$18 electric bills and a smaller carbon footprint

$18 electric bills and a smaller carbon footprint

Bob Korfhage and Cindy Roché are understandably pleased with the miniscule power bills they’ve received since moving into their new solar-powered home in March. But it wasn’t the money that drove the Medford couple to build an energy-efficient home. It was the desire to lessen their impact on the earth and to have a home that reflected their values and lifestyle.

“We both wanted to have a home that had a small carbon footprint,” says Cindy, a writer, editor and naturalist who, among other endeavors, is editor of Kalmiopsis, the journal of the Native Plant Society of Oregon.

“We were interested in reducing our use of electricity, and we talked to the designer about that from the beginning,” says Bob, an avid bicyclist who is retired from the Bureau of Land Management and writes a semi-weekly cycling column for the Mail Tribune.

Working with local designer Bob Vos, whom they knew from the Native Plant Society, Bob and Cindy designed a house they describe as a blend of old and new technology.

The new technology includes a three-kilowatt solar energy system and a solar water heater. All but two of the 65 light bulbs in the home on David Lane are energy-saving compact fluorescents. During the day they rarely need lights, because they installed solar light tubes. The front-loading washing machine and dryer, made by Asko in Sweden, are state-of-the-art units that use a fraction of the water and electricity of conventional machines.

Their dual-flush toilets, made in Australia by Caroma, use 50 to 75 percent less water. Their Homestead wood stove boasts the highest heat-efficiency and lowest emissions of any stove on the market. Their Whitewater septic system, so new it was only approved for use in Oregon this year, is a mini-water treatment plant that supposedly yields water clean enough to drink.

On the retro end of the technology scale are a root cellar, extensive vegetable gardens, and what Cindy jokingly calls her solar clothes dryer: an outdoor clothes line where she hangs her laundry to dry.
The monthly electricity bills for their 2,080-square-foot house have hovered between $15 and $18, while their neighbors average $150. The average home uses 1,000 kilowatts of electricity a month. They average 338, and they generate most of what they use. Their electric meter provides a running tally of the energy they generate and the greenhouse gases they save. Since December, they had generated 2,155 kilowatts of electricity and saved 4,310 pounds of greenhouse gases.

The solar-energy system cost $23,800 to install, but after rebates from the Energy Trust of Oregon and tax credits from the state and feds, their net cost was $9,800. The solar water heater cost $6,700 to install. After rebates and tax credits, the net cost was $2,040.

With their monthly energy savings, the systems will eventually pay for themselves, but Bob and Cindy say that focusing on payback for their investment misses the point.

“Where do people get the concept that the solar cells should pay for themselves?” Cindy asks. “Do you say that about your roof, or your countertops, or anything else in your home?”

“If you think about what’s happening with our environment and look around at all the high-end homes going up...” Bob says. “People are spending a million dollars-plus, and then saying they can’t afford to put in a solar water heater.

“In today’s paradigm, we should be thinking beyond our lifetime. We’re not going to fix these problems unless people take the small steps to do some of these things. Everybody should be doing something to help out.”

Bob and Cindy received Energy Star certification for their home. It was inspected by an Energy Star verifier at various stages of construction. At the end, the house received a blower door test to make sure it was tightly sealed, and a duct blaster test, to make sure no heat was being lost through leaky ducts.

“When they did the blower door test it was so tight they made us install another fan in the bathroom for better air exchange,” Bob says.

“There really isn’t that much more you have to do to make it an Energy Star-certified home,” says Jason Vos, of Jason Vos Homes, who built the house. “The biggest things are more insulation in the attic and floors, sealing the sheetrock to the walls, and sealing the heating ducts. It really doesn’t cost that much more to do, but it will save money down the road and is better for everybody involved.”

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