by Gussie Fauntleroy
It was just a tantalizing tease of what’s out there, but the Baca Home Tour on Aug. 30 allowed a public peek into a few of the many Crestone area homes built with alternative materials, energy saving systems and creative, down-to-earth designs.
The Baca tour was one of three offered simultaneously during the 20th annual San Luis Valley Energy Fair. It featured five structures—four homes and a concrete vaulted book storage facility. Here are highlights from two of those homes.
Beauty and the Best (use of solar)
To forgo the generator as he constructed his off-grid home in the Grants, Steve Dossenback built a freestanding garage first. He installed his photovoltaic system’s controls and 16 batteries in the garage, and is moving them into the home’s utility room this fall.
Steve and Jill Dossenback’s cleanly laid-out, finely finished home is a 1,650-square-foot passive solar strawbale, which Steve designed. Paul Koppana of Skyhawk Construction served as consultant for the strawbale aspect and Jeremiah Bayes helped with the timber framing. Concrete floors and an interior adobe wall absorb and hold the sun’s heat and keep the home at least in the mid-to-upper 60s without backup heat, even through the coldest nights, Steve says.
A woodstove provides backup for cloudy weather. As an extra backup, Steve incorporated in-floor heating fueled by a Buderus instantaneous hot water boiler, which requires no storage tank and uses propane only on demand. Because the in-floor heat is needed infrequently, this was less expensive than an active solar system, he explains. For domestic hot water, the home has a Rinnai instantaneous water heater, also a highly efficient, tankless system.
With eight ground-mounted PV panels providing 1,440 watts in a 48-volt system, the Dossenbacks have all the electricity they need. “We have all the conveniences,” Steve says. That means high-rated Energy Star appliances, including a washer and dryer, dishwasher and garbage disposal.
But Steve and Jill’s home is about more than energy efficiency. Its clean design, fine workmanship and attention to detail make it a welcoming, aesthetically pleasing space. Among those details: diamond-finish plaster walls (with help from Bob Screws), which ended up with fine flecks of red, blue, and other colors in the plaster, an attractive—albeit inadvertent—touch.
Talmath Lakai of NewGen Energy helped create lovely dark concrete countertops; Steve built a gorgeous sliding, barn-style bedroom door of beetle-kill ponderosa pine; and Steve, whose business is Craig Electric, did all the home’s electrical work.
Look Ma: No tank!
Paul Shippee quips that his property is distinctive for the conspicuous absence of a propane tank. His home, high in the Chalets, doesn’t need one. Paul is a civil engineer who owns and runs the Crestone Solar School. He designed the two-story, 1,800-square-foot home to be heated by a combination of passive solar and active solar hot water for in-floor heat. Backup on cloudy days is a small woodstove into which he loads “a few wheelbarrows of wood” per winter, he says.
Beginning construction in 2002, Paul did most of the work on the house himself, with electrical help from Robin Blankenship, assistance from Michael Wasserman on the plumbing and solar system installation and some local labor. Paul chose a combination of materials for practicality as well as energy efficiency: rammed earth for the downstairs east, west and north walls and timber frame/glass for solar gain on the south wall. Upstairs walls are strawbale, to avoid the weight of rammed earth, and the downstairs floors are adobe.
The highlight of Paul’s largely self-heating house is a well-engineered closed-loop, drain-back solar hot water system, employing seven roof-mounted panels. While some hot water systems avoid freezing by incorporating glycol antifreeze, the drain-back system uses water that drains each night into a 12-gallon tank.
The reservoir tank is mounted high in an upstairs closet, so it stays warm but the water has a short distance to travel from the roof. Each morning, the air in the collectors and pipes trades places with the water in the reservoir tank, and the water-filled panels are ready to warm up again in the sun.
The solar hot water system provides domestic hot water as well as in-floor heating. Another distinctive feature of Paul’s system is wall heat in the upstairs bathroom, where radiant tubing is embedded in the mud plaster of the bathroom’s north wall.
When asked if he’s pleased with the energy efficiency, comfort and functioning of his home, Paul gave the answer we would love to hear from all Crestone builders, designers and homeowners: “I wouldn’t do anything differently!”