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Dec. 22, 2004

Takoma Park resident renovates home to fight global warming

by Shannon Egan, Page Editor and Diana Frey, Page Editor
In 2000, Takoma Park resident Mike Tidwell took out a $7,500 home equity loan from the bank in hopes of decreasing his home's carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent, in order to help fight global warming. In the next few months, sticking to his budget almost entirely, Tidwell and his family renovated their home to be powered by 90 percent renewable energy, far surpassing his 80 percent goal.

Scientists say that to protect the planet against global warming, people must reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70 to 80 percent, according to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) website. Tidwell is contributing his part to stopping the effects of global warming. While a complete home renovation is not always an option, there are many other ways to fight global warming through by making less-drastic changes in everyday life.

Chesapeake Climate Action Network

The CCAN is the first grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to fighting global warming in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. The CCAN sponsors the open houses that are held at Tidwell's home every other month in order to spread awareness about how D.C. area residents can help stop global warming in their homes.

On Saturday, Dec. 4, the CCAN, where Tidwell is the Executive Director, sponsored the held the 23rd open house at Tidwell's home in Takoma Park, Maryland. According to the CCAN website, Tidwell's home is the only house in Maryland, D.C., or Virginia that is powered almost totally by clean, renewable energy.

During the open house, Tidwell showed a 22 minute film which featured him explaining how he went about the renovation of his house and how others can "make exciting changes in [the] home to fight local global warming.”

According to Tidwell, the open houses are a step in the right direction to convincing local residents that the fight against global warming is an important one. "I think change is a process and these open houses help people begin [the] process of change in their lives,” says Tidwell.

He also feels that becoming "more politically aware and active [will help] to make changes in the community.”

Mike Tidwell holds clean energy open houses every other month at his Takoma Park residence. Diana Frey
Mike Tidwell holds clean energy open houses every other month at his Takoma Park residence.
Mike Tidwell's contribution

Ever since Tidwell's home was renovated, he has been helping to fight global warming and saving money on electricity. According to Tidwell, all but a small fraction of his household energy budget comes from renewable, CO2-neutral sources. "The electricity arrives from photovoltaic panel, the heating from an electronically-controlled pot-belly stove that burns corn kernels and warms most of my Takoma Park home, and the hot water from a separate rooftop panel that converts sunlight to infrared heat,” states Tidwell in a step-by-step description of how his family converted their home to renewable energy.

According to Tidwell, he and his wife decided to transform their house because they were "extremely alarmed by the rapidly growing global warming climate change.” Tidwell also explained that he is deeply concerned that his seven-year-old son won't have as many opportunities as our generation, mostly because of the problems global warming is causing.

Real simple to go solar

After researching the options of environment-friendly electricity, Tidwell decided to chose a 1.5 kilowatt photovoltaic system, which would convert sunlight to energy. Since this system is costly, Tidwell researched and found grants and discounts that would greatly reduce his out-of-pocket cost. The state of Maryland offers grants up to $3,600 toward solar photovoltaic systems and a 15 percent deduction from state income taxes. Tidwell also found that the Virginia Alliance for Solar Electricity, a solar advocacy group, was discounting the price of solar panels thanks to a loan from the U.S. Department of Energy. The 36 solar panel system ended up costing Tidwell $3,396.

Tidwell says that he also saved money by putting the panels on himself, which "any moderately handy person” can do. After installing the system, Tidwell feels that he is helping the environment and also will save money. "There's no price on sunlight,” he says.
The 36 solar panels on Mike Tidwell's back roof produce the majority of his electricity. Diana Frey
The 36 solar panels on Mike Tidwell's back roof produce the majority of his electricity.

Since the Tidwell household makes more solar electricity than they need, they store the extra energy on an energy grid. Maryland, Virginia and 33 other states are required to store energy and give it back later, says Tidwell. "Energy stored on a grid can be kept there and given back at night when more electricity is needed,” he says.

Occasionally the Tidwells have to use gas to heat hot water. Usually this happens on cloudy days when they need to take showers or run the washing machine. However, Tidwell says that 60 to 70 percent of their hot water comes from the sun.

Corn-burning stove

The Tidwell home is heated by a CO2-neutral corn-burning stove that cost $2,400. Because it heats corn that was raised through "no till” planting and organic fertilization, the stove contributes almost nothing to global warming.

This stove, which was originally engineered by ex-farmer Mike Haefner, president of American Energy Systems, burns corn so efficiently that the net CO2 released is at least 85 percent less than with natural gas heating.

