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Living off the grid with Alden and Mari

Sustainable Energy Superstars – Off the Grid with Alden and Mari

We had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Alden and Mari back in June. Upon our arrival at the Trescotts, they let us know that if we had time they could also take us out to see a fully off-the-grid home owned by their good friends Alden and Mari.

Of course, we weren’t going to pass up that opportunity and we were so glad that we didn’t.

Alden and Mari live in a beautifully secluded area near Blountville AL, and like the Trescotts they offer their home as part of the annual Solar Home Tour each October. If you’d like to see what solar living is all about, we’d definitely suggest that you check this tour out.

Living off the grid with Alden and Mari

Alden and Mari's Off the Grid home - Alden and Mari’s home is not only 100% off the grid, but it’s also simply beautiful inside and out. They built the home out of straw-bale construction, with stucco walls and used trees that they cut from the land where they built their home. In addition to being solar-powered, they also collect and filter rain water for all of their water needs.

You might wonder “is it safe to drink?” The answer is quite simply, of course it is! In fact, it’s possible that their water is better filtered than the water you buy in the store.

Alden and Mari’ chose to live off the grid because of their desire to live a completely sustainable lifestyle. However, that their home is almost a half mile from the nearest road certainly helped their decision. In the end it was cheaper to be off-the-grid than to pay to have lines run.

This passive-solar home was built in 1996/97. Alden and Mari designed and constructed their home (from the roof/ceilings to the walls, windows, and floors) to collect, store, and distribute solar energy in the form of heat in the winter, and to reject that same solar heat in the summer. When we walked into the home on an extremely warm June day, it felt more comfortable than my home.

In addition to the straw bale construction covered with stucco, the home also features:

  • South-facing super-insulated windows for solar gain and light
  • A large sunroom
  • A wood stove that heats the entire home
  • A solar-powered 1-ton air conditioner – they installed this later to reduce humidity.
  • ENERGY STAR rated appliances and LED lights
  • Vermicomposting and thermal composting
  • Rainwater collection for home, garden, and orchard use
  • Gravity-fed pond for drip irrigation
  • Well-water backup (just in case we have a year-long dry spell)

 

chickensThe home is 100% solar-powered. There is no backup generator. Power is stored during the day for use at night. Their water is heated using excess electricity.

If you haven’t guess yet, Alden is an engineer; he built his system and even built an extremely high-efficiency refrigerator and freezer inside an insulated cold room. In addition to how beautiful their home is inside, the outside views were amazing. The home is surrounded by their organic gardens and orchard, and sits on a hill providing an amazing view for miles. They share their home with a variety of pets and food-producers (a dog, chickens, ducks, and geese).

If you have the opportunity in October to attend the Solar Home Tour, you won’t be disappointed to experience this home or to meet Alden and Mari.

Sustainable Energy Superstars – Rick & Pat Trescott

Sustainable Energy Superstars – Rick and Pat Trescott

Rick and Pat Trescott - Sustainable Energy SuperstarsRecently we had the pleasure of visiting the home of Rick and Pat Trescott. They are a couple of real Sustainable Energy Superstars from the ground up. While many people would write off a 50-year-old home as not worth the effort, Rick and Pat have instead done everything in their power to improve the energy efficiency of their home, and they aren’t ready to stop any time soon.

 

When they first wrote and told me about the improvements they’d made to their home including a 5.7 kW solar array that powers their home and business. I didn’t think beyond the solar. I really didn’t imagine all that it would take to make an older home energy-efficient to the point that solar panels would even make a difference. It takes a lot!

 

Rick and Pat live in the the community of Royal, Alabama. They are one of about seven homes in their community that some type of solar. Of course, most of those homes were built from the ground up to be solar.

 

“We have a 1960’s vintage ranch type house that was poorly insulated, and shaded by a very large Oak tree growing just south of the house. We have done extensive retro-fitting to make it energy-efficient enough to make solar realistically viable. This has been an ongoing project over the past 9 years and is still not complete.”

