In a leap of faith, a year ago my family joined Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine, a 36-unit multigenerational community on 42 acres. My husband and I loaded all our possessions into a truck and uprooted our two young children as we moved from Wisconsin to a quaint coastal community. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by friendly neighbors who helped us unload and unpack. Our children began exploring the property and we all began building friendships within our community. We instantly enjoyed living in our new high-performance home because sunlight fills our living space, fresh air circulates throughout the home and our utility bills are very low.
All Belfast Ecovillage homes are built to the passive house standard (although not certified), so we use 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than the typical code-built home. The solar orientation and huge triple-pane windows and doors allow the sun to passively heat our home. The cement slab absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night when the temperature drops, helping to maintain more even temperatures. Generous amounts of insulation and virtually airtight construction allow the heating system to remain idle much of the time. Our heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system constantly supplies a stream of fresh air to the bedrooms, while removing stale air from the kitchen and bathroom.
Fresh Indoor Air
Most conventional homes leak lots of air out of the home, thus losing heat and creating drafts in the winter. Because homes built to the passive house standard are virtually airtight, they would have air-quality issues if there wasn’t mechanical ventilation. Exhaust fans are not energy-efficient in cold climates because they vent heated air out of the home without capturing the heat, so our home doesn’t have an exhaust fan in the bathroom or a range hood in the kitchen.
Instead, we have a Zehnder HRV system, which constantly brings fresh, tempered outdoor air into the bedrooms and removes stale air from the kitchen and bathroom. These systems are up to 95 percent efficient in capturing heat from the exhaust air before it leaves the home and transferring it to the incoming air, so we can have both fresh air and energy efficiency, even on the coldest days of the year.
Despite the cold Maine climate, we haven’t needed to use our heating system until late October or early November. On sunny days in winter, our home can heat up 10 degrees or more solely from the sun, with the heating system turned off. Even on winter nights, our heating system turns on sparingly because of generous amounts of insulation in the walls, ceiling and slab; an energy-efficient standing-seam roof; and triple-pane windows and doors.
Our highest electric bill for heat, hot water, cooking and plug loads was during January, for a grand total of $120, at roughly $0.15 per kilowatt hour. I know people who spent more than $1,000 a month on heat alone for a similar-sized older home in our area. We later learned the difference that removing screens from southern windows makes in boosting the heating effect of the sun, further reducing winter heat bills. The upfront cost of the home was greater because of the energy-efficient features, which have an estimated 7.5-year payback period.
Even on the coldest winter nights, our home is draft-free, and it’s comfortable to sit by the windows. Our home is heated largely by the sun, which delivers gradual heat. The HRV system helps circulate the heat from the sun in the home, balancing the temperatures between the rooms on the south side (which receives more sun) and the north side of the home. Our last home had a forced-air furnace, and I really appreciate not having dry hot air blowing on me during the heating season.
In the summer, our home remained very comfortable, even with so many south-facing windows. The Unilux windows and one of the doors can tilt in using one hinge at the bottom to allow them to open at the top, providing lots of ventilation. When it’s hotter outside than inside, the HRV system can actually pre-cool the incoming air from the outgoing air.
No Moisture Issues
I’ve lived in several homes that developed mold above the shower, despite diligentuse of an exhaust fan. Even bath towels would get moldy when left on a hook to dry during humid weather. This has not been an issue in our new high-performance house. We chose to forgo having a clothes dryer and even on humid, rainy days we can air-dry laundry inside without mold.
Although we are mindful of using nontoxic products in our home, it can be difficult to avoid them completely. Having an HRV system constantly supply fresh air to the home helps mitigate the buildup of toxins in the indoor air. In recent years, I’ve found myself developing chemical sensitivities to synthetic fragrances. If I mistakenly light a scented candle or my daughter comes home wearing synthetic perfume, I can boost the speed of the HRV system to increase the amount of fresh air brought into the home to reduce my reaction.
One of our neighbors was experiencing a chemical sensitivity after she had flooring installed in her home. Instead of having to open windows during cool fall weather, she was able to boost the HRV system, which eliminated her symptoms. The HRV system also filters out pollen and dust, a great feature for people who suffer from allergies.
