Man builds most energy-efficient home he could

Jan 29, 2013 by Craig Sailor

Saving money was never on Dennis Kaech's mind when he built his Olympia, Wash., home. But saving energy was.

"I wanted to see how many crazy things you could put in a house," Kaech said on a recent winter day in his light-filled home on the city's west side.

By "crazy things" he means energy producers and heat conservers. Kaech, 69, is a retired high school science teacher. Fun for him is a day spent calculating how many kilowatts he can save with a new heating system.

Kaech has spent $350,000 on the house. But it's not a gold plated palace with luxe finishings. The money is inside the walls, under the floors and on the roof. He wanted to build the most he possibly could. He appears to have succeeded.

"I'd probably get 50 cents on the dollar," Kaech said of his investment - if he sold it today.

The home features a windmill, , passive and enough insulation for a colony on Mars.

Kaech bought the property in 1978 but didn't begin construction until 2008 after tearing down the previous home on the site. In November, he moved in.

The house is open and inviting - mostly. Directly behind a bank of south-facing windows is a formidable rock wall. It's not some horrible blueprint screw-up. Kaech designed the house that way. The rock wall, recycled from the previous house's chimney, is heated by solar rays and by a wood burning stove. In the evening, the wall releases heat back into the house.

They aren't the only heat-holding rocks in the house. A concrete box underneath the living room holds more than four tons of rock. It absorbs excess heat and then releases it as the house cools.

The walls of the wood-framed home are built like a layer cake. Underneath HardiePlank siding is a layer of acting as a thermal break, followed by house wrap over subpaneling. Inside the 2-by-6 framing, Kaech installed 4-inch batts of fiberglass insulation and had a 2-inch layer of blown-in foam insulation. Lastly, sheetrock followed.

The walls have a total combined R-value of 31. R-value is a measure of a material's ability to block heat transfer. The higher the R-value the better the insulation is. Building codes require a minimum of R-20 for exterior walls. For his north and west facing walls Kaech used prefabricated insulated panels manufactured by Premier Panels of Fife. He also minimized windows in the north walls—an energy saving move.

The downstairs holds a modest living room, kitchen, bathroom and garage while the upstairs holds his loft bedroom, bathroom and a separate living area. The living space totals 1,400 square feet.

Both levels have 2-inch thick concrete floors. Hidden in them are 0.5-inch wide tubes filled with water that provide radiant heat. A water heater, set at 105 degrees, is dedicated to the system. Ceiling fans push heat back down toward the living spaces.

Complicated enough yet? It's only the beginning. The radiant heat system and domestic water supply are both heated using geothermal technology. It's not the kind of steaming hot geothermal you see at Yellowstone. The system uses plain old Olympia ground heat.

Four horizontal holes were drilled on Kaech's property and filled with tubes containing water. It's a closed loop system that absorbs heat from the ground (which is usually at 50 degrees) and then, using a heat pump, transfers the energy to the radiant heat and domestic hot water systems. Think of it as the opposite of a refrigerator.

"It only raises the tank 5 or 6 degrees per hour," Kaech said. But that's enough to get the hot water tank to 115 degrees. That may be enough for a shower but not to do dishes. Not to worry: he has a backup - or two.

A set of solar panels on the roof runs heated water (up to 200 degrees even in January) to a transfer system (another closed loop) that heats the domestic water system in conjunction with the geothermal. A third and final backup is provided by standard electrical coils.

Those aren't the only solar panels on Kaech's roof. Panels of photovoltaic cells produce 4,680 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

In the summer Kaech's system creates more electricity than he can use. The excess is sent to the power grid. Puget Sound Energy doesn't pay customers for excess kilowatts but they will credit accounts - making a battery superfluous. In the winter, when short grey days produce less electricity, Kaech can use those banked kilowatts.

A look over Kaech's bills shows the results. In December 2012 PSE delivered 584 kWh while his system produced 81 kWh. But in August Kaech's system produced 663 kWh. (Kaech was not yet living in the house in August and PSE delivered only 99 kWh).

Banked kilowatts - if there are any - are zeroed out in April. But Kaech said he'll never be a net producer. He expects the panels, over the course of a year, to provide half of his electricity needs.

The entire solar system cost Kaech $36,000 for parts and installation. That might seem like a high up-front cost but when one starts to do the math the figure doesn't seem so daunting.

First, the federal government gave Kaech a 30 percent tax credit off the installation costs. Additionally, because the solar system was manufactured in Washington (by Silicon Energy of Marysville), for every kilowatt he produces until 2020 the state (via PSE) pays him 54 cents. In the most recent year-long period he made $2,611.

Solar energy is often thought of as clean energy (compared with emission spewing power plants) but its production is not necessarily so.

"It's green in theory but to build a silicon cell takes a lot of energy," Kaech said.

A that rises above the home was supposed to add to the green electrical system but it has never functioned correctly. It's a sore point for Kaech - one of the home's few failures.

What is green in Kaech's home is his sewer system. The home has two effluent lines. A grey line drains bathroom sinks, tubs, showers and washing machines while a black line drains toilets, kitchen sinks and dishwashers. The grey line feeds into a 1,000 gallon cistern (along with rainwater from gutters) that can be used to water landscaping. The black line goes to the city's sewer system.

While the rest of us sweat over heating bills Kaech reclines in his 75 degree home, heated only by his wood stove and an occasional morning boost from the radiant floor system. He only has one regret.

"I should have built it when I was younger."

