Van and Sue Gooch’s retirement home on Echo Lake southwest of Alexandria is a dream come true for the Farwell couple.
“We wanted a home we could live in for awhile,” said Van, “and we wanted a place that would be a zero-energy home. It’s what we have achieved.”
It all started with six acres. They knew that property well. The couple saw it every time they stayed at their cabin, which is located across the road on Lake Rachel.
Sue and Van Gooch by their zero-energy home on Echo Lake near Alexandria. The home cost about 30 percent more to build than a typical home, but they are getting that money by in energy savings. Photo by Carol Stender
“We’d purchased that cabin about 30 years ago and would look at the cows grazing on that land during the summer,” Van said. “When some of the land opened up, we wanted to buy it. Being a biologist, we also wanted to restore the prairie for ecological reasons.”
The purchase created an opportunity to build a new home. At the time, the couple was living on the other side of Lake Rachel in a three-story house. They knew that home would present challenges as they aged. With their new property, they could realize their vision of a place they could live in for many more years. The home could also be energy efficient.
Both Van and Sue grew up in energy conservation-minded families. Now they could take those practices to the next level.
Their interest in alternative energy was peaked when Van took a position as a University of Minnesota-Morris biology instructor. During his tenure, Van and Sue saw how the college and the West Central Research and Outreach Center, also located in Morris, made and implemented plans to use solar, wind and biomass to power and heat the two campuses.
They took those concepts to their own home plans, but, as they researched alternative energy family home construction, the couple discovered some were 70 percent energy efficient. Others were only 40 percent.
“I said, ‘Why can’t you be 100 percent? Is there a ceiling there that keeps it from happening?’” Van said.
They turned to an experienced architect in Duluth to help them achieve their goals. Their builder, a construction company from Hancock, hadn’t built a home using alternative energy, but he was excited to be part of the project, the couple said.
But, as the construction took place, the couple faced their own challenges. They needed to downsize.
“We don’t have a lot of storage,” Sue said. “We had to downsize. That was the biggest thing to get used to – getting rid of the stuff.”
Out went their skis. Gone was their backpacking gear.
“It’s an American habit of collecting stuff you don’t have any use for anymore,” Van said.
They moved into the 1,776 gross or 1,596 conditioned square foot structure six years ago. And they love it.
The home has an open floor plan kitchen/living/dining room. It’s a spacious room that offers many functions. A big plus is the windows. The windows are triple-pane fiberglass framed windows that offer ample natural light to the room while also providing passive heat.
Well insulated and tight walls, ceilings and windows are an important part of the home’s energy efficiency. The walls have double studs with limited thermal bridging and are filled with R-43 dense packed cellulose cavity insulation. The heavily insulated ceiling rates an R-60.
A continuous vapor barrier was installed to minimize air leakage, with all joints, seams and edges sealed.
The home is heated through in-floor heat with a ground source heat pump. The heat is controlled by dual-fuel.
Ceiling fans extend comfort zones and reduce the cooling load.
An air purification system helps distribute fresh air throughout the home.
“It’s not a little do-it-yourself project,” Sue said. “Even if you are going to convert an old house to be more energy efficient, it takes time and planning.”
Solar is just one of the ways the Gooch family has turned their home into a zero-energy home. Photo by Carol Stender
The cost of such a home is about 30 percent more than a conventional build, Van said. While the solar panels were around $60,000, with tax credits for energy efficiency, they paid about half that amount.
“Prices have come down quite a bit,” he said. “Now you are talk about half that price.”
They sell their solar power to Runestone and buy it back when they need it during cloudy times.
Their own conservation mindset adds to their energy savings. They turn off lights when they leave the room, and during the summer, Sue hangs the wash outdoors. And the dishwasher isn’t used every night, she said.
Van may be a retired teacher, but he continues to educate. Only now, with Sue, he is welcoming the public to their home to learn about energy-efficient homes. The couple hosts tours of their property. Recently they were one of a couple of homes in an area tour of energy-efficient constructions.