April’s Green Home of the Month

Each month a different home from the Metro Denver Green Homes Tour is featured at www. GreenHomeOfTheMonth.com. This month’s selection is the Larsons’ home on Lookout Mountain. It has no natural gas service. Instead it has radiant floor heating using water heated by the sun and stored in a 10,000-gallon tank. The original section of the home won first place in the original “Solar Decathalon” in 2002. In addition to extensive solar thermal panels and evacuated tubes, the home has 7 kW of solar photovoltaic panels to satisfy the electrical needs of the home. It also has passive solar features and two wood-burning stoves.

Here’s a Postscript to My Earlier Post About All-Electric Homes

Some readers were surprised to read my column promoting the all-electric home as a cost-effective contribution to the mitigation of climate change.

If you’re thinking of 20th Century home construction, promoting the all-electric home would make little sense. Electric baseboard heating has its place, but no longer as a whole house solution. One advantage of it is that each room can have its own thermostat, so you’re only heating rooms when you use them. For the heat it produces, however, it is many times more expensive than using a mini-split heat pump solution. Recently I showed a home where a heat pump mini-split was used to heat a detached and insulated garage which doubled as a workshop. That’s a great application for that kind of heating — also because the mini-split can cool the garage in the summer, not just heat it in the winter.

There has been a revolution in the development of electric appliances, too. The induction cooktop, for example, is a highly efficient replacement for earlier electric ranges or cooktops which used resistance-based cooking elements.

Another change from the 20th Century: you can now generate your own electricity with highly affordable roof-top solar photovoltaic installations.

All-Electric Homes (and Buildings) Are Central to Mitigating Climate Change

As much as we Americans love our gas fireplaces, gas ranges and gas grills, we need to recognize that the move to an all-electric home, with the electricity being generated using minimal fossil fuels, is central to the goal of mitigating the effects of climate change.

And it can be a good future, especially if you’re able to generate all the electricity that your home and cars use.

That’s the future Rita and I have created for ourselves. We have 10 kW of solar panels on our Golden home, enough to heat and cool our home and charge our two electric cars. Our forced air furnace only burns gas when the outside temp dips below freezing. Otherwise, a heat pump provides all the heat we need. And recently we replaced our gas water heater with a hybrid water heater that heats all the water we need using its built-in heat pump. It has a standard electric heater coil in case we need faster recovery.  (We never have needed faster recovery.)

Yes, we still have a gas cooktop and gas fireplace, and our BBQ grill is plumbed with gas. I can picture us moving to an induction electric cooktop, electric fireplace and electric grill, but for now we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we have drastically reduced our carbon footprint and our monthly energy bills with the use of heat pumps for heating, cooling and water heating, as well as by driving EVs.

A December article on axios.com reported that some progressive jurisdictions are now banning gas hookups in new residential and commercial construction. According the article, 40 California municipalities, starting with Berkeley in 2019, have banned the installation of natural gas service in new construction.

The most common argument against this anti-natural gas trend relates to the cost of electric heating vs. gas heating, but the people who make that argument are probably thinking of conventional resistance heating, such as baseboard electric heating.

Resistance heating is similar to your kitchen toaster, sending electricity to a coil causing it to generate heat.  There is a more efficient way to heat, however, which is to use a heat pump. A heat pump moves heat instead of generating heat, and the cost is as little at one quarter that of resistance heating for the same BTU (heat) output. Here’s a article comparing the two kinds of electric heating.

Moreover, a heat pump can provide both heating and cooling, merely by reversing the direction in which it moves heat, replacing both the gas furnace and electric air conditioning unit which most of us have in our homes.

Another argument against increased electrification is that electricity is itself created by the burning of coal and natural gas. The current fuel mix of Xcel Energy in Colorado is 36% natural gas, 32.5% coal, and the rest renewable energy (mostly wind). The company’s goal is 55% renewable by 2026 and 100% “carbon-free” by 2050, so it makes sense to start now replacing gas appliances with high efficiency electric ones such as heat pumps.

Keep in mind, too, that we can generate our own electricity at home and on our office buildings, taking advantage of “net metering,” paying only to be connected to the electric grid. With net metering, Xcel’s grid functions like a battery, taking excess electricity from our solar installations during the day and delivering it back to us when the sun goes away — or when our solar panels are covered with snow!