 

The Trescotts have two main buildings on our property, totaling over 3,800 square feet of conditioned space. The main building is their home and the second is used for their business (a dog grooming parlor, kennel, work shop) and also includes a guest apartment. Because the house has no southern exposure, the solar panels had to installed on the second building. The panels provide electricity to both buildings and the Trescotts sell the extra electricity that is produced back to the grid. While they do have a battery back-up system, the batteries are only used in the case of a power outage (so far they’ve not had to use the batteries at all).

 

Here are just a few of the energy efficiency improvements that the Trescotts have made to their home:

  • Replaced inefficient heat pump with a geothermal ground-source heat pump.
  • Replaced an asphalt shingle roof with ENERGY STAR metal roof, extending the overhang to 4′.
  • Pumped foam insulation into exterior walls.
  • Added insulation to the attic and crawl space.
  • Sealed ductwork.
  • Installed double-cell insulated blinds on almost all the windows.
  • Replaced all appliances with ENERGY STAR appliances.
  • Replaced all light bulbs with LED lights. Their entire kitchen is now very well lit with less than 95 watts.
  • Replaced all windows with high-efficiency double-glazed vinyl windows.
  • Provided outside air supply to the wood-stove that is used as auxiliary heat.
  • Replaced and built new decks using composite decking boards.
  • Installed 5.7 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic (PV) solar array, that is grid tied, with battery back-up.

 

blinds
kitchen
 composite decking and 4' overhang

 

Pat reminded us several times that you can’t just go solar. It doesn’t do you any good unless you’ve ensured that your home is energy-efficient to start with.

 

I asked Rick and Pat why it was important for them to make their home more energy-efficient.

“Part of the changes were just much needed upgrades that added to the comfort level of our home.  My wife and I built the area that is used as the Grooming Parlor from scratch, using mostly reclaimed and recycled materials. We are both believers in the concept of “Recycle, Reuse and Repurpose.” I have children & grand-children. I would like to be able to have a more positive impact on their environmental future. Solar power had been an interest of mine since the 70’s, (I’m almost 66 years old.) We felt that we should support the developing technology of alternative energy.”

What does energy efficiency mean to the Trescotts?

“The late industrialist Ray C. Anderson said, “The greenest kilowatt-hour is the one that you don’t use.” I think that pretty much sums it up. Don’t be wasteful.”

The Trescotts credit the success of their project to their friend and neighbor, Mr. Daryl Berquist of Earth Steward Solar Consulting, who did everything from the original site survey to filling out the forms for Alabama Power. He might just be the reason that there is an entire community of solar homes in the middle of Blount County, Alabama. Daryl Berquist can be contacted by phone at (205) 429-3088 or via email at steward@otelco.net

You are our sunshine!

 

 

Energy Saving Tip – Wash in Cold Water

Did you know that making one simple change can save both energy and save you money? A push of a button or a twist of a dial on your washing machine could save you as much as $250 a year. Washing your clothes in cold water instead of hot or warm water takes very little effort but can have a big impact (especially if we all do it). In addition to saving you up to $250/yr, making the change to cold water wash can save you even more in the long-run because cold water doesn’t wear your clothes out as fast or cause them to fade. This means that your clothes last longer and you replace them less often.

Check out this infographic from Huntsville Utilities and remember that Cool is Clean & Clean is Cool!

USDN-Cold-Water-Outreach-Fl

Here are a few other tips you can use to save energy & money when doing your laundry.

  • Choose an ENERGY STAR rated washer and dryer system
  • Make sure you choose settings that use the right amount of water for your load size
  • Clean the lint trap in your dryer after every load
  • Choose a dryer with a dampness sensor. It will stop running when the clothes are dry.
  • Wash and dry full loads of laundry rather than partial loads.
  • Wash and dry towels and heavier items separately.
  • Have your dryer vent inspected and cleaned regularly.
  • Air-dry your clothes on a line or rack to save energy and prolong the life of your clothes.
  • Use the nozzle on your vacuum to clean any lint that collects just below the lint filter.
  • Use the right detergent for your machine. If you have a high efficiency machine use He detergent. If not, choose detergents that are made for cold water wash.
  • Use ECO wash detergents and get more for your money. One small bottle of ECO detergent will last longer than a larger bottle of regular detergent.

Do you normally wash in cold water? If so, leave a comment below to tell us why you feel it’s important?

