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Due to our Block Party success, CivicSpark would like to share some of the great projects and steps residents in San Luis Obispo County have taken to make their homes more efficient and comfortable. 

  1. ANDY - Passive Attic Ventilation
  2. KEN - Strawbale Building and Passive Solar Heating
  3. BOB - Valentina Suites
  4. JON - Mike's Barbershop

Andy - Passive Attic Ventilation

Andy Mutziger, a SLO County APCD Air Quality Specialist, completed a Passive Attic Ventilation retrofit on his home in Santa Margarita. The retrofit consisted of a ridge vent installation, rafter and soffit vents and proper insulation of his attic. The project cut his heating and cooling costs almost in half, despite living in a part of the county that experiences wide temperature variations. Andy also experienced a noticeable increase in comfort level that the retrofit provided. We encourage you to check out his entire presentation below.

If you live in north county and experience oppressive heat or frigid cold in your home, a passive attic ventilation system may be right for you. 

Full Video Version

Powerpoint Presentation

We sat down with Andy to ask him some questions and to give some quick highlights of the project:

Q: What was the reason for doing the project?

A: The slab construction of my house radiated cold air into the home during the winter; coupled with poor insulation it resulted in a very cold and uncomfortable home. Conversely, in the summertime the home held heat, often being noticeably warmer inside than outside in the evening. Heat trapped in the attic would fall into the home during the afternoon and evening leading to an oppressive lingering heat.

Q. What are some of the highlights of the project?

A: By working with a contractor and on my own I installed a more effective insulation and venting system, which passively cools the home, consisting of a ridge vent, rafter vents, and soffit vents, drastically reducing heating and cooling costs, all without additional noise or electricity usage from fans or other systems.

Q. Why attic retrofits and not cool roof or solar?

A: A more significant reduction in heat was needed, along with more effective insulation. This made the retrofit project more lucrative and sensible.

Q. Would you consider solar in the future?

A: Yes, but my utility bills are not significant enough for most solar companies. However, alternative arrangements are something I'm interested in.

Q. Do you have any upcoming projects?

A: California is in a historic drought. Water would be the next project to tackle. Despite cutting irrigation in half, and not watering the lawn, we'd like to continue conserving. Dryscaping, rain harvesting, a metal roof cooling system, or possibly a cool roof are all projects on the radar.

Q. What would you have done differently with the passive attic ventilation project?

A: I would talk with the local emPower Energy Coaches to get input/advice on my planned attic project. One important efficiency improvement step I missed was sealing the attic prior to installing or relaying the insulation.

Ken - Strawbale Building and Passive Solar Heating


Ken Haggard is a San Luis Obispo County resident  who lives on the north side of the Cuesta Grade. Ken has lived on the Central Coast for over 30 years, and has been practicing unique sustainable  building techniques for nearly as long. The CivicSpark team was given the opportunity to tour Ken’s home and talk with him about sustainable building practices.

Ken made the decision to go “off-grid” ( energy not delivered by the utility companies) after a fire destroyed his home in 1994. He used this unfortunate event to build structures that incorporated Passive Solar and allowed him to go “off-grid” with solar and micro-hydro systems. He was able to incorporate the different building technologies and techniques he had been working with into his own home. Ken’s home, office and workshop, including a battery system, has a total energy consumption under 12 kw. Ken has enjoyed virtually no energy bills, with the exception of some natural gas for cooking and backup heat.

Situated on a natural spring created by the microclimate of the Cuesta Grade, Ken’s property has year round flowing water, even during the current drought. This microclimate has a wide range of temperature fluctuations, including snow, yet Ken’s house uses almost no energy for heating or cooling. He has achieved this by implementing Passive Solar heating with Strawbale construction techniques. Using the sun’s natural heat and a “sink,” or storage system, the Strawbale Construction of his three structures maintains a comfortable temperature year round. The Strawbale construction acts as the “sink” by creating a large mass for the heat from the sun, or ambient temperature in the summer, to be stored and slowly released over time. Ken did note that Passive Solar heating doesn’t work in some conditions, such as stretches of cloudy days when the house may get colder, and during Santa Ana conditions the home may need to use some fans. However, these drawbacks are not frequent and can be offset by relatively small sources, such as fans or a small heater.