This Climate Change Movie Is a Must-See

Of all the movies I watched during last month’s Colorado Environmental Film Festival, “Kiss the Ground” was by far the most impactful. It won the festival’s top  award, and deservedly so.

You will learn so much, as I did, from this 84-minute documentary about agriculture, farming, carbon sequestration and climate change. Schools can stream a 45-minute version of it free, including if you are doing home schooling. Visit www.KissTheGroundMovie.com to stream it. The rest of us can rent it for a dollar, or find the full-length documentary on Netflix.

The central thesis of the movie is that the mass tillage and spraying of farmlands under industrial farming is destroying the soil’s natural ability to sequester carbon. By the end of the movie you’ll be convinced that “regenerative farming” is the solution of our CO2 crisis.

The narrator of the movie is Woody Harrelson, who starts out by saying that he had given up on saving the planet from the effects of climate change, until he realized that the solution is “as old as dirt.”

A key character in the documentary is Ray Archuleta, a conservation agronomist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), formerly the Soil Conservation Service created by FDR to deal with the causes of the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s, when excessive tillage of farmland had caused massive erosion and dust storms.

The goal of NRCS agents like Archuleta is to reduce tillage and the use of chemicals that damage the soil. Achieving that counter-revolution would allow the soil to absorb and sequester enough carbon to solve the climate crisis, the film asserts. It’s a powerful argument.

I challenge you to watch the first 10 minutes of this film, and you will want to watch the remaining 74 minutes. You’ll get a huge education about the importance of soil health to the future of our planet. There’s a trailer on the website.

Green Home of the Month for March 2021

   Steve Nixon is a project manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He had this home built to his specifications in 2012. It has many passive solar features, solar photovoltaics, and a heat recovery ventilator, which are all explained  at GreenHomeOfTheMonth.com. Outside, it has a buffalo grass lawn requiring no water or mowing, and drip irrigation for its garden.

Solar Tax Credit Expires Dec. 31st

If you have been contemplating the installation of solar on your home, it’s time to get off the fence, since the 22% federal tax credit expires Dec. 31st. Your system has to be operational by the end of the year, so don’t wait too long. I purchased my first 10-kWH solar system in 2004 and paid over $60,000 for it, receiving a $40,000+ rebate check from Xcel Energy. Those rebates are long gone, but the same system costs a little over $10,000 now.  Time to buy!

Here’s an article from Realtor magazine with advice to give homeowners considering a solar photovoltaic investment. You’re also welcome to call me, Jim Smith, at 303-525-1851, or email me at Jim@GoldenRealEstate.com.

Environmental Film Festival Opens Virtually This Weekend: See the Films Online!

With Golden Real Estate’s commitment to sustainability, it’s only natural that we have co-sponsored the Colorado Environmental Film Festival for at least a decade, and we’re happy to co-sponsor it again this year.

The silver lining of the Covid-19 pandemic is that events like this are going virtual, making it possible for many more people (including me!) to see any or all of the films at home and on our own timetable. In past years, I was lucky to see even a few of the films, especially since I also needed to man our company’s table in the festival’s Eco-Expo.

The festival runs from Feb. 12th to Feb. 21st at www.CEFF.net. The three-part mission of the festival, as stated on its home page, is:

Inspire: With a growing public awareness for the environment, CEFF aims to increase this groundswell through inspirational and educational films which help motivate people to make a difference in their community.

Educate: CEFF’s films and  programs help people build the knowledge and skills they need to make environmentally responsible choices.

Motivate: CEFF wants audiences to be a part of the solution to today’s environmental issues and motivates audiences to make a difference in their local environment.

This year’s festival has 75 films in 22 collections. You can buy an all-access pass on their website for $70 (less than $1 per film), a 5-collection pass for $35, or a 1-collection pass for $10.

As I said above, you can view any film at any time during the ten days of the festival, but once you unlock a collection, you need to view its films within 72 hours.

As in past years, the festival’s films include both shorts and full-length films. I’m getting an all-access pass and look forward to seeing as many as possible!

Although most of the films are “on demand,” selected films will be live streamed so that you can watch with the filmmaker and an audience and chat about it during the film and exchange comments, like on Zoom, afterwards. These live streams will be archived and can be viewed on demand later.

There will also be live online “lunch and learns” (one of which is a “Vegan Fusion Cooking Demonstration”) and the Eco-Expo will go virtual too, with live visits to the booths of exhibitors during five “happy hours.”

