She wanted classic style, he wanted a net-zero energy house.

July 26, 2015
Jamie Clark, a Lexington energy consultant and contractor, renovated an older home in Chevy Chase to see if he could create a "net zero" energy house that looks like a typical house most people in Lexington want to own. So far, his project has been a success.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Jamie Clark, a Lexington energy consultant, renovated a circa 1958 house in Chevy Chase to see if he could create a “net zero” energy house that looks like a typical Lexington house. Photos by Tom Eblen

The solar panels that help power Jamie Clark's renovated house in Chevy Chase are hidden on the back roof, visible only from the very back of his back yard.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The solar panels that help power Clark’s renovated house in Chevy Chase are hidden on the back roof, visible only from the very back of his back yard.

 

When Jamie and Haley Clark decided to move closer to town and Christ the King School, where their two young daughters are students, they each knew what kind of house they wanted. Trouble was, they didn’t want the same thing.

“She wanted a very Southern Living house,” Jamie Clark said, referring to the lifestyle magazine. “I wanted a net-zero house.”

Kentucky doesn’t have many net-zero houses, which use insulation, solar power and other technology to create as much energy as they use over the course of a year. And few of them look like the traditional homes that most Lexington buyers want.

Jamie Clark of Lexington is an energy-efficiency consultant and contractor.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Jamie Clark

Clark, who works as an energy-efficiency consultant and sells geothermal systems for Climate Control Heating & Air, took that as a challenge.

“Part of my goal was to prove that you could build net zero in Chevy Chase,” he said as he stood outside the house they bought two years ago and drastically renovated. “This would fit in in any neighborhood in Lexington.”

Clark searched Chevy Chase for a house for sale with the right orientation to the sun. He found a one-story ranch on Prather Road, built in 1958 with salvaged brick, and began renovations. Haley Clark sketched what she wanted, and architect Van Meter Pettit turned her ideas into construction drawings.

The Clarks rearranged the existing house and added about 1,000 square feet. The result was 2,978 square feet of living space above ground, plus 1,856 in the finished basement.

They put the master suite on the first floor and added a second story with Cape Cod dormers in the bedrooms of their daughters, Alexandra 8, and Catherine, 5. The girls’ double bathroom was designed with their teenage years in mind.

“I just turned 40 and I never plan to move again,” Clark said. “We were really mindful of growing in this house.”

The first step in creating a net-zero house is insulation; less energy used means less must be generated. The Clarks’ contractors installed Icynene spray-foam insulation and energy-efficient Anderson 400 Series low-E windows.

Clark drilled five, 200-foot wells and put in a geothermal system for heating, cooling and hot water. He installed a Climate Master Trilogy 45 heat pump and a highly insulated iGate water tank.

Clark said he spent about $900 on LED light bulbs, whose light quality is comparable to traditional incandescent bulbs. LEDs cost 10 times more than traditional bulbs but use 1⁄10 the electricity and last 10 times longer.

The only incandescent bulbs in the house are on chandeliers that look better with “pretty” bulbs. And there are motion sensors in the girls’ playroom to turn lights on and off automatically.

Jamie Clark installed a super-insulated water heater that works off the geothermal system.

Clark installed a super-insulated water heater that works off the geothermal system.

“It makes a lot more sense to just conserve than to put more solar panels on the roof,” Clark said. “Back in February, when we hit minus 18, I was using less power than the microwave at Super America to heat my house.”

Clark installed new Energy Star-rated appliances. The only natural gas the house uses is for the kitchen stove, and Clark said his monthly meter fee is much higher than the cost of the gas.

To create electricity, Clark installed 20 solar panels on the back roof. They are on the Kentucky Utilities grid, so the house draws power on cloudy days and adds power on sunny days.

Clark wired the system for 40 panels and plans to add more if he needs them. “I’m trying to talk my wife into a Tesla (electric car), and if we do that then I’ll put 20 more panels up there for charging it,” said Clark, who drives a Toyota Prius.

Like other energy systems in the house, the solar panels aren’t visible. “The only place you can see them is if you stand at the back fence line,” he said.

The Clarks moved in last Thanksgiving, so it will be at least a few more months before they know if their house is net zero. Early results are encouraging. The electric bill in December, when there were only six days with more than six hours of sunshine, was $153. But the bills were $11 in March, $30 in April and $9 in May.

Clark did some of the work himself, and he has good contacts in the industry. For an average consumer working with a contractor, Clark’s energy-efficiency measures would cost about $50,000 more than conventional systems, adding about $200 a month to a 30-year mortgage.

“They will more than pay for themselves,” he said, adding that federal tax credits for solar and geothermal systems would reduce costs further.

Over time, savings will be even greater. Electricity costs in Kentucky typically double every decade, but as utilities move away from high-pollution coal, rates could rise more sharply.

