Reaching for zero for family’s new home

MARQUETTE — A family in Marquette is looking to achieve zero, net zero, for their home. To achieve a net zero home the amount of energy consumed has to be equal to the amount of energy it creates.

Sarah Mittlefehldt, associate professor of environmental history and sustainability at NMU, and her family are in the process of turning their newly built home into a net zero one.

“And we have always been intrigued by the idea of building our own house, my husband John Gillette and I, and with Marquette it seemed like we wanted to put our roots down here, The U.P. I think is slow to get on the boat [for net zero] but I think there’s a lot of possibility here too,” Mittlefehldt said.

As of now, they have been living in the home for a few months and have been building it on the Albert Street property for a year or more. The home has an acute design. It faces directly east to west allowing for optimal sunlight to enter the open concept home.

“Just using less energy and reducing energy use in the home is the first step and then thinking about we can apply renewable technology is to get us to that really ambitious goal of being a net zero house. Even more fundamentally was the orientation of the house. It’s a passive solar house and the idea of a passive solar house is that we have an overhang above the windows on the south facing wall that allows for the low sun in the winter time to penetrate the windows and heat the thermal mass that is our concrete floor, but in the summer when you don’t want that extra heat that nice overhang blocks that summer sun,” she explained.

The home operates off the heat of the sun and a single EPA approved wood stove for heat.

“High energy, EPA–rated wood stoves are pretty amazing at like how much energy, in terms of thermal energy, they put out without putting out much in emissions,” she added.

As heat is a large part of consumption for those who live in the U.P., finding ways to conserve it are a priority. They make great use of the small space that they have. The home is only 1500 square feet and every foot is used with consideration for how to make it efficient.

“So we were very lucky in some ways to start from scratch, and one of the very basic ways was re–think bigger is better. Just being conscious about the design of the house, the materials we put into it, and how it would perform over the long run,” Sarah commented.

In the future, Sarah and her husband would like to implement solar and wind, as well as explore other options for energy resources.

“We don’t actually have the panels yet, but we do a bid from a contractor and that will be one of our next steps also. So far our electric bills have been so tiny, about 200 kw hours a month,” she shared.

Some simple steps to become more energy efficient, according to Sarah, is just becoming more conscientious of the energy an individual consumes and trying to make small adjustments.

“We went to a salvage store in the twin cities and bought reclaimed granite counter tops for about one hundred bucks and rethinking how we build and rethinking the materials we’re getting, there are simple ways you can change the way we design and build things that don’t necessarily have to be super expensive,” said Mittlefehldt.