Net-Zero Carbon Home and Cars Experiment – Highway to the Future or Costly Will-O’-The-Wisp?

Part I – Defining the Experiment
Disclaimer: I’ve been a natural gas expert and enthusiast for decades – none of the ensuing diminishes that in the slightest.  Natural gas will be around for decades, powering our homes, buildings, factories and cars.  We’re only trying to move the ball down the field!
1. The lure.
Joyce and I are building a home in St Michaels, Maryland, that will balance three basic goals – beauty, functionality, and environmental compatibility.  In that order.  The beauty part means living by the open water in a Charles Paul Goebel designed home with an Erin Paige Pitts interior – among the best designers in the business.  The functionality goal drove us to our wonderful designers, but also to local builder Brent Paquin and his experienced, practical, dogged crew.
For environmental compatibility, we had only ourselves to turn to.  With helpful tips from our designers and builder, mentors to the project, we set out to carry out our project in a series of steps that we could defend as arguably the best we could do, in light of the three sometimes inconsistent goals – beauty, functionality, environmental compatibility.
2. Decon
Deconstruction.  We purchased a lot in St Michaels with an older home already on it, owned by the late Rev. and Mrs. George Evans.  Rev. Evans served as chaplain of the U.S. Marine Corp, and we wanted to honor his service and homesite.  Rather than tear it down, we sought to deconstruct the house, literally dismantling it down to (but not including) the floors, siding and rafters.  All was donated to the Choptank Habitat for Humanity.
Deconstruction is a pretty new field, and practitioners are hard to find, and harder to schedule, so this process took up about a month, which we’re told is fast.  Thanks to local contractor Pete Bailey.
3. The plan
The house is now (March 15, 2018) about half completed, and the trades are underway – rough-in plumbing, gas (propane), low and high voltage electricity.  Over the next two months, our plan is to carry out these steps:

a) Geothermal – drilling 8 wells of 220 foot depth
b) Ground-source heat pumps, SEER 45, about as efficient as the market will offer today
c) Rooftop solar – 50 Sunpower high-efficiency 360-watt panels, thus 18 kw.
d) Battery storage – 3 Tesla powerwall battteries, enough to power the home through the night and, together with the solar panels, hopefully beyond in emergencies
e) Battery electric cars (not hybrid) powered by solar energy to the extent possible
f) Biodiesel motor for boating

In forthcoming blogs, we’ll report on each of the foregoing steps – economics and implementation, costs and benefits, and effectiveness in providing energy to the home and doing so without emitting carbon.  Watch this space!

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