1 of 3
This Old House
A North Salt Lake's Orbit Irrigation designed and installed the irrigation system for a home in Narragansett, Rhode Island, that is featured in This Old House magazine. The company was later invited to participate in the 40th season of "This Old House."

SALT LAKE CITY — Two homegrown Utah tech companies will help an iconic PBS home improvement show celebrate its 40th anniversary season, which began airing this weekend.

Products from Lehi-based Vivint Solar and North Salt Lake's Orbit Irrigation will be utilized by the crew of "This Old House" to renovate a historic cottage in Jamestown, Rhode Island. Norm Abram, Tom Silva, Roger Cook, Richard Trethewey, Scott Caron and host Kevin O'Connor will leverage a Vivint solar installation and super high-efficiency irrigation system from Orbit to achieve a net-zero energy goal for the unique project on Conanicut Island in Narragansett Bay.

Vivint CEO David Bywater said his executive team and employees were honored by the opportunity to participate in the show, of which he has been a longtime fan.

Vivint Solar
Vivint Solar Chief Information Officer Mark Trout, left, is pictured with Richard Trethewey from "This Old House," at a project for the 40th season of the popular PBS program in Rhode Island. Vivint designed and installed a solar panel system as part of the show's renovation project.

"We couldn't be more excited," Bywater said. "I grew up remodeling homes and watching 'This Old House.' The fact that we could be a part of the show is just awesome."

Brad Wardle, director of Orbit's smart irrigation system B-hyve and the company's digital products, shared Bywater's enthusiasm for the chance to work with the team from the popular program.

"This is amazing exposure for Orbit," Wardle said. "We're all fans of 'This Old House' … they teach America how to do great things in and around their homes."

"This Old House" first aired in 1979, intended to be a one-off production from PBS-affiliate WGBH in Boston. The show was an instant hit and has since grown to include a number of spinoff television programs as well as a monthly magazine. It's 40th anniversary season features an expansive renovation of an island cottage constructed in 1926. Homeowner Don Powers, an architect who specializes in sustainable design, said he purchased the property with the goal of showcasing how a historic renovation could also incorporate new technology and techniques to achieve a net-zero energy rating.

"When we found the property, it was a pretty tired cottage but a good example of the kind of architecture typical in Jamestown a hundred years ago," Powers said. "I knew it would be an excellent chance to demonstrate a net-zero project in a way that hadn’t been done before. That was the idea, the professional idea behind it … and a great chance for me to put my money where my mouth was, in terms of design."

While Powers said the project was completed a few weeks ago, the "This Old House" season featuring the Jamestown house aired the first episode on Saturday. Powers' design called for nearly doubling the square footage of the home, redoing landscaping on the property and installing a solar panel system to offset 90 percent of the home's energy requirements while garnering the other 10 percent needed to achieve a net-zero energy rating by incorporating ultraefficient appliances, lighting and heating/cooling systems.

The renovation also needed to stay in keeping with the historic character of the area and navigate a water use scenario that prohibits residents from drawing irrigation from the municipal system. Powers said the products from Vivint and Orbit played critical roles in navigating those restrictions.

"My firm spends a lot of time on neighborhood design and the importance of how a home, or group of homes, looks from the street," Powers said. "Solar panels, in and of themselves, typically do not add anything to the streetscape."

Anthony Tieuli, Vivint Solar
This historic home in Jamestown, Rhode Island, is featured in the 40th season of "This Old House." The popular PBS series used two Utah-grown companies, Vivint Solar and Orbit Irrigation, to help revamp the cottage on Conanicut Island.

To solve that dilemma, Powers said Vivint designed an array to exactly match the roof on an outbuilding, which was constructed with a roofline to optimize solar collection.

"Vivint was a perfect partner," Powers said. "Once the specs were submitted, I really didn't have to do anything. The installation was very thoughtful … the solar array on the barn looks like it was meant to be there."

Powers noted the Orbit irrigation system, which utilizes a web-connected controller to adjust watering for changing environmental conditions using real-time weather data from sources like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, was custom-designed to deal with a very low pressure water source. And, he said the high-efficiency hybrid system that uses pressure regulators in conjunction with micro sprinkler heads and driplines, was one that fit very well in an area where neighbors are very aware of each other's water use habits.

"On an island with a real sensitivity to water use … and drawing from a minimal source, Orbit was extremely helpful in providing a system that appears to be perfectly suited to our circumstances."

Comment on this story

While Vivint was contacted directly to participate in the show, Orbit had a more fortuitous connection, thanks to a chance run-in with Thomas Baker, the building technology editor at 'This Old House Magazine.' After accepting an invitation to join a project for the magazine, Wardle said Orbit then got the chance to work with the television team, and it's one he said will be remembered.

"It really was an awesome opportunity to participate in a special project for a show that is much-loved around the country," Wardle said.

"This Old House," season 40, airs Saturdays on Salt Lake City PBS-affiliate KUED.