Dream House

I am in the fortunate position of being able to afford to build myself a new house (well...perhaps myself and the bank). Having been to several 3rd world countries and knowing that there are lots of people in the world who don't even have housing, I felt a few pangs of guilt about this. I had a decision to make: rehab the old or build new. The cost to rehab my old house was going to be substantial. It was October of 2009. My husband had passed away in August from liver cancer. I was in the depths of grief and sorrow. I needed a project. I decided that if I had to plunk down a lot of money anyway, it was better to build new. I also decided that if I was going to build new, I was going to build green. My new house will be both beautiful and "green". I will share the journey and the adventure with you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Powering Up with Alternative Energy: solar thermal

     When I started this project, and the my builder asked me what I wanted, I replied: "I want it to be beautiful and I want it to be green" (not referring to color). On the beautiful aspect of things, I echo the feelings of the main character in Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, which I just finished reading. It was a great book, especially for someone in the midst of a building project. The story takes place in the middle ages and is about all the effort, planning, patience and politics it took to build a cathedral at that time. When the bishop asked Tom the Builder why he wanted to build a cathedral, he said, "because it will be beautiful". I think that is a noble reason to build something--beauty takes us to a higher place, and is restful for the soul. I find that since my husband passed away, I long for those things that take me to a higher place, because I know that he is there too.
     On the other hand, I also want my house to be green. For me, part of that means that I would like my house to be powered by alternative energy sources. I have researched much along the way, hemmed and hawed, and find myself still debating about which way to go on this. The first thing I investigated was solar thermal. I saw an add in local natural health type magazine that advertised a company called Green Sky Energetics. I was still living in my old house, and the agent came out, climbed up on the roof and determined that I would have enough sunlight if a couple of trees came down. As it turned out, 2 of the pine trees that were blocking the sun needed to come down anyway when they dug the hole for the foundation, and the other one came down in a storm after I had torn the garage and house down (had the garage been there, the tree would have fallen onto the garage). Solar thermal is a system that uses the sun to heat your house. The panels are called solar collectors. They estimated my needing 8 solar thermal panels. When you have this system, you also have a 400 gallon collection tank in the basement. The sun heats the fluid flowing through the solar thermal collectors (glycol), a heat exchanger transfers the heat to water (like boiler type system) and heats the house. It can also be used to heat your water. They estimated my cost to be $32,000 for this system. (about a 2500 square foot house at that time, which slowly increased in size as the design process progressed. It is now 3000 square feet). Tax credits include a Wisconsin Focus on Energy tax credit of $1722, and a Federal Tax credit $9307, bringing the cost down to about $21,545. Estimated maximum annual savings for water and space heating were estimated at $2580 at today's costs. After tax credits, that would give a return on investment of about 8 years. I decided against this option after seeing it in a house on a Parade of Homes. Besides the cost,  I wasn't so sure about having a huge tank of water in my basement. Also, I would still need to purchase an air conditioning unit.
     The other two type of systems I have investigated are: geothermal and solar panels called PV (photovoltaic) that generate electricity. More info on these soon....

1 comment:

  1. You know it's really helpful I'm getting all this information from you NOW! I enjoyed Pillars of the Earth as well, but not the second book.