Solar Stewardship

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Homeowner Candace Gossen at her eco-renovated Portland home.
Homeowner Candace Gossen at her eco-renovated Portland home.
Green and blue glass bottles get a second life in a whimsical garden wall.
Green and blue glass bottles get a second life in a whimsical garden wall.
A large picture window on the south side of the house
A large picture window on the south side of the house lets in lots of natural light.
The garage apartment features straw-bale insulated walls
The garage apartment features straw-bale insulated walls for improved thermal performance.
A model of a living roof serves as a neighborhood education tool.
A model of a living roof serves as a neighborhood education tool.
Recycled materials, and renewable energy technologies, come together
Recycled and salvaged materials, as well as renewable energy technologies, come together to create an efficient and comfortable urban oasis.
A Solar Hot Water Collector and a PV Array
A 4- by 10-foot solar hot water collector and a 1,540-watt PV array provide heat and power to the home.
The drain-down solar hot water system
The drain-down solar hot water system has been working well for years.
The straw bale studio makes a cozy office/living space.
Tucked into the corner of the yard, the straw bale studio make a cozy office/living space.
Interior of the straw bale studio
Interior of the straw bale studio
PV System's Electrical Equipment
Six months of the year, the home’s PV system produces more energy than its inhabitants use. During the winter months, the system offsets about 30% of the five residents’ usage.
PV Array on a 12-foot pole mount
Historic district zoning made roof-mounted PV taboo, but ironically, this highly visible, 12-foot pole mount was legit.
Biodiesel storage tanks share the laundry room.
Biodiesel storage tanks share the laundry room.
The solar hot water system
This solar hot water system also serves a space-heating function, supplying heat to the hydronic radiators in the house.
Hydronic radiators in the house.
The solar hot water system supplies heat to these hydronic radiators in the house.
The solar-heated hot tub
The solar-heated hot tub is heated by a 4- by 8-foot solar collector (not shown) through a copper coil, which can be seen at the bottom of the tub.
Rainwater collection offsets water use and cost
Rainwater collection offsets water use and cost, for summertime irrigation.
Art and functionality combine in the bottlewall
Art and functionality combine in the bottlewall, and throughout the property.
Art and functionality combine throughout the property.
Art and functionality combine in the bottlewall, and throughout the property.
Homeowner Candace Gossen at her eco-renovated Portland home.
Green and blue glass bottles get a second life in a whimsical garden wall.
A large picture window on the south side of the house
The garage apartment features straw-bale insulated walls
A model of a living roof serves as a neighborhood education tool.
Recycled materials, and renewable energy technologies, come together
A Solar Hot Water Collector and a PV Array
The drain-down solar hot water system
The straw bale studio makes a cozy office/living space.
Interior of the straw bale studio
PV System's Electrical Equipment
PV Array on a 12-foot pole mount
Biodiesel storage tanks share the laundry room.
The solar hot water system
Hydronic radiators in the house.
The solar-heated hot tub
Rainwater collection offsets water use and cost
Art and functionality combine in the bottlewall
Art and functionality combine throughout the property.

Driven by her desire to set an example for others and create a healthy environment for her son, Candace Gossen tackled a rehab of her 1924 two-bedroom bungalow in a historic neighborhood in southeast Portland.

“When I bought the house, it had bars on the windows and a chain-link fence around it. It was a very closed-off place,” says the 45-year-old mother of one. “I wanted to bring life back to it and make it a healthy home.”

Candace updated the home over the course of 12 years—one project at a time as her budget allowed. She had an edge when it came to the DIY improvements—a bachelor’s degree in architecture, a master’s degree in building science, and a decade of hands-on practice with sustainable principles. Shortly after purchasing the home, she set up a studio devoted to teaching ecological design. Even with her resources and know-how, she chose to keep the projects simple, doable, and affordable. Her approach followed the life mantra of Buckminster Fuller: You see what needs to be done and you just do it. Do more with less.

Candace initially improved the home’s energy efficiency through simple upgrades and common-sense measures. She removed the bars and grates from the large south-facing window in the living room to capitalize on some passive solar gain. In lieu of curtains or blinds, deciduous trees outside the south-facing window provide shading during the warmer months and allow some passive solar gain through in the winter. Energy-efficient lighting and new Energy Star appliances—including a super-efficient 10-cubic-foot refrigerator—rounded out her energy strategy. Lastly, the much-anticipated demise of the home’s 40-year-old oil furnace gave Candace the chance to reduce the home’s dependency on fossil fuel (see below).

“I wanted the home to show options to homeowners and put the technology in the open—outside—so people passing by could see what we did,” she says. “Most people—me included—cannot afford to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on home improvements for the sake of sustainability and efficiency.”

Instead, Candace focused on low-cost, do-it-yourself solutions that “make sense for the average homeowner.” To support her sustainable lifestyle and make the community available to others, she eventually converted the finished basement and the garage into two rental apartments.

The house proved to be the perfect demonstration piece for her design studio as well as an ideal classroom for the workshops she teaches through the local community college and university. “It’s really important that I give back more than I take,” she says. “Using this house to show what can be done and teaching through the various projects seemed like a natural way to be a steward for change.”

She used many of the projects to provide her students with hands-on instruction and often invited people in the community to participate. Her home is a favorite on several home tours in the area—including last year’s Build it Green! Tour of Homes, where a record number of people turned out to admire their work. Here are a few of the applications that had the crowds stretching on their tiptoes for a second look.

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