The day of our visit it was quite warm out, but immediately upon stepping into Ken's home we noticed a significant change in temperature. The three structures on his property are all sited with the position of the sun in mind, keeping the rays of the sun out of the windows in the summer while letting them in during winter months. In addition to Passive Solar heating, the window and skylight placement allows for plentiful amounts of natural lighting in each building. Along with these techniques, the home has a solar array and solar water heaters. The array fuels both the home’s incredibly low energy consumption and charges two electric vehicles. Each of the three structures is built differently, acting as unique demonstrations of how versatile and strong Strawbale Construction can be. One of the structures even has a packed earth floor.

After our tour, we sat down with Ken and discussed where his inspiration for Strawbale construction, Passive Solar, and some of the other elements used in his home came from. We also discussed what could be learned through his experience.

Ken first became aware of Passive Solar in the early 1970s while teaching at California Polytechnic State University.. At this time he learned of Harold Hay and the Atascadero Solar House. Using a Passive Solar heating and cooling method, the Atascadero Solar Home took advantage of the thermal mass potential of water to heat and cool the home. This led Ken to begin his work in Passive Solar heating as the home became very popular during the 1970s oil embargo. In 1976, Ken started his own firm with the knowledge gained from Hay’s Atascadero Solar House. In 1992 Ken received a request for a strawbale home to be built in Lone Pine, California, marking the first home built of this kind in the state. The Strawbale construction technique really gained ground in SLO County in the 1990s, with over 100 built in the county. Before the recession in 2008, more large scale projects began exploring and implementing this construction method.

Ken also left us with a some thoughts about existing and new construction. A few things he noted include:

  • Existing homes built before the 1970s may have minimal, if any,  insulation. This was the common practice in California,  greatly contributing to utility costs as the homes failed to retain heat or cool air. Poorly insulated ceilings can also lead to greatly increased utility bills; simply sealing and insulating ceilings can make a huge improvement in comfort and cost.

  • Mindfulness of south facing windows and their contribution as a heat source in a home.

  • Strawbale building techniques can be used in new constructions or remodels.

  • In new construction, some sites require more design than others to take advantage of Passive Solar heating

  • Waste material can be used as insulation, even in tract homes, and combined with siting it can allow the home to take advantage of the sun to reduce heating and cooling costs.

Bob - Valentina Suites

Bob owns the Valentina Suites in Pismo Beach, luxury suites that are leading the way in the county in terms of sustainability. The Valentina is a excellent example of being sustainable with a simple  common sense approach. Much of the Valentia’s initiatives are easy to miss or integrated into the building. Starting with the building envelope, Bob used an insulation standard  exceeding the California Green Building Code to keep the suites as comfortable as possible with little energy required to maintain temperature. From there Bob installed Energy Star appliances, low flow fixtures, a “cool roof” design, a myriad of green cleaning practices, and on demand water heaters. Bob also has incorporated our Simple Steps flyer into his suites, further encouraging his visitors to be conscious. We asked Bob about the suites: 

