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What’s your wattage

  • Linda Platts
  • Let’s face it. Even in a world where we share the intimate details of our lives online, some things are still private. Your weight. Your credit card bill. What you did at the office Christmas party. Stuff like that. How much energy you use might also be one of those things that you would like to keep private.

    The creators of a new super-insulated, solar-heated, prefabricated 700-square-foot house that just went on the market see it differently. For them, complete transparency about energy use is the way to a self-sustaining future. To this end, they added LED lights around the base of their new building that change color as energy use changes. Green indicates the house is producing more energy than it is using, yellow means all is in balance, and red warns that the home is gobbling up more energy than it is generating. If the neighbors cruise by and see the house glowing red, they’ll know you cranked up the heat, started the dishwasher, and put a turkey in the oven.

    In all seriousness, there is a worthy purpose to the lighting system. Architect Phil Kaplan of Portland, Maine, wanted to give homeowners real-time feedback on their energy use before the energy bill arrives at the end of the month, when it’s too late to make any changes.

    The building, dubbed “BrightBuilt Barn,” functions as an office, studio, or even a two-bedroom home, and the modular design allows for easy expansion at a future date. Plans call for total energy self-sufficiency, but to err on the side of caution, the homes are connected to the power grid and come with a heat pump. The building is 42-by-18 feet with loft storage, triple-glazed windows, R-40 insulation in the walls (twice the standard insulation) and solar panels on the south-facing roof to generate electricity and heat water.

    Currently, the cost is about $200,000, or $285 per square foot, minus the land and utility installation. Delivery can take 10 to 12 weeks and assembly and finishing require another two to three weeks. The first model was completed in Rockport, Maine, last fall where it is being used as an office and artist’s studio complete with bathroom and kitchen.

    The building and design professionals who collaborated on this project wanted to do more than launch a successful business—they wanted to raise awareness about energy usage, sustainability, and new building methods.

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    In “Greener Pastures,” PERC’s director of media relations LINDA PLATTS presents green ventures from the audacious to the sublime.

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