Over the summer, 11 solar systems were installed at Belfast Ecovillage through a community purchase initiative with Capital City Renewables. By purchasing and installing the systems collectively, members received wholesale rates for solar panels and components. Now 22 of the homes are near net-zero, producing all or most of the power used over the course of the year.
There is an excitement in the neighborhood around energy conservation and green power, which began with the planning of the high-performance houses and expanded with the installation of the solar systems. Our high-performance home and community living are helping us to live our dream of green living.
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental and health journalist with an MBA in sustainable management. She lives in a net-zero house in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.
When choosing new windows for your home, the options out there can be a little bit overwhelming. In the first place, it can be hard to determine which window style will not only look best with the overall feel and design of your home, but will also function the best for you. Secondly, choosing the right window is essential to the energy-efficiency of your home, and there are a lot of small details that can make a big impact on your heating and cooling bills. To help make the choice a little bit easier, here are 5 things to consider when selecting new windows for your next renovation, and how you can use this opportunity to save money—and the environment—in a big way.
You’d be surprised how quickly you’ll start to see energy savings once you make the switch to a more energy-efficient window. Photo courtesy Deposit Photos
1. Functionality and Use
Tired of the Hulk-like strength it takes to force open your old windows? Everybody’s been there. Luckily, a lot of improvements have been made over the years to make the ease of operation the norm, rather than the exception. For example, glider windows sweep open side-to-side, awning windows pivot on a central hinge, and casement windows open completely outward. But don’t think that these windows lack durability just because they’re easy to use. In addition to being made from the strongest materials, all of these styles feature secure locking systems and extra-tight seals to ensure there are no gaps that air can escape from. This thermal efficiency is what helps you save on those energy bills—which is always a big score!
2. Ease of Care
Most windows today are easier to clean than ever before, thanks to thoughtful construction and innovative materials that don’t stain, peel or crack. Awning and glider windows are particularly great options for the upper floors of your home, where it can be difficult to get at any spots or smudges on the outer panes. Both options have removable sashes which allow you to clean both sides without any trouble. Plus, the overall easy of care means gunk and debris has no chance to build up in the nooks and crannies, which can otherwise compromise the insulating properties of your windows. A small detail sure, but one that can make a big difference over time.
Most of all, with brand new windows, you’ll be able to enjoy and fall in the love with the views from your home all over again. Photo courtesy Deposit Photos.
Remodeling can be a great time to finally increase the size of your windows. Larger pane windows, or architectural bow or bay windows, allow more light into your home which can totally change the mood of your rooms and even make small spaces appear larger. However, because of their size, larger windows can let in more UV rays which can damage and discolor walls and fabrics within the room. Consider energy-efficient glasses like Low E II, LoĒ³-366 and Tempered, which are coated with metal oxides that can block these rays, provide overall greater insulation and prevent any sun damage from ruining your decor.
Not all windows are made equal. Traditional materials like vinyl and aluminum aren’t very durable and can wear, warp and crack over time. For your upgrade, consider installing fiberglass windows, which are extremely resistant to seal failures and also never peel, rust, dent or discolor. Increased durability means you’ll never have to worry about your windows being compromised, and you won’t have to re-invest in new windows after a few years like you would with those made of lower-quality materials.
Installing a brand new window with any variety of interior or exterior finishes can really refresh the overall look of a room. Photo courtesy Deposit Photos.
If you live in an area with drastic and unpredictable temperature fluctuations, the constant heating and cooling of the air can cause your window to expand and contract more than normal. In old or poor-quality windows this can cause cracks, so you’ll want to consider an efficient alternative that can withstand even the wildest temperature differences without any breakage which can, again, compromise the heat retention in your home.
Now that you know the ins and outs of how your new windows can help increase your energy-efficiency, you can make a more well-informed choice that works with your home, lifestyle, and surroundings. Your local home improvement experts can also give you more advice about which windows are right for you, so don’t be afraid to speak up and ask!
