Being environmentally conscious is not new to Debbie and Greg Ching. When they moved into their 1970s-era home eleven years ago, they began immediate efficiency upgrades to their all-electric, wood-framed house. They replaced old wood heaters with newer, more efficient models, which allowed them to reduce the use of the electric furnace and baseboard heat, and rely more on an abundant local renewable resource—firewood. To help slow heat loss through the home’s windows, they hung insulating shades. And bulb by bulb, they replaced nearly all of the incandescent lighting in the house with compact fluorescent lightbulbs. They also abandoned their electric clothes dryer in favor of a solar dryer (clothesline).
Although the house came with two solar hot water collectors mounted on the roof, they were not working. Greg and Debbie replaced them with four, 4- by 10-foot SunEarth collectors, which provide about 90 percent of their household hot water needs. A custom-designed 180-gallon tank stores the solar-heated water. With the future in mind, the Chings specified that extra heat-exchange loops be installed in the tank, which will allow hot water to be routed to a radiant floor heating system or to revitalize an old hot tub (which hasn’t been used since the pool was built).
In 1999, they installed a 2-kilowatt (KW) grid-tied photovoltaic (PV) array, with a small battery bank for backup during occasional utility outages. Roof space was already at a premium with four solar hot water collectors taking up the south-facing space, so a ground-mounted PV rack was used. In addition to their PV system, Greg and Debbie also bought into the Windsource program through Xcel Energy, the major electricity provider in Colorado. With this program, anyone buying electricity from the grid can pay an extra charge per month (about $3.75 for every 100 KWH) to ensure that their electricity use is offset by an equivalent amount of wind-produced energy.