An energy-efficient dream takes form

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-110796474728932.jpg’, ‘Photo provided’, ‘Alan Stankevitz in front of his solar-electric panels—another phase of his solar vision becomes reality. ‘);

Alan and Jo Stankevitz still live in Chicago area. She works in the city, but that doesn’t keep him from commuting more than 500 miles a week to their “dream home” in southeast Minnesota. In a Honda Insight at 70 mpg, he reminds people.

The double-walled cordwood house was featured in the February-March 2005, issue of Home Power. With solar electricity and solar hot water, the home is one of a growing number leading the way into a renewable future. What’s special, Stankevitz claims, as far as he knows, it’s the only double-walled cordwood house in the United States. It was also designed and built by the owner.

The couple had dreamed of a new energy efficient home for years before they finally decided what style they wanted. He first learned about the cordwood building technique in Mother Earth News. An article referred to author Rob Roy’s book, which Alan studied thoroughly since he planned to do the work himself. Part of the appeal of a cordwood house was that he could do almost all of the work in whatever time he had available. After staying at a cordwood bed and breakfast in Bancroft, Ontario, they both were “really sold on it.”

With 24-inch-thick walls—8 inches of cordwood exterior followed by 6 inches of open cell foam insulation that stops all air infiltration but allows the home to breathe, a 2 inch air space and 8 more inches of cordwood—the house is amazingly energy efficient. While Alan was in Illinois for five days this January, the backup electric boiler, set at 55 degrees, never cut in. When he returned, the temperature was 58 degrees. “Six or seven” temperature probes record changes. Each hour, the Stankevitz Web site, which he programmed, is automatically updated with information on PV production and air and water temperatures. Visitors to can read up-to-the-minute information.

Alan is probably proudest of his solar electric system composed of 24 Kyocera 158 modules and two Xantrex STXR-UPG inverters. He refers to “how euphoric a feeling” he had when he turned on the inverters for the first time. He used the PV system inspection as an opportunity to teach the local electrical inspector about solar electricity. The Minnesota electric utility installed a digital meter to read incoming and outgoing electricity, similar to ComEd’s service in northern Illinois.

Obtaining a building permit provided him with another teaching opportunity. He prepared a 15-page document explaining that, although cordwood construction is structurally strong, the house also featured post and beam, which authorities were familiar with.

Stankevitz’s advice for others considering cordwood construction: “Cordwood is labor intensive. Take time to do the research. Don’t rush.”

What’s next for Stankevitz? He’s the co-editor for a cordwood conference held once every four years. Usually held in the East, this year it will finally be in the Midwest. About 100 to 150 participants are expected to travel to Merrill, Wis., during the last week in July. He’s looking forward to it and welcomes others to share his enthusiasm.

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