During our mid-winter break Snowboarding Adventure, we stayed on a remote piece of property near the Okanogan National Forest in North Central Washington. Our neighbors in Seattle built a house there that runs mostly on solar power, and is it ever cool:
- The house sits on the brow of a hill facing south. Enough sunlight streams through big windows to make the upstairs bedrooms toasty warm, even with the low angle of the winter sun. Sunlight coming through downstairs windows warms up tile floors that gently give back the stored heat. Never mind the three feet of snow on the ground and nighttime temperatures in the teens.
- Solar panels recharge batteries that provide power for lights, electronics, tools, etc. All bulbs are either compact fluorescents or LEDs. The house batteries reach full charge in less than three hours of winter sunlight. A propane generator can be used for backup power and charging the batteries.
- A big wood stove rescued from someone’s backyard was cleaned up and restored, and provides a dandy cooking surface, oven, and warming oven. It also throws off plenty of heat for cool mornings or evenings.
- The centerpiece of the living room is a big stone fireplace that warms up the main living area and helps dry out wet boots, gloves, and winter clothes.
The house showcases many more great ideas, but the people living there are its most notable feature. We learned about bears, bluejays and eagles, histories of nearby towns, local politics, strains and strengths of families, Indian frybread, and the importance of preventing creosote buildup in chimneys. We saw the spirit of loving one’s neighbor alive and at work in providing practical support and assistance to those living nearby. Got a plumbing problem? We’ll bring our tools over. Of course we can help plow your driveway. Feeling crummy? We’ve got soup that’ll have you back in action in no time. Need some company? Come on over.
Good to see an effort like this one to reduce dependency on non-renewable resources. There’s some awesome technology available to help in that effort. It’s also notable that a couple of by-products of ‘unplugging’ are more focus on life around home, involvement with neighbors, and what’s happening with local birds and bears and flowers and gardens. Tell me again what I’m “missing” in the midst of that.