I recently got a call from someone who is building a new house and wanted to know what kinds of things they should consider to be as self-sustainable and as fossil fuel free as possible.
This was the third person I’ve talked to in the last couple of weeks so I thought it was a good topic for a blog post. Also, I’m hopeful that this means the economy is starting to turn around and people are finding the money to invest in their homes.
Solarfest is a fun weekend of renewable and sustainable living workshops both for adults and kids, highlighted by great music, food, and fun activities. All the electricity for the music stages, projectors in the workshop tents, lights, and vendor stalls is provided by solar photovoltaics and a wind turbine on site. There are also solar hot water showers for those who stay overnight (mostly in tents or RVs). Last weekend was Solarfest’s 18th year in production.
Two years ago I presented the goals, vision and planning for my business and home renovation, 78 Main St renovation, from a historic shell to a zero net-energy building (ZEB). At last year’s Solarfest I presented the completion of the project and some details on the data logging (Solarfest Workshop, 2011). In order to analyze the energy systems that were designed it is necessary to measure all the heating and electrical use of the house over the course of a year (or more).
Digging for Water
When a company develops a new product the “beta” version is an early version of the product generally used to gather real information about how the product performs, how people use it and what kind of failure modes to expect. My storage system for holding the summer heat to use in the winter is really a beta product, even though it wasn’t called that when I bought it.
The adage that we learn more from our failures than our successes holds true for many endeavors – from classes we take in school to entrepreneurial efforts we might undertake later on in life. The mistakes and failures teach us invaluable lessons which, in the case of a new product introduction, can make that product more reliable, easier to use, more efficient, or better in many ways.
Foaming the storage tank
I can now fully appreciate the benefit and even the necessity of a backup heating system in New England. In 2011 alone there were 3 or 4 storms that caused power outages, but I have been very lucky that they only caused minutes or a few hours of interruptions for me. Many others experienced days without power. On the other hand my solar heating system is in its first year of life and needs some serious debugging, so my back up systems are needed – often!
In this part of the world multiple days without heat in the winter can be life threatening. This, and the potential for frozen pipes, provide ample reason why insurance companies want to know the details of a home’s heating system, and it’s backup, before providing insurance.
That’s the title of the talk I am going to do at the NESEA (Northeast Sustainable Energy Association) conference in Boston in March 2012. The conference, BuildingEnergy 12, will be held at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston on March 6-8. There are 10 different tracks of workshops on “renewables and high performance buildings”. Check it out. You can get a ton of information at this conferences.
I was very excited to have my presentation selected. All the work we’ve been doing on the renovation of my building has been well documented and I will have a years worth of real data and results by then. I applied to present at this conference last year but my project schedule slipped and my move-in date was too late to get any real feedback as to the performance of the house, so they asked me to re-apply this year.
The renovation of 78 Main St is finished and we are moved in! I’m working on a short slide show presentation as well as information cards to talk about the history of the house, the goals for this renovation, and the choices we made to reach the goals. I’m trying to get that all organized for Saturday’s open house!
The New Energy Emporium
I think the title of this blog is a little optimistic, perhaps wishful thinking. If the definition of “finished” includes all items have been moved to the new place and boxes unpacked… then I’m not really finished at all. In my case I still have store items in the old store and home items in the container outside…so there is quite a bit of work still left to do.
But…symantics aside…I am now working and living in my new digs at 78 Main St! So, for all intents and purposes I am moved in. And it is great to have a place to call home!
As is probably the case with many big renovation projects, we went a little over budget so I took on a few of the finishing projects myself with quite a bit of help from my brother-in-law, Jared, and his friend, Jeff (thanks so much, guys!).
On March 31, 2011 I got the occupancy permit for the residential section of our building at 78 Main St
! And I moved in last weekend. There is still some work to do on the commercial side (Energy Emporium’s future home), but I’m hoping to finish that and move the store in by the end of this month.
It has been a lot of physical, mental and emotional work, a lot of red tape (from permits to loans), and some interesting tweaking and modifications of the solar powered heating system to get to this point… but it came out really well. A lot of thanks goes to my general contractor, Don Roberts, who has been great to work with even while I changed things at the last minute to meet LEED (Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design) and ZEB (zero energy building) requirements.
I’m at that point in our house renovation (78 Main St
) where the end is just around the next corner… I think. And then I get another barrage of decision requirements: what color for the second floor bedroom walls? What is the trim in the downstairs bathroom? What counter top did you pick out for the kitchen? What ventilation hood? Which carpet is going in the master bedroom? What tile is going around the tub? … If you’ve done a renoation, you probably get the picture.
I have been to the tile place, the counter top place, the carpet place, the granite place, and the bathroom fixtures place quite a few times in the last few weeks and one day I think I hit three or four in a 1 hour period.
Lots of Snow
It was a really nice snowstorm that we had last week — lots of snow and most of it fell in the daytime when we could look out the window or take a little stroll in it. Schools were closed ahead of time so no one worried about school bus accidents or getting up particularly early. Here in NH anyone who has a job that requires them to get out on the roads every day no matter the weather has 4 wheel drive. And the plows were out early and often keeping the major roads passable.
Two days later I was walking around the village of Enfield, NH and couldn’t help but notice some amazing icicles… and some houses with none. As you probably know, icicles represent melting snow off the roof… as it drips down over the edge of the warm roof it hits the freezing cold air and refreezes. They are really quite pretty.