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Local Home Featured in 'Solar Tour'

October 01, 2004|By Jake Armstrong

An environmentally friendly La Crescenta home featuring renewable energy technology is part of this Saturday's self-guided tour of solar-powered homes.

With a 20-foot indoor "waterfall," 16 solar panels and a design that works with the forces of nature, Ted Baumgart's Mountain Avenue home is part of the ninth annual National Solar Tour, which is designed to give the public a glimpse into local homes that employ various forms of renewable energy technology.

Baumgart and his wife, Cathryn Williams, moved from Venice to La Crescenta in 1977. They were already "green-minded" by then, Baumgart said, and in 1994 he began renovations on the now 3,000-square-foot house, incorporating environmentally friendly features into the construction.


He built with beams recycled from the original structure, installed solar panels that provide enough power for a small family, and constructed a watering system that uses graywater from the home's washing machine and bathtub to irrigate the front yard.

Additionally, the way the home is designed helps Baumgart and Williams keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

An 18-inch-thick, two-story rock wall helps cool and heat the house, based on the concept of thermal mass and earth coupling. In a nutshell, the wall draws on the cool soil underneath to keep the house cold during the summer and absorbs heat from overhead skylights to keep it warm in the winter.

An indoor "waterfall," which resembles water leaking down the side of a cave, runs down the wall and, when aided with a fan, produces a cooling effect during warmer months.

"And it really does work," Baumgart said, adding that the first floor of the home stays below 80 degrees, even through 105-degree heat spells.

The entire home, including the pool and pond in the backyard, is powered by 16 solar panels scattered on the roof and in the backyard. The panels produce about 2 kilowatts a day, which isn't enough for a family of four.

"But it's half the electricity anyone would need," Baumgart said. Williams and Baumgart's electricity bills are about $10 to $15 a month, he said.

The solar-powered system is about as complex as a middle-school science project, and it rarely breaks down.

"That's about the level of this. I'm no scientist," he said. "The panels are so dutiful. They just keep pumping out those electrons."

For Baumgart, the best part of living in his home is "feeling in sync with nature. I'm not doing anybody in with extreme pollution," he said. "It makes me feel good. I always want to work with nature, not against it."

A home in Sylmar and another in Sun Valley are also part of Saturday's tour, scheduled between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. For directions and more information, visit

Baumgart earned his degree in environmental design at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. But 30 years ago, environmental designers had a hard time finding work, so he took up a job as a concept designer and illustrator for the film industry.

There are no standards for an environmentally friendly home, Baumgart said.

"It's always one step at a time. There's no perfect, there's just better and better and better."

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