If you liked this post you should check out 10 Ways to Increase Energy Efficiency in Your Home

What is ENERGY STAR anyway?

What the heck is ENERGY STAR anyway?

You know you are supposed to buy ENERGY STAR appliances, and somehow they are supposed to help cut your electric bill, right? But, why and how? Why does it really matter if you buy ENERGY STAR products?

I admit it, I’ve wondered about all of these questions, but no more!

What is ENERGY STAR?

The ENERGY STAR program was developed by the US government (and the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA) in 1992 as a voluntary measure to allow businesses and industries to find ways to reduce energy consumption and improve energy efficiency without the government stepping in and creating laws requiring it.

This has resulted in appliance companies, car companies, home builders, and more stepping in to create and promote more energy efficient products. This has not only improved energy efficiency but has saved consumers an estimated $295+ billion on their utility bills.

Additionally, many ENERGY STAR improvements come with a tax credit of up to 30% of the purchase price (as of 2015).

But, what does it mean to be ENERGY STAR rated?

Both products and buildings can be ENERGY STAR rated but the overall idea is the same. To be ENERGY STAR rated, a product or a building must have energy performance among the top 25% of all products or buildings of its type.

  • For products to be ENERGY STAR they must be certified by an independent third-party to provide increased energy efficiency. If the product costs more than a similar non-ENERGY STAR product the purchase must be able to recoup their investment through utility savings.
  • For new homes to be given the ENERGY STAR rating they must go through a similar third-party verification process. Homes can be given the ENERGY STAR rating based on a set list of improvements, or through custom improvements and must meet the requirements of four checklists. These checklists seek to make sure that the building practices and improvements used promote improved comfort, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and durability of the home.
  • Commercial buildings must receive a score of 75 or higher on the Portfolio Manager and be verified by a licensed professional before applying for ENERGY STAR approval. The Portfolio Manager is an energy-tracking tool that can be used to measure the energy and water use of any building. Industrial plants must meet the same requirements, but then must be certified by a professional engineer.

So now you know. They can’t just say they are ENERGY STAR and throw a label on the appliance or building, they have to prove it and be certified by a third party. Now that you know what ENERGY STAR is and how the rating is achieved you can feel more confident that your purchase is actually providing an advantage that is more than just a tax credit.

ENERGY STAR requirements change from year to year as new technology is created. They are continuing to improve, so much so that ENERGY STAR homes built in 2012 were 15% more energy efficient than ENERGY STAR homes built in 2009. If we can keep this trend up in Alabama we’ll hit Net Zero Energy in Huntsville by 2025 for sure!

By choosing ENERGY STAR compliant appliances and building techniques you can cut your energy consumption, and create a more energy-efficient environment while cutting your utility bills. That sounds good to me!

You can learn more about the ENERGY STAR Program at EnergyStar.gov

Take the Long Term View on Gas Prices

By now you’ve felt it. The happiness that comes with filling up the gas take at half of what it used to cost. Great news right? Well, yes and no. We’re very happy that lower gas prices are putting more money into the pockets of US consumers. This is wonderful for the US economy in the short-term. Especially when those savings are captured and put to use saving energy in your home through comprehensive energy efficiency or investing in renewable energy!

More troubling though are indications that people are now making long-term decisions based on what could very well end up being a short-term change. Sales of SUVs and trucks are starting to climb. Many people are worried that highly efficient vehicles like electrics and plug-in electrics will slow.

Most indications are that gas prices will stay low through 2015 but will start to rise again. What will happen in 2016? No one can be certain of anything. Anyone who has lived through the last 10-20 years can say that prices will be volatile at best. We encourage people to think twice before purchasing inefficient vehicles based on today’s gas prices. You may come to regret it next year.

The only thing certain is change. That means that the decisions you make today should not be based only on the present, but on what may, and likely will, happen in the future. Make choices that are focused on what is in the best benefit of everyone when it comes to your energy use, and that includes vehicle energy efficiency. Choosing highly efficient vehicles, including electric and hybrid vehicles will benefit you not only today but far into the future. No matter whether gas prices rise, your costs will stay low. But, just as important is knowledge that you are making wise choices for the future of energy efficiency.

Choose wisely, choose sustainable energy!