Photo courtesy of Tesla
If you think about it, today’s log or timber home’s energy needs are actually a two-way street. There’s the consumption portion, which is obviously a product of living in the house; but there is also the ability to produce our own energy, if you plan for what you’ll need now and in the future.
Technology changes at a rapid pace. There have been many advances in solar collection, wind-energy production and battery capacity and storage, and we are going to see more and more houses incorporate systems to take advantage of these benefits. But predicting what your needs will be — let alone what you will need to accommodate them — can be tough.
Solar energy collection and distribution is the lowest hanging fruit you can pluck to satisfy your log or timber home’s energy needs. Small-but-mighty solar shingles and integrated roofing systems have replaced the imposing (and, frankly, ugly) panels of the past, making solar an easier and more attractive energy decision.
However, collecting energy — whether it’s solar, wind or geothermal — is only the first step. You also have to be able to adequately store the energy you harness so that it can be distributed as needed. In new log or timber home construction, there are a variety of things to take into consideration.
First and foremost, decide where your mechanical/battery area will be located in your floor plan, and where the battery will be in relationship to your breaker panel and your disconnects. It’s essential to think strategically.
For instance, if you think you ultimately want to rely on solar power as your energy source, but it’s not currently in the budget, be sure to place your meter box so it has a transfer switch from “the grid” to the solar array when the time comes. This transfer switch can also connect to a backup generator as a supplemental power source in the event of an emergency.
The location within your home’s layout also has to be easy to access yet non-intrusive. How do you accomplish both? Don’t think just in terms of floor area. With some of the new battery systems coming into the marketplace, you can stack them vertically up a wall, so they’ll consume very little square footage, unlike traditional battery assemblies that sit on the ground and take up a lot of space. So when you’re ready to install your solar system, you could even look to a garage wall as the location of your energy-storage array.
While we’re on the subject of garages, this is another area where you may want to consider an electrical upgrade, thanks to the increasing popularity of electric cars (EVs). Using a standard 120-volt outlet, an electric vehicle can take up to 12 hours to fully charge, draining your power source or costing you money. By installing a 220-volt outlet or, better yet, a charging station (also referred to as electric vehicle supply equipment or EVSE) on a dedicated electrical line, you can cut that time by more than half. However, you do have to ensure your breaker panel is sized to handle the load. Even if you don’t currently own an electric car, planning ahead to accommodate this kind of technology is a wise move — retrofitting can get very expensive.
In order to properly plan for the future, we have to consider where we are today.
With the increasing emphasis on Energy-Star-rated appliances; LED lights; smaller, more efficient HVAC systems; and even the air-tightness of the structure itself, our homes have become more efficient and consume less energy — great news!
However, as we rely more heavily on home automation, whether it’s something as fundamental as a hard-wired security system or as luxurious as remote-controlled window shades, pinpointing our energy usage can become a moving target.
Nobody has a crystal ball, but a good electrician will help you predict your home’s overall power usage, make informed recommendations for the scope of your current and future electrical needs and execute that plan to the letter.
Dan Mitchell is a builder and a Log & Timber Home University professor. He owns Eagle CDI, a construction firm based near Knoxville, Tennessee.