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Case Study > The Blacker Family Farm



Current Lancaster residents, Dr. David Blacker and Jessica George and family are beginning their journey to become ‘greener’ and more sustainable with their recently inherited farm in York County. David is a professor of the School of Education at the University of Delaware. Jessica is an education librarian at the Millersville University Library.

David and Jessica are currently undertaking a very large renovation project which has many green initiatives. David and Jessica inherited the family farm from Jessica’s parents over the past year. Jessica grew up on the farm and felt very fortunate to have it passed down to her. The farm consists of one large farm house that was built in 1852 and a barn most likely constructed around the same time. When the family received the farm they decided that the house needed to be updated and expanded.

The Black Family Farm (Click for video)



The Beginning Plans of the Renovation
The beginning stages of the renovation takes a lot of planning. The Blackers looked into many different ways to find money through the government for the renovations. The Federal government and many state governments offer grant money for energy efficient homes.

Heating and Cooling
There are many alternative ways to heating and cooling your house other than oil and coal. Check out how to research alternative sources.

Geothermal System
Geothermal Systems are one of many alternative ways to heat and cool a house or business. The system offers two different systems with an array of structures. There are many advantages to having the system including its reliability, safety, flexibility, convenience, financial, and renewable energy.

Tips to be Green When Renovating a House
When renovating a house it is good to keep in mind the greener side of materials that are needed. Energy efficient appliances, windows, and doors are a good start. Also consider installing a grey water recylcing system, recycling old materials, and planting a family garden.

Tips to be Green When Renovating a Farm
Many farmers are taking the green approach to farming techniques. Crop rotation and no till farming are heavily used by farmers who are interested in cutting down on using pesticides and herbicides that are harmful to the environment.

The Beginning Plans of the Renovation

The family has always been sustainable or green for many years and in many ways before inheriting the farm. Recycling bottles, cans, and other materials has been part of their daily routine and part of life. They also try to purchase and eat organic fruits and vegetables as much as possible. Lately, they have switched to halogen light bulbs to cut down the energy that regular light bulbs use.

Energy Efficient Grants

As the family began to talk about what kind of renovations that needed to be done to the house, they took a look at government grants that are available. After doing lots of research they came across the Federal Energy Act of 2005 which gives grant money from the government to homeowners and business owners that use ‘green’ technology for their home and business.

Pennsylvania currently has a state grant from the Alternative Energy Investment Fund that gives eligible commercial, industrial, residential, nonprofit, schools and local government grants to install renewable technologies such as wind, geothermal electric, and geothermal heat pumps. The state also gives another grant through the Alternative Energy Investment Fund for commercial, industrial, nonprofit, schools, and local governments. The grant is given to organizations that purchase alternative and clean technologies.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficient & Renewable Energy website have a current up to date listing of grants that are available through the federal government and state government. Pennsylvania Energy Department Authority (PEDA) and the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are currently giving grants to homeowners and business owners on purchasing new homes and businesses and renovating older homes and businesses.

The family also wanted to find a way to preserve the farm after they stop living there in the future. After some research, the Blackers got the farm preserved through York county and the state. They signed a contract that said that the farm’s development rights are owned by the county and state. In other words, the land can never be developed into a housing development or a large department store or mall. By preserving the farm, the Blackers were paid an amount of money for giving the state and county the rights. This money is now being used for many renovations and the expansion of the farm house and the farm itself. The York County Agricultural Land Preservation Program, which the Blackers’s farm is now part of protects 166 farms and 29,262 acres of land. Like York County, there are any other counties within the state and across the country offer land and farm preservations. Lancaster County Agricultural Preservation Board, a government funded farmland preservation and has preserved over 45,000 acres and 500 farms since 1980.

Heating and Cooling

One of the main concerns the family had was what kind of energy they were going to use to heat and cool the house, along with its’ expansion. The house was originally heated by coal, which many farm houses in this area are. David and Jessica wanted to look at every source that was available, electric, coal, oil, and geothermal before making a decision. One of their main concerns with choosing an energy source was how it affects the environment, especially the use of fossil fuels.

After researching online for awhile, the couple turned to a local contractor to seek more answers about what energy source would be a good match for them. They took a look at the long term costs of each source. The couple also took into consideration the fear of rising cost of energy over the past couple of years. Luckily, the government is offering tax credits for the installation of a geothermal system. The tax credits came out to almost 30 percent off of the total cost of installing the system. This was the deciding factor the family needed in order to install a geothermal system. The geothermal system became more in reach because they were then able to afford the greener energy source.

