“Solar always pays a tax-free dividend; it doesn’t go down like the stock market.”
— Orlo Stitt
After securing the support trusses, the crew lays photovoltaic panels side by side in a predetermined section of the roof.When the Stitts’ home won the EnergyValue Housing Award, it was a model of sound passive solar design. The home was also “photovoltaic ready”–as in, ready and waiting. With the utility at that time unwilling to budge on net metering, Stitt was unable to integrate an active solar system on the grid until January 2006, when Arkansas passed interconnection legislation. Now his meter sometimes runs backwards, the way he had always hoped it would. And he’s selling solar every chance he gets.
“My house has been a research house for the last eight years. I’m working on a progressive plan to minimize utility bills,” Stitt says.
“For the last seven years, up until just recently, it has operated as a very energy-efficient, passive solar home. The house has a very tight ICF structure, with just .07 natural air changes per hour. Our utility bills were averaging just $65 per month for 3,295 square feet-two and a half times less than other homes around here.”
PASSIVE SOLAR DESIGN
“We build for passive solar design every chance we get. It makes a house unique. And passive solar design along with other energy efficiency measures can reduce energy costs very significantly.”
“Passive solar makes a lot of sense. It’s so affordable for the customer. It is cost effective, and it makes you more in touch with the weather and the great outdoors. I always point out, ‘houses have four sides and therefore face four directions.’ The buyer needs to think about where the sun is, how it can be used in winter, and how to keep it out in summer. Otherwise, it’s like putting your feet in the oven and head in the refrigerator and expecting you’ll be comfortable.”
“For a passive solar design, we use overhangs and low-e, argon-filled windows on all sides.
The placement of the house on the property is planned to minimize utility bills year round. In the northern hemisphere, the sun is high overhead in summer, and in the winter it drops down to the south. We use faux roofs that create an eave over the windows to control the sun in the house, just like your eyebrows shade your eyes. Sometimes we extend a porch for the western sun.”
“Of course, you want to consider beautiful views, too. It’s an art to place a house; there’s no right or wrong. In the house and site plans, we like to have lots of glass and orientation to the south. Even the landscape plan is a matter of where we need to put deciduous trees to let in winter sun or coniferous trees that will break the prevailing wind to the north or northwest.”
“When my house was built, Arkansas had not yet passed legislation requiring utilities to offer net metering options. Some folks would do ‘guerilla solar’ anyway–net metering without the approval or knowledge of the utility–but we wanted to do it officially and be able to tell our customers what we were doing.”
“Years back, the state passed legislation that you could send power back to the grid, but there were holes in it. The utility could pay you 2 cents for your power, and charge you 9 cents for theirs.”