solar ready strategies for sustainable design
Building THE Solar-ready HOUSE
As we move toward the day when photovoltaics and solar water heating are standard
features, the high-efficiency all-electric house is a smart transition strategy.
By COLLIn TOmB
The small Habitat for Humanity house in
Wheat Ridge, Colo., derives much of its heat
from electric baseboards, but due to its superinsulated walls and conscientious residents, it
is still a net energy producer.
More than 50 years ago, in 1953, Kansas City Power and Light unveiled its
all-electric model house in Prairie Village, Kan. Equipped with the latest
plastic conveniences, with all-electric heat and water heating, it promoted a
life un-dirtied by the wood, gas, oil and coal burned in nearly every furnace
and boiler at the time. But it suffered the irony that plagues even modern all-electric houses: Without a renewable electricity supply, they are expensive
and environmentally filthy.
As we look to a future powered by renewable energy, the all-electric house is a natural
solution. It pairs well with on-site photovoltaic (PV) systems and with the electric utility grid,
drawing electricity from the grid and meter-
ing energy back from rooftop PV when it’s
sunny. The catch is that without renewable
energy, an all-electric house is running on
electricity produced to a large extent from
fossil fuels, depending on where you live.
DAN FRuEH PHOTOGRAPHy
Generating energy from on-site sun resources makes more sense than ever as PV prices continue
to drop and incentives increase. Offsetting even a portion of electricity needs with PV can have
significant benefits. Yet for builders and architects that have yet to make renewable energy features
standard because of cost concerns, offering all-electric houses with solar-ready features is a good
interim strategy. The problem is that the 1950s descendents of the first all-electric house, without
renewable energy supply, can now cost twice as much to operate as their natural gas-powered
Copyright © 2009 by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. All rights reserved.
Collin Tomb is an architect and writer in Boulder,
Colo., specializing in carbon-neutral design and
energy retrofit. Patrick Hughes, director of the
Building Technology Research and Integration
Center at Oak Ridge national Laboratory, contributed to this article with expertise on heat
pumps. Technical assistance was also provided
by Walter Grondzik, architectural engineer and
professor in the Department of Architecture at
Ball State University.
32 May 2009 SOLAR TODAY
Without a renewable energy supply, the 1953 all-electric house and its modern counterparts can be
expensive and environmentally filthy to power.