The Green House
Eco Structures keeps the lights on and the water running in ways you might not expect.
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Down a gravel road in Maidsville lies an innovative model home that is completely off the grid. The three-story house uses near-zero energy consumption, using solar power for electricity, heat, and hot water and a rainwater collection system to provide clean, fresh water. “What I’m trying to show with this house is that it is possible to use less energy and it is possible to use materials that are sustainable,” says John Garlow, president of the building company, Eco Structures, in rural Monongalia County. “The idea was to create a model and let other people say, ‘Hey, I’d be interested in doing just one feature of this house in my own home.’”
Before John ventured into green building, he built timber frame homes for 35 years with his company, Post & Beam Factory. He’s always been environmentally conscious when building homes. “I was raised as a conservationist. My grandmother always said, ‘Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.’ And in all of my homes since 1976, I have focused on energy efficiency.” A graduate of Morgantown High School and Harvard University, John became concerned with people’s carbon footprints on the earth. He was inspired to research green building techniques to construct the Eco Structures model home on his family’s farmland. The model has three stacked modules, plus one module on the side of the house. Each module or floor includes metal roofing, siding, wiring, double-insulated windows, light fixtures, doors, and appliances. Eco Structures modules are built at John’s shop in Maidsville and, after completion, can be shipped and installed. He built his model with as many green innovations as possible so visitors can learn more about green building and customers can choose what they want for their own homes. “Most of the people who have come by the model have been fascinated and educated,” John says. More than 100 people have toured the home. “Building a zero-energy home is not only good for the environment, but it is important for saving the planet for future generations,” he says.
The model is powered entirely by solar energy. A solar panel provides electricity that enters the house and is stored in a battery bank for usage on cloudy days. “You’ve got this system that is solar heated, but what happens if it is cloudy or really cold for a while and you’re not getting enough solar heat? Then you have back-up heat,” John says. The stored energy provides heat for the home and for hot water. A wind generator on the roof also contributes to the energy stored in the batteries when wind speeds reach more than eight miles per hour. A flat-screen TV, computer, and energy-efficient appliances are all powered by the solar electricity and battery bank system. “I can also burn a wood stove in the basement that has water circulating through it that heats my rainwater collection reservoir. I also have electric back-up heat in an electric hot water heater. I do have back-up power in case I don’t have enough electricity, but if I am careful with my electricity use, I won’t have that kind of a problem. The house is so well insulated that it doesn’t need a lot of heat and the appliances are energy-efficient, so at this point, I’m doing pretty well.”
The stored solar power is also used to heat a large tank of rainwater on the top floor of the house. Through a series of tubes on the rooftop, rainwater is pre-filtered and stored in a cold water holding tank. The first five gallons of rainwater flush through the gutters and re-route through tubes to the garden. A cistern below the house stores more than 2,000 gallons of water. John says drinking water from the kitchen sink is purer than bottled water after it passes through the reverse-osmosis filter in the bottom floor of the house to remove chemicals. “With the amount of rain West Virginia typically gets, rainwater has been a pretty reliable source of water for the home. My solar hot water system is made of tubes inside a glass case that gets hot, and when it gets hot, a pump kicks on and water circulates into an insulated storage tank. The storage tank is a little bit like a battery, in that it is taking the hot water and storing it until later, or I can circulate it through pipes in the floors and heat the house,” John says.