Designer impressed with results

Sister Jane Omlor received a surprise visit Wednesday from Mark Hoberecht, the man who designed the passive-solar house from its beginnings four years ago.

He and his father, Les Hoberecht, stopped while they were in the area to hike at Collier State Nature Preserve.

“He was the one that guided us through this,” Omlor said.

Hoberecht said he was impressed with how the house turned out.

“When they’re done, they always turn out way better than I envision,” he said. “It just feels so homey, so warm and inviting.

“It’s fantastic,” he said. “When you’re finished straw-bale building, it has a really different feel. It feels more homey. These walls just feel more alive.”

Omlor said she was careful to keep inside decorations simple with few pictures on the walls.

“Plants love the place,” she said. “There are geraniums that have been blooming since December upstairs.”

Omlor said she can see Hoberecht’s passive-solar design is working well now that she’s been living in the house for more than six months. The design is meant to use the natural progression of the sun to keep the house warm in winter and cool in summer.

“The passive solar design works perfectly,” she said. “The sun does not come in this house in the summer, and in the winter it bathes this house with warm sun.”

The natural heating/cooling system does the rest of the job.

“The upstairs has been a little warm, so we use fans,” she said of the recent streak of hot, humid weather.

Even with the use of fans and other electrical devices, Omlor said the house uses no energy from the electric grid.

Most of the house’s electricity needs are supplied by a wind turbine, and now the rest is supplied by the Franciscan Earth Literacy Center’s solar array.

The array creates more electricity than the FELC building can use, so American Electric Power is allowing part of a $400 monthly credit to be used to pay the house’s small monthly electric bill. The bill was $27 last month, Omlor said.

Omlor had planned to add a small solar array to handle the power needs not supplied by the wind turbine.

“That won’t be necessary now,” she said. “We can benefit from the big solar array. It’s all one project anyway.”