Stephen and Rebekah Hren decided in 2006 to pool their collective skills as a professional (solar) electrician and a professional home restorer to create a home that was totally free of fossil-fuel power and independent of the grid. They first needed to examine their lives in minute detail, then re-think the way they did everything—everything—to transition to a leaner, more efficient, and less wasteful lifestyle.
The result was their re-outfitted 1930s bungalow in Durham, NC—and their book, The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit. Now, Stephen and Rebekah are offering free tours of their home, and partnering with other local businesses, to help spread the word of how they did it—and how you can do it, too.
From The Durham News:
In the yard of a rambling 1930s bungalow on Trinity Avenue, a “food forest” grows: Asian pears, peaches, blueberries and a slew of vegetables including lettuce, artichokes and asparagus.
In the backyard sits a solar oven, where you’ll often find beans, or another slow-cook meal simmering in a porcelain Dutch oven.
And on the roof — yes, the roof — kitchen herbs abound near the large solar panels that make much of what Stephen and Rebekah Hren do possible: live without carbon.
The couple bought the house in 2006 and has since outfitted it to operate purely on solar panels. The panels are tied to the utility grid of Duke Energy, which allows them to sell excess solar power to NCGreenpower, a nonprofit that pays renewable energy producers.
“For the first two years we were here we weren’t tied to the utility grid, and functioned off a battery bank and solar power for electricity,” Rebekah said. “But it is more efficient, and better in general for the planet, for us to be able to sell our excess solar power, so it feeds into our neighbors’ houses when we aren’t able to use all of it.”
Rebekah, 33, is a certified electrician specializing in solar power, and Stephen, 34, has been restoring old homes for years.
Both enjoy gardening but have received a lot of expert help from their friends and tenants Keith Shaljian and his partner, Kyra Moore. They’re the founders of Bountiful Backyards, a group that plants edible gardens. They live in an apartment off the back of the house, which is nearly carbon-free as well.
“I put the first garden bed in the very first day I moved there,” Shaljian said. “Beauty is a really important element.”
The Hrens wrote a book about their endeavor titled, “The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit.” It was published by Chelsea Green in 2008.
On Sunday their home is open to the public for free tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Signed copies of their book will be for sale for $35.
The couple built a solar home from scratch in Person County years ago but realized they were hardly helping the environment with their commutes. Durham appealed to them with its central location (in-fill is friendlier to the earth than new construction), as well as the vibe of the community.
Caddy corner to the home is an apartment complex, and just blocks away sits the ghost of one of downtown Durham’s industrial hubs.
The Hrens chose the Trinity Avenue house because it’s close to the Durham Farmers’ Market. Stephen serves on the board of the Durham Central Market, a planned neighborhood cooperative grocery that hopes to establish a place in Durham Central Park akin to Carrboro’s Weaver Street Market.
They also wanted to set an example.
“I think what we are doing is important because it is in such a high-traffic urban area, not way out in the sticks,” Rebekah said.
“All the projects we have done are on a totally normal house, not some fancy ‘green built’ home that cost $500,000,” she said. “All the energy efficiency projects we did cost about $40,000, and we got tax credits of nearly $15,000 off that initial cost.”