March 22, 2007 |

Four Lakes residences enters 22nd year as solar energy powerhouse

By CARA LORELLO

Staff Reporter

Bill Wynd is what most would call environmentally conscious, and a visit to his 50-acre residence near Four Lakes, a few miles south of the busy lanes of Interstate 90, indicates that this is quite true.

Much of his home's acreage is rehabilitation property protected under a federal conservation reserve program (CRP), in which landowners raise and maintain a certain number of plant and wildlife species on designated parcels rented from the government for up to 10 years at a time.

The vegetation is a motley group of native and non-native plants and trees, such as Ponderosa pine, wild rose and Siberian pea to name a few. Over the last two decades, Wynd has raised and released wild pheasants, new breeds of quail and Hungarian partridges.

And it's only been during the last 20 years or so that Wynd said he's become increasingly aware of the ever-growing encroachment of industrial sprawl to the countryside and the long-term impacts this has to the world's natural environment.

“I've come to realize that we live on a very fragile planet, probably now more than ever,” Wynd said last Wednesday inside one of his home's two solarium rooms he and his wife built while remodeling their home in 1985.

The house is actually the second, more obvious indication of Wynd's conservationist nature, with its high windows that take up most of the upper and lower level stories of the residence's south end.

The solarium rooms Wynd partially financed through a government energy conservation grant program issued through local power company Inland Power and Light, which earned him an $8,000 tax credit on his home that year.

Both the credit and savings the solar rooms did for the house's energy bill came in handy, as the couple's remodeling job ended up taking two whole years to complete.

“We tore off the entire second story to put a new one in, and added a whole new roof on the second story,” Wynd said of the reconstruction.

At the time, there was some pretty widespread interest in adding energy efficient rooms in home construction, and several residents in the area ended up taking advantage of government incentives to add these structures to their property. Wynd said it would be nice to see continuation of such trends nowadays.

“I don't know why more people aren't doing this, the [energy-saving] benefits being as rewarding as they are,” he said. “When we first moved here, the government was spending quite a bit of money on this program.”

On this mid-March afternoon, temperatures are in the low 30s, the wind is strong and the sky is mostly light gray.

Sun rays shine sporadically through a thick, uniform blanket of stratus clouds. But in the solarium, the smallest bit of prolonged sunshine is all that's needed to fill the room with a dense, all-over feeling of warmth that's both comforting and odd at the same time in contrast to the picture outside.

“The response is almost instantaneous,” Wynd said, explaining how the fiberglass sill sealed-window panes facing direct sun absorb a significant degree of heat in small amounts of time.

Sunrays reflected on the opposite wall of the room need to reach only about 6 inches above the floors before temperatures are strong enough to heat the entire room and filter through into the next.

“The key is to have sun come in without breaking,” Wynd said. “When the sun hits the window, inside the glass is a special film that's reflected back and the heat stays inside.

The distance outside to inside and the length of the windows are critical to reaching maximum sun exposure.”

The windows also have custom-made curtains, or as Wynd refers to them “quilts,” with a dual functionality for insulation, as well as heat deflection for when temperatures get too warm.

The lower solar room contains special flooring that acts as a heat sink as well. It was the perfect space to put a Jacuzzi and wicker furniture set, as well as a large number of plants.

Wynd said one of his wife's favorite hobbies was raising several different kinds of plants and flowers, which are kept several months out of the year in the solarium where temperatures allowed many to flourish during a time they would typically die back and remain dormant until spring.

That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the conservation benefits of using solar energy.

It's mostly why Wynd continues to use the resources he's acquired over the last 22 years in all possible ways.

“That, and for the convenience and pleasure of having them…I use them whenever I can as much as I can when the sun is out. It's very well worth it, and it pays for itself,” he said.

Cara Lorello can be reached at clorello@cheneyfreepress.com

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