Reaching for Net Zero, WV Home without utility bills

Berkeley Home Technologies (BHT) is a custom home builder and energy services company committed to helping homeowners live a greener lifestyle by using innovative technology and materials to supply the comforts of home while reducing or removing utility costs.

In the early fall of 2008 Karen Clister made a phone call to Jonathan Sherman, owner of Berkeley Home Technologies, requesting information on radiant heating systems. In June of 2010 Karen and her family moved into what may be the first Net Zero home in the state of West Virginia. . After three months of living in the home the energy bills are in the negative. The home has generated more energy than it has used, creating a credit on their electric bill.

The design of the home took nearly as long as the construction while all of the owners’ requirements were integrated and many sustainable materials and systems were analyzed for best cost vs. performance. At the first meeting with Karen and her husband Larry Findley the design goals of the project were set. Use sustainable and natural materials as much as possible, create a structure with retirement and aging in mind, include a separate suite for Karen’s mother, add plenty of storage space and finally, make it off-grid. In late August of 2009 ground was broken and the structure began to take shape. BHT utilized local resources where possible to reduce environmental footprint of the home’s construction.

The single family home features 2310 square feet of living space and is located on 109 acres of ridgetop farmland near Hazelton, WV in Preston County. The final product is of hybrid construction integrating Insulating Concrete Forms and engineered lumber for the structural shell with standing seam steel roofing and Hardi-plank fiber cement siding to endure the wind, rain and ice for decades. Pella windows provide access to the 360 degree view, a cooling summer breeze and an entry for the warming winter sun. The construction methods and use of BASF closed cell urethane foam insulation reduces the heating and cooling costs by approximately 60% over conventional stick frame construction. The farmland will continue as pasture and hayfield with the grading allowing a hay mower to be pulled nearly to the front door with exception of an 80’ x 80’ area for a vegetable garden below the wind tower.  

Integrated energy systems work to supply the significantly reduced electrical and heating requirements produced by Energy Star appliances and LED and compact fluorescent lighting throughout the home. A 2.3 KW photovoltaic array generates electricity from the sun to charge batteries. A 2.5 KW wind turbine is located north of the home on a 100’ tower and also contributes to charging the batteries. When the batteries are fully charged the generated power is diverted to the home’s appliances or back onto the grid via a bi-directional power meter. In the event of a grid failure(blackout) the home will operate from the batteries.

The heating requirement of the home is the largest annual use of energy therefore a radiant floor heating system embedded in the concrete slab floor was installed to provide heat evenly throughout the open living spaces. A majority of the annual heating energy comes from the sun with 30% coming in the windows as passive solar gain and soaking into the dark stained concrete floors, 60% comes from an active solar thermal system using evacuated tube collectors and the remaining 10% peak load comes from a propane boiler or a convection wood stove. The home is grid-tied vs off-grid to reduce battery size and allow the neighbors to use the excess power generated by the sunny and blustery winter days thus further reducing the coal burned by the power company. The solar thermal system also provides the domestic hot water for the home.

The interior of the home has an open floor plan with natural lighting to every room and extensive use of wood surfaces. The tongue and groove basswood ceilings and white hard maple interior doors, trim and flooring are from a local hardwood mill less than 10 miles away. The cabinetry is cherry from the same mill and built by local craftsmen. The main level flooring is a smooth troweled concrete slab with a water based acrylic stain and sealer to maximize passive solar gain and provide an optimal surface for radiant heating. The extra thermal mass of the slab also helps the passive cooling process where windows are opened at night to cool the slab then closed during the day to maintain a comfortable 72-73 degrees. Low VOC paint and water based acrylic sealers were used for wall and trim finishes and the counter tops and windows sills are Richlite, a composition material made from recycled paper fiber and resin.