Beacon Falls man gives home renewable makeover

Beacon Falls resident Bill Giglio recently installed solar panels and a wind turbine at his home on Bethany Road to take advantage of renewable energy. -LARAINE WESCHLER

BEACON FALLS — When Bill Giglio’s home was built in 1773, the original owners probably left a tiny carbon footprint. Today, Giglio hopes to do the same.

Giglio is retrofitting one of the oldest buildings in Beacon Falls with some of the latest in sustainable technology.

“This house was a house before this country was a country,” Giglio said.

Giglio suspects the building was originally a barn. It has a walk-in, dirt-floored cellar that might have once been stalls, and Giglio found a horseshoe and a stirrup in the house during renovations.

When he bought the home at 274 Bethany Road in 2003, Giglio said it needed a lot of work. As the owner of a construction company, Giglio had no problem converting the attic into a second story or remodeling the kitchen.

While traveling in China in 2008, Giglio noticed many roofs all over Beijing were covered in solar arrays.

“They are so conscious of not wasting anything,” Giglio said.

When he got back to the states, Giglio went back to school to get certification in renewable energy construction. His first project – his own home.

Giglio installed solar panels on the roof of his garage, a wind turbine in his backyard, and a solar hot water heater on the side of his home.

For the first time since they were installed, Giglio turned on the solar panels and a wind tower last week.

Although Beacon Falls doesn’t have any specific regulations regarding wind generators, Giglio said the 40-foot tower is within town code for setbacks and height.

“That’s just common sense,” Giglio said.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the wind was blowing hard and the blades were spinning faster than the eye could follow. As the wind died off, the blades slowed, making a deep humming sound as the poll rattled. Giglio said he had to fix that by putting rubber in a space where to parts of the poll meet. Giglio said his neighbors can barely hear the noise, and haven’t complained.

“All my neighbors have been great,” he said.

Giglio expects the solar array to provide most of the power, about 2,000 kilowatt hours per year, while the wind turbine should generate about 1,100 kilowatt hours per year. Giglio estimates that he uses between 3,800 and 4,200 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

“In theory, this should be enough to cover me for the year,” Giglio said.

The system feeds excess electricity back into the grid. At the end of the year, if Giglio produces more energy than he consumes, Connecticut Light and Power will pay him a wholesale rate for the extra energy. However, Giglio said he’s just trying to break even.

“That’s good enough for me,” said Giglio, who added his main goal is to be carbon-neutral.

After state and federal rebates, Giglio said he invested about $3,500 in the solar panels. He expects to make that amount back in energy savings in three to three-and-a-half years.

Of course, Giglio installed the solar panels himself, with the help of an electrical engineer just to hook the setup into the grid. Most people would probably hire someone to install the panels, which can cost more money, Giglio said.

Despite the popularity of solar panels, Giglio said the unsung hero of the solar industry is solar water heaters. He said his solar water heater saves him one tank of oil per year.  He said solar water heaters retail for about $6,000 to $7,000.

Between February 2009 and December 2011, the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund handed out nearly $3.8 million in residential rebates for solar heaters, according to the fund’s website. Rebates are based on annual thermal output. A new solar thermal program with even higher rebates is expected to be announced in February.