Q: How did you first find the navien system and what sold you on it or made you invest in the system for your whole property?
A: It was recommended to us by our Project Manager at Specialty Construction, Tom Ehlers. The efficiency of the Navien technology is what made us invest in the system for the whole property. We wanted a system that would be cost-effective for the long-term, and the savings that we've received versus having a traditional hot water heater was noticeable right from the start. With 96% efficiency, it offered a stark contrast from traditional water heaters.
Q: Why did you install all of the technology/techniques (R-19 insulation, extra strong foundation, low flow/energy star, etc) in the suites?
A: This was also a recommendation that was made to us by Specialty Construction. We were eager to receive our HERS rating for HVAC efficiency, and the R-19 insulation allowed us to go that extra mile to guarantee that efficiency. In addition, a white PVC membrane on the roof helps maintain an ideal temperature range.  Energy Star programs offered a great incentive to install all Energy Star appliances, and the eco-savvy consumer of today notices these details. We wanted to stand out from the corporate hotel suites and offer a greener alternative to our guests. We were conscious of efficiency from the very start of the project, and we even recycled our drywall waste to ensure that we were not being wasteful.
Q: Do you think other businesses should embrace some of the things that Valentina Suites has done?
A: It takes a great deal of foresight to fully "go green," but there are simple things that make a difference for existing businesses. I would encourage other businesses to look into replacing their water heaters with tankless ones. In addition, switching to LEDs and compact fluorescents makes a huge difference in energy usage and cost. LEDs last forever, and the prices have consistently been falling as time goes on. Drought resistant/low-consumption landscaping is a no-brainer during the drought, but small changes like this can have a major effect on your water bill.
Q: Do you have any tips for how they can get started based on your experience?
A: There are resources out there for those interested in making changes. I would suggest being pro-active in researching what you can change to bemore efficient. You don't necessarily have to go solar in order to be green, and energy and water efficiency measures can make a big difference.
Q: Did you calculate any payback period for investing in alternative technology as opposed to conventional water heaters, appliances, etc?
A: Yes. Although I don't recall what it was, the payback period was relatively short for the Navien tankless water heaters, and was almost instant for the Energy Star appliances.
Q: Is solar on the Valentina Suites the next step?
A: This is something we've considered. However, with solar, you always have to balance aesthetics. We've already started incorporating some solar light fixtures; however, we are not yet at the point of installing solar on a larger scale.
Q: Do you have any lessons learned from any of the technologies or practices you have in the Valentina Suites?
A: Foresight is everything. If we hadn't considered efficiency during the construction process, we would have missed out on many opportunities to reduce energy and water consumption. If you're in the construction process, make sure you ask about green options.
Q: Any projects at home you’d like to tell us about?
A: We recently replaced all of our light fixtures with LEDs. The energy savings are incredible, and the lifespan of these bulbs are out of this world.

Jon - Mike's Barbershop - Solar Power and Composting

Mike’s Barbershop in beautiful Morro Bay is an traditional style barbershop offering haircuts and shaves. The shop has been in operation since 1941 and still offers the authentic feel complete with the barber pole outside the door. Mike’s has added another shop with more space and all the atmosphere. Mike’s Barbershop breaks from tradition in an interesting way, incorporating many green practices into their business at both locations. From solar power to gardens, the shop is serious about sustainability. We sat down with head barber Jon to learn more:

Q. Can you list everything that you do at the shop?

A: We compost our customers hair clippings, recycle and practice zero waste, obviously there is some hazardous waste but compared to the average shop we reduce landfill waste 90% or more. We installed low flow toilets, put low flow screens on our sinks, added solar panels (a 10 year investment), we have a garden on the side of the shop, installed a bike rack to promote biking, and offer WIFI to cut back on several newspapers and magazines. During my weekly radio show on Estero Bay Public Radio, I do as much as I can digitally and use recycled paper as much as possible for notes and set lists. (Jon’s weekly show has tips for babers, tips to be “green,” and an hour of music.

We had beehives on our roof, but had to removed them due to hives moving into our hive, and a misconception about what was happening. We now sponsor this hive at an undisclosed location and hope further education will change this in the future!

Q. How did you decide to get solar panels?

A: Research and a desire to be more sustainable lead to the decision. I’m also a member of the Morro Bay Eco-Rotary club. Mostly growing up in Davis and having these values from childhood made me want to make a difference in the way my business operates.

Q. Was you landlord involved in the process?

A: Yes but mostly as a write off of paper work. The landlord only needs to give permission.

Q. Do you think it is as simple as moving the panels off the roof if you are no longer at the same location?

A: Yes, and possibly getting a new agreement with PG&E at the new location.

Q. How did you decide to feature the generation on your website? Have you got any positive feedback?

A: The microinverters we installed offered it so I figured it would be good to have on the site. Most people are surprised it’s there, but I have got some positive feedback as well. (Check out Mike’s website to see real time generation of the panels on their roof! (www.morrobaybarbershop.com)

Q. Who installed the solar? Did you have any problems with the process?

A: John Stevens with Pacific Energy installed the panels, and we ran into delays with PG&E.

Q. Do you think other businesses can also install solar?

A: Yes, we thought that the fog and less sunny weather would be an issue in morro bay, but even in “inclement” weather the panels still produce.

Q. Any tips for those who are interested?

A: Go with known companies for any projects, and if going solar get three estimates and do your research on panels.

Q. What led you to the other “green” practices you listed?

A: The same reasons for solar, growing up in Davis and having the values imparted on me at a young age led me to want to make a difference with my business.