There will be an “Opening Night Watch Party” featuring a short documentary on electronic waste and a feature film, “The Story of Plastic.” At this event, awards will also be presented for the winning films in each of several categories. Again, if you miss this event, you can stream it later.

The “Closing Night Watch Party” from 7 to 10:30 pm on Feb. 20th is an exception. It can only be viewed live and will not be streamed on demand later. It includes two films, The Catalyst and Beyond Zero, that you cannot pause or rewind. These are summarized on the website. I’m looking forward to these in particular, since the first one is a 6-minute film about going net zero in a home, and the second is a much longer film about a billion-dollar global energy company that committed itself to going beyond net zero by 2020. You can watch a trailer for it on the website.

The festival also has a photography component, and one of the live events (viewable later) is a keynote speech on Feb. 13th by famed photographer Russ Burden, who will show his Serengeti photos.

Of the 22 film collections, several contain films on a variety of different subjects, but there are collections on individual subjects, including: Climate Change; Colorado Issues; International Issues; Oil and Gas; Public Lands and Parks; Rivers; Solar Power; Water Issues; and Wildlife. One collection features various short films. (Each of those links takes you to a page with a list of all the films contained in that collection.)

For the Eco-Expo exhibitors like Golden Real Estate, this year’s virtual format is a big win, because each “exhibitor” has a link you can click on to learn about that company or organization. In our case, you click on Golden Real Estate to view a short video tour of the sustainable features which have made our office a true “net zero energy” facility. You wouldn’t get that opportunity standing at our booth in the physical exhibit hall.

Other exhibitors you’ll enjoy learning about include GoFarm, Metro Denver Green Homes Tour, Citizens Climate Lobby, Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary, Waste Management Recycling, Population Connection, and Tower Garden by Juice Plus. (These links become active on Friday, Feb. 12th.) I’m looking forward to seeing their videos, because in past years I was too busy manning our own booth to visit theirs!

The festival has always featured films by our youth (18 & under). This year there’s a live stream at 10 a.m. on Saturday the 13th called Filmmaking 101 for Young Filmmakers(also viewable later). Here’s a paragraph from the website: Any young aspiring filmmaker can join experts from Talk to the Camera for a fun, interactive workshop and introduction to the CEFF Youth Filmmaker Festival Challenge. Submit your storyboard to CEFF by Sunday, February 21…. Winner(s) will receive mentoring from a professional filmmaker in 2021 to help you complete and submit your youth environmental film for CEFF’s 2022 Festival!

There are some creative solutions to the lack of in-person events, including “Dinner and a Movie” on Feb. 13th & 19th in conjunction with Tributary Food Hall. You order a 3-course meal-to-go from the online menu for $40 including a ticket to one of the 22 film collections, and pick up your food between 3 and 7 pm to enjoy at home. If you already have the movie ticket, the charge is $35.

Visit the Virtual Festival Home for all the details and to buy tickets — http://ceff.eventive.org — and enjoy all the 15th annual Colorado Environmental Film Festival has to offer from the comfort and safety or your own home! That web page has a useful calendar showing all the events that are live streamed.

Consider Installing a Heat Pump Water Heater

If you’re attuned to the issue of sustainability, you may already know that heat pump water heaters are a smart replacement for gas water heaters and a great way to reduce your “carbon footprint.”

Combine it with replacing your gas furnace with a heat pump mini-split system and your gas range with an electric induction cooktop, and you could disconnect your gas meter and go all-electric. Then trade in your gas-powered car for an electric car and put enough solar panels on your home to power it all, and you’re on your way to eliminating the use of fossil fuels altogether — provided you’re willing to live without your gas fireplace!

Heat pumps don’t create heat, they move heat, which is why they are more efficient than gas or resistance heating. Toasters and electric space heaters are examples of resistance heating. Rather than heating water directly, a heat pump water heater moves heat out of the room into the water tank. For synergy, put it in the same room as a freezer, which is doing the opposite — moving heat into the room. Or build a wine cellar around your water heater for free cooling of your wine!

I purchased my Rheem  unit for under $1,300 (on sale at Home Depot) and earned a $400 rebate from Xcel Energy plus a $300 federal tax credit.  

Green Home of the Month

The Metro Denver Green Homes Tour is every October, but you can take a video tour of one of the best “green homes” of the last 20 years at www.GreenHomeoftheMonth.com. The January 2021 Green Home of the Month is Rainer Gerbatsch’s home in Arvada’s net zero energy Geos Community.