Saturday, October 10, 2009

Inside the Green & Solar Cottage

Last Saturday, a few of us headed down the road to the Green & Solar Cottage (map) open house, sponsored by the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, to learn more about this exciting little property.

I've known the owners, Frank and Holly, for a few years now, but this was the first chance I've had to get inside and see how they are harnessing the sun (and a few other things) to generate power, hot water, and lessen their overall environmental footprint.

For me, this all just makes sense. When done properly, building green or adding green features to your home doesn't have to break the bank. Many times, it is cost-competitive with traditional building techniques, but with the added bonus of a long-term positive return on your investment. Now, coming up with the cash to front all of this is another story entirely...

Here are some pictures from the tour along with some commentary. For more info (details on the design, rental availability, contact), visit their website.

Facing south, you can see the solar domestic hot water collector on the roof and the 1,800 kilowatt PV (photo voltaic) solar panel array. While we were there the water temperature on the roof was 105 degrees, helping to keep the water in the in-house storage tank right around the same temperature. This water is used not only for washing but the radiant heating system as well. As Frank says, the system "heats it when you need it", utilizing an electric-powered on-demand heater unit to boost the temperature of the water to a slightly higher temperature only when the time is right. This way, you are not wasting energy keeping large volumes of water at a certain temperature 24x7.

Here, Frank is standing in the "control room" up on the second floor and talking us through how the system works. His hands are on the aforementioned water storage tank. You can make out a bit of the on-demand heater unit off his right shoulder. (This was my first time shooting pictures with my new phone -- forgive the learning curve.). The total cost of the system installed (he did it himself, saving on labor) was around $4,500. He expects the system to pay for itself in energy savings in just a few years.

This shot shows a cross section of a SIP (Structurally Insulated Panel) panel, which all the walls of the cottage are built with. The SIPs are highly efficient when it comes to insulating for heat retention, low air infiltration, and noise deadening. The bonus: The panels are manufactured here in Rhode Island out of recycled materials, lessening the environmental impact of the structure all the more. The cottage has only been fully operational since January 2009, but Frank and Holly estimate total energy costs for the 1,000 square foot house will be around $520 for the entire year. Not too shabby.

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