Chuck Reiss, a builder in northwest Vermont, had a bold plan in 2007: he wanted to build a cluster of six superinsulated homes on a 24-arce site in Hinesburg. Reiss planned to install a roof-mounted PV array on each house, with the goal of making the homes net-zero energy, or close to it.
The homes would occupy about 10 acres of the site; the remaining 14 acres would remain agricultural. For anyone interested in passive solar design, the acreage was extremely attractive; architect Rolf Kielman (TruexCullins Architects) describes the sloping site as “a south-facing bowl.” The site is within easy walking distance (via a pedestrian path) of the shops in Hinesburg village.
The project, known as South Farm, now has five homes; the sixth will be built soon. It’s been five years since the first homeowners, David and Carrie Fenn, moved in, so it’s a good time to find out how well the homes have been performing.
Cellulose insulation and roof-mounted PV
Each of the homes that Reiss built is a custom home; however, the homes share many similar characteristics and specifications:
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Cost of solar array
What is the operating life of the solar array, and what would be its replacement cost at today's pricing?
Response to Ron Keagle
Most experts assume that peel-and-stick PV arrays like those installed at South Farm won't last as long as conventional glass-framed polycrystalline modules, but no one really knows yet how long they will last.
If you wanted to buy a 3.9-kW polycrystalline (conventional) PV array right now, you'd pay between $18,000 and $20,000.
I have a 32-year-old PV module on my roof that still works perfectly.
Thanks Martin. I know there are no moving parts, so I am just wondering how a photovoltaic array actually wears out, and if manufacturers specify a lifespan of a certain amount of hours of full sun, or maybe specify the amount of electricity produced of the total life. I have heard that the sunlight actually is what wears out the collector.
Response to Ron Keagle
Leaving aside for now the question about amorphous peel-and-stick panels, which have no glass cover and therefore could fail due to UV degradation of the plastic components (I think), here are the ways that conventional polycrystalline modules might eventually fail:
1. The gasket around the glass cover could fail, allowing rain to enter and corrode the electrical terminals.
2. Atmospheric moisture might lead to corrosion of the electrical connections on the underside of the module.
Other than that, we're just talking about glass and aluminum.
UniSolar Chapter 11
The maker of the solar products in this article has filed for Chapter 11. Which is a shame in some ways because their product was practically the only solar product that virtually "disappeared" on the roofs (assuming a standing seam metal roof). Other typical solar panels stand out aesthetically speaking. The visibility can sometimes lead to an easy target for theft or vandalism.
Wind / snow loading was also less of a problem with the "peel and stick" panels although they were never at the same level of power generation as typical panels.
I have no idea as the status of the BK filing. I doubt they will survive.
Response to Robert Henderson
Thanks very much for your post. I somehow missed the news of Uni-Solar's February 14, 2012, bankruptcy filing.
For those interested in reading more about the Uni-Solar bankruptcy, here are some links:
Uni-Solar's Bankruptcy and What it Reveals About the State of the Solar Industry in the U.S.
Uni-Solar parent Energy Conversion Devices will lay off 300
Energy Conversion to Fire 300 as Uni-Solar Auction Fails
Don't forget transportation
What about the energy used for transportation to access this very low density suburban development? Shouldn't that be factored in too? If each household has two cars that each travel 10,000 miles a year at 25mpg that's 800 gallons of gas a year. If a gallon of gas contains the energy of about 40 kWk that come to 32,000 kWk a year! That obviously dwarfs the 5,000 kWk generated by the solar cells.
I love solar electric but I hate see it used to paper over projects that ultimately consume vast amounts of energy. Better to build where you can walk, ride your bike, and jump on the bus.
Response to Bryan Shephard
Read the article again -- more slowly this time. Especially the 2nd paragraph.
This site was chosen because all of the homes are within walking distance of the stores in Hinesburg.
Taxes are proof cities are problematic in the least...
