Solar Homes: Let the Sunshine In

  • By:  Theresa Wright

How do you want to spend your energy dollars heating your house, your pool, and your water heater? Rest assured that the utility company is more than happy to take your bucks, but women all over the Tidewater region are exploring a new solution that is as old as the sun. As members of the Hampton Roads Solar Group, they are learning how to build energy-efficient homes, as well as retrofit those they already own. In fact these gals are trailblazers in our region, and these experts are willing to share with others what they have learned. 

The Hampton Roads Solar Group (HRSG), an arm of the Hampton Roads Green Building Council, is comprised of volunteer women and men whose mission is to further the knowledge of how to use solar energy to power our homes. Armed with information—that sea level rise could inundate our area in the not-too-distant future; that fossil fuel use helps speed up that process; that the cost of fossil fuel is rising; and that the cost of fossil fuel use is more than just money—the HRSG is committed to educating the public about renewable solar energy use. 

Several women throughout the Hampton Roads area have chosen the solar route and are opening up their solar homes for the 6th Annual Solar Home Tour on October 5, 2013. One of those women is Ruth McElroy of Norfolk. She, her husband, and children share a house that uses solar photovoltaics (solar panels), a method of making electrical power directly from the sun. She also has solar hot water, a system in which the sun heats water running through special piping enclosed in a flat panel on her roof. 

Ruth and her family haven’t stopped there. They also have green roof full of plants that help keep the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Ruth also composts her kitchen scraps to help keep her native plant garden healthy, which incidentally is watered by captured rain water.

“Full of light, airy and sunny” is how Sue Crockett of Gloucester describes her house designed by husband Tom and built in 1985. Sue and Tom’s house is passive solar, which means it is heated with no moving parts. The house was built to capture the sun’s heat in the winter through south-facing windows, tight and highly insulated walls, and solar mass in the flooring to store the heat. Since we have hot summers here, they keep the heat out in the summer by adding shading overhangs over the windows and by ventilation. When designed into the home during building, passive solar is a highly cost-effective method. The house is also equipped with a solar water heater. In the last three years they have added photovoltaics to the roof and now produce as much electricity over the year as they use.

Sue Kanz of Virginia Beach uses another application of solar at her home: she heats her pool (and her domestic hot water) using solar energy. Solar pool heating is a highly effective application since costs are usually lower, and it pays back the cost in a fairly short time.

The cost of implementing solar power has gotten far less expensive than it used to be. It’s no longer on the fringe of energy use; it’s real and it’s here. What the women of the HRSG know is that solar energy is beneficial to our homes, our children’s future, and our planet. 

 

If you are interested in seeing these houses and twenty-one others on the tour, sign up for the 6th Annual Solar Home Tour on October 5th, 2013 by registering in advance at www.hrsolartour.com

 

For more information about Ruth McElroy’s energy-efficient home, visit www.themcelroys.com

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