Paul Kazlov is a “green” home remodeling enthusiast and an industry pioneer for innovation in home renovation. Paul writes for the Marvin Windows NJ blog and strives to educate people about “green” products such as metal roofing and solar. Follow him on Twitter @PaulKazlov.
Green living is back in style. In fact, environmental awareness and concern has become so heightened that more and more people are joining in on the green revolution by leading a greener lifestyle. Some incorporate eco-friendly products into their lives, such as natural cleaners, while others have started to practice better living habits, for example, turning off lights in an empty room. With various ways to easily achieve a greener lifestyle, you, too, can go green from the comfort of your own home. Today, let’s take a look at one part of your home that should never be missed—your kitchen.
Photo courtesy HisPotion Magazine, via Pinterest
1. Clean Well and Greenify
For a spic and span kitchen, stop using toxic cleaners. Instead, make the switch to natural cleaning alternatives. Although there are many commercial, store-bought cleaners we trust, it’s super cost-effective to make your own homemade, all-natural cleaners. For example, baking soda can be used in many household cleaning recipes thanks to its natural ability to deodorize and polish surfaces. Lemon is another great cleaning ingredient that can be mixed into dishwashing liquid to boost its degreasing abilities. These ingredients will cost you next to nothing, and are likely already available in your kitchen pantry.
2. Choose Wisely: Gas Or Electric?
Photo courtesy Pamekins, via Pinterest
Choosing a stove can be tough. Likely torn between gas and electric, find a stove that best fits in with your budget and lifestyle, and choose whatever you can sustain for at least 10 years to save on materials and resources.
If you opt for an electric stove, be sure the model is energy-efficient by finding out whether it uses induction elements. These consume only half the energy of standard coil elements by transferring the electromagnetic energy to the pan; the cooktop also becomes relatively cool. On the other hand, if you choose to buy a gas stove, keep in mind that the lower BTU (British Thermal Unit) output it has, the higher the energy-efficiency of your stove will be.
3. Go Bulk
Photo courtesy One Good Thing by Jillee
Studies show that two-thirds of the total packaging wastes by volume is attributed to food packaging. To achieve that green kitchen you want, and avoid contributing additional wastes, be sure to purchase items in bulk. This will ensure less packaging and fewer trips to the store, and will also save you money. An important tip in buying in bulk: Make sure that you consume all that you’ve bought, or else it will be an added waste. You can also get discounts by using coupons when buying in bulk.
4. Store Good Foods
Make sure the food present in your kitchen is healthful and organic so you’ll be more inspired to commit to a healthful diet. Cut back on red meat by minimizing its supply during meals; just have one chopped steak for dinner. You can also eliminate meat from your diet completely and look into the benefits of becoming a vegetarian (or frequent vegetarian).
5. The Greener Way to Wash Dishes
When washing dishes by hand, save on water by having one part of your sink filled with soapy water and the other part filled with rinse water, rather than keeping the faucet constantly running. Also avoid running your dishwasher every night. Finally, test the economy feature of your dishwasher; it’s programmed to save water and energy.
6. Cookware That Lasts Matter
Photo courtesy Better Homes & Gardens, via Pinterest
Investing in good cooking utensils and cookware can also contribute to a green and healthy kitchen. Some products may be a bit pricey, but having sets that will stand the test time will save money in the long run. It will also allow you to avoid instances where you throw the container together with the leftover food.
7. Plants Add a Touch Of Green
Photo courtesy bloglovin, via Pinterest
Your kitchen can act as an extension of your garden. Plant small plants or herbs in old tin cans, and grow them in your kitchen windowsill. Not only will this lend you a better view while washing dishes, you can directly harvest the herbs for meals.
8. Opt for Kitchen Cloth Towels
Photo courtesy Etsy, via Pinterest
Every day, more than 3,000 tons of paper towel waste is being produced by Americans, according to People Towels. In order to help, opt for kitchen cloth towels instead. After using this product, you can wash them to reuse. This will also save you money on constantly restocking paper towels. Just remember, if your cloth towels no longer smell good, it’s time to replace them.
