Saturday, September 15, 2012

Boulder County Solar and Green Homes Tour

Location: Nederland, CO 80466, USA
Our parody of Grant Wood's, "American Gothic"
on the cover of Conservation Magazine.
Our solar panels have paid for themselves, and our home continues to be powered with free energy from the sun. Our monthly bill is $7.50 per month to be a part of the grid.

Around the time our daughter was born, we were considered early adopters of Solar PV, and we would get people stopping by to see how it worked. Even newspapers from around the world. I was already giving so many tours, that we signed-up with the Center for ReSource Conservation to officially be on the Solar and Green Homes Tour.

Here is a link to how the inside article appeared in Conservation Magazine: Slavick-Gierlach Solar Garden and Greenhouse back in 2010.

Our home was originally built by Warren Muller in 1975, at a time when Nederland was expanding and developing an influx of new ideas. Joe Walsh recorded "Rocky Mountain Way" at nearby Caribou Ranch Recording Studio. The Naropa Institute was created in Boulder. Billy Kidd was retiring from his Olympic career, and Eldora Ski Resort had just expanded and installed new lifts. Inspired by vegetarianism and the locally grown produce movement, The Mountain People's Co-op was forming in Old Town Nederland. The country was reeling from the 1973 energy crisis.

Our daughter was born shortly before
the solar panel installation
In Nederland, an environmentally conscious culture emerged, and several homes were built using Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS), including our home. Homes built with SIPS go up faster, have tighter envelopes and create less waste than standard stick frame construction. Our home has no crawl space or attic, faces south and benefits from passive solar. In fact, the third floor has no heat source. Our home was also built 100% electric to avoid the predictions of the "Peak Oil" theorists of the 1970's.

We moved to Nederland in 1999 as a way to pursue "voluntary simplicity" as described in Duane Elgin's book of the same title. We had been vegetarian for years and connecting with our food has always been important to us. We had outgrown our backyard garden plot in Cleveland, Ohio, as well as our intense corporate lifestyle. We were looking for clean air, clean water, clean food, and clean energy. We also wanted to slow down our lifestyle by a notch, and live in a more sustainable way.

As the wind, water, and soil conditions in Nederland were vastly different from Ohio, we became engrossed in the Permaculture books by Bill Mollison. We became Master Composters for Boulder County and we began working on a greenhouse to start plants. Joe mentioned our $350/month electric bills to our electrician and discovered that Amendment 37 had just passed. We immediately began planning a 10kW PV solar array with Lighthouse Solar.

A great side-effect of the PV Solar panels is having a Net Meter, which increased our awareness of how much energy we use, and generate. This changed our lifestyle further and reduced our energy usage by 20%. We have replaced all the light bulbs with CFL's, but simply turning off lights and appliances made an impact. Stephanie hangs clothes to dry instead of using the dryer. We bike on the new Nederland trail to the local library, and when the SUV died, we bought a Prius.

The solar panels had paid for themselves
when our daughter was in elementary school.
In the mean time, we became parents, and we have raised our daughter, Aspen, to understand where our water, food and energy comes from. She enjoys having thousands of pet worms in our compost bins. Inspired by Richard Louv's book, "Last Child in the Woods," we encourage Aspen’s interaction with nature.

Our greenhouse has been an ongoing project that our daughter assisted with throughout its creation. It reused materials including marble floors from Cleveland. It enhances passive solar design with a passive convection system that only requires energy on cold nights in January to maintain temperatures above freezing. Architecturally, we matched the 1970's Ski Shed roof angles of the house and garage.

Choosing to install the Solar PV panels as a ground mounted system provided an excavator and a means to terrace the area to create a planting garden. It also provides a level play area for children, which is a nice commodity in Nederland.

Over the years, we replaced many of the appliances with more energy efficient ones. We converted a cool, dark utility closet into a wine cellar and pantry using reused wood. We installed a high efficiency fireplace to utilize the available fuel from the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic.

The fireplace is used in conjunction with a pellet stove to reduce electric use for heat during the coldest winter nights. Splitting firewood has become Joe’s new hobby.

Our own journey of lifestyle changes has modified the home we live in by rearranging things more sustainably. In a way, the home has adapted to the changing environment today and followed the ideals that began at the time it was built.

The Solar Homes Tour was back in 2010. Today, photovoltaic solar panels are not just for early adopters anymore. Our daughter has grown, and our solar panels have paid for themselves. She is our Golden Lady.

[Here is a Video Valediction] with Reel People, featuring Tony Momrelle covering Stevie Wonder's Golden Lady in their unplugged session at Livingston Studio in London. [What is a Video Valediction?]
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