By Jared Fields, Editor in Chief
Dr. Bruce Davis’ house looks like it belongs in a coastal city. The yellow stucco walls and red, Spanish tile roof belong in an exotic location. The baby palm trees in the front yard only add to the ambiance.
However, any visitor would never notice the things about the house that make it unique. The house, not yet a year old, features as many energy efficient features as anyone could imagine. The most notable feature is the air conditioning and heating unit, which uses geothermal technology to save electricity and money.
“We felt like building this house very energy efficient would keep us from spending more over the long haul, you know,” Davis said. “We thought, well, the heat in the ground and coolness of the ground is there, so we decided to tap into that and maybe save money in the long run in the operation of our home, and we’re very glad we did. As they say, we’ve reduced our carbon imprint on the earth and that’s something we like.”
Davis said his old 3,000 square-foot house could run him an energy bill of about $550 a month at its peak in the summer. In his new home, which is 4,500 square-feet, Davis said he saves one-third to one-half of the energy bills in his old home.
“Our bills have averaged about $220 to $250 – same electric company,” Davis said. “[Our contractor] said this is probably the most energy efficient house in Abilene. Now, I can’t attest to that because I don’t know what other people have built, but he’s in and out of large houses all the time and . I think he probably knows better than most people.”
Davis, who retired as the head of the Pruett Gerontology Center in 2000, is now retired and volunteers fulltime as president of the state’s adult protective service board and also serves as a silver-haired legislator. He and his wife began designing
the house three years ago, deciding they wanted to be
as economical as possible. The Davis’ can see ACU from the front door.
“I enjoy living close to ACU and seeing the belltower in the western horizons,” Davis said.
The first, and most energy efficient, decision made was to use the geothermal heating and cooling system. This type of heating and cooling system uses underground pipes that circulate water from the home through the pipes. At the Davis’ house, the water runs through one of eight pipes that go 250
feet below ground, where the temperature either
heats, cools, or possibly maintains the water’s temperature at 69 degrees.
That water helps maintain the temperature of the house year-round. In the summer it helps cool the house, and then keeps it warm in the winter.
If the 69-degree water was never enough in the winter, Davis installed a fireplace that can heat the entire house. Davis hasn’t used the fireplace yet, but said he probably will sometime.
“Let’s just say things got critical and we didn’t have any gas and we didn’t have any propane and we didn’t have any electricity,” Davis said. “We can put a load of wood in our fireplace and it’ll
burn eight hours and heat the house with a recirculating
heat box inside the house.”
To keep that comfortable air inside the house, Davis spared no expense insulating his home. The home, garage included, has six-inch walls full of insulation, 16 inches of insulation above the ceiling and a metal roof that reflects the sun’s rays.
All the windows are made with Pella, triple-paned windows with shades built inside the third pane.
“Most people don’t insulate their garages, but boy I tell ya when it’s 29 degrees outside in the winter and we go out and get in our car and its already 55 degrees warm out in our garage,” said Davis, who said the garage has no heating or cooling in the garage. “We love that.”
The water heater, which is usually paid little to no attention, saves Davis energy. Instead of using a 30-gallon water heater, the house uses two, “On-Demand” water heaters.
“This is a fairly recent thing that a lot of people are beginning to do,” Davis said. “We have water heaters that, when you turn the faucet on, it begins to make the hot water. One hot water heater on one side of the house can run two showers 24 hours a day and never stop or run out.”
The water is heated using propane, which Davis keeps in a large tank behind his house.
“That helps save energy because we’re not heating hot water 24 hours a day,” Davis said. “We’re heating hot water just when the faucet’s turned on or the shower’s turned on.”
Despite all the benefits, Davis said there is a drawback.
“Everything about an energy efficient house costs more,” Davis said. “When you spend more on your house and then you go down to the tax office you end up paying more on taxes because you spent more to save energy.”
Davis said the City of Abilene or Taylor County don’t offer tax credits to house built with more energy efficient features.
“I think the city ought to consider everything you spend on energy savings,” Davis said. “It would be a good law for some excited person to get busy and get done.”