Alternative Energy Tour was Inspiring

By Judy Ferber

The Alternative Energy Tour took place May 22, 2010. Eighteen people met and carpooled around to six different sites near Prairie Farm and Ridgeland and to one site near Menomonie. The tour was lead by Matt Schmidt, the Program Manager in Residential Renewable Energy and Conservation for WestCAP in Glenwood City.  

First stop was the Rick and Sara Nagler highly-insulated home in rural Prairie Farm (see photo at right). They have a solar hot-water array on their home. Water is heated by the sun and is used for hot water needs and is also used to heat the floors of their home as needed. It is used mostly from spring through fall with unlimited hot water in the summer! They also use an on-demand water heater as needed.

Next on the tour was the home of J. Willie Williams and Judy Ferber in the Village of Prairie Farm. Folks on the tour were able to see and ask about the cold-weather air source heat pump which is capable of getting heat from the air when temperatures are as low as minus twenty degrees, using electrical resistance heating as needed to supplement it in cold weather. Williams also showed the prototype of the compost heater he has been working on.  It is a five foot in diameter drum which will hold compost.  As the organic material breaks down (is composted), it generates heat up to as high as 160 degrees. The idea is to capture this heat and use it. The Williams’ hope to use the heat from it to keep their hoophouse (unheated greenhouse) from freezing in the wintertime, allowing use of the space for sunbathing and storing produce in (hopefully) unfrozen ground. (Think of having carrots, beets, parsnips, etc. and maybe spinach growing in January!)

The tour proceeded to the home of George and Gayle Adams in rural Ridgeland. They have a number of energy saving and energy creating devices. This past winter was the first season their newly-built masonry stove was used.  It is beautiful and functional (see photo at rightl. On the coldest days, two separate burns are needed using 30 to 40 pounds of wood each. The fires burn very hot and then the heat is stored in the massive brick structure, radiating out until the next burn. It has an oven built in which Gayle had to learn to use as the temperature is quite hot just after a burn and then falls slowly throughout the day. The couple also have a large photovoltaic array which is mounted on a stand that allows it to follow the sun. They have a ground source heat pump which uses the constant temperature of the earth to gain heat. They have a Sun Frost electric refrigerator which has greatly reduced their electric consumption and also keeps food fresh longer. George showed the monitoring devices for all the units. He also demonstrated a device he worked on over the winter. It is an exercise bike hooked up to a 100 watt light bulb. When he peddled as fast as he could, it created a dim light. Watch for it at the Community Conservation Carnival during Dairy Days and give it a whirl.  

After lunch at the Ridgeland Park, the group traveled to Frank Florin’s passive solar, super-insulated home southwest of Prairie Farm. Florin uses wood heat and minimal LP to heat the single-story structure. The cement floor in front of the large south windows captures and stores the heat and re-radiates it to the house after the sun goes down.

Kevin and Heidi’s next door neighbor was our next stop—the home of Bill Julien and his wife (see photo at right). The home is a magnificent timber frame house with straw-bale sidewalls. The timber frame is from an old barn that Bill spent many hours tearing down near LaCrosse. After bringing the parts home, he worked to fit and refinish all the parts before lining up 21 friends to come and help him put the puzzle back together again on the house site. After the roof was installed, strawbales were used for the sidewalls and then cement stucco was used for the outside and inside finish. Amazing!

Next on the tour was Kevin and Heidi Jacobson’s under-construction underground home east of Ridgeland. Kevin told us he has been dreaming about building this home for about 30 years and he has been constructing it for about 6 years. Much of the structure is made from poured concrete. It is capped with a living roof. The front portion of the home will be one great-room with a soapstone fireplace on one end. The bedrooms, wine cellar, root cellar, and utilities will be in the rear portion. Each bedroom will have a window as building codes require. It is an amazing structure with much work yet to be done.  

The tour then moved on to Jim and Jan Erdman’s home near Menomonie. This couple has had over 30 years experience generating their own electricity. They also had various energy saving devices including rain water catchment systems and a food dehydrator. The Erdman’s use both a wind generator and photovoltaic (PV) electric generation to keep their electric bill down. Their PV array does not follow the sun as the Adams’ PV array does, but for the same cost they were able to add more panels to achieve a similar amount of energy output (see photo at right).

It was an amazing day. The 18 people who enjoyed the tour were very appreciative of the hosts who ‘showed and told’ and answered so many questions. Watch for more tours sponsored by Hay River Transition Initiative.