Also, corn is much cheaper than natural gas, says Tidwell, who saves between $200 and $600 each winter on heating bills. The corn-burning stove is small and easy-to-use and heats up to 2000-square-foot home.

The corn-burning stove that sits in Mike Tidwell's living room warms 90 percent of his house and contributes almost nothing to global warming. Diana Frey
The corn-burning stove that sits in Mike Tidwell's living room warms 90 percent of his house and contributes almost nothing to global warming.
The Tidwells are one of the 16 families that participate in the Save Our Sky Home-Heating Cooperative in Takoma Park. Tidwell and the other local families have collaborated to get an urban corn silo put in Takoma Park, where they can store up to 20 tons of corn that will burn in their stoves.

Tidwell feels that everybody wins when it comes to corn-burning stoves: the manufacturer, the consumer and even the city through pollution loss. "Corn is an almost endless energy source. Studies show American farmers can grow ten times more corn than is needed to meet all of America's energy needs. So it's good for farmers, good for the climate, easy to use, saves money. No brainer,” writes Tidwell in his step-by-step guide.

Ways to can fight global warming (without a complete home renovation)

Although renovating a house to rely almost entirely on renewable energy pays for itself eventually, not everyone can afford to take out a loan like Tidwell. However, there are still many ways the average household can conserve energy without spending lots of money.

Buy environmentally friendly appliances

Buying appliances with the Environmental Protection Agency labeled Energy Star assures that these products conserve energy and are environmentally friendly. According to the Energy Star website, appliances with the Energy Star "use less energy, save money, and help protect the environment.” The state of Maryland, in an effort to promote awareness about the environment, mandates that there will be no sales tax charged on environmentally friendly products

Tidwell, who is a big advocate for energy saving appliances, owns an energy conserving refrigerator labeled by the Energy Star. Tidwell says that his refrigerator, which uses the energy equivalent to that of a 50-watt light bulb, does as much for the environment as the solar panels on his roof. Although the price of an Energy Star refrigerator is comparable to that of a normal model, it ends up saving him $100 a year through the electricity bill.

Conserve: light, air, energy, electricity

One easy way to conserve energy is to replace regular light bulbs with Energy Star approved bulbs. According to the Energy Star action guide, if every household replaced their five most frequently used light bulbs with Energy Star ones, more than one trillion pounds of greenhouse gases would be prevented from being released into the atmosphere.

Another way to save electricity without buying a new appliance is to use power strips to plug in all electrical devices. By plugging things like TV's, radios and DVD players into a power strip and only turning on the power strip when these appliances are needed, one can prevent the leakage of electricity. According to Tidwell, the U.S. could power the city of Chicago annually with all the leakage that occurs in many households.

Many houses, especially older ones, leak not only electricity, but also air. Sealing holes and adding insulation can save money and help prevent a heated home from losing its warmth. Energy Star recommends that homeowners have their heating and cooling systems serviced annually by a licensed contractor to improve their efficiency.

Electric and hybrid cars

Driving an environmentally friendly car is a big part in saving the world from pollution. Silver Spring resident Charlie Garlow, who works for the EPA, owns an electric car and strongly supports driving environmentally safe vehicles.
Silver Spring resident Charlie Garlow shows his support for the fight against global warming through the license plate of his electric pick-up truck. Diana Frey
Silver Spring resident Charlie Garlow shows his support for the fight against global warming through the license plate of his electric pick-up truck.

Electric vehicles can be recharged for free in at the EPA headquarters in Washington D.C., says Garlow, whose electric truck's 26 lead-acid batteries takes three and a half hours to fully recharge. After that charge, which usually occurs overnight, the car will run for approximately 60 miles.

The good thing about hybrid cars is that in a lot of stop-and-go traffic, there is no waste of electricity. The engine turns off while stopped because it is break activated, says Garlow, whose wife owns a Hybrid Toyota Prius. "There is no energy loss while you're waiting,” he says. The hybrid car only uses gas for long trips and when the battery dies out while the car is running. Both types of cars are good alternatives to the common gas guzzling seen on the road.

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  • reader on December 22, 2004 at 3:01 PM
    Interesting stuff.
  • wow on December 22, 2004 at 5:44 PM
    that's awesome! i think it's a great idea
  • Michael Bushnell (View Email) on December 22, 2004 at 9:22 PM
    I read a lotta stuff on this site, but, in all honesty, this is one of the coolest stories I've seen on here in a good long while. Mad propz, repz, boostz and so on to Diana and Shannon for this story; this is no story about some TKPK guy who uses solar power and ethanol, but I learned stuff, and it was entertaining. Great stuff.
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