A 7,000-square-foot house might seem like an energy-guzzling nightmare, but done correctly it can be an energy saver. Take for instance, the home of George and Cindy Riedel. Built on their 7 acres of land in Bath Township, the timber frame home is the product of the couple’s foreword-thinking, environmentally conscious mindset.
It sits atop a hill on Yellow Creek Road, just a few miles from the busy city, though it feels like a country retreat, surrounded by natural beauty. Looking out the large windows in the home’s solarium, the Riedels have seen their fair share of wildlife, including deer and wild turkeys, roaming through their yard.
In a time when many homeowners are worried that their property won’t retain its value, the Riedels aren’t the least bit concerned. They didn’t build their home in hopes of turning a profit; they built the home of their dreams with a goal of living there for the rest of their lives. They even had the foresight to make the home handicap accessible and to leave room for an elevator. Such an undertaking isn’t completed overnight, though. While they began construction in 2003, and moved into their home in 2004, the couple began planning even the most minor details years before they broke ground.
Almost every detail, from the furniture (a mish-mash of pieces inherited from both families) to the kitchen trash bin (an oversized can that’s accessible through a hole in the island counter), was carefully thought out and placed with a purpose. Throughout the home, photos, paintings and fixtures represent part of the couple’s heritage or past. Before meeting with an architect, they took graph paper and drew what they wanted on the inside of their home, with no concept of what the exterior might look like.
The home has a 320-gallon solar tank that stores water. The flat-plate collectors on the garage heat the water to 180 degrees and then a heat exchanger cools the water down as it transfers into the 80 gallon hot water tank, where a UV systems sanitizes the water for consumption.
To supplement its electricity needs, the house, which faces south to maximize its solar energy benefits, also has a free-standing, 9kw solar array with 60 panels. If with the solar panels the Riedels accrue more energy than they use, then the electric company actually owes them money. So far that hasn’t happened.
The barn on the property was built before the house, and before the couple had a chance to really research energy efficiency. Its walls are insulated with fiberglass and cellulose, but the Riedels didn’t insulate the floor from the earth. So, when the heat isn’t burning, the ambient temperature of the barn is the same as the ground. Thankfully, the couple learned more about the process before starting on the house.
Even in the midst of a winter snowstorm, their masonry furnace keeps the home’s living room toasty and warm. It heats so well, in fact, that the couple only need keep it lit for a few hours because, even after the fire is extinguished, the furnace continues to produce heat for about 12 hours. In addition to the masonry furnace, the home has two wood-burning stoves, a fireplace and radiant floor heating. Part of the home’s efficiency comes from George’s vigilance during construction, making sure foam was sprayed around every door and window for an airtight seal.
All together, the home features six heating zones, but in the winter only one or two run at any given time. When the sun comes out, the home’s temperature spikes 5 or 6 degrees. While this is a blessing in winter, it makes the home a little more difficult to keep cool in the summer months. Though the couple does have air conditioning, they use it sparingly, just to keep humidity levels low. Instead, the Riedels utilize external and internal shades during the day, then open the windows to the solarium and upstairs loft when the sun goes down. Ceiling fans throughout the home also help move around the heat in winter, cold air in summer.
Hardwood throughout the house was harvested off the property, with a total of 13 different kinds, including types of oak, walnut, hickory and beech. Each one is finished with turpentine and linseed oil. In addition, the ceiling board, cabinetry and floorboards are byproducts from the home’s post and beams. In other areas, they supplemented with wood from Oregon.
George and Cindy also followed the “reuse” principle by salvaging doors from Mount Sinai Hospital when it was torn down. George had a small environmental consulting firm at the time, and saved the doors from going to the landfill. He obtained about 15-20 doors, some of which he gave away, and kept seven or eight for himself. All the home’s doors, with the exception of the pocket doors, came from the hospital. Weighing in at 135 pounds a piece, these doors are probably more solid than any newly built doors would be.
The Riedel home is the epitome of an open floor plan. The kitchen, living room, solarium and other rooms all blend in with one another, creating several nooks throughout the home. Even the master bedroom and bathroom have an open, airy feel. Though they do have partitions to provide privacy from the rest of the house, they are not separated by traditional floor-to-ceiling walls. The highlight of the master bathroom is a large, open shower, which proved to be especially convenient when George broke his back and could roll his wheelchair in and out of the shower with ease.
Off of the bathroom is George’s office area, which leads into the four-season room, a relatively new addition to the house. Wall tiles serve to absorb heat from the wood-burning stove and help maintain the room’s temperature. A second opening in the room leads into the kitchen where the blue-tiled fireplace is a favorite spot for the couple’s dog, Maxwell, to curl up. The kitchen sports sleek granite countertops and a large island, complete with the roll-out trash bin mentioned at the beginning of the story. Most of what appear to be cabinets are actually drawers, which Cindy, a retired elementary school teacher, finds more useful for storing and accessing dishes and other items.
In a home filled with memories at every turn, even the stairway leading to the second floor has meaning to the Riedel family, as it was built with wood from the couple’s old barn floor. The upstairs loft overlooks the living room and features a spacious area for young visitors to play, as well as a second bathroom, storage areas and several extra beds tucked away for guests.
Although it’s their dream come true, the Riedels know their style of home isn’t for everyone. “You’ve got to like open, and you’ve got to like wood,” Cindy says.
Throughout the long process to get to where they are today, the couple learned a lot about green building and energy efficiency, and so did their general contractor, who now incorporates techniques used with the Riedel home on some of his other projects. Others have an opportunity to take a few cues from the Riedels, too, as their home has been part of Green Energy Ohio’s annual solar tour. To find out more, visit www.greenergyohio.org.