Lisa Ferguson, owner of Laughing Goat Fiber Farm, first became interested in raising livestock through a childhood passion for knitting.
She discovered that she loved knitting from natural fibers. Her farm started with three Angora goats — Winkin, Blinkin, and Nod. Eventually, it grew into a farm and business in Ithaca with goats, sheep, and alpacas. Her business sells speciality fibers and handmade and hand dyed fiber goods.
As her business grew, Lisa turned to different energy-saving techniques to make her home and farm more energy efficient. She started with an energy assessment around ten years ago which revealed air leaks and insulation gaps that were sealed and filled by a local contractor. Now, she is saving money and energy after installing solar panels, a pellet stove, and an air-source heat pump. The choices that Lisa has made have also led to a warmer and more comfortable home.
Lisa said she learned about her energy upgrade options through multiple community presentations given by Get Your GreenBack, HeatSmart Tompkins, Solar Tompkins, and Renovus Solar.
“I can’t thank them enough because it just elevated the conversation and the level of information that we had in order to make the decisions that we had to make,” Lisa said. “I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that without the information. You have to have a certain amount of confidence in what you’re doing to take this kind of risk.”
A sunny future with solar
Lisa partnered with Renovus Solar to get residential solar panels at her home. She said she went to a presentation that Renovus did where they talked about the tax credits, costs, and benefits of going solar.
She said 68 panels were installed and that 12 of them supply the energy for her business. The division was calculated based on Lisa’s past energy use. She has two separate systems with separate meters: one for the business and one for her house.
Lisa also has an app which helps her track the power her panels are producing, her energy consumption, and how much of her produced energy she is consuming. It tracks all three of these things over time.
“Every time I look at an energy improvement, it has to be something that lowers my monthly bills,” she said. “Otherwise I can’t do it.”
Lisa said the money she is saving with solar panels helped pay for its installation.
“I had a hard time convincing my husband because it’s a much bigger purchase than the pellet stove, but ultimately, I was able to show him that we were paying about $250-260 a month for our propane, and that was on a budget plan,” she said. “And then we were paying about $150-180 for electricity, so when I put those together, I could cover what we were paying for solar for each month. It would take the place of those costs.”
Heating her home for less
Lisa also had energy upgrades done to help heat her home more efficiently.
She said she went to a couple presentations from HeatSmart Tompkins — a campaign that helps speed up the transition away from heating homes with fossil fuels. The campaign advocates for air-and ground-source heat pumps and the improvement of energy efficiency through insulation and air sealing.
Lisa realized she had the existing ductwork in her home to set up an air-source heat pump system.
“I just thought ‘We have forced air heat, it seems like we have everything in place except for the heat pump,’” she said.
Lisa had her air-source heat pump installed in early November of 2018. She told Renovus that the solar panels had to be sized for a heat pump system. Renovus then referred her to a heat pump contractor.
The contractor then conducted an energy audit and estimated the size system her home would require. Lisa told them she needed a dehumidifier and a new water heater. She said the contractor had heat pump water heaters that also had the effect of dehumidifying her basement. The contractor recommended a heat pump unit that would work with the existing ductwork in the house, and pair well with the existing propane furnace, which can kick in when the outside temperature dips well below freezing.
The heat pump system also improved her hot water access and provides cooling in summer as well as heat in winter.
“The heat pump is going to give us whole-house air conditioning, which is a luxury I never thought I would be able to afford,” she said. “Never thought I’d have that. I’m really looking forward to being able to walk into a cool house.”
In addition to a heat pump system, Lisa also put a pellet stove in her home. She said she took out a low-interest loan to purchase the pellet stove. Lisa also said she found herself saving money despite loan payments to purchase her pellet stove.
“Even with the loan payments and pellets, we still saved $100 a month over what we were paying for heat, and we were warm,” she said.
She said she found that the pellet stove made her home significantly more comfortable.
“We put in the pellet stove, and all of a sudden, we had a place to go when we were cold, and it does such a great job of heating several rooms,” Lisa said. “I actually keep this half of the house closed to the rest of the house and that keeps one section of the house warm.”
Lisa also said her mother — who visits her frequently — has also noticed a significant difference in how warm her home is. Her mother, she said, gets cold easily but didn’t have any complaints about the heat pump system.
“She was here until early January — so through November and December — and we had the system put in in early November,” Lisa said. “And so through November and December, she got to try out that system, and before she left, she said to me ‘You know, I’ve got to say, this new furnace is really nice!’ And I have to agree with her. The heat is really even.”
Does Lisa have a net-zero home?
A net-zero home is a residence which is powered and heated entirely by renewable energy. A net-zero home produces the same amount of energy that it consumes, meaning that it can achieve carbon neutrality.
Lisa said that although she does not have a completely net-zero home, she does have much more control over her fossil fuel use due to her energy upgrades.
“The thing about the heat pump is that it’s good down to about 15 degrees,” Lisa said. “So, when the temperature outside drops below that, the heat pump is not expected to keep up. Now, we have the pellet stove, so our tendency is turn on the pellet stove. But they set it up so that when it got down to 15 degrees the propane furnace would kick in. But I’m very excited about that because I was able to say to the propane company, ‘I’ll call you when we need you!’”
Lisa said that one of the other benefits of working toward a net-zero home is limiting her environmental impact.
“I have children and grandchildren, and I want there to be a good planet,” she said. “I want them to have the same kind of enjoyment of outdoors and the seasons and predictable weather.”
Article by Maggie McAden, Intern