Renewable Energy

Net Zero Energy Home Community

More Renewable Energy Generated than Used

Hickory Nut Forest is designed as a “net zero energy community,” where we make more renewable energy than we use. A micro-hydro turbine provides electricity for Laughing Waters, while solar panels produce hot water and photovoltaic panels produce electricity for homes.

(See the hydro system in action here)

Instead of overusing and depleting the planet’s resources, we can begin moving away from fossil fuel dependence, powering homes with the sun and harnessing water power from streams.


Here are various possibilities of ways you can design your house to save energy and maximize efficiency.

Solar power in Hickory Nut Forest

In reality, there is no energy shortage. There is enough solar energy contained in the sunlight that reaches the Earth to heat and light our entire world. You can take advantage of this by incorporating passive solar designs in your home, and solar panels for heating and electricity.

Wind Power Capacity

Wind turbines have come a long way since the days of the early windmills. Today’s wind generators are high-tech propellers that come in all sizes depending on the wind available. Above the cliffs we have a permit for a wind turbine site to be installed in the future.

Radiant Floor Heating and Passive Solar Design

Water power at Laughing Waters

In 2012 we installed our 6kw micro-hydro system, enabling us to make electricity from the stream to power Laughing Waters. This system enables Hickory Nut Forest to achieve its goal of being “net zero community” in overall energy use from renewable energy sources.


The principles of using water power are not new. In the 1800’s there were many gristmills that used the flow of water to spin waterwheels and turn large stones to grind corn and other grains. A micro-hydro turbine is a modern day version of the old waterwheel which converts this same flowing water into electricity. Micro hydro turbines spin at high speed between magnets to create an electrical current. It is like running an electrical motor in reverse. Instead of needing electricity to run, it makes electrical current from the water flowing past the blades. This source of renewable energy works 24/7, and the greater the flow of water, the more hydro power produced.


In our system, water leaves the stream through an intake. It then flows underground through a plastic pipe into a settling tank to catch the leaves and allow the silt to settle out. Then the water continues downhill through 900 feet of pipe to the turbine shed. Along the way the pipeline drops nearly 100 feet vertically. This drop in elevation creates the pressure needed to make power. The water hits the blades of the turbine and makes electricity, and then flows into the pond and back to the stream.


The electricity generated flows to the electrical panel at Laughing Waters, where we use the power we need, and then sell any excess back to the electrical grid. The utility meter runs forward when we are buying power from the grid, and backward when we are selling to the grid. If you would like to learn more, feel free to contact us.

Wood sustainability

In addition to the heat from the sun, another heating option is using efficient wood stoves. Dead wood is plentiful in Hickory Nut Forest, and residents can use this wood energy source without cutting down any trees.

Geothermal energy

Geothermal heating and cooling is another option that takes advantage of the Earth’s constant temperature of 50-60 degrees down more than 10 feet below the surface. Pumping water below ground level and re-circulating back up into the home uses the groundwater temperature as a starting point for both heating and cooling. This means it takes less energy to raise the temperature up to what is needed to heat radiant floors. In summer,this same water can cool the floors. It is possible to achieve this same effect with geothermal heat pumps.

Conserving Energy

Every kilowatt and BTU saved is one less to make. Well insulated walls will keep the heat in the house instead of letting it leak out. Thermal mass floors absorb heat from the sun, and give it up slowly at night. High efficiency appliances and natural daylighting save electricity. Natural ventilation reduces air conditioning costs.

Passive Solar Orientation

There is really no reason today not to use a passive solar orientation when designing and building a new house. This free passive solar energy can be obtained by simply placing windows on the south facing side of the house to collect the sunlight entering during the day. Unless there are large trees blocking the sun, or the lot is on a steep north facing slope, one can receive this free source of heat from the sun. Passive solar house plans can be as simple as a few windows letting in light, to more involved designs using greenhouses and thermal mass floors and walls.  If it is possible to get direct sun from the peak hours of 9 am to 3 pm, it is worth incorporating these ideas into one’s building plans.

Solar Hot Water Panels

Solar water heating is becoming more and more popular as a way to reduce reliance on fossil fuels to heat our homes and hot water. There are a variety of solar hot water designs on the market today. These include flat panel collectors, vacuum tubes, active pumping systems and passive designs. The panels can be located on the roof, on the ground or even on a nearby building with better sun exposure with the hot water piped underground in insulated pipes back to the main house.

Solar Hot Water and Radiant Floor Heating

Photovoltaic Panels

Making electricity from sunlight has been around for some time. This solar electricity is generated when sunlight hits a photovoltaic surface which converts it into electrical current that can be stored in batteries or fed back into the grid. Photovoltaic solar panels were originally made from rigid silicon, but now they are also available in flexible thin-film collectors. It is also possible to buy them as roofing shingles.

Radiant Flooring

One use of the water coming from solar hot water panels is for radiant floor heat. It consists of plastic tubing placed into the floor with concrete poured over to make the finished floor. Sometimes tile is added on top. As warm water circulates through the tubing, the floor is warmed and the heat radiates up into the room. Especially for high ceiling rooms, this is a great way to stay warm, since the heat stays near the floor, rather than up near the ceiling as occurs in forced air heating.

Thermal Mass Floors

A concrete/tile floor also serves as a thermal mass floor for holding solar heat. Storing sunlight and heat in thermal mass floors is easy, if there are windows on the south side of the house that let in light. The sunlight hits the floor during the day and warms it, and then at night it is slowly released back into the room.

High-efficiency Applicances

Open-floor Design for Main Living Area

Energystar certified appliances are designed to use less energy than conventional models. If you are looking to use less electricity in your home, this is an important component.


Super Insulation

Poplar Bark Siding from Trees On-site

There are many types of insulation available today to seal a home and keep the heat from escaping. Green home construction requires the building envelope be sealed to eliminate leaks and drafts. This requires a little more care, but long term benefits are well worth it.



Using the natural sunlight coming in the windows is an excellent way to reduce electrical usage and artificial lighting. Orientation of the house to capture daylight is an important design element in creating an energy-efficient solar house.

Passive Air


Passive air circulation and cooling can be achieved with windows or vents high on the walls or the ceiling of the house. In the summer, opening these allows hot air to rise and escape out the top of the house, creating a natural cooling convection flow below.

Rainwater and Grey Water

Maintenance-Free Siding

Rainwater collection and grey water recycling are old ideas that are now gaining popularity. As droughts become more common, people are looking into simple systems for catching the rain as it falls, storing it in tanks, and then using it for gardens.

Waste recycling

Metal Roofing and Rainwater Catchment

We can no longer afford to be a throw-away society. Energy and natural resources are too precious and pollution and waste are unsustainable.  One Hickory Nut Forest family is pioneering a zero-waste approach that recycles almost 100% of its home’s materials.