9. Reduce Waste with a Menu Plan
Stop wasting money on food that’s destined for the trashcan by forming a menu plan. Come up with a detailed and interesting weekly plan to help you avoid eating out too much. Or if you do eat out, remember to account for leftovers that can still be enjoyed to avoid throwing away wasted food.
Aby League is a medical practitioner and an Elite Daily writer. She also writes about business and other topics of great interest. Follow her @abyleague and circle her on Google+.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, indoor air is typically two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. As energy-efficient homes become tighter and tighter with less air infiltration, indoor air quality deteriorates without proper ventilation and mindfulness. With numerous sources of indoor air pollution found within the home, it’s important to minimize them while boosting healthy practices. Thankfully, there are many simple actions you can do for cleaner air.
1. Use Natural Fragrances
Although you may associate pine, lemon or botanical scents with cleanliness, synthetic fragrances can emit numerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that evaporate or off-gas into the air at room temperature. Some of these compounds are known to be toxic or hazardous. One fragrance can contain a couple hundred chemicals. Conventional laundry products, cleaning supplies, air fresheners and personal-care products may contain numerous toxins, although it might merely be listed as “fragrance” on the label.
To reduce your exposure, use mild cleaners that don’t contain fragrances or make your own with essential oils. Avoid using products that have fragrances in the list of ingredients, and be aware that some products labeled unscented even contain fragrance (so read the ingredients list). For healthier personal-care products, refer to the Environmental Working Group's Cosmetics Database, and use baking soda, essential oils or ventilation to remove unwanted odors.
2. Prevent Mold and Moisture
Molds can produce allergens, aggravate asthma symptoms and, in some cases, produce toxic chemicals. They can irritate the skin, eyes, nose, throat and lungs, regardless of whether the person is allergic to mold or not. Wet surfaces can start growing mold in just 24 to 48 hours.
Moisture is the most important factor impacting mold growth. Look for mold growth around leaky plumbing fixtures, around the foundation, and near windows and sinks. Common sources of water include leaks from floods, the roof, plumbing fixtures, humidification systems and sprinklers. Stop the source of moisture entering your home, clean mold where possible, or replace items that cannot be properly cleaned such as carpeting, ceiling tiles or furniture. Avoid breathing in mold when making repairs. For severe water damage, consult an expert.
3. Install a Home-Ventilation System
Some of the super energy-efficient homes of the 1970s were so airtight they developed indoor air quality issues. Stale air and moisture couldn’t exit the home, and fresh air wasn’t coming in. “One thing that a lot of people got wrong when building super tight houses was not ventilating them well,” says Brian Hughes, a carpenter for GO Logic who lives in a virtually airtight home at Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage with a Zehnder ventilation system.“It might not be intuitive that [airtight] homes need to be ventilated.” Hughes believes that heat recovery ventilation (HRV) and energy recovery ventilation (ERV) systems have revolutionized high-performance homes because they allow a constant stream of fresh air while not compromising energy efficiency.
HRV systems extract stale air from the home and supply preconditioned fresh air from outside. In warm weather, Zehnder HRV systems pre-cool the intake air using the exhaust air, without the two streams mixing. In cold weather, the heat from the exhaust air is transferred to the intake air. These systems are up to 95 percent efficient. ERVs transfer both heat and humidity and ERV systems help maintain comfortable moisture levels within the home.These ventilation systems boost indoor air quality by removing moist air, odors, smoke, and fumes and replacingstale airwith fresh, filtered air.
4. Use Low-Emission Products
Many of the goods we use in our homes release VOCs. Many dry cleaners use a solvent called perchloroethylene (PERC), which can damage the brain and central nervous system and is a likely carcinogen. Formaldehyde is found in numerous home products, including particle board, plywood, paints, adhesives and vehicle exhaust, and is a human carcinogen. “It’s the smell in new houses, and it’s in cosmetics like nail polish,” says Otis Brawley, doctor and chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society. “All a reasonable person can do is manage their exposure and decrease it to as little as possible. It’s everywhere.”
