Passive Solar Home Heated for $2.50 a Day

April 14th, 2014 by DWM Magazine

Seven years ago homeowner John Kosmer supervised the construction of his passive solar house in upstate New York. Since that time he’s averaged just $2.50 a day to heat his 4,000-square foot home.

“Despite rising fuel costs and dropping outside temperatures, this house continues to perform remarkably,” says Kosmer. “This past winter has been especially brutal with temperatures regularly at or below the teens. Yet we’ve spent just $400 in propane and $550 in wood to keep our home always heated to between 69 and 75 degrees. Average that out with the rest of the year and it cost us $2.63 per day. Last year we averaged just $2.36 per day because it wasn’t as cold outside. Overall, we’ve consistently seen a cost of just $2.50 a day for heating during the past seven years.”

KosmerKosmer credits the construction process of his southern-facing home and the use of energy-efficient products for his long-term savings. “We have 53 Simonton windows in this home that were constructed with an Argon gas filling, double-glazing and low-E soft coat,” says Kosmer. “These windows are Energy Star® compliant and one of the best investments I made to save on our energy bills.

“We’ve found the vinyl frames on these windows offer superior energy-efficiency capabilities. Our casement windows close up very tightly to minimize sound penetration and help eliminate any air infiltration from the regular 30 mph winds we experience here. As a bonus, the vinyl has been maintenance-free during the past seven years, which is a big plus as we get older.”

Another element of the Kosmer home that encourages low energy usage is the central woodstove with a red enamel stovepipe that rises several stories in the atrium of the house. The atrium acts like a huge duct, carrying heated air up into grilles in the attic ductwork. From there, it’s then redistributed throughout the home to keep temperatures comfortable.

“Heating costs for this home are so low because the sun is responsible for the lion’s share of the heat,” says Kosmer. “Our passive solar house was constructed so that it retains heat and moves it through the home in a ducted air heat transfer system.

“The efficiency of the house is based on two things—the amount of solar gain (heat) I get from the sun during the day and how much of that heat we can efficiently keep from dissipating out. Overcast days and shorter daylight hours are the conditions we have during the winter months that make this house work hard to obtain solar energy.

“On sunny days our hot water solar panels help reduce heating costs. They preheat the water in my hot water tank. When I am not using wood, propane uses a hot water system to heat the house. When the water is already preheated to a higher temperature that means the propane heater has to use less fuel to deliver heat.”

Kosmer, builder John Carrigan with Building With Integrity, and Bruce Brownell of Adirondack Alternative Energy, all worked together to carefully select the products used to construct the three-story home back in 2007. As the solar engineer on the project, Brownell specified four-inch thick rigid polyurethane on the exterior walls, under the roof and beneath the one-foot concrete slab. A state-of-the-art boiler was added to include supplemental heat during the coldest weather. And, pre-finished concrete siding with a 50-year warranty covers the home’s exterior.

For more details on the Kosmer home, visit www.solarhouseproject.com.

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