I never wanted to be a power producer. I came to it when the advantages of alternative energy couldn't be ignored anymore. When grid power was reliable and cheap, there was no reason to spend a pile of money on a photovoltaic (PV) system. I thought that a PV system would not only never pay for itself, but that it would double my energy bill. Besides, the last thing I needed was another thing to take care of. You never see a magazine called Utility Power User on the magazine rack, and there's a good reason for that. Utility power just works; it doesn't require a support group to pass around hints and tips.
It wasn't that I didn't feel capable of designing or installing a system. I designed our house, and I was very involved in its construction. But with a busy life, I don't want to spend the little free time I have adjusting this or that, or troubleshooting on a regular basis.
My wife and I kept with the pragmatist theme as we were designing and building the house with sustainable living in mind. Energy use and efficiency were an important but not overriding part of every decision. All windows are double glazed, and all south or west-facing glass is low-E. All of the insulation exceeds the typical R-19 ceilings, R-13 walls, and R-13 floors in our area-we have R-30, R-15, and R-19 respectively.
All hot water and house heat comes from a very high efficiency Polaris model water heater made by American Water Heater. The tank of this 94 percent efficient unit is made entirely of stainless steel. So in addition to fuel savings, I also avoid buying a new heater every few years. The heat system is hydronic, using cross-linked polyethylene pipes in the floor. In addition, two 4 by 8 foot (1.2 x 2.4 m) solar thermal panels pre-heat water, which is stored in a 100 gallon (380 l) tank for domestic use.
The utility-intertie Trace Sun Tie 2500
sine wave inverter (right) and
the upstairs AC subpanel.
We also installed a masonry heater, made by Temp-Cast Enviroheat, for our main source of heat. It burns a very hot, low-polluting fire for a fairly short time, and stores the heat in masonry walls a foot thick. The heat is let out slowly over the next 24 to 36 hours. Three to four fires a week is all it takes in our mild climate to keep the house warm.