To avoid exposure to PERC, look for cleaning businesses that use CO2 or wet-cleaning methods, alternatives that are safe for most clothes or air out recently dry-cleaned clothes before bringing them into your home. To reduce your exposure to formaldehyde and other VOCs, be mindful of the products that you bring into your home. Unwrap and let new furniture and carpeting off-gas in a garage for a few days before bringing it inside. Use solid wood products, or ensure that pressed wood products are sealed on all sides. Use no- or low-VOC paints and adhesives, and increase ventilation during painting projects. Potentially hazardous products often contain warning labels stating to use the product in a well-ventilated area. Whenever possible, find safer alternatives or use such products outdoors and allow projects to dry before bringing them indoors.
5. Grow Indoor Plants
It’s common knowledge that plants add oxygen to the air, but did you know they also remove numerous toxins, including formaldehyde, benzene (found in glue, paint and auto fumes) and trichloroethylene (found in paint stripper and spot remover)? A study by the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, found that indoor plants reduce anger by 44 percent, depression by 58 percent, fatigue by 38 percent and anxiety by 37 percent.
Most common houseplants have been shown to boost indoor air quality. Aloe vera clears benzene and formaldehyde; spider plants remove smog, formaldehyde, benzene and xylene; and snake plants clean smog, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air. Aloe vera and snake plants are also ideal for the bedroom because they release oxygen at night.
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental and health journalist with an MBA in sustainable management. She lives in a net-zero house in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.
Even the most environmentally-conscious among us sometimes need to make upgrades in our home, whether it’s renovating the kitchen in a mid-century house or adding an extra bedroom for an expanding family. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to minimize the environmental impact of your remodel and even improve energy savings with your changes.
Photo by Fotolia/iofoto
See What You Can Sell/Donate
If your remodel requires you to get rid of certain appliances or items like your old dishwasher or cabinet doors, try selling them or offering them for free on a site like Craigslist, or donate them to an organization like Goodwill or the Salvation Army, rather than just throwing them out.
If you’re unable to sell or donate certain items, check with the local waste management department to see if they have a recycling program for appliances.
Assess Your Floor Plan
Thinking of adding a new room to your home? First consider whether you have enough existing space to add that room without adding any square footage.
For example, you might be able to add a wall to create a small kid’s bedroom out of part of an L-shaped living room, or you could add a partial wall to a living room to create a separate dining room area. If you want to add a front entryway or mud room, you might be able to pull space from your existing kitchen. If you do need to make an addition, think about how you can add enough square footage to meet your needs without going overboard.
Call in an Energy Auditor
Before you start renovations, have an energy auditor assess your home. A professional energy auditor will check things such as insulation, ductwork, your furnace, doors, and windows to determine how much energy your home uses and whether it can be more efficient.
Once you have these recommendations, you’ll be able to incorporate energy saving changes into your remodel. These changes can save you money, reduce your emissions, and make home maintenance easier, so there’s no reason not to make them.
Work with Reclaimed Materials
Reclaimed wood is becoming an increasingly popular choice in home remodels thanks to its many benefits. Since it’s recycled, it has a minimal environmental impact, and it’s also tougher and more durable than wood taken from first-generation forests. Many homeowners also appreciate the aged, weathered look of the wood and choose to use it for exposed beams or even a kitchen island.
Of course, wood isn’t the only type of recycled material you can incorporate into your remodel. Natural or recycled stones can also be a good choice because they absorb the temperature around them, improving energy efficiency as a result. On top of that, stones are a visually appealing element that can be incorporated into many different areas of the home.
Make the Most of Natural Light
Whether certain rooms in your home get good natural light will depend largely on their location, angle, and the outside environment, but if you’re remodeling a room that already has great natural light, you should use that to your advantage. Strategically place windows, or even consider adding full-length windows in order to let more light in and reduce your need to use electric lighting in the room.
To maximize your light even further, consider adding soffits (ornamental ledges) above the windows, as these help transfer light into the room. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you might even consider adding a sky light.
Do Your Research
Be sure to do your research before you start any green renovation project. Talk with a contractor who specializes in green building, and check with your local utility company to see if your green remodel will qualify you for any incentives or rebates. By taking the time to do your homework, you should be able to reduce costs and find new ways to save energy that you might not have initially anticipated.
