crawl underneath to insulate the floor, tacking chicken wire over it to hold it in place. Now I was ready for winter, but I knew I was not going to live in this summer set-up forever.

While I was working on the roof, I caught the view of the lazy Lamprey River. I decided I’d have to build a second story on my dream home to catch the view. Just then I realized an unseen bonus of the property. The river was to the south, so I had solar orientation and views! Not many people can say that!

Jenkins Lane 6Over the winter, I watched the sun carefully. I charted its course through my living room windows, and as naturally as your heart beats, I designed a passive solar home.

I tried various floor plans, but came back to the same design over and over, because the principles of solar energy do not change. The winter weather patterns of northern New England do not change, either, unfortunately. I caught the most sun and retained the most heat with large south facing windows, small east and west windows, and a fairly closed in north wall. I took advantage of the cooling breezes off the river by placing casement windows opening south in east and west walls, and adding north and south doors to move that cool air through the house.

When I felt I had a good design, I talked to several contractors and finally hired a man who trained at The Shelter Institute in Bath, Maine. We built a post and beam house of native materials.Jenkins Lane 2a It was super insulated with double framing and Tyvek, but today, Shelter uses SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels, ‘a high performance panelized building system. SIPs create an extremely well insulated and air tight building envelope. An efficient building envelope is a critical component in an effectively integrated green building.’)

We started in September, and in January, it was complete enough to move in (advice: don’t ever move into a home before it’s done!). It was well-insulated and sported top-notch double pane windows, and my first impression was, ‘There’s no air in here! It’s too tight!’ I’d achieved my goal of not letting heat get out, but fresh air could not get in, either. Since then, I have learned about air exchangers, and this was the perfect situation for one. More about that later.

The following winter, I took a road trip out west. As I was driving across southern California and Arizona, I was amazed and thrilled with the endless sun!palo verde The idealist in me wondered why there were no solar power plants. This was unheard of back then (1987) unlike talk of it today. Just as that question crossed my mind, I came upon the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station fifty miles west of Phoenix on I-10. In my naivete, I was appalled and angered.?

I was determined to solarize the world!

Fast forward to 1999, and I was raising two girls in Taos in a rambling 1964 ranch house.

(Click for more info on The Shelter Institute and SIPs)

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On the Road to Building Solar Greenhouses

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

After graduating from UNH, I worked on a couple of vegetable farms and a u-pick fruit farm and did some landscaping. What I really wanted to do, though, was build solar greenhouses. solar gh I called a local company that retrofitted them onto existing homes. The owner was excited about my enthusiasm. Remember, this was the early 80s, solar was not an everyday word yet, and not many women were carpenters.

In our initial phone call, he asked if I had any carpentry experience, or if I at least knew the terminology. Although I’d wanted to be an architect my whole life, I didn’t have the knowledge he needed. He suggested I work in a cabinet shop for six months to a year to learn carpentry basics. He recommended a shop to me, where I got a job right away. I was excited to get started on this new path!

I built cabinet doors for several months. I played with pine, oak, cherry, maple and birch studying their grains and the differences in how they looked and felt, how each acted with a saw and a sander, and how each responded to stain and varnish. It was quite an education, and I loved it! cradle-wood-sample-group-1000

I spent a lot of my day sanding those beautiful raw woods. The orbital sander was my pal. I came home covered in and throughout with sawdust every night. It was exhausting, physical work, and the conditions were far from ideal, but I never lost sight of my plan to build solar greenhouses.

saw blade 2After six months of radial arm saws, table saws, circular saws and joiners, the lesson I learned was that I didn’t like power tools. The orbital sander remained my friend, but the rest were bigger and scarier than me.?

There went my carpentry career!

When I left the cabinet shop, I took my newly acquired knowledge of building, terminology and woods along with the few hand tools I had to buy. Little did I know the following year would bring me my first energy efficient remodel.

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Solar Gardening

Monday, August 31st, 2009

At the University of New Hampshire, my Soils Science teacher, Art LeClair, turned me on to solar energy. He was my favorite teacher – enthusiastic, intelligent, knowledgeable, experimental, fun and funny. I naturally absorbed what he conveyed.

solar gardeningOn a winter field trip, our Soils class visited Solar Survival in Harrisville, NH. This was the home and lab of Leandre and Gretchen Poisson, authors of ‘Solar Gardening: Growing Vegetables Year-Round the American Intensive Way.’ They grew food all winter in frigid, frozen, snowed-in northern New England using solar pods, which they developed.

