After spending a few years on the road in a motor home as missionaries traveling around the country, Buni and Bill Eagar began thinking about the next phase of their life. Buying a piece of land, building a home and being self-sufficient was a priority. Part of the plan was to build a house that would last their lifetime and beyond and be energy efficient. Located in the southern most section of Chesterfield County off Riverway Road, their new home, that has become known as the “chicken coop,” is nearing completion; not the first passive solar home or green home in the county but maybe the first net-zero home in Chesterfield County.
According to the Eagar’s, county inspectors were baffled by a net-zero home. A net-zero home is building with zero net energy consumption, which can include passive solar, wind, energy efficient lighting and appliances but most important, allowing no air from the outside to get in or no air from the inside to escape. “How is this house going to breathe?” Buni Eagar said the inspectors would ask.
“Our insulation is green and we harness some of the sun to help us heat in the winter,” she said. With increasing costs on traditional fossil fuels, fear of an economic Armageddon, and a fixed income, the Eagar’s said they will not be totally independent from the energy grid supply, but their monthly energy costs will be reduced drastically. “Our bills to Dominion [Virginia Power] will be between $45 and $50 a month,” she said.
Bill Eagar, a retired Chesterfield County police officer, said, “The way things are going, not a good economy, not sure if we are going to bounce back, we had to cut somewhere, and [energy savings] was the place to do it. We put all our money into windows, insulation, the hot water tank and lighting,”
Building a net-zero home is paying more upfront during the building process, and according to Ronnie Hancock, owner of Hancock Builders and their builder, the added expense amounted to an additional 20 to 25 percent.
Hancock has been building custom homes for 17 years and this was his first time building a net-zero home. It took the Eagar’s over a year to find a builder who would tackle the project. Most said it couldn’t be done, especially using the type of siding they wanted and the net-zero concept. Armed with copies of Dwell Magazine and Passive Solar books and magazines, Buni Eagar began to educate her builder.
“Our builder is the Bomb,” she said. “When we first met with him I took these books and showed him what we were trying to accomplish. And I took him interior pictures and exterior pictures. And he read the books and magazines and cut out pictures. He took it very seriously. After we got into it, he realized how important it was to build this way. This is the way of the future. People just can’t afford a $300 electric bill anymore.”
Hancock said of his first meeting with Buni Eagar, “I didn’t think she was crazy, I just thought she was a little different.”
First sight of the Eagar’s1850 sq. ft. ranch home looks pretty typical with the exception of the approach from the long driveway which showcases the rear of the house. There is not a single window on the back side. The front of the house faces south and is a wall of windows that will harness the sun during the winter and with a two-foot overhang will keep the sun out during the summer. The living space will have a tile floor that will bounce the heat to a brick wall which will hold the heat and warm the room in the evening.
The most unusual and the most challenging for the builder and his siding subcontractor was the siding and the reason it is tagged the “chicken coop.” The whole house is covered in corrugated galvanized metal; no maintenance, long lasting and best for heating and cooling – energy efficient, but for the contractor, hard to cut, specialize blades, hard to bend, pre-drill the holes, labor intensive. “It was challenging,” said Hancock. “But this house will be here for hundreds of years.” The siding contactor, Damon Milliner said, “Nothing has been easy on this house.”
The Eagars specified open-cell foam insulation. When sprayed into walls, it expands to fill the cavity and hardens in place, creating insulation with twice the R-value per inch (a measurement of thermal resistance.) With the use of 2 x 8’s in the Eagar’s ceiling and 10 1/4” of insulation, the R-value is 50 compare to 19 in a traditional batt insulated ceiling.
The hot water tank grabs air in the house if it is warm and uses 70 percent less energy than a normal hot water heater. The light fixtures are equipped with LED bulbs with a 20-year lifespan and put out no heat.
The Eagars are hoping to be in their home by Thanksgiving and be settled before the spring planting season which will include a 50 x 50 ft. garden on the front side of their property which is surrounded by 50 x 50 ft. green space to avoid any shading from the trees and a nine foot fence to keep the deer out. Along with an herb garden on the south side to help deter the insects around their patio, chickens will provide them eggs and meat for the Sunday dinners.
One would say the Eagars are definitely reducing their carbon footprint and living a green life. For them, living a self-sufficient life will be a better way. It is low cost, low stress, satisfying and rewarding. As Buni Eagar said earlier, “It is the way of the future.”