Juliana Weiss-Roessler is a freelance writer and mom who co-owns the business Weiss-Roessler Writing with her husband. She frequently writes about how to minimize your impact on the environment.
Often, when people learn that I live in a tiny house, their first question is “did you build it yourself?” This always gives me pause. How can I communicate that yes, I did, but it was also built by Hammerstone School carpentry courses, and by Maria Klemperer-Johnson, Hammerstone's owner? And by my brother, who put up my loft ceiling one February day, and my parents, who were conscripted to simple tasks every time they visited, and by my friends, who walked my dog on long work days, and fed me, and looked at all forty paint tabs I brought to every social gathering in 2013. One of the first things I was reminded of when I started the process of building my tiny house was that nobody does anything alone.
Building a Community
While my connection with Hammerstone School set my project in motion, it was only the first of myriad relationships that developed throughout my build. As soon as we committed to building my tiny house as a class project, I was ready to buy a trailer. One can purchase a high quality trailer, custom-made for building a tiny house; I didn't take that route. Instead, I asked my friend Donn at Northland Sheep Dairy about the old camper he and Maryrose had by their garage. Knowing Donn, that camper was his next major project, and would soon be converted into a horse-powered implement on his farm; I had to act quickly. Next thing I knew, I was the owner of a title-less 1987 Shasta pull-behind camper, covered in graffiti, the least offensive being a large “POOP” scrawled under a window.
Photo courtesy Liz Coakley
“Well,” I thought. “I'll borrow a truck and pull my camper home to demolish it.” I had pulled some trailers around before for farm purposes, but an unregistered 22-foot camper parked at the top of a snowy hill was another story. Who would be willing to lend a rookie trailer-driver their truck in such a situation? A friend I hardly knew at the time, but who became a regular and generous source of support throughout the build (and who also happens to be the partner of Hammerstone School's owner), offered to tow the Shasta for me. Only the youngest of their six children came along, a cheerful two-year-old singing to himself in his car seat. By the time we arrived, wrestled the sunken trailer onto the hitch, rocked it back and forth until it was loose from the ice, maneuvered it through a tight turn-around, and drove it the hour and a half back home in the dark without a license plate, I realized it was not a task I could have accomplished alone. Not even close.
And where did we park it? At Interbrook Farm, on the land of other generous friends, who were unconcerned at having a demolition project occur in the front yard of their newly purchased farm. In fact, Andrew offered me access to any tools I might need from his shop, and pulled his dump truck up next to the Shasta so I could toss my refuse right in.
Photo by Liz Coakley
The demolition was surprisingly easy. With only a cordless drill, a crow bar, and a mediocre dust mask, I set forth. I wouldn't say pulling apart soggy fiberglass insulation and rotten composite boards was fun, but it was satisfying. I appreciated starting my build with a task that would be hard to mess up. Once I pulled off the laminate walls and got the heavy refrigerator and broken windows free, the rest came apart easily. The deck of the trailer was the most solid part, and my brother happened into town just in time to finish that with me. Interbrook Farm then sported a pile of scrap metal (much of which went into building a chicken coop and pig hutches), a pile of burnable wood, and a dump truck full of trash. Oh, and if you looked carefully, you'd notice a rusty chassis on the side—my diamond in the rough.
The process of getting that chassis ready for the build involved yet more assistance from my community: borrowed trucks, phone calls and emails soliciting ideas and advice, consults and journeys to welders, sandblasters, garages, and farmers with truck scales. A few weeks later, I had a registered and inspected trailer, painted shiny black and complete with legitimate brakes, a new license plate, and a working set of lights.
Photo by Sara Worden
When people say they built their own house, they often mean they hired architects, contractors and crews to build the structure. When I tell people I built my own house, I mean that I built my own house. I measured and cut boards, spent sweaty days covered in shreds of foam insulation, sanded and finished the floor and the trim. But everything is relative. Maria acted as my architect and contractor, and Hammerstone students as the crew. Friends and neighbors lent me their knowledge, excitement, skill, and resources. As Maria and I prepared for the first day of class, I realized that the preparation of my trailer was insignificant compared to the building of a community that supports me in my endeavors. Admiring my new trailer, I did my best to remain calm as Maria jokingly painted “poop” on it in an inconspicuous spot, just so we wouldn't forget our beginnings.
