Solar Energy to Power Mount Sequoyah Home

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 480 views 

A new home is sprouting up on the Fayetteville skyline — a three-story, carbon-neutral showpiece with sweeping views of the city and plenty of open space for guests.

Located just south of the cross on top of Mount Sequoyah, the home being developed by entrepreneur and environmentalist Terry Tremwel, board chairman of Fayetteville startup Picasolar Inc., and his wife Margaret, promises to be a jewel in the tiara of homes on Fayetteville’s highest peak.

The general contractor for the project is Stitt Energy Systems Inc. of Rogers, which specializes in low-carbon homes with natural light and solar energy. Set for completion sometime this summer, the 2,750-SF home will also have 2,300 SF of decking, as many as six charging stations for electric cars, and will have south facing roofs with 72 solar panels by Richter Solar Energy to collect as much as 20 kilowatts of power.

In addition to its efficiency, the home is also being built with widened access and an elevator to accommodate the onset and intensification of Tremwel’s condition, Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system.

“Hopefully we can open some people’s minds as to what’s possible,” Tremwel said of the home’s many features.

The project started out as a typical house-hunting expedition. But Tremwel, an engineer who develops high-performance solar cells, and wife Margaret, a neurologist at Washington Regional Medical Center who has to be within a 15-minute drive of the hospital, had expectations above and beyond those of a typical married couple.

“We looked at houses, and there were a lot of beautiful houses, but not a lot of energy-efficient houses,” Tremwel said. “And we wanted a view.”

That led the Tremwels to Mount Sequoyah, where they found a bungalow, built in 1926, that had seen better days.

“We walked through it and saw nothing to build on,” he said. “It would have been a sieve.”

The house was demolished, but the Tremwels saved what they could. Old appliances were donated to Habitat for Humanity, windows were repurposed for a friend’s greenhouse, and a piece of stained glass salvaged from the bungalow will be placed in the new home.

With the purchase, demolition and construction, the Tremwels will invest well over $500,000 in the project.

The dwelling, designed by Suzanne Lantz, vice president of design and customer services at Stitt, will have three floors, a lower, main and upper. The entire west side of the home, which includes a prow, will have windows not just for light and heat, but for mesmerizing views of Fayetteville, the sunset, and the distant glitter of U.S. Highway 62.

Through work and church, the Tremwels know a lot of people, and they’re eager to share the house, particularly the open main floor, with as many of them as possible.

“We want people to enjoy the space,” Tremwel said.


Sun Control

Orlo Stitt, president of Stitt Energy Systems, has known Tremwel for almost a decade. He said when it came time to design and build the house, a man of Tremwel’s caliber and connections could have picked anyone. Instead, Tremwel stayed local.

“Of all the builders in the Midwest, we were chosen, and that’s an honor,” Stitt said.

Stitt’s undergirding philosophy of home construction is simple — let the winter sun in and keep the summer sun out. If that’s achieved, a house does not have to have an extravagant HVAC system, and the big drain on resources it entails, to heat and cool the house.

Hallmarks of Stitt construction include insulated concrete forms, tight windows, insulation, and a tight seal around the entire house. In terms of energy efficiency, Stitt makes the following analogy: “We like to build houses with round wheels. Most houses have square wheels.”

Stitt has built green homes since the 1970s, and as he likes to say, he was doing it “before it was cool.” But market research shows that the homebuilding industry is finally following Stitt’s lead.

According to a survey of 232 builders by the National Association of Home Builders, more than 50 percent of homebuilders are now constructing at least 16 percent of their new homes green. And by 2020, according to the survey, more than 50 percent of all homebuilders will build at least 60 percent of their new homes green. Statistics for remodelers are trending in the same direction. 

Stitt’s philosophy is spelled out in his 2011 book, “Holistically Green Homes,” where he defines the 18 principles that inform his work. One of the key principles, sun control, is central to the Tremwel home. Visors and overhangs, walkways and cantilevers, screened porches and arbors — many of those elements will be in play at the Mount Sequoyah site, as is a shade tree, protected during demolition and construction, on the southwest corner of the property.

One of the big questions to ask, Stitt said, is not how much the house costs to build, but how much it costs to live in. Since the home is expected to generate enough energy to power the house as well as both of the Tremwels’ Chevy Volts, and even the electric cars of their friends, chances are that utility bills, and the impact on the environment, will be minimal — just as Tremwel and Stitt intended.

“That’s our mission, to satisfy customers and be useful for future generations,” Stitt said.


Difficult Build

Before moving to Northwest Arkansas about a year ago, the Tremwels were based in the River Valley in Van Buren. There, they lived in a home on the Lee Creek Bluff. In terms of efficiency, the Van Buren home was a high performer.

“We moved from a house that I called the Disneyland of energy efficiency,” he said.

Still, it was a retrofit. Tremwel, an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas, said with new construction, the Fayetteville house should perform much better than the one in Van Buren, which is still for sale.

While the Tremwel home will serve as a model of green construction, and be one of the greenest homes in the state, it will not even be the most energy efficient in Fayetteville. That distinction belongs to the home owned by former Fayetteville mayor Dan Coody and wife Deborah, who live at the southern foot of Mount Sequoyah.

The Coody home, which actually produces more energy than it uses, is considered one of the greenest homes in the United States. A major difference between the Tremwel and Coody homes, however, is that the Tremwel residence is about 2,750 SF, whereas the Coody home is about 880.

Building on top of Mount Sequoyah has presented its share of challenges: little space to maneuver, a dangerously steep grade, and compliance with Fayetteville’s meticulous Hillside/Hilltop Overlay District.

Meeting the requirements of Fayetteville’s ordinance — an eight-step process that included documenting the site’s tree canopy — took a lot of time and delayed the construction schedule.

Between municipal oversight and the site itself, the hardships added up.

“It’s probably the most challenging site we’ve built on,” Stitt said.

Tremwel, while not a builder, is very familiar with the ups and downs of construction. He is chairman of Trem|Wel Energy LLC, a company that owns rental units that have been retrofitted for energy efficiency. 

The Tremwels are currently renting a home in Springdale as they patiently wait for the new house to be built. Summer can’t come soon enough.

“It’s going to be very nice,” Tremwel said. “We’re looking forward to it, without a doubt.”