Explore further: Study shows how to power California with wind, water and sun

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User comments : 13

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Eikka
1 / 5 (3) Jan 29, 2013
It's cool, but

But that's enough to get the hot water tank to 115 degrees.


That's hot enough for heating purposes, but not hot enough for a shower because a hot water tank meant for water that comes out of a faucet has to be over 130 degrees here to prevent bacteria growth in the pipes.

The hot water heated by the tank should be hot enough that it kills bacteria in the pipes on the way to the mixer. Otherwise you could end up with the legionnaire's disease. It's a bacterium that likes to live in water that's between 77-115 F. That's their ideal living condition, and they can survive up to 122.

A mild case is like influenza, and a bad case gives you high fever and pneumonia, and can be deadly.
Valentiinro
1 / 5 (2) Jan 29, 2013
It's cool, but

But that's enough to get the hot water tank to 115 degrees.


That's hot enough for heating purposes, but not hot enough for a shower because a hot water tank meant for water that comes out of a faucet has to be over 130 degrees here to prevent bacteria growth in the pipes.

The hot water heated by the tank should be hot enough that it kills bacteria in the pipes on the way to the mixer. Otherwise you could end up with the legionnaire's disease. It's a bacterium that likes to live in water that's between 77-115 F. That's their ideal living condition, and they can survive up to 122.

A mild case is like influenza, and a bad case gives you high fever and pneumonia, and can be deadly.


Did you read the next paragraph?

"Not to worry: he has a backup - or two. A set of solar panels on the roof runs heated water (up to 200 degrees even in January)"
VendicarE
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 29, 2013
Meanwhile the temperature in the pipes bringing the water to the home are roughly 10'C.

Bacterial growth is prevented by chlorination.

"That's hot enough for heating purposes, but not hot enough for a shower because a hot water tank meant for water that comes out of a faucet has to be over 130 degrees here to prevent bacteria growth in the pipes." - Eikka

Yes. Temperature recommendations for hot water tanks are 140'F or higher to keep the water reasonably sterile in those situations where the supplied water is not sterilized before distribution.

Eikka should ask itself if the water in this tank is kept at 140'F or higher. Snicker.....

http://blog.rpu.o...ower.jpg

http://upload.wik...ower.png

http://somethingf...mp;h=632
dschlink
3 / 5 (2) Jan 29, 2013
I can only wonder how much the embedded energy for this place exceeds the lifetime savings? Any practical housing design has to balance capital costs with potential savings.
full_disclosure
1.9 / 5 (14) Jan 29, 2013
The 'Coward Herr Vendicar' has childishly changed his personal login profile, slightly, to avoid people following his name back through past comments..... Anyone interested in his cowardly death threats towards posters in the past comments section, follow them through the link below. http://phys.org/p...ndicarD/
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Jan 30, 2013
I can only wonder how much the embedded energy for this place exceeds the lifetime savings? Any practical housing design has to balance capital costs with potential savings.


You may be looking at it from the wrong perspective.

Try looking at it this way: how much money will he save during the lifetime of this home in electricity and sewerage costs?

I don't have any way of knowing for certain, but I can make an educated guess that, in 2013 dollars, he's saving at least 200 a month compared to a comparable home standard-built to minimum code requirements.

And that's without his windmill being functional.

dan42day
1.6 / 5 (7) Jan 30, 2013
On a sad note, Mr. Kaech was found dead today in his hermitically sealed super-insulated home, apparently the victim of asphyxiation.
Bob_Kob
1 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2013
Kaech has spent $350,000 on the house. But it's not a gold plated palace with luxe finishings. The money is inside the walls, under the floors and on the roof.


350k in Australia gets you a tin shed on a small block of land. Terrific real estate prices in the US it seems..
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Jan 30, 2013
Meanwhile the temperature in the pipes bringing the water to the home are roughly 10'C. Bacterial growth is prevented by chlorination.


Almost all natural bodies of water have the legionella bacterium in some amounts, and 10 C doesn't kill it. It merely puts it to sleep.

Yes. Temperature recommendations for hot water tanks are 140'F or higher to keep the water reasonably sterile in those situations where the supplied water is not sterilized before distribution.


Regardless of chlorination or oxygenation or other sterilizing measures used, it is still a good idea, and in some places mandated to keep your hot water tank actually hot because over the years some bacteria eventually will end up in the pipes and some bacteria eventually will survive among the chemicals.
s_gramstrup
2 / 5 (2) Jan 30, 2013
[water-waste] The grey line feeds into a 1,000 gallon cistern (along with rainwater from gutters) that can be used to water landscaping. The black line goes to the city's sewer system.
------

That's a terrible waste of resources in such a home! Waste -> bacteria -> (nutrients methane) -> algea -> (oxygene food oil)

A next-gen home does not have to produce more than a few kilo's of waste (person pr. year) the rest is converted to energy/reused.
antialias_physorg
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 04, 2013
That's a terrible waste of resources in such a home!

With infinite amounts of money you an surely build something better.
For the invetment I think he did a pretty good job.

It still seems too pricey for the average homeowner to contemplate, though.
DruidDrudge
1 / 5 (6) Feb 04, 2013
This guy is a couple of science classes short of a full load.
EyeNStein
1 / 5 (5) Feb 05, 2013
Glad there are early adopters around to try this stuff out. We eventually get the benefit of what works & they pay for what doesn't. And every one should have a hobby (Even an expensive one!)