Sunday, October 5, 2008


This article appeared in Sunday's Lockport US&J....

ENERGY: Sunny day
Homeowner uses solar power to save money

With energy prices rising, for some homeowners the dial on the electric meter seems to spin more relentlessly every day. For Viki Ingersoll, however, the numbers on her electric meter sometimes run backwards.

Ingersoll’s Gasport Road home, which she designed in the 1980s, has been specially tailored to be energy efficient. Over the years, the home has been equipped with solar panels, extra insulation and other modifications that actually produce electricity.

On one summer day, Ingersoll said, she checked the National Grid meter as she left for work and saw it was at 603 kilowatt-hours. When she returned later, the meter read 594 kwh.“So I had produced nine kilowatt-hours more than we used during the day,” she said.

Ingersoll, energy manager for the Diocese of Buffalo, held an open house Saturday, inviting the public into her home to demonstrate how the average homeowner can save both money and energy. The Ingersoll household was fitted with roof-mounted solar panels in July. The panels cost about $24,000, but half of that was paid for by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which offers incentives for homeowners to become more energy efficient. Ingersoll said they also received help via federal and state tax credits. In the end, the out-of-pocket cost was about $4,000, she said.The system became operational on July 18.

Up until then, the average National Grid bill was about $180 a month. The August bill, which included two weeks worth of the solar energy contribution, was $145. In September, the bill was $92.“I’m pretty happy with (the savings),” she said. “It’s not huge, but it’s nothing to sneer at.” As the year goes on, the bills may become even lower — possibly even down to nothing.“Once we get into June, it might be possible we may see negative,” Ingersoll said. “You’re not gonna get rich. ... but it could eliminate your bill.”

The house uses about 20 kwh per day. By about noon Saturday, though the skies were cloudy, the system had already produced about 2.65 kwh. Ingersoll said that on a sunny day, it can be even higher. The highest she’s seen was about 16.5 kwh. “During the summer, 14 or 15 was pretty common,” she said.

Ingersoll designed the house in 1985 with energy efficiency in mind. The house is wider and shorter than most, which reduces the amount of exterior exposure. The large, south-facing windows collect solar energy, allowing the house to be kept at 70 degrees on any clear sunny day — no matter what the outside temperature. Above the windows, the roof overhangs stick out 12 inches, shading the windows during the summer to help keep the house cool. The breezeway between the house and garage serves as an “airlock,” keeping cold air out of the home. The garage itself was built to the north of the home to protect the house from exposure to the elements. Each exterior wall is fully insulated. The interior walls were covered with polyethylene, to reduce air infiltration through the exterior walls.

Middleport resident John Willis visited Ingersoll’s home for Saturday’s open house and said he was impressed by what he saw. Willis said he’s been using solar energy for various projects since the 1970s, including using solar to heat his pool. “I dabble in it a little bit,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that you can do on your own, that you can save money.”

Ingersoll said she hopes more people will give solar energy a shot. “My goal was to have an energy-efficient house, that I could live in until retirement, that didn’t look weird,” she said. “Basically, it would just be a good home.”