Sonoma couple go off the grid – Sonoma Index-Tribune

If you had solar panels with a backup Tesla battery you’d have power right now.

That’s what architect wife and husband team Amy Nielsen and Richard Schuh installed to guard against the blackout Sonoma and other counties are currently enduring.

Their profession gave them the up-to-the-minute knowledge of just what’s out there to help keep their home cutting edge in technology.

For instance, the solar power generated that they do not use doesn’t go back into the “grid,” which is how solar systems generally work. Instead, it charges the Tesla battery. They can even run and monitor their Tesla system with an app on their cell phones.

And life experience gave them the motivation to be as safe as possible. Two years ago the wildfires came within a few yards of their contemporary home on 10 acres in the Mayacamas Mountains, which was saved at the last minute by firefighters. Scorched oak trees are still visible, frighteningly close to their front door.

They are proponents of solar with a battery backup, but recognize it can be pricey. Besides the solar install, a Tesla battery, which is a sleek looking 4-by-6-foot hanging panel only a few inches deep, costs $6,700, and they have two. Schuh points out that there is currently a 30 percent income tax credit for both the battery and solar installation. But even though their PG&E bill is only about $9 a month, the costs would not likely be recouped in energy expense savings.

“Not everyone can do it for sure,” Schuh said, but noted that going forward more homes should be designed with these features from the start.

“It’s like you are a mini power plant,” Nielsen said.

The couple does have another safety tip to protect against fire danger that is relatively affordable: replacing screen foundation and roof vents with fire resistant Vulcan Vents.

Their knowledge of the need for disaster preparedness was learned early. They broke ground on their home, which they designed themselves, on Oct. 17, 1989 — the day the Loma Prieta earthquake violently shook the land they were building on.

At the time of the wildfires they already had solar energy, but did not have any power for three weeks after the fires because you need electricity to run solar. But not if you have a battery backup. That’s when their research began that led to the Tesla battery which, it so happens, is installed right next to the power station for their Tesla S model car. (A wooden canoe hangs from the beams above the car, the ultimate example of yesteryear and today.)

The Tesla battery can be purchased online, can be hung indoors or outdoors. “They come out and install it in one day,” Schuh said.

The couple work from offices on a loft-style floor above the living areas of their home. Since their firm, Nielsen-Schuh Architects, and their home are the same location they’re completely dependent on the site as a base of operations. Their son Henry, 23, is working on earning his Ph.D. in computer science so now it is just the two of them at home.

They specialize in contemporary architecture, some commercial but usually custom-built homes that take years to build. Recently they designed the winery, tasting room and administrative buildings of Occidental Winery for owner and winemaker Steve Kistler. The Sonoma Coast site is featured in a 10-page spread in the just-published coffee table book, “The New Architecture of Wine.”

Their home is light-filled and sleek, with abundant windows highlighting the expansive views. The surrounding land is all-natural with little to no landscaping, with gravel paths and driveway.

Most Important? Their home has a wide swath of defensible space. Just in case there’s a next time.


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