More dense living is NOT more efficient. Explain to me the fact that cities have much higher taxes. Much higher. As they grow they tap into sales tax, property tax and eventually INCOME TAX.
Cities are the least efficient form of community.
As has been said... the hunter gatherers days gone by had the most free time and impacted the planet the LEAST.
We all want "our cake and our neighbors cake and other countries cake and... a Porsche in the garage along with a pool and a third home and monthly vacations.. and weekly hot stones gently placed on our backs......"
If cities are the answer, please "splain" the cities having horrendous taxes?
Fair enough. I did overlook the mention of the pedestrian path. But I think my larger point is quite valid and worth addressing. Building at low density inevitibly means dependence on the automobile and lots of energy us. It's very hard to get around that --no matter how much you wiggle.
Bryan, my small less dense
Bryan, my small less dense town does not require more energy to get around. Nonsense. And there is no need for long distance commuting, it is chosen.
You're both right, right?
I see your ‘absolutist’ stances as an impediment to a good discussion. Of course you know that one of the significant downfalls to advancing an agenda or belief at the exclusion of others is that you then HAVE TO defend it due to your pride and your egos unwillingness to be wrong. That said it strikes me that you’re both have good perspective to offer. I enjoyed aj defending his ‘small town’ efficiency. I believe this to be correct in that there is less need for mass transit and short trips even if done in inefficient vehicles it still doesn't consume that much energy (the 'Cadillac Paradox'). And I think it can be somewhat recreated in the US with a heck of a lot of effort. Darn near impossible in ‘modern America’ but worth a try and a subsidy from the Feds if you ask me (call it part of National Defense' or Home Town Security). Definitely easier to accomplish in an area like the Willamette Valley (where Eugene is located and where Bryan and I live) with its year around growing season and it’s head start in regards to all of the local small farms (with a year around growing season for them and individuals), as well as our community compulsion to spend much of our disposable monies on recreation and not as much of it on material goods (at least not to gross excess). I was surprised to see a sort of Tea Party ‘Evil City Taxes’ twist enter into the discussion as a defense against the benefits of city living. Can't we acknowledge at least some aspects of efficiency in BIG CITY living. Perhaps gleaning the best of each ‘civilized situation’ would have gotten you both ahead on your promotional agenda and might enlist other believers and their comments. As it stands,…. Perhaps the audience will just sit back and watch you two ‘have it out’. Funny, me thinks, that so often this is what happens out there in the big bad world but it’s not just words on a blog, it’s guns and bullets. Can’t we celebrate common ground and have that as a starting point for respectful discussion.
The tax argument doesn't necessarily hold water since taxes paid aren't necessarily related to efficiency or happiness. If you’re making much more money in the city and you appreciate all the services (and complexity and associated costs) available, especially subsidized mass transit, that’s well worth paying more especially since you make a lot more (a big city attraction). I think there are definitely some efficient advantages to BIG cities but I don’t think they ‘take the cake’ in terms of a best model of sustainability. I think towns about the size of Eugene with a more efficient and responsive mass transit (and yes, higher density) would make it much better. Add to this a better settlement pattern manipulated thru fees on car registration. The farther you live from where you work the more you pay! This along with many other disincentives to personal car travel and advantages to mass and slow transit (bike and walk and skateboard) would do wonders. The whole question of ‘settlement patterns’ needs more attention. We've been under the influence of the automobile and cheap (destructive ) energy for a century and it's created insidious effects that need to be remedied.
Cheers to idears!
Response to Newt Loken
Thanks for your thoughtful and sensible post.
I especially appreciate your observation that higher taxes are not evidence of evil or failure. This point is often misunderstood by American taxpayers.
When a government collects taxes to educate our children, support the elderly and handicapped, provide medical care, and subsidize mass transit, we all benefit -- even those of us who aren't using the government services directly.
Cheers to that, Martin.
"When a government collects taxes to educate our children, support the elderly and handicapped, provide medical care, and subsidize mass transit, we all benefit -- even those of us who aren't using the government services directly."
