The (fossil fuel-free) house that Spartan built

  • Spartan Giordano with partner, Hannah and their children, Max and Linnea. Contributed photo

For the Recorder
Published: 2/23/2021 8:44:37 AM

Spartan Giordano was just 28 years old when he designed and started building a zero fossil fuel energy home In Greenfield. He was 30 when he and Hannah, his partner, got the occupancy permit on the very day their son, Max, was born.

That was nine years ago. Now, Hannah and Spartan have a 2½-year-old daughter, Linnea, and Spartan has built a business installing solar hot water for other people called Spartan Solar.

I wanted to see what he had done to get ready to build not just any house, but one that is not using fossil fuel — a home that generates free electricity from sunshine, using no oil, no propane, no gas — in under a decade. I asked: “Looking back, would you change anything?”

He said, “I have not paid an electric or heating bill for seven years, since both the solar hot water and collectors generating electricity started running — just water/sewer, mortgage and taxes. Small houses (1,500 square feet) are less expensive to build and operate.”

For its foundation, the house was built on an insulated slab and has a beautifully designed tile floor that’s “a little hard,” he said. Nevertheless, tiles can collect solar rays and store heat, warming during the day and releasing warm air in the evening.

Downstairs, there’s an open-concept living space and kitchen that has a tech space/pantry/“root cellar.” The house has two bedrooms upstairs. “We certainly fill it up,” Giordano said. “The third floor bedroom is now studio/office. We hadn’t anticipated both of us also working here.” 

For windows, there are a few on “the cold north side, but the south side of the house has windows with specialized glass, carefully placed to collect solar heat, under an overhang to avoid over-heating in the summer,” as the sun is higher then. “Perhaps my one regret is that we could not, at the time, afford more of those excellent three-pane glass windows for the whole house.“ Giordano said.

The house’s thick walls are highly insulated with dense pack cellulose. And in the roof, “we had the space, so we just filled up every inch in the rafters with dense pack cellulose, R-90,” he said. “Very tight.”

The house is so tight that even with excellent ventilation, Giordano checks the moisture level regularly to make sure they avoid mold. With a house this tight, just four people being alive and breathing inside creates heat and adds moisture.

Speaking of moisture, the family dries laundry by hanging it high up in the stairwell. 

The bathroom, on the second floor, is sensible, right next to the two bedrooms and big enough to include an efficient washing machine. In the summer, they open the windows, hang the wet clothes a few feet from the machine and dry them with upwelling air in the stairwell, out of sight. In the winter, with the windows shut tight, they rely on a ventilator/dehumidifier in the bathroom.

It dries the clothes and serves the bathroom. Ingenious.

Two years after the house was built, they added 3.5 kilowatts/solar electric panels, generating all their electricity from sunshine. Annually, it comes out even. The house’s electric system is hooked to the grid.

The grid provides a back-up system, supplying electricity even when it’s dark. During the daytime, it is, essentially, running the meter backwards (yes, even on cloudy days, there is sunshine: less in the winter, more in the summer). They also have one of those highly efficient heat pump/mini-splits, about four times as efficient as an ordinary electric system — it provides heat in the winter, cool air in the summer.

The house features other efficient, low-energy appliances: All of the family’s hot water is heated with rooftop solar.

“Solar hot water is a such a good deal. Start with a zero or low interest loan. Most loans are made through a local credit union like Franklin First.  It costs you less to pay off the loan over seven years than it would have cost to heat your domestic hot water. Actually, it is even a more efficient use of sunshine than using solar for electric hot water heaters,” he continued,

After the loan’s paid off, it’s free.

“That has become my business,” says Spartan, referring to Spartan Solar, which can be found online at gospartansolar.com. Winter or summer, there is always a day on the south side of a roof when you can install a solar system.

“The winter is actually the best time to book work like ours. Most people don’t think about it until spring. By then, we get busy,” he said.

Pam Kelly has lived in Franklin County for nearly two decades. She is a retired executive director of the national Unitarian Universalist Association’s economic justice network. Topics that will be covered in the next few weeks include: How a student at Greenfield Community College built a beautiful fossil fuel-free house, and green jobs at Pioneer Valley Photovoltaics. Have a suggestion for a future article? Email: pamelaskelly@comcast.net.




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