Sunday, October 07, 2007

Akron Area Solar Energy Tour

The sun was beating down today, with temperatures in the upper 80s. What a perfect day to go on an Akron area Solar Tour.

Thanks to the home-owners who shared their passive and or active solar abodes with us. I took the western leg of the journey, jumping off before the Akron Zoo, as I've already seen the new geothermal Komodo Dragon House already.

Crown Point Ecological Center in Bath was the first stop on the journey to check out a passive solar barn, so situated and designed that it maintains comfortable warmth throughout the winter.

From there our solar adventure took us to State Rd on the eastern edge of Medina county. Here way back in the woods, we visited a passive solar home built with sustainable materials. The house used a geothermal heating system and was situated so that the winter sunlight would have the greatest heating effect, while in summer leafy trees help to keep it cool.

Total cost for heat and electricity in this house goes from a low of $45 to a high of $145 during the year. The heating is radiant and embedded under the flooring.

On the outside, shingles made of sawdust and cement help to keep the house warm in winter and cool in summer. Local and recycled woods were used on the interior. The owner uses no carpeting and has made sure that there are no toxic paints, stains or lacquers. The architecture was creative and inviting, featuring an upper loft area, and beautiful spacious living areas up and down. This two bedroom home was built for a total cost of $380K on land the owners had invested in 30 years ago.

The next house on the tour was an active solar powered home with a mighty display of photovoltaic panels mounted on a slope above and to the rear of the house.

In the basement, we were shown the instrumentation, pipes, and collection points for both the solar and geothermal operations.

If you ever wondered what solar power looks like on the inside, take a look:

During the drive from one site to the next, my eyes fell upon huge new mansions built along Ira road. Each house was situated on acres of land, just like a medieval manor house, and indeed that is what they most resemble. Tall, wide and entirely ostentatious, with three and four car garages, you can bet that each has a "great room" and that none of them were built with any regard for sustainability and energy efficiency.

It was clear from this tour that building a "green" house and detaching oneself from the energy grid is not for those of us living on a modest budget. The homes we saw today were lovely, but they were very large and in zip code areas where land is definitely not cheap.

The solar energy tour I'd like to go on, would feature passive and active solar energy systems built into public housing for urban dwellers. It would also take us to old housing stock that had been refitted for solar energy with added insulation and renovations made from non-toxic and sustainable materials. Let's face it, who really could benefit from lower energy bills? And who could benefit from raising their children in non-asthma inducing environments?

Mayor Plusquellic's "greenprint" for Akron needs to address what is being built in our city and the first place to examine are the building codes and the materials that are to be used in construction. Green housing will continue to be a hobby for the rich as long as we mindlessly allow construction to continue with the same old lack of concern for the planet and each other.


Dave P. said...

Amy and I looked into building a green/solar house years ago, but the cost was prohibitive, especially since we were preparing for me to return to grad school. It's a bummer that the initial investment is so great.

jaye said...

I went on a solar tour visit in Columbus on Saturday. Worthington Kilbourne High School is building a green home in the center city (fifth house in five years, but the first energy-efficient one), for sale to a low-income family. It has both passive and active solar features. With all the free labor provided by the students, the cost is not too bad.

On a personal basis, I thought I would prove that one could build a super-energy efficient home for an affordable price. I bought land and designed a passive solar house myself (to save the $20,000 price of an architect). Unfortunately, I have been taken advantage of by so many contractors and had to pay twice and three times to get certain jobs done that I've run out of money. I may be able to recoup a lot of this if I get a lawyer to help.

I still think it's possible to do, but you have to do a lot of the legwork yourself, and find honest plumbers/electricians/drywallers.