Designed for Saving

Bob Manley’s Sanbornton home soaks up the sun – and the cost of energy.
Bob and Jerilyn Manley say that when they saw the red bathtub in what is now their Sanbornton home, they were hooked, but they kept their cool.”We had to spend the rest of the time being careful not to reveal that we were going to buy this house no matter what happened,” says Bob, with a laugh. Bob, with a trimmed beard and a touch of gray, sits across from me in his well-lit, well-decorated sunroom. Behind me is the wine-tasting room. The couple converted a two-story addition built by the previous owners into a small, commercial winery. (See story on page 66.)In the background there is jazz music, which Bob has left on lightly for the winery. The atmosphere is calm, the temperature rather cool, even with the temperature outside climbing upwards of 75 degrees. And there’s no air conditioner to be found.So, it was not just the bathtub that drew the couple to their home; it was the design. The house re-creates the winning design of a passive solar home contest held in Maine during the 1980s. Bob explains that their previous dwelling was an old New England home that was built in 1886, so the change has been remarkable, in terms of comfort and energy costs.The couple heats the entire original part of the house, about 1,200 square feet, on less than two cords of wood a year. The winery, though it follows the same design principles, runs on propane gas, which is supplemented by a wood stove.”On the average,” says Bob “our propane cost is about $2,400 a year, but half of that was hot water. It’s a 2,400-square-foot house, so it’s significant.”And now with the solar panels that Bob installed six months ago, hot water costs will be reduced by an estimated 95 percent. All the couple will be paying for is some extra heat in the wintertime.

The trick is that the house works with the seasonal path of the sun through the sky. During winter, when the sun’s arc is low, the house absorbs plenty of sunlight from the many windows in the front and retains it in the back where there are no windows. “In the summer it works just the opposite,” Bob tells me. “The sun is past the front of the house. You’ll notice it’s fairly cool in here. If the sun were beating in this window it would be 90 degrees.” It’s cool enough, in fact, for hot coffee and we pour ourselves some.Some of the home design is a bit peculiar. The wall behind Bob’s chair sticks out about a foot from the oversized window as if it were the wall of a revolutionary fortress. “It’s super insulated,” Bob explains. “So insulated in fact, that there is 24 inches of space between the ceiling and the skylight in the upstairs bedroom.” The attic, though it exists, is inaccessible due to the thick insulation.The insulation works both ways. During the summer, the couple lets cool air in at night. “Even when the outside is warm,” Bob says, “as long as it’s buttoned up in here it stays cool.”I finish my coffee and wonder aloud, how does it feel to live in such an energy-efficient house? As you might expect, Bob loves it. “It’s especially good on the wallet,” he says. But it’s also good on the heart. He dreams of one day having his connection to the power grid become more luxury than necessity. Once he’s installed a DC solar hot water pump, he’ll perhaps realize that dream. He’ll be able to live in relatively comfortable conditions no matter what happens to the power lines or propane prices, with hot running water and heat.Later I checked with energy efficiency expert Tom Belair at PSNH, who had a few tips on what non-passive-solar home owners can do to cut energy costs. The biggest and simplest tips are behavioral changes. For example, keeping your thermostat optimally at 68 degrees and your air conditioning at 78 will save quite a bit. If you want to invest in a digital, programmable thermometer, the price might be high, but the savings in heat when you’re not around or when you’re sleeping will be tremendous. For rebates, go to more thorough savings, you can go to, enter your energy usage and see if you qualify for a subsidized audit of your entire home, only $100 for a $450 value. If you qualify and receive the audit, PSNH (or any other N.H. energy provider) will refund half the costs of any energy saving improvements you add, up to $4,000! NH

Categories: Home & Garden