By John Wolcott SCBJ Freelance Writer
EDMONDS — Solar energy installations in the Pacific Northwest are proving their worth, despite persistent public misconceptions that winter’s overcast skies make solar technology useless.
Chris Herman, owner of Winter Sun Design in Edmonds, concedes winter solar rays aren’t as good as summer ones, but he knows that cloudy days still collect solar energy and that the region still can gain benefits from solar installations.
“People don’t realize that a passive solar home in Western Washington can still get 50 percent of its space heating from solar features, while adding less than 2 percent to the cost of home construction,” Herman said.
Credentials behind his views include his 25-year business venture designing houses with passive solar features, sustainable “green” building design and consulting services. He founded Solar Washington, the Northwest Eco-Building Guild and Sustainable Edmonds, and is interim president of the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative.
Trained as a certified professional building designer, Herman regularly provides classes in solar energy systems at the University of Washington. His projects have included a solar heated cabin on Lopez Island and a passive solar sunroom for a Lake Roesiger-area home.
Herman has been using low-toxin building materials and energy systems since 1987, providing additional insights to home building options for people with allergies.
“A good passive solar home requires no air conditioning, even in Eastern Washington, because it’s design provides architecturally for proper heating, cooling and day lighting,” he said. “It employs standard construction practices and materials and the design can achieve 20 to 30 percent savings on heating with no added construction cost. We also work with the layout of windows and room areas, as well as roof overhangs and venting, plus the prevailing local weather patterns.”
Government programs help to finance solar energy homes and research. Herman is deeply involved in the Edmonds Community Solar Co-op, which is using a federal grant, power sales to the City of Edmonds and a $1.08 per kilowatt hour state incentive for the next eight years to create revenue from a current venture that he expects will provide good return to co-op members.
“People need to realize that during the winter in this cloudy, maritime climate a passive solar home will require almost the same amount of conventional heating as a nonsolar home (but) during the rest of the area’s six-month heating season a passive solar home can be comfortable with almost no backup heat. In some areas a passive solar home can save 60 percent annually on conventional fuel costs,” he said.
Although he focuses much of his business on designing conventional homes and remodels, whenever he can he incorporates energy savings through his designs and provides detailed information about toxin issues that most people don’t think about, he said.
“People with allergies, particularly those with multiple chemical sensitivities, need to realize that carpets, furnishings and so many other home items are petroleum-based and can cause severe allergy problems,” Herman said.
“Also, a lot of mold can grow on those carpets,” he said. “I try to alert people to that and help them plan an allergy-free home.”
He said he has a lot of respect for contractors who work with green building councils and the eco-builders guild.
“They’re dealing with nature, homeowners, subcontractors and building materials and they have to have guts to offer new, and better, materials on the market,” he said. “Solar homes are not trendy but they’re more comfortable, cheaper to maintain and they’re worth more when you sell them so you can recover your solar costs.”
For more information, go to www.wintersundesign.com, NW Eco-Building Guild at www.ecobuilding.org, Solar Washington at www.solarwashington.org, American Solar Energy Society at www.ases.org and Edmonds Community Solar Co-op at www.tangerinepower.com/edmonds.