Cheers to that, Martin.
I certainly agree with Newt that "the whole question of settlement patterns need more attention." It's a very tough set of problems. We Americans are so wedded to our cars and our freestanding houses that alternatives are almost unimaginable.
Here's a link to a well made video that offers an interesting perspective: http://www.carfree.com/video.html
Very happy to discuss financial efficiency
Newt, hunter gatherers like lions worked to sustain life a few hours a week. Now you think two 60-80hour incomes to pay for your supposedly more efficient city is sustainability? Higher Taxes mean more than free museums Newt and unprofitable bus lines.
Taxes... Taxes for education at a cost of $400,000/teacher makes sense? Ever looked into what a business's overhead percent is? Same for health care Newt which is moving to the worst system (pubically funded private service!!!). My hospital gets lots of tax funding. The CEO gets $500,000/yr in an area where $125,000 would give him a very good life. My last 5 stitches done in minutes were $1,000. There overhead is absurd. I should start a 24/7 mobile stitch van. Using my best rates I could do that stitch job for $200. We all need to demand financial efficiency through some method from our tax funded entities.
The larger the government run community the less financial efficient in my area. The taxes are the direct proof. Schools and cities and their off paycheck unfunded pensions and $15,000/yr till Medicare health costs paying an employee to work 20-25 years and paying them to be at zero productivity for another 40-50 years is ludicrous to me at least. Why is it done? Because the elected "CEOs" don't have a P&L and free market pricing pressure to put them out of business and or drive them TOWARD greater efficiency verses toward HIGHER overhead and uncontrolled wage increases. They just cover their spending with taxes hoping us private citizens work our tails off to make more so we can pay the higher tax. And the icing on the bosses cake is, leave office. Then their responcibiity is ended. You and I close our business and its a disaster personally to us and our family.
So help me with some of this. $400,000/teacher where the teacher costs $100,000. So the need for a building and bosses costs $300,000? Check your town. Don't divide per student, divide by the production unit (teacher).
Tie the inefficient financial world of large communities to all your visions of enviromental efficiency. Museums are off the table or on if you can explain this to me. I'd rather be doing a sport cutting up some wood. Museums need non government backers, the 1%, not my taxes.
My idea of efficient high density
Size matters to me. And as you all like there are advantages to density. And I think we all think sprawl is the worst.
My point of view... is well... my town, a point. Density helps and (my point) the fact that our town is small I think helps. Once you scale up at least near me, every larger entity has higher costs and higher taxes and the use still for cars and malls and all the worst of suburbs.
Cities need to have a cap on their taxes equal to a small efficient town like mine and then like a business figure out how to live with their new limited means.
OK, so agreement;
#1- Outlaw suburbs and future suburbs.
add to this concensus if it is one, any in love with suburbs? Time to start a separate blog for this subject, Dan? Get an editor to cover this from now on till we all get somewhat on the same page.
Some people must like living in the suburbs. Otherwise there would not be any need to outlaw them.
Ron, sugar, obesity,
Ron, sugar, obesity, cigarettes, date rape drugs.... some things are worth our community regulating don't you think?
If several styles of housing us all are sustainable and we find that in the communities best interest some layouts of homes are to be zoned to a minimum... hey, we zone now, so... if I have a say on our latest zoning redo... I will be advocating net zero.... and livability without a car, and self sufficiency and clustering and cluster centers and more. Gardens, chicken coops.. PV... Taxes capped at negative percent growth... business incubator space... university education space...
I was only wondering about outlawing suburbs, but since you brought it up, how would you regulate obesity? I kind of like your idea about the low overhead stitchmobile. But I have feeling you are going to need a permit for that.
