Solar-Powered Residence Marries Common Sense with Energy Creation
The inside of the house uses a combination of spruce and aspen woods that provide insulation.
Photos by Elizabeth "Bee" Thacker
Many people consider using solar energy to power their homes, businesses, and even motor homes. Installing solar panels can help reduce utility bills and some buyers appreciate using the sun as their main source of energy for independence and sustainability. Others like its environmentally friendly aspects as opposed to other energy sources like fossil fuels that create noise and pollutants.
Adding technology to generate solar power has advanced to a place in which energy-conscious efforts don’t detract from enjoying all the comforts of home. A farm home in rural Lindale is proof positive.
The 3,280-square-foot residence may be powered by the sun, but it incorporates many prudent features past generations designed into their homes. It is the result of combining old-fashioned common sense with the latest architectural and engineering concepts. The progressive ranch style home was designed by preservation architect Mark Thacker, AIA.
Energy efficiency was a primary goal when the owners began the design process. They elected to participate in a certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in which most decisions on materials and systems are based on LEED-rated products. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED for short, uses a point system on materials and designs that shows the extent of energy efficiency and conservation. This house achieved the highest level attainable, LEED Platinum.
A significant number of points were awarded for the installation of a solar system capable of generating a maximum of 10,000 watts of power. The solar system, used in conjunction with other design features, has resulted in a monthly electricity bill savings for four out of 12 months during a year.
Individually attached to south-facing standing seam roof panels, 40 photovoltaic panels generate electricity during the day which the Green Mountain Energy Company purchases. During the night the homeowners buy it back. Unlike some, this system does not include a battery storage system, but during a power outage a portable generator can be plugged into the house to power a few lights, refrigerator, freezer, and the fireplace fan. The panels are so sensitive the owner has witnessed a generation of a small amount of power on a clear and full moon night.
Reaping the benefits of solar innovation goes one step further than tech installment. “A solar system placed on a building with disregard of a multitude of compliments is about as worthless as a house with no roof,” Thacker says. That’s why architectural, construction and engineering decisions can and should complement solar decisions.
The Lindale residence is a pre-engineered metal building structure designed on modular bay spacing even while supporting steel beams, purlins, and the metal roof. Wood framing was used to create the interior and exterior walls after the roof was installed. Natural stone was introduced to enclose steel columns, create a wainscoat wrapping the exterior walls, and to create a fireplace as a focal point to the living room. The interior is enveloped with a combination of spruce and aspen wood not only for aesthetics, but for insulating purposes.
Other aspects are unconventional as well. The home is designed on an east-west axis with a southern porch where a roof overhang extends the length of the house to prevent direct sunlight from entering windows. Energy-efficient plumbing fixtures along with EnergyStar appliances conserve water and reduce hot water requirements. LED lighting minimizes electricity usage. Double-paned insulated windows reduce heating and cooling. Walls and the roof need spray foam insulation. A standing seam metal roof system should have reflective qualities. Ceiling heights ranging from 10 to 24 feet allow for 13 ceiling fans throughout the house to circulate air. These are a few compliments to a solar system, with the objective to limit the amount of power required to support normal day-to-day household activities.