Basking In The Light Of The Day

By+Susan E. Miller

If there is one theme surrounding the green home building project Heather Reser took on it would be “light.”  Just ask what her favorite overall thing is about the house.

“All the sunlight,” she’ll tell you.

The theme took shape right from the beginning. First, there was the enticing concept of capturing the sun in a passive solar designed home. Heather had read much about the approach. From her research, the desire to use solar power became a huge factor in the decision she and her husband, Dave, made to build a new home rather than repurpose an existing home.

Then there were light fixtures. These became a source of anxiety for Reser in the later stages of the project. Selecting environmentally conscious fixtures proved to be one of the more challenging product areas she encountered. She quickly found that choices were limited and expensive, but the expense was necessary to ensure LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System™). continued on next page

Editor’s Note:  Dave and Heather Reser’s home was introduced in the 2008 summer/fall issue of Life+Spaces. In late spring/early summer 2009, L+S checked in on the Reser’s progress. Here is the final chapter of their building experience. Find back issues in the archives of
www.lifeandspaces.com.

But back to the sunlight. It is everywhere in the open, yet cozy first floor. Sunlight is so prevalent, in fact, that it actually becomes part of the decorating scheme. Not only does it lift the spirits, even on a cold winter day, but it also provides heat.

The passive solar orientation of the home provides winter heat gain through south-facing windows. Heat from the sun is absorbed by tile flooring and by the floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace (Lennox Elite Series ELDV direct vent gas with electric ignition).  In the summer, intense sun will be blocked by shades and optimal cross ventilation will aid natural cooling.

In addition to the windows doing their job (Kolbe & Kolbe Ultra Series with LoE-366 coating), there are solar panels involved. On the south roof, 26 panels store up energy that helps power and heat the home (Kyocera (dark blue) 26 panels (5.5Kw) with Sunny Boy 6000 US inverter with LCD display).

“If  it  is really sunny, the panels melt off quickly. Even with some cloud cover, we’re able to generate some solar power,”  Reser said.
Two major appliance powered by the sun are the HVAC-Vertical closed loop geothermal system (water furnace), which has a RenewAire whole-house energy recovery ventilator for continuous air exchange. Also, the water heater (Apricus Solar Thermal system) has two AP-22 collectors, a Quietside flash heater, and an Equinox
residential tank.

Two logical questions are how much power is generated and what kind of savings can be expected?

“I haven’t sat down and compared bills from our previous home. But, in December, before it snowed, it seemed we were still using auxiliary heat a lot. Once we got the deep snow cover, the ground has stayed warm and the geothermal has been running,” Reser said. “We’re hoping it will perform better in the summer, with the sun and cross ventilation.”
A Net Metering system through NIPSCO uses two meters. One tracks how much power is generated from the panels, the other tracks power used from the grid. If the sun generates more power than is used, a “credit” goes to NIPSCO and the monthly electrical bill shows
the difference.

Around the house

The objective of pulling nature inside doesn’t stop with the strategically placed, south-facing windows. Everywhere in the house, there are natural products, recycled surfaces, and nature artwork.
Every room has something eco-friendly in it, Reser said.

Take, for example, the hickory dining room table or the fireplace mantle made from a tree taken down for construction.

The tile floor in the master bath shower is crushed glass mosaic-washed teal sea glass (from EcoFlooring). Tiles, made from scrap glass, are polished or tumbled to give the look of sea glass.

A unique element in the dining room is a pair of sliding glass doors. Not just any glass, but 40 percent recycled content glass (Varia Ecoresin from 3form) that includes thatch (as in grass) pressed into the glass.
The laundry room countertops, of the same glass product, are red with slices of bamboo rings below the surface. This is one of Reser’s favorite features in the house and for good reason, given it’s unique appearance.
In the basement, a window well lined with giant rocks, gives a distinctly natural focal point to the room.
Day-to-day differences

One may wonder if a home like this feels or functions differently. The Resers have noticed some subtle differences in day-to-day living compared to a conventional home.
“It is quieter without the furnace running all the time. The energy-recovery ventilator runs continuously as it is a constant exchange of air,” she said, “but it is much quieter.”
Not having much carpet has been a huge adjustment. For one thing it is noisier, she said. Plus, with two kids and a happy, active Labrador, there seems to be more dirt.
“We didn’t realize how much dirt there was in our old house. We clean more now and it is great knowing everything is so much healthier.”
LEED Certification

The Resers will soon know if they reached their goal of gold certification with LEED. There will be a final inspection where points are tallied and an imaging test will show how air tight the structure is.

The first and second floors of the home total 3,500 square feet.

Downstairs is an office, laundry, a craft/guest room, dining room, kitchen, and family room. Upstairs are two bedrooms and a bath plus, the master suite. Another 1,500-square-feet of finished basement makes room for a second family room, full bath, guest bedroom, home gym, and sauna.
At this size, Heather was initially concerned it might not meet LEED requirements, but she is confident they did all they could for the top ranking.

Clear hindsight

So, the obvious question is—considering all the time, energy, and money involved—would she do it again?

“Right after it was done, I probably wouldn’t have. Now, I’d say yes. Next time, I’d be more involved and get more involved earlier on,” she said.
Even though a green home does cost a bit more to build, Reser feels good about her choices.

“Some items we paid more for because they are recycled, while some people might pay more for an item just because of their taste. My decisions to pay more were just based on different reasons.”

There will be some waiting to gain back some of their investment. The furnace and hot water heater will recoup costs within a few years. The solar electric will take 20 years to balance out.

In October, barely a month after unpacking, the Resers opened their home for the American Solar Energy Society’s annual home tour. About 30 people attended. The national organization has local groups that promote solar power as a viable energy solution.

Which room does Reser have a warm spot for? Her favorite room is the kitchen. From the Cambria Quartz countertop to the Energy-star qualified appliance (Kenmore Elite), she loves the room for features like a built-in recycling center and, of course, all the light.

Her husband agrees on this room choice for now, but thinks he’ll soon have to say the dining room, with its custom-made table and wall of windows.

No matter which room they’re in, the Resers are basking in the knowledge that their choices were a step in the right direction for a more sustainable future.