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How bright ideas save Rochester homeowners energy

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Ivan Idso speaks about the solar panels on the roof of his Rochester home during an open house he and his wife, Mary Idso, hosted Sunday with Solar United Neighbors of Minnesota.
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The solar panels on Ivan and Mary Idso’s Rochester home are the biggest outward sign of the home’s energy efficiency.

The south-facing, pitched roof is optimal for catching power-generating sunshine. The slope also helps the panels shed snow.

"We can get six, eight inches of snow," Ivan Idso said. "Once the sun comes out, it all melts pretty quickly."

On Sunday, the couple opened their home to people curious about energy efficient technologies.

Idso showed visitors what he put into place to make the house, built in 1890, a near net zero energy home.

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All the appliances are electrical. Their water heater — a hybrid heat pump model — uses less than a quarter of the energy of a typical electric tank model. The home itself has 10-inch thick double walls for insulation. These, and other improvements, keep the couple’s energy use low to make the most of the panels on the roof. In June, the home generated more energy than it used, Idso said.

The couple completed the renovations and installed the panels in February 2017.

Idso tracks the panels’ power generation in the utility room. The panels had generated 10.8 Kilowatt hours for the day by midday Sunday.

"It’s been kind of cloudy today," he said, adding the panels usually generate more than twice that.

The panels and the lead-acid batteries they charge, power the home’s essential systems, including refrigerator, freezer and lights. The batteries are used only if the panels or Rochester Public Utilities, which serves the couple’s home, aren’t providing power.

"These can last us a couple of days," he said. "If the power goes out (from RPU), we don’t even notice."

The open house was hosted by Solar United Neighbors. The organization works to help people plan and pay for their own solar systems. The group brings people who are interested together to help them share the costs of study and installation of solar systems. If adding a system makes sense, Solar United Neighbors help people form groups to allow them to bulk purchase equipment and services. The group is not affiliated with any solar manufacturers or installers.

"When you have more people, you can keep costs down," said Virginia Rutter, Solar United Neighbors program director.

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Holding open houses shows people how solar energy can be incorporated into a typical home, she added.

Scott Gravlee, from Alabama, was visiting Rochester on Sunday and attended the event to get tips for a home he and his wife are constructing. Idso offered some advice and described the systems he installed in his home. Idso suggested a geo thermal heating and cooling system for the Alabama home once he learned the property has a catfish pond.

"You’ll basically get free hot water in the summer," Idso said.

Gravlee said the visit was helpful and he was impressed with the Rochester couple’s appliances — especially their heat-pump clothes dryer.

"I didn’t know there was such an animal," Gravlee said.

Idso said he considers the investment in solar panels as paying for electricity up front. The retired couple has reduced their monthly costs and expect the panels to pay for themselves in about 10 to 15 years. Reducing monthly costs is a benefit, but the main reason the couple said they invested in the system was to show how energy-efficient changes can be done. Future generations also played into their decision.

"We have several grandchildren," Idso said. "We want to do our part to reduce our carbon footprint."

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Ivan Idso gives a tour of his Rochester home during an open house Sunday he and his wife, Mary Idso, hosted with Solar United Neighbors of Minnesota.

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