Carson Country families have made an investment in alternative energy sources and energy conservation worth looking at.
Five homes are featured in the fourth annual National Solar Home Tour, set Saturday and Sunday. Saturday's tours are in Reno, Palomino Valley, the Virginia Highlands, and Incline Village. Sunday's tour ranges from Markleeville, Calif., just south of Minden, to Silver City.
While some homes on the tour have moderate commitments to alternative energy, those of John Whitaker near Markleeville and Karl Larson at Silver City are not even connected to the power company. Solar- and wind-generated electricity, passive solar heating and insulating materials made it possible for these men - who each designed and built their own homes - to "cut the cord."
The tour is conducted annually through more than 600 homes in 100 communities by members of the American Solar Energy Society to promote and demonstrate the sustainable use of the planet's resources. The Northern Nevada tour is conducted by the Sunrise Sustainable Resources Group, the Nevada chapter of ASES.
Tickets for the tour are $10 for an individual or $15 for a couple or family.
Besides touring energy efficient homes and some businesses, participants will be able see the electrathon solar-powered car and a hydrogen fuel cell-powered truck, talk with alternative energy experts, learn about gardening methods that save resources and sample lasagna cooked on a solar oven.
Karl Larsen is just completing his second straw-bale home at Silver City this month. He's lived in his first, which will become his garage, for the past two years as he built the permanent one. Larson uses a building method that compresses straw at 400 pounds per square inch between the stone and brick walls of his new home.
Larsen uses photovoltaic panels and a wind generator to produce electricity for his home. More solar panels heat water that flows beneath the floors and for domestic hot water uses. The large fireplace has coils that can heat water, which doubles as a solar mass to collect heat from the sun.
The stone exterior of Larsen's house gives no hint of the straw heart to its walls, so Larsen has put a clue out front, a steel "Big, Bad Wolf" sign that pivots in the wind.
Seeking to escape from urban air pollution that literally threatened his life, Whitaker was attracted to the pristine forest near Indian Creek Reservoir and the Markleeville Airport. When he learned the cost of extending power lines to his desired property, he decided he would live without it.
Whitaker also lived in a smaller structure on his property during the construction of a larger home. His home is of more conventional construction than Larsen's, but still features wind- and solar-generated electricity and passive and active solar heating.
Whitaker did install a backup generator in case of extended periods of little solar gain, but has used it an average of less than 100 hours a year.
He pumps his own water and a cellular phone handles communication. How to manage Internet access is his next challenge, Whitaker told a reporter last summer.
Other Carson Country homes on the tour include:
- Emory and Irene Marshall's overlooking the Carson Valley, featuring a glass wall on the south side that heats air, which then is blown under 17 tons of rock that form the living room floor and store the heat. Several energy and water conservation systems are in use.
- Jay and Jan Meierdierck's home in Timberline above Carson City. The home features several energy conservation systems that support its passive heating and cooling design. The family has lived in the house for 12 years and can offer substantial insight about the effectiveness of solar designs.
- Constance Alexander's home off Stephanie Way in the Carson Valley. The home is another straw bale home, but of a different philosophy than Larsen's. Alexander wanted to minimize the use of non-renewable and construction toxic materials and has since discovered the straw is a great insulator not only of thermal changes but of highway sounds.
What: National Solar Home Tour
When: 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 16 and 17
Tickets: Kennedy Book Store, Java Joe's and Carl's Blueprint. The Edible Earth in Gardnerville.
For information, call Toni McCormick 267-2311.