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
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.
<p>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 reputa-tion, some designers are rethinking their prejudice. A tight, well-insulated house typically has low utility bills even when using an expensive heat source like electric-ity. 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.</p>
<p>Integrated design works well</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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 clas-sic…