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Debra Kraemer's Art Studio– a Work of Art & Energy

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Debra Kraemer in front of her studio
Photo credit: Jenevra Wetmore

Source: Jenevra Wetmore, EAN/Middlebury College Internship Program

Artistic Vision

Debra Kraemer dreamt of working in a new art studio for five years before she and her husband, Bob Walker, began building in June 2015. However Debra didn’t want just any art studio. The idea, according to her, was to make the studio as, “energy efficient, light-filled and tight” as possible. So the couple, along with their friend Rick Biddle (a very experienced craftsman), and various specialty contractors worked on building the studio part-time and finished January 2016. Now the beautiful 20 X 16 building sits near the couple’s home, but is a separate and more private space for Debra to work.

Comfortable and Practical

Debra wanted the studio to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. She considered installing a heat pump, but found the electric load of a heat pump exceeded the capacity of their electric system. She opted to use a small, efficient propane heater, and instead focused on insulation to ensure that she would use as little energy as possible to heat and cool. The walls of the studio are 12-inch thick double-stud walls filled with dense-packed cellulose insulation. A wall stud is typically made of 2x6’s but, by using two stud walls to frame the studio, the walls go from 6 inches thick to 12 inches thick, increasing insulation.  Plus, the 18" ceiling cavity and 12" thick floor space are also filled with dense-packed cellulose! 

The studio also has many windows to let in natural light. Debra and Bob wanted to minimize heat loss through the windows, so they installed triple pane windows with low-e insulating glass coatings, which block heat loss to the outside while reflecting heat back into the room.  Triple pane windows also have u factors that are 20-30% better than double pane windows, which means that triple pane windows have a greater resistance to heat flow.  As a result of the insulated walls and energy-efficient windows, Debra has found that the studio holds heat very well. An energy engineer friend of theirs joked, “Debra probably could do a few pushups and heat the whole building.”

A Solar-Powered Space

Debra and Bob’s house and Debra’s adjacent studio are both powered by 12 solar panels on the main house’s roof.  The panels are rated to produce 2.7kW, which is a relatively small system due to the couple’s low energy usage and high efficiency home. Grosolar installed the panels in 2010.

The solar panels cover nearly all of their electric use, including their home’s electric hot water heater ( a bcakup to their solar and wood hot water system) and the studio’s 2 ½ gallon electric hot water heater, where Debra can plug it in and get hot water in just 10 minutes. And because Debra and Bob decided to change out all their home and studio’s lights to LEDs (which use at least 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting), they have further stretched their solar electricity generation.

The couple paid for the system out of pocket, and expects to make back their investment in 10 years. They bank credits in the summer, when they are producing more power than they need, and then use those credits in the winter.  Most years they have found that solar power covers all of their electricity, so their annual electricity payments are near zero.

Efficient at Work and at Home

Debra and Bob built their home in 1994. They used the most up-to-date efficiency measures in the construction of their home that were available at the time, and then drew upon that experience to make the new art studio even better. The windows in their home are double paned – not triple-paned like the studio– and the walls are 10 ½  inches thick, not the 12 inches of the studio. These walls and windows, although not as insulating as the studio’s, are still more energy-efficient than most other home’s walls and windows (the average window is single-pane, and the average walls are 4.5- 6.5 inches thick). 

In terms of heating, Bob and Debra opted to heat their entire home with a highly-efficient Vermont Castings stove, and because their home is so insulated, they burn less than two cords of wood a year.

Debra and Bob’s commitment to energy efficiency has been evident since they built their house in 1994, and is now apparent in the smart design of Debra’s new studio. Now she can devote energy to her art and work in comfort for years to come!