Which Renewable Energy Sources Will We Include in Our New Home?


Wood Pile

The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.

Before we even began the discussion about solar panels vs. wind turbines vs. ground-source heat pumps vs. woodstove, Tyler and I first considered design and efficiency. We chose to build our house smaller than the average new U.S. home, because the less space we build means the less space we have to heat and cool. We are modeling our house design on passive solar design principles, including in selecting the house site and orientation, window placement and overhang, and insulation. We know that having an efficient, well-insulated structure will reduce our need for energy consumption. (Don’t worry: How to select and choose from the many renewable energy sources will get more play in later posts; this is meant to serve as an introduction to the topic.)

Currently, we are looking into renewable energy sources. Based on the cost of connecting a pipe to the natural gas line and running it our future home, and our general distaste for fracking and drilling for natural gas in the area, we are going to have a propane tank put in for the two items we need gas to run (our stove and the water heater’s pilot light). To power everything else, and to really minimize how much propane we need to use, we’re looking at a mix of wood, solar and maybe even wind to supplement.

A quick note: We did consider staying off-grid entirely; however, we don’t have the capital or the skills to outright purchase and install the systems that would be required. Kansas currently allows for net metering, so we’ll be able to “sell” out home-produced energy to the grid.

Wood heat. This, to us, is a no-brainer. We own several acres of woods and are committed to sustainably harvesting from this space to supply our woodstove and heat our home (see the beginnings of Tyler's wood-splitting accomplishments above). With a 95-percent efficient propane furnace as backup, and with the incredibly clean-burning and efficient woodstoves on the market, we’re totally sold and have planned the stove’s central location into our house design. Coming home and building a fire in our woodstove is something we’ve wanted to do for comfort and enjoyment, in addition to the self-sufficient, practical reasons. We will move in to a house equipped with a stove, which is one of the “really cool things about our house” that gives us the energy to work through the more hairy details. We have yet to begin the search for the best woodstove.

3/2/2015 8:34:34 AM

If your building small, efficient and passive solar your heating and cooling requirements should be very low. That will allow you to go with smaller units than is usually required, so that will be a big money saver for you in buying what you need for the house and your costs to run. An earlier commenters experience proves that and so do a lot of other peoples real world experience. You should look into Green Building Advisor website there is a lot of proven info there even without joining. They will have links to The Pretty Good House which is an informative article that helps to guide you in the best direction to spend your money for the greatest return in savings throughout the life of the house. Also if your building small and efficient you can eliminate the cost of the propane furnace, water heater and more expensive gas range as well as never having to buy propane at higher and higher prices. The gasses that can build up in the house from range use alone can be very bad healthwise over time without constant ventilation. The money you save on all those items will allow you to put more into the house and install a larger solar array to make more electricity to be able to run an electric stove that will cleanly heat your house when in use, a mini split that will efficiently heat and cool your house and a high end electric hot water heater that will last a long time and all these items will be run free of fossil fuels at a fixed rate from your nice clean solar system. It's cheaper to invest in the extra solar now plus then you don't have any of the maintenance cost associated with the fossil fuel items down the road.

3/1/2015 5:04:47 PM

Wow - thanks for sharing such inspiring stories! I'm even more ready to dive in, and am really glad to hear about the various places in the country that smart design, modest size, and smart use of renewables is definitely doable and a long-term way to go.

2/28/2015 10:44:39 AM

We finished building on Whidbey Island in WA in Oct 2013. We built a 1985 sq foot 2 story using SIP's and a Bosch geothermal system. We also have 2 small woodstoves that we use occasionally in the house, but the only source of heat in the garage/shop. We have 11 acres of large 2nd growth trees, about 140 feet tall on average, some of which randomly fall and create a lifetime supply of firewood. We also have a 7 KWh solar array on the roof. We are close to net-zero on energy consumption, and actually turn an annual profit on the net-metering and WA state incentive plan. The house can be viewed at: http://www5.eere.energy.gov/buildings/residential/partner_profile/548 withe the red paint.

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