By Laura Klement - 6.27.16 - When I was in architecture school, my main interests were sustainability and green building at the residential scale. After college, realizing that I did not really know how buildings were put together, I joined an AmeriCorps crew constructing homes with Habitat for Humanity which involved a move from Minnesota to Oregon. After learning how to build new homes, I became interested in how to make existing homes more energy efficient. So I attended a volunteer orientation at the Community Energy Project and within the next week or so, I was offered a position there. I initially taught the lead poisoning prevention workshops and then later transitioned to the in-homes crew where we installed safety items and basic weatherization kits. After that I worked for a few different contractors teaching homeowners about more advanced energy efficiency measures that would help improve their homes. Working in renewable energy was the next logical step and I really wanted to work in the field again so I decided to become a solar installer.
For the most part, I really enjoy being in the field installing solar. Steep roofs, complicated structural upgrades, really wet or hot days can be challenging but at the end of the day I get to see a tangible result of the work I did while still being a part of the homeowner education experience. And, despite being warned by friends that I would likely get bored after a couple of months on the job, I have not. There is always something new to learn, processes to revise for efficiency and many short residential jobs to keep things interesting. Since I work in a city, all of the projects I have installed have been grid-tied so my next desired area of learning is going to be off-grid systems.
I designed and built a tiny home on wheels a couple of years ago and had a friend design and install a small solar system which includes: two modules, two batteries, a charge controller and an inverter with two AC outlets. This was before I had started installing solar myself so I kind of understood the system but even now, I don’t really know how he designed it. My house is also connected to grid power so the solar doesn’t have to power all of the loads. I have been thinking lately that I would like to add another battery based system that could tie into my main load panel so that I can power my whole home by the sun. I am a little intimidated to try to figure out the design on my own so I have begun asking friends with solar experience for guidance and help to obtain materials for this project.
In the future I hope to buy land in the Columbia River Gorge, move my tiny home there and build a passive solar strawbale home with site appropriate renewable energy systems. It will be exciting to see how these systems have advanced by that time!
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