Showcasing Solar: Page 2 of 3

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Touring an Earth Advantage-certified “Platinum” home
The Clarks’ Earth Advantage-certified “Platinum” home.
Velux solar water heating system
Mike Davis of SOS Plumbing explains the Clarks’ Velux solar water heating system.
Real Goods solar tour
One of the earliest solar tours was organized by Real Goods in the mid-1990s.
Solar tour home in Frederick, Maryland
Many, but not all, tour homes feature photovoltaic systems, like this duplex in the North Pointe community in Frederick, Maryland.
Solar tour home in Portland, Oregon
Tour homes showcase a variety of building efficiency techniques. This Portland, Oregon, home uses a curtain wall to pack in additional insulation.
A mock-up wall assembly
A mock-up wall assembly, including window flashing, air sealing, and two layers of exterior insulation, provides a model for the construction crew to follow during a home’s deep energy retrofit.
Aerated autoclaved concrete block
High-performance materials like this aerated autoclaved concrete block can contribute greatly to a home’s overall energy efficiency.
Marilyn Pedretti, solar tour participant
Like Marilyn Pedretti, many solar tour participants are pioneers, leading the way to creating more sustainable buildings.
Touring an Earth Advantage-certified “Platinum” home
Velux solar water heating system
Real Goods solar tour
Solar tour home in Frederick, Maryland
Solar tour home in Portland, Oregon
A mock-up wall assembly
Aerated autoclaved concrete block
Marilyn Pedretti, solar tour participant

Beyond Solar

Today, the tour’s scope has broadened to include many aspects of greener, more sustainable building; however, solar remains the foundation. A project must include active or passive solar features to be eligible, says Mike DiGrazia, NST coordinator from 2005 to 2008. “But we emphasize that first you want to increase energy efficiency—plug up the leaks, etc.—then put on your solar.”

The local RVGS tour included presentations on solar water heaters and PV systems, including an explanation of microinverter technology and a demonstration of online monitoring. At the Clarks’ house, which features a “laundry-to-landscape” greywater system, visitors learned about Oregon’s new greywater code. At the second stop on the tour, an Earth Advantage Gold-rated spec house built by River Lane Homes, a building company based in southern Oregon, project manager Dustin Knapp talked about indoor air quality and ducts; Gant and Earth Advantage technical specialist John Spillman demonstrated a blower door test and discussed the energy performance score concept (see “What is EPS?” sidebar).

Three hundred miles to the north, the City of Portland and sponsor Green Depot hosted a companion information fair the same day as the self-guided Build it Green! (BIG) tour. Drop-in workshops were also held at tour sites for the first time. Workshops ranged from rainwater harvesting and Passive House construction (see “Passive House in Portland” profile, opposite page) to greywater reuse and accessory dwellings, which are becoming a popular option for Portland homeowners wanting to build small, green structures on their properties.

“Last year, the tour included about one-third commercial and public buildings,” says Braude. “For me, this was exciting.” She believes the trend signifies green building’s entrance into the mainstream market.

Encompassing 10 states, the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) is the largest ASES chapter and hosts the biggest single solar homes tour in the country: the Green Buildings Open House (GBOH). Though the tour is largely aimed at consumers, its intent is to stimulate the market for green building and support building professionals who emphasize sustainability and energy efficiency.

Mary Biddle, NESEA’s director of professional development, says NESEA changed the program last year. The 2012 tour included 300 sites, half as many as the year before. “We focused on the best, most dedicated examples,” says Biddle. These included retrofits and renovations that are net-zero or net-positive.

Last year, NESEA teamed up with EnergySage to create a web page for every project featured on the consumer tour. Users could filter projects by location, manufacturers, mechanical systems, and other features, guiding themselves on a virtual tour of the homes. Braude says ASES hopes to adopt a similar template to facilitate such tours, though she’s careful to point out that a virtual tour can never take the place of physically visiting a property and talking with homeowners, builders, and architects.

In 2012, NESEA also hosted a special “Pro Tour” for building tradespeople, consisting of three Boston-area projects participating in National Grid’s pilot Deep Energy Retrofit program (see “Quincy DER” profile). “The architects and builders associated with each project were on site to speak, practitioner to practitioner,” says Jennifer Marrapese, NESEA’s executive director. Participants could even earn continuing education credits through the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

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