A garage that is eco-friendly

Visitors have traveled for miles to see David and Laura Sill's new garage in Reisterstown, Md. What makes this three-car garage worth the trip is that it was made out of about 200 bales of straw and features a toilet that heats waste into environmentally friendly ash.

The Sills' garage was finished last week, just in time to be part of the B-more, B-Green Solar Tour on Sunday sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society, Potomac Regional Solar Energy Association and several energy-related companies. The self-guided tour featured 10 homes and businesses in Maryland that use green techniques to cut carbon emissions.

Building a green garage was a natural for the Sill family. The family's Victorian home has solar panels, which supply about 40 percent of the family's electricity. So when David Sill, a physician, wanted a heated garage so he could work on cars year-round, he looked to the sun again.

"The power is raining down on us as we stand here, yet we don't use it," Sill said.

One of the first things a visitor will notice about the new garage is that it doesn't have a paved driveway that causes run off. Instead, the driveway is a "permeable pavement," like a thin metal grid that's barely covered by dirt but allows vegetation to poke through and rain to be absorbed.

The garage relies on three solar panels for heating. The panels heat a tank of antifreeze-like fluid, and when the garage needs heat, the fluid will be circulated in a grid under the floor. The garage can be heated up to 80 degrees, Sill said. "These walls are tremendously insulated because they are so thick," Sill said.

Looking at the garage, there's no evidence of the bales that make up the 21-inch walls other than a square of plaster purposely cut out to reveal the golden straw. The bales are covered with plaster. The exterior features cement-product paneling, said Polly Bart, owner of Greenbuilders in Butler, Md., which constructed the garage.

The straw came from a farmer about five miles away from the Sill home, Bart said.

The garage also includes a small bathroom with an electric toilet.

On the roof are two small gardens that will keep the garage cool in the summer and extend the life of the roof, Bart said.

The 1,400-square-foot garage with screened porch cost $160,000. The Sills will get some of that investment back in federal and state tax breaks for the solar panels and energy-efficient doors.

Other sites on the tour included a green-certified building at a winery, imitation cedar shakes made from recycled rubber and plastic, and a rooftop solar heating system that allows a 1,000-square-foot pool to be heated about 10 degrees higher than usual at no extra cost, according to tour organizers.

In South Baltimore, the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center gets nearly all its electricity from solar panels, said Cheryl Miller, a building administrator. Miller said she likes that the lights automatically turn off.

But solar isn't the only green features of the center. The building also uses "gray" water — after someone washes their hands in the bathroom, the water is filtered and then used for the toilets, Miller said.

Information on tax breaks for fuel efficient homes and businesses is at www.dsireusa.org.

Share This Story