For Martha Clark and her husband Randy Hayes, their wood stove had always been an efficient, reliable way to heat their home. Post-retirement however, they suddenly found it posed a unique problem. Fortunately, an electric air source heat pump combined with solar provided a worry-free wintertime solution, all while boosting their home’s sustainability.
Passive Solar + Energy Efficiency
Martha and Randy built their house in Canterbury, NH in 1983, and designed it with energy efficiency in mind. With super-insulated walls and large, south facing windows, they take advantage of wintertime sunlight to passively heat their home. It’s snug enough that they only need about a cord of wood for their wood stove. “I find as we’re getting older we need a little more,” Martha jokes.
Their focus on efficiency stemmed from Martha’s childhood. Growing up in a farmhouse in Vermont, she had experienced many cold New England winters where there was not enough money for coal, leaving the kitchen wood stove as the only source of heat and the rest of the house unheated. “If we were going to build a house, I wanted it to be very energy efficient so we would be warm without using a lot of resources,” says Martha.
When Martha and Randy were preparing to retire in 2014, they started looking for ways to convert more of their home power to renewables, reducing their reliance on outside resources as well as their carbon footprint. Martha saw a solar presentation given by Beth McGuinn, a neighbor in town who was also a ReVision Energy customer. She and her wife Ruth Smith had been powering their own house with solar since 2012. “I was totally shocked they were producing their own energy,” says Martha.
While they wanted to make the transition too, she and Randy didn’t feel they could afford solar electric at the time. Instead, they contacted ReVision for a solar hot water system that would offset their electric water heating load and reduce their dependence on a mainly fossil fuel-powered electric grid.
Worry-Free Heating + Solar Power
Once they retired, Martha and Randy started taking advantage of their time during the winter months to visit their grandchildren in Oregon more often. While their wood stove worked perfectly for heating while they were home, it couldn’t be used while they were away, and they couldn’t rely solely on passive solar heat to keep things from freezing. Their backup heat source was electric baseboard heat, which Martha calls “astronomically expensive.”
They called ReVision again for the solution – an efficient Mitsubishi Electric air source heat pump that would function at a fraction of the cost of their existing backup heat system, and run reliably and safely while they were away. Just one mini-split would be sufficient to sustain a safe temperature in their home, running automatically when needed.
Martha also asked for a quote for solar and found that price had dropped enough to be affordable to them with a loan. Their saltbox style home with the long roof facing south was already perfectly oriented for solar, with plenty of roof space left for a PV system. They had their heat pump installed in March of 2016, along with 22 LG 315-watt solar panels on their rooftop. This system powers all of their electrical usage throughout the year, including the air source heat pump.
It’s now been three and half years since the install, and the only electric bill Martha and Randy have received over that time is the base fee for being connected to the grid. They try to be sparing with their energy usage, drying clothes outside during the summer and indoors on racks during the winter. Even so, Martha was surprised that they could source all of their electricity from the sun. “It’s amazing, I never thought you could do that in New Hampshire,” she says.
Powering everything with solar power fits well with their lifestyle. She and Randy are both gardeners; she grows the vegetables and he the flowers and fruit trees, harvesting from their gardens in the warm months to freeze and store for the wintertime. While they still heat with wood in the winter using the heat pump mainly as a backup, it serves a secondary purpose during hot summer days. “We can cool off the house in half an hour,” says Martha. “We love our mini-split!”
In the town of Canterbury, Martha and Randy have been seeing more and more neighbors opt to go solar. They opened their home as part of a solar tour for Solarize Canterbury 2019, a campaign that helped double the number of solar homes in town. For Martha, it’s great to see the change happening and to know that they are part of it. “It just feels good not to be using fossil fuels for electricity,” she says.