Sustainable Living on the Key Peninsula


Karen Hale, KP News

Ed Bressette would like to see the solar collector, pictured here on the side of his greenhouse, become available commercially again. He says the collector is incredibly efficient and he has detailed plans for how it works. Photo by Rodika Tollefson

Since he was a teen, Ed Bressette learned how hard it is to pay bills once you reach adulthood. As he grew up in New York, the winters could be brutally cold. His dad wondered many times aloud what he could do to lower the heating bills, and began researching alternatives for making their house more insulated against the cold. Many things were possible, but as it turned out, there wasn’t much help available.

Through trials and errors, Bressette’s dad tinkered and figured out ways to help lower their energy costs, such as changing his hot water heater to solar hot water panels and building a greenhouse onto the house that was heated with wood. It also did something else — begin a lifelong passion in Bressette to make life cheaper for everyone, not just his family. Bressette believes everyone can live in a “sustainable” way. This means being self-sufficient. He likes to tell people, “The more creative you are, the cheaper it will be.”

He certainly doesn’t lack in creativity: He’s got everything from solar panels and a wind generator for electricity to a tractor he built of scrap materials that runs on biodiesel made out of cooking oil. Bressette built the house he shares with his wife, Dana, and son, Sky. Lots could be done to make it more efficient, and so he did— including using cellulose in a way that makes insulation more effective and even choosing a special shape for the house. It has a “clear story,” an upper floor with nothing but windows on one side that face to the east. This creates a natural draft that cools the house in the summer, and helps maintain energy efficiency all year long.

Bressette likes to remind people that construction sites and yard sales are some of the best places to get materials for building. Many parts of his house were built using recycled doors, windows, flooring, beams, and bricks. He has a trailer for hauling his tractor that he made himself out of mobile home axles and steel roof joists. Even his log splitter is made out of an I-beam, and he manufactured the rest himself (including hydraulics).

His wife, Dana, loves plants (See KP News, February 2004 issue). He built a greenhouse onto the south side of the house — the sunny side in this area. The plants thrive there in spring, summer and fall. In winter, the greenhouse gets some heat when Dana turns on the dryer vented directly into it. The greenhouse also has what Bressette calls “passive heating,” which in this case are the bricks

that comprise the floor. The sun heats the bricks, and in evenings when the sun lowers, the heat rises from the bricksinto the air. This can happen any day that the sun makes enough of an appearance to make some heat — even through some clouds.

Bressette has set up his hot water system in a brilliant way. He created an “on demand” system that can save up to 75 percent of a regular hot water tank gas system. It has sensors that detect alternate sources, so it won’t turn on unless it needs to. There is also a connection in the water system that runs a copper pipe from a hot water tank set in an attic eave above the house. This tank is full of water that runs down a wall and through the wall to the wood stove, and is coiled around the stovepipe many times. When the water heats up, it naturally rises up to the tank, and when someone wants to use hot water, it comes from that source first. Naturally heated hot water!

Bressette has been a major factor in creating the Northwest Solar Group. The group is dedicated to living in a self-sustaining method and teaching others how to do the same. They meet the last Tuesday of every month, as well as hold workshops and educational seminars to get the word out. They participate in the Vashon Island Fair every year. Last year, they provided hot water showers to

campers and LED lights generated from solar wind — which they put on the Fair Jester. According to Bressette, the Northwest Solar Energy group was the largest group there for this type of demonstration. They are all dedicated to self-sustained living, and some are so efficient at it, they are even selling extra energy back to the power companies.

Bressette himself would gladly teach and inform anyone who wants to learn all about this great way to live efficiently. He says that on average, his family’s utility bill is $20 per month. The only reason he has a bill at all is because he still needs to set up a system to run the well pump.

Pretty impressive for a high school educated handyman.


To learn more


The Northwest Solar Group meets last Tuesday of the month at Happy Days in Lakewood off Bridgeport at 7 p.m. The group hopes to publish periodicals for hands-on projects. If you are interested in joining this group or have questions, call Ed Bressette at 884-6225.

For ideas on self-sufficient or “green” living, try these sources: “Voluntary Simplicity” by Daniel Doherty (Gallagher Press) Home Power magazine, online at (note: Feb/March 2003 issue features Vashon Island resident Scott Durkee who talks about “getting off the grid” and biodiesel).[/box]