Cynthia Loesch and Ivan Liriano love showing off their new green home. The three-story, three-unit tenement in the diverse neighborhood of Dorchester, Mass., stands out with its 22 solar photovoltaic panels and eight solar thermal panels on its roof.
But solar power and solar-heated water aren’t the only things that make this home different. It is going for highest LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Home Platinum status as a green home, thanks in part to some energy management from service provider Vivint and some serious solar PV system monitoring.
The home was constructed modularly, with R-21 insulation in the walls and R-60 in the attic. Three high-efficiency (96 percent) Lochinvar gas boilers provide heat for the three residential units, and two 120-gallon solar thermal water tanks provide domestic hot water for the entire house. The 5-kw Canadian Solar array installed by Alternate Energy provides Loesch and Liriano’s unit with electricity.
Outside, a deck is made of FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified mahogany, the siding is cement fiberboard and all rainwater from downspouts is directed into a 1,000-gallon cistern that irrigates the garden plants and provides water for the birdbath/fountain. Though it’s a sliver of greenery, the garden has been certified as a natural habitat through the National Wildlife Federation. The owners have noticed many more birds and bees since the garden went in.
The Vivint system provides home control and some energy management, through its on-wall Go!Control panel, thermostat, Kwikset digital door locks and plug-in modules for lights and devices. The system uses wireless Z-Wave mesh technology to communicate among devices and GSM to connect from outside. As part of the system, Vivint also provides a security camera for each unit.
The Go!Control panels offer weather information, and control over the thermostat and 13 lights in Loesch and Liriano’s unit, via Vivint plug-in modules and Z-Wave-enabled GE switches. (Vivint systems in the other units can control 12 lights.) They can set up profiles and scenes to have all lights go off and set the thermostat to 60 (in the winter) when they go out. Then have lights come on and a coffee maker start up when they get home, for example. Door and window sensors are tied to the system to trigger events.
“Vivint made the house smarter,” says Ivan. He really likes how he can control the system through his smartphone and receive alerts when people come and go.
Vivint is a large service provider that grew out of APX Alarm and is marketing itself as a home automation solution. The company says it has 70,000 energy management customers so far.
Solar PV Monitoring
Ivan and Cynthia can see the production of the solar panels through a TV interface right on their Samsung flat-panel HDTV. They say that they saved about $102 August alone with the solar array, and have saved $292 since the system was installed in June.
The WattMetrics interface allows them to see the solar production at the moment, the history, and even how much they’ve saved in sulfur oxide emissions.
The couple is experimenting with Blue Line Innovation’s PowerCost Monitor to monitor the electricity usage of their tenants. Vivint may also have an energy monitoring solution available.
Home Entertainment Efficiency
Even some of Ivan’s home theater system is energy-efficient. Ivan, who works in the IT field, built his own 10-terabyte (TB) Home Theater PC that holds 600 to 700 movies and uses Western Digital drives that spin down to save energy when they’re not in use. A Monster Power Center can power off the Xbox video game console when it senses low power—and that can drastically cut unwanted vampire power usage.
The system uses the open-source XBMC platform to receive cable TV without the need of a cable box. The couple was also able to eliminate the need for a cable modem, saving them cable gear rental fees each month.
If you’re thinking, well, green building and all this energy efficiency tech must cost a lot more, Loesch says the home’s overall cost was $450,000—not bad at all for a Boston neighborhood, and the couple received about $35,000 in Energy Star rebates due to the efficiencies in the home as well as reaching Energy Star’s Tier 3 status of being 45 percent more energy efficient than a standard home. They also received about $25,000 in federal (30 percent) and Massachusetts state rebates for the solar and solar thermal systems, cutting their solar systems investment by about half.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates