Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Q+A with Stew MacLehose, owner of Double Thick Walls on the Dime in Falmouth

From the August 2011 Bright-Minded Home column in Maine Home + Design:

Designed by Kaplan Thompson Architects, this prototype for a Modular Zero Home does not have a furnace. Instead, its radiant floors are heated by the rooftop solar thermal system and supplemented with an electric on demand water heater. Triple-glazed casement windows minimize heat loss, and the exterior walls are double-studded and filled with R-40 dense cellulose insulation. The name is a pun on “Double Nickels on the Dime” by The Minutemen.

Q: What have been the biggest benefits of your home’s efficient features?
A: Not having an oil bill.  My electric bills can get high ($200) in mid-winter when solar gain is at its weakest and the electric on demand water heater kicks in, but even then, that’s a lot less expensive than an oil bill and it’s our only bill. The solar hot water has produced the best return on investment, due in large part to the tight construction of the house. 

Q: Are there any systems or products that you found less useful than others?
A: No, there are only two mechanical systems in the house, the solar hot water system and the ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilator), which is necessary to bring fresh air into the tightly-sealed house. Both of these systems are essential and very useful.

Q: Are there any new efficient technologies out there that you'd like to try that you haven’t yet?
A: I’d like to move to photovoltaic panels next.  At this point they wouldn’t be cost effective, but I’m hoping the price comes down in the future.

Check out more Kaplan Thompson designs at

Monday, August 29, 2011

Q+A with William Lord Owner of Maine Solar House in Cape Porpoise

From the July 2011 Bright-Minded Home column in Maine Home + Design:

Having lived in one of Maine’s older solar homes for 17 years now, William Lord and his wife like to refer to themselves as “solar groundhogs,” watching for the sun each morning to power their home. The solar panel-covered south-facing roof of their home, which was designed by architect Steven Strong and built by Tim Spang, generates both hot water and electricity.

Q: What have been the best benefits of your solar setup?
A: The solar thermal panels, which provide hot water for domestic use and radiant floor heat, have paid for themselves already, and our home requires just a small amount of propane for backup heat in the winter. The other half of the roof consists of a 4.2 kilowatt photovoltaic array that on a sunny day generates more electricity than we use, exporting that surplus to the grid, which we draw from at no cost at night and on cloudy days. Our monthly electric bill is less than $8 during late spring through early fall.

Q: Are there any systems or products you’ve found less useful than others?
A: The only weak link we had in the system was in the early 1990s when the inverters, which convert DC electricity from the panels into AC household current, were less dependable. Today our inverters are smooth, cool, and reliable.

Q: Are there any new technologies out there you’d like to try?
A: Both of our systems work seamlessly without “adult supervision” required from my wife or me, so we do not, at this juncture, see any new technologies that will replace others or significantly enhance our home. Come see it for yourself during Northeast Sustainable Energy Association’s Green Buildings Open House Tour on Saturday, October 1, 2011.

Learn more at

Friday, August 26, 2011

Q+A with Peter Troast, Owner and Founder of Energy Circle

From the June 2011 Bright-Minded Home column in Maine Home + Design:

Not only does Peter Troast feature energy-monitoring devices on, but he’s tried them all in his once-drafty, but now well-sealed and insulated farmhouse in Freeport. I wanted to glean some knowledge from him about these tools.

Q: In your experience, what are the best energy monitors out there?
A: There are two main types: single-number devices like the TED 1000 ($125), which provides a real-time reading of watts per hour for the whole house, and the more granular Emonitor ($699), which divides up usage on a circuit-by-circuit basis and includes an internet connection for extensive data retention. If the TED is reading 1,100 watts in the middle of the day, we know that lights and fans might have been left on in bedrooms and are reminded to turn them off. Although you have to log in to see it, the Emonitor takes it one step further by telling you exactly where the power is being used.

Q: What have been the biggest benefits of using an energy monitor?
A: Energy monitors give you a tool to make a behavioral change. When you can see your power usage in real time you’re empowered to make the changes needed to keep your home running as efficiently as possible.

Q: What other energy-saving tools do you recommend?
A: The Smart Strip provides one of the highest returns on investment. If your entertainment center is plugged into it, the vampire loads of the stereo, Wii, and DVD player are turned off with the TV. This $28 tool can save you as much as $12 every month in unnecessary energy usage.

See for more information.