Magazine article Sunset

A House of Independent Means

Magazine article Sunset

A House of Independent Means

Article excerpt

Sun, wind, and propane are all that power a house in Northern California, with no compromise on amenities

No power, gas, or water lines run to Anoosh and Kija Mizany's hillside home in Nicasio, California. No monthly electric bills arrive in the mail. With the exception of a telephone line, the Marin County house stands - in the lingo of the solar power community - "off the grid" of public utility power lines. The Mizanys use the sun and the wind to meet most of the energy needs in their 4,500-square-foot house.

Unlike many of the experimental solar homes built in the 1970s and 1980s, the Mizanys' house gives little outward hint of its energy independence. With a composition shingle roof, plywood siding, landscaped grounds, and a swimming pool, the house looks like a traditional ranch-style home. Inside, the appearance and amenities show no compromise on comfort: high ceilings, indirect lighting, ceiling-mounted down lights, a full kitchen with a pair of refrigerators, a central vacuum system, a whirlpool-style bathtub, televisions, stereos, tile and wooden surfaces over radiant-heated floor systems, and a three-car garage with automatic openers.

However, you can't help but notice the array of solar panels on the south-facing roofs of the garage and main house. Panels on the house are solar thermal panels for the hydronic system that heats water for the pool, domestic use, and the radiant floor, and the ones on the garage are state-of-the-art photovoltaic (PV) panels, which convert sunlight to direct-current electricity. The 50 PV panels combine to make a self-contained mini-power station that can produce 15 kilowatt-hours of power a day in summer months and about 8 in winter months.

Elsewhere on the property are smaller arrays of PV panels that power the pool filtration pump and a pump that brings well water to two 1,700-gallon storage tanks buried uphill from the house (the elevation change creates the water pressure). In addition, two wind-driven generators rising from the hillside site contribute 3 to 5 kilowatt-hours of power during windy days - enough to run the Mizanys' two energy-efficient refrigerators for 48 hours.

None of this power comes cheap. Anoosh Mizany estimates the cost of panels, additional equipment, control panels, storage batteries, and a backup generator to be about $45,000. However, the cost of bringing the local utility service to the remote site would have been twice as high. …

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