Kathryn Gray’s Solar Story: A low-cost, net zero solar homestead for a couple of retired solar bozos and their son who shares their goal of sustainable agroecology

Solar on the main house

When I retired from my almost 40 years as a passive solar home designer, activist, and educator, with the prospect of time and singular focus, I was eager to embark on a project of my own…a SOLAR project of course. And so, Fenlake Farm was born. Fenlake Farm is a five-acre, orchard/woodlands located near the foothills of the Cascade Range within Oregon’s Willamette Valley. To keep building costs low, we used a hybrid of pre-fabricated and/or self-built structures.

Fenlake Farm during construction

Since the pre-fab sections (customized barns from TUFF-SHED) of the buildings were 2 x 4 wall construction (2x6 ceilings), we used high density soy foam insulation to achieve highest possible R-values and air-infiltration levels. The house has 75 sq ft of south facing window area, and foundations are all concrete slab with some of the house slab incorporating a convection system.

Slab heating lowers energy consumption
Large south-facing windows further heat the space naturally, using sunlight

Primary heating is provided by two small EPA-lll woodstoves. We are fortunate to source our wood from our own woodlot. We consistently burn 1 ½ cords/yr.

Being a farm, biomass is plentiful and a wood stove provides the main source of controllable heating

Our primary crop is from a 100+ cider apple orchard from which we process the apples in our small cidery.

Fenlake Farm produces cider from its main crop: apples

We also have a 500 sq. Ft. greenhouse for veggies, mostly for family consumption. We also grow berries and nuts for ourselves. We have two adorable mini donkeys that mow their pasture and convert it to fertilizer for all our plants. The irrigation for veggies, nut and berries and domestic drinking water and cooking and for the cidery, comes from 14,000 gallons of harvested tanks of rainwater. We also have 11 hens to keep us supplied in eggs and keep the berries bug free.

Home to two mini donkeys
And plenty of flowers

We use approximately 12 kWh/day electricity which powers all the house, cidery and shop electricity, including cook stove, 4 on-demand water pumps for the rainwater tanks, 3 hot water heaters, 3 refrigerators, a freezer, and power tools. It also powers a well pump. We offset this amount completely with solar energy produced by our PVs on an annual basis. We finished this billing year with a net credit of $109.

It’s really kind of an experiment, but so far, it’s working out well. Our son, Jeffrey, with his back ground in biology/ecology and permaculture), does most of the actual ecofarm management and work. My husband, Steve, and I have focused on the built environment, which is largely complete at this point, and continue to cook, craft, paint and maintain and host and oh, yeah…. Steve loves to monitor the energy use… he does this daily. Definitely his thing.

If we ever get past this current virus pandemic, you should come check it out for yourself.

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