June 3, 2012
There has never been a time that we needed to have connections of care, respect and trust more than we do now. Builder Sue Cosentini and Designer Rob Morache have combined carefully considered design, aspects of co-housing, and sustainability and a deep communication focus to create small urban eco-villages that foster and support these connections with each other and the Earth.
Our update is: We are starting construction in June!!
We have two of our 3 resident/member households and we are interviewing applicants for the third house that we working hard to get grant money for so that it can be affordable to a moderate income family. We are committed to breaking the code on affordability in co-housing. Just as in nature or any eco-system non-homogeneity yields vibrancy, resiliency, and an access to what is NOT known. The unknown is where creativity and new answers come from. We have to do what it takes to enhance diversity. It is crucial that the network of conversations be dynamic and evolving, you are not going to get that when you are talking with yourself! I am committed to that.. and it is not easy in construction as the all costs are prohibitively high.
Our houses are going to built in the Passivhaus model. The piece that we have been wringing our hands over for awhile and continually evaluating is the best way to heat the homes and provide hot water.
We have evaluated a number of space and domestic hot water heating systems.
We looked at it all: PV powered air source heat pumps, solar thermal, resistance electric, masonry heaters, geothermal, and lots of combinations thereof: Where we landed is individual PV arrays for each house that will power the basic electrical needs and a district (shared by all the houses) bio-mass boiler. We wanted to aggregate the roof areas for one shared PV system and unfortunately when you do that it is considered commercial by NYSEG (local energy utility) and the entities that offer the incentives, which in this case it obviously is not. The problem with being categorized commercial is that the incentives are much lower. Turns out our aggregated roof areas are still not enough to power the space heating needs of the 4 homes, but it if were this would be a rather tragic outcome of regulations not keeping up with real time developments. You can imagine a grouping of existing homes consolidating their roof areas, if one house has really good solar exposure and another not so good they could combine roof areas and have non-coal, non-fracking-gas-based power source that they could share the cost of installing. With sub-metering devices the laborious calculations to determine who pays what are eliminated. We have to make it easier for people to come together and share resources, energy, tools and their lives, not harder!
We are not doing the aggregate system for exactly this reason– the incentives are not as high with a shared system as they are on an individual basis.
It is important to note that these homes are much like the new paradigm we are moving towards of integration where everything is connected and related. They are like living organisms. The heat system is inextricably linked to the building envelope which is linked to the heat recovery system and all tied into the building Architecture in terms of what the organization and orientation of the spaces and windows does to the heat and air flow in the house.
So what we are doing: PV system, most likely leased, for electrical needs, with our space and water heating needs met with a shared or “district” biomass boiler. This is an extremely involved system in of itself with a series of accumulator tanks in each house that serve both the space heating and hot water needs. We intend to super insulate the tanks so that the boiler fires as little as possible in both winter and summer. We are still looking at possibly using PV powered airsource heat pumps for our summer hot water needs so that we do not have to fire the boiler during the summer. The air source heat pumps will work well in the summer as the ambient air will obviously be at a higher temperature. It will come down to cost; biomass pellets vs the capital cost of the pumps.
We settled on this combination of systems out of looking at what our needs are. The houses we are building require very little space heat. In fact our hot water loads are bigger than our space heating loads, and we still frequently have two weeks of extreme cold in this climate so the system has to be able to handle that. And one or our houses is an existing home and as such is a relative hog when it comes to heating fuel needs. So we had to factor all that into our thinking.
We wanted to use renewable energy sources. We wanted to keep capital costs down, partially because with such a small amount of heat needed we did not want to spend a lot on that aspect. We wanted to have our electricity be renewable as well and with the new solar leasing packages and incentives this has become somewhat of a no-brainer.