02/11/2008 - By Helmut Schmidt email@example.com
Reprinted with permission of Forum Communciations Company. Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583
PLEASANT TOWNSHIP, N.D. - By the end of February, Missy Borgen will likely be off the grid. The power grid, that is. Borgen will own a new home that doesn't draw a single watt of energy from a power line, much less have a power line near it. Every aspect of the home, which sits on 40 acres about six miles south of Horace, is designed to be "green," or environmentally friendly. If energy prices keep rising, it could also make neighbors green with envy. "This is my break from the stick-and-frame conventional" home, said Borgen, an anesthetist at Fargo's Innovis Health. "This is my dream home."
Borgen, 45, who is now selling her north Fargo home, said she has researched environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient home designs for nearly a decade. She decided not to tie an electrical line to the house as a power backup when she was given an estimate of $25,000. For that kind of money, she said, "I could buy a lot of solar panels or whatever else I needed."
The home uses a sophisticated combination of photovoltaic panels mounted in an array that follows the sun, a small wind turbine, and a propane generator for backup - just in case - to generate electricity, said contractor Bill Worth of Fargo's Worth Construction.
The power is stored in a bank of 12-volt batteries, with power converters to provide 120- or 240-volt power for lights, TVs and appliances, Worth said. Hot water is provided by a passive solar panel system mounted on the roof, he said. "It's totally off the grid. There's no power within a mile in any direction," Worth said. Heat through the North Dakota winter (and spring and fall) will come primarily from a handsome gray Finnish-made soapstone furnace and oven that divides the kitchen and dining area from the living room, Worth said.
Two passive solar panels built into the south wall of the house have fans to blow sun-warmed air through the abode.
The large south-facing windows are glazed to let maximum light into rooms so the sun can heat the red concrete floors and warm the home during the day, Worth said. The home's other windows are much smaller and energy efficient to conserve energy, he said.
"The first year is going to be a big learning curve" to figure out how to properly control temperatures, Borgen said.
The house is super-insulated. The walls are 13 inches thick, with rigid foam panels on each side of poured concrete walls that extend from the foundation to the roofline, Worth said. On the second floor, the peaked ceilings and walls were sprayed with a special flexible foam insulation providing 10 inches of insulation.
A berm that's up to 5 feet high in spots shelters and insulates three sides of the home, he said. Rainwater runoff will be directed to a reservoir just southeast of the house, and will be used to irrigate a large vegetable garden, Borgen said. Water used for laundry, dishes and washing her three Australian shepherds - also called gray water - will be recycled during warm weath er for irrigating flowers and an orchard that Borgen started planting last spring.
Over time, she intends to make her acreage into a hobby farm, starting with chickens, turkeys and ducks. "Fowl are a good pairing with an orchard," she said, because they clean up dropped fruit and prevent the spread of insects.
Cost not typical
Ground was broken on the house in August. It will have about 3,280 finished square feet of space between the first and second floors, Worth said. Another roughly 2,600 square feet is available for finishing over the triple garage, he said.
Neither Worth nor Borgen would talk about construction costs. Worth said the prices of the passive solar system or paying for three-quarters of a mile of piping to bring in rural water make the cost of building Borgen's new home anything but typical.
If electrical lines are strung to the area for other subdivisions, Borgen can sell excess energy to a power company, speeding up her payback on the original investment, Worth said. "If energy costs keep going the way they are, then it doesn't look like such an expensive investment," he said. "It's an environmental choice," which does not provide an instant or even a quick payback, he said.