For some homeowners, the sun is at the center of an eco-friendly lifestyle


March 18, 2002|By Kimbra Cutlip | Kimbra Cutlip,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WITH THE CURRENT situation in the Middle East, and all the controversy surrounding a new energy policy, it may seem like a good time to consider alternative energy sources. But for some local folks who have been tapping into the sun's energy, the best reason to go alternative is to be kind to the environment and live closer to the cycles of nature.

When Richard Crenshaw built his home six years ago in Shady Side, he set out to affect the environment as little as possible. The house is designed so that the sun's rays heat it throughout the day, and it stays fairly warm throughout the night. A propane heater kicks in to keep it from dipping below 58, and on really cold days, he lights a pellet stove to boost the temperature a bit.

He also uses a solar-electric, or photovoltaic, system that uses the sun's energy to provide 1,000 watts of electricity. He said it's just enough to run the fans and pumps and keep his refrigerator going.

But his eco-friendly design doesn't stop there. Crenshaw uses a solar cooker and a wood stove, he uses composting toilets and he recycles his wash water for use in his organic garden.

His home, he says, is "an ongoing experiment in living lightly on the earth."

He said he had wanted to build a solar home with environmentally compatible systems for some time, but he's only recently been able to do it. Crenshaw said such a "green" lifestyle can be an expensive investment, but he said the tradeoff is an important one to make for the health of the planet.

Romey Pittman of Davidsonville had a different incentive when she and her former husband built their solar home.

It's a log home, built 12 years ago on her family's farm. When they built it, they decided to forego the $8,000-to-$10,000 expense of having power lines run from the road a half-mile away.

"We did without electricity for a year and a half," she said, describing life with kerosene lights and manual water pumps.

When she became pregnant with their first child, they decided to upgrade to solar energy.

It hasn't been everything she expected.

"When we first set it up, there was nobody in Maryland that was off-grid that we knew of," she said. "We made mistakes in our setup at first."

After repairing mistakes and adding on a few extras, Pittman estimates they spent about twice as much as they would have on electric service.

And still, sacrifices are necessary. Pittman said her off-the-grid life requires a very different mindset.

"In terms of daily life, there's a whole level of awareness you have to have. Like, if it's a cloudy day I think, `Ah, I can't do laundry today,' and maybe I'll wait until a sunny day," she says.

But then there are the days when power goes out along her road and she's the only one who doesn't have to worry about it.

"I'm completely independent," she said, "But the main reason to do it is it's not contributing to these tremendous problems we have that are destroying the earth. ... It feels like a more responsible way to live."

But not everyone can build their solar home from the ground up. Jason Fisher lives in historic Annapolis, where space for solar panels is limited and new construction isn't possible.

Still, he's managed to install a solar hot water system in his home. Fisher, who started his company, Arora Energy, seven years ago, designs and installs solar energy systems throughout Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Locally, he's working on everything from designing a solar-electric system for the renovation of a 100-year-old house on Spa Road to helping clients in South County, where the power is known to go out, find a more reliable source of energy, he said.

"I wanted to do something local and try to make a living at it," he said. "And I wanted to contribute to an industry that has a positive effect on the environment."

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