How would you Ron? It's low
How would you Ron? It's low on my list. Present day convenient stores sell nothing we need. Ban them and fast food joints products. I could live wonderfully without both. My snack of choice at our gas stops is a banana. The rest is all temptations of the devil. Lol
Who needs (italics) a gas-powered 'drier?' I certainly don't - live in a very small, by American standards, cottage and use something very like:
People of higher
People of higher intelligence, and higher education tend to live in the suburbs. They are smart enough to have smaller families, be ecologically minded and environmentally conscious. We shouldn't condemn the suburbs just because they drive cars instead of using buses. In fact, most people in the burbs here, take the train to work. The problem isn't the people driving the cars, its the cars, themselves, being too inefficient.
Response to Shane Claflin
Do you have a source for your claim that suburbanites have higher IQs than rural residents or urban residents?
Get ready to duck -- there are some sharp comments headed your way shortly.
You Still Get the Electric Bill
... just reread title & you always get a bill except most times, it's a credit so these homeowners pay nothing
It's called poetic license
As you might imagine, it can be hard to write a headline that captures what you want the reader to know in just a few words. This blog's title, "Living Without Electricity Bills," was preferable to "Receiving a Monthly Credit on Your Electricity Bill Eleven Out of Every Twelve Months."
But of course you're right -- these homeowners get a piece of paper in the mail every month from their electric utility.
Since someone else already changed the subject
There is a very interesting discussion here that has very little to do with the topic of this article. I agree that giving money to organizations (government) that have few consequences for misusing the money is a terrible model and could only work without human nature being what it is. However, AJ you are asking for two opposing things at the same time. You are asking for both less government involvement and more government involvement. Having them get out of education and public transportation but into public health regulation and regulating where I live is pretty much swapping one form of government control for another. I used to think much the same as you about regulating stupidity and legislating away tragedy. I have come to realize that neither are possible and it all comes down to personal responsibility and teaching your children what is right and what is wrong. Rather than banning fast food I would rather have the choice to not choose it (I don't choose it...actually I loathe it) and someday I hope that if I have kids I will teach them the benefits of a banana and they will choose it as well.
A governments quest to regulate its people really only says that the government or the elite oligarchy at the top believes they know better than all the rest of us at the bottom. Therefore they should make our decisions for us. Again it should come down to you and me making good decisions...incidentally as more and more people are coming to find out....what is good for you and I also happens to be good for the planet. People just have to realize what "good" is (you and I and everyone else should be fostering that change person to person with the people you come in contact with everyday....not the government...they are there to make sure we don't get invaded....and that's about it). Fortunately in the NW (I know you Portlandians/Eugenies know what I'm talking about) people have begun to realize that 'good' means getting out of the house, turning off the television, saying goodbye to Comcast, eating responsibly produce food, not being a Consumer, etc. I really believe we will see a sea change in this country in regards to what is "good".....I am watching it happen right now. I am a residential designer in a small, rural, slow to change community that is not on the progressive end of "green" and I see a lot of people waking up to this new reality of "good". People are even starting to ask for energy efficiency in building design....most of the time it gets dropped by the time they go to build it...but at least they think about it now.
I have to say though that AJ's blast at public education is right on. My sister, mother, and wife all work for the local school system here (Unfortunately). It is a monstrous/colossal waste of money. A lot of people think our public school system and more specifically Compulsory Education is a benefit to society. It really isn't. All you are saying is that no one should be allowed to fail (in our current model anyway) and parents are too stupid to know that they should educate their children. Therefore, the benevolent government has to make them go to school and make the tax payer pay for it. My wife's family lives in Nicaragua. It is the poorest country on the continent (Haiti is the only poorer country in this hemisphere). You do not have to go to school there. If you want to go to school you have to pay for it (and pay to get there). The average person/household makes $1,000-$3,000 a year and tuition costs $25-$100/month plus supplies & a yearly fee. Remember that is per child. Nicaraguans work very hard to send all of their kids to school (This is TYPICAL of poor 3rd world countries...I have seen it in Haiti, Honduras, etc.). It is uncommon not to be educated there. So tell me why must I pay for other peoples kids to go to school and have to listen to teacher friends of mine complain about working 180 days and only making $35k starting out (plus benefits...retirement, etc. You knew you weren't going to make "any money" before you became a teacher....That's great money to me). Please. That's without talking about the administrators or the tech guys. So no we don't benefit from public education. Our education system continues to turn out more and more poorly equipped children every year. We would be just fine paying for our children to go to private schools...and guess what? Those schools are run as businesses. Or you could home school and spend time with your children instead of sending them to the government run child care system that is public education. Just sayin.
