A Rural Electric House That Works
A tight building envelope and plenty of insulation mean low energy bills, even for a Minnesota home with electric heat.
Synopsis: The cost of heating houses with electricity is generally high, especially if those houses are in the northern part of the country. This article takes a detailed look at one such house in rural Minnesota that is so tight and well insulated that its heating costs are surprisingly low. Designed by architect Rachel Wagner, the 1950-sq.-ft. house makes use of passive-solar techniques, double-stud construction, R-80 attic insulation, and triple-glazed windows.
When I heard that Rachel Wagner, a Minnesota designer known for her efficient homes, had designed a cold-climate house with electric-resistance heat, I was intrigued. After all, homes with electric heat are usually known for their high fuel bills. When I investigated further, I discovered that the house not only is an energy miser but is also very handsome. Although electric heating systems have a bad reputation, some designers are rethinking their prejudice. A tight, well-insulated house typically has low utility bills even when using an expensive heat source like electricity. Moreover, all-electric homes don’t need a chimney or fuel storage, and they don’t suffer from fuel fumes or backdrafting. Finally, electric-resistance heaters have few maintenance issues.
Integrated design works well
Wagner’s firm designed the all-electric house for Gail Olson and Erik Peterson in Esko, Minn. Olson is the fourth generation of her family to live on the 65-acre farm where the new home was built.
Using an integrated design approach, Wagner pulled together a team that included the homeowners, builder Steve Johnson, and energy consultant Michael LeBeau. The design process emphasized open communication among all the members of the team. The two-story, three-bedroom house that they designed follows classic passive-solar design principles. To keep the space-heat needs as low as possible, Wagner used double-stud walls (R-54), thick attic insulation (R-80), and triple-glazed windows.