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Old 18-04-11, 15:43   #1
 
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Thumbs Up Couple Builds Solar-Powered Home With Help From Google

Dr. Philippe Jeanty and his wife, Thao, designed their eco-friendly home. The house features solar panels, geo-thermal heating, wood burning stoves and foam insulation.



FAIRVIEW, Tenn. — Many Internet users rely on Google to instantly find information about almost anyone and anything.
Philippe and Thao Jeanty decided to use Google to design their solar-powered home here.
“The beauty of Google SketchUp is you can move things around until it looks good. Anything Google does is good. And it’s free,” said Philippe Jeanty, a physician who practices radiology in Nashville, Tenn.
Using Google SketchUp, a 3-D modeling program usually used by architects, engineers and other design professionals, the couple drew the plans for their home and all of its high-tech, low-environmental-impact features on a computer screen.
“Woodworkers say measure twice and cut once. We did that with SketchUp . We designed it to a quarter of an inch,” Philippe Jeanty said.
When they ran into problems, they posted their questions on bulletin boards frequented by Google SketchUp user groups. Solutions came quickly.
After living for several years in a dilapidated farmhouse on their 60-acre property, the couple were determined to finally have the house of their dreams.
Their new one-story, 2,700-square-foot home and the adjacent 700-square-foot apartment they designed for Philippe Jeanty’s mother, renowned surgeon Madeleine Lejour, are almost completely self-sufficient.
The main house is situated facing magnetic north and south so a rooftop 5-kilowatt solar array can provide most of the electricity for both structures. They are tied to the grid for power after dark, but Philippe Jeanty says the electric bill is just pennies per day.
When their solar system produces more electricity than they need, they sell it to the local power company. Other features:
— Windows along the south-facing roofline let in warm sunshine during the winter. During the summer, they are shaded.
— Lighting is provided by LED bulbs, which use little electricity.
— The water supply comes from ponds and year-round springs.
— Heating and cooling are provided by a geothermal system although a wood stove, which burns fallen limbs they collect on the property, provides all the heat they need.
— Exterior walls are extra thick and tightly sealed with corn-based foam insulation.
— A drip irrigation system waters the garden.
They reused windows, doors, kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures and other items from their old house when they tore it down. The kitchen bar was made from the wood floor of the old house.
Philippe Jeanty, who grew up in Congo and travels the world on medical and educational missions — most recently to Somalia — and Thao Jeanty, who grew up in Vietnam, wanted their house to have as little environmental impact as possible.
“People were complaining about the price of oil last year and are worried about nuclear energy now,” he said, referring to the reactors that are leaking radiation in Japan. “This is the solution.”
Lejour, Philippe Jeanty’s mother, said her one-room apartment seems much larger. The apartment is tied in to the main house’s solar and geothermal systems. One day Philippe Jeanty may place a second solar array on its roof to generate even more electricity.
“It’s so logical,” she said of the open design. “It’s small, but it has everything.”
Philippe and Thao Jeanty budgeted $275,000 but actually spent about $350,000 once the cost of placing utilities underground and putting in a concrete driveway were figured in.
To save money, they included a couple of decidedly low-tech features. The foundation is made of ordinary concrete blocks. The fish in the main pond came from Walmart. And the exterior siding is vinyl.
“It’s a combination of high-tech and cheap,” he said.
Finding a builder wasn’t easy. Several took a look at the couple’s plans and bowed out. The geothermal heating and cooling system was especially challenging. No one had ever seen anything like it, said Travis Johnson, whose company, Clarion Homes, was selected as the general contractor.
“Philippe is a unique individual. Some of his ideas are unusual. Taking his ideas and incorporating them into reality was a challenge,” Johnson said.
Geothermal systems use the earth’s constant underground temperature of about 54 degrees to heat and cool a building. Water circulating through underground pipes collects heat from the earth during the winter. During the summer, the system carries heat from the building. Usually the systems are connected to a central system that blows warm or cool air. But Philippe Jeanty insisted on radiant heating and cooling under the hickory wood floor.
The idea of placing rows of plastic pipes in concrete, and making sure none of them leaked, scared off several builders, said Ken Carpenter, whose Hendersonville, Tenn.-based company, Designed Climate, successfully completed the job.
The result of the overall design, he said, is a house like no other.
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