Due to the high insulative characteristics of straw, strawbale homes are reputed to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Air conditioning is generally unnecessary in the summer. In the winter, heat is easily retained within the high R-value walls. During the summer, we open the windows at night to allow the cool western breezes in. Closing the windows during the day keeps the house between 65 and 72 degrees all day long. In the winter, the masonry heater and radiant heat in the floor (powered by a drain-back solar system, which heats water), coupled with the passive design of the house, maintains the same temperatures as in the summer. Naturally this leads to great savings in energy costs.
When we lived here only part-time, our electricity bills never exceeded the basic fees assessed by Garkane Energy, our local cooperative. Even though we have only a few of the typical items that use electricity – refrigerator, washing machine, lights and computers – now that we live here full-time, our power usage has increased. We anticipated that. We do, however, own one huge electricity hog. That’s the hot tub. And boy does it eat kilowatts. We receive regular reminders of that fact in the form of monthly power bills.
When we built our house, we discussed the possibility of installing photovoltaic (PV) panels to produce electricity. At the time, the cost was prohibitive. In addition, Garkane Energy had fairly archaic net metering practices. Both of those situations have now improved. Plus, last year, Congress extended federal and state tax credits for PV systems for five more years. These things, in conjunction with one very high power bill in February, prompted us to call the local expert, Biggi Blondal of Thousand Lakes Solar, to assess our situation and give us a bid.
After discussing various options, he designed a system based on our average yearly electricity use. We’ll be able to add more panels in the future, and, when Tesla’s Powerwall battery becomes readily and affordably available in the United States, we can add that to our system as well. All of these features are important since it appears the price of coal-powered electricity will do nothing but increase.
We now have twenty solar panels on our roof. They are essentially invisible since they hug the roofline. Last month was the first full month Mr. Sol generated kilowatts for us. Our power bill was $16.06. And, when we file our 2016 taxes, we’ll receive tax credits that will pay for approximately 30% of the total cost of our PV system. Every sunny day makes us smile, not only for the beautiful day before us, but also for the electricity the PV panels are feeding into the power grid to offset the power we use every day.