Sunday, April 17, 2011

Energy Efficient Home enables early retirement

I had a great chat today with Linda Johnson, the owner of the passive solar home I built, featured in this blog. I try to touch base with her on a regular basis, just to see how the house is working and if she has any problems with it. She also sends me her energy bills on a regular basis which enables me to keep track of how the house is performing. Yes, we did a whole bunch of energy modeling when designing the house but nothing beats having the actual energy costs to prove that this stuff works and works well.

She just turned 62 (she's gonna kill me for telling that) and she will be retiring within the next few months. Then she went on to tell me that had she not built this house she would not have been able to retire at this age. She stated that she is saving $550 a month living in her new home, even with having to pay a little more in property taxes. I'm not sure how she did the math but it was nice to hear. In another month or so she will have been in the house for 2 full years and we will once again compare the annual energy costs to make sure the house is meeting expectations. Early on, back in 2008 when I was first getting ready to build this house I estimated the annual heating costs of the house to be less than $700 and the total energy cost to be about $1,500. Last winter the cost to heat this home came in at $341 for the entire winter, far exceeding expectations. The total energy cost for the house over the entire year was $1,786 about $286 higher than expected, so we sat down and tried to figure out were the extra energy was being used. We made some adjustments to the cooling system that helped the system perform more efficiently, we adjusted the setting on the whole house dehumidifier and we made recommendations about habits that could reduce energy costs. We will see in another month how well those adjustments worked and if we have met the goal of $1,500 annual energy costs. Next we will be installing a solar hot water system that should reduce the energy costs even further, ( she currently has an electric hot water heater)

Tracking the energy costs for this house has been pretty simple, it's all electric. No oil, gas or wood, no fossil fuels being burnt in the house and the ability to convert to solar electric, should she choose to do so. That will be the next step to fulfilling the goal I had when designing this house, a true zero energy home, right here in New England that costs less than $175 sq/ft to build.

Tom Pittsley

Saturday, October 16, 2010

New passive solar home underway

Construction is fully underway at a new passive solar home I am building and we are using the next generation of thermal mass windows. An incredible achievement in passive solar technology, capturing and storing the suns energy in your windows.

Since last posting here I have joined forces with Next Step Living inc. a Boston MA based company that is leading the way in energy efficiency and having a substantial impact on improving our existing housing stock. A very challenging and rewarding job to say the least.

We have begun building a passive solar home located in central MA in the town of N. Brookfield. To follow this new project here is the link to the new blog.

Tom Pittsley

Monday, June 14, 2010

Heating a home in Massachusetts for $341 a year

If you have been following this blog, it has been a long time since my last post. In May of this year the homeowner of the house (highlighted in my previous posts) has been in the house for one full year. I collected all of the energy bills for the last year and sat down and did the calculations. It was pretty simple to figure, as the house has only electricity for it's energy supply. Well let's not forget the solar energy that is used to heat this home. No, no solar panels on the roof, no solar hot water, and no PV, just plain old passive solar energy, combine with an air tight, highly insulated envelope. We also cannot forget the windows. Take a look at one video that shows the windows reaching 112 degrees on a 34 degree winter's day.

So after sitting down and calculating the energy costs for the home, it was pretty clear to see how well passive design and the right windows can reduce your heating costs. To calculate the heating costs for the winter months we calculated the monthly base load used throughout the year and then deducted this from the actual usage to come up with $341 for heating this 2,000 sq/ft home for the entire year. One factor that cannot be calculated into costs and that is comfort. Comfort is the thing the homeowner talks about whenever I see her. She can't believe how comfortable her new home is, warm windows on a cold winters night, unheard of here in New England. The windows never actually go below room temperature even on the coldest nights.

I am about to begin my next project and this one is going to be even better than the last.

New Thermal Mass windows are finally ready for a test run in a real home and the lucky recipients, the Melad family of N Brookfield MA are getting the latest development.

The new windows were finally made public this last week, with the debut at the 2010 AIA national convention in Miami, finally my silence can be broken. I have been working with the inventor for the past few years but always stifled by a non-disclosure agreement and have been anticipating this for more than a year now. These new windows are the most advanced window product you can find, they capture, store, absorb and reflect solar energy. How can they do all that? The glazing system used for the windows has a unique combination of glass, low-e surfaces, gel to create a window with an R-5 (U-.2) insulation value and a SHGC-.72 along with mass capable of storing thousands of BTU's on a sunny winter day. This window has 4 panes of glass, the two inner layers have a clear gel encapsulated with the space between. This clear gel acts as a thermal mass and stores the suns energy, much like the water did in the previous version. The thing that really puts the icing on the cake are the shades. The newest version has motorized shade system that retracts up into the head of the window and hides itself away when the house gets to warm. They can be controlled by a simple thermostat placed near the windows and be set to close at your desired temperature. Pretty cool, huh!!! With the shade down the SHGC drops to .144 twice the reduction needed to reach the energy star rating for low SHGC. I am awaiting the latest press release with all the details about the product. Here's the tough part, you can't get them yet. They still haven't put them into production and are not available to the general public yet, but after their debut at the AIA conference it is just a matter time. Stay tuned!!!

Tom Pittsley