Habitat celebrates with solar panels on Earth Day
Ryan Summerlin April 25, 2014
Habitat For Humanity Roaring Fork added a cherry on top of its latest project Tuesday when it installed a 4-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system to the Carbondale house of Adam and Tanell Lavender.
Over the past few Earth Days, the nonprofit organization has worked with Carbondale-based SunSense to install solar systems on the houses that it builds. It works well, said Scott Gilbert, president of the Habitat chapter, because the construction schedule usually is aligned so a symbolic gesture can be made with alternative energy on Earth Day.
“It’s our Earth Day celebration,” Gilbert said.
The solar system is one of the most visible of several green construction features at the Lavender house. Habitat will seek a platinum designation from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the set of ranking systems for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of green buildings.
“My mind is just blown. There are so many facets of it that we’re grateful for.”
Gilbert said he’s been told the project is in line to be the first platinum house on the Western Slope.
The green features begin with the site at the Keator Grove subdivision. It’s within one-half mile of schools, a bus stop, the library, a grocery store and many other services.
Water-efficiency features include low-flow toilets, showerheads and an Energy Star dishwasher and laundry machine. The landscape will highlight drought-tolerant plants and no sod.
The construction features highly insulating U-27 triple-pane windows, exterior walls with six inches of batten insulation between studs and 1½-inch rigid insulation on the exterior, an air filter that can handle the smallest particulates, a system to remove moisture and an automated lighting-control system that reduces energy by shutting off lights when rooms are empty and adjusts heating and cooling based on external temperatures.
The house has several design features to accommodate Adam, a former professional cyclist who had a mountain-bike accident on April 28, 2012. He is an incomplete quadriplegic, with some ability to use his arms and neck and sensation throughout his body.
The house was excavated lower to provide a finished floor elevation that accommodates Adam’s wheelchair. A donated elevator was installed to provide access from the basement to the second story of the 1,900-square-foot house. A therapy room is in the basement. An automated lift was installed in Adam’s bedroom to help him in and out of his chair.
“My mind is just blown,” Adam said. “There are so many facets of it that we’re grateful for.”
The former custom woodworker and cabinetmaker said he always dreamed of building his own house. The Habitat house is the next best thing.
The special features made it difficult to determine how large of a solar photovoltaic system was needed to qualify for LEED platinum, Gilbert said. They will have gauge electricity usage after Adam, Tanell and their two girls move into the house in July. Additional panels might have to be installed, Gilbert said.
Andy Lietz, a solar consultant for SunSense and leader on the Lavender project, said the system would produce about 4,250 kilowatt-hours per year. It will reduce the Lavender’s electricity bill by an estimated $450 per year, he said.
The system would produce more electricity if the panels could be oriented to the south. The house design requires the panels to be on the west slope of the roof, so the system won’t produce to its potential during mornings, Lietz said.
The Lavender project is the latest in the long partnership between SunSense and Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork. This is the 11th home by Habitat that SunSense has installed a solar system on since 2008. Installing the systems on Earth Day is a tradition.
“We do this as a SunSense community project,” Lietz said. The company donates its labor for installation and design. A crew of six installed the system Tuesday.
Solar industry partners assisted in the project. Expert Electric provided reduced labor. Suniva provided the solar panels at a deeply discounted price and companies Conergy, S: Flex and Zilla all provided associated equipment at a deep discount or at cost.
Gilbert said the only way Habitat could build the house was from discounted materials from Lowe’s and ProBuild as well as financial aid from major contributors Alpine Bank, Wells Fargo, Bank of Colorado and Big Horn Toyota. There are numerous contributors of smaller amounts.
More than 2,300 hours of labor have been contributed for the Lavender house thus far by volunteers, Gilbert said. Carbondale Rotary and River Valley Ranch Homeowners Association have each provided crews of at least eight people once per month since groundbreaking on the house in July 2013.
Even with the contributions and volunteer labor, the Lavender house likely will be the most expensive Habitat has ever undertaken, anywhere, according to Gilbert.
The house looks stately even partially completed. It offers stunning views of Mount Sopris.
Adam, 36, hopes to repay Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork by helping with planning and management at future projects in the Carbondale area.