Liz Coakley has been living and farming in the greater Ithaca, NY area since 2005. In the summer of 2013, her tiny house was built as a class project for Hammerstone School's Carpentry for Women program. Liz and 7 other budding women carpenters worked and learned alongside instructor Maria Klemperer-Johnson to bring this house to life. This blog is the second in a series on the process of building tiny.
Summertime in coastal Maine involves warm days, gentle ocean breezes, and lots of blueberries. My family and I are enjoying our first summer in a high-performance house in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, a 36-unit multigenerational community with ultra-energy-efficient homes on 42 acres. The house performed well on windy winter days and during an extended five-day power outage, but now we are seeing how it fares during hot July afternoons without air conditioning.
Despite lots of south-facing windows, our home stays comfortable throughout the day if we close the windows and doors each morning. Considering that my two young children come and go from the house constantly, it isn’t an easy task. Because the summer sun is higher in the sky than in the winter, the southern orientation of the house does not cause it to warm up considerably, and we have curtains to curtail this. The cement slab and lots of insulation help us maintain cool daytime temperatures, even on hot days.
Photo by Jeffrey Mabee
“We really enjoy having lots of fresh air in our home,” says Hans Hellstrom, a neighbor and member of Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage. “We open the windows every evening, and depending on the weather forecast, close them again mid-morning. Because the homes are so well insulated, we are very comfortable throughout the day.”
During the cool summer nights, we ventilate the home as much as possible—a feat made simpler by our Unilux windows and doors and Zehnder heat recovery ventilation system (HRV). By design, the windows and the kitchen door promote summer comfort. Our triple-pane windows and one of the doors can swing inward on two hinges or be hinged on the bottom and tilted inward to open at the top. This tilted position offers draft-free ventilation and rain protection and boosts safety for small children, thus allowing us to have the windows open when it might otherwise not be a good idea.
The HRV system brings a constant supply of fresh air into the bedrooms and vents stale air out of the bathroom and kitchen. When the windows are open, the system can run in exhaust-only mode so stale outgoing air is taken from the kitchen and bathroom and exits the home, thus encouraging air movement through the windows.
For optimum summer performance, Aubrey Gewehr, LEED AP, CPHC, Northeast Technical Sales Engineer for Zehnder America, recommends checking the HRV filters in the summer for pollen, which can restrict the flow of intake air. If the filters are covered, they need to be either vacuumed or replaced. In general, filters should be replaced twice a year.
The HRV system is highly efficient in the winter and transfers up to 90 percent of the heat from the outgoing air to the incoming air. This feature is bypassed in the summer under the right conditions to keep the home cooler. If it is too hot outside, the heat exchanger works to cool the incoming air. The HRV system allows the home to be airtight and ultra energy efficient, while maintaining high air quality.
Despite living in an all-electric home, our power bills have been very modest due to robust insulation, airtight construction, and a solar orientation. The cement slab is insulated and helps regulate the temperature in the home, providing a cooling effect on hot summer days.
Because we do not have an air conditioner or even fans, our summertime electric use is less than 350-kilowatt hours a month for our 900-square-foot home – including hot water heating and cooking. Our ultra-energy-efficient home uses up to 90 percent less energy for heating than a code-built home would, and our winter energy usage including heating is a mere 800-kilowatt hours per month.
Photo by Sarah Lozanova
My husband recently installed a solar system on our home, and thus our monthly electric bills should not be greater than $9.74. Our house is now net zero (consuming as much power as the solar system generates over a 12-month period) with a 3.5-kilowatt solar system. By the end of the summer, 22 of the 36 the ecovillage homes will have solar systems and be near net zero. While the Maine power grid reaches peak demand on hot days when many homes consume large amounts of electricity to run air conditioning units, our solar system produces far more energy than we use in our high-performance house.
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and communications professional with an MBA in sustainable management. She recently relocated to BelfastCohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.