“It’s a dream home, that’s for sure,” Clark said of the project that has made him and his wife happy. “It’s everything we wanted.”

A state-of-the-art geo-thermal heating and cooling unit in the basement is a big reason Jamie Clark's renovated house in Chevy Chase is close to net-zero energy usage over the course of the year.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A state-of-the-art geo-thermal heating and cooling unit in the basement is a big reason Clark’s renovated house in Chevy Chase is close to net-zero energy usage over the course of the year.

Jamie Clark's wife wanted a "Southern Living" house, and the energy consultant and contractor wanted a super energy-efficient house. So his renovated house in Chevy Chase has both high style and almost no net energy use over the course of the year, thanks to solar panels, geo-thermal heating and cooling and high-level insulation. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Clark’s wife wanted a “Southern Living” house, and the energy consultant and contractor wanted a super energy-efficient house. So his renovated house in Chevy Chase has both high style and almost no net energy use over the course of the year, thanks to solar panels, geo-thermal heating and cooling and high-level insulation.


New ‘Net Zero’ school saves energy and money

August 25, 2010

RICHARDSVILLE — This rural community near Bowling Green looks like a tableau of 20th-century Americana, right down to the stone-covered WPA school.

But the week after next, the 500 students and teachers of Richardsville Elementary will leave their 1930s building for a new one next door that is the latest in environmentally friendly 21st-century design. It will be the first school in Kentucky, and one of the first in the nation, to be “net-zero” — generating as much energy as it consumes.

Expect to see more like it. That’s because this 77,000-square-foot school cost about the same to build as a conventional one but will be substantially cheaper to operate.

“The important thing this school shows people is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a sustainable building that saves energy and money,” said the architect, Ken Stanfield of the Lexington firm Sherman Carter Barnhart.

Richardsville might seem like an unlikely place to be on the vanguard of “green.” But this school is the result of years of collaboration between Sherman Carter Barnhart and a forward-thinking Warren County school system. The fast-growing county has built and renovated many schools in recent years, and each has experimented with energy-saving materials, design and construction techniques.

Thanks to those experiments, Warren County has saved $5.3 million on its utility bills since 2003, said Jay Wilson, the school district’s energy manager. That’s enough to pay a year’s salaries and benefits to 79 teachers, he said.

Richardsville Elementary brings together all of those energy-saving lessons: It will consume only 26 percent of the energy used by a conventional school its size. The building is oriented with the sun, and windows are strategically placed, including an insulated clerestory window that runs across the center of the roof to let sunlight into the interior gymnasium and lunchroom.

Mirrored tubes reflect light from the roof into the school’s second-story classrooms and hallways. Automated systems balance natural and artificial light throughout the day, but teachers can override them when necessary.

The school’s Insulated Concrete Form walls — in which concrete is poured into polystyrene forms — were economical and efficient to build, and they produce superior insulation. And because they can withstand winds of 250 mph, “you’re looking at a safer structure for the kids to be in during a storm,” Wilson said.

Most floors are stained and polished concrete, which will save substantially on janitorial costs, Wilson said. The gymnasium floor is made of fast-growing bamboo rather than hardwood.

The geothermal heating and cooling system saves electricity, as does the lunchroom kitchen. In a typical school this size, Stanfield said, the kitchen consumes about 22 percent of the entire building’s energy. That will be dramatically reduced by using energy-efficient ovens and steam cookers. An added benefit: the cooked food will be healthier.

“We’ve been trying so many things over the years that building a net-zero school wasn’t pie in the sky,” Stanfield said. “It was the next logical step.”

That next step involved installing two kinds of solar panels to generate electricity: a thin film attached to the roof with industrial-strength Velcro and 1,200 square feet of panels in one corner of the parking lot. The school will feed excess power into the Tennessee Valley Authority’s grid on sunny days, drawing it out on cloudy ones.

State guidelines say new schools should cost no more than about $200 per square foot to build, Stanfield said. Richardsville Elementary cost $156, and the solar-panel system was an additional $39, for a total of $195 per square foot. The solar-panel system will pay for itself in 14 years but is warranted for 20 years, he said.

For all of its practicality, the school also is attractive, especially considering that “it’s really just a two-story box,” Stanfield said. The building is filled with light and space, and it has architectural elements and interior stone trim that echo the 1930s school. (The old school will be demolished, and the rubble will be recycled as fill for a new ball field.)

Richardsville Elementary is designed to be good for the environment and the school district’s bottom line, but it also will be a conservation lesson for students. The solar panels’ performance will be shown on video screens in the front hallway, and the school’s design and other systems will be incorporated into the curriculum.

“Not every school district is going to want to run out and put solar panels on the roof tomorrow, but everything else we did here is really simple,” Stanfield said. “The big thing is convincing people you don’t have to step out of your comfort zone too far. You don’t have to count on technology that isn’t tested. It’s just using everything we already know and sweating the details.”

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