Elmwood

An all electric, solar shingle, Amish-built, forever home

March 2023

Meet Joe Deden and Mary Bell. Family, environment, food preservation, social justice, and sustainable living have been their life-long passions.

In embracing retirement Joe, the founding director of Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, and Mary decided to continue to live a sustainable lifestyle and serve as an example. 

Their story began March 31, 2016 when they stood outside in the cold Minnesota air at the Eden Prairie Tesla service center to order a new Tesla model 3. This was a car they’d only read about, never driven.

Here's the rest of the story in their words.

To address global climate change the UN’s Intergovernmental panel recommended replacing fossil fuels with locally generated electric power with back-up storage and to utilize heat pumps as a heat source.
 

Bike trailArriving before sunup, we were 30th in line. After placing our order we waited 28 months, 10 days, and 4 hours for the first dual motor long-range model 3 to arrive in the Midwest. Driving an electric vehicle was another way for us to be part of the climate challenge solution.

In 2012 we renovated our frumpy, drafty, old A-frame Eagle Bluff Learning Center residence into an energy-balanced living environment. We reduced our energy consumption by 78% and became the 9th home in North America to receive the 1,000 Home Challenge. Over the years our home’s renovation has served as a model for many others and has continuously stimulated our curiosity to embrace innovative technologies.

When Joe retired, it was time to move on. High on our list was continuing to live in a sustainable manner. Priority number one was to have enough southern exposure to install a solar shingle roof. Our wish list also included enough land to establish prairies and being able to catch sight of an eagle or two. If we got real lucky, we’d be close to moving water.

After months of trying to find a piece of land, Joe decided to buy Tesla solar roof shingles when he learned they’d become available in Minnesota. His argument was, “We need to get them ordered. We need to get on their schedule.” I agreed. 

So we had a roof, but no land and no house drawings. To say the least, putting money down on solar shingles intensified our search and within two weeks we’d purchased 1.1 acres of land with good southern exposure within the city of Lanesboro.

Once the site was cleared, woodland and prairie plants sprouted from seeds that had long laid dormant.

A big plus was we were able to view the Root River. To top it off, an eagle’s nest was a block away. 

In consultation with solar experts, it was determined that a steep, 40-degree pitch would collect the maximum amount of solar energy and shed snow during winter months.

Our task was to design our new home around the roof. According to Greenway Solar, our solar installer, this was something they’d not encountered before.

The installation of the Tesla shingles also became a challenge because the company required covering the entire roof with Tesla shingles. Our design had a two-pitched, south and north facing roof which meant the north backside would not be an efficient solar collector.

On June 29 we contacted Tesla, “If you plan on colonizing Mars, surely we can figure out a way we can put shingles only on our south-facing roof.”

Luckily, on July 10 they agreed. This meant we could install solar shingles not only on our house, but also on our garage roof. With 2,390 square feet of solar shingles it was estimated we could produce about 160+ of our electrical needs.

“If you plan on colonizing Mars, surely we can figure out a way we can put shingles only on our south-facing roof.”

We also installed a PowerWall battery system that will store 14 kWs. With our SPAN smart electrical panel, if the power goes out, the shingles will generate electricity and recharge the battery. These two features will provide enough energy to power our refrigerator, deep freezer, and the heating and cooling system. When vehicle-to-grid becomes available we will utilize our Tesla’s 75 kWh battery and increase our storage potential.

Along with generating our electric needs we utilized innovative building products to make our home energy efficient. Our lower-level basement walls have Inter-connected concrete forms that fit together like Legos and were filled with cement to help keep the cold out and warmth in. Our triple-pane Access windows from Canada are a European style window with fiberglass frames. Our home’s exterior walls were first covered with zip sheathing, providing structural support, moisture protection, and thermal resistance. Zip sheathing more efficiently replaces three other products, and has an R6 insulation value. In addition, we sprayed a closed cell foam barrier and added rock wool insulation to reach R30. We blew loose cellulose insulation into the attic to obtain R70.

An Arctic heat pump provides our primary heating and cooling system and is efficient down to 25 below. The challenge of this type of heat pump system is that when temperatures go down, heat pumps become less efficient and require supplemental heat which is supplied by an electric boiler. We embedded in-floor heating in the cement basement floor. On the main floor we used a product called Warmboard that contains a layer of heat-conveying aluminum as the in-floor heating subflooring.

Many years ago we took down Joe’s 5th generation family farm barn and saved red exterior and structural boards. We have creatively used the 150-year-old white pine boards in our ultra-modern, energy efficient home. The red textured recycled wood gives a feeling of authenticity and conveys a sense of history.

Our doorbell knocker is from my paternal grandparent’s Irish two-story square homestead. We incorporated five copper lightning rods from the barn into our décor.

We chose dark-brown, 26-gauge, long-lasting steel that looks like wood with black trim on the surface exterior. To prevent our roof from blowing away during severe weather, we anchored every roof truss to the stud wall using hurricane tie downs. All our appliances are energy efficient including an induction stove. We have dual flush toilets and low flow shower heads.

A true joy in this project was working with all the trades people. Everyone worked hard to get these new innovative systems up and running and made suggestions on how to improve the project. They too were excited in participating in how it could serve as a model for others. We enjoyed the companionship and competence of four Amish carpentry brothers who were always joyful, always smiling, and greeted us each day with a heartfelt “good morning.”

With global climate change causing increased severe weather, power outages and threats of attacks on the electric grid, we look forward to being energy independent. We are excited about the possibility of encouraging others to invest in small, local electrical systems that add stability to the grid and reduce fossil fuel consumption.

Our intent is to share what we accomplished. We look forward to providing information about the components of our building project by offering tours and the opportunity to share a cup of tea in our carbon-free environment.
Contact Mary Bell for more information or to learn about the Tesla Solar Referral Program.
 

Be the change you wish to see in the world. Namaste. 
 

Joe Deden and Mary Bell

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