Alright I've said enough and wasted enough time on here....have fun pulling this apart.
Never would have thought we
Never would have thought we suburb avoiders are missing out mingling with the MENSA crowd. :)
Spencer, I like your post. One thing though like you said... word of mouth and advertising and some minor regulations... have definitely impacted the love of smoking. Same sort of "easy push" is happening with energy and greeness. And with my soapboxing, the day will come when we straighten out education cost and city government costs. It's happening. I feel a movement coming on... no... was the other kind... off now.
Interesting vision flashing my way... from the ground up not just a few but most if not all of us begin homeschooling. What then would be left of a school district and it's insane overhead costs($300,000/teacher)? NOTHING.
We can do the same for city costs. ride bikes, walk... end of subsidized buses. How about peddle subway trains...lol. Firemen... back to all vollunteer. An idea I have too is that all public jobs come with term limits and no pension (401K instead) and pay for their healthcare fully from their paycheck. Teachers included. "Ten-year" is the proper name. Yaa get ten years and go get a real job. Might be nice if teachers had a real job before teaching and after so they relate better to the real world. Firemen, policemen, plow truck drivers, lawn mowers, ten years done. The cost of public institutions that we kept could be halved. These might not be the right ideas, but they are ideas. If we start by aiming for taxes reducing by half instead of the useless idea of limiting taxes to a 2% increase..... oh now we could make a dent in the trillions, the millions. The biggest hurdle to all this is the fact that today the voters that can vote themselves benefits is big enough to do so... IE... school boards loaded with members that give back. ACORN and food stamps. The one percent and their no capital gains tax... lol
We have work to do.. oops... green building... right... what were we talking about?
Response to Spencer Burnfield
I wouldn't ordinarily feel the need to respond to your long diatribe against public education. However, I feel called to do so because I had the honor of hearing Kennedy Odede give an address at this year's commencement ceremony at Wesleyan University.
You ask the question, "So tell me why must I pay for other people's kids to go to school?" and you argue that we stop supporting public schools with tax money because "it is uncommon not to be educated" in "poor 3rd world countries." Your callous statements are a disservice to the world's poor.
Kennedy Odede grew up in Kibera, Kenya -- the largest slum in Africa. There is no free public education in Kibera, and Kennedy's education occurred because of a remarkable (and unusual) combination of self-education and the help of compassionate and wealthy foreigners. Depending on this method of education is not a good idea.
If you don't have time to read all of Kennedy Odede's address, read this: "One day when I was seven years old, my mom and I set out early in the morning with $3 in her pocket that we had saved over many months. My mother wanted to enroll me into an informal school in the slum. As we walked through Kibera, I went on about learning to read, growing up to be a teacher or a doctor, and my mom told me, gently, not to get my hopes too high. When we reached the school, I was smiling from ear to ear, so excited about the bright future ahead. The principal told us that while they did have open spaces, the school fees were $10 per year—not $3. My mom, a woman of great pride, begged and pleaded but had no luck. As we left, I saw the children playing in their bright school uniforms, and as I looked down at my torn clothes, tears began to stream down my face."
Reply to aj builder
"How would you Ron? It's low on my list. Present day convenient stores sell nothing we need. Ban them and fast food joints products. I could live wonderfully without both. My snack of choice at our gas stops is a banana. The rest is all temptations of the devil. Lol"
Previously, I asked how you would regulate obesity, which was one of the items on your list of things you would like to see regulated. And you asked, “How would you?” [regulate obesity]. My answer is that I would not attempt to do so. The reason I asked how you would do it is because I cannot see any way to do it. You could ban certain foods, but ultimately, you have to control quantity.
