Thursday, January 31, 2013

Q+A with sustainability coordinator Jesse Pyles about Unity College's TerraHaus

Designed by Matt O'Malia and G•O Logic, TerraHaus is a 2,100-square-foot dormitory for 10 Unity College students. Completed in 2011, it boasts a certified Passive House designation and a 2012 EcoHome Design Award for architectural excellence and sustainable performance.
Photo courtesy of Unity College
Q: What makes TerraHaus unique compared to the other dorms?
A: TerraHaus is the first certified Passive House student residence in the country, relying primarily on superior insulation and air sealing as well as solar orientation for space heating, and solar thermal hot water. All active heating systems are run on electricity instead of oil. We have small electric baseboard heaters in individual bedrooms and a cold-climate heat pump for heating and cooling the larger common area, but we rely very little on these units to heat the house. In zero-degree weather, the heating load could be met with a standard hair dryer.
Courtesy Unity College
Q: What are the energy costs?
A: During the 2012 spring semester, space-heating costs for TerraHaus averaged $21.59 per month, and $86.35 total for January through April. During that time, domestic hot water costs were $96.98 for electric backup water heating and circulation. So that's $183 for space and water heating for four months. Pretty amazing, considering TerraHaus replaces two smaller cottages that costed us $4,364.58 for 1,307 gallons of fuel oil a year.
Photo courtesy Unity College
Q: What do students seem to appreciate most about TerraHaus?
A: In addition to a beautiful design that "feels like home," our students enjoyed being part of a "Passive House" class that used their study of building energy concepts to connect local residents with home weatherization incentives through the Town of Unity Energy Committee. The public is welcome to visit the building for the NESEA Green Buildings Open House tour on Saturday, October 13, 2012.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Q+A with Meredeth Winter about her solar array on the South Freeport waterfront

Meredeth Winter, a philanthropy adviser at the Nature Conservancy, recently updated her 1984 South Freeport waterfront home with a 4.8 kW grid-tied photovoltaic array that generates 6,602 kWh annually and a Chromagen flat-plate solar hot-water collector that produces 19,000,000 BTUs of renewable heat energy annually—together offsetting more than 14,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year.
Photo courtesy ReVision Energy
Q: What inspired you to add a solar array to your home?
A: As a long-time employee of a conservation-minded organization, it was largely about walking the talk at first, but because our house is optimally sited for solar it was a natural progression. We called ReVision Energy and they quoted us the options and installed the system in four days, not to mention fixing a faulty snowmelt heater that was running overtime and helping us with the tax rebate. I can't say enough good things about them.
    South Freeport Harbor by Dave Cleaveland/Maine Aerials
Q: What have been the benefits of this addition?
A: I love feeling like a power station. Since I dislike opening bills, it's great to get one that that says they owe me money. We make more kWh than we use from March to October, and the extra goes back to the grid to offset the months of November to February when there's less sun. For example, last June we produced 475 kWh but only used 415 kWh.

Q: What's next?
A: If I could do something better, it would be to sit down with my kids more often and look online at the TED Dashboard that shows in real time what we're producing. We're also interested in connecting the solar hot-water system to more radiant floor heating.