A Case Study for the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program
In 1992, Cailyn McCauley and Joel Quigley moved into their 1,700 square foot, fixer-upper home in Santa Rosa. The couple’s first years in the home were spent remodeling the home inside and trimming back the massively overgrown landscaping. Concerned about climate change and energy usage, they also took on water and energy conservation projects throughout the 1990s.
Starting in 1994, they replaced all their 3.5-gallon per flush toilets with low flow toilets, switched to low flow faucets, and built a network of lawn sprinklers and garden drip irrigation. Just in flushing, they reduced water usage from 1,080 gallons a month to only 144 gallons—a savings of 936 gallons per month on average!
Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Quigley’s slowly and steadily replaced single pane windows, installed CFL lighting, refinished hardwood floors, and rebuilt bathrooms. But it was in 2003 that the couple first sketched out the idea of building a courtyard off the front of their home and tearing out lawns. This vision wasn’t realized until 2005, when an 80’ silver maple in their front yard was dying and had to be removed. This is when they made the move to completely reinvent their landscaping to become a usable, greener, outdoor entertaining area.
During removal of the silver maple, they dug out thirsty lawns and replaced the majority of the area with permeable surface, decomposed granite. The decomposed granite allows water to filter down to the aquifer instead of running off into gutters, yet still functions like a hard surface to allow for BBQ and patio areas. The remainder of the yard was planted with native plants and urban, organic gardens in narrow strips with drip irrigation. And because the driveway had been severely damaged by the silver maple’s root system, the couple had the concrete removed. But instead of dumping the concrete into the landfill, they broke it into small blocks to reuse as retaining walls in these planted areas. Another ecological benefit: they no longer needed a lawn mower with a polluting, two-stroke engine.
During the completion of this nearly 3 year landscaping project, the Quigley’s also worked inside the home. They replaced their washer and dryer with high-efficiency models and installed an on-demand hot water heater to further reduce water and energy usage. Today, the family uses approximately 3,000 – 4,000 gallons during summer months, drastically reducing their water consumption from the peak consumption in past years at 23,000 gallons a month.
Needless to say, these realized conservation and out-of-pocket savings continued to inspire the couple to dream and plan for other resource saving projects. They especially wanted to further upgrade their home to reduce energy usage. Going solar was the big dream, but replacing their decades old gas furnace and kitchen appliances to properly take advantage of solar would be a long and potentially impossible series of projects. The financial resources do to it all at once were not available.
And then, in March 2009, when shopping at a local hardware store to investigate taking the first step to replace kitchen appliances, the Quigley’s heard about the launch of the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (S.C.E.I.P.). They did their research, crunched the numbers, met with contractors and made the decision: with the support SCEIP, they could replace their old furnace with a high-efficiency furnace and upgrade to central air and go solar!
The Quigley’s approached their home’s energy reduction project carefully, using the PG&E Online Energy Evaluator. They learned about their home’s “loading order.” The term “loading order” refers to prioritizing what improvements can be made to a building to first reduce energy use through efficiency measures, so the appropriate solar system can be decided upon. If the couple did not make energy efficiency improvements to their home, they would end up having to buy a larger, much more expensive solar system than they would otherwise need.
To optimize home for solar, the Quigley’s changed out the last of their old, single pane windows, and installed a high-efficiency heat pump and central air in place of their old furnace and window air conditioners. The heat pump, aside from being highly efficient, is electric and will get its energy source from the solar panels when installed. They also upgraded their old kitchen appliances to improve energy efficiency. And now, they are ready for the installation of their new 4.7-kilowatt solar system thanks to S.C.E.I.P.!