Renewable energy in a natural setting

By Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The home of Klaus and Teri Hoffmann has been on the Solar Tour for the past two years. Having heard about their numerous energy saving installations, we decided to visit and view them first hand.

They have solar power, wood heat, and native landscaping. The first feature a visitor notices is the landscaping. Teri is an avid gardener, and after moving into a house with traditional landscaping, decided to go native. Her transition began with a visit to the former Ender’s Greenhouse where Fran Lohman, a member of The Wild Ones, offered Teri a butterfly bush which she was about to remove since it’s not native.  She also recommended that Teri read “Noah’s Garden” by Sara Stein which encouraged planting native corridors for wildlife who must move from one isolated site to another.

Becoming converted, first Teri removed the standard foundation junipers; next was limiting the lawn. Silver maples which had already been planted were left in place. They are now huge old trees. Wanting to feed wild animals, the Hoffmanns planted nectar plants and nut trees. Hazelnut bushes, peach trees from the compost pile, apples, varieties of chestnuts, pawpaws, grape vines and elder sprang up. Others, primarily native, but some simply ornamental, were added.

The Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District offers saplings at bargain prices; the yard is filled with them. A prairie garden is planted over the septic field; water-loving plants grow in a wet area. A willow grew huge drinking up excess ground water. Redbuds, pawpaws and a fig tree thrive although they prefer more southerly sites.

No polluting engines are used; the hand-pushed electric lawn mower is charged by solar power. No pesticides or herbicides are used. Rainwater is used for plants. Compost is fed to the vegetable garden annually.

Teri, now a member of he Wild Ones, plants oak seedlings enclosed by yogurt cartons to protect them from grazing. Wildlife also helped the planting efforts. Although an oak planted by squirrels had grown too tall for its location and was removed, accidental fruit and nut trees are welcomed. The entire yard creates the feeling of seclusion with a rural atmosphere.

The solar installations, on the southwest roof, are hidden from passersby. It began as a backup system 10 years ago and is now grid tied. Multiple PV installations comprise a 4.1 kW system connected to a 3.8 kW Solaredge inverter. The panels and inverter communicate digitally so if more power than the inverter can manage is produced, some production is decreased. The system provides all of the electricity for the house.

Daily, monthly and yearly production readouts can be viewed on their computer. Individual panels can be monitored for prompt troubleshooting.

Only efficient lighting, primarily LEDs, is used.

Evacuated tubes, in service since 2007, provide most of the hot water with a small backup automatic supplemental heater. A dedicated panel powers the pump. A Nissan Leaf with an 80-mile charge is charged at home or on the road at some of the convenient charging stations in the region.

New, efficient windows and basement insulation have been added.

Firewood provides most of the home’s heat during the spring and fall and weekends in winter. Teri’s California origins are evident throughout the house. Klaus’ German origins are evident throughout the energy systems. They work well together.

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