Nov. 11 2010 12:00 AM

7051 W. Eaton Highway


Property: 7051 W. Eaton Highway, Lansing

Owner: Pat Ballentine

Assessed Value: $100,600

With housing values unlikely to increase in the near term, why not invest in energy-saving measures that not only reduce your energy bills but also make you money? Lansing resident Pat Ballentine has provided us with an inspiring example of how sustainable design can be a wise investment for your pocket book and the environment.

Built 25 years ago, the traditional two-story, colonial-style Ballentine house at 7051 Eaton Highway is one of Lansing’s best-known solar houses. The 1,728-square-foot house utilizes passive solar strategies, including a bank of south-facing windows that allows for direct gain (radiant heat from sunlight admitted directly to the living spaces). Overhangs let in the lowangled rays during winters and shade the highangled rays of summer.

“Sunshine is a mood elevator. All of the natural light that floods my home lifts my spirits — it makes me feel good,” Ballentine said.

In 2010, Ballentine took her solar home a step further by making it an active solar house with the addition of a photovoltaic standing seam roof wisely oriented to the south.

Ballentine said she sells energy collected by the solar panels to Consumers Energy at 52 cents per kilowatt-hour, but purchases energy from Consumers at 10 cents per kilowatt hour.

Passive solar design is a technique for keeping a home comfortable without the use of mechanical equipment to heat or cool. It’s nothing new.

People have been harnessing the radiant heat of the sun to warm their homes and non-mechanical methods to cool for millennia. Ancient peoples including the Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Aztecs, Incas and Native Americans designed buildings to harness the radiant heat of the sun. Until recently (it seems), people inherently knew how to design buildings that worked with the natural environment to meet their comfort needs without mechanized systems. The advent of cheap energy made solar energy obsolete, and we lost the inherent knowledge of utilizing what nature gives us freely.

Passive solar design refers to a variety of techniques for heating that include, but are not limited to, direct gain (as explained above), indirect gain and thermal mass.

Indirect gain is a method by which a design utilizes a sunspace (a room of mostly windows, such as a solarium or greenhouse) or a Trombe wall (a sun-facing interior wall separated by glass and an air space that absorbs radiant heat during the day and releases it to the interior during the night). The sunspace and Trombe wall collect heat and naturally transfer it to the rest of the interior. %u2028%u2028

In addition, thermal mass is a method by which materials — most often masonry, including but also not limited to; concrete, tile, brick and stone — absorb and store heat. Highly effective thermal masses are of a dark material, great for absorbing heat and located in direct sunlight. Like the Trombe wall, the thermal mass absorbs the heat and releases it at night and overcast days to heat the interior. %u2028%u2028

Passive solar design also includes cooling techniques that include overhangs for south-facing windows (as explained above), limiting windows on the west of the building (heat gain from the west in the summer is the hardest to control), plentiful shade trees (block radiant heat from even reaching the house) and cross ventilation. In addition, the use of thermal mass for heating in cold weather can be utilized to cool the interior during warm weather by absorbing cool air at night and releasing it during the day. %u2028%u2028

Insulation is an essential feature of a passive solar design. Without quality insulation, it is impossible for these techniques to significantly heat or cool a building effectively. %u2028%u2028

Although it is commonly thought that passive solar design can only be used in contemporary and modernist architectural styles, the traditional two-story colonial style Ballentine house is a great example of how passive solar design can be appropriate for more traditional styles as well. Having said that, the orientation of the house, overhangs and shading, window placement, insulation and thermal mass are not limited to use by a “solar house,” but are essential features of any well designed house. Passive solar techniques can be configured to meet the needs of the site and integrated flawlessly into any architectural style. %u2028%u2028

In contrast to passive solar design, active solar design refers to a method of using solar collectors (solar panels) to capture solar energy and convert it into heat. Active solar methods typically use pumps and/or fans to move heat from the panels to storage to use. Active solar methods have gotten a bad wrap over the years for their perceived less-than-attractive nature. However, the days of unattractive solar panels are long gone. Now solar collectors come in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles. You should have no trouble finding a suitable option that will enhance both the energy and the aesthetics of your home. %u2028%u2028

Although windows, thermal mass and Trombe walls are best suited for integration during new construction or major renovation, passive and active design features can be easy additions without extensive renovation.