UP IN Frederick County, it sometimes seems as though even every other chickenhouse is solar heated.
The pioneer spirit is still strong in this beautiful land of tall hills and deep valleys. Here spring daffodils are already poking their noses through the remains of snow. And in this spacious country, the sun seems like a welcome neighbor you can invite to your house without a gilt-edged hardware solar collector invitation.
In the Frederick area 22 houses are solar heated. Another 200 or so, plus half a dozen commercial buildings, have solar hot-water heaters.
Some of the solar houses in Frederick tend to be folk architecture -- without benefit of clergy, so to speak, or at least without benefit of architect, engineer or decorator. Many people go out with their own hammers (and sometimes used materials) and put them together. Often the results are as good as anybody's fancy plans. A number of the Frederick solar houses are, of course, quite well designed and well executed by professionals.
A few of them do look untouched by professional hands -- the paint's a bit haphazard, framing isn't exactly lined up, the decor is Early Leftovers and the architectural design is Late Afterthought.
But before you start to sneer, let itbe quickly said that whatever the lack of posh expensive finish, the folks up in Frederick County get it done and save money. You can go bankrupt from heating bills while waiting for the boatload of money to sail in so you can hire it done. Mich of what they're doing in Frederick is experimental, under construction, not yet finished. They can tidy up later. Today they'retoo busy counting the pennies saved.
Much of the impetus comes from two unusual organizations, Community Commons and FUEL (Frederick UnitedEnergy League); and two hardworking, intelligent, self-taught solar enthusiasts, one a Quaker, the other a Zen Buddist, both sun worshipers: Michael Hotz and John Darnell. o
Hotz is director of the Community Commons, a remarkable self-help organization that has existed, if a bit pecariously, on a combination of membership fees ($2 a year from 800 members) and small grants. He studied anthropology in school and was a special-education therapist as well as a teacher at the First Zen Institute.
Hotz lives in a log cabin on 90 acres near Wolfsville, above Frederick, up a driveway so steep and muddy that ittakes a truck to get in and out. He has a solar greenhouse that cost him $60 and a solar heater that cost him been director of Community Commons forabout a year.
Community Commons has all sorts of classes for the neighbors on such things as landscaping to conserve energy, growing vegetables in the winter, intensive summer vegetable gardening, women in the economy, and how to build a solar greenhouse.
You've heard of the storefront church. Well, Community Commons is a gasoline station-front community organization. The building is lent, rent-free, by the city. The front room is the office and the old repair garage holds the meeting places, used often by all sorts of civic groups.
"You know the old concept of the English commons -- land held by all the citizens of the town," explained Hotz the other day to two outlanders."Well, according to the Community Commons concept, the Frederick environment is shared by all, owned by none. So we all have to work together."
A few months ago FUEL was organized with John Darnell, an alternate energy and passive-solar-heat consultant, as a mainspring.
Darnell has a PhD in biochemistry. He came to frederick to work in the Frederick Cancer Research Center for eight years before he decided he would be of more use working in environmental and energy causes. Now he makes a living, barely, by giving people advice on energy. He also sells a remarkable stove, the Free Flow heater -- a series of heat pipes circling a boiler, invented by his brother, Eric, and manufactured now in Canada.
Darnell and his wife, an occupational therpist, and their 7-month-old baby live in a 20-year-old, three-bed-room, 1,000-square-foot cinderblock rambler with full basement in the Middletown Valley area, part of the Catoctin Valley. Their only heat is Eric Darnell's stove, burning about two cords of wood or so a winter. They plan to have the money. For now they have raised growing beds for intensive vegetable gardening, given them by theirQuaker meeting group as a baby shower present.
Not long ago, Darnell and Hotz, Community Commons and FUEL got together for a free Frederick County Solar Home Tour. About 3,500 people from miles around turned up for the free tour of 10 houses, ranging from small, simple collectors to houses actually designed for solar heat.
We took a look at a few of them the other day. Behind a Victorian Facade
Roscoe and Ellen Barlett live in a wonderful old 19th-century house with towers, turrets, cupolas, porches and porticos on 140 acres going down to the Democracy River.
Their stone tower was build in 1898 with a windmill on top to pump water into the house. Running water on a farm was the height of elegance back then. When the Bartletts first boughtthe house 18 years ago, they thought about tearing down the stone tower, which was beginning to crumble around the edges. But even then he estimate for demolition was $2,000. So, instead, they shored it up and now they think every so often about reinstalling a windmill on top.
We talked about their greenhouse overEllen's excellent but heary vegetarian lunch (with two kinds of desserts).