If convenience stores sell nothing we need (as you say), why would we need to ban them? Why would they exist in the first place if they sell nothing we need?
If people feel that other people’s habits must be changed for the greater good, the best way to do it is with the carrot rather than the stick. Regulations are fine for controlling behavior, but they cost a fortune to administer and enforce. They raise our overhead operating cost.
If I thought people living in suburbs could be attracted to a better way of living, I would come up with one and let them choose to make the change.
This is a free society.
This is a free society. Nothing should be banned. Everyone should have a choice of what they are offered. As far as public education; Is it inefficient? yes. Are there truckloads of taxpayer's dollars misappropriated? probably Is education for all a good idea? definitely.
Consensus in parts, parts become whole's
It's great to see all the thoughts. And I think there is some overlapping signs of agreement. Martin, I think your post highlights the attraction principle and the success of a non gov. system as much as it does anything. Glad you posted it. MIT and many others are proving me right. today's costs are too high and soon higher education costs options will be drastically more efficient and an order of magnitude less expensive. Starting out as certificates soon soon to be widely accepted. Nature (autopiesis) drives toward efficiency, survival of the fittest.
Solar panel prices
You can get brand new solar panels for $1.20/watt. This is the cheapest I have ever seen them and they are the polycrystal glass faced ones made by Kyocera, not some Chinese brand. This does not include any other balance of system components but since I am simply adding onto an existing system and installing myself the price is not much more then that. Warranties are for 20 years and some are for 25 years.
Response to David Bainbridge
What's your source for Kyocera panels?
Mitsubishi split system
If you are moving away from the heat pumps completely in the next house and going with a split system are you expecting a slight increase in heating/cooling costs? Lower maintenance perhaps?
Northern Arizona Wind
Northern Arizona Wind and Sun has the 315 watt panels currently selling for $378 a panel.
The real issue is that these houses, and most of those found in FHB and GBA, are very expensive. Only about 4% of US households have the income necessary to finance a $425,000+ house. Oh, and good luck finding lender at $250+ per square foot. Instead of arguing about the social value of one or another expensive building approach, you should be working on building good, efficient, and affordable houses.
Response to Peter Bradley
Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that most Americans can't afford a $425,000 house. We welcome stories from contributors who have examples of successful low-cost homes or retrofit projects. If you know of any, please contact me: martin [at] greenbuildingadvisor [dot] com.
the discussion is wow-all over the map
Please remember that it takes only one finger to point, it takes a single open hand to offer friendship, and two hands and many more to undertake the work to make a meaningful positive change in the world. We do not live in isolation within any culture or climate. Solutions and possibilities abound beyond our own individual perceptions and wait only for our collective vision as human beings, without political/religious bias or egoistical stances.But only if we have the guts to do it, and the humility to accept those changes.
- humans are extremely intelligent, however there is a glitch - the once recessive 'stupid' gene is becoming a dominant one!
Somehow we need to do
Somehow we need to do meaningful life testing of any system. I thought the sticky back PV was a great idea, and sorry to hear of their demise although bankruptcy doesn't necessarily mean they are out of business. It also seems this system is ideal for metal roofs, which are not all that common. My sense is that mother nature is the biggest enemy for any of these technologies because of varying weather conditions. I wonder what happens to windmills in hurricanes and fields of solar cells where there are tornadoes. They all require maintenance of some kind. Established technologies are born, mature and then disappear, but they need to stay around long enough for new technologies to mature and then disappear in their own time. It is good that someone does have the courage to buy and tryout new ideas, irregardless of the real out of pocket cost. Switching from deep well systems to air to air systems is an example of a lesson learned. the hard way. The vulnerability to electrical storms was a bit surprising, but does make sense.
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