DEERTON - An unusual low-pitched sound greets a visitor taking the short walk through the woods to Sam and Christine Simonetta's home.
The person could be forgiven for thinking it's just the wind moving through the forest, but further exploration will reveal the true source of the sound: a 140-foot-high wind turbine not too far from the Simonetta house.
That turbine - and other features such as an air-to-water heat pump and a dual-flush toilet - have helped make the Simonetta residence a net-zero home.
A meter gives Sam Simonetta of Deerton information about his home’s energy efficiency. (Journal photos by Christie Bleck)
The Northern Center for Lifelong Learning Saturday held several tours of the home tucked away on Onota Hill Lane.
A net-zero home is designed so the occupants don't consume more energy than the home produces.
The Simonettas began to build their energy-efficient home in 2003. Sam acknowledges it's easier to build such a house from scratch.
"If you're new and can design for it electric-wise, it works out well," he said.
It also was a collaborative effort.
"Sam and I designed it together," Christine said.
It helped the couple earn a Five Star Home grant from the state of MIchigan in 2003 and the GreenMax Home grant from Wisconsin Public Power Inc. and the Alger Delta Cooperative Electric Association in 2010.
There are many ways the couple maintains a net-zero home. The house has highly efficient windows and an energy-efficient building shell.
Windows and roof overhangs are positioned to achieve passive solar cooling and heating. A ventilation system recovers 60 to 70 percent of heat from the air in the winter.
To save water, for example, the Simonettas have low-flow aerators in the sinks and a low-flow shower head.
Then also consider "phantom loads" when saving energy.
"Phantom loads are loads you don't think about," Sam Simonetta said. "They're energy you're using behind your back."
These include coffeemakers with clocks and devices with remote controls. Simonetta suggested homeowners put these items on power strips, which can be shut off when the appliances are not in use.
There are many such small ways to conserve energy, but eventually other methods need to be harnessed to save even more.
"The two biggest energy users in a home are going to be heating and water heating," Simonetta said.
To combat these energy hogs, the Simonettas use an on-demand water heater, which heats water as it's being used.
The couple, too, upgraded from a propane boiler to an electric air-to-water heat pump. This pump, according to GreenMax Home, extracts heat from the air.
The resulting energy heats water that circulates through tubes in the floor - technology that performs well even during winter.
Christine Simonetta also pointed to their soapstone stove, using stone from Finland, that stays warm for 24 hours after a fire. They get all the heat because the heat's not going up the chimney and the stove is absorbing the heat.
Then there's their 10kW energy-producing wind turbine, which produces more kilowatts in the winter months when winds are stronger, Sam said. The turbine needs an 8-mph wind to start operating, but draws off the grid when the wind stops.
"This is obviously a variable-output machine," he said.
Excess energy also is delivered to the distribution system of the Alger Delta Cooperative Electric Association.
Wind turbines have been a source of conflict among many people who believe they contribute to bird deaths. Simonetta said statistics show that with a commercial-sized turbine, one bird per turbine dies annually. Compare that to birds dying from cat attacks or flying into a window, he said.
Christine said she hasn't seen any dead birds near the turbine and in fact, they sit on the support cables.
So why people have problems with turbines escapes her.
"This is just beauty to me," she said of their scientific-looking structure.
Not only do the Simonettas conserve energy in their home, they conserve it on the road as well.
They have converted a Chevrolet S10 to an electric vehicle that can go up to 70 mph and has a 70-mile range, Sam said.
The truck operates on lithium-ion batteries.
"There's no engine, there's no oil and oil filters," Christine said. "It's a completely different creature."
It's also more economical, Sam said.
"Electric is really a cheaper way for transportation than gas prices," he said.
However, saving money wasn't the driving force behind the Simonettas becoming energy-efficient.
The philosophical reasons were more important.
Sam said the purpose of having a net-zero home is to use as little energy as possible and then generate everything you use.
"We both wanted to be efficient," Christine said. "We wanted to have a small footprint because the more resources you take up, the more you take from someone else."
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.