Beth McGuinn and Ruth Smith's house looks like a regular house - and for that exact reason, says Ruth, it often surprises their guests. She and her wife Beth live in Canterbury, NH in a home they designed in "classic New England" style. It's a two story saltbox house with beautiful natural wood shingle and clapboard siding, with a woodstove for heat, and a garden in the yard. It is set apart by the very intentional design to maximize efficiency - and the rooftop solar array that powers 100% of their energy needs.
Solar was always part of the plan when Beth and Ruth started looking at building their own home. Sustainability had long been a shared goal, both personally and professionally. Beth is the Executive Director of the Five Rivers Conservation Land Trust, and Ruth is the Master Gardner Program Coordinator for UNH Cooperative Extension and worked for NH Audubon for over 20 years.
Both can recall their interest in renewable energy starting early. Ruth's parents installed a solar hot water system on their roof in the early '80s despite the somewhat "crunchy" reputation solar had at the time, and Beth can recall a high school physics project that sparked her interest in leaving fossil fuels behind for renewables. "It just seemed like the answer to me, but I had to shelve that for close to 30 years before I could act on it," she says.
A solar design consultant helped them optimize their home before it was even constructed, designing it to fit their specific property. It resulted in a home that while looking and acting like any other New England house, has that "intentionality" to it that visitors always notice. Their house doesn't face the road like most others - it faces the sun. Large southern windows maximize passive solar gain, while good insulation and smaller northern windows help retain it. The southern roof was perfectly set up for solar when it came time to add it.
Beth and Ruth interviewed four other solar companies, but chose ReVision not just for the quality of our work, but ultimately because they knew they could count on ReVision being around for the future. Beth recalls that their solar hot water system had an issue on a Saturday evening, and their ReVision service specialist was out to the house within 2 hours of their call to fix it. "It proved clearly for me that I had chosen the right company," she says.
They started with a solar hot water system in 2011 with money they had saved up, and used the tax credit and rebate from that project to invest in a 16-panel PV system the following year that produced more electricity than they were using at the time. When Beth traded her car for an electric hybrid in 2016 they expanded the array with another 6 panels, and came out of the transition at net zero.
Ruth looks at their solar installations as not just an environmental project but as a retirement investment. It will give them a retirement free of electricity payments, and puts their money into something that supports the values they live. Ruth says, "Two women on nonprofit salaries made this happen. And it's not a crazy architectural design - it's a house that a lot of people would be comfortable living in. A lot of people could do this, it doesn't have to be the super rich or the super crunchy folks."
They have not had to sacrifice in their home to keep their electrical usage in line with what they produce - along with the car and usual home electrical use, the solar array powers three large freezers that store summertime harvests from their garden. "It's an important part of how we live lightly on the land and live our values." Beth says. "Apple sauce, tomato sauce, broccoli - you name it, we've got it in the freezer." They buy locally raised meats and raise their own chickens. Even an electric lawnmower helps trim their carbon footprint. As Ruth says, "It's free energy. We don't have to buy gas for that anymore."
Lifelong educators and advocates, Beth and Ruth love to share their solar sustainability story with family, friends, and the community, and have referred many people to ReVision for a solar array of their own, as well as let hundreds of people tour their home to see how solar works for them. "It's been fun to model that for people," says Ruth.
Like the 100% solar home, Beth plans someday to have a fully electric vehicle, charged on solar power. Ruth notes they'll need a few more solar panels when that happens - with the rooftop already filled from edge to edge, Beth is planning a ground mount for their next installation. She says, "I have the place all picked out."