Design/Build - Updating Our Office and Workshop

Posted by Doug Storey on Mon, Sep 21, 2015





As a Design/Builder often we have the ability to try new materials and building science on our own homes before we role them out to our customers.  I see this as a great way to test the efficacy of new approaches, without using a customer project as the test site.

Recently, we embarked on year long renovation of our office and workshop that is located in a barn, we built nearly 20 years ago in the woods in Bolton.  We realized we had an opportunity to make that space more energy efficient and improve some inadequacies from the construction of 20 years ago.

Upstairs is our heated office.  Downstairs is a four bay barn with a full workshop, lumber storage, and our tools and equipment.  When it was built we didn't plan on having a heated office so it wasn't built as airtight, nor with as much insulation, as standard energy efficient construction methods of today.  Times change...


 Our office then

Every winter our electrict bill would triple when the heat kicked on.  It cost too much to heat the 500 SF office.  There had to be a better way.

So, we embarked on a quest to make the office more airtight and energy efficient.  The first phase was adding 26 solar PV panels to produce our own electricity (we have since added 5 more for 31 total).  This worked out great and we are huge proponents of adding solar to offset the energy we need.

Solar PV

Then we airsealed around all the windows and doors, and added 2 layers of rigid insulation below the floor and on all sides.  Taping the seams of the insulated ZIP Wall sheathing makes it a very effective air barrier.  This also added R-10 all around the heated building enclosure and overcame the thermal bridging inherent when you insulate between studs.  Next, we changed out the metal storm door and replaced it with an insulated weather stripped exterior door.  Then, we replaced the 15 year old  heating system with a Hyper Heat Mitsubishi (effective to 15 degrees below) wall hung minisplit ductless HVAC heat pump that will provide all of our heating and cooling needs in a much more efficient manner.   We also still have a wood stove to supplement this.

Zip Wall Insulated Sheathing

The final step will be to add and additional 12 solar PV panels to the 31 we currently have on our barn for a total of 43.  These panels provide for the power for our barn and for my home on the same property and we have been net zero since March.  We are very proud to be net zero for our electricity and will continue to look for ways to improve our office efficiency.

We also added a new bay in the rear to get all of our equipment out of the weather and stored inside, using best practices for access and aiding in the productivity of our team!  Also all of the windows and doors are recycled and repurposed from projects we have built.  And the changes we have made will save over $3000 in electricity costs each year.  Not bad!


Our office now

Tags: Design Build, Building Contractor, Design, Solar PV System, Building Science, Best Practices, Green Building, Choosing a Contractor, Remodeling, Remodeling Contractor, Architectural Plans, Renewable Energy

Two Storey Building has added a Solar PV System at our office!

Posted by Doug Storey on Mon, Mar 10, 2014

We finally did it.  After years of building energy efficient homes and renovation projects, many of which also had a solar component to them, we have installed a solar PV system at our office in Bolton.  We are pretty excited about and really don't know why we didn't do it sooner.

Solar PV System at two Storey Building office

We installed a 6.5 kWh system with 26 Canadian Solar 250 Watt panels, 26 Enphase microinverters, in 2 strings of 13 panels each.  The system is operating well and in the month since it was installed it has produced 287 kWh of energy and projects to produce somewhere around 8500 kWh per year.  That will be 8500 kWh I do not have to buy from the power company, at .10 for supply and .11 for delivery that works out to a savings of $1785!  This will produce essentially all of the power we use at our office including our electric air source heat pump that is the source of our heating and cooling. 

Let me tell you the process we went through to get this system installed.  First, I had to decide if I wanted to own the system or lease it.  Lease options are attactive for those who do not want or perhaps don't have the means to make the cash investment in the system up front.  In those cases, the installer owns the system but the leasor receives renewable energy and saves on their electric bill.  I choose to purchase my system and reap all of the benefits over the long haul

I had looked at installing a PV system several years back but was scared off by the number of trees I would have to cut down.  I live in the woods and even though the barn roof is angled almost perfectly for a southern orientation and could support the panels it was shaded by trees all around it.  After doing my research and selecting Transformations, Inc., a well respected and leader in green building, to install the system, they came to do the Solar Access and Shade reading.  We started at about 63%, well below the 80% goal and threshold for the state rebate.

Here is what my yard looks like.  The barn with my office in it is below the address in the picture.  You can just make out the roof amongst all the trees:

Two storey Building office location


I had a lot of work to do.  In fact, after all was done I cut down 45 trees.  It was a busy fall.  I did get a new Huskvarna saw out of the process which was very nice.  Needless to say it got a little messy.....

Felled trees resized 600

But we cleaned it all up and finished removing the trees and moved to the next step - signing the interconnection agreement with my power company, National Grid.  This was pretty straight forward.  Basically, they agree to buy the power you produce back by providing a net metering arrangement.

Once we had that agreement in place, and the installation was done (in the dead of winter....) we needed to set up our SREC monitoring contract.  In Massachusetts, you can sell your renewable energy credits to the companies that are bound by law to produce a certain amount of renewable energy.  We went with Sol Systems, and choose a brokerage type account.  In this arrangement you choose to sell your SREC at a fixed rate for a perior of time (10 years) rather than being in the open market place and hoping someone will buy them.  I expect to receive approximately $270 for every 1000 kWh I produce over the course of the year.  This should amount ot approximately $2300 per year.  Also I will save approximately $1800 per year on my electricity bill so the total payback per year will be about $4100.  At that rate, my system should pay for itself in five years.  The long term projections are a $40,000 cash return over 25 years at a 17% rate of return on the initial investment.

At this point in Massachusetts, Solar PV is a slam dunk, win win, no brainer.  In other words - you should really consider installing it if  you have the location and means to make it happen.
As always, I am happy to discuss the process and options with anyone interested in Solar PV.
Generated for Douglas Storey
on 03/10/2014
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Monthly Energy Production Report

Douglas Storey

Bolton, MA
WeekPeak PowerEnergy Produced
02/01/2014 - 02/07/2014 36 W 133 Wh
02/08/2014 - 02/14/2014 172 W 2.16 kWh
02/15/2014 - 02/21/2014 24 W 222 Wh
02/22/2014 - 02/28/2014 4.00 kW 94.7 kWh
February 2014 Total: 97.2 kWh
Previous Month Total: 0 Wh
Year to Date: 97.2 kWh

Your Carbon Offset for this month: 148 lbs

You have offset the equivalent of: 2 Trees

Environmental Benefits

Tags: Solar PV System, Solar Power, Green Building, Renewable Energy, Green Energy