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An all-solar home in the north country? It can be done

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Norman Saunders invents houses - ''maximally glazed'' houses, if you will. And they are remarkable products. His ridgetop solar home in the heart of New England cold country remains within plus or minus 5 degrees of 70 degrees F. year-round without a furnace or woodstove. It maintains a constant flow of fresh air, is fully automatic, has annual operating expenses of $50, and costs slightly more than a conventional home to build - $90,000 to be exact.

That's because Mr. Saunders tinkers with his designs the way a race driver fine-tunes a turbocharged engine. So delicate is the balance of systems in Saunders's home that he will change the position of a nail to ensure the proper flow of air.

The Shrewsbury home is a major milestone in solar design because it breaks the golden rule of solar-home building; that is, you can't achieve 100 percent solar heating in a home in the northern tier of the United States while containing costs and preserving looks.

''This is a deliberate flouting of conventional wisdom and a display of what could be done,'' says Saunders. ''You can go to 100 percent solar. It works.''

That it does. On a visit to the house on a raw February day with the thermometer dipping to 23 degrees and the wind gusting, the temperature inside the split-level three-bedroom 2,450-square-foot home stood at a toasty 73 degrees. Built roughly in saltbox style, the house has a greenhouse and glass roof on the south-facing side. There is a two-car garage and a normal complement of windows.

The Shrewsbury house is the eighth in a succession of solar homes Mr. Saunders has designed, and it comes the closest to meeting his rigid goals:

* All rooms at 70 degrees all the time.

* The same temperature throughout the house with no cold bedrooms or warm south-facing rooms.

* No auxiliary heat even during cloudy, week-long, midwinter weather.

* A steady stream of fresh air (often a problem in superinsulated homes).

* Negligible cost for maintenance and operation.

Saunders has achieved virtually all of his goals by integrating most of his half-dozen or so patents in the solar field into the design. They include these trademarked techniques:

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