Town & Country: Living Off the Grid
By Jennifer Ailor
In Town: Thanks to computers, the Internet, a DSL connection and phones, Terri Davis and Jeff Dawidowski have the best of both worlds. Their home-based businesses — she is a real estate property manager and he the graphic designer/owner of Copperhead Designs— allow them to work from home. A few times a week they make the 21-mile trek into Springfield, Mo., to meet with clients and check properties.
In the Country: And what a home it is. Terri and Jeff will soon move into what is probably Christian County’s first newly constructed off-the-electric-grid house on 72 acres near Bruner.
Designed by Jeff, the 3,000 sq. ft. house is completely energy efficient and sufficient. Forty-eight rooftop solar panels produce 11 kilowatt hours of power. Excess power is stored in a bank of 80 batteries (from Springfield’s Northstar Battery Co.), enough for several days of typical electricity usage. Two additional solar panels feed power to the home’s water heater. A vertical-access, four-kwh wind turbine will generate power from wind as low as four to six miles per hour. The house sits on a high hill where there’s virtually always some wind.
The house also utilizes a hybrid heat pump system that, depending on the season, pulls in warm or cool air from the earth through a tunnel into the basement. Atop the house, a long cupola is lined with windows that on cool nights in the summer can be opened to create a large attic-fan, cross-ventilation effect. A back-up generator is available for emergency power when the other systems are down.
Inside the house, each room has its own monitor that measures power usage. The house has three heating/cooling zones and is built almost entirely of recycled lumber and local stone.
Why Go Off Grid: The couple didn’t start out planning an off-grid house, but being an energy-conscious couple, the question soon came up. The first decision was not to use propane. “Then we started looking into alternative energy and the ‘wouldn’t it be cool to take it off-grid’ came up,” said Jeff. We just had a strong urge to do it.”
Advice to Others: Terri and Jeff recognize their case is extreme; about 30 percent of the home’s cost is invested in alternative energy features. But a 30 percent federal tax credit for geothermal, wind and solar systems with no upper limit (expires December 2016) helped. Anyone interested in saving money will be hard pressed to find a better investment than finding ways to conserve and become more efficient as electric rates climb, Terri and Jeff said.
“Start small,” they advised. Maybe begin with a few panels for a solar hot water heater—about 12 percent of a home’s electricity usage is for heating water, according to energy consultant Michael Bluejay. Tighten up your house and research the dickens out of whatever you tackle, they suggested.