They have built he greenhouse where once had been a wood 20th-century addition. They decided they had to do something after they got a $750 heat bill in January 1978, with a stiff fuel-adjustment charge. Their last bill was only $350 and that included heating some of the 300 brood ewes lambs and their two rental apartments. It doesn't include heating their own bedrooms. Their children's bedrooms get residual heat from the Free Flow heater that sits between the family room and the greenhouse.
Bartlett tore out the wall between the bedroom, bath and pantry and the new aisle kitchen to make a family room and eating area adjoining the glass addition. There is a double doorway between the parlor and the family room, but in coldest weather it can be closed off with heavy curtains.Some times the room gets so hot from the solar heat, they have to open up the adjacent doors and let the heat into the rest of the house.
The greenhouse is a simple lean-to with wood structural pieces and doublepane glass (except for single-paned curving section between roof and sides that they wish they hadn't putin).
Bartlett lined the perimeter with insulation and laid 2 inches of styrofoam on the floor, then covered it with dirt except for a concrete channel. The channel is a goldfish pond, shaped like a stream. A hose and pump rechannel the water. The plants love it and flourish like a jungle. They have blooms all winter long.
Bartlett began the greenhouse in January of last year and finished in February. He figures it would have taken about two weeks if he'd had a work crew and stayed at it steadily. He did most of the work on it himself, with the help of a carpenter for the heaviest panels. Barlett figure the 15-by-28-foot room would cost about $10,000 to have built professionally, including tearing out the old brick wallof the house. Darnell said he thought you could do it yourself -- materials but no labor -- for about $10 a foot, or two-thirds less than a finished price.
Bartlett was a physiologist (aPhD) for many years. He's thinking about going into politics. Now he owns he RBA Construction Co. He's just finished building five solar homes with the help of Darnell's energy advice. A Mountan Greenhouse
Bartlett and Darnell collaborated ona house with Nick and Cathy Funkhouser, way up on the side of a mountain overlooking the Middletown Valley.
Bartlett's crew built the basic 1,600-square-foot house for a low $41,000 not counting the well and the appliances. The Funkhousers are doing the outside and inside trim themselves, including covering the outside wall with rough-sawn siding. They moved in at the end of may of last year.
When we drove up the other day, Nickhad just finished putting on some more of the siding before going off to work. Cathy stained the wood ceiling, while the carpenters took over stuffing 3-year-old Tara with cookies.
"The bank insisted we put in baseboard electric heat," said Cathy Funkhouser. "But we don't use it at all except in the bath. We heat the house with our wood stove and air from the greenhouse -- it gets up o 91 degrees some sunny winter days. We have three acres to collect wood from, so it's economical. We burned about two cords of wood last year."
The Funkhousers' double-paned greenhouse runs along the whole south side of the house. A convection air loop bings air under the slab from the greenhouse and up through vents at the roof peak. Sliding glass doors separate the greenhouse from the two story living room and open kitchen. The upstairs hall leading to the three bedrooms is open to the living room, helping circulate the heat from the greenhouse and stove. They still have more work to go to finish the greenhouse. The planting beds along the perimeter are already planted with cold-weather vegetables. When we were there, the lettuce was poking its nose through the dirt.
Nick Funkhouser is a manufacturing manager with Xenotech. Cathy Funkhouser, a former teacher, is part-time bartender. Both, at the moment, are full-time house finishers. On the Sunny Side
Solar Architect (at the Bureau of Standards) Eugene Metz, and his wife Dr. Mary Metz, dean at Hood college,are the exceptions to the Frederick story, because they live right downtown in Frederick in a rowhouse.
They had the foresight to buy a house with the rear facing south. So, recently they hired Bill Rose to builda greenhouse addition. It has two stories, with a balcony off the kitchen.Tall tubes of glass are filled with water as are some steel barrels painted black. It's not as bad as it sounds. The water cylinders are very handsome with the sun shining through them. The barrels serve as plant pedestals. Both serve as heat collectors when the sun shines and heat radiators when it doesn't
Three solar collectors on the roof provide about 95 percent of their domestic hot water. Rose figures the whole thing, including the glass collectors, cost about $10,000.
From the pleasant garden, the whole back looks well-planned and organized. A 'Thermal Chimney'
Rose is currently building a trombe wall for a rental house owned by the Metzes. A trombe wall is a masonry wall painted black and covered with glass. Vents are set in its top and bottom. The air circulates against the wall, which serves for sun-heat storage. It's sort of a thermal chimney.
The small rowhouse's rear faces due south. Rose used reject insulated sliding glass panels over the black-painted brick wall. Rose thinks it cost about $200, thanks to using the rejects.
Because it all reads as black -- that is, not there at all -- the effect is quite all right, even in this 19th century row of houses.
So you can see, even the sun would have to get up pretty early to keep up with the energetic folks up there in Frederick County. The independence that founded the country a long time ago is keeping the people going strong.