A solar pod is a 4′x8′ cold frame surrounded on the outside with rigid foam insulation and buried partially in the ground. The lid is not a piece of glass or an old window, like a typical cold frame. It is an arch of two layers of KalwallR greenhouse glazing with Angel Hair, a fine and translucent, yet heavy duty, insulation, sandwiched in between.

The thermal mass inside the pod is a black 55-gallon drum filled with water and laid on its side at the north end. During the day, the water absorbs the sun’s heat and slowly radiates it back out over night.

This photo is a series of pods lined up end to end. You can see the drum laying on its side at the far end of the front pod.

solar pod1

The translucence of the insulation is key. It must transmit enough solar energy in low-light winter for healthy plant growth and to warm the water in the drum to a high enough temperature that it can radiate heat on a cold New Hampshire night.

My friend, Hugh, and I partnered up in lab to build a solar pod. We didn’t get to grow anything in it, but witnessing that process at Solar Survival was proof enough that it worked. After that field trip and construction project, I was completely sold on solar energy!

Art shared another source of information with us, a book by Rick Fisher and Bill Yanda of Zomeworks in Santa Fe, New Mexico, called ‘The Food and Heat Producing Solar Greenhouse.’ It was published in 1980 and already out of print the following year. Solar hadn’t caught on yet, so I guess it was not deemed an important book. I tracked down a copy, though (remember, this was way before Amazon and used books!), and studied it as though I was having an exam on it. I now have a dog-eared copy, which I repeatedly refer to, because, like I said last week, solar principles never change.

After that semester at UNH, my love for solar construction and New Mexico was burgeoning.

(Glazing and insulation materials to build Poisson’s solar pod and solar cones are available from Solar Components, www.solar-components.com/sun.html)

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Solar Energy Is Not New

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Greetings to all you energy conscious, eco-minded folks! I hope you are ready to read about solar energy and green building! I’d like to start with a little background, though, so you can see:

  • Solar has been around for a long time.
  • Energy efficiency is not trendy.
  • I’m a credible source.

Solar energy is not new. It has been around for as long as the sun! Did you ever notice that the cliff dwellings of indigenous peoples, such as the Anasazi, face south? Hohokam-cliff-dwelling-Montezuma-Castle Over a thousand years ago, people understood the power of the sun. They built their dwellings facing south to capture the sun’s winter warmth. The rocks absorbed the heat and released it slowly after dark. Cliff dwellings were also built under overhangs to shade out the high summer sun. sunpower1

The principles of solar energy have not changed in thousands of years, and we use them in building today. As energy prices remain unstable, passive solar and other energy efficient building methods are becoming more important. Many communities, such as Taos, New Mexico, where I live, are putting energy efficient requirements into their building codes.

We must incorporate more renewable energy, because fossil fuels are finite. They will not be here forever to heat and cool our homes, and as they get depleted, prices will rise. We cannot create more oil, natural gas and coal, but the sun, wind and water will always be available.

Fossil fuels also cause political struggle, greed and other negative energies. No one needs to die in the battle for fossil fuels when the sun, wind and water can supply our energy needs.

Your home is the first place to begin saving energy. According to the EPA, buildings in the US account for:

  • 39 percent of total energy use
  • 12 percent of the total water consumption
  • 68 percent of total electricity consumption
  • 38 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions

It is clear that saving energy in your home will have a positive impact on the planet and your wallet. An energy efficient home is also a buffer against fuel price increases.

Energy efficient homes are my passion. I have wanted to be an architect since I was about six years old. I played with Legos more often than Barbie dolls. My passion for homes, solar energy and all things eco drove me to become an EcoBrokerR, a RealtorR specializing in green homes.

I’ve been attracted to the sun since my Lego days, too. Maybe I was an Anasazi in a previous life. Or maybe the large sunny window in my childhood room had an effect on me. My mom turned my room into a greenhouse after I grew up and moved out. Whenever I came home, I slept with geraniums and orchids without complaint.

I was always outdoors, too, running in the woods, catching frogs in the brook, or marveling at pansy faces pansy and the multicolor sheen of Japanese beetles. I knew at a young age I was part of the natural world.

At 25, I got a grounds-keeping job at a large summer resort. I was in my element, working with plants and being outside every day. This was my first experience with a greenhouse, though.

The Wentworth by the Sea in Newcastle, NH had a greenhouse where we started from seed all the plants for the hundreds of lavish flower gardens. We mixed our own potting soils, transplanted seedlings into the ground, mulched, weeded, watered, fertilized, cleaned up in fall and spread composted manure on the beds in November. After eight heavenly months at the Wentworth, I wanted to study horticulture. I enrolled at the University of New Hampshire’s Thompson School of Applied Science for the fall of 1980.

There my solar studies began.

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