Owners: Kris Schmid & Colleen Allen
Location: 864 Clam Falls Trail, Frederic, WI 54837
Email: kris.schmid [at]
Year Built: 2003
When I asked Kris when his house was built, he said "Well, we started in 2003!" Like many owner-builders, Kris and Colleen still have some "finishing touches" to add to their super-insulated home near Clam Falls. One major project left to be done is an active solar heating system that will warm an insulated bed of sand under the basement floor, in turn providing radiant heat to the living space throughout the winter. The sand bed and tubing are already in place.
This 32-foot square home comprises a total of about 1500 square feet of living space on the first floor and second floor loft. Kris & Colleen utilized what's called "strap wall" construction for tighter and better insulated exterior walls. Fewer windows on the north and west sides reduces heat loss and cold air infiltration.
This massive concrete block, brick-faced wood heating system is the central feature of the home's interior. Beneath the brick is a contorted system of channels through which hot gases must pass -- and give up much of their heat -- before exiting the chimney. (There's a bypass lever for direct venting when starting a fire.) The hardware is from the Canadian Heat Kit company.
With some passive solar assistance, Kris & Colleen get through most winter days with one firing of the stove. The fire is allowed to burn with maximum oxygen to minimize creosote and transfer as much heat as possible to the masonry. Once the fire has died down, dampers are closed and the heat is retained. They use about three cords of firewood in a typical winter -- a number that should be reduced significantly when the active solar system is in place.
The back side of the fireplace contains a brick oven which functions best as a slow cooker, though it can get hot enough for bread and even pizza.
Kris & Colleen own a solar business, Legacy Solar, so of course they have a photovoltaic array in the backyard. This eight-panel system provides about 100 square feet of collector area, producing a monthly average of about 125 kilowatt hours -- just about all they need. They are members of Polk-Burnett Electric Cooperative, which has a net metering policy in place; any production beyond Kris & Colleen's immediate needs is sold back to Polk-Burnett, effectively running the meter backwards.
Here Kris is explaining the tracking function of his PV system; a set of gears and motors periodically adjusts the pitch and orientation of the array to keep it facing directly at the sun throughout the day. With rebates and incentives factored in, such a system would cost roughly $13,000 installed according to Kris.
Kris & Colleen's home was a stop on the Polk County Solar Home Tour last October. Here Kris explains the inverter box and metering system to an interested participant. All grid-tied systems must be equipped with safety features that prevent home-generated power being sent to the grid when it's down.