Can This Home Be Greened? A 1970s Solar Ranch Gets a Whole-House Audit

Greenovating a solar ranch-style home in Longmont, Colorado.

| March/April 2006

  • Greg and Anne Oberg, with Gracey, hope to create a beautiful living space that’s healthy for their family.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Greg and Anne Oberg, with Gracey, hope to create a beautiful living space that’s healthy for their family.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • If the fireplace is never used, plug and seal the chimney flue to save energy.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • The solar panels, installed in 1982, are in great shape thanks to Greg’s periodic tuning and cleaning. Some cedar shingles are badly weathered, but to save money, it’s possible to replace individual units as necessary.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Gaps like this one on the garage door waste energy.
    Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison

Greg and Anne Oberg’s garage is filled with mountain bikes, road bikes and tricycles, reflections of their family’s keen interest in fitness and health. So when they started thinking about renovating their 1970s ranch-style home in Longmont, Colorado, naturally they made the family’s health one of their priorities. 

The couple already has made significant changes to the home since they moved in a year ago, including replacing a rotted deck with one made of ChoiceDek recycled wood/ plastic-composite lumber. Now they’ve asked Natural Home for help prioritizing their goals to make the most of a $30,000 budget.

Solar panels heat the home’s water in summer and provide some heat for the rooms in winter, yet Greg and Anne want to further improve their energy efficiency. They also want to replace some of the home’s more outdated décor—including the living room’s gold, “amoeba- patterned” shag carpet—without filling the house with dust and debris. Anne and their 3-year-old daughter, Gracey, spend much of the day at home and didn’t want to live in a construction zone any more than is necessary.

The low-hanging fruit

Problem: A house as old as the Obergs’ is bound to have some air leaks, easy-to-overlook sources that add up. The Obergs may want to scan their whole home for leaks around doors, windows and vents that can cause drafts and hot or cold air loss.

Solution: Fortunately for Greg and Anne, previous homeowners made one of the best possible energy-efficiency improvements by insulating the attic when they installed a solar heating system. Caulking, sealing and weather-stripping all the seams, cracks and openings to the outside is more “low-hanging fruit”—an easy way to save energy. These simple steps can eliminate leaks around doors, windows, plumbing, ducting, electrical wire and penetrations through exterior walls, floors, ceilings and soffits over cabinets. A lot of electricity can be saved simply by replacing traditional incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), which are more expensive but last up to 10 years. To save even more energy, the Obergs could replace their old windows with new, more energy-efficient styles and install ceiling fans, reserving the air conditioning for very hot days.

Kid-careful construction

Problem: Dust, paint fumes and insulation fibers are problematic during construction. Every effort should be made to avoid exposure, especially for youngsters like Gracey, whose developing bodies are more vulnerable to toxins and airborne particles.

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