Geothermal System

The Blackers made a good decision about installing the geothermal system for the farm because it offers many great things without hurting the environment. After deciding to install a geothermal system they needed to figure out what kind of system works best with the property and the amount of money they wanted to spend. The contractor helped them through the process and learned a lot about the system itself.

Geothermal systems are a newer energy source for heating and cooling houses. There are many different structures of a geothermal system, but all of them work the same. A geothermal system has a system of pipes which pump air from the ground into a house or business. The air temperature in South Central Pennsylvania is considered to be the best because it stays at a constant temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This constant air temperature is great for both winter and summer because it is a good temperature for all seasons.

There are two main kinds of geothermal systems, a closed and open loop system. The closed loop system has three different types of structures as well. The types include horizontal, vertical, and spiral coil.

Closed Loop System

The most common type of geothermal system is a closed loop system. This system has a closed loop of piping that is filled with antifreeze that circulates continuously inside the buried pipes. The antifreeze absorbs the heat from the earth and is then pumped and used inside the house for heating purposes. During the warmer months, such as spring and summer, the antifreeze takes the heat from the indoors and transfer it back to the earth.

Horizontal Loop

A closed loop system has three different structures of loops, one of which being horizontal loops. This type of loop is good for adequate land area that does not have hard rock lying within it. It is also the most economically friendly. The loop uses a number of trenches which piping can be laid down horizontally either by a single pipe, or multiple pipes in narrow trenches, or multiple pipes in wider trenches. The trenches are normally four feet or more deep depending on how many pipes need to be laid down and what the structure of the piping.

Vertical Loop

Another kind of structure of a closed loop system is vertical loops. Vertical loops are used when land is limited or land that is too rocky. The loop is constructed by bore holes into the ground and long, hairpin shaped pipes are inserted into the ground. The bore hole is typically 150 to 250 feet deep. The hole is then filled and plugged and pipes are connected to the headers that lead back into the house or building.

Slinky Coils

The last type of structure for a closed loop system is slinky coils.Slinky coils, an increasingly popular structure, are especially used in residential systems. This structure consists of slinky like coils that are made of plastic tubing are spread out and overlapped in the trenches that are similar to the horizontal loop. The coils are buried at the bottom of a three food wide trench. The structure uses its small volume to contract heat transfers and requires less land area and smaller trenching.

Open Loop System

Open loop system uses water from a surface or underground water source, such as a pond or lake or well, instead of antifreeze solution which is used in the closed loop system. The water is pumped into the heat pump where the heat is extracted from and the water goes back into its original source which is its water source. This design is one of the most common and cost-effective because the well supplies both household water and the water used for the heat pump.

Water quality is very important for the system. This is especially true because of the heat exchanger. Mineral deposits such as iron and other impurities can clog the well. Also, organic matter from ponds and lakes can damage the system as well. Many contractors suggest testing water quality for acid and other mineral content that can be corrosive to the pipes.

What are the advantages?

The Blacker family was very impressed when they learned all of the advantages the system has over other energy sources. A geothermal system offers many advantages whether it is efficiency, reliability, flexibility and convenience, renewable energy, or financial advantages. Many more people, just like the Blackers have become interested and installed the system due to these advantages.

Efficiency Advantages

Geothermal systems are three to six more times more efficient than electric energy. In heating savings, geothermal systems use three fourths of the cost of heating a house by using electric. For a house or business that is at least 1,500 square feet it will only cost the owner $30 to $50 a month to heat or cool the area.

Reliability and Safety Advantages

A geothermal system has very few moving parts which yield high reliability and has minimal maintenance that is required. The system also has no outside parts which can lead to no issues of vandalism unlike air conditioner units. After installation, the system can have a 25 to 50 year warranty and is estimated to last up to 200 years, if well maintained. One very important part of the system is that it eliminates the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning unlike other energy sources.

Flexibility and Convenience Advantages

In many systems heat pumps can be set up to supply a house with hot water that can also be extended to heat a pool. The system also creates no noise outside the home and almost no noise inside the home. Since the system is fairly simple, the hardware requires a lot less space than say a furnace or air conditioner.

Renewable Energy Advantages

Since the system does not omit carbon monoxide, it does not create any pollution. Thus, the system then does not contribute to any global warming. Many systems do use a tiny amount of electric but if the electric is supplied by a green electric supplier, the system will not produce any green gas emissions. Luckily the electric provider for where the farm is located is a green electric supplier.

Financial Advantages

Although the system might cost several times more than a conventional system, it usually pays back itself within two to ten years after being installed. Currently, U.S. citizens are eligible for up to $300 in Federal Energy Tax Credits and other tax credits up to $2,000 through the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act that occurred in October 2008. Not to mention the system uses less electricity then electric heating and you do not have to purchase any coal or oil for the system.

What did the Blackers decide to use?

The Blackers just finished installing a closed loop system with a vertical structure and installed three to help heat and cool the house. One heat pump will be located in the attic of the original farm house, one in the basement of the original farm house, and one in the basement of the new addition of the farm house. The heat pump that is located in the attic will be surrounded by spray insulation which will help keep the heat inside the house better. The only worries that the Blackers have about the system is about how cold the winter becomes in Pennsylvania. Tests have shown that the system should produce enough heat to keep the house warm but they are going to keep an electric heating source just in case it becomes too cold. They are excited to see how the well the system is going to cool the house during the summer months as well.

Tips to be Green When Renovating a House

The Blacker family has not only become more green conscious when it came to their decision about installing the geothermal system, they also took into consideration other ways to go green within the house. There are many products available now that are more eco friendly and save a lot more electric than old conventional items. A few great examples of how to cut down on the amount of energy you use is on energy efficient appliances, windows, and doors. Also you can recycle much of the water you use in your household by recycling your grey water.

Energy Efficient Appliances

During the current economic climate it is important to keep in mind that although something is more expensive in the beginning, it may save a lot of money in the end. The Blackers had this in mind when determining what kind of appliances they would be interested in purchasing for the new house when it is completed. David agreed that energy efficient appliances would be the best way to keep up with going green and undoubtedly said that purchasing these appliances would save a lot of money, just like installing the geothermal system.

Energy efficient appliances are widely on the market today, everything from refrigerators, washer and dryers, freezers, dehumidifiers, dishwashers, etc. One of the most popular ratings found on many of these energy efficient products is called an Energy Star rating. Appliances with this rating may offer rebates and tax credits. Energy Star appliances tend to take 10%-50% less energy than other models that are not energy efficient. Although these advanced technologies have a large sticker price their pay back when it comes to your electric bill will make your purchase very worth it. The Blackers plan on purchasing appliances which have these Energy Star ratings.

Energy Efficient Windows

During the winter months, much of the heat in our homes is lost by old drafty windows. When first going into the house, the Blackers discussed how drafty it seemed to be due to the old glass panel windows that were all around the house. The installation of the geothermal system would make it easier to heat and cool the house but without new windows, the Blackers would have a few issues. This is especially true because the original farm house is made from 24 inch thick stone walls. In order to keep the house as warm as possible during Pennsylvania’s winters they decided to install new energy efficient windows. The new technology of windows over the past couple of years has come up with windows that are less likely to leak and produce condensation. As a bonus, they are more clear and do not let as much heat in during the warm months.

Energy Efficient Doors

Along with installing energy efficient windows they also decided to install energy efficient doors due to leaks of air. New technology has created more insulated doors which will keep from leaking. Many suggest to get rid of wooden doors because they leak the most air out of the home and replace it with a more insulated door. Sliding glass patio doors tend to lose heat the fastest than any other door because of lack of insulation. If you are planning on installing a slide glass door, consider purchasing one that has a metal frame, they are one of the newest technologies that lose less heat.

Starting January 2010 Energy Star and the United States government will be offering tax credits to homeowners that are installing energy efficient/Energy Star rated doors. The tax credits go to up $1,500 for those who are eligible. These tax credits will only be issued until March 31, 2010.

Grey Water Recycling

When discussing other possible ways to be green within their household, the Blackers talked about the idea of grey water recycling. Although they are still doing the research on it, they feel that it might be a good idea since they plan on growing a lot of their organic vegetables and fruits in their garden. In their eyes, cutting down on use of fresh water and using whatever waste water was left to water plants seems like a really great idea. Also they plan on installing a new septic system which will be conserved when using grey water recycling.

Grey water recycling occurs when waste water is reused to water plants. There are two different kinds of waste water, one being grey water and the other being black water. Grey water is water that is usually soapy that comes from dishwashers, washers, showers, and sinks. Black water is water that is full of bacteria, especially from the toilet and water that has food products in it.

The grey water will go through a process which will make the water useable to irrigate with. The water first comes from the source, which can be from the bath, kitchen, or laundry, and travels past the septic tank and into a sand-filter where the bacteria and soap is filtered from the water. The water is then pumped to the pump-pit and then out a hose, which you are able to use to water plants.

Benefits of Grey Water Recycling

The use of grey water reduces the use of fresh water that can cut down your water bill. It also reduced the strain on your septic system or treatment plant because it bypasses the septic tank and treatment plants see a decrease amount of waste water which they have to treat. Groundwater can be recharged by using grey water because it replenishes and helps the natural hydrologic cycle and enhances water quality. Lastly, it maintains soil fertility due to the nutrients found in grey water that is broken down and used by the soil.

Cons of Grey Water Recycling

Although there are many benefits to grey water recycling there are a few reasons you need to consider. If you are interested in using the system keep in mind that the climate may be unsuitable because if the climate becomes too cold, you will only be able to recycle water during the warmer months when you are growing plants. Also, you have to take into consideration the soil and if it is too permeable or not permeable enough which will make the system unsuitable for plants. Farmers might not find this a problem, but homeowners with a small area will find there is not enough soil to process the grey water or not enough plans. Also, homeowners might have problems gaining a permit for the system. Lastly, the system can be inconvenient because they are more expensive and can require more maintenance. Even with these concerns, most residential systems that are low-tech tend to outperform and outlast expensive high tech systems.


The farm house originally had a wooden deck as a front porch. Prior to renovation the decking was starting to fall apart, so the Blackers decided to rip it down and construct a new one. They plan on using another material instead of wood because wood has a lot of maintenance that is needed to keep it looking nice. Fortunately, there are many other materials on the market now that do not. One new product out on the market for decking material is a hard plastic material that is made from recycled plastic cartons, such as milk and water jugs. This material does not need to be painted and lasts longer than normal wood decks.

Recycling Old Materials

Many things nowadays can be reused or recycled, such as water, as explained before. Instead of throwing away all of the old windows, doors, and wooden decking, recycle them! The Blackers are planning on giving the old doors and windows to a scrap yard to be recycled and made into other products. Also there are many people in Lancaster and York counties that would gladly reuse the windows, doors, and wooden decking to make new doors and windows or into tables and other crafts.

Family Garden

The family is going to continue to grow their own fruits and vegetables in their own garden once moved onto the farm. Jessica is very interested in trying out organic farming next year. The produce the family doesn’t use on the farm, Jessica plans on selling it to local markets, grocery stores, and restaurants. Many restaurants and grocery stores are looking for locally grown fruits and vegetables, especially organic produce because there is a greater demand in the area.

Tips to be Green When Renovating a Farm

The farm itself is on has two large fields, one of the fields they plan on using for crops and the other to be used as a horse pasture. The Blackers plan on renting out the field used for crops but requires the farmer to use crop rotation and no till farming techniques. Also due to the horse pasture, the Blackers are going to keep a fence around the pasture in order to keep the horses from going into the stream that runs through the property to avoid any water pollution.

Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is very important in Lancaster and York counties because the soil is very fertile and rich in nutrients. This makes it important to keep the soil that in its natural state. The best way to keep the soil rich is by crop rotation which is when a farmer selects a sequence of crops for a field which will in turn improve the soil quality. A planned rotation may vary from two to three years or longer period of time. The variables concerned with crop rotation include soil type, weather patterns, soil slop, organic matter, soil fertility, soil health indicators, crop pest pressure, surround crops, and economic goals, soil management history and livestock interactions.

Advantages of Crop Rotation

• It decreases pest pressure from insects, weeds, and diseases.

• The enhancement biological activity in the root zone improves nutrient transfer from soil to plant.

• Improving soil physical condition through increased organic matter absorbs water better and holds more moisture in dry times and drains better in wet times. Thus creates a better habitat for earth worms at all times.

• Creates biologically and economically durable crop systems.

No till Farming

No till farming is good in many ways for soil and the plants that are being planted. When no till farming is properly done it protects soil from erosion, builds organic matter, and saves millions of earth worms. Farmers that use no till farming do not plow the fields before planting seeds. Conservation plowing is when the farmers plow a small amount before planting their seeds for the season. Also the plants they plant are usually herbicide tolerant.


The Blacker family has made many great strides to becoming more sustainable and green in their personal lives, home, and farm. Their research in search of becoming greener for the future and installing green elements into their home and farm has made a positive impact on their lives and hopefully the community. By creating a new green farm, they will hopefully be able to spend a message to other farms in the South Central Pennsylvania area that it is possible to live this way. They also are showing that people can be able to afford the new technology through the ‘green’ initiatives that the government is promoting through plenty of energy efficient tax credits. In conclusion, the Blackers are slowly on their way on becoming a role model for green farms in the area.














This site was created by Jessica Kuder ( who is a student at Millersville University of Pennsylvania

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