Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Patriot News Earth Week Article

On Sunday, April 17, the Harrisburg Patriot News kicked off Earth Week with an article on our house titled "Our Green Home."  It's a little strange--and fun--to open the paper and see a large color picture of yourselves staring back out at you.  The article was written by Diana Fishlock and overall I think she did a good job.  However, there are a few places where the point we were trying to make didn't quite come across in the article.  Thus, I thought it would be reasonable to try to clarify a few points made in the article and to provide additional information for those who are interested.  If you didn't have a chance to read the article, you can read the online version at PennLive.com.

Photo from Patriot News Article (Click image for more photos.)

Point 1: "He found a builder that knew a bit about building an energy efficient house and was willing to learn more." I'm glad to see that this line has been deleted from the online version. The point here is that most builders knew very little about energy efficient building and this became plainly obvious after a few minutes conversation. When we found Bridlewood, it was clear they know a lot about energy efficient building and were willing to learn more. This was exactly what we were looking for.

Point 2: "Excluding the solar panels, the house cost about 15 percent more to build than a conventional house, but it uses only about 20 percent of the energy, so it’s paying for itself quickly."  One of the points being made here is that building a house like this is more expensive, but not break-the-bank more expensive.  The reason for excluding the cost of solar panels is to give people a chance to estimate the costs of building in the energy efficient features that are difficult, if not impossible, to add on later.  Since solar panels are relatively simple to add on to an existing house, it makes sense to provide an estimate of the construction costs without the cost of the panels.  For those readers on PennLive.com that posted comments griping that the cost of the panels was not given, if you read the entire article, you'll see that the cost of the solar panels was clearly stated as $26,000 (before tax credits and rebates).

Another point being made here is that since the house uses so much less energy, it's cheaper to operate (utility costs are significantly reduced).  Therefore, the extra costs that went into the energy efficient features (not the entire cost of the house) will eventually pay for themselves.  Exactly how long this will take is difficult to estimate but it won't be super fast.  The solar panels, on the other hand, will pay for themselves relatively quickly.  More on that in a minute.

Point 3: "David runs the masonry heater for two hours each morning in the winter. The slow release of heat warms the house perfectly in the evening."  The masonry heater was not described at all in the article and it almost sounds like an appliance you turn on like a furnace.  For those new to this blog, the masonry heater is a wood burning fireplace that burns very clean and very efficiently.  More information can be found on my earlier blog posts: The Masonry Heater - Part I, Delays and the Masonry Heater Phase II, and The Masonry Heater Comes to Life.

Point 4: "There are days the house generates more power than the family uses. They sell the extra energy back to utility companies. They expect to earn an extra $2,000 to $3,000 annually that way."  Well, not quite.  It is true that on days when we produce more energy than we use, that energy gets fed back into the electricity grid and the power company will pay us for that.  However, since it doesn't look like we will produce more than we use on an annual basis, we won't actually make any money from this.  Yes, we will pay a lot less for our electricity and that is money in our pockets.  However, the $2,000-$3,000 that is being referred to here are for Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs).  Because of Pennsylvania law, there is a market for these Renewable Energy Credits and we can sell them for a profit.  At this point in time it is estimated that we will earn between $2,000 and $3,000 from our production of SRECs.  That could change in the future for better or worse but for now that is additional money in our pockets in addition to the savings on our electric bill.  Additional information on solar panels can be found on my earlier posts: Solar Panel Saga and Solar Panel Saga Ends.

Point 5: "The Jacksons put lots of windows facing south, so the sun comes in, warms the tile floor and the cement base underneath it, which stays warm for hours. The glass is difficult to find. It lets in as much of the solar energy as possible, but doesn’t allow heat to escape."  The point being made here is that glass that is appropriate for passive solar houses have a high Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) and most glass produced for houses in the United States have a low SHGC.  More information can be found on my previous post: Windows and Passive Solar.

Point 6: "The exterior walls are preinsulated and airtight, without wooden studs that greatly decrease efficiency."  There is nothing wrong with this statement except to refer to the walls as Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs).  More information can be found on my earlier post: First Floor Walls.

Point 7: "Traditional walls allow a lot of air flow in and out of the house, but the Jacksons’ super efficient house only allows for air where they want it."  The point here is that a tight house does not let very much air infiltrate the envelope.  Thus, it is essential to bring in fresh air from outside and this is typically done with a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV).  More information can be found on my earlier post: Air Exchange - ERVs and HRVs.

Point 8: "Unlike most people, who pay a lot for hot water and heat, the Jacksons’ biggest energy drain is lights, the coffee maker and the washer and dryer."  The point being made here is that we have reduced the energy necessary to heat and cool the house and the produce hot water.  That leaves our biggest energy drain lights and appliances.  A coffee maker itself is not a big energy drain, but taken as a whole, lights, dishwasher, oven/stove, refrigerator, washer/dryer, etc. makes up the vast majority of our total energy cost.

Point 9: "“It’s not like we’re living like people with no heat or anything,” David said. “We’re living it up.”"  Hmmm...I can't recall actually saying that "we're living it up."  But the point here is that from the beginning of this project, we wanted to build an efficient yet comfortable house.  Now that the project is finished and we're living in the house, I must say that we are supremely happy.  I guess in that sense, we're certainly "living it up."


Kevin said...

Love the comment thread on the online version of the article. Apparently you guys are hippies (and are teachers living off the the backs of honest taxpayers, since teachers are so well paid!). My favorite comment:

"Not sure how an article on making a positive change in home construction could turn out to be an episode of Jerry Springer"

David and Virginia Jackson said...

Kevin, you're not giving us the respect we deserve, we're not just hippies, we're "Damn hippies."

The comment thread really does have the feel of a Jerry Springer episode. Who would have thought?

Thomas said...

More than a little scary how "off" the article turned out when you stop to wonder how much else you read/see on the news has similarly missed the point.

And quite unfortunate how the online comments went off on a tangent.

But great to see the story getting out there and hopefully it will spur more interest in such homes!

Post a Comment