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Green Building Blog

Blog Review: Erik’s Blog

A front-line report from the owner of an almost net-zero house

Near Net-Zero. This near-net-zero energy house in Massachusetts is the subject of a blog by Erik Haugsjaa.
Image Credit: Erik Haugsiaa

Erik Haugsjaa is a software engineer and Web consultant who lives in Stow, Massachusetts, in a house he says comes close to net-zero energy performance. Built in 2010, his 2 1/2-story, 1,650-square-foot. house is equipped with a 6.9-kW photovoltaic array and a ductless minisplit system for heating and air conditioning.

Haugsjaa’s blog, Erik’s Blog, is a collection of observations about the house and its mechanical systems, with a variety of links to related sites and a lot of seemingly extraneous commentary. Haugsjaa doesn’t present himself as a master green builder or energy designer, so the language is approachable rather than authoritative. It’s as if you got a series of letters from an old friend about the house he was building which also touched on a variety of other topics.

The archives go back to October 2008, long before he moved into his ultra-efficient house. Back then, Haugsjaa commented on a number of non-building but still green issues, such as what kinds of toys he liked to buy for his 4-year-old (Legos), or the wisdom of buying prepaid cell phone service (saves money), or advice on which of two similar products to choose when shopping (go for the lighter one).

Later, the talk veers more toward meat-and-potatoes issues, such as the coefficient of performance for air-source heat pumps or comparing the heat potential of propane vs. electricity. There is plenty of hard data in those posts.

If you’re looking for green building advice from the heights of Olympus, Erik’s Blog probably isn’t the place for you. If a more leisurely and conversational journey sounds appealing, you might check it out.

On developing a solar strategy

“The point is … even in a superinsulated house, heating is a big part of the overall energy use (if looking at heating, cooling, hot-water heating, cooking, lighting and appliance use in a household that is reasonably considerate of their usage.) So if you can cut this, even by 25% due to solar, you are going to be in much better shape. Some will argue that [it] is better to spend solar dollars on PVs that can be used year-round, but in cold climates with very efficient solar-thermal heating done on the cheap with the help of builditsolar.com and ‘simplysolar’ and ‘solarheat’ Yahoo group participants, the cost per KWh of energy saved is going to be much lower.”

On the cons of his Mitsubishi ductless minisplit

“Unless I am missing something, the lowest the heat settings go on our Mitsubishi system goes is 59°F. What?!!!!! I would set back my house temp to 45°F if I were away if I could! Maybe (I can figure out a way to fool it, like one can with a typical thermostat with those 15°F setback timers you can control via X10.) What a hassle though!”

And this one:

“Wet clothes after playing in the snow. How do you get them dry? In a typical northern house, I would put them on a radiator or forced-hot-air vent, in the boiler room, in front of the wood stove, etc. Those don’t exist in this house! And we axed the clothes dryer too! I guess this is where one of those bathroom towel-dryers comes in handy. Or we use a typical dehumidifier in our big mudroom closet. Works OK. But still, just sayin’! You can get floor models for air-source heat pumps I guess. Maybe that would do the trick. But that takes up more space. “

On backyard sustainability

“This is not news to anyone, but clearly being green in a holistic sense has to involve getting more local and more solar (ala Michael Pollan) in many ways, and food is one of those ways. It’s also exploring community/CSAs [Community Supported Agriculture] vs. rugged individualism/homesteading.”

On meeting Passivhaus goals

“There are some people who think the Passivhaus requirements are too difficult for New England, the upper Midwest, and maybe Phoenix I’ve heard (on the heating end of the spectrum). But I personally disagree. If people want to live in extreme environments, then I see no reason why they should be let off the hook. What I would say, is that it really is quite reasonable to take an 80% or 90% approach. Well, or 50% is good too! In other words, if one can get to within 90% of a Passivhaus, then gosh, that is quite an amazing house you’ve got there.”

On ‘holistic’ thinking

“OK, so nice house. Do you eat meat? What MPG does your car get and how many miles do you drive? These things matter a lot too. Especially relative to a house operating very efficiently. A vegan driving a Prius (or living in the city and walking) maybe has a smaller carbon footprint more than someone living in a small Passivhaus. I don’t know! But it’s not too hard to run the numbers. Gary Reysa at builditsolar.com does this. See his ‘half’ project. Marc Rosenabaum at energysmiths.com does this if you are designing a house or co-housing community or fixing up an office building or dormitory, etc. If I buy a lot of stuff and fly in airplanes a lot, my Passivhaus doesn’t matter so much any more.”

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