Note: This house is on the 2012 Solar & Green Building Tour. See Tour Details...
We have made many improvements to this 2200 square foot 1961 split-level in Charlton, NY, using natural and environmentally friendly materials, and greatly increasing the energy efficiency.
The biggest improvement was done after having a home Energy Audit performed by Dan Gibson: we replaced the aging oil furnace and failing central air conditioning system with a Hydron Module geothermal heat pump. Two 350-foot vertical loops were located in the side yard, for a total of 1400 linear feet of underground tubing. The geothermal installation was completed by Chuck Russo Heating and Cooling, including a desuperheater to supplement the electric hot water, as well as a humidifier system. We also added sprayed polyurethane foam insulation to the underside of the roof deck in the walk-up attic and to the rim joists in the basement, plus a layer of blown cellulose over the existing fiberglass in the attic crawlspace.
Between the extra insulation, the whole-house humidification, and ceiling fans in bedrooms and primary living spaces (a total of seven), we are able to keep the heat set a bit lower in the winter, and cool minimally in the summer. We don't have an exact cost savings comparison, because we replaced the oil furnace shortly after moving in, just as the oil in the tank was running out, so we never actually bought any oil. However, we also replaced the most commonly used light bulbs with compact fluorescent or LED lamps, and minimized our electric usage in other ways. This has resulted in a total electric usage for this size house, including all heating, cooling, lighting, appliance usage, computers, and even the pool pump, averaging only $160 per month over the past 12 months.
In addition, this past summer we experimented with circulating a portion of our pool water through a small loop of black tubing on the pool deck, to absorb some solar heat. We believe that this did result in a small (but inexpensive) increase in the pool temperature when compared to the previous two summers, to the extent that we used it more because the water was more comfortable. In this case the tubing was free, having been found in the shed when we bought the house, but future iterations would probably be upgraded with larger tubing, to carry more water, and a larger coil, placed in a sunnier location.
We also ran our pool for the past 3 summers, using no chlorine or bromine, and minimal chemicals. This was achieved using an ozonator as the primary disinfection method, in conjunction with a CuZn (copper-zinc) element in the skimmer basket. As water passes through the CuZn material, it releases ions that perfectly regulate pH and hardness levels, eliminating the need for any chemicals. Standard pool test strips always indicated perfect water readings, and we only added a non-chlorine shocker made of potassium monopersulfate. We never got out of the pool smelling like chemicals, and we didn't have to worry about exposure to unhealthy disinfection byproducts.
Inside, when we rebuilt the kitchen counters with a tiled surface, we also chose to install natural cork flooring. All of the paint we used in the house contains no VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and we redid one bedroom with an American Clay wall treatment.
We also compost and recycle, producing only 1 - 2 small bags of garbage every 2 weeks. The finished compost is used on our garden beds, where we grow some of our own vegetables, and on our fruit plants. We currently have 4 small garden beds, and numerous herbs planted in beds around the property, in addition to a strawberry bed, a row of raspberry brambles, a row of blueberry bushes, 4 apple trees, 6 nanking cherry bushes, and a josaberry bush. Most of these are small, having just been planted in the last year, but soon they will be producing healthy, organic fruit. All on 1/3 of an acre.
One final note: This property is also for sale. After only 2.5 years in this house, we are moving on to another house to renovate, with additional land to take on some larger homesteading projects that we have in mind. That leaves this house available for someone to continue the green updates, and to enjoy the money savings and comfort of clean oil-free heating and cooling. Our real estate agent, Bob Sanderson, can be contacted at (518)378-6540.