Five years ago, our family moved to Woodstock, CT. We loved our unique historic post and beam home in Pomfret, despite its peculiarities and drafts. But we wanted more acreage. We looked around Pomfret for an old farm, but the cost was too high for us to get even a few more acres. Then we found a 22 acre parcel in Woodstock. We decided to build an energy efficient, sustainable farmstead with as much character as possible, given our budget. I also took on the challenge of acting as General Contractor.
The Fraga’s home recycles underground heat using a geothermal heat pump, and also captures energy from the sun via solar panels
on the roof. Photo by Medora Fraga
We had seen an example of a ‘green home’ in Pomfret with geothermal heat pump. We decided that using Mother Earth’s freely-provided cooling and heating properties would be a thing of beauty and a smart thing to do.
Geothermal technology is fairly simple. It is essentially a refrigerator in reverse. It comes in two main types: open or closed systems. An open system might use the deep water from a pond, cycling it in and out. A closed system circulates fluid in a pipe that either goes down a deep hole or lies in long trenches. The system provides extremely cheap air conditioning in the summer, and very efficient heating in the winter. The heat pump uses electricity to further warm the fluid to keep a home at the temperature you want. It also helps heat hot water, which defrays the installation cost.
Since we were building from scratch, we had our well drillers put in two extra well holes for a geothermal closed system. Laframboise gave us a break on the price since they were drilling our water well anyway. We had the heat pump installed by A&B Heating and Cooling from South Windsor, CT.
Since we loved the beauty and workmanship of antique New England homes and barns, we chose a timber frame construction by Sigfridson from Brooklyn, CT. The structural panels that cover the frame are very well insulated. Placing the majority of our windows on the southwest side of the house improved energy efficiency. We also oriented the house so we could add solar panels later as we could afford them.
This past spring we finally managed to add a solar array to our home. SolarWrights of Rhode Island installed a 40 panel 8.4kw Net Metering system. It is expected to cover approximately 75% of our power needs. Our goal is to reach 100% by conserving power. We’ve changed all our light bulbs over to compact florescent. We plan to lower the temperature a bit in the house during the winter. So far this summer, we have been generating twice as much power as we need. The extra power is sold back to CL&P for credit to be used during the winter.
So far, we are thrilled with all our energy saving systems. As energy costs continue to rise, the solar/geothermal combination has been a great comfort. We get to keep our carbon footprint small (which is good for the conscience) while also keeping more of our hard-earned cash.
I would offer one piece of advice to folks considering a geothermal system. Don’t try to put in a programmable thermostat. We found out the hard way that the system is much more efficient if you leave the temperature steady, or raise it no more than two degrees at a time. Other than that, the system is quiet and clean. Best of all, it didn’t cost much more to install in new construction than a standard oil heat and air combo. We feel it has been worth every penny.
Folks who want to pursue renewable energy options for their home don’t have to go it alone. There is a lot of help out there with costs for solar. CT pays about half of the installation and you can get a small federal tax break. New programs may be coming out to help with geothermal as well. We are happy to see that energy conservation and green living are finally making inroads in our society.
CELEBRATING AGRICULTURE: Stop by and see the Woodstock Conservation Commission’s display on renewable energy on Saturday, September 20, from 9-3 at the Woodstock Fairgrounds. Celebrating Agriculture is a fun, free event for the whole family. See a listing of events at www.celebratingagriculture.org