Green Idea House

solarpanelBob and Monica Fortunato lived in a bungalow about three-quarters of a mile from the beach, in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Built in 1959, the place offered just 1,329 square feet (123 square meters) of space. When their son Carter was born, the couple wanted more space. The solution was to pop the top, adding a 700-square-foot (65-square-meter) upper story.

Neither Bob, a management consultant, nor Monica, an occupational therapist, had any engineering experience, but they were both artists and chose to design the renovation themselves. They created a high-efficiency passive solar home. To make way for a photovoltaic array, they finished the new roof first, covering it with a gray thermoplastic membrane. Then they brought in Mediterranean Solar to put up 26 240-watt SolarWorld modules, with Enphase micro- inverters. The system went live in January 2012, and helped to drive the power tools used in finishing out the interior.

The chief design problem with the solar array turned out to be the neighbors. The house sits on a steep hillside, and the neighbors uphill had long enjoyed an unobstructed view toward the ocean. A few years ago, the Fortunatos cut down some trees in their backyard when those trees grew into the view corridor. Now they figured out a way to keep the tops of the modules below the 25-foot (7.6-meter) local height limit.

The house is warmed by a pair of heat-pump water heaters; the two-car garage, excavated into the hillside, functions as a heat sink, keeping ground floor air at a steady 68°F (20°C). It’s cooled by a shade overhang and by a central staircase that functions as a thermal chimney.

When the electrical system was completed last June, the Fortunato house proved to be more than net-zero. It generated enough power to run the house and charge a couple of electric cars. The family now has a Mitsubishi i-MiEV and is shopping for a plug-in hybrid. After six months of solar operation, the couple had a $480 credit on their electric bill. For full details on the house, see


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One Response to Green Idea House

  1. Calvin Walker Reply

    February 13, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Hi everyone, I have a new method for finding underlying rafter centers on shingle/composition roofs. The Tru-Center Rafter Clip system is based on the mathematical principle of “Translation”, inside the attic a rafter clip holds and references a standard tape measure to the first rafter of a horizontal run. The tape is pulled across perpendicular to intermediate rafters to the end rafter of the horizontal run and attached to the end clip.

    Intermediate rafter centers are then marked onto the tape, the tape reference is “Translated” through the use of alignment holes to the outside of the roof, translation plates hold and reference the tape measure along the horizontal run on the outside of the roof where the marked rafter centers can now easily be transferred to the roof.

    I believe this will help the one time or first time installer who may not be comfortable with the “sounding”, method or drilling “test holes” in there roof. A Peer Review of the concept would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance Calvin

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