Energy conscious family relies on solar power to light their home
October 25, 2006
RED CLIFF – If ever there are a few dark and cloudy days, Melanie Dennis postpones doing laundry. Living in a home that depends on solar power, laundry just isn’t a priority when there are other things that need power, like lights.”It’s a matter of timing,” she said. “We’re working right off the sun, so we think consciously when it’s dark.”Along with her husband, Greg, and two young sons, Caleb and Ari, Dennis has lived in her timber-frame house on Tennessee Pass for three years. In the woods and off the grid, the Dennises are responsible for providing their own power, though they are hooked up to a telephone line.”Being off the grid, we give up a little bit, but it doesn’t feel like I’m giving up a lot,” Dennis said. “We’re very energy conscious. We religiously don’t have lights on. We have a smaller fridge. We take short showers. We don’t use a lot of power.”
The family also uses lower wattage light bulbs, a double cooking range and no television – more a lifestyle choice than dictated by how much power they have. The Dennises don’t have a sprinkler system to water their yard, which is filled with plants native to the region.While most of the power comes from the Dennis’ solar panels, the family uses propane to heat water, which comes from a well, but they use it sparingly.”I’m very aware of my nonrenewable resources,” Dennis said. “The more time you spend outside, the more connected you are. It feels good to be less of a consumer. I’d rather live more in tune with what works in our environment.”Beyond the Dennis’ day-to-day efforts, the timber-frame home they live in is helping the family live in harmony with the earth, they said.
As opposed to most houses built today, timber-frame houses use old trees and wood joinery instead of steel. Examples of 1,000-year-old timber-frame structures can be found all over the world, Greg Dennis said. Though to save on cost, some steel is being used on new timber-frame homes.The old techniques of timber framing are combined with modern technology to make the home more environmentally conscious. A type of polystyrene insulation is far superior to fiberglass insulation popular today, which translates into using about 50 percent less heat, he said.”When I had kids, I looked at them and thought, ‘What are my kids going to do in the future,”‘ Dennis said. “It was a prime motivator to move out here – so they could learn good options, about not trashing the earth.”And they love to build, too,” he added with a smile.
The psychology of a timber-frame house also keeps it alive and thus sustainable.”All the joinery and beams are visible on the interior when the house is finished, which creates an heirloom quality that inspires people to take care of it,” Dennis said. “When you’re in a timber-frame house, you can see the work and love that went into the house, so you take care of it as something sacred. It connects you to with nature, to the world.”A run-of-the-mill stick-frame house covers up the work that went into it, so when it begins to age, people have no qualms about tearing it down and building something else, he said. And should the house ever come down, the large timbers are sure to be reused, he said.”You’re not going to throw something like that away or in the fire,” Dennis said.