WILLIAMSTOWN - One of the most meticulously studied examples of solar design in the Northeast is the home of the Moomaw family on Henderson Road. Dr. William Moomaw is program director and professor of international environmental policy at Tufts University, and his wife Margot runs a small consulting business for solar consumers. Dr. Moomaw has also been a lead author for the International Panel on Climate Change and serves on the boards of several climate-related organizations.
Completed in 2007, the modestly sized house and outbuildings have been an ongoing experiment in energy efficiency and solar design. Not only do the Moomaws use a fraction of the energy their neighbors use (just for lighting and appliances), most of it comes from the sun and from ground-source heating. The key to their success is the integration of solar power and high efficiency design.
"We're great believers in integrating solar into the design of a house - making sure that the house functions really efficiently first, and then put the solar panels on," Dr. Moomaw said. "That's the most cost-effective thing to do."
The Moomaws were pioneers in the early days of residential solar power, and people from all over continue to visit their home to learn from their experiences. "We've had about a thousand people come through this house," Dr. Moomaw said.
By using the most durable building and insulation materials, and incorporating passive solar design (such as overhangs and south-facing windows) the Moomaws have refined the art of energy efficiency. While they draw some energy from the grid during the winter, the result of their efforts is that their overall energy footprint is shrinking. "Any electricity we generate, we use," Dr. Moomaw said. "If there's any surplus it goes to the grid - runs our meter backwards." Overall, he said, "it comes out that we have a slight surplus in most years."
They also exercised some traditional New England know-how by choosing a location for the house that was shielded from the north wind by a ridge and by trees, and by locating the two outbuildings on the north and northwest sides of the house to further diminish the cooling effect of the wind.
Solarize Mass will enable the Moomaws to install a third solar array on the smaller of their two outbuildings next fall. Those panels will be used mostly as a charging station for their hybrid-electric car, further expanding the scope of their solar-efficient lifestyle.
With the cost of solar dropping year by year, Dr. Moomaw said, the new panels will cost one-third of what the house's original panels cost in 2007.