MARQUETTE - In the 1970s government programs and incentives were offered to encourage residents to use alternative energies in their households -an effort to decrease dependency on foreign oil.
"When Reagan came into office a lot of that was dismantled and that industry dried up," said Steve DeGoosh, geography professor at Northern Michigan University. "But it went to Europe and many of those things got developed further there."
One of those alternative heating methods was to create a "passive house." And that is exactly what DeGoosh is currently doing to his 1950s-era home in the city of Marquette.
Steve DeGoosh, geography professor at Northern Michigan University, stands in front of his home in the city of Marquette that he is super insulating to create a passive house.
A close-up of the 4-inch insulation that DeGoosh has installed. (Journal photos by Miriam Moeller)
"The idea is to retrofit the house and greatly increase the efficiency of it," DeGoosh said. "I more than doubled the insulation on the wall and almost tripled it on the roof. The idea is to make the shell of the building very efficient and the second part is to try to address how the heating occurs inside and conserve heating."
DeGoosh said the passive house originated in Germany, where the first such residence was built in the late 1980s. While attending several conferences and meeting people interested in environmental and energy efficient methods, he ended up encountering one of the members of the Passive House Institute U.S in Illinois. PHIUS is a consulting and research firm that implements passive house standards nationwide.
"As soon as I heard them talking about it, I knew it was my fit," he said. "I've always known that my house wasn't adequately insulated."
So this summer, DeGoosh ripped off the siding on his house and began putting four to six inches of extra insulation foam on his walls, roof and around the foundation of the house.
"I've reduced the amount of window surface on the East and North side of the house because they're energy losers," he said, adding that he maximized the window surface on the sun or south side of the house to capture as much light, and ultimately heat, as possible.
"The goal of a passive house is to heat it on 1,000 or 2,000 kilowatts - basically what a hair dryer uses," he said. "A true passive house means no moving parts."
DeGoosh said the passive house can be build so efficiently that one will not need a furnace but will be okay solely heating with wood or solar energy.
"You could have a small fire in the morning that would heat the house and not let the heat escape through the roof," he said.
DeGoosh said he has been interested in environmental issues and sustainability for a long time, and he has shared his knowledge with students at NMU and the Marquette community via a film series on America's dependency on oil. He aims to inform people on the fact that one day - perhaps not too far in the future -the availability of cheap energy will be dramatically reduced.
"Most people aren't thinking about that," DeGoosh said. "I really undertook this project, knowing it would be a model and just to do the right thing."
He said he sees his house as a demonstration of how a person can modify a house in order to live efficiently without a great dependency on heating fuel or electricity.
DeGoosh plans to have a Web site up and running about his project soon. In the future, he plans to eliminate his lawn and replace it with plants that produce food to become an even more sustainable homeowner.