Old world craftsmanship meets 21st century thinking as an Amish construction crew assembles an energy-efficient home in Wayne County. The beams are milled from hickory, oak and poplar grown in Ohio.

Energy Independence Starts at Home

When Jeff Orr wanted to learn about building an energy efficient home for his retirement, he started with the magazine rack at his local bookstore.

“They had four magazines on tattooing, two on how to braid your hair and a sundry of other magazines,” said the manager of a small Amish construction company in Wayne County.

Noticeably absent was anything that offered serious steps he could take to lessen his reliance on energy.

If the contents of that magazine rack were a reflection of what’s on America’s mind, then Orr was worried.

Sure, there were occasional articles on weatherproofing or switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs, but “they are like Band-Aids on a buzz saw cut,” Orr said.

The problem, as he sees it, is the continued demand for homes that are large, but not necessarily well-built or that include efficient technology. With homeowners typically locked into a mortgage for 30 years, he’s concerned how affordable it will be to heat and cool several thousand square feet of living space in the future.

“People are going to be forced to make changes,” he said. Instead of focusing on size, “what they should say is we built a house that can be heated with a candle and cooled with an ice cube.”

But the more he researched “green” homes, which emphasize sustainable building techniques, the more he found out he was a pioneer, especially when it comes to Ohio’s climate.

So with his old-fashioned, rural Ohio mindset, he decided he’d do it himself.

“We had to reverse engineer everything,” he said of the prototype home he is building outside of Doylestown. That means heating and cooling features are being built too big for what he thinks he’ll need. After a few seasons, he can scale down to what is most effective.

The home’s main heat source is a gasification boiler, which captures a superheated, highly-efficient gas produced by burning wood. Instead of forced air, plastic tubes carry hot water under the floor to radiate heat throughout the house. The tap water will be heated by solar panels. The roof and walls were built deeper to allow for an extra thick layer of airtight insulation.

It’s a bigger investment up front, but Orr has calculated that on a zero degree night, with a 20 mph wind, it will take about half as much energy to heat his home as is produced by a charcoal grill.

Energy efficiency, however, is only one aspect of green building. Much of the home’s structure was built from renewable Ohio timber. The metal roof will last at least 80 years. The home also incorporates recycled materials; insulation in the basement floor, for example, was reclaimed from the flat rooftops of commercial buildings.

“We’re not building a disposable home,” said Jayne Siersdorfer, who will share the home with Orr. The house is made to last at least 100 years, reducing the amount of material that ends up in the landfill.

In addition, almost everything in the home is built by Ohio companies, some of which have their own green techniques. For instance, an Amish shop that is building the doors uses soy-based adhesives and panels made out of wheat. In the end, money stays in the community and less fuel is burnt driving trucks across the country.

“I hope we’re leaving a legacy for my granddaughters,” Siersdorfer said.

Once completed, Orr will use his home as a showplace for the potential of green building. Ultimately, he hopes the region can revitalize its economy as part of the answer to what he believes is a looming energy crisis.

“We have the technology and manufacturing in northeast Ohio to help Ohioans solve their problems,” he said.