Energy efficient home opens doors to public

By Czarina Gregorio

Katrin Klingenberg’s morning routine might seem familiar: get out of bed, shower, make tea and get dressed. But in the dead of winter, Klingenberg’s every move continuously heats her energy-efficient solar home. The house only needs heat from a power source equal to that of a hair dryer.

Klingenberg, a German architect, designed the energy-efficient, 1,100-square-foot home at 206 « Brady Lane in Urbana with her late husband Nic Smith, also an architect. They envisioned a home that would be 90 percent more efficient than other homes similar in size. After her husband died almost three years ago, she forged ahead and began the 10-month construction of the Smith House, in honor of her husband.

“It really became a memorial to him (Nic),” Klingenberg said. “This was the first home he designed.”

A crowd of homeowners, eager to see the energy-efficient methods Klingenberg employed, viewed the Smith House during a public showing yesterday.

Libby Tyler, an Urbana resident, attended the open house and was impressed by the ingenuity of the design.

“The ecologically-sound construction combined with cost efficiency seems like the wave of the future,” Tyler said.

The solar home was based on design principles of the renewable, or passive, house energy standards from Klingenberg’s native Germany. The envelope construction called for airtight and super-insulated materials, some of which Klingenberg had to import from Canada. The design emphasized triple-glazed, south-facing windows that maximize passive solar heating and cooling.

Dylan Lamar, graduate student in architecture, said it was important for the windows to face south.

“The sun has a slant to the south and arches in that direction,” Lamar said. “Windows facing north never get any direct sunlight, so it is especially important for this house because there is no furnace.”

Lamar said another design feature is the 100-foot earth-tube buried six feet underground where the temperature is roughly 55 degrees year-round. The ventilation tube sucks in air that is already pre-warmed in the winter and pre-cooled in the summer and filters it into the house.

“That passive heating and cooling won’t cost you anything,” Klingenberg said. “We tried to capture as much free energy that was available.”

The house also boasts a heat ventilation system that recovers heat from exhaust air. This ensures constant outdoor air ventilation for a cleaner, safer indoor air quality. Klingenberg said she credits the ventilation system for her health.

“I have not been sick in the two years since I moved into this house,” she said. “The goal was to design a house using sustainable materials that was safer for people and the planet.”

Klingenberg said that since the house uses so much renewable energy, it is cost-effective. Despite harsh winter temperatures, the highest energy bill she received was $42.

Her success with the Smith House prompted her to start the Ecological Construction Laboratory (e-co lab), a non-profit organization that looks to empower low-income families to own and benefit from such energy and cost-efficient homes.

Klingenberg said e-co lab hopes to begin construction on a second solar home designed by Lamar in the summer. Lamar’s design consists of a 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom home for a family of four. The city of Urbana has provided the costs for a $25,000 lot and a $20,000 down payment for the house. E-co lab is in the process of finding eligible families.

She said families who qualify must fall into the 51 to 80 percent income range of the median area income. For a family of four, the median ranges from $30,200 to $48,300. The family will also need loan approval through a local lender to finance the remaining construction costs.

For Klingenberg, the benefits of a passive-energy solar home are obvious and needed. She said that with the ongoing war in Iraq, there is a potential energy crisis that would call for cheaper, more efficient energy use.

“This is the way to do it,” Klingenberg said. “It’s like living outside in the fresh air.”