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Hermitage: Green Home & Office

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Note: This house is on the 2012 Solar & Green Building Tour. See  Tour Details... 

Once our last daughter went off to college, we were ready to leave our four bedroom colonial within walking distance of the high school behind.  We had always talked about living in a place where the neighbors were a little further away.  We found the Hermitage, as my wife dubbed it, in Fall of 2000 and I fell in love with the location.  It was a major fixer-upper.  I worked part time on the urgent projects until my retirement from government in 2004, then went full time on the project through 2006.  There were many interior projects, but I will only detail the energy focused ones here.

The house was designed and built in the 1960s with floor to ceiling windows along the entire south facing side of the house, and a roof overhang which completely shades the interior space at summer solstice.  The previous owners had installed a combination of drapes and blinds which limited the solar exposure to about 50% of the glass area, even when fully opened.  We removed those window treatments and installed exterior European style roll down blinds which are insulated for nighttime energy conservation.  That passive solar heat will maintain a temperature of 68 degrees in the main living area for 6 to 8 hours through the middle of a sunny winter day.

The back third of the house with 2 bedrooms and a master bath was added in the 70s and was heated with standard electric baseboard heaters with thermostats mounted on the individual heaters.  The first summer in the house, I replaced those with electric hydronic  heaters with wall thermostats. 

In 2005, we added an entryway  “airlock” to prevent heating and cooling losses when the front door is open.  In 2006, we replaced a water heater in our master bathroom with an on-demand unit which uses energy only when we run hot water. 

The house is a single story “California modern” layout with a nearly flat roof.  The roof consisted of 2x8 tongue and groove planks over large beams with no ceiling insulation.  In 2008 we replaced the roof and added two layers of dense foam insulation on top of the planks.  That reduced our oil consumption in the old forced air furnace that was then used to heat the original 2/3 of the house significantly. 

In March of 2010 I moved my consulting business into a newly remodeled office created in a space carved from the rear of the garage, heated with newly installed electric hydronic baseboard heaters.  I installed a metering device on the power line to the office to track electric usage for the business.

In September of 2011 we installed a pair of pole mounted solar photovoltaic arrays totaling 4.5 Kw of rated production capacity.  Over the first year they produced approximately 5000 KWh of power or 157% of the electricity used by my business.

In summary, our electric usage from the grid in January, 2003 was 2395 KWh, and in January of 2012 it was 1793 KWh, in spite of adding my 220 square foot all electric business office to the mix.  Our fuel oil consumption in the winter of 2002/2003 was 675 gallons and in the winter of 2011/2012 it was 195 gallons with the same furnace.  In Spring of 2012 we replaced the oil furnace with a propane furnace which is much more efficient.  We look forward to seeing a further reduction in our energy bills.

Dick Westergard is a Certified Consulting Meteorologist with four decades of operational weather experience. He works in a well equiped office at his home, using no net grid electricity. He can be contacted by comments to this blog, by email (Dick.Westergard@shadetreemeteorology.com) or at office phone: 518.831.9374. His website is www.shadetreemeteorology.com

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