Thursday, February 02, 2012

Equinox House a powerful example of conservation in Urbana

Equinox House a powerful example of conservation in Urbana

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How much fossil fuel does it take to operate a comfortable home for a couple of retired American baby-boomers?


That’s the straight answer from Ty and Deb Newell of Urbana. And they hope the example of their home, the “Equinox House,” will awaken others to the opportunity of constructing a net-zero energy house in the Midwest using technology available today.

The Newells recently celebrated the first anniversary of life in the “Equinox House,” so there’s more than a year’s worth of data about how much electricity they used on day-to-day basis, as well as how much electricity their solar panels produced.

According to Ty Newell, who is professor emeritus of mechanical engineering at the UI, the Equinox House required about 12,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity to operate during the December 2010 through November 2011 period. That total includes everything from heating and air conditioning, to hot water heat, clothes washing and drying, and all other appliances. (No natural gas is used in the house.)

Newell noted that energy use in the Equinox House for the first year was approximately 20 percent greater than it will be in this and subsequent years. That’s because he was using the least efficient of three different heating systems that will be tested in the home.

During the first year, the solar panels that power the Equinox House produced approximately 11,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity. This would have made the Newells purchasers of 1,000 kilowatt-hours, in net terms, had it not been for the fact that the solar panels were on line for some time before they moved into the house.

Thanks to the more efficient heating system now in place, the Equinox House will produce surplus electricity this year and in the future. That’s by design. The “extra” will be used to power an electric vehicle, which the Newells intend to purchase as one becomes available this year.

In conjunction with its solar panels, the Equinox House achieves net-zero energy use because it requires far less energy than even a well-built conventional home—about one-fifth as much. And it does so through the use of design and technology that did not add a significant burden to the cost of construction.

When he talks about the Equinox House, Ty Newell emphasizes how well it works from an economic perspective, since the couple’s average daily cost for energy is a mere $3.00. That’s based on a twenty-year life for the solar array, which cost a net of $20,000 installed.

In addition, Newell enjoys the fact that a significant part of their up-front expenditure supported job creation, the labor that went into the manufacture and installation of their solar panels. That’s in contrast to money they might have otherwise spent on fossil fuel.

You might think that the Newells must be sacrificing comfort for the sake of energy savings, but that’s not the case. Their house boasts 2,100 square feet of living space and all of the amenities you would expect in a contemporary suburban development.

On top of that, they enjoy much better indoor air quality than those of us who live in conventional homes, thanks